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

Future tense and psychological distance

When a verb refers to the future, some languages require explicit marking of that fact. A recent paper presents evidence that companies in countries using those languages are slow in reporting that their goodwill has lost value. The paper suggests that this is because speakers of those languages perceive the future as psychologically more distant…… Continue reading Future tense and psychological distance

Measuring how much languages differ

Is it possible to quantity how one language differs from another language? In 2015, two academic researchers tried to do that by creating what they called a ‘Language Friction Index’ (LFI). They describe the index in their paper Language friction and partner selection in cross-border R&D alliance formation, Amol M Joshi and Nandini Lahiri, Journal…… Continue reading Measuring how much languages differ

Do swear words contain some sounds more often?

A recent study suggests that approximants—sounds such as /l/; /r/; /w/; and /y/—appear less often in swear words than they do in other words. The paper is The sound of swearing: Are there universal patterns in profanity?, by Shiri Lev-Ari and Ryan McKay (2022) published online in December 2022 by the experimental psychology journal Psychonomic…… Continue reading Do swear words contain some sounds more often?

Hangul Day

Today (9 October) is Hangul Day. Hangul is the name used in South Korea and most of the world for the writing system used in writing Korean.   Origin of Hangul Before the 15th century, most written documents in Korea were in Chinese. When Korean was written, people used Chinese characters, known in Korean as…… Continue reading Hangul Day

Are Mandarin adjectives just a type of verb?

In Mandarin, adjectives behave like verbs in some respects. As a result, some analysts suggest that adjectives are just a subset of verbs in Mandarin. This post summarises evidence that adjectives are in fact separate from verbs. The evidence comes from Chinese Syntax, by C-T James Huang, Y-H Audrey Li and Yafei Li (2009). The…… Continue reading Are Mandarin adjectives just a type of verb?

More about Ginkgo

I’ve previously posted my translation of Goethe’s poem Ginkgo Biloba. I’ve recently found more about the history, spelling and pronunciation of the word Ginkgo. I found this in section 8.3 of Sounds Fascinating: Further Investigations on English Phonetics and Phonology (2016), by JC Wells. Wells notes that the Oxford English Dictionary describes the word as…… Continue reading More about Ginkgo

Mandarin sibilants

Mandarin has many more sibilant sounds than English does.  I have always found it hard to keep them apart, both in listening and in speaking. The following table shows for each sibilant sound first the official romanised (pinyin) spelling and then, in [square brackets], a transcription in the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association.  FricativeAffricateAspiratedaffricateDentals…… Continue reading Mandarin sibilants

Test your languages online (2)

I’ve written before about the University of Westminster’s online diagnostic quiz for Norwegian, Swedish and Hungarian. Test your languages online – Language Miscellany I’ve now tried their quiz for some of the other languages. Here are my results for all the ones I took. The results are marked out of 50. German and French For…… Continue reading Test your languages online (2)

A Mandarin tongue twister

The following tongue twister in Mandarin contains 8 instances of the syllable ma, differentiated only by the tone they bear, as well as one similar syllable (man). Māma qí mǎ. Mǎ màn. Māma mà mǎ.Mother rides horse. Horse slow. Mother scolds horse. The above example is written in pinyin, the official transliteration system for Mandarin.…… Continue reading A Mandarin tongue twister