Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Get It Right: Good And Well

One of the simplest things in the English language is also something that many people get wrong most of the time. Today we're having a look at the difference between good and well, two positive words that have to work together with two particular word types.

If you are familiar with two of the most common grammatical elements in most languages, verbs and nouns, then this should cause no problem.

Nectar from the heavens.

Good is an adjective. As a result it should really only be used with nouns. You can play well, but you can't play good. Another example: beer is good. Though at times, we believe that has one too many o's...


Well is an adverb and as a result should be used with verbs. You can't have a "well" noun, though you can do something well. You should definitely make sure that you haven't used a verb with "good" as an adverb, because it's not one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In The Middle East And Africa

Lately we've been paying homage to some of the best multilingual settlements in the world across Europe, Canada, the US, Mexico and the Caribbean, South America, and Asia. Today we're heading to the birthplace of humanity and one of the most multilingual continents on the planet, Africa.

Independence Arch in Accra, Ghana
Accra, Ghana

Home to approximately 4 million people, English, Akan, and Ga are spoken in Ghana's capital city. Akan, which only has about 11 million total speakers, is also spoken in the Ivory Coast and Benin.

The city, as you would expect of any capital city, is home to many administrative buildings and businesses. The name Accra has been suggested to come from the Akan word for "ants", owing to the large number of anthills that used to line the landscapes surrounding where the city would eventually expand.

The Ga language, which is also spoken in Accra by around 600,000 people, belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages, just like Akan.

Sanandaj, Iran

Iran's third largest city, Sanandaj, is particularly interesting owing to its large Kurdish population. Though the official language of Iran is Persian, Sanandaj, known as Senne in Kurdish, has a population that primarily speaks Kurdish, an Indo-European language with around 21 million speakers.

Tel Aviv, Israel

The second largest city in Israel, Tel Aviv is home to the Hebrew language. The language, which is spoken by around 5 million native speakers, is perhaps most famous for its use in Jewish scripture. The city also boasts Arabic and English as commonly used languages, as well as Russian and Aramaic amongst its immigrant communities.

The city also boasts a relatively low crime rate and many areas of culture and entertainment, making it one of the most modernised cities in Israel and even the Middle East. Thanks to the immigrant populations, Tel Aviv is also incredibly multicultural.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, with a population of around 800,000 in the city proper and over 4 million in the wider metropolitan area. Amongst these inhabitants, English, Xhosa, Afrikaans and many other African languages are spoken.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town features some incredible landscapes thanks to the Table Mountain and the bordering ocean. Its climate is comparable to that of southern California.

The city also has a sporting heritage having hosted such global sporting events as the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, and most recently, the 2010 World Cup, the first World Cup to be held in Africa.

If we've missed any noteworthy multilingual cities in the Middle East or Africa, tell us about them in the comments below!

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 4

So far in our evaluation of the effect of Latin on the English language, we've seen the paltry linguistic influence of the Romans, the invasions of Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and finally, the Norman Conquest, which had perhaps the most influential effect on Latin's arrival into the English language.

That said, the conquest isn't the end of our tale. We can't ignore the cultural and linguistic influence of the Catholic Church. From the 6th century, the Church was present in England and would stay as the country's prominent religious organisation for about a millennium. Latin had already begun to take root in the then developing English language through its use in churches across the country.

The title page of Newton's Principia.
Although King Henry VIII would later revoke the Pope's power in the Church in England following a spat with the Catholic Church regarding the denial of the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Latin Mass remained prominent in England up until the twentieth century. Due to the Church and the Norman Conquest, most of the polysyllabic words in English are of Latin or Old French origin.

However, it wasn't just religion that allowed Latin to creep its way into the English language. The sciences and the wealth of Roman technology that was introduced across Europe and parts of Africa led to Latin phraseology entering many languages, not just English.

As we have already mentioned in our previous posts about nomenclature, science, from the Latin word scientia meaning "knowledge", is heavily influenced by Latin. Even by the 17th century, scientists would work and publish their findings in Latin, despite, more often than not, being able to converse with one another in English. It's no surprise that Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica was originally published in Latin in 1687, while it would be another 41 years before it would be published in English, in 1728.

So there we have it. We hope you've enjoyed nearly 2000 years of Latin's effect on the English language. It's difficult to keep it all to just four posts, so if you have anything you think we may have missed, tell us about it in the comments below.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 3

Over the past two days we've covered the Roman invasion and occupation of Great Britain, as well as the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings. Today we'll be looking at the end of one era and the beginning of perhaps the most important era in Latin's influence over the English language, the arrival of the Normans in 1066.

The death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings,
depicted here on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Harold, the king of England at the time, had no heir. This led the Duke of Normandy, William, to assume that he was the rightful heir to the English throne. As was the procedure at the time, the two fought one another, but only after Harold had fought a bloody battle a few days previous in northern England.

The obvious winner of the battle was William, who later was known as William the Conqueror, since conquering seemed to be his lot in life. Though not without a few years of rebellion, William eventually established himself as king a mere six years later in 1072.

Here begins one of the most important sections of Latin's effect on the English language. Though the Latin language had failed to garner much support during the Roman occupation, under William's rule the language of official documents was changed from Old English to Latin, thus beginning English's love affair with Latin in a legal and administrative capacity.

William the Conqueror.
Anglo-Norman, which was a dialect of Old French, became the norm for the ruling and upper classes in England. The peasants and lower classes, however, continued to use Old English. The effect on the linguistic landscape was profound. A multitude of Old French words, whose origins primarily lay in the Latin language, found their way into the language that was being spoken at the time.

The effects of Anglo-Norman also extended beyond the lexicon, leaving a mark on the naming conventions of the time. The naming of newborns also changed to include significantly more names of Anglo-Norman and French origin.

It is believed that the effect was much less significant amongst lower classes. However, historians believe that many of them would have needed to be bilingual merely to maintain trade, civil, and administrative relations with the upper classes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 2

Yesterday we looked at how the Romans invaded the British Isles, yet despite Latin being the lingua franca used across the Roman Empire, the language never seemed to catch on in the British Isles. This is, of course, due to the fact that Great Britain wasn't quite done with being invaded yet.

When the Romans first invaded, there was no semblance of a language related to English being spoken on the island. In fact, though Cornish, Welsh, Gaelic, and Irish can be considered descendants of the original languages spoken on the island, the current de facto language of English wasn't used until the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and the Jutes.

A reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon helmet.
Details of when exactly the Anglo-Saxons arrived are a bit sketchy, though historians believe it was after the Romans had left Britain, leaving a very paltry linguistic footprint. Dates are estimated to be during the 5th or 6th centuries. The Anglo-Saxons were groups of Germanic tribes who left their homelands to arrive in Britain to kick a bit of arse.

Once the Anglo-Saxons arrived, the English language began to take shape, though only in the southern regions of the island where they were most prominent. The northern regions would still remain tribal and incredibly diverse, both linguistically and culturally at the time.

Other languages were present at the time, including Pictish, spoken in what is now Scotland. It has remained somewhat of a mystery to linguists and has been suggested to be related to the Celtic languages, or possibly even the now isolated Basque language.

By the end of the 8th century, the Vikings had decided to rape and pillage the northern regions of what is now England, and even attempted raids on areas of Scotland. This practice would continue for many years until the end of the 9th century, though at points the Vikings, who were more politely known as the Norse by historians, did gain a foothold in Britain. The Norse would eventually lose power by the latter half of the 10th century.

Edmund Ironside (left) was the King of England who
repeatedly battled Cnut the Great (right).
The early 11th century had a few more invasions, particularly by Cnut the Great of Denmark. For nearly two decades England and Denmark were united, until Cnut's death when the regions of England became independent of Danish rule once more.

The language that is currently known as Old English was fairly common and widely used by this point, but still relatively pure in terms of Latin influence. That is, until one of England's most important historical dates, 1066, which we will be talking about in more depth tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Effect Of Latin On The English Language: Part 1

It goes without saying that Latin has had a huge effect on many languages. Thanks to Latin, we have many of our favourite Romance languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, to name just a few.

Today, however, we'll be looking at how Latin has shaped The Lingua File's mother tongue, English. Thanks to the Romans, the Church, and the Norman Conquest, the residual effects of Latin can be seen on one of the world's most international languages.

The British Isles as seen from space.
In the time of Julius Caesar, the English language didn't even exist. The arrival of Anglo-Saxons wasn't until the 5th century, and the Jutes didn't arrive until the 7th century, which is perhaps the earliest we can begin to talk about the foundations of what would later become the English language.

Under Caesar's rule, the Roman Empire traded and maintained diplomatic links with Britain following several expeditions to the island, plus a few invasions for good measure. These relations would only last for about a century, and eventually Augustus planned his first invasion.

Over the space of 40-odd years, the Romans kept having a go at the poor British tribes and eventually held control of most of the island, with the Scots still causing trouble. The Romans maintained a level of control in Britain for about four centuries, yet its linguistic legacy is by no means as great as in nations such as France, Spain, and Portugal.

Tomorrow, we'll be continuing our look at how the Latin language, which was by no means thriving by the time the Anglo-Saxons arrived in the 5th century, still managed to shape the English language via more peaceful methods, albeit only after a few more invasions paired with rape, pillaging, and slaughter.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bastille Day: The Languages of France

Today France celebrates Bastille Day, the French National Day, which is known as La Fête Nationale in French. In honour of the occasion, we thought we'd take a look at some of the languages spoken in the country, excluding French since we already covered it a while back in its own language profile. With today being a Sunday, most of the country will be shaking off a gueule de bois from the undoubtedly wine-fuelled celebrations that commenced yesterday evening. You can sit back, relax, and learn a bit more about the minority languages spoken in a country where the past relationship between the state and minority languages could be considered tense at best. Nowadays things are better and many of the languages have some degree of official status or legal recognition.

Bastille Day fireworks in Carcassonne, France.
German Dialects

Alsatian is France's most popular "native" language. We use the term "native" sparingly as Alsace, the region where it is predominantly spoken, has changed hands quite frequently between France and Germany. The language is technically a dialect of German and doesn't possess Latin roots unlike many of France's other minority languages. In total, Alsatian is spoken by nearly 1.5% of the population. Lorraine Franconian is another dialect of German that holds official status in France, and is spoken by around 0.2% of the population. Lorraine Franconian is closely related to Alsatian, too.


The group of languages known as Occitan, which includes the dialects Languedocian, Gascon, and Provençal, is the second largest group of languages spoken across France. The language in its >entirety accounts for around 1.3% of the population of France. The Languedocian dialect is spoken in, you've guessed it, Languedoc, the Gascon dialect in Gascony, and Provençal in Provence, so you really shouldn't have any problem remembering who speaks which dialect where. Occitan is also spoken in some areas of northern Spain.

Langues d'oïl

The langues d'oïl are a group of languages, or more correctly a dialect continuum, which is spoken from northern and central France to Belgium and Switzerland. Though only around 570,000 speak the language, due to the geographic dispersion of the language, differences can be vast and complicated and the classification of the languages and dialects is still disputed.

Josselin Castle alongside the River Oust in Brittany.

One of France's most out of place languages is the Celtic language of Breton. In Brittany, or Bretagne in French, the language is undergoing recovery after its UNESCO classification as an endangered language. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of children attending bilingual classes in the region. The language also has around 270,000 speakers. L'aise Breizh!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Get It Right: Bear, Bear, Bear, And Bare

In our ongoing mission to inform everyone of how to correctly use the English language, today we're looking at bear, bear, bear, and bare, and no, that's not a typo. Just like Goldilocks, we have three "bears" and then bare, just for good measure.

The reason we have three bears is because they are homonyms, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. Two of the meanings are verbs and the other is a noun. However, all four of today's terms are homophones, words that are pronounced the same.

A grizzly bear enjoying a lovely mountain view.

As a noun, the word bear refers to the large mammal, often represented in popular culture as either a cute bear cub or a "teddy" bear, named after the American president who couldn't bring himself to shoot such an adorable creature.


The second variant of bear is a verb that refers to carrying, holding, or displaying something. The American flag bears fifty stars and thirteen stripes, while the Second Amendment to its accompanying Constitution permits citizens, when part of an organised militia, the right to bear arms.


The final of our three homonyms refers to tolerating, enduring, or generally putting up with something, as in: "I can't bear it any longer!" or "sometimes you just have to grin and bear it".


The final word in our list for today can be both a noun and a verb. The noun form refers to something that is uncovered or empty, such as bare arms or a bare cupboard. The verb refers to the uncovering of something, so you can technically both bear arms and bare arms, though we'd recommend that you do neither of these things.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Complexity Of French Homophones

If you've ever studied or learned French, then you should be aware that pronunciation, especially with the often silent final letters, can be awkward and frequently very similar. This can be very difficult for those learning the language and, at times, difficult for those who speak it as their first language.

Today's post is brought to you by the letter A.
Some homophones are spelled almost identically except for a diacritic mark. A prime example is the word a, which is the third person singular conjugation of the verb avoir meaning "to have", and à which is a preposition meaning "to", "at", or "in".

It should also be noted that ai, the first person singular of the verb avoir, is almost exclusively found contracted with the word je, ("I"), in the form j'ai, and is pronounced the same as the verb's singular subjunctive forms as well as third person plural (j'aie, tu aies, il/elle/on ait, ils/elles aient respectively). Not to mention being a homophone of the second and third person singular of être, meaning "to be".

As if the verbs for "to have" and "to be" having multiple conjugations that are homophones wasn't awkward enough, the words for "or" and "where" are also homophones, and very nearly homonyms, as they are ou and  respectively.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of French homophones but merely a few examples of those that we find to be the most poignantDespite this frequent annoyance, if you are hoping to learn French, you shouldn't let it put you off. These awkward intricacies are what makes this Romance language so elusive, beautiful, and interesting.

If you have any good examples of French homophones, tell us about them in the comments below.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Brief History Of Astronomical Naming Conventions

A while back we looked at nomenclature and aside from being a really fun word to say, it's incredibly important in the sciences. Given that the scientific community is multicultural, multinational, and above all, multilingual, being able to easily identify things from their names makes incredibly complicated scientific fields a little more manageable.

We've already looked at naming conventions in general, the naming conventions in medicine, and the etymology of the solar system. Unless you still believe that the Earth is the centre of the universe and there is nothing in the vast beyond, you should realise that there are billions of things that need a label.

In modern-day science, the observable universe, unsurprisingly the universe we can observe, is estimated at 93 billion light-years across. Just to clarify, a light-year is the distance covered by light in one year. It takes light only a few seconds to get to the moon and back, and around 8 minutes to reach us from the sun. These figures should give you some idea of how depressingly small and insignificant our planet is.

An infrared image of the Milky Way galaxy.
In the past, the "observable" universe was fairly small and a nomenclature wasn't really necessary. Ancient civilisations often considered these celestial bodies to be gods and it was fairly common for the planets, stars, and anything else they could see, to be named as a god.

Stars that don't have a catalogued name are usually designated using Arabic, as this was the prominent language of early astronomers and the ancient pioneers of the field.

Thanks to advances in technology, the amount of objects we can observe, and therefore need to be named and identified, has increased astronomically (pardon the pun), leaving a nomenclature as the only logical choice.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) regulates this naming convention and provides guidelines for naming newly-discovered objects. Unlike medicine, the system for naming planets and stars is more of a cataloguing system rather than attempting to come up with a system that could account for literally billions of objects.

Thanks to the naming conventions regulated by the IAU, astronomers needn't worry about coming up with clever or redundant names for stars, galaxies, planets, meteors, or asteroids. They can get on with their real jobs, studying them.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Happy Birthday David Crystal!

As today is the birthday of David Crystal, perhaps one of the greatest British linguists of modern times, we felt it was only fitting to pay homage to the man.

Originally born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, Crystal grew up in the town of Holyhead in northern Wales. He later moved to Liverpool where he studied at St. Mary's College, and then moved on to University College London where he studied English. Crystal was later a lecturer at Bangor University and the University of Reading.

One of Crystal's most important hypotheses is on the evolution of the English language. The theory stipulates that local dialects will become more and more distinct and that the language will require a standardised variant such as an international dialect.

Crystal has also authored many books on linguistics covering topics such as orthography, phonetics, phonology, and language evolution. He also worked on two encyclopaedias for the Cambridge University Press, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.

As Crystal is an expert on language, linguistics, Shakespearean English, and the evolution of the English language, he worked on productions of Shakespeare at the reconstructed Globe Theatre in Southwark, London.

Currently, Crystal works from his home in Holyhead and is working on a new book, Wordsmiths and Warriors: the English-language Tourist's guide to Britain, with his wife Hilary, which is due for release September of this year. We can't wait!

Happy Birthday David!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Get It Right: Rain, Reign, And Rein

As we are sticklers for grammar, spelling, and generally getting things right, we could no longer bite our tongues on this whopper of a common mistake in English. The three words in question, reign, rein, and rain,  are known as homophones, meaning that they are pronounced the same.

Homophones are an interesting element of language, especially in spoken language where context is the only way to distinguish one from another. However, thanks to the written form of languages, writing systems, and orthography, these words can be distinguished from one other. Let's have a look at the differences between the three so that you can get it right.

Rain, rain, go away; come again another day.

Most people should be aware of this one. Rain, put simply, is a weather system in which water falls from the sky due to a chemical process known as evaporation and condensation, in which elements change their state from the liquid form to a gaseous form, then back again. If you remember geography or science lessons in primary school, then you should have no problem with the water cycle. If you're British, you should be more than familiar with rain.


The second of our homophones is reign. Reign is the noun for the period of time in which a monarch or a sovereign is in power. Given that yesterday was the celebration of the end of British rule in the US, you should see this word more and more frequently in the news over the coming days, giving you a fantastic opportunity to become familiar with the difference.
Reindeer can also be controlled with reins, especially
for delivering Christmas presents to good children.


Our final homophone is the word rein. As this word is written almost identically to reign, this is where a lot of confusion arises. Rein is a noun and it describes the harness that is used to "drive" a horse. Unless you are a jockey, work frequently with horses, or are a cowboy, you probably won't use this word as frequently as the other two options, so make sure that when you do, you get it right!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Asia

Recently we've been looking at the best multilingual cities across various places in the world, from Europe to Canada and the USA, and from Mexico and the Caribbean onto South America. In a similar fashion, today we'll be looking at the best cities in Asia for linguaphiles.

Darjeeling in 1880.
Darjeeling, India - Darjeeling isn't just a type of tea, it's also a place in India where the tea comes from. Millions of kilos of Darjeeling tea are made here every year and the city is also a popular destination for tourists and Bollywood film crews.

As you will know from our language profiles, India is a multilingual haven and Darjeeling is no exception. Aside from the beautiful scenery and perfect climate, you can find speakers of Nepali, English, Hindi and Bengali.

Delhi, India - India's capital New Delhi, which is part of the administrative region of Delhi, is home to literally hundreds of languages. English, Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi are the most commonly spoken, though thanks to cultural diversity, many other languages are spoken here, making it a perfect destination for those who love languages.

Mumbai, India - Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is another prime example of India's linguistic variety. The city boasts speakers of English, Hindi, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, and over one hundred other languages.

As well as being a multilingual city, Mumbai is also rich in history and culture and well worth a visit for those who can bear with India's climate.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - The former French colony of Ho Chi Minh, originally known as Saigon and colloquially as the Paris of the East, is home to several languages, including Vietnamese, Cantonese, English, and French. English and French are spoken mainly due to colonisation and the Vietnam War.

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam, and District 1 is a popular tourist destination which bears a huge French influence. It's a must-see for those travelling through Vietnam.

The Bank of China building in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong - The former British colony of Hong Kong has speakers of Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. As one of the most densely populated areas in the world, Hong Kong is not recommended for those who like their getaways to be tranquil and quiet, but if you like the hustle and bustle it should be top of your list of places to go.

Macau - Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese, and English are the languages on almost everybody's tongue when you get to Macau. As one of China's two special administrative regions (the other being Hong Kong), Macau was formerly a Portuguese colony, hence the lasting fluency in the language.

Much like Hong Kong, Macau is a popular tourist destination and the tourist industry accounts for a large portion of the economy. Again, this is a bustling destination and comes highly recommended for those who like a different kind of holiday.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Canada Day: The Languages of Canada

Today is another celebration of a nation. In fact, it's Canada Day. In honour of the day, we're going to take a quick look at the languages spoken in the world's second largest country. We covered the languages spoken in Quebec last week, so we'll skirt past those and tell you about those spoken in Canada's other provinces.

As you should already know, Canada has two official languages. English accounts for nearly 57% of the population, while French is spoken by just over 23% of the population. French is principally spoken in Quebec and towards the provincial border of Ontario. English, on the other hand, is fairly prominent in all the remaining provinces. As both English and French are both well-known languages, we'll be talking about some of Canada's other languages, including native languages and immigrant languages.

In terms of indigenous or aboriginal languages, Canada has 65 distinct languages. Many of these languages are spoken in small rural communities by very few people and are at a high risk of going extinct. 

The Aurora Borealis seen over Yellowknife,
capital city of the Northwest Territories.
The largest region of Canada, Nunavut, has the lowest proportion of English and French speakers, with nearly 53% of the population not speaking either of these languages. The main native Inuit languages of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun hold official language status in the province. The two languages are closely related and can be found across most of the northern extremities of Canada, as well as in Alaska and the western parts of Greenland.

In terms of linguistic diversity at the administrative level, the Northwest Territories probably have the rest of Canada beat. After you count English and French, the area has nine additional official languages. One of these languages is Cree, the most spoken aboriginal language in all of Canada. It has about 100,000 speakers, which means that its chances of linguistic survival are quite good. The aforementioned Inuktitut is also doing quite well in terms of number of speakers, but most of the other official languages of the Northwest Territories are endangered. The Tłı̨chǫ language is spoken near Great Slave Lake by just a few thousand speakers, while Gwich'in is severely endangered, with a mere 500 speakers.

Canada is also home to many immigrants who have brought their native languages with them to the country over the years. Punjabi, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, and Tagalog are all spoken by over 1% of the country's population, while many more languages are spoken in smaller numbers.