Friday, May 29, 2015

Why It's Hard to Be a Translator and a Language Lover

You might have guessed that we like languages here at The Lingua File. However, what you may not have known (though might have guessed), is that we are both freelance translators. 

Before going any further, I believe it's important to state that I am aware that being a translator requires much more than simply speaking two languages.

As a language lover, I want to share my passion for languages with everyone. I love sharing stories about the trials and tribulations of learning another language as well as the interesting facets and nuances of said languages.

My love of languages started with learning languages, which eventually set me on the path to studying translation, and in turn led me to become a freelance translator. As a freelance translator, all of my income is reliant on the fact that my clients do not have the language skills necessary to complete their own translations.

If you're familiar with translation work, you'll be aware that it's hardly the most lucrative of industries (though it's not the least either). In the UK, the average wage for authors, writers, and translators is around £26,000 per year. I believe this is rather low given that professional translators require near-native knowledge of at least two languages (which often requires in-country experience), impeccable cultural knowledge, between four and six years of higher education, and expertise in whatever field their translations may be in. For those living outside of the UK who would be quite happy earning this amount per year, do not forget that wages are related to the cost of living, which is rather high in the UK. But I digress...

One part of me would love for everyone to have the same passion for foreign languages as me and yearn to learn more of and about them. However, the other part worries about an increasing number of skilled linguists inevitably ending up in the translation industry, which would result in more competition (which is better for the consumer than the translator), lower wages, and make finding work more difficult. Do I really want everyone in the world to learn more languages, or do I want to protect my own financial interests?

Are you a translator (freelance or otherwise)? How do you strike the balance between loving languages and keeping your skills valued and sought after? Voice your opinion in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vote for The Lingua File!

Here at The Lingua File we love languages and talking about them (whether people are interested or not). It's great to have a fantastic following of fellow language lovers, and that's why we find it so easy to find the time to manage this blog, its social media, and keep writing regular posts.

However, today is a special exception where we won't be talking about languages, but rather taking part in some shameless self-promotion since we've been nominated in three different categories for the Top Language Lovers 2015 competition run by and lexiophiles.

To vote in our three categories, simply click the buttons below that were kindly provided to us by and select our name (or any of the others that you like, though obviously we'd prefer it if you voted for us).

To vote for us in the Language Learning Blogs category, just click the button below:

Vote the Top 100 Language Learning Blogs 2015

Or you can check out some of the other nominees and great language blogs here.

If you'd like to take the time to vote for us as one of the best Language Facebook Pages, you can use this button:

Vote the Top 100 Language Facebook Page 2015

You should also check out our Facebook page (and like us!) and take a look at the other great nominees in this category.

Finally, to vote for us as one of the best Language Twitter Accounts, use this button:

Vote the Top 100 Language Twitterer 2015

You can also view our Twitter account and the other nominated accounts.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to extend our gratitude to all the wonderful people who interact with The Lingua File! As a reward for taking the time to read our message and vote for us, enjoy looking at these outrageously adorable kittens!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Monaco Grand Prix and Language in Formula One

For motorsports fans like myself, this weekend is one of the biggest on the calendar: the Formula One World Championship is in Monaco for a big race on Sunday.

The streets of Monaco, home of the Grand Prix de Monaco.
The Monaco Grand Prix is arguably one of the most famous motorsports events in the world. Attended by millionaires and celebrities, it brings fast cars to the beautiful Cote d'Azur with all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. It's a special part of the Formula One calendar since it takes place on the streets rather than a purpose-built motorsports circuit.

Of course, this wouldn't be a language blog if we weren't discussing language. Like many other sporting disciplines, Formula One has its own distinctive terms and language uses.

Since this weekend's race takes place in the principality of Monaco, whose official language is French, its official name is the Grand Prix de Monaco, or "Monaco Grand Prix" in English. While other languages have their own equivalent term for "Grand Prix", English has stuck with the French term (meaning "big prize") since France is undoubtedly the birthplace of the sport of motor racing. The word chicane, a type of s-shaped turn that is often used to slow down traffic, is actually from the French verb chicaner, which means "quibble" or "squabble".


As a highly technical and scientific sport, there are plenty of specialized racing terms floating around in common use. Since this terminology is often long and technical in nature, acronyms have become commonplace. DNF (Did Not Finish), DNQ (Did Not Qualify), DNS (Did Not Start), and DQ (Disqualified) regularly appear on timing sheets in place of lap times.

Of course, acronyms are also used in reference to technical parts of the cars. The Drag Reduction System (DRS) was introduced as part of an effort to increase the amount of overtaking, while the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) was introduced in 2008 in order to make the cars more ecological.

Radio Communication and Radio Ban

One use of language that particularly interests me in Formula One is radio communication. Since time is of the essence when drivers are hurtling around corners, radio communication needs to be short and clear. When drivers are required to change tyres (an impressive feat that is often completed in under three seconds), they will often receive a message to "box" or "box, box, box". In other motorsports the order "pit" is used, but in the past "box" was apparently easier to understand over the noise of the louder engines that were once used in the sport.

The first Monaco Grand Prix in 1929 was a much milder
affair than the spectacle you'll see this weekend.
Towards the end of 2014, season teams were told that the rule banning them from "coaching" their drivers over the radio would be more strictly enforced. I'll ignore the complicated ins and outs of what this supposed rule covers and instead discuss how, as recently as yesterday, we've seen attempts to avoid this rule using coded language.

During a practice session yesterday, British driver and current world champion Lewis Hamilton asked for feedback on how he'd managed the first turn of the circuit. The response from his team was that they couldn't possibly tell him (for fear of breaking the aforementioned rule). However, the following radio message from Hamilton was him asking his team how the weather was. The team replied telling Hamilton the weather was fine. It'll be interesting to see how these codes develop if the ban remains in effect, and whether or not it'll become as confusing as rally pacenotes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Luck and Languages: Superstition Around the World

As today is the 13th, an unlucky number for some, I thought I'd delve a little deeper into how fortune and luck differs across languages. It seems that numbers play a huge role in superstition, and since there are plenty of countable objects that we deal with in everyday life, numbers seem to have made their way into the superstitions of almost every culture.

I won't get through them all today because almost anything can be considered lucky or unlucky, so I thought I'd just pick out a few of the most interesting numbers associated with luck.


Numbers are everywhere when it comes to fortune and misfortune. The number 4 is considered to be terribly unlucky in the Chinese culture and gives rise to tetraphobia. In Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, Hakka, Min Nan, Japanese, and Korean, the pronunciation of the number 4 is very similar to the word for "death".

The luckiest garden ever.
Those aware of the superstitions related to the number 13 in Western cultures (which I'll get to shortly) will be familiar with the practice of avoiding specific numbers. In the cultures where the aforementioned languages are traditionally spoken, particularly South East Asia, the number (and even digit) 4 is avoided when possible, especially when numbering floors, doors, parking spaces, etc.

Despite 4's misfortune in Asia, in Irish and Celtic cultures, the four-leaf clover is said to be a sign of considerable fortune.


The number 7 is often considered to be very lucky, especially in prominent world religions. The Old Testament frequently references the  number 7, such as the creation of the world in 7 days in the Book of Genesis. In Judaism, the menorah has 7 branches, while in Islam, the earth is composed of 7 layers. Japanese mythology also features 7 lucky gods. The list goes on and on...


Just as the number 4 in Mandarin sounds like the word for "death", the number 8 also has a similar-sounding counterpart. However, unlike the number 4, the number 8 is considered to bring about good fortune. This is because the number 8 in Mandarin sounds like "fortune" or "prosper", following a rule can seemingly be applied to a whole host of numbers in Chinese.

The luckiness of the number 8 also dictates all kinds of behaviours by both people and companies, who love to use the digit "8" in any way they possibly can. For example, Sichuan Airlines paid a hefty sum for a phone number that consisted only of 8s, and the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games started on the 8th August at 8 p.m. local time.


In many English-speaking cultures, 13 is considered to be an unlucky number, so much so that it has its own phobia, triskaidekaphobia. The term itself, like most fears and phobias, is named using Greek words. There are a number of suggestions as to why 13 is considered to be unlucky, including the number of people at the Last Supper, the date of the arrest order for the Knights Templar, and the number of full moons in a year.

However, this superstition goes even further, especially in several Western cultures, if the 13th day of the calendar month coincides with a Friday, making the dreaded Friday the 13th.

Friday the 13th

It is suggested that Friday the 13th is considered to be unlucky due to the number's prominence in the story of Jesus: 13 people (12 disciples and Jesus himself) were at the Last Supper, plus the fact that Jesus was killed on the Friday. If you are inexplicably terrified of Friday the 13th, you may have paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Tuesday the 13th

While I grew up with the knowledge that Friday the 13th was an unfortunate day, if you grew up in a Spanish- or Greek-speaking culture or country, you'll probably consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unlucky day.

What numbers are considered lucky and unlucky in your language or culture? Tell us about them and the reasons why they're lucky or unlucky in the comments below!

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Languages Behind US Place Names: Part 2

On Wednesday, I started a little linguistic journey looking at the languages that helped name places around the United States. Today I'll be looking at a few more languages that were used to name settlements, towns, and cities across the 50 states.


The Olentangy River Bridge, Columbus, Ohio
The European "discoverer" of the New World has lent his name to many things in the US. However, as an Italian working for the Spanish monarchy, Christopher Columbus probably never referred to himself using said name. His actual name was Cristoforo Colombo in Italian and Cristóbal Colón in Spanish. However, the Latinised version of his name came into popular use for naming states and cities in the US.

Take the D.C. in Washington D.C., for example. The D.C. stands for "District of Columbia", and "Columbia" is a New Latin term derived from Columbus' name. Of course, Columbus, Ohio, is also named directly after the man.


A number of settlers used Greek suffixes to name cities. Indianapolis, for example, uses the Greek suffix -polis (meaning "city") at the end of the state name of Indiana. However, Indiana takes the word India and adds the Latin suffix -ana, which designates a place name. This would confusingly make Indianapolis the "city of the place of Indians". Minneapolis is another populous example of this suffix in use.


The Angel Stadium, home to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
While Germanic settlers were common across the US, particularly the Midwest, Germany has had a more lasting effect on food in the States than place names. However, there are a few interesting place names that have taken the language as inspiration. As I mentioned on Wednesday, Charlotte, North Carolina, was named after the German-born British Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. I suppose that can count as both English and German.

In terms of other cities with German names, Anaheim, California takes its name from the Spanish word "Ana", from the Santa Ana river, combined with the German word "heim", an older German term often used in place names to mean "home".

There's also the city of Schaumburg, Illinois, which was originally called Sarah's Grove, until a meeting in 1850 when somebody slammed their fist on a table and screamed "Schaumburg schall et heiten!" (English: "It will be called Schaumburg!") and seemingly the name stuck!

That's all for now. Are there any languages that you think we missed? Tell us the city and the language that helped name it in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Languages Behind US Place Names: Part 1

For a variety of interesting reasons, place names around the world tend to tell a story, whether they were founded in triumphant fashion or just seemed to always be there! Today we're taking a look at the origins of US place names, which come from a variety of different languages due to the backgrounds of the various indigenous groups that lived there and the colonists who arrived later and chose names from their own languages.

A statue of Lincoln (who was not indigenous) in
Chicago, Illinois.
Indigenous Languages

Long before European colonists and settlers arrived in the United States with their native languages, the country's diverse landscapes were home to a wide variety of indigenous groups. Most of these groups spoke their own indigenous languages, which they naturally used to name important places. Many US states are named for the largest indigenous tribe that lived there or take the name that the indigenous people were using before they arrived, which were often adapted to read better in the languages spoken by the colonists. In fact, the names of more than half of the states in the US are thought to come from indigenous languages.

While plenty of cities around the US have names that originated in indigenous languages, the largest is Chicago, which comes from either the Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa (which means either "wild onion" or "wild garlic") or the Potawatomi word Gaa-zhigaagwanzhikaag.


It's hardly surprising that most place names in the US come from the English language since it's the most commonly spoken language in the country. In fact, many even duplicate place names from the UK due to the presence of British colonists early in the country's history. The largest US city, New York City, was named after the city of York in the UK. Before that, New York City was named New Amsterdam by Dutch settlers, but the British decided that wasn't right!

Houston, Texas is the second largest city in the US with a name of British origin. Though the city itself is named after General Sam Houston, his name comes from a town in Scotland. Houston actually means "Hugh's Town", so Houston is actually a place named after a guy who was named after a place!

Before the American Revolution, borrowing place names from the UK and using English suffixes was common. The suffixes of town, borough, and burgh (as well as their alternative spellings of ton, boro, and burg) were often used. If you've ever driven around the US, you know just how how popular these were.

A view of the expansive "City of Angels".

Spanish colonists and settlers have certainly left their mark on the Americas. The second most common language in the US has also been used to name the country's second largest city, LA. Of course, LA stands for Los Angeles, which is Spanish for The Angels, hence "City of Angels".

Other examples of Spanish place names in the US include San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco, all of which are named after saints. In fact, most place names in the US starting with "San" are likely to be of Spanish origin.


Using French in US place names became common after the American Revolution. French place names were common in several areas, but the suffix -ville (meaning town or city) only became popular after the American Revolution, especially in the southern and western Appalachian regions of the US. Jacksonville, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee are two of the largest cities to make use of this suffix.

Detroit is one of the largest cities in the US to have a fully French name. Detroit was originally détroit in French, which means "strait". There's also Charlotte, North Carolina, which sounds a bit French, but is actually named after the German-born British Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was married to King George III.

We think that's quite enough place name origins for one day. We'll be back on Friday with even more languages that inspired US place names! We look forward to seeing you then!