Tag Archives: languagediversity

500 language lessons

In addition to this blog I have a Twitter account called LinguaDiem, where the goal is to post about as many languages as possible. I generally do one per day. I’ve had this going for about a year and a half now, and I recently hit a landmark of 500 languages. They are all listed over here. For this blog post, I wanted to talk about LinguaDiem, and a few things I learned from 500 languages.

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This paper on happy words makes me angry

There’s a new paper out in the Journal of Positive Psychology: “Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being”, by Dr. Tim Lomas, in the Department of Psychology, at the University of East London. I don’t read this journal regularly, and I only heard about it through a Huffington Post article.

As you can tell from the title, the paper is about so-called “untranslatable” words. These are words from other languages which are extremely precise in meaning, and difficult to render into English. There have been plenty of books published on the topic, and lots of websites exist too. If you just google the phrase “untranslatable words” you’ll see what I mean, and actually you’ll be doing the same amount of research as Lomas did for his paper. More on that later. Continue reading

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It’s OK if you can’t pronounce foreign words

Early in September, Vanessa Ruiz, a news anchor at 12News Arizona, caused a mini-controversy with the way she pronounces Spanish words on air. Ruiz is a native speaker of Spanish, and viewers were getting upset that she rolled her “r” when saying words of Spanish origin. She defended herself by claiming that she was only pronouncing the words “the way they were meant to be said”, although not everyone appreciated this response.
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Comparing the complexity of languages

Which language do you think is the most complex? There are a lot of different answers that people will give to this question. Some people are sure that whatever language they struggled with in high school is the most complex. Others are certain that highly influential cultures must have complex languages, so they choose Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, or Chinese. Language buffs might break out a rare one like Tlingit or Lardil. Many people insist it is their own native language that’s the most complex, though oddly, I’ve found that just as many people seem willing to say their own language is terribly simple.

But ask a linguist, and you get a really wet blanket answer: no language is any more complex than any other. Or, put another way, all languages are equally complex. That answer tends to stop conversation dead in the tracks and no one is really satisfied by it, so I’m going to spend some time in this post explaining this answer and making it more interesting (maybe).

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8 Grammar Terms You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

1. Morpheme

A morpheme is the smallest unit of language that carries meaning. A word consists of one or more morphemes. For example, elephant is a morpheme, the plural suffix –s is a morpheme, the word elephants is a word consisting of two morphemes.

Morphemes can be “free”, meaning they are used by themselves, (e.g. house, car, walk, eat, from, to, but, him) or they are “bound”, meaning they only appear when attached to another free morpheme (e.g. the plural suffix –s, the past tense –ed,  the prefix re-, the possessive ‘s, etc.). The concept of a morpheme is extremely useful in describing any language, and I’ll make use of it throughout this post.

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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

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I’m on Twitter @LinguaDiem

I’ve decided to finally give Twitter a try (I’m years behind on this one). This blog is dedicated to articles on grammar and linguistics, and it’s mostly about English, but I’m going to go a different direction on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting about as many different languages as I can. Check out the feed on the side-bar for some examples!

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