Saturday, August 31, 2013

Languages In The News: August 2013

It's that time of month again! Since we've finally reached the final day of August, we're going to look at some of the most interesting language news stories that we've come across in the past month. If you'd rather read the news as it happens, we also try to share as many good language stories as possible on our Facebook page throughout the month. 

What are you looking at?
We begin with an article from The Telegraph, which rightly cautions everyone to be very careful when using translation software. You might not always get the results you're expecting when bad translations such as "Got Milk?" becoming "Are you lactating?" are known to have happened. On a similar note, it seems "autogrammar" is on the technological horizon as well, so be prepared!

Google's definition of "literally" ruffled many feathers and caused quite a bit of despair among some linguists this month. However, National Geographic points out why they should all take a moment to calm down as word definitions are constantly changing. In fact, Mashable shared this great comic that demonstrates that exact point!

If you like maps, you might be interested in the new interactive language maps provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. It allows you to see population density maps of speakers of over a dozen languages used in the United States including French Creole, Persian, Korean, and Tagalog.

Many people were shocked to discover that the UK city of Manchester is the most linguistically diverse city in Western Europe, if not the entire world. According to The Independent, up to 200 languages are spoken in the city at any time. English obviously comes in first, but it's also home to a sizable Urdu-speaking population. Other languages to be found include Bengali and Yoruba.

Finally, we learned that the online Oxford Dictionaries have added several new words to their inventory this month, including "twerk", "squee", "selfie", and "srsly", among others. We're not so sure how we feel about that last one... does removing all the vowels really make it a "word" worthy of the dictionary?

Did we leave out your favorite language news story of the month? Let us know about it in the comments below, and please include a link!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Kazakh Constitution Day: The Languages Of Kazakhstan

Today marks Kazakh Constitution Day, just as yesterday marked the Slovak National Uprising. In honour of this Kazakh national holiday, we'll be honouring the country with a look at the languages spoken there. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan isn't a massively well-known country in the West and the majority of westerners' knowledge is made up from fallacies portrayed in Sacha Baron Cohen's film Borat.

Though we can still enjoy the film knowing that the country was purposely picked because many viewers had never heard of the place, today we'd prefer to at least dispel some of the myths garnered from the film that was better at exposing American ignorance than insulting Kazakhs.

The Parliament of Kazakhstan in Astana, the capital.
The country of Kazakhstan is the world's ninth largest country and the largest landlocked country, meaning it has no coastline, in the world. While this may be disappointing for you beach dwellers, it should be noted that the country is subject to an interesting linguistic landscape.

The country's two official languages are Kazakh and Russian. The principal official language, Kazakh, is spoken by around 11 million people worldwide. Though the majority of its speakers reside in Kazakhstan, it is also spoken in China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Iran.

Of the 11 million speakers of Kazakh, 10 million of them live in Kazakhstan, making this Turkic language principally found in today's country of interest. In Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the language is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, though in China it is written using an abjad derived from Arabic.

From roughly 1813 to 1907, Kazakhstan was under the rule of the Russian Empire. It was during this time that the Russian language was introduced into Kazakhstan in an official capacity, particularly in schools, where it was somewhat resented. That said, the Russian language still holds official capacity in Kazakhstan and though it isn't the language of the state, it is still expected to be used in official documents and other important-sounding stuff.

A large number of Russian immigrants began arriving in the late 19th century leaving Kazakhstan with a large Russian-speaking population. Following the rule of the Russian Empire, it only took until 1920 before Kazakhstan was then under rule by the Soviet Union, albeit as an autonomous republic, which left the country with Russian influences.

On December 16, 1991, Kazakhstan was the last nation to become independent from the Soviet Union and though the nation is just over 3 months from celebrating its independence, we much preferred the idea of celebrating August 30, 1995, when Kazakhstan approved its constitution, outlining "freedom, quality and concord."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Slovak National Uprising: The Languages Of Slovakia

On this day in 1944, Slovaks under the rule of Nazi collaborator Josef Tiso rose up in an armed insurrection. Unfortunately, the insurrection failed and would not be over until the arrival of the Soviet Army towards the end of the war in 1945. Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia for almost fifty years afterwards and eventually became the independent nation of Slovakia in 1993. In honour of one of the most important days in Slovak history, we're looking at Slovakia's linguistic environment through languages spoken in this beautiful and interesting nation.

Gerlach Peak, the highest peak in Slovakia.
Of course, Slovak is the most commonly spoken language in Slovakia. It is spoken by 4.6 million out of Slovakia's 5.4 million citizens. Slovak has around 5 million speakers total, meaning there are less than half a million speakers outside of Slovakia residing in countries such as the United States, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Poland, Ireland, Romania, Austria, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Hungary, and Ukraine.

The other languages spoken in Slovakia include Bulgarian, Czech, and Russian. This is principally due to immigration. Rusyn is spoken in the northeast of the country, while Hungarian is found in the southern regions which border with, you've guessed it, Hungary.

One of the most impressive things about Slovakia is the level of multilingualism in the country. Nearly 70% of the population aged over 25 speak two or more foreign languages, making Slovakia the second best country in the European Union when it comes to foreign language ability.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Irish Loanwords: Part 2

Today we're going to conclude our look at some of the greatest lexical contributions Irish has made to the English language. You can find Part 1 here.

A beautiful bog in Ireland.
Bog - Did you know that there are four main types of wetlands and bogs are one of them? Their name comes from the Irish word bogach, which is derived from the Irish adjective bog which aptly means "soft, moist".

Galore - It's so much more fun to say that there are "cookies galore" than just saying there's "an abundance of cookies". This wonderful term comes from the Irish go leor meaning "enough" or "sufficient".

Kibosh - If someone wants you stop doing something, they may tell you to "put the kibosh" on it. While it means "to finish" or "to end" in English, its origins are murky. Some believe it could be Yiddish based on its appearance, but others suggest it comes from the Irish term caip bháis meaning "cap of death", likely a reference to the black cap judges would wear when they sentenced someone to death.

Phony - You can spell it phoney as well, but either way it means something that is fake. It is thought to come from the English term fawney, which in turn came from the Irish word fainne meaning "ring".

Slogan - Despite the term being appropriated by politicians and businesses to refer to a distinctive phrase associated with them, this word originally meant "battle cry"! The Irish term sluagh-ghairm referred to battle cries used by Gaelic clans long ago.

Whiskey - First of all, it's spelled whiskey when you're referring to the product from Ireland, or if you're speaking American English. Otherwise, including when you're referring to the Scottish drink, it's spelled whisky. Now that we've gotten that spelling issue out of the way, you should know that the word came from the Latin aqua vitae, meaning "water of life", which was then translated into Irish as uisce beatha and Gaelic as uisge beatha. An apt name, of course!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Irish Loanwords: Part 1

In past posts, we've looked at loanwords into the English language that have come from languages such as Yiddish to Chinese. Over the next couple of days, we're going to look at some of our favorite words that have entered the English lexicon from Irish, also known as Irish Gaelic. Some words may have come from the closely related Scottish Gaelic language as well, since it is often quite difficult to perfectly pinpoint the history of loanwords.

It should come as no surprise that Irish has influenced the English language given the proximity between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain.

An artist's depiction of a banshee from 1897.
Banshee - If you've heard this term before, it was probably in the phrase "screaming like a banshee". A banshee is actually a female spirit or fairy. In Irish mythology, they were considered to be an omen of death, and were said to wail and scream when someone was about to die, hence the popular phrase. The word comes from a phonetic spelling of the Irish bean sídhe.

Hooligan - You may know of them as people who violently disrupt British football matches, but their name likely came from the Irish surname Houlihan sometime in the 1890s. There are several theories as to whether the name was used in reference to a real person or a fictional family instead.

Leprechaun - The origins of this word should come as no shock to you. It originated as the Irish word leipreachán, and first appeared in the English language spelled lubrican.

Shamrock - One of the symbols of Ireland, shamrock is simply another word for "clover". It comes from the Irish word seamrog.

Slew - We're not talking about the past tense of "slay", as in "slaying dragons" here. The word slew meaning "a large amount" of something comes from the Irish word sluagh

Smithereens - Such a great word for little pieces of things! It's thought to come from the diminutive Irish term smidirin, meaning "fragments".

We'll have even more great Irish words for you in Part 2 tomorrow.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Language Profile: Oromo

In this week's language profile we're looking at Oromo, another language spoken in Ethiopia. It is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family that includes Arabic and Hausa.

Last week we looked at Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Despite its official status, it is actually not the most spoken language in the country. That honor instead falls to Oromo, which is spoken by just over a third of the Ethiopian population.

Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.
Oromo is also spoken by smaller numbers of people in Kenya and Somalia. It is the native language of the Oromo ethnic group that resides in all three countries and comprises the largest ethnicity of Ethiopia. The language has several varieties, with some that differ so greatly that  they aren't even mutually intelligible. For this reason, some linguists believe Oromo may comprise a dialect continuum instead of one language.

Before the 1970s, the Oromo language was rarely used in publishing or heard on the radio. Luckily, the Ethiopian government promoted the use of Oromo, as well as other languages, during a government literacy program starting in the mid-1970s. For the past twenty years or so, it has also been used as the primary language of instruction in some elementary schools in various regions of Ethiopia.

In 1991, a Latin-based alphabet known as Qubee was officially adopted as the writing system of Oromo. The language has five short vowels as well as five long vowels, which are written by merely doubling the letter (such as a to aa). It also uses gemination, in which the length of consonants, again written by doubling letters, can distinguish two words from each other. The Oromo alphabet also contains five digraphs: ch, dh, ny, ph, and sh

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Día De La Independencia: The Languages Of Uruguay

This weekend we've been lucky with independence days, with yesterday being Ukraine's and today being Uruguay's. As per usual, we felt it only fitting to honour Uruguay's national day with a look at the country's linguistic landscape.

Of course, Día de la Independencia means "Independence Day" in Spanish, and today was the day Uruguay declared its independence from the Brazilian Empire in 1825. It wasn't until 1828 that Uruguay's independence would officially be recognised on August 28th.

Maldonado, Uruguay
Uruguay, as a nation, is not as linguistically diverse as one may think. Though several other countries in South America feature many indigenous languages, Uruguay does not. There are very few descendants of the native peoples, and sadly Uruguay is thought to have no surviving indigenous languages.

However, the Spanish utilised in the country of Uruguay is particularly interesting. A large number of Italian immigrants have helped shape the Spanish language employed in the area. The mixture of Spanish and Italian used in the region is known as Cocoliche and makes use of hybrid words and mixed vocabulary.

English has a significant presence as a second language, as it does in many parts of the world. Recently it is becoming more and more common amongst younger Uruguayans and those in business.

Given that Uruguay was previously part of the Brazilian Empire, it should come as no surprise that Portuguese is also spoken in parts of the country, especially the areas nearer Brazil.

In border areas, the language of Portuñol is prominent. It is a mixture or pidgin of Portuguese and Rioplatense Spanish, a particular type of Spanish that is spoken principally in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Grande do Sul in Brazil.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Independence Day: The Languages Of Ukraine

Although the declaration of sovereignty took place on 16 July 1990 with the first actual celebration on the same date in 1991, today's date now celebrates Ukraine's independence from the USSR in 1991. In honour of this day we've decided to celebrate by taking a look at the languages of Ukraine.

The Crimean Peninsula
Major Slavic Languages

Ukrainian is the official language of course, with around 65% of the population speaking it. Russian, however, is spoken as the native language of nearly a third of Ukrainians. Though it holds no official status, many more people speak it as a second language, since it is often used for communication across large portions of the country.

Aside from these two main languages that make up the significant majority of the population, there are several other languages with a significant number of speakers such as Polish, which has over 1,000,000 speakers.

Germanic and Romance Languages

Ukraine is home to the largest number of Eastern Yiddish speakers in the world, over 600,000 in total. As a result, the language held official status in Ukraine for a period of three years between 1918 and 1921.

Romanian boats over 600,000 speakers as well and is another of the languages spoken in Ukraine with more than half a million native speakers.

Beautiful wheat fields in Ukraine.
More Slavic Languages

Rusyn, a language that is considered by some to be a dialect of Ukrainian, also has over half a million speakers, though that really depends on whether it's a language or a dialect. It is also spoken in parts of Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Romania. 

Ukraine also has over 400,000 speakers of Belarusian, which unsurprisingly is also a language of Belarus.

The Turkic Language

Perhaps the most interesting language spoken in Ukraine is Crimean Tatar, which has just over a quarter of a million speakers. Crimean Tatar is considered a native language of Ukraine and is quite sporadically spread across the globe. It is a Turkic language that currently enjoys official language status in a regional capacity in both Ukraine and Romania.

Do you plan to celebrate Ukraine's Independence Day or know any festive terms in these languages? Let us know in the comments below.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Get It Right: Allusion And Illusion

A couple of days ago, we warned you of 5 signs you may be a member of the "grammar police". Today we continue to prove that we fall somewhere in that category as we help you to discern the difference between the similarly spelled nouns allusion and illusion


If you were paying attention in English class in high school, you should at least vaguely remember that allusion is a term often used in literature. It comes from the Latin term alludere, and is a figure of speech that implies or indirectly refers to something else, be it a person, place, or piece of literature.

Biblical allusions are popular in everything from literature to television shows, while Shakespearean allusions are found nearly everywhere, including in the lyrics of Taylor Swift songs. People can also make allusions to things that have happened in their past, from childhood traumas to ex-girlfriends.

An optical illusion - those diagonal lines are parallel!

An illusion, on the other hand, is something that distorts the senses or is misleading in how it is perceived. It comes from the Latin term illudere, meaning "to mock". There are many different types of illusions, but the most commonly known ones are optical illusions.

Video games can give you the illusion that you're a warrior or a pilot. Materials can be created to give the illusion that they're something they're not, such as pleather (artificial leather) looking like real leather, or laminate floors designed to look like they're made of wood. The physical appearance of some insects can even be an illusion, leading their predators to believe that they're actually leaves or twigs so that they can remain unharmed.

Is there another common spelling or grammar mistake that you feel needs correcting? Let us know in the comments and we may address it in the future.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Conlangs: Interlingua

Over the past week or so we've had a look at Esperanto as well as Ido, a constructed language that came from Esperanto reformists. Today we're rounding off with the last of the the three most popular conlangs, Interlingua.

Interlingua takes its name from the Latin words inter and lingua, effectively meaning "intermediary language". Unsurprisingly, in Interlingua, these words also mean exactly the same thing. Interlingua is younger than Esperanto and Ido, having been created between 1937 and 1951. The language has a similar number of speakers to Ido, having never really garnered as much support as the significantly more popular Esperanto.

Europe, home to the languages used to create Interlingua.
The vocabulary of Interlingua is based principally on a set of control languages which include the EFIGS languages (English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish), as well as Portuguese and Russian. However, as long as an international usage can be shown within these seven languages, vocabulary can also be taken from any language. As a result, Interlingua also features vocabulary from Japanese and Arabic, for example.

What makes Interlingua different from Esperanto and Ido is the way that it adds words to its vocabulary. As we have already said, it can borrow almost any word that is understood internationally. On top of that, Interlingua retains the spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of any words it adds to its vocabulary, unlike Esperanto and Ido, which prefer to change the word's spelling to conform to their rules. However, if loanwords feature a diacritic that does not affect pronunciation, they are removed.

Due to the aforementioned conventions, Interlingua is considered a naturalistic auxiliary language, as it takes vocabulary and loanwords much like naturally-occurring languages and, as a result of this, is the world's most widely-spoken language of this type.

The main criticism of Interlingua is its purpose as a Eurocentric auxiliary language. Due to its reliance on its control languages, it is fairly easy to learn amongst speakers of those languages. Interlingua is generally considered to be more expressive as it maintains elements from its control languages, in comparison to Esperanto which is more restrictive in its construction.

So while Interlingua is far from being as popular as Esperanto, it's not particularly fair to compare the two due to their different functions and constructions.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

5 Signs You May Be The Grammar Police

We, like many others, are somewhat fond of being correct when it comes language. We also thrive on correcting people and that sense of smug self-satisfaction that comes with telling someone they're not only wrong, but that you have taught them something.

The Grammar Police don't get cool hats or horses, sadly.
Today we're looking at a few tell-tale signs that you are part of the most obnoxious level of grammatical prescriptivism, known as the grammar police. Below we have listed the most commonly found symptoms in those who have an acute case of headuparsium, which is a word we just made up.

1: Did you find our made-up terminology offensive?

If you winced or your body convulsed at the sound of headuparsium, then the odds are that you're the worst kind of grammar police. W're talking about those who are incapable of realising that language is a tool for communicating messages and ideas and instead dwell on tiny details, effectively killing any conversation they are involved in.

2: Do you stop people mid-sentence to correct their grammar or word usage?

You're such an obnoxious follower of the rules that you won't even let somebody finish speaking before you need to inflate your own ego by correcting them.

3: Do you continue to correct their grammar after the conversation has ended?

As if spotting their mistakes and correcting them wasn't enough, you feel the need to chastise the culprit long after they've made their grammatical error and the conversation has already been ended by your input.

4: Do you correct pronunciation even if the speaker is pronouncing it correctly in their dialect?

Perhaps one of the rudest and most obnoxious ways to correct somebody is to indicate that their pronunciation, due to their regional or international dialect, is wrong. 

It's that there thing for digging!
5: Do you correct or ignore regional lexicon and word usage?

Not everyone calls a spade a "spade", some call it a "shovel" and others may call it "that there thing for digging". If the word is mutually intelligible, why waste your breath telling them that's not what it's called?

How many of these questions did you answer "yes" to? Add up the numbers and check your results below.

0: Well done! - You are as liberal as can be when it comes to linguistic diversity. This doesn't mean you don't know grammar, just that you are happy to accept that everybody may not master it as well as you.

1: Not bad! - A few things still annoy you linguistically, but you manage to get on with your life.

2: Acceptable. - It's good to make sure things are done right, but you don't dwell too much on it.

3: Welcome to the dark side! - You are on your way to joining the cause of the grammar police. Tread carefully.

4: Terrible! - You make people feel awkward and ruin conversations with your observation and snobbery.

5: Disgusting! - Your obnoxious behaviour and strictness when it comes to grammatical rules make people wish they never met you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is TEFL For You?

Nowadays there's a huge demand for English lessons as the world becomes more connected everyday and globalisation has made the English language more important than ever before. Of course, many naysayers will claim that Mandarin Chinese is the world's most important language. Whilst it may be wise to learn Mandarin for the future, learning English now is very important for everyone.

If you have been lucky enough to have been born in an English-speaking country or even just to have had the opportunity to learn English, teaching it can be very rewarding and, in some cases, very lucrative.

Whilst there are multiple ways to become an English teacher to foreign speakers, we will not be covering that today. What we're aiming to do is clarify whether or not you'd be ready to take that first step into teaching English as a foreign language.

You never know what you'll find abroad. In
Spain you might see these works of art known
as fallas explode in pyrotechnic glory while
learning the Valencian language!
Do you love languages?

If you love languages, you're probably already giving this some thought. Teaching English as a foreign language is a way to share languages with everyone. In many countries, both children and adults are looking to learn English so you will have a choice.

After all, your principal goal as an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher is to impart your wisdom and knowledge of the English language onto those who have to, and in certain cases, want to learn English.

Do you love travelling?

If you love travelling, then moving to another country for TEFL can open doors to you. Obviously there aren't many opportunities to teach English as a foreign language in English-speaking countries. That said, there still are some jobs like this around.

Do you love learning languages?

If you are in a foreign country teaching English, you can definitely make the most of your time there learning a language yourself. You can make the most of your time by taking classes or even just spending time with locals because, as we've said before, immersion is one of our favourite ways to learn foreign languages.

Do you love teaching?

This is definitely the most important question you have to ask yourself before setting off on your TEFL journey. At the end of the day, you are teaching, and if teaching isn't for you then it renders all the other answers redundant. If you answered "yes" to all these questions, then you best get started!

Do you teach or have you taught English as a foreign language? Do you have any advice for budding EFL teachers? Tell us below in the comments!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Language Profile: Amharic

This week's language profile is on Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Amharic is the second most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic.

Amharic nouns, like those of many languages, can have either masculine or feminine gender. In many cases, the suffixes -t and -it mark the femininity of Amharic nouns. The language also has a handy suffix for creating plurals, written -očč.

Haile Selassie I, former Emperor of Ethiopia
In terms of writing systems, Amharic is written using an abugida based on the Ge'ez script. In fact, the word abugida itself originated from the Amharic name for the script, which combines its first four letters: ä, bu, gi, and da. Each character in the script represents a consonant and vowel combination.

Another interesting term that originated in Amharic is Rastafari. Ras is a noble title similar to "duke", while Tafari was the name of Haile Selassie I before he became Emperor of Ethiopia in the 1930s.

Despite the common misconception that the Rastafari movement is all about braided hair and smoking pot, it is actually an interesting spiritual movement that originated in Jamaica in the 1930s. People who belong to the movement believe that the aforementioned Haile Selassie I was the second coming of Jesus. Many learn Amharic as a second language, as Ethiopia is seen as the promised land, or a kind of heaven on Earth. The language is also occasionally used in reggae songs, which have been used in the past by artists such as Bob Marley to spread the word about the movement worldwide.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Language Of Law

If you've ever read a contract, had the horrendous misfortune to deal with bureaucracy, or had a run-in with the law, you'll have come across the wonderful linguistic minefield that is legal language and jargon. Today we'll be looking at legal English as it has been used in the United Kingdom.

Once the Romans conquered England, Latin became the de facto language of the law in the country. Though it was later on that Latin would noticeably change day-to-day English, it did take root in the legal system earlier since it was the Romans who ruled and enforced the law.

The opening page of the Law of Æthelberht
After the Romans left England, the Anglo-Saxons brought their own rules and, as a result, law was discussed, explained, and enforced using Anglo-Saxon or Old English. By the beginning of the 7th century, it was the Law of Æthelberht that established the rules of the Kingdom of Kent. These published rules were indeed written in what is now known as Old English. This was the first example of published law in a Germanic language, and one of the earliest examples of written Old English. With the arrival of the Normans, the language of the legal system in England took a turn. Anglo-Saxon was removed and Anglo-French became the language of legal proceedings. Though records were still kept in Latin, English terms managed to find their way into the lexicon of law. In terms of style, since words of French and Latin origin were considered to be of a higher register than those of Germanic origins, French and Latin words were often preferred in a legal setting over their Germanic counterparts. That said, lawyers would still provide word pairings from both etymological roots in order to make things clearer.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ido: Reforming Esperanto

A few days ago, we covered the constructed language of Esperanto. As a result, it got us thinking about constructed languages and international auxiliary languages. As we said, Esperanto is the world's most popular constructed language. Ido, however, is not.

The flag of Ido
Ido was created in the early 20th century following complaints about Esperanto. The language was designed to address the flaws in Esperanto and to correct them. The Ido movement never really garnered much support, and it wasn't until the age of the internet that Ido actually gained any momentum. Even now, it only has a couple hundred speakers and still lacks support.

The first of Ido's changes to Esperanto was removing all diacritics from the alphabet. Ido's alphabet is identical to the Latin alphabet as used in the English language. The 26 letters represent 26 individual sounds. There are also three digraphs, ch, qu, and sh, which are used.

The phonology of Esperanto always used a stress on the penultimate syllable. Ido, however, does not always follow this rule, instead opting to change the stress for verb infinitives to the last syllable. In terms of vocabulary, Ido prefers to retain nouns as gender-neutral rather than defining words such as occupations as gender-specific.

Even though constructed languages are man-made inventions, one could say that they are still subject to evolution and even revolution.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Get It Right: Elicit And Illicit

Today we have yet another linguistic bone to pick with people who can't seem to get their English grammar right. While you may pronounce the words elicit and illicit the same way, they do have different spellings which you should learn to use correctly, since they mean completely different things!


This verb comes from the Latin term elicitus, and means to evoke, inspire, or draw something out of someone, whether a reaction or information. If you're crying because of relationship troubles, you may elicit someone's sympathy. We can only imagine that Lady Gaga's crazy outfits are designed to elicit reactions from us. You can also try your hand at eliciting laughter from someone by telling them a joke.

Alcatraz doesn't look like a fun place to live.

Note the initial i and the double l in this adjective's spelling! Things that are illicit are illegal, not permitted, or illegitimate. If a noun has illicit in front of it, then you should know to stay away from it. Illicit affairs are never a good idea, whether you take the phrase in the romantic or the business sense. It's also a bad idea to get involved with illicit drugs, as well as downloading illicit copies of films or music.

In summary, you may want to elicit certain behaviors, but not if they're illicit! Unless you want to end up in prison, that is.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Indian Independence Day: The Languages of India

Today is Independence Day in India, a celebration of the date in 1947 when the country attained independence from British rule. In honor of the day's celebrations, we're going to look at the incredible linguistic diversity of the world's second-most populous country.

The British Indian Empire in 1909, before independence.
Home to over a billion people, India is teeming with linguistic diversity. Over 30 languages in the country boast over a million speakers, while over 100 have more than 10,000! We've done language profiles on sixteen Indian languages in the past year, all of which have more than 20 million native speakers. 

Since a look at all the languages of India would take weeks to write, we're going to focus on the country's official languages. Standard Hindi is the official language of the government, with English as a secondary official language, undoubtedly due to India's history under British rule.

There are another 22 languages recognized by the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, most of which are official in specific Indian states and regions. We've grouped them below with their language families.

Indo-Aryan Languages

Nearly 75% of Indians speak Indo-Aryan languages. There are fifteen official Indo-Aryan languages in India. In past weeks, we've written language profiles on Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Maithili, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Urdu, while we'll be covering Assamese in a few weeks.

Dogri, spoken by over 4 million, is at times considered to be a dialect of Punjabi. There's also Kashmiri, spoken in the Kashmir Valley, and Konkani, which is official in the state of Goa. Nepali is spoken in two Indian states located in the Himalayas, but is more prominently known as the official language of the country of Nepal. Finally, there's Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism which is also used in the religions of Buddhism and Jainism.

A lake in the Himalayan mountains of India.
Dravidian Languages

Over 20% of Indians speak Dravidian languages. We've covered all four of India's official Dravidian languages in our language profiles on Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu.

Other Languages

There are two Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in Himalayan states of India. Manipuri, also known as Meithei, is spoken in the state of Manipur, while Bodo is spoken by over a million people in Assam state.

Santali is India's sole official Austro-Asiatic language. It is spoken in several northeastern Indian states, as well as the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.

If the 22 official languages of India aren't enough for you, you can also check out our language profiles on the Indian languages of Awadhi, Marwari, and Rajasthani.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Language Profile: Igbo

This week we're taking a look at the last of the four top languages used in Nigeria. Despite English being the sole official language of Nigeria, the languages of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo are also important in society. Since we've already covered the first two in recent weeks, today we'll be focusing on Igbo.

Igbo is a Niger-Congo language that is the native language of the Igbo ethnic group in southeastern Nigeria. In the Western world, the Igbo are most known due to the famous novel Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, which tells of the effects of British colonialism on an Igbo community.

There are over 20 dialects of Igbo including Standard Igbo, which was developed in the 1970s. The language does contain some loanwords, most of which come from English due to colonization of the area.

This is a Nsibidi record of a judgment from a court case.
You can read the translation of it here.
Currently, Igbo is written using a Latin-based alphabet introduced during British colonization. However, the language was previously written using Nsibidi, an ideographic writing system that uses symbols to represent specific concepts. While the Latin alphabet may help speed up creating written records in Igbo, Nsibidi certainly is a fascinating writing system, and it's a shame that it isn't as commonly used anymore. 

Proverbs and idioms are given much importance by the Igbo people as well. Spoken language is often full of these expressions, which at times can even shorten something that would have taken hundreds of words to say into a few-word phrase. Igbo also is said to only use eight adjectives, words for bigsmalldarklightnewoldgood, and bad. English is absolutely bursting with adjectives, so it's interesting to imagine how different Igbo conversations must be!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 4

Over the last few days we've been looking at Esperanto, the world's most popular conlang. We've seen the formation of the language, its use in the world, and the way it sounds, or its phonology.

Today we'll be concluding our look at Esperanto with the grammar and lexicon, which we feel will bring the whole language together nicely. Of course, the grammar and lexicon of a constructed language can be identical or completely different to those of naturally occurring languages, which can evolve and borrow words from other languages. It's all really up to the creator and the users of the language.

The man behind the language,
Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof.
Zamenhof's dream of Esperanto being an international auxiliary language intended to foster peace meant one thing when it came to grammar, regularity. Esperanto grammar in comparison to other languages is designed to be highly regular, with as few grammatical irregularities as possible.

The main principal utilises suffixes, with certain suffixes dictating specific grammatical elements. For example, words ending in -o are nouns and those that end in -a are adjectives. As a result, it can be very simple for learners and even those who are fluent in the language to easily distinguish word types.

When it comes to the conjugation of verbs, the suffix -i indicates the infinitive, whereas -is indicates the past tense in the indicative mood, -as is the present indicative and -os is the future indicative. There are no individual conjugations according to the subject as the subject is already mentioned. Simple, right?

Speakers of Esperanto have been permitted to borrow words from other languages, given that only the most international of words are used and that they are adjusted to utilise the same rules that govern all word types in Esperanto.

Since the rules that govern the roots of words in Esperanto come from either Greek or Latin origins, Esperanto fails on its goal of being an international language. While many of those who speak a language of Indo-European origins will find the lexicon to be fairly self-explanatory, speakers of other languages will not find the lexical roots so obvious.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Monday, August 12, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 3

Over the past two days we've looked at the creation and history, and then the application and usage of Esperanto. Now that we've set the scene, we'll be having a look at how Esperanto is put together.

As a conlang, Esperanto can't really be classified as belonging to any other language families. Instead, Esperanto is classified as an International Auxiliary Language. Though the language was heavily influenced by Indo-European languages, taking on the phonemic properties of Slavic languages and the lexicon of Romance and Germanic languages, Esperanto has drawn heavy criticism for being too Eurocentric.

La Espero, a poem known as the
"hymn of Esperanto".
When speaking Esperanto, the stress is usually on the penultimate syllable, much like Italian and in poetry. The phonology is particularly interesting as the relationship between letters and phonemes is direct, meaning that every letter used in Esperanto has only one phoneme that it could represent. This was particularly important to Esperanto's creator, L. L. Zamenhof, who declared the rule as "one letter, one sound".

The phonology is also very similar to Polish and Belarusian, which is wholly unsurprising given that Zamenhof himself was born in Bialystok, where most of the population spoke Yiddish and were either Poles or Belarusians.

The relation between letters and phonemes is as closely related to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as possible. The language currently features 23 consonants, 5 vowels, 2 semi-vowels, and 6 diphthongs. This is reasonably low given that, depending on the dialect, English speakers can have up to 20 vowel sounds.

Having covered the phonology of Esperanto, tomorrow we'll be continuing our evaluation of Esperanto by looking at the Esperanto grammar and lexicon.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 2

Yesterday we began discussing the history of Esperanto, a constructed language or conlang that was created by L. L. Zamenhof. We left off yesterday  mentioning how the US army used Esperanto in their training exercises and drills.

The main reason that the US army made this decision was that Esperanto has no nation of its own, so it would be very difficult for any other nation to take offence at the military practices in the US. It was also useful as it was fairly unlikely that any of the troops taking part in the drills would have learned Esperanto before.

A map of European Esperanto groups in 1905.
It would seem that given its political neutrality, Esperanto would be the ideal language for everybody to learn, wouldn't it? It turns out that the ideal of the language of peace wouldn't be as readily adopted as Zamenhof would have liked.

Though UNESCO recognised Esperanto in 1954, to date no country has recognised it as an official language. Esperanto has an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 speakers, though some estimates reach as high as 2 million. Esperanto also has around 1,000 native speakers. The lion's share of these are children born to parents who met through Esperanto and as result their children were born into an Esperanto-speaking household. Almost all of these children are raised bilingual due to most of the outside world speaking a language other than Esperanto.

Since we've looked at the history and use of Esperanto, tomorrow we'll be continuing our look at the language with an analysis of its linguistic construction.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Esperanto: The World's Most Popular Constructed Language, Part 1

For those of you who don't know about it, Esperanto is a language, but not like you would think of in the traditional sense. Esperanto was the brainchild of L. L. Zamenhof, a linguist and doctor in the 19th century who had the idea of creating a language that could unite the world.

In its simplest form, Esperanto is a tool that was intended to transcend political boundaries, nationalities, and ultimately, foster peace throughout the world. The idea was that if everybody had the same language, one that was easy enough to learn, then people would eventually stop fighting. You certainly couldn't doubt Zamenhof's ambition.

Esperanto has its own flag but not its own country.
Zamenhof went ahead and created his language, which is known as a constructed language or conlang. Though phonemically-inspired by Slavic languages, the lexicon takes inspiration from mainly Romance languages, and to a lesser extent Germanic languages. Esperanto uses the Latin alphabet and the same diacritics as several other Slavic languages.

In Nazi Germany, the language was singled out as being a tool for Jewish conspirators. Since Zamenhof was Jewish, this led to the language not only being mentioned in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, but also led to Zamenhof's family being targeted.

Fascist Italy was not particularly against Esperanto though, as it shared a lot of phonetic similarities with Italian and was even permitted at the time. However, this was a rare case as Esperanto was viewed by most as the language of spies since Esperanto doesn't hold official language status in any country and could easily be used as a tool to secretly communicate.

The American army even used Esperanto in war games and training exercises in the 50s and 60s, though we'll have more on that tomorrow.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Best Multilingual Cities In Indonesia And The Philippines

As we've already had a look at Europe, Canada, the US, Mexico and the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and the Middle East and Africa, we thought that given the huge number of languages spoken in Southeast Asia that Indonesia and the Philippines deserved their own post.


Batam - The Indonesian city of Batam is home to the Indonesian, Batak, Minang, Javanese, Hokkien, and Teochew languages. It's also around the same size as Singapore. Having grown in what was once a forested area, Batam became an important harbour, industrial zone, and a bit of a tax haven. Unfortunately for Batam, it has recently been exposed as a facilitator of the ivory trade.

A fountain in the city of Balikpapan, Indonesia.
Balikpapan - Located on the east coast of the island of Borneo, the seaport city of Balikpapan has five major languages in the form of Indonesian, Banjar, Javanese, Lawangan, and Bugis. The city is home to a booming oil trade and as a result was an important target for both sets of belligerents during the Second World War.

Makassar - Indonesian, Bugis, and Makassarese are the languages spoken in the provincial capital of South Sulawesi in Indonesia. As a former precolonial fort, the city is now principally a port and major centre of the fishing industry in the region.

Medan - The capital of North Sumatra, Medan has a significant number of languages spoken in its streets every day. These include Indonesian, Batak, Javanese, Medan Hokkien, Tamil, and Minang, to name a few. The city is also the largest city in Indonesia outside of Java.

Surabaya - Indonesian, Javanese, and Madurese are spoken in Indonesia's second largest city and the capital of East Java. It's known as the "city of heroes" owing to its participation in the Indonesian National Revolution.

Currently the city, like many in Indonesia, operates principally as a port and is famed for being the first city in the world to breed orangutans in captivity.

Now that we've finished our look at multilingual cities in Indonesia, it's time to head over to Philippines.

The Philippines

A Spanish style street in Vigan, Philippines.
Vigan - In the Philippine city of Vigan, different languages can be heard everywhere, from Ilokano to English, Tagalog, and Spanish. Due to its Hispanic architecture and being one of several notably Spanish-looking cities in the Philippines, it holds a World Heritage Site status.

Baguio City - English, Tagalog, Ilokano, and Ifugao are the main languages spoken in Baguio City. Despite not being one of the largest cities in the world as it is only home to around 300,000 inhabitants, Baguio City is a centre of commerce, business, and education.

Are there any great multilingual cities that you feel we've left off our list? Let us know about them in the comments below.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Racy With A Hint Of Cat Urine: Wine Jargon

You've probably heard the term jargon before, but you might not know what it really means. Jargon refers to technical terminology associated with a specific occupation, social group, or activity. It makes perfect sense that groups require their own subsets of language in order to communicate about things that are important and useful to them. If you're a musician, then you'll need to know musical jargon like crescendo or adagio, while a doctor would be more apt to use medical jargon like renal instead of just saying "kidney" like the rest of us. 

Three wine experts. The fish helps to clear the palate.
Today we thought it might be fun to look at a lesser known jargon, and wine tasting terminology seemed like the perfect choice. While some of us may limit our wine descriptions to simplistic terms like "bitter", "sweet", "red", and "white", others seem to have made an art form out of describing the flavors and aromas of various wines.

If you're going to try your hand at wine tasting, then you will need to know that a wine's bouquet refers to the layers of smells (also known as aromas) that can be perceived in it, while the finish (also known as aftertaste) is the taste it leaves on your palate when you've swallowed the wine after doing that funny swishing thing that wine connoisseurs do. The wine may also have undertones, more subtle aromas that lie in wait for you to discover. 

Below you'll find a small sample of some interesting wine terms we've come across, along with their definition for those of you who aren't as refined as a sommelier, a trained wine professional.

Aggressive - We're as surprised as you to learn that a wine can be aggressive. Apparently, this term is reserved for younger wines that have harsh flavors.

Voluptuous - This means it has a full body and rich texture, just like a woman?

Edgy - It's daring, in that it's notably acidic, but in a way that enhances other flavors in the wine. 

Foxy - Nope, it's not a sexy wine. Basically, it smells like fur. Also, earthy means it reminds you of earth. As in dirt. Really.

That thing around the sommelier's neck
is a tastevin, which helps him to
judge the maturity and taste of wine.
Fleshy - It would be much more entertaining if this term meant a wine tasted like flesh, but sadly, it means that fruit can be perceived in it. 

Barnyard - If you thought that foxy wine sounded bad, then prepare for the worst. From what we can tell this term isn't used much anymore, mostly because it means the wine smells like feces, which thankfully isn't very popular. We can't imagine why that scent would be desirable in a wine, but to each their own.

Hot - If a wine is hot, then it is "overly alcoholic".

Finally, what about our hypothetical titular wine that is "racy with a hint of cat pee"? Well, a racy wine is noticeably acidic, but in a good way that balances with the other wine components. As for cat pee, well, that's an aroma found in some Sauvignon Blanc wines from New Zealand. Here's one of many articles about it if you don't believe us. 

If you're a wine connoisseur who has detected some interesting aromas in your wine explorations, let us know about them in the comments below, and be sure to define your wine jargon!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Languages of Bolivia, Part 2

Yesterday we looked at the first 18 of Bolivia's 37 official languages in honor of Bolivian Independence Day. We're continuing today with the final 19 languages, so let's get started!

Tupian Languages

Four of Bolivia's official languages are members of the Tupian language family, which includes Guaraní and the extinct Tupí language, which has provided some interesting loanwords to English

Guarayu's name comes from a Bolivian term that means "savage" and boasts about 5,000 speakers, while the Sirionó language only has about 500 speakers. Tapieté is so closely related to Guaraní that it is thought to be a dialect of it. It has over 2000 speakers, while Yuki, also related to Guaraní, has around 100 speakers.

The Legislative Palace of Bolivia in La Paz.
Arawakan Languages

The Arawakan language family is thought to cover the largest geographical area of any language group in Latin America. Three official Bolivian languages are Arawakan. Machineri, also known as Machiguenga, has about 10,000 speakers in both Bolivia and Peru. Mojeño-Iguaciano and Mojeño-Trinitario are both also known as Moxos. It is unknown if they are separate languages or merely distinct dialects. 

Panoan and Tacanan Languages

Bolivia has six official languages that belong to the closely related Panoan and Tacanan language families. Chácobo is a Panoan language with about 500 speakers. The children of the tribe are currently taught it as a first language, which is important to its survival. Yaminawa is also Panoan, and boasts around 2,300 speakers.

The four Tacanan languages include the aptly named Tacana, spoken by about 1,800 indigenous people who live in the forest. Cavineño is spoken by a similar number of people in the Amazonian plains. Araona, also known as Cavina, is spoken by around 100 members of an indigenous tribe living at the headwaters of a Bolivian river, and has its own dictionary. Finally, Ese Ejja is spoken by over 1,000 members of an indigenous group of the same name known to be hunter-gatherers, fishermen, and farmers. 

The Secret Language

It turns out that Machajuyai-Kallawaya, also known by the shorter name Kallawaya, is a secret language. It has no native speakers because it is only learned as a second language by select members of the Kallawaya people who become traditional healers. In general, the language is passed through the generations to direct male descendants, but occasionally a daughter may learn it if a healer has no sons. The language is generally only spoken for ritual purposes, and currently only has about a dozen speakers. 

Valle de la Luna near La Paz, Bolivia.
The Final Five

The final five official languages of Bolivia don't fit into any of our other categories, so we've grouped them together here. There's Moré, also known as Itene, which has about 75 speakers. On the other hand, Zamuco, also known as Ayoreo, boasts a huge 4,000 speakers and is spoken by an indigenous group mainly known as farmers and hunter-gatherers.

We also have Chimán and Mosetén, with a combined 5,000 speakers. Some say they're related languages, while others claim that Mosetén is a dialect. They're both written using a Spanish-based alphabet, with the addition of the letters , ć, q́u, , ćh, , , and ä.

Last but not least, we have the interestingly named Weenhayek, more commonly known as Wichí Lhamtés Nocten. What a mouthful! This indigenous language is spoken by nearly 2000 members of the Wichí people in Bolivia and Argentina.