Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Weekly Articles from The Lingua File

Here at The Lingua File we love talking about language and we love writing our blog posts. Since paying the bills and doing our beloved jobs as translators takes up more than enough time, starting Monday, we'll be posting weekly.

Don't worry, though! The rest of the week you can check out our social media profiles for the other language news from around the web.

We'd like to thank all our readers and followers for their support over the years and for their ongoing support in the years to come! Keep loving languages!

Friday, August 26, 2016

It's So Fluffy! What Does "Fluffy" Mean If You Don't Speak English?

The other day I came across something sort of weird... the word "fluffy" isn't very universal. Sure, a lot of languages have similar words, but none are exactly the same. I currently live in Spain, and I've found that my Spanish-speaking friends who speak English understand it, while those who don't can't find a useful translation that really encompasses everything the English word means.

So what does it mean? If you look "fluffy" up in a dictionary, the first definition you might get is: "of, resembling, or covered with fluff".

You must admit, that's pretty useless if you don't know what "fluff" is.

Apparently, "fluff" is "soft fibres from fabrics such as wool or cotton which accumulate in small light clumps".

In English, clouds can be fluffy, clothing can be fluffy, and above all, soft toys can be fluffy. If you've ever seen the film Despicable Me (in English), you'll have seen, without a doubt, the best example of "fluffy" in use.

In the film, a young girl named Agnes sees a plush unicorn toy at a funfair and exclaims "It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!", a perfectly natural reaction to such an incredible and "fluffy" prize. Take a look at the following clip:

As you can see, you can check out this scene out in a multitude of languages. If you go straight to European Spanish, which started the whole debate, you'll see she uses the adjective blandito (soft), while the Mexican Spanish version uses hermoso (beautiful). Here's the European Spanish version for your viewing pleasure:

I'm not criticising the dubbing here, but just pointing out that maybe "fluffy" doesn't really exist or work well in Spanish. However, let's have a look at how they dealt with it in France...

The French version says C'est trop génial!, which is more or less "It's brilliant!", which completely ignores the plush and fluffy nature of the soft toy. However, it doesn't make the scene any less cute!

These aren't the only two examples. The Italian version uses morbido (soft) and the Portuguese version uses fofo (cute).

However, I don't think it's just a Romance language issue! For Danish, they chose to use nuttet (cute).

From the versions available, I reckon German comes the closest with the term flauschig, which apparently means "fleecy" (though I'm not a German expert). To me, that seems quite adequate when it comes to describing the unicorn, don't you think?

Finally, there's the Swedish version, for which I have no idea. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Here it is:

Apparently the word is fluffsi, or something like that. Is this accurate or a loanword?

When it comes to the word "fluffy", is it uniquely English or just a lacuna between English and Romance languages? Do you have a better translation in your own language? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below, especially Swedish speakers, since your dubbing has me bamboozled!

Monday, August 22, 2016

The End of the Linguistic Relativity Rainbow

On Friday, we looked at linguistic relativity, scholars Berlin and Kay, and how languages exist in different stages according to how they name colours. To put it simply, their work showed that all humans understand colours in the same way, and that differentiation is not due to culture.

This was considered to be true because the ranges of colours in each language match up across languages. For example, in the Stage II languages we mentioned on Friday, the red they distinguished would fit within the same range of red shades across other languages.

The Munsell System that was used by Berlin and Kay.
This means that any given Stage II language should consider "red" to be within the same range as in other languages, regardless of stage, given that they distinguish the colour "red". This understanding of colour and language became known as the universalist view. All colour perception is inherent within humans, so no matter what language you speak, you generally distinguish colours across the same ranges on a physiological level.

The scholars Kessen, Bornstein, and Weiskopf tested this idea using babies, in order to see how they responded to different colours of light. This was done by measuring habituation, whereby you respond less to a given stimulus as you get used to it. For example, you might get a fright if you hear a sudden loud noise, but if you constantly hear sudden loud noises, you barely respond.

In their study, the babies responded more to what we'd think of as distinct colours, rather than different shades or hues of the same colour, just like adults would. This supported the idea that our understanding of colour is with us before language has an opportunity to affect how we think about colour.

Of course, if you're familiar with academia, you won't be surprised to find out that there are ideas challenging Berlin and Kay's work. Their methodology was later criticised by other scholars for being Eurocentric and Western.

While Berlin and Kay thought that the concept of colours was universal, their critics started to side with the ideas of Sapir and Whorf, saying that language does shape how we think. This side of the argument is known as the relativist view.

Russian Blues, geddit?
If we don't all see or understand colours the same way, how could we test this? An interesting test used native speakers of English and native speakers of Russian. In the Russian language, there are unique terms for what English would call dark blue (siniy) and light blue (goluboy).

English speakers were asked to match a reference colour to one of two choices. If they were what we think of as different colours, they could do it pretty quickly. If they weren't, it took them a little longer. This meant the Russian speakers were quicker at matching their two known blue colours than English speakers were. You can find the study here.

What's the conclusion? A lot of studies support the idea that all of us have the same inherent understanding of colours, and a lot of studies support the idea that languages affect how we understand colours. What's at the end of the linguistic relativity rainbow? Who knows? The debate rages on!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Beginning of the Linguistic Relativity Rainbow

Linguistic relativity is based on the works of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, and describes how the language we speak can affect and shape the way we see the world and how we think.

While this is sometimes known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the hypothesis itself was not created by Sapir and Whorf, but rather by linguists Roger Brown and Eric Lenneberg. Brown and Lenneberg decided they would use colours to test Sapir and Whorf's ideas. Since then, colours and linguistic relativity have been the best of friends.

What is the difference between blue and green? If you speak English, or one of the languages that distinguishes between them, you're probably thinking that they are obviously different colours. However, if you speak a language that doesn't distinguish between them, there is no difference. When presented with what I call "green" and what I call "blue", you would probably describe these two blue-green colours based on whether they're a light, dark, rich, or pale blue-green, rather than providing unique colour terms for each.

How many colours are there in this ring?
With this in mind, today we'll be looking at the work of American scholars Brent Berlin and Paul Kay. These two worked with colours and languages and suggested that languages, in terms of the colours they distinguish, can be classified as being at a certain stage.

For example, in a language in Stage I, there are two distinct colour terms that describe either a dark-cool colour or a light-warm colour. You could consider these similar to, but not exactly the same as black and white in English. Every language has at least these two distinctions.

Languages in Stage II include three distinct colours: those from Stage I (the previous stage) and the colour red. Pretty simple, right? So let's have a look at all of Berlin and Kay's stages:

Stage I: Dark-cool and light-warm
Stage II: Red
Stage III: Green or yellow
Stage IV: Green and yellow
Stage V: Blue
Stage VI: Brown
Stage VII: Purple, pink, orange, or grey

Berlin and Kay stated that languages developed terms for certain colours in certain orders, and would not have distinctions for colours in the higher stages before distinguishing those in a lower stage.

This means, according to Berlin and Kay, that our blue-green issue from earlier would exist in all languages of Stage IV or lower (as a Stage V language would distinguish between them). This also means that any language that distinguishes brown from other colours already distinguishes blue from green.

That's just the start of our trip to the end of the linguistic relativity rainbow; we'll be back on Monday with more ways to consider how languages, and their users, name colours.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Problem with Going to Cinemas in Other Countries

As you may have guessed from a few of my previous posts, I'm getting into subtitling and foreign media in a big way. In the past I've mentioned some of the problems with Netflix's subtitling and how well Crunchyroll subtitles anime. Today I'd like to talk about the problems with visiting the cinema when living in another country, like I do in Spain.

Last week I went to see Suicide Squad with my brother, who doesn't speak much Spanish. This meant that the best option was to watch the film with its original audio and Spanish subtitles.

However, there is one problem with this. We were watching the film in English, with Spanish subtitles, as English speakers. This meant that the subtitles were for Spanish speakers, and it's just a happy coincidence that the film was almost exclusively in the English language. Yet since we're English speakers, we could enjoy the dialogue since it was almost exclusively in English.


There are a few parts of the film in Spanish, as well as parts in what I believe was a fictional language. These parts were still only subtitled in Spanish like the rest of the film. This was obviously quite problematic for my brother, who was briefly out of the loop at a rather important moment in the story.

This made me realise that the original version wasn't really for us. The subtitles were for those with hearing difficulty or for people who hate dubbing. If you're watching the original version of a film because you speak the language of the original version, you're going to run into a few problems if the film features any languages you don't speak.

Ideally, I'd like to see the original versions of films shown as originals, complete with subtitles where appropriate. They could always have two sets of subtitles in these rare instances, especially when scenes are hugely important to the plot of the film! That said, they couldn't have saved the Suicide Squad...

Friday, August 12, 2016

How Crunchyroll Gets Subtitling Right

Last year I wrote a post about the poor quality of subtitling on Netflix and am sorry to say that the same problems and frustrations continue to bug me. I've watched entire shows riddled with subtitles whose content is just nonsense.

It should read "And I even got that award off those feminists"
Netflix's subtitles for the British sitcom The IT Crowd were so awful that I can only imagine that they may have been automatically generated, not checked over, and subsequently just thrown onto the bottom of the screen.

YouTube should also get a special mention for subtitling quality. However, even though a lot of YouTube videos use automatically generated subtitles, the platform is kind enough to tell you they are and you don't have to pay a subscription for it like you do with Netflix.

However, the purpose of today's post isn't to name and shame bad subtitling (even though I just did), it's to praise Crunchyroll, a streaming service for anime, whose subtitles look like they were lovingly created and carefully implemented into shows.

If you don't watch anime, then you're probably not familiar with the platform Since all its shows are from Japan with Japanese audio, with the exception of a few dubs, a lot of subtitling goes on and they do it so well.

It's important to remember that Japanese uses a different writing system to English. One of my complaints with Netflix was that the Japanese text in scenes is often left untranslated. On Crunchyroll, not only are the subtitles placed over the Japanese text, but they also use same colouring as the original Japanese text, which makes everything clearer and makes the shows so much more enjoyable.

Crunchyroll's subtitling is exemplary of how to do it. Netflix should definitely take a page out of their book when it comes to subtitling all their programmes.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Etymology of the Olympics: Part 2

Before the weekend, we started looking at the etymologies of Olympic events. Today we'll finish up with the remaining events.


Much like the Olympics themselves, this term has Greek origins. Since the pentathlon includes five events, it's a merger of the Greek word pente (meaning "five") and athlon (meaning "contest"). However, it used to be called the pentathlum, using the Latin name.


This event gets its name through Proto-Germanic roots and lent itself to a variety of Northern European languages. When it arrived in Old English, the verb "to row" was rowan.


Like "badminton", this sport gets its name from where the sport was first played. Rugby should really be called "rugby football". Rugby is a town in Warwickshire, England, if you were wondering.


Like rowing, this sport's name also originates from Proto-Germanic. In Old English, the word was seglinge, but became sailing when the Old English word for "sail" changed.


Shooting comes from Proto-Indo-European roots, and was scotung in Old English before referring to the sport as of 1885.


Interestingly, the verb "to swim" was swimman in Old English, but "swimming" comes from making "swim" a verbal noun.


Like judo, taekwondo is a way of doing something. In Korean, do is "a way or manner", tae means "to kick", and gwon means "to punch", so taekwondo is literally "the way of kicking and punching".


Tennis comes from French; Old French, to be precise. In fact, it comes from the Old French verb tenir, which means to hold, receive, or take. The imperative form of this verb was tenez, which entered Middle English as tenetz and tenes. This evolved into the "tennis" we know today.


Remember pentathlon? The term triathlon is almost the same, but with pente being replaced by tri, meaning three, instead of five. It only has three events, rather than five.


The word volley comes from Latin volare, meaning "to fly", and then French volée. It eventually referred to the act of volleying the ball in tennis in the mid-19th century before combining with the word "ball" to give us the term "volleyball" that we use today.

Water Polo

The word for the game "polo" came from the Balti word for "ball", polo. Polo was played in Asia long before it made its way to England and was adapted for the water, at which point it became known as water polo.


Wrestling came from the Old English term wræstlung, while referring directly to the sport itself was the verbal noun of wræstlian.

Well, that's the remainder of our Olympic etymologies! We hope you enjoy the games as much as we surely will.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Etymology of the Olympics: Part 1

As we said on Wednesday, we're pretty excited for the Olympics. With that in mind, we thought we'd look at the events in the competition and how their names made their way into the English language.


The term "archery" came from the Anglo-French archerye and Old French archerie. These words, of course, came from the word for "archer". All the words surrounding archery inevitably have their roots in the Latin for bow, arcus. The root of arc comes from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and meant "bowed" or "curved".


Linguistically, "athletics" refers to the events in which "athletes" participate. In Greek, athlos was a contest and athlon was a prize. So basically, athletes compete in a contest to win a prize. Sounds about right, doesn't it? The term athletes in Greek was a prizefighter. This made its way into Latin as athleta and into English in the early 15th century.


The racket sport of badminton takes its name from where the sport was first played. Badminton House was in Gloucester, United Kingdom. Its name came from the Old English Badimyncgtun.


It's a sport using balls and baskets, what more do you want?


Boxing takes its name from box, a 14th-century verb that meant "to beat" which later meant "to fight with the fists" and gave us "boxing".


BMX is short for "Bicycle Motocross". We'll get to "cycling" in a bit.

Canoe (Slalom and Sprint)

The sport is named after the boat used. The word for that boat, canaoua, came from the Arawakan language used in Haiti in the mid-16th century. Many variants made their way into English, but by the 17th century it was established as "canoe".


The term "cycling" refers to riding a bicycle, but "cycle" comes from Latin and Greek. In Greek, the work kyklos referred to many circular things and motions. This became cyclus in Late Latin.


Equestrian events involve horses, and the term itself means "relating to horses". However, the term eques in Latin was a horseman or a knight, and equus, of course, means "horse".


"Fencing" is technically a shortened form of "defencing", the act of defending oneself. Just like you have to do in this swordsman's sport.


Football obviously comes from putting the words "foot" and "ball" together. However, if you're from one of the countries that calls it "soccer", the term comes from the shortening of "association football".


After a century out of the Olympics, golf is back. The sport gets its name from Scottish in the mid-15th century; the term gouf came from the Middle Dutch term colf meaning a "stick", "club", or "bat". Nowadays, you can only play golf with a club, though.


Another obviously named ball sport. "Hand" + "ball" = "Handball".


The term for hockey is thought to have come from a Middle French term for a shepherd's staff, the hoquet, since hockey sticks are thought to resemble the staves and crooks used by shepherds.


The martial art of judo, which originated in Japan, unsurprisingly has a Japanese name. In Japanese, judo means "gentle way", as ju means "gentle" and do means a "way" or "art". What you see is what you get.

As we're halfway through the Olympic events, we'll continue our look at the rest of the games on Monday, when we'll be even more excited as the competition will be in full swing!