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

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

S and sz in Polish and Hungarian

It is easy to be confused by the opposing spelling conventions used in Polish and Hungarian for the sounds /s/ and /ʃ/: Polish uses the symbol <s> for the sound /s/ and the digraph (letter sequence) <sz> for the sound /ʃ/. conversely, Hungarian uses the digraph <sz> for the sound /s/ and the symbol <s>…… Continue reading S and sz in Polish and Hungarian

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

Translation gaffe at Gatwick

I was shocked to see this beginners’ translation blunder at Gatwick airport. This picture shows a box inviting passengers to donate their spare currency. The largest word on the box says Change. Presumably, this is the original English word. No doubt, the intended message is that passengers should give over their remaining small change. The…… Continue reading Translation gaffe at Gatwick

Using translation to show how the perfect differs across languages

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

Italian dictionary will now include feminine forms

The Italian publisher Treccani will change how it lists nouns and adjectives in the next edition of its Dizionario della Lingua Italiana (Dictionary of the Italian Language), due to come out in October. Previous editions have followed the traditional practice of listing nouns and adjectives under only the masculine form of the head word. The…… Continue reading Italian dictionary will now include feminine forms

Romance languages: pronouncing C and G

Here is a tip to help you learn to pronounce the main national Romance languages more correctly. These Romance languages all pronounce the letters <c> and <g> in two different ways, depending on the vowel that follows them. In these languages, these letters are pronounced as [c] and [g] if they are followed by a…… Continue reading Romance languages: pronouncing C and G

Doing work and playing roles in Italian

Several constructions in Italian use the verb fare (‘do’, ‘make’). Two of these constructions look very similar on the surface but syntactically they behave in very different ways. A short book Fare: Elementi di sintassi, by Nunzio La Fauci and Ignazio M Mirto (2003) analyses them. Here are 2 examples: (1) Adamo fa il medicoAdam…… Continue reading Doing work and playing roles in Italian