The surname of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (Михаил Горбачёв) was occasionally spelled Gorbachov in English, especially early in his leadership. It is a pity that this spelling didn’t persist. The spelling with <o> would show English speakers more clearly how to pronounce this name. Cyrillic spelling Gorbachev’s surname is spelled Горбачeв in the Russian…… Continue reading Gorbachev or Gorbachov?
A team of cognitive scientists is trying to develop a ‘visual grammar’ of letter shapes. Would you like to help them? You can do so by playing a new online game developed by the research team. Players compete to develop rules that describe the shapes of letters in a wide range of writing systems. Using…… Continue reading Play an online game to help science
What is the title of this post? Is it a short story by Jose Luis Borges? Well, as you may have worked out, it’s about computer keyboards. qwerty is not a word but the first 6 characters on an English keyboard. Keyboards for different languages have a different set of 6 characters first. When I…… Continue reading Qwerty, Azerty, Qwertz
The English modal verb must and its German counterpart muss are cognates—they share the same origin and similar meanings. But when they are negated, they behave in different ways. English Barbara must not go means that it is required that Barbara does not go.On the other hand, German Barbara muss nicht gehen means that Barbara…… Continue reading ‘must not’ in English and German
The Lithuanian alphabet is based on the Roman alphabet but does not include the letters ‘q’, ‘x’ and ‘w’. As a result, using those letters in the official spelling of people’s names in Lithuania has not been possible. However, that has now changed. On 26 January 2020, the President of Lithuania signed a new law…… Continue reading New law in Lithuania lets people use foreign letters
Reading Bulgarian through Russian, by Charles E Gribble (1987) is a concise textbook that aims to teach people with a good knowledge of Russian to read normal contemporary literary Bulgarian. (I haven’t seen the 2nd edition, published in 2013.) An early section of Gribble’s book lists some systematic correspondences of sounds and spellings between the…… Continue reading Bulgarian through Russian
Annoyingly, the Ancestry transcribers of the 1851 census consistently mis-transcribed the name of the parish Little Cressingham (in Norfolk) as Little Crepingham. They aren’t totally to blame, though. It seems double s was at that time in English often written more like a p, or even like the old German ‘scharfes S’ / ‘Eszett’ (ß),…… Continue reading An old way of writing double s
Some of us learnt in school English lessons about a Japanese verse form called the haiku. We learnt then that a haiku contains a fixed number of syllables (17), divided into 3 lines: 5, then 7, then 5. Our English teachers encouraged us to experiment using that form in writing short, pithy verses in English.…… Continue reading How many syllables are there in a Haiku?
I’ve sometimes heard people describe Russian as a difficult language for native English speakers. It is, indeed, a little more difficult for such learners than languages related more closely to English, such as other Germanic languages or the Romance languages. On the other hand, it is probably less difficult for them than completely unrelated languages.…… Continue reading Is Russian difficult for English speakers?
The Scandinavian Languages are members of the Germanic family within the broader family of Indo-European languages. The ancestral language, North Germanic (Common Scandinavian), began to divide from the Germanic group around 500-800 CE and then to split into East Scandinavian (the Kingdom of Denmark, the southern two thirds of Sweden and adjacent parts of Norway)…… Continue reading The Scandinavian languages