Monday, December 19, 2016

Collateral Adjectives in the English Language

English is an interesting language. About a third of its lexicon comes from Latin, a third from French, and a quarter from Germanic languages. It's these diverse origins that have helped cause a lot of collateral adjectives. But what are they?

A collateral adjective is an adjective whose origins are not derived from the noun it describes. For example, when we take about things related to our mouths, we talk about things being oral. This is because the word for "mouth" has Germanic roots while "oral" comes from Latin and etymologically are unrelated but semantically related.

An avian image.
When we talk about animals and food in English, animals are usually named using their Germanic and Anglo-Saxon roots and food is referred to using terms of Latin and French origins. A similar thing has occurred with animals and their adjectives. For example, the adjective for birds is avian and for cats we use feline. Dogs are canine and horses are equine. There are plenty of animal examples of collateral adjectives.

The same is also true for the body. In daily life, we prefer to refer to body parts with their Anglo-Saxon or Germanic names. However, medicine has often preferred using Latin or Greek terms. This means the adjective for brain is cerebral and for eyes we use optic. Ear is aural and heart is cardiac.

Science also preferred using Latin and Greek terms which means collateral adjectives are often used to describe phenomena found in science. For example, heat comes from Germanic, but its adjective thermal is Greek through and through.

Thanks to the English language's interesting history, there are tons of collateral adjectives. What are your favourite collateral adjectives? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Manners Cost Nothing: Being Polite in the English Language

English is a tricky language to master. In addition to irregular pronunciation and thousands of exceptions to every grammatical rule, you also have to navigate some of our weird customs, such as being polite.

So how can you be polite in English? Let's have a look at a couple of tricks you can use.

Would, Could, Should

We could go to the opera, instead.
In English it's better to avoid directly saying what you want. Rather than giving direct orders, you should make suggestions. There are some great ways to do this just by using different words in your sentences.

The words would, could, should are great for being polite. Instead of saying that you want something, say that you would like something. Rather than "I want to go to the cinema this Saturday", you could say "I would like to go to the cinema this Saturday".

You can also make suggestions using could. For example: "We could go to the cinema this Saturday".

Finally, you can use should to suggest things. In English, we use the word to imply a weak obligation and to give polite suggestions. For example: "We should go to the cinema this Saturday".

Avoid Negative Wording and Directly Disagreeing

You should avoid using negative words when you can. Instead, use a negative structure with positive words. Rather than "that's a bad idea", you could say "that's not a good idea". Directly disagreeing should also be avoided. "I don't really agree" should be used instead of "I disagree".

Of course, you don't always need to be this polite. Amongst trusted friends and colleagues, this level of politeness may be excessive. Being overly polite to close friends may be construed as fake and scheming.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Languages in the News: November 2016

It's that time again when we bring you the best language news stories from last month. Let's get straight to it with a story from Slate about the US presidential election. Thanks to Americans going to the polls, American English has some new vocabulary including the verb early vote. You can read about how this election changed language here.

There was a lot of love within the language community for Arrival, a sci-fi film about linguists who have to find a way to communicate with aliens who show up on Earth. NPR was full of praise for the film and its focus on language. Read what they had to say here.

Earth looks like a fine place to visit.
The Washington Post (WP) looked at Arrival from the effect it had on the profile of linguists. While we've always believed linguists were cool, WP reckoned that the film helped to raise the profile of linguists and make them "almost cool". Read all about these almost-cool linguists here.

Business Insider focused on the film's accuracy and portrayal of linguists at work. In an interview with Jessica Coon, the linguist who consulted on the film, they discuss how the work and practices of linguists were very accurately represented. Of course, there were still a few falsehoods that Hollywood let slip in the name of entertainment. Read about them here.

With the end of the year rolling in, you can expect plenty "of the year" articles and stories to start popping up. Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year was already decided in November and the BBC ran the story. Learn more about the word of the year here.

With the Word of the Year decided, it's hardly surprising that Oxford Dictionaries provided their own articles on it. There was one article we found particularly interesting about the other words considered for the word of the year. You can check them out here.

The New York Times gave us a fascinating article on Catalan in Italy. The language is under threat in Alghero, on the island of Sicily, where it is still spoken, despite very few efforts from the Italy to protect it. Read about these unsual struggles here

Our last great language news stories both come from NPR. In one story, they explained how California decided after nearly two decades to reintroduce bilingual education which you can read about here. In another related story, you can also read about the benefits of bilingual education on the brain here.

If there were any interesting stories we missed, feel free to tell us about them in the comments below.