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

Multiple use of an inapt adjective

Every Saturday, The Times carries a Feedback column, which often discusses issues of English language style and usage. One topic covered on 3 February 2024 was the adjective multiple. A reader had objected to a report stating that Britons were buying lunchtime meal deals ‘multiple times a week’. The reader asked whether The Times has…… Continue reading Multiple use of an inapt adjective

The Uralic Languages

According to Kiefer and Laakso (2014), there is a general consensus that there are 6 main branches of Uralic: Ugric: Hungarian (13 million speakers) and, in Western Siberia, the Ob-Ugric languages Khanty (almost 10,000 speakers) and Mansi (probably less than 10,000 speakers) Finnic: Finnish (5 million speakers); Estonian (1 million). Other Finnic languages have many…… Continue reading The Uralic Languages

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

Even I wouldn’t use a plural verb here

On the tail end of a radio interview a couple of days ago, I heard someone say ‘agriculture are playing an important part’. ‘Agriculture are’ combines a singular noun with a plural verb and sounded very odd to me. Not a slip of the tongue All of us sometimes get distracted in the middle of…… Continue reading Even I wouldn’t use a plural verb here

Similarities and differences within Scandinavian languages

The Scandinavian languages are similar to each other, but also differ from each other. Here is an example that illustrates nicely some of the similarities and differences. I came across it in The Syntax of Icelandic, Höskuldur Thráinson (2007). Although Höskuldur Thráinson uses the example to make one specific point about word order, I use…… Continue reading Similarities and differences within Scandinavian languages

Language sketch: Danish, Swedish and Norwegian

Here is a summary of some things I learnt about the Mainland Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian) a couple of years ago, when I was carrying out a self-imposed language challenge. http://languagemiscellany.com/2021/09/scandinavian-challenge-how-did-it-go/   I am commenting here only on those 3 languages, not their relatives, the insular Scandinavian Languages (Icelandic and Faroese). For an…… Continue reading Language sketch: Danish, Swedish and Norwegian

Into the 2-word stage

When I last reported on my youngest granddaughter’s progress in learning language, she was still clearly at the 1-word stage (at 20 months). She was still there a couple of months later, though maybe just starting to produce 2-word phrases or statements. https://languagemiscellany.com/2022/04/early-words She recently had her 2nd birthday and is now very definitely in…… Continue reading Into the 2-word stage

The English verbal ending -s

It is often said that English verbs inflect in the present tense for the person (1st / 2nd / 3rd) and number (singular / plural) of their grammatical subject. In Notes on English Agreement, Richard Kayne provides a different analysis. He suggests that English verbs inflect only for number, not for person. Background Almost all…… Continue reading The English verbal ending -s

Scandinavian language challenge day 34

Today I worked through chapter 11 of Danish in three months, covering: numbers: fractions and collectivesadverbs of place and motionuses of adverbsconjunctions and adverbs used in pairsconfusable nounsother words Numbers: fractions and collectives The adjective halv means half and is inflected in the normal way: På en halVv dag spiste de et halvt får.(in half a…… Continue reading Scandinavian language challenge day 34