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

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

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

Unusual adjectives from French place names

I’ve always been fascinated by the adjectives French creates from place names. Many of them are formed in fairly predictable ways by just adding a suffix to the place name. Examples are parisien (from Paris) and lyonnais (from Lyon). Others are less obvious, and I list some of them in this post. Well-known places Table…… Continue reading Unusual adjectives from French place names

A tricky legal translation problem: food packaging

I’ve written before about a court case which concluded that UK retailer Tesco mis-translated the phrase chocolate powder into Czech. Translation and food packaging – Language Miscellany The judgement of the EU Court of Justice was produced in French. When I wrote before on this case, the official English translation wasn’t yet available.  The English…… Continue reading A tricky legal translation problem: food packaging

Do you have to be French to get into the Académie Française?

Surprisingly, the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa is a member of the Académie Française. He was elected in 2021, but he didn’t take up his seat in person until 9 February 2023, presumably because of travel disruption caused by covid. Réception de M. Mario Vargas Llosa (F18) | Académie française (academie-francaise.fr) It seems odd for…… Continue reading Do you have to be French to get into the Académie Française?

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

Aux Champs-Élysées

An attempt will be made on 4 June to break the world record for the world’s largest dictation event. It will be held on the Champs-Élysées in Paris for 1,700 participants. The existing record-holder is an event for 1,473 participants at the French national stadium (Stade de France) in 2018. https://www.20minutes.fr/paris/4035705-20230510-inscriptions-plus-grande-dictee-monde-champs-elysees-ouvertes As I’ve said before,…… Continue reading Aux Champs-Élysées

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