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

German ‘ohne’ and English ‘without’ as not-with

Does the German word ohne (‘without’) correspond to a single mental concept? A recent paper argues that it does not. Instead, it has 2 components. One component corresponds to what the paper calls the cum concept (English with). The other corresponds to a negation or antonymity concept, which the paper calls anti. The paper also…… Continue reading German ‘ohne’ and English ‘without’ as not-with

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

Learning Russian in Bodmin in the Cold War

On a recent visit to Cornwall, we went into the Bodmin Town Museum. The centrepiece of the first room was a display about the Joint Services School for Linguists. This was located in Bodmin from 1951-1956. The Museum produces a small booklet (8 pages) The Joint Services School for Linguists, Bodmin, 1951-1956, notes compiied by…… Continue reading Learning Russian in Bodmin in the Cold War

Russian: an official language at the ISO

Did you know that the 3 working languages of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) include Russian? The others are English and French. I didn’t know that. Those 3 languages are the ones available on the ISO website. I haven’t found a clear statement on the ISO web site about its official languages, but here…… Continue reading Russian: an official language at the ISO

Data is now singular, says FT style guide

On the BBC 4 Radio programme More or Less on 17 March 2023, the presenter Tim Harford (an economist) said that the Financial Times style guide now tells the FT’s journalists to treat data as a singular noun. An executive editor from the FT explained that for the last 4 years the style guide had…… Continue reading Data is now singular, says FT style guide

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?

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

Nice one, Cyril

Several Slavonic languages—Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian—are written in the Cyrillic alphabet. That alphabet is also used for several other languages, for example in central Asia. The name Cyrillic honours the memory of St Cyril. Who was Cyril? St Cyril was born in Thessalonica (nowadays in Greece) in 826 CE, being given the…… Continue reading Nice one, Cyril