Monthly Archives: March 2015

Somewhere over there is close enough

Let’s say you’re planning something with your friend on the phone. You are going to her place later. You say “I’ll be there soon”. She says “I’ll be here waiting”. Even though you are both referring to the same location (her house), one person called it “there” and the other person called it “here”. Why?

It’s because the words here and there don’t have fixed reference. The location they refer to depends on the location of the person who is speaking. Things that are nearby the speaker are ‘here’ and things that are far away from the speaker are ‘there’. That can cover a lot of distance, from the table in the next room (“I left my keys there”) to the surface of Pluto (“What knows what’s there?”).

Words like here and there are called “spatial deictics” in linguistics. They give a sense of where something is located, relative to a reference point. The simple system of English, which divides up space between close to the speaker vs. not close to the speaker, is actually pretty common, but it is certainly not the only way to do things. Continue reading


Filed under Linguistics

Gwynne’s Grammar

I noticed a few references to this book recently on Twitter, so I had to check it out. The “Gwynne” in the title is a Mr. Nevile Martin Gwynne. He is apparently somewhat well-known already for writing in the Sunday Times, and because he teaches children Latin through Skype. He also has a website over at

This review focusses mainly on the preface and first two chapters of Gwynne’s Grammar, because that’s where he lays out his philosophy of language, and that is the interesting part. The second part of the book is basically just a reprinting of Elements of Style. Part three has appendices. Continue reading


Filed under Book Review, Linguistics

The IPA: The Vowel Chart

This is part of a series on the International Phonetic Alphabet. The series so far is over here. You can get your copy of the IPA here. You’ll probably want one to follow along.

In this post, I’ll cover the vowel chart. The IPA divides up sounds based on their articulations, and vowels and consonants have fundamentally different kinds of articulation. In particular, consonants are sounds produced with obstruction in the vocal tract, while vowels are sound produced without any obstruction.
Continue reading


Filed under IPA