Many western European languages have a perfect tense, formed by combining an auxiliary verb (meaning ‘have’ or ‘be’) with a past participle. Different languages use this verb form in different ways. A recent paper used translations of a well-known French novel to explore those differences. The aim was to see which tense the translators used…… Continue reading Using translation to show how the perfect differs across languages
People are endlessly fascinated by words that are claimed to be untranslatable. A recent request by the American dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster led to many suggestions of words that are untranslatable. On 28 February 2023, the publisher tweeted a question: ‘Non-native English Speakers, what’s a word from your language that you think is perfect that doesn’t…… Continue reading Untranslatable words
Talking about the Carnival in German
Someone recently sent me a link to a good article about the carnival in German-speaking countries. https://www.mdr.de/brisant/ratgeber/fasching-karneval-fastnacht-102.html I first came across the carnival on an exchange visit to Frankfurt-am-Main when I was 13. My exchange partner’s family took us to the big carnival procession in Mainz on Rose Monday. Several years later, I saw the…… Continue reading Talking about the Carnival in German
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?
In a recent article on The Conversation, Neil Bermel, professor of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield, explained how some European languages will refer to King Charles III: in Czech, although he was almost always called princ Charles before ascending to the throne and occasionally král Charles is in use, he is…… Continue reading Král Karel
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
Has Cambridge University’s German department driven off in a Wokeswagon?
Reports in today’s media give the impression that Cambridge University’s German department has just issued a diktat that students must, from now on, eliminate all gendered terms when they are speaking or writing German. The rather sensationalists reports accuse the department of jumping onto a woke bandwagon. As far as I can tell after some…… Continue reading Has Cambridge University’s German department driven off in a Wokeswagon?
I recently came across a word that was new to me: contronym. A contronym is a word that is its own opposite. An often-given example is sanction. Sanctioning an action can mean either penalising it or permitting it. Some other examples are: WordOne meaningAnother meaningcleave clingsplitclipattachcut offdustremove dustadd a layer of dustapologystatement of regret for an…… Continue reading Contronyms
Enter until 15 July
I recently saw an invitation to enter a competition until 15 July. This reminded me of an error that many German speakers make when they speak English. They often use use until when they mean by. German speakers make this error because German has one single preposition bis covering 2 different meanings that English expresses…… Continue reading Enter until 15 July
Was born and was killed
Does the verb be have the same function in the two phrases was born and was killed? I don’t thing so. I just tried writing the following sentence: He was born in 1898 and killed in action in 1918. To my ear, that sounds very odd. I think it needs to be He was born…… Continue reading Was born and was killed