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

Database of Indo-European cognates

This is a follow up to my post From the Steppes or from Anatolia? – Language Miscellany That post explored a recent paper looking again at some old questions: when did Indo-European languages separate from the rest of that language family, and in which order? where did speakers of the ancestral language Proto Indo-European live?…… Continue reading Database of Indo-European cognates

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

From the Steppes or from Anatolia?

A recent paper takes a further look at some old questions: when did Indo-European languages separate from the rest of that language family, and in which order? where did speakers of Proto Indo-European—the ancestral language of the Indo-European language family—live? The paper Language trees with sampled ancestors support a hybrid model for the origin of…… Continue reading From the Steppes or from Anatolia?

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

Theta in an index

Here is an oddity: a foreign character appearing in an English book index as the first letter in an indexed phrase. The character is the Greek θ (theta). It appears in that index as the first letter in 5 phrases: θ feature; θ position; θ identification; θ position(s); θ role; θ structure. Where can you…… Continue reading Theta in an index

Translation gaffe at Gatwick

I was shocked to see this beginners’ translation blunder at Gatwick airport. This picture shows a box inviting passengers to donate their spare currency. The largest word on the box says Change. Presumably, this is the original English word. No doubt, the intended message is that passengers should give over their remaining small change. The…… Continue reading Translation gaffe at Gatwick

Using translation to show how the perfect differs across languages

Many western European languages have a perfect tense, formed by combining an auxiliary verb (meaning ‘have’ or ‘be’) with a past participle. Different languages use this verb form in different ways. A recent paper used translations of a well-known French novel to explore those differences. The aim was to see which tense the translators used…… Continue reading Using translation to show how the perfect differs across languages

Luxembourg’s submerged language comes to the surface

Thanks to my former colleague Alan Fisk. He has kindly allowed me to post this article he wrote for a magazine in about 1993. In the streets of the city of Luxembourg, all the signs and public notices are in French. Buy a newspaper, and it will be mainly in German. Here and there, messages…… Continue reading Luxembourg’s submerged language comes to the surface