Word frequencies and Zipf’s law

There is a well-known relationship between the frequency of words in a text and the ranking of those frequencies. The relationship is known as Zipf’s law and is one example of a relationship called a power law. Power laws crop up in many other settings. For example, they arise in investigating the distribution of populations…… Continue reading Word frequencies and Zipf’s law

Language sketch: Maori (1)—sounds

Maori is the language of the Māori people of New Zealand. It is known in Maori as te reo Māori (‘the language Maori’) or simply te reo (‘the language’) for short. Te reo Māori was made an official language in New Zealand in 1987, along with New Zealand Sign Language. There is a useful short…… Continue reading Language sketch: Maori (1)—sounds

How German speakers pronounce English  

Someone’s first language tends to cause consistent errors when they speak a second language. I’ve always found it interesting see what types of error people make in speaking (or writing) English they have learnt as a foreign language. Those errors can be useful pointers to the features of the speaker’s first language. Spotting those errors…… Continue reading How German speakers pronounce English  

More on cat noir

In an earlier post, I discussed possible reasons for how my 4-year-old granddaughter pronounces the name of a TV cartoon character called Cat Noir. Cat Noir: how children learn non-native sounds – Language Miscellany Having recently watched a few episodes with my grandsons (her cousins), I now realise where she gets the pronunciation from. The…… Continue reading More on cat noir

Cat Noir: how children learn non-native sounds

My granddaughter has just turned 4 and has recently become very keen on a cartoon character called cat noir. She pronounces noir as a two-syllable word, with a vowel [ə] inserted after the [n]: [nə.waː]. In contrast, many speakers of British English—including her 6-year-old sister—pronounce this word as a single syllable: either [nwa] or with…… Continue reading Cat Noir: how children learn non-native sounds

Can English words start with th?

I am delighted that my grandchildren have learnt the word digraph in the reception class in their primary schools. A digraph is a sequence of two letters that together represent a single sound. One English digraph is <th>. This digraph is, in fact, used to spell two different consonants: a voiceless consonant, as in the…… Continue reading Can English words start with th?

Acquiring English past tense

My grandson (aged 3 years 9 months) has recently started producing the past tense in a surprising way. I first noticed it with the form liked. He is now pronouncing this as likèd [laɪkɛd] , rather than [laɪkt]. I soon discovered he was using this form consistently not only in all weak verbs but even…… Continue reading Acquiring English past tense