Friday, May 31, 2013

The Pros And Cons Of Compulsory Language Learning

Far behind many of its European counterparts, the UK is finally getting ready for compulsory language education in its primary schools. As language enthusiasts, we obviously think this is a fantastic thing, but today we're trying to be diplomatic and present a fair and balanced argument for and against obligatory language learning.


The first photo taken of Earth, in 1968.
With the world becoming increasingly global and open, languages are a valuable skill. Particularly so in the UK, where monolingualism is rife amongst its youth, who are effectively the future of the nation. Since many other nations already have foreign languages in their curriculum from an early age, the British workforce of the future could be left lagging behind the other nations without it.

Speaking foreign languages has been shown to have huge benefits in terms of cognitive abilities, brain development and health. If today's youth aren't learning foreign languages for the economy, they should be learning it for their own development and the ability to lead richer lives.


There are a lot of key subjects that can be considered to be more important than languages. Literacy and numeracy are always at the forefront in terms of education, and whenever new classes are added to curriculum, the time used to teach these subjects must be taken from another subject. Of course, it needn't be maths and English that lose out to foreign languages, the sciences and the humanities can end up with their contact hours slashed. Is there a particular subject that can be removed?

Which subjects will have to lose out?

Art: Some may argue that art could be one of the first subjects to lose time to foreign languages. It is not a particularly academic subject, especially at the primary level, but could we really take away art, one of the most creative subjects available to young minds, and effectively destroy any creativity they are harbouring?

St. Catherine of Alexandria, by Raphael.
History: To some, history is incredibly interesting and worthwhile, to others it's incredibly boring. Fans of this subject will argue that you can't understand the present, make plans for the future, or have an awareness of world affairs without learning what came before.

Geography: Geography was never a particular favourite subject of ours. Sure, we enjoyed looking at atlases and cool places to visit, finding funny place names and wondering what languages they spoke there. We did not, however, enjoy looking at soil or measuring traffic flow on the local main road.

Science: For people as nerdy as we are, science will always be considered one of the coolest subjects. You start to learn about how everything around us works, from the atom all the way up to the universe and almost everything in between. Most primary schools tend to focus on science in general instead of specialized subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology, but it would be very difficult to cut since it is certainly a very academic subject.

Music: Music is another of the so-called artsy-fartsy subjects that are said to nurture young talent and creativity. Is it necessary to have both music and art, or could we perhaps lose one (or combine them) in order to have languages on the timetable?

Religious Education: Some places, such as France, consider themselves secular when it comes to education. Others do not. Some parents prefer to send their children to religious schools in order to provide them with both empirical learning and theological learning. In these cases, it's going to be very difficult to take RE off the syllabus.

IT: Perhaps back when some of you were in primary school this wasn't such a big deal. Now it is. Is there anyone out there who doesn't use a computer daily? 

What are your opinions on compulsory language learning? Have you ever worked in or attended a school that had it? If so, do you feel that other subjects suffered as a result? We'd love to hear your opinions and experiences below in the comments.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Get It Right: Fewer And Less

There are many people we hear using fewer and less almost interchangeably. Before we get into the words themselves, there's a very interesting concept that you need to wrap your head around before you can even begin to work out which word it is that you should be using.

The use of these words hinges on whether or not an actual quantity of something is involved and whether or not that quantity can be counted. Unsurprisingly, the nouns that can be counted are known as countable and those that cannot are known as uncountable. Once you have worked out whether or not the noun is countable or uncountable, you should be able to distinguish between these two words.

This lake has less water than the Atlantic Ocean.

Fewer can only be used when a noun can be counted. If you can say that there are two of them then you are fine to use fewer. As a general rule of thumb, liquids tend not to be counted in integers, making them, more often than not, uncountable. You can have fewer apples but not less apples.


Since fewer is used for countable nouns, then less must be used for the uncountable. Can you have three waters? Technically yes, but only if you're ordering in a restaurant. Usually water is uncountable, so you can have less water. Likewise, you can have less sand but fewer grains of sand.

Less is also used when referring to abstract concepts. You can be less successful, less efficient and less affluent but never fewer successful, fewer efficient and fewer affluent. It sounds horrible just saying it. Odds are, if it doesn't sound wrong when you say fewer, then you are probably correct in using it.

Do you have any common grammatical mistakes you feel we should address? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Geeky Linguistics, Part 2

In yesterday's post we introduced 1337 (pronounced "leet"), a convention whereby its users replace regular letters from the Latin alphabet for numerical characters in order to evade censorship and generally to be less n00b-like.

We didn't, however, cover some of the more interesting lexical elements of 1337. Adding the suffix -age to almost any word seems to make it a noun and -ness is used to convert adjectives into nouns.

Only a geek would do this to their car.
Of course, 1337 isn't the only way geeks can communicate. Many conlangs from television shows have become popular means for their fans to talk to one another. Klingon is very popular with fans of Star Trek, just as Elvish is with fans of Tolkien.

As with most conlangs, it's very difficult to measure and moderate speakers since there are no particular nations with native speakers of the language. This leaves conlangs with very low numbers of native and fluent speakers. Esperanto, the most successful conlang in the world, has fewer than 1,000 native speakers, so it follows that other conlangs from television, literature or cinema would have even fewer speakers.

Perhaps the nerdiest way to communicate would be via ASCII. The system is used to convert binary (the base-2 system that represents "on" and "off" in electronics) into our regular 26-character alphabet and beyond. Given that each letter is represented by seven bits, this would probably take far too long unless the data was transmitted at a very high speed, though it's essentially what we're doing right now.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Geek Pride Day: Geeky Linguistics, Part 1

Since today is "Geek Pride Day", which is from the Spanish Día del orgullo friki, we thought we'd start out by telling you about this wonderful day and the effect that geeks have had on the English language, not to mention many others!

If you've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy, then you know what this is all about!
So why the 25th of May? Well, if you're geeky and old enough, you'll remember that today is the day Star Wars was released back in 1977. It's also when the first Towel Day was held, exactly two weeks following the death of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If you're a fan of the Discworld books, which we most certainly are, it is also the Glorious 25th of May. As if you need any more reasons to be geeky today, or any other day for that matter. 

One of our favourite elements of geek linguistics is 1337 (or Leet, to those less nerdily-inclined), the wonderful language of chat rooms, message boards and general online discussion for many years now. You can generally spot 1337 by its blatant disregard for the Latin alphabet and use of numbers in place of letters. The practice came around to avoid filters on chat rooms and message boards. Curse words would often be censored and sometimes, especially when someone disagrees with you on which Star Trek captain is better, you need an expletive to tell them exactly what you think of their dumb opinion. 1337 enabled uncensored communication across the information superhighway. 

The concept was fairly simple: replace certain letters with numbers. 1 is i or L, 2 is z, 3 is e or E, 4 us A, 5 is s, 6 is G, 7 is T, 8 is B, 9 is g, and 0 is o or O. This allowed users to avoid censorship and use words such as pr0n for "porn", and 1337 for "leet", short for "elite". 

The letter 'x' was often used to replace the combination 'ck', and -or replaced what would commonly be an -er suffix. This lead to words such as haxor for "hacker" and suxor for "sucker", as in someone who sucks. 

The letter 'z' became a popular suffix and was often added to suxor to make, obviously, suxorz. The word n00b was used to describe newbies, or the generally uninformed, because in internet nerd culture it is assumed that everyone knows everything about everything, and it is safe to insult newbies from behind a computer screen where one cannot be punched. Despite being language nerds, we feel this is probably enough geekiness for one day... read part 2.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cooking With Morphemes

In the linguistic field of morphology, a morpheme is the smallest unit of grammar. This is much like the atom in physics, at least until the discovery of subatomic particles. A morpheme cannot be broken down, at least not grammatically, into anything smaller.

There are two types of morphemes, free and bound morphemes. Free morphemes can operate independently and therefore, in effect, are words in their own right. Bound morphemes, unfortunately, cannot. However, in our opinion bound morphemes are far more interesting and deserve more of our attention.

Bound morphemes generally consist of affixes. Affixes are morphemes that attach themselves to words, hence bound. As part of a laboured analogy, we will be making a hamburger. If you're vegetarian you will just have to deal with it as today's post includes animal slaughter.

Those are some nice buns. 
You should already be familiar with at least two types of affix, prefix and suffix. If you don't know, a prefix is a morpheme that is attached at the beginning of a word and a suffix at the end.  Interestingly, the pre- in prefix is a prefix. Our prefix is the bottom half of our burger bun.

If a prefix is at the beginning then a suffix must be at the end. The s that appears at the end of plurals is considered a suffix since it alters the meaning of the noun, a free morpheme, by changing it from singular to plural. It's the bun lid, the top half of the bun, or the bit with sesame seeds on it... whatever you call the rounder half of a burger bun!

If the suffix appears at the end of the word but only joined by a measly hyphen, this is known as a suffixoid (the -oid is a suffix itself) or a semi-suffix. Imagine this as the horrible moment during consumption when the burger begins to slide away from its bun.

Affixes needn't go just at the beginning or the end of a word. They can even squeeze into the middle of a word. This is known as an infix. Although they are not very common in English, "abso-fucking-lutely" could be considered an example, albeit a rather crude one. In this example, the f-bomb counts as the burger meat, joining together our two word buns.

Look at that perfect cheese placement! Irresistible. 
A circumfix sits around the word, therefore operating much like the whole bun for our burger. Again, this is not common in English.

If the circumfix is the bun, then the interfix is again the meat. It joins two separate and unique stem words in beautiful unity. It's very similar to an infix except that in this case, the bun hasn't been sliced and you're using two complete uncut buns for your burger. Greedy!

There are a couple more things we could mention, but we're too preoccupied thinking about burgers at this point and are now on the hunt for a barbecue.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Get It Right: Lie And Lay

One of our biggest pet peeves is the almost blatant disregard of proper usage of the words lay and lie. Even native English speakers make this mistake, so let us lay down the rules.

Check the lie of the green and the lay of the land.

The word lie can be a verb, meaning either to be resting in a horizontal position or to tell inaccurate or false statements. It can also be a noun, referencing the position in which something lies, such as the lie of the green in a game of golf. The noun can also be the aforementioned inaccurate or false statement.

Example: I am going to lie down because I am tired.


Lay is not synonymous with lie, one cannot lay down in bed. You can lie down in bed. Lay means to place something down. When you lay down a body, it's usually because it's dead and is most certainly not getting back up. Lay as a noun refers to appearance, so you can talk about both the lie and the lay of the green, with the latter referring to its general appearance.
You wouldn't want to lay the table here.

Example: I am going to lay down some cutlery so we can eat dinner.

If you said that you were about to lay down in bed, you were lying about lying and if you can't lie down in your bed it's probably because the lie of the bed isn't right so you should check before you lay your bed down. Confused? No? Don't lie!

Do you have any other grammatical annoyances or pet peeves? Tell us about them in the comments below. We'll be sure to write about them if we haven't already!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Can't We Talk To Animals?

Hamsters are not known for their linguistic abilities.
As humans, we enjoy the dizzying heights and supremacy of being the so-called superior beings of our planet. Some of the things that separate us from animals are our sentience, our culture, and our languages. That said, it certainly does not stop us from attempting to communicate with our furry friends.

When was the last time you found yourself talking to a dog, not just giving vocal orders but actually greeting them, asking how they are, or even just having a full conversation? Those with the restraint to not have full discussions with their pets will think of us as weird, but it's perfectly natural to humanise animals. Talking to plants apparently encourages them to grow. It's actually the vibrations that cause them to flourish rather than the quality of conversation that will make your prize-worthy turnips real contenders at the County Fair.

It's pretty clear that most animals can't understand the intricacies of our advanced communication, but it is certainly not black and white when it comes to whether or not animals can talk. Dogs don't really understand language, they understand tone. Much like when speaking with your girlfriend, it's not what you say, it's how you say it. They respond to tone and volume rather than distinguishing between phonemes, syntax and lexicon.

Cats have been shown to be able to learn commands and understand them, but since they are perhaps the most self-centred creatures on the planet, they often refuse to acknowledge anyone other than themselves.

Dolphins are also great in a military capacity.
Dolphins are said to communicate via a series of clicks and squawks, but deciphering their "language" has become difficult as they spend a lot of time underwater and are therefore hard to study.

Bees, much like art students, communicate solely through dance. They perform a series of motions in certain directions in order to define the location of pollen.

One scientist has spent years studying and decoding the noises of prairie dogs and the messages encoded in their chirps. Aside from being incredibly cute, it seems the little critters are more than capable of encoding information about potential threats, complete with descriptions and instructions on how to escape. It's hardly Shakespeare, but we may not be so highly elevated above these adorable little creatures.

It may not be a case of animals not having language, but rather us not speaking their language.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Language Learning Methods: Flashcards

In our previous posts on language learning methods we've looked at immersion and choral drilling. Today, we're looking at another method that focuses more on the visual aspect of language education. 

When learning languages, despite there often being a lot to read and write, sometimes a picture and a solitary word can be just as effective. We can't oversell the benefits of using flashcards to teach younger learners as they are often a cheap, effective way to teach vocabulary and other short expressions.

We don't mean these flash memory cards!
That doesn't mean adults can't benefit from using flashcards, though they will probably be more embarrassed or shy about using them. If you can convince them, adult novice learners should use flashcards as a memory aid when learning new words.

Flashcards needn't be used just to match words and pictures. You can also use them to arrange sentences, classify words and illustrate various elements of grammar. Use various colours to represent different sentence elements or word types and build up rules from there.

You don't even need to buy flashcards. If you can draw, or even if you can't, you can make your own flashcards at home and even laminate them for next to nothing. They are a cheap and effective way to learn things.

There are drawbacks, of course. Overuse of flashcards can leave learners with a large vocabulary but no real means to string together sentences. Make sure the vocabulary learnt in the flashcards is then used in a real grammatical context in order to further the memorisation of the word and reinforce a semantic link in the learner's mind.

If you have any suggestions on the best ways to use flashcards, tell us about them in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Basque And The Lonely Life Of A Language Isolate

As we demonstrated the other day, languages often have families due to their shared roots. Some languages, however, do not. These loners are rebels without causes and though they are a headache for anyone who needs everything in neat little boxes, they are very interesting and unique.

What are these languages and how are they so distinct that we can't just throw them in with other languages? A few of the more widely spoken language isolates include Korean and Basque. It should be noted that an unclassified language is not the same as a language isolate, since language isolates are languages that have been shown to be unrelated rather than not having been classified as of yet.

City hall in Bilbao, the largest city of the Basque Country.
Having already covered Korean in a language profile, we thought we'd show you a little about a fascinating language isolate that isn't hidden away in the Amazon rainforest or spoken only by solitary tribes on a Pacific island. Basque is spoken in northern Spain, and sticks out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of Romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and French that are its almost immediate neighbours.

Though the Basque Country (País Vasco in Spanish and Euskadi in Basque) exists as an autonomous region of Spain, the true Basque region (Euskal Herria in Basque) is said to extend beyond and stretch as far as southwestern France. It is here where the Basque language, known natively as Euskara, is spoken by around 715,000 native speakers.

Despite the obvious link between the Basque language and Basque separatism, it should be noted that though the political organisation ETA obviously speaks Basque, it is by no means representative of the speakers of this fascinating and unique language nestled amongst historically Latin languages.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Get It Right: Apostrophes

Few punctuation marks cause as much trouble as the apostrophe. In English, the apostrophe serves several purposes, many of which are unknown to the general public.

These DVDs are waterproof... we hope!

The apostrophe is not used for plurals! Despite what you may see, things such as DVDs (note the correct pluralisation) should not be written as DVD's, unless it's possessive.


As we saw in our previous example, "DVD's" is actually possessive. When a noun becomes possessive we add an apostrophe before the s.

Example: I really enjoyed the DVD's extra features.

Nouns ending in s

Some nouns end in s. Usually one would add 's to the word to indicate the possessive. Here you have a choice. You may add an apostrophe without the letter s.

Example: James' house.

However, if you so wish you can add both.

Example: James's house.

This hungry chipmunk has contracted
a serious case of cuteness!
Personally, we prefer omitting the additional s but both are considered correct and rather than getting into a fight about it, you should just be consistent.


An apostrophe is used in when two words have contracted to form a new word. The combination of I and am contract to form I'm, for example. Combine it and is and you will get it's.

Example: I like the DVD, it's really good.

Its (not it's)

Even though the contraction of it and is uses an apostrophe, when you're talking about the possessive of the third person neutral, it, then you do not use an apostrophe.

Example: The DVD was a success thanks to its extra features.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Language Families And Dialect Continuums

Some languages are quite similar, while others couldn't be more different. More often than not, similar languages share a common ancestry and the languages that have many differences do not. When languages have a shared ancestry, a common root, or were initially the same language before diverging into different languages, they are said to be part of the same language family.

Like traditional human families, language families can be put into a family tree. Of course, speakers of related languages may not be genetically related. Almost every language belongs to a language family. However, there are certain languages that do not, and these are known as language isolates.

The five largest language families account for around 85% of the world's population and include Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, Niger-Congo, Afroasiatic, and Austronesian languages.

Language family trees are just as beautiful.
Within each of these families there are branches and subdivisions. Both English and French are Indo-European languages, but English is a Germanic language like German, while French is a Romance language like Italian and Spanish.

For languages that are very similar, it isn't always possible to pigeonhole them in such a clear-cut way as to define them as a member of a particular language family's subdivision as we did with English and French. When this is the case, rather than use a tree model as we do with language families, we can use a dialect continuum, which classifies the languages more as a range than as separate entities.

When considering languages in this way, rather than saying Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian are all Romance languages, we'd consider them all to be a part of a Romance language continuum, both linguistically and geographically. You can see this for yourself with a car and several days of driving, if you so wish.

Starting in the west with Portugal (home to Portuguese) and heading eastwards across Europe, you can begin to appreciate the language continuum as you pass through Spain, experiencing Galician, Asturian, Spanish and Catalan, to name a few. As you reach France, you can enjoy hearing French and Occitan before hearing Italian in Italy and Romansch in Switzerland.

Languages, as much as we can attempt to classify and organise them, are sometimes so dynamic, unique and uncontrollable, that whether we consider them part of a continuum or members of a family seems fairly arbitrary when we could just be enjoying them!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The EU And Its Languages: Part 2

Yesterday we saw a brief history of the EEC which later became the EU, the countries that formed it and the languages they brought with them. Today we'll be continuing our little history lesson with the Maastricht Treaty, the formation of the EU and countries that became members and brought their cultures and languages with them.

The Colonel Building in the
Dutch city of Maastricht. 
The Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992 and formally created the European Union. Three years later Austria, Sweden and Finland all joined the club. Austria had little to no worries when it came to linguistic recognition as German had been a permanent fixture since the creation of the EEC. Sweden and Finland, however, led to Swedish and Finnish being added as official languages.

It would take another nine years before the EU would allow any more nations into the community, but when it did it would be the largest expansion to date. On May 1st of 2004, Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia joined, as well as seven former members of the Eastern Bloc: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia. Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak and Slovene all became official languages.

Three years later in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania became EU member states and Bulgarian and Romanian became official languages. Irish also finally gained its official status, no less than 14 years after Ireland joined the EU.

With five years having passed since the last the enlargement, Croatia is due to accede at some point this year and will no doubt bring with it its native language, Croatian.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The EU And Its Languages: Part 1

Since today is Europe Day, the celebration of the EU and Europe, we felt it would be an apt time to celebrate our thirst for language knowledge. Today we'll be looking at how the political entity of the EU has affected languages over the last six decades.

The Treaty of Rome was signed in this room
in the Palazzo dei Conservatori.
Our story begins with the Treaty of Rome and the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. This helped create the earliest form of what can now be called the EU. The EEC wasn't actually the EU, but many consider it to be the precursor for it. Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were the founding nations of the EEC.

If you're even vaguely culturally aware, you will notice that these six countries don't all speak the same language. Belgium's main languages include Flemish and French, while German is used in Germany, Italian in Italy, and French in France. It's also spoken in Luxembourg, where Flemish and Luxembourgish are also used, while Dutch and other languages we mentioned last week for Queen's Day are spoken in the Netherlands.

Four main languages from these countries were assigned official status. These were French, Italian, German and Dutch, three of which would later be considered by marketers as the most important languages in Europe, known as EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German and Spanish).

Charles de Gaulle clearly wasn't a fan
of his British neighbours.
It wasn't until 1973 that more nations joined the EEC. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark were added to the roster despite previous vetoes from France's president, Charles de Gaulle. As if the British and the French needed more political tension!

With their accession came English and Danish as official languages. Ireland's native language, Irish, would not be added as an official language until New Year's Day 2007.

The early 80s brought with it horrendous fashion and a galvanised music scene (some of the best and worst music is from this decade), as well as newly democratic states in the Mediterranean such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, all of which lost their dictators in the 70s.

The common agricultural policy was too good for the Mediterranean states to turn down and membership put a huge seal of approval on the fledgling democracies. Spanish, Portuguese and Greek were all added to the ever-growing list of official languages.

Having already covered all the enlargements of the EEC, tomorrow we'll be covering the history following the Maastricht Treaty, which created what we now know as the EU.

Read Part 2.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

More Of The Worst Use Of Foreign Languages In Songs

A while ago we found five songs that deserved to be in the hall of shame for their atrocious use of a foreign language. We picked five songs that we felt merited the title of "The Worst Use of Foreign Languages in Songs" and felt we'd wrapped things up nicely.

Since then, we have had the misfortune of hearing even more horrendous examples and have had to extend our list to include a few more that get a big F grade for their use of foreign languages.

Samson and Delilah by Anthony Van Dyck
Muse - I Belong To You (Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix)

More attempts from the British rock trio to climb inside their own behinds with this one. If the French subtitle didn't do it for you, mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix, taken from the opera Samson and Delilah, features an over-Anglicised pronunciation of "réponds". Clearly, the singer didn't study how the acute accent over the letter e, (é) should be pronounced in French. He should just keep his falsetto in English.

Styx - Mr. Roboto

Though only featuring one line of Japanese, Mr. Roboto uses it just enough to get really annoying. The words dōmo arigatō misutā Robotto, meaning "thank you very much Mr. Roboto", almost kill the Japanese language and managed to spawn horrendous catchphrases. Styx should study their hiragana, katagana and kanji writing systems before they attempt to speak more Japanese.

Lady Gaga - Bad Romance

Though je veux ton amour et je veux ta revanche is used only briefly in the song, it's just to make Lady Gaga a tiny bit more pretentious, if that was even possible. The outspoken and often controversial singer adds this to a long list of things she shouldn't ever have done. Meat dress, anyone? Also, her song "Alejandro" has a few bits of Spanish and code-switching, but we felt nothing says unnecessary pretentious and cringe-worthy language usage like the French language.

A nice champagne...
now all we need is salmon.
Franz Ferdinand - Darts of Pleasure

The Scottish indie band Franz Ferdinand get a special mention for their use of German in this song. The lyrics in question, which go "Ich heiße Superphantastisch! Ich trinke Schampus mit Lachsfisch! Ich heiße Su-per-phan-tas-tisch", roughly mean "My name is Super-Fantastic! I drink Champagne with salmon! My name is Super-Fantastic!". Need we say more? Despite their German (technically Austrian) band name, they score a big 0 for their ability in the language.

Even now the list isn't exhaustive. If you have any more examples, tell us about them in the comments below.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why The Book Is Better Than The Film

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is the case, then a 90-minute film with 24 frames per second would be worth 129,000,000 words. Right? Wrong!

You need a lot less space to read a book...
Unless you have a lot of books.
Despite enabling us to see and hear a story, all whilst gorging down popcorn, hotdogs, nachos or even a beer if you're old enough, most adaptations of books into films are often touted as being inferior. Why is this the case?

There are a lot of boxes that need to be checked in order to gain financing for a film. You need the right actors, the right producers and directors and the right studio. The immense amount of permutations this could leave you with is immeasurable, meaning the odds are good that the film will never match up with how you saw it in your head. Books often contain a narrative, the thoughts and feelings of characters, especially the protagonist. This doesn't often work in film, and as a result we're watching the characters rather than sharing their experiences.

The expression "too many cooks spoil the broth" and "a camel is a horse designed by a committee" ring true here. With so many involved, many compromises are made. These compromises often cause films adapted from books to become a hollow shell of what they were in print.

When you read a book from the comfort of your own home, the floors aren't sticky and the food isn't ridiculously expensive! Don't even get us started on the process of dubbing and subtitling!

Are there any films which you think are better than the book? Tell us about them in the comments.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Get It Right: I And Me

One of the most common mistakes we hear is the almost interchangeable usage of the word I and me. As most people will know, they are not interchangeable and here's why.


I as the word, rather than the letter, is the subject personal pronoun for the first person. Lost? Put simply it refers to the speaker (the first person), is a replacement for their real name (personal pronoun), and indicates that they are carrying out the action or verb in the sentence.

John and I are going to the park.
If somebody says "I am", thanks to the use of "I", you know that they are not only referring to themselves as they are using "I" but also that they are the active participant in the sentence.

The real problem arises when paired with other people, places or things. We often hear "Me and John are going to the park", for example. Aside from making our ears twitch and our sphincters tighten, it's also wrong. Imagine the second person wasn't there and it was just you going to the park. You wouldn't say "me am going to the park" as it's stupid.


Me, unlike I, is not the subject of a sentence. It is the object. Ensure that you use it only in cases when the word could be replaced by him, her, us or them.

I and me follow similar rules to who and whom since they also portray the difference between subject and object. If you still struggle with that difference, we're sorry to say that you get an F.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Star Wars Day: The Languages Of Star Wars

If you didn't know, today is Star Wars Day. As it's May 4th, (May the 4th be with you), we thought we'd look at some of the languages used in the world's best and worst Sci Fi trilogies. Obviously, the three original films are the best.

In a risky endeavour we'll be looking at the languages as they appear in just the first film, from memory. No doubt we'll end up with plenty of fans correcting us. Arguably the second-best film in the series (Empire is the best - fact), Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope introduces us to the series, in which we immediately hear our first language:

One of many Star Wars sets left in the Tunisian desert.
Galactic Standard

Whichever language you're watching the film in is effectively Galactic Standard. However, since the films were made in English, we can assume that Galactic Standard sounds exactly like English with a slightly altered lexicon and different idiomatic expressions. You scruffy nerfherders!

R2-D2's beeps and whistles

Not technically a language but more of a machine code, R2-D2's form of communication certainly warrants a mention given that despite having no lexicon or grammar, the entirety of R2's communication conveys emotion without words.


The language of the Jawas is nothing more than squeaky nonsense. It is lacking any degree of sophistication in terms of constructed languages.


The language of merchants is referenced by Luke's uncle when looking for a protocol droid, effectively a robot translator. It is imperative that the droid, C-3PO, speaks this language.

Shyriiwook (Wookiespeak)

The almost impossible to emulate Shyriiwook is the language of roars, grunts and groans used by Han Solo's furry companion, Chewbacca.

If you can vocally replicate Shyriiwook, we take our hats off to you.

Some think that this rock formation in Arches
National Park looks quite like Jabba the Hutt...

The language spoken by Greedo, the green guy who does not shoot first, is in fact a simplified version of the South American language Quechua. It should be noted that the indigenous speakers of Quechua bear no resemblance to Greedo.


The language spoken by the infamous Jabba the Hutt was considered superior to Galactic Standard, and though the Hutts could actually speak the language, they preferred to use their own instead. It should be noted there exist no pleasantries such as "please" and "thank you" in this language. Typical!

There are clearly millions more languages in the Star Wars universe, but we'll leave them for now before we get too geeky. Tell us your favourites below in the comments. Bib Fortuna's language was a personal favourite of ours.

Friday, May 3, 2013

May 3: World Press Freedom Day

Today is indeed World Press Freedom Day, an international celebration of, you've guessed it, freedom of the press. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are, in essence, the same thing. One refers to spoken language and the other to its written form.

What will we use for art projects when
all newspapers are replaced with websites?
Unsurprisingly, countries with little or no democracy tend to have a poor record when it comes to freedom of the press. Of course, non-democratic political systems, dictatorships and despots require a high level of control over the press and free expression as these interfere with propaganda and their efforts to maintain absolute power.

The fact that the freedom of the press is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of the UN is cause to celebrate. In fact, the UDHR is the world's most translated document. UNESCO's Index Translationum lists the most translated authors and most common language pairings.

It's one thing to feature an ideal and another thing to uphold or even enforce it. The phone-hacking scandal in the UK showed that freedom of the press can't be left unchecked, and that the term "freedom of the press" isn't an excuse for the media to do as they please.

The press, for all their foibles, do occasionally spread news. When they're doing things morally they should certainly be supported.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Etymology Of Mayday And Voice Procedure

With yesterday being May Day, which annoyingly is not a holiday in the UK or the US, it got us thinking about the origins of the term mayday, as used in distress calls.

We had heard that mayday comes from the French expression venez m'aider (come help me), which when you think about the distress signal, makes a lot of sense. When using mayday, the actual distress signal is repeated three times as "mayday, mayday, mayday" to avoid confusion with someone merely discussing a mayday signal.

US Navy air traffic controllers aboard the USS Iwo Jima
Just like the NATO Alphabet, there are several key terms and phrases used in radio transmissions, in particular by the military, mariners, and those in aviation and emergency services due to how much they rely on radio communication. The protocol for using particular code words that are more intelligible by radio transmission is known as a voice procedure and today we'll be going through a few of their origins.

Just like mayday, there is pan-pan which also comes from French. It's an Anglicisation of the French word panne, which can mean broken. Again, this is repeated to avoid confusion with messages that are not the distress signal itself. Pan-pan signals are less severe than mayday.

Securite, which is pronounced like the French word sécurité, is used for safety information.

Most of the other terms used come from English. Common words like yes and no are replaced with affirmative and negative. In aviation, affirm is preferred as otherwise both words end with -tive, which could lead to confusion.

Portuguese Naval ship Sagres
In addition to affirmative, words and expressions such as ten four, copy, and roger all confirm that a message has been well received, and wilco, a portmanteau of "will comply", means not only that the message has been received, but that any new orders will also be followed. Contrary to popular belief, roger and wilco are never used together, unless that is your name.

The terms over and out are also never used together, since over means that the speaker is finished sending and will be expecting a reply, while out means the speaker is finished sending and will not be expecting a reply because communications are finished.

Aside from all their practical uses, radio procedures can also be useful if you're playing "cops and robbers" or pretending to be army soldiers in the park.

If you know any more voice procedure terminology or expressions, leave them in the comments below complete with a definition!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Queen's Day: The Languages Of The Netherlands

The Dutch are famous for tulips...
Not to mention another plant.
Yesterday the Netherlands crowned a new king, its first in over 100 years. It was also Queen's Day in the Netherlands, and the coronation of Willem-Alexander being held on this date was no coincidence. As of next year though, Queen's Day, or Koninginnedag in Dutch, will be moved a few days forward to Willem-Alexander's birthday, the 27th April, and appropriately renamed to Koningsdag, which of course means King's Day.

In honour of the Dutch, we thought we'd look at the languages of the Netherlands. We won't be looking at Dutch however, since we will have a language profile for it in the coming weeks. Instead, we'll take a look at some of the lesser-known "native" languages of the Netherlands.


With roughly 825,000 speakers, Limburgish is the second most-spoken minority language in the Netherlands. The language has no official status in Belgium or Germany, where it is also spoken, but does hold regional language status in the Netherlands.

Due to political reasons, Limburgish was not granted any official status in Belgium because it met with resistance from Flemish groups due to fears that it would weaken their political power. The Dutch were much more relaxed about the situation. Well done!

West Frisian

The language of Friesland is a Germanic language like German, English and Dutch. There are around 350,000 speakers in the Netherlands and the language holds official status in the region of Friesland.

There are also speakers of the language in Germany, where it also holds an official status. In the Netherlands the language is regulated by the Fryske Academy, whereas in Germany there is no official regulatory body.

Frisian and English were once closely related and still remain so. The only living language more closely related to English is Scots.

The Netherlands is also home to large numbers of speakers of other languages, but as we like to feature languages in their native settings, we'll save those for our language profiles or country-specific posts!