Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Best Of The Blog

2015 has been an interesting year, so we thought we'd end it by taking a look at our ten most popular posts from 2015, as well as the ten most popular posts we shared from around the web. Today we'll just be focusing on our own blog. Without further ado, here we go:

Top 10 Blog Posts

10: Breakfast, Brunch, and Brinner: A Guide to English Meals (July 3rd)

It seems that English-speaking nations love their food and have a multitude of interesting words for the meals throughout the day. We had a look at them back in July and it proved popular. You can read the full post here.

9: Localizing The Aisle: The Power of "Foreign Branding" (March 11th)

Making products sound foreign can make them more appealing. In March we discussed how languages were employed in marketing to sell products. You can read the full post here.

8: Why Translation is a Fascinating Career (August 28th)

In August we sang the praises of our chosen careers, and it looked like many of our readers agreed with us. You can read the full post here.

7: A Destruction of Cats: Collective Nouns of the Animal Kingdom (May 15th)

The intriguing collective nouns for animals from the English language proved very popular back in May and throughout the year. You can read the full post here.

6: Why There's No Such Thing as "Untranslatable" (April 22nd)

The internet is full of articles of the best "untranslatable" words from languages around the world. As professional translators, we think people need to rethink their use of this term. We explained why in April. You can read the full post here.

5: Romance Languages: From Aragonese to Zarphatic (May 1st)

It seems our readers love a bit of Romance languages. Our post from May covering one of the world's most important language families was one of the most popular of the year. You can read the full post here.

4: How French Gave English its Sophisticated Words (February 4th)

Towards the start of the year we covered the reasons behind many of English's most prestigious words being ultimately from the French language. You can read the full post here.

3: Why It's Hard to be a Translator and a Language Lover (May 29th)

In May we discussed the difficulties we were encountering as promoters of languages, learning languages, and translators, and wondered whether or not it was sustainable to encourage everyone to learn foreign languages even if it could result in us losing out on work. You can read the full post here.

2: Language Learning: Cognates and False Friends (July 24th)

Our second most popular post of the year came back in July when we discussed "false friends", words in a foreign language that look similar to those in your own, but can carry very different meanings. You can read the full post here.

1: Speech Tempo: What is the World's Fastest Language? (April 8)

Everybody's had that one complaint about people speaking too quickly when they're learning a foreign language. Back in April, we looked at a study that sought to work out if some languages are spoken more quickly than others. You can read the full post here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Libya

Last week we explored the linguistic makeup of Eritrea, and today we're going to look at the languages of Libya. Located in North Africa, Libya is one of the 20 largest countries in the world by area, and is also the fourth largest country in Africa.

The Official Language

As is true of many other countries in the region, the sole official language of Libya is Arabic, specifically Modern Standard Arabic. However, when it comes to spoken Arabic, the vast majority of Libyans speak Libyan Arabic, a variety of the language that is also used in music, television, and poetry. In fact, Libya is home to about 4 million native speakers of Libyan Arabic, which equals nearly two-thirds of the country's population.

Other Languages

The ruins of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene,
which is located in northeastern Libya.
While Libya is not as linguistically diverse as some nearby countries, it is still home to several other interesting languages. Five of them are Berber languages: Nafusi, Ghadamès, Awjila, Tamahaq, and Siwi. The most spoken of these languages is Nafusi, which is the native language of over 180,000 people who primarily reside in the Nafusa Mountains.

The next most prominent Berber languages are Tamahaq and Ghadamès. Tamahaq is natively spoken by about 17,000 Libyans in western Libya, while Ghadamès has about 10,000 native speakers. They are followed by Awjila, which is severely endangered and is thought to only have about 3,000 native speakers left. Finally, there's Siwi, which is primarily spoken in Egypt near the border with Libya, though some speakers also reside within Libya itself.

In addition to these five Berber languages, Libya is also home to a large number of speakers of Domari, an Indo-Aryan language. Its 33,000 native speakers in Libya are members of the Dom ethnic group, which can be found throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas from The Lingua File!

Today we'd like to wish every single person who reads, shares, likes, comments on, and contributes to The Lingua File a very Merry Christmas! As always, we are greatly appreciative that there is such a wonderful community of language lovers out there who support us and share our love of languages.

We'll be back next week with more language-related posts! If you're interested in reading a festive linguistic post today, there's always the one we did on the etymology of the word "Christmas" a few years ago. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Gift Ideas for Language Lovers

Since there are only a couple of days left until Christmas, today we thought we'd share some gift ideas for the language lover in your life, just in case you're still in need of a last-minute gift!

Cards from the Scrabble Slam! card game.
Board Games & Card Games

Board games are a great option for people of all ages, especially since they can be enjoyed with others. When it comes to gift ideas for language lovers, the king of all board games is undoubtedly Scrabble. However, given the game's widespread popularity, it's probably not a great idea to buy it for someone unless you know for sure that they don't already own it.

That said, there are tons of newer versions of the classic game that might be suitable, from deluxe editions with rotating boards for the true Scrabble addict to Scrabble Junior, which was designed especially for young children. You can also find portable versions of the game to take with you wherever you go, either as an electronic game or a card game.

Of course, there are tons of other great board games to choose from, including classics like Boggle and Upwords. If you love using letter tiles to create your own words but hate being confined by other players' moves and that pesky board, we'd also recommend Bananagrams. When it comes to card games, the list is nearly endless, but we also often hear good things about Quiddler.


Given the fact that we live in such a technology-focused society, it's only natural that there are dozens of wonderful language-related apps out there, from games like Words with Friends to language learning apps like Duolingo. While many are initially free, it's not uncommon for apps to require users to pay for additional content or special features, so you could always give your friend or family member a gift card that they can use in whichever online store they purchase their apps from. While gift cards aren't always considered to be the most thoughtful gift, if you know that the recipient is reluctant to pay for apps on their own, you can always tell them that you got it so they could buy that crossword puzzle app they've been eyeing for months.

Tools for Language Learning

The original Rosetta Stone.
If they've been talking about learning a new language for years but just haven't gotten around to it, or are planning a trip to a country where a foreign language is spoken, there are tons of useful things you can get them! If you know that your intended recipient is eager to learn a new language, you could always get them a dictionary, a DVD set for language learning such as Rosetta Stone, or all kinds of other handy reference books and workbooks to hone their skills.

For someone who just wants to learn a bit of the language for an upcoming trip, you could always consider buying them one of those pocket-sized language guides, or even make them one on your own if you're on a tight budget and already know the language!


Finally, it's rarely a bad choice to purchase a book for someone who loves languages. If they love to practice reading in a foreign language they know, you can always get them a popular book in that language, such as Don Quixote for a Spanish speaker. There are also tons of fascinating books out there about language itself, from the language of food to the history of the English language. Of course, books also give you millions of other options to choose from, depending on their interests!

Do you have any other gift ideas that you think are perfect for language lovers? Feel free to share them with us in the comments below!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Eritrea

Last week's county profile focused on the languages of Jordan, and today we're moving south to Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa. In addition to being located in the same part of the world, both countries also happen to share a common language, Arabic.

The National Languages

A beautiful Italian cemetery in Asmara,
the capital of Eritrea.
Unlike many other countries around the world, the government of Eritrea doesn't recognize any official languages. In fact, its constitution states that all Eritrean languages are to be considered equal under the law, which we think is great!

However, there are a few languages that are so widely used throughout the country that they are sometimes referred to as Eritrea's national languages: Tigrinya, Arabic and English. The most spoken of these languages is Tigrinya, which is the native language of over 2.5 million Eritreans. Tigrinya is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family, and is also spoken in neighboring Ethiopia.

Arabic and English, on the other hand, are most often used as second languages. Both play an important role in Eritrea's educational system, as well as other areas of daily life. In terms of varieties of Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic is primarily taught in schools. However, Eritrea is also home to some native Arabic speakers. Approximately 100,000 Eritreans speak Sudanese Arabic, while about 23,000 speak Hejazi Arabic, which is primarily spoken in Saudi Arabia.

Other Languages

Eritrea is also home to several other languages, most of which belong to the Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan language families. The most spoken of these languages is Tigre, an Afro-Asiatic language that is the native language of over 1 million Eritreans. It is followed by the Saho, Kunama, and Beja languages, which all have between 150,000 and 200,000 native speakers. Saho and Beja are also Afro-Asiatic languages, while Kunama is a Nilo-Saharan language spoken by the Kunama ethnic group.

The Bilen and Nara languages also have between 80,000 and 100,000 native speakers in Eritrea. Bilen is an Afro-Asiatic language spoken by an ethnic group of the same name, while Nara is a Nilo-Saharan language.

Finally, we should mention the Dahalik and Italian languages. Dahalik is an Afro-Asiatic language that is natively spoken by over 2,000 Eritreans, primarily on islands in the Dahlak Archipelago, which is located off the coast of Eritrea in the Red Sea. Italian, on the other hand, was introduced to the area in the late 1800s when it became an Italian colony. While the British eventually took control of Eritrea from Italy in the mid-1900s, there are still some native Italian speakers in the country, though the exact number is unknown.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Use Your Noodle: Food Idioms, Part 2

On Wednesday, we dedicated a post to food-related idioms such as "cheesed off" and "to bring home the bacon". Today we're going to look at the meanings of even more of these fascinating words and phrases, including "use your noodle".

to use your noodle - to think/use your brain ("Bill wasn't using his noodle when he decided to slice the cake with a chainsaw.")

Coffee definitely isn't my cup of tea.
as cool as a cucumber - calm or composed, even in difficult situations ("The officer diffusing the bomb was as cool as a cucumber.")

to milk - to take advantage of something or someone ("Carla really milked it when she sprained her ankle... she convinced her boss to let her work from home for an entire month!)

the cream of the crop - the best of a selection ("They only hire the cream of the crop at Google.")

cup of tea - something that someone likes or enjoys ("Listening to country music isn't my cup of tea.")

a piece of cake - something that is very easy ("This crossword puzzle is a piece of cake!")

in a nutshell - briefly ("In a nutshell, my answer is no.")

in a pickle - in trouble/a difficult situation ("Katie was in a pickle since she had agreed to go to two parties on the same night.")

couch potato - someone who is lazy/spends lots of time sitting and watching television ("Ever since I got Netflix, I've been a huge couch potato.")

to butter someone up - to flatter someone, usually in hopes of getting something in return ("The boy spent weeks buttering his mother up in hopes of getting an Xbox for Christmas.")

for peanuts - for very little money ("They wanted me to translate a 900-page book for peanuts!")

That's a lot of peas in a pod...
to go bananas - to go crazy/become overly excited ("The girl went bananas when she opened the gift box and found an adorable puppy inside.")

to spill the beans - to tell a secret ("Carl spilled the beans about the surprise party to the guest of honor.")

like two peas in a pod - to be very similar or close/intimate ("The twins are like two peas in a pod... they like all of the same things!")

Did we leave out your favorite food-related idiom? Leave it in the comments below, and don't forget to include a definition!

Part 1 | Part 2

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Use Your Noodle: Food Idioms, Part 1

While I was watching television the other day, I heard someone say that they were "cheesed off" about something. This got me thinking about all of the strange food-related idioms that exist in English. Not only are they incredibly confusing for non-native speakers in the process of learning English, but they can also be confusing for native speakers who may never have encountered that particular idiom before. That's why we're going to dedicate the next couple of posts to some of these weird food idioms, starting with all the ingredients you need for a delicious sandwich: cheese, bacon, egg, and bread!

The McGriddle, one of the world's most famous
bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches.
Cheese Idioms

cheesed off - annoyed/frustrated/irritated ("I'm cheesed off that my laptop battery just died.")

the big cheese - an important person/the boss ("The big cheese wants the quarterly reports on his desk in an hour.")

Cheese it! - Run away! ("The cops are coming, cheese it!")

to cut the cheese - pass gas/fart ("Who cut the cheese?")

Bacon Idioms

to save someone's bacon - to help someone/prevent something bad from happening to them ("You really saved my bacon by filing that report for me!)

to bring home the bacon - to earn a living to support your family ("Once I get a job, I'll be bringing home the bacon.")

Egg Idioms

a bad egg - a bad/untrustworthy person ("Susan is a bad egg... she's always getting into trouble!")

a good egg - a good/trustworthy person ("Bob is a good egg... he's always there for you when you need a friend.")

to egg someone on - to encourage someone to do something, often something foolish ("Stop egging him on, he'll end up getting hurt if he keeps climbing higher up the tree!")

A cute, yet ferocious kitten.
to have all your eggs in one basket - to depend on a single plan, usually in terms of income ("She has all of her eggs in one basket... she invested all of her savings in one tech stock, so if it plummets she'll have nothing left.")

to have egg on your face - to make yourself look foolish/embarrass yourself ("Peter has egg on his face after emailing his boss a kitten photo instead of the quarterly report.")

to walk on eggshells - to very carefully handle a situation ("Peter has been walking on eggshells with his boss ever since he sent that kitten photo.")

Bread Idioms

bread and butter - something that is central to your business or basic needs ("Translation work is my bread and butter, but I also provide editing services.)

a breadwinner - the main person who brings home the bacon ("I'm the family's breadwinner since I earn much more than my spouse.")

the greatest thing since sliced bread - a recent invention that has improved people's lives ("The internet is the greatest thing since sliced bread!")

Check back on Friday for even more crazy food idioms, including use your noodle!

Part 1 | Part 2

Monday, December 14, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Jordan

In recent weeks we've looked at the languages of Paraguay, Togo, and Serbia, but today we're moving on to the Middle Eastern kingdom of Jordan. In addition to being one of the richest and safest countries in the region, it has also become known for welcoming large numbers of refugees from nearby conflicts in recent years.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Jordan is Modern Standard Arabic, the standardized literary variety of Arabic that is used in numerous countries around the world. While this written variety of Arabic is widely used and taught in schools, most Jordanians speak Jordanian Arabic, which is one of several varieties spoken in the region that are also referred to as Levantine Arabic.

Other varieties of Arabic that are used in Jordan include Bedawi Arabic and Najdi Arabic. There are about 700,000 native speakers of Bedawi Arabic in Jordan, primarily members of the seminomadic Bedouin group. Najdi Arabic, on the other hand, is spoken by about 50,000 Jordanians, but is primarily used in the Najd region of Saudi Arabia.

Other Languages

The Monastery, the largest monument within the city of Petra,
which is Jordan's most famous archaeological site.
Jordan is also home to a small number of minority languages, specifically Kabardian, Adyghe, Armenian, Domari, and Chechen. The two most spoken languages in this group are the closely related Kabardian and Adyghe languages, which are both members of the Northwest Caucasian language family. There are over 50,000 native speakers of Kabardian and about 40,000 of Adyghe, both of which are written using Cyrillic script.

There are also about 8,000 Jordanians who speak Armenian, which constitutes its very own branch of the Indo-European language family. It is followed by Domari, the Indo-Aryan language spoken by nearly 5,000 members of the Dom ethnic group in Jordan. The country is also home to about 3,000 native speakers of Chechen, a language that belongs to the Northeast Caucasian language family.

Foreign Languages

Finally, when it comes to foreign languages, English, French, and German are all popular in Jordanian society. Of these three languages, English undoubtedly has the most prestige since it is widely used in areas that include banking, commerce, and education, especially at the university level. French and German are also often taught in Jordanian schools, and are generally considered to be elite languages. English and French are also frequently used for television and radio broadcasts in the country.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Three Tips for Living with a Host Family

In the past, we've dedicated several posts to language learning methods that include immersion, choral drillinglanguage camps, and flashcards. However, it just occurred to me today that we've left out one of my personal favorites: living with a host family!

If you're a student considering studying abroad for a semester or two, I highly recommend living with a host family. One of the best decisions I made when choosing from the large selection of study abroad programs my university offered in Spain was to choose a program in Sevilla that was committed to placing as many students as possible in host families. Living with a host family is an amazing opportunity, since it allows (or forces) you to immerse yourself in the foreign language and culture when you're not in class.

Plaza de España in Sevilla, Spain
Since so many students had chosen to study in Sevilla at the same time as I did, some of us had to be assigned to host families in pairs. In my case, a girl from my university (who I'd never met before) and myself were assigned to the home of a lovely widow in the Triana neighborhood who had been hosting American students for over a decade.

By the end of our 6-month stay with her, my Spanish had improved from being passable to near fluency, and I truly felt like I was saying goodbye to a second mother as I boarded the bus to the airport. However, the other girl's Spanish had hardly improved at all, and she didn't even bother to say goodbye to our host mom before heading to the airport on her own.

While I will never know for sure why we had such vastly different experiences, I think a lot of it can be attributed to the fact that I spent a lot of time interacting with our host mom, while the other girl would hide away in her room or go out with American friends. Based on the insights I gained from comparing our experiences, here are three key tips on how to make the most of living with a host family:

#1 - Talk to them! This probably seems obvious, but several students in my program, including my housemate, seemed to avoid talking to their host families at all costs. Not only is this a missed learning opportunity, but it's also rude - if someone opens their home to you, the least you can do is talk to them, even if you're not perfect at speaking their language. It might be difficult at first (it certainly was for me since my host mom had a very thick andaluz accent that I could barely understand), but with time and practice, you'll improve.

#2 - Do things with them! This is purposely vague because you could do any number of things with your host family, depending on their interests and hobbies. For example, if they love tennis and invite you to play with them, take the opportunity to join them (even if you're terrible). In my case, spending time with my host mom meant watching Operación Triunfo, a singing competition/reality show until 2 a.m. with her and talking about who our favorite contestants were. No matter what you do, as long as you're interacting with them, you're sure to improve your language skills.

Semana Santa in Sevilla, Spain
#3 - Ask them about their culture, and teach them about yours! There are undoubtedly tons of differences between your culture and theirs, and the best way to learn about them is to ask your host family. If you're there for a holiday, they'll almost certainly invite you to join in their traditions. Not only will you learn new vocabulary, but you'll also have a deeper appreciation for their culture. You can also share your cultural traditions with them. For example, my host family taught me all about the traditions surrounding the celebration of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla and invited me to go with them to view the city's famous processions. In turn, I got to explain the concept of the Easter Bunny to them.

As long as you're willing to put in some effort to truly take advantage of this amazing opportunity you've been given, you'll more than likely end up wishing you could stay there just a little bit longer. Better still, you might end up with a second family on the other side of the world, just like I did!

Did you live with a host family while studying abroad? If so, let us know about your experiences in the comments below!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Life's A Beach: Minimal Pairs in the English Language

When two words are written differently, have different meanings, but are pronounced the same, we call them homophones. When words have different meanings, but are pronounced almost the same with the exception of one phoneme, we call them minimal pairs.
Differentiating ship from sheep can be as
difficult as telling sheep apart.
Some of the most complicated minimal pairs for non-native speakers are those with similar-sounding (but not identical) vowels. While it is quite easy to differentiate between bat and cat, hearing the difference between feet and fit is much more difficult.

It's not just vowels that can be problematic. When consonants sound quite similar, like the letters b and p in English, you can often mishear or mispronounce them, like in the words tap and tab. The letters t and d can also be difficult to distinguish when speaking and listening to English, as in the words bat and bad, for example.

Making mistakes with minimal pairs is to be expected and it often doesn't get in the way of communication, which I believe to be the most important thing when learning a language. However, I can also imagine how it might be embarrassing if one of the words in the minimal pair is a curse word. The difference between beach and bitch and sheet and shit is a nightmare. Of course, there's also can't, which can unfortunately sound like a word I wouldn't dare to type.

Minimal pairs can also be very problematic if the differentiating phoneme doesn't exist in your language. This usually means that you will find it difficult to either hear the difference or to pronounce the difference when you're speaking.

Sadly, I don't think there's a quick fix to getting minimal pairs right other than practice. However, there are a number of useful resources and websites to help you along the way, such as, which is one of my personal favourites.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Paraguay

It has been a couple of months since we've looked at the linguistic landscape of a country in the Americas, so today we're focusing on the languages of Paraguay, a landlocked country in the heart of South America.

The Official Languages

Paraguay has two official languages, Spanish and Guaraní, both of which are spoken by the vast majority of the country's population. Spanish is a Romance language that was first introduced to Paraguay during the colonial era, while Guaraní is an indigenous language that belongs to the Tupian language family.

The country's most popular language is Guaraní, which is the native language of over 4.5 million Paraguayans. In addition, most Paraguayans with a different mother tongue speak Guaraní as a second language. One of the most remarkable things about Guaraní is that it is the only indigenous language in the Americans to have a large population of non-indigenous speakers, since most other indigenous languages have seen significant declines in their use since the introduction of European languages like Spanish and Portuguese.

Spanish, on the other hand, is the native language of around 350,000 Paraguayans. However, it retains its importance due to the fact that it is also used as a second language by approximately 4 million people in Paraguay.

Other Languages

Saltos del Monday, a famous waterfall in Paraguay.
While most Paraguayans speak one or both of the country's official languages, Paraguay is actually home to about 20 other languages. While most of them are indigenous languages, the two most spoken minority languages in Paraguay actually belong to the Germanic language family! There are over 150,000 German speakers in Paraguay, primarily due to German immigration to the country over the past century.

The other Germanic language is Plautdietsch, which is sometimes considered a dialect of German instead of a distinct language. Plautdietsch is the language of the Russian Mennonites, a group of Mennonites named for their migration from Germany to Russia in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Eventually, settlements were founded in other countries around the world, which is how Plautdietsch made its way to Paraguay via immigration from Canada in the 1920s.

When it comes to indigenous languages, the most spoken languages besides Guaraní are Nivaclé, Enlhet, Enxet, Mbyá Guaraní, and Ava Guaraní. There are about 13,000 native speakers of Nivaclé, the language of the Nivaclé indigenous group in Paraguay. Enlhet and Enxet are both spoken by over 5,000 members of the Enxet people, who primarily live in the Gran Chaco region. There are also about 5,000 native speakers of Mbyá Guaraní and over 2,000 of Ava Guaraní, both of which are closely related to the Guaraní language. In fact, some linguists consider them to be dialects instead of separate languages.

The least spoken languages in Paraguay are Toba Qom, Manjui, Pai Tavytera, Ñandeva, and Guana. All of these languages have less than 1,000 native speakers, and most of them have threatened status due to the decline in their use. The Guana language fares worst of all, as it is near extinction with only a couple dozen native speakers remaining.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Pseudo-Anglicisms: Loanwords English Doesn't Need Back

A great bit of footing.
In the past, we've looked at loanwords that have made their way into English from many different languages, including Russian, Hawaiian, and Malay. Of course, plenty of languages have also borrowed English words with varying degrees of success. These words sometimes remain unchanged from the original English version and keep the same spelling and meaning. However, there are also loanwords that have nothing to do with their English incarnations, which are known as pseudo-anglicisms.

Today we're going to show you a few of our favourite words that went from English into another language and got a bit lost along the way.

If you speak German, you might be familiar with the world Air-Condition. While it's clear that this word means "air-conditioning", it still sounds very peculiar if you speak English as your first language. The same goes for shampooing in French, which is not a verb, but rather the noun for "shampoo".

French, just like Romanian, likes to use baskets to refer to trainers or sneakers, whereas Spanish and Portuguese borrowed the English word "tennis" and changed it to tenis and tênis respectively.

While basketball is quite popular, borrowing the word in its entirety is not. Several languages, including French, have taken "basket" to refer to the sport. Footing is also a popular pursuit in French, Italian and Spanish... Never heard of it? In English, we call it "jogging".

Some tents in a camping.
When you go camping, you stay in a campsite. If you go camping in a country that speaks Croatian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, or Spanish, you stay in a camping. Do you want to park your car in a "car park" or a "parking lot"? In Arabic, Flemish, French, Swiss German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish, it can sometimes simply be called a parking.

The trend of adding the -ing suffix to English words doesn't end there. Lifting actually refers to a "facelift" in a number of different languages. Arabic, German, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish also sometimes use marketing to refer to "advertising", which is of course related to marketing, but doesn't cover all types of marketing.

A number of a languages like to call a tuxedo or suit jacket a smoking. This comes from the English term "smoking jacket", but does away with the most important part for English speakers, with "smoking" developing its own meaning in its new language.

My last pseudo-anglicism is zapping, I absolutely love this word. It means channel-hopping or channel-surfing in Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, and Swedish and has given rise to a number of TV shows that replicate that very idea without you ever having to touch the remote!

What are your favourite pseudo-anglicisms? Are there any words from your language that English has borrowed in a nonsensical way? Tell us about them all in the comments below!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Togo

A couple of weeks ago in our last country profile, we looked at the languages of Serbia, a small European country. This week we're moving south to Togo, a small country nestled between Ghana and Benin in West Africa.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Togo is French, which was introduced to the area during the colonial period. As with many other African countries that eventually gained their independence from France, French remains an important language throughout the country, especially when it comes to government and commerce.

However, French is not the native language of many Togolese people. In fact, there are only a few thousand native French speakers in Togo, but approximately a third of the population uses it as a second language. It is also the most common written language in the country, since many of Togo's indigenous languages are rarely used for writing.

A postcard of the Palais de Justice in Lomé, Togo's capital, in 1928.
The National Languages

Since 1975, Togo has also had two national languages: Ewe and Kabiye. These two languages are the most spoken indigenous languages in Togo, and both belong to the Niger-Congo language family. There are over 800,000 native speakers of Ewe in Togo, primarily in the south, while the nearly 1 million Kabiye native speakers live primarily in the north.

Other Languages

Togo is also home to about 40 other languages, most of which belong to the Niger-Congo language family. There is not much linguistic information on most of these languages, but we do know approximately how many speakers they have.

The most spoken indigenous languages in Togo include Gen, Tem, Aja, Ntcham, Moba, Nawdm, Lama, Gourmanchéma and Ifè. All of these Niger-Congo languages have somewhere between 100,000 and 350,000 native speakers in Togo. On the other end of the spectrum, the least spoken indigenous languages are Adangbe, Biali, Mbelime, Wudu and Kusaal, which all have between 1,000 and 4,000 native speakers.