Languages differ in what they MUST say

There is a popular belief that some things can only be expressed in some languages and not in other languages. The linguist and literary theorist Roman Jakobson (1896-1982) took issue with that belief in his well-known statement: ‘Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey’. That statement appears in his short essay…… Continue reading Languages differ in what they MUST say

How to need and how to have

The way languages express needing something is linked in a surprising way to how they express having something. In their paper Having “need” and needing “have” Stephanie Harves and Richard Kayne (Linguistic Inquiry, 2012) summarise the facts and suggest an explanation. How to have: H-languages English and some other languages use a transitive verb like…… Continue reading How to need and how to have

A is for Bee

A is for BEE: An Alphabet Book in Translation, by Ellen Heck, is a delightful alphabet book for children. Each page lists one or more words starting with the same letter and has bright pictures illustrating each word. The pages are in alphabetical order. This is an alphabet book with a twist: each page lists…… Continue reading A is for Bee

Structure of numbers in Indo-European

How are numerals formed in Indo-European languages today, and how were they formed in the ancestral language Proto-Indo-European (PIE)? And do ordering patterns of components within numerals align with other word order patterns in the same languages? Andreea S. Calude and Annemarie Verkerk considered those questions in a paper looking at how 81 present and past…… Continue reading Structure of numbers in Indo-European

A tricky legal translation problem: food packaging

I’ve written before about a court case which concluded that UK retailer Tesco mis-translated the phrase chocolate powder into Czech. Translation and food packaging – Language Miscellany The judgement of the EU Court of Justice was produced in French. When I wrote before on this case, the official English translation wasn’t yet available.  The English…… Continue reading A tricky legal translation problem: food packaging

Some odd possessive adjectives in Slavonic

For someone who knows some Russian, the 3rd person possessive adjectives in Croatian look odd.  But looking at it more closely, I’ve realised that their Russian counterparts are just as odd, though in a different way. Russian Table 1 shows some of the possessive adjectives in Russian. The adjective’s stem depends on the person (1st,…… Continue reading Some odd possessive adjectives in Slavonic

Král Karel

In a recent article on The Conversation, Neil Bermel, professor of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield, explained how some European languages will refer to King Charles III: in Czech, although he was almost always called princ Charles before ascending to the throne and occasionally král Charles is in use, he is…… Continue reading Král Karel

Cabinet of grammatical rarities

A Raritätenkabinett (cabinet of rarities) is a collection of things, living or dead, which are considered worth collecting (and perhaps exhibiting) because they are rare. An online collection of grammatical rarities is available at https://typo.uni-konstanz.de/rara/ The site classifies the items it contains into the following categories: rarum (plural rara): ‘a trait (of any conceivable sort:…… Continue reading Cabinet of grammatical rarities

Why is the past tense in Russian so odd?

The past tense of verbs in Russian looks very odd. It marks the gender and number of the verb’s subject, but does not mark whether the subject is 1st person (I / we), 2nd person (you) or 3rd person (she / he / it / they). In this respect, the Russian past tense differs from…… Continue reading Why is the past tense in Russian so odd?

Translation and food packaging

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that UK retailer Tesco mis-translated chocolate powder into Czech. Tesco had translated it as čokoládový prašek (‘chocolate powder’) but the official Czech version of the EU Cocoa and Chocolate Products Directive uses čokoláda v prašku (‘chocolate in powder‘). The Czech authorities prosecuted Tesco and after…… Continue reading Translation and food packaging