Slough. It is probably one of the words that somehow invoke negative connotations, even without actually being to that place itself. Located 32km west of Central London (defined as Charing Cross), this town in Berkshire has a population of more than 160 000, and is actually home to a lot of headquarters (or UK HQs, … Continue reading How did we get the word and place name Slough?
Who are the ‘wizards’ in our installation wizards?
From the surface, the mention of the word 'wizard' would conjure up connotations surrounding fantasy, magic, and spells. So often has that been portrayed in pop culture, from series such as Harry Potter, to the various isekai anime around here. But there is another place where we would find the word 'wizard'. One not so … Continue reading Who are the ‘wizards’ in our installation wizards?
The rise of Rōmaji in post-war Japan
Correlating what is spoken with what is written -- that is the long-standing challenge faced by many writing systems across the world. Some use the alphabet, and using certain letter combinations to represent more sounds, while others use logographic or ideographic writing systems to express more along the lines of ideas and things rather than … Continue reading The rise of Rōmaji in post-war Japan
The words we say but do not actually need — Tautology
We do say a bunch of unnecessary stuff in our everyday conversations and monologues. You know, the machine in ATM machine, the comics in DC comics (yes, DC technically stands for Detective Comics), and the display in LCD display. Many of these words are already incorporated in the abbreviations that contain them. Furthermore, when we … Continue reading The words we say but do not actually need — Tautology
Writing in Africa — Mwangwego
Our next writing system takes us to Southern Africa, particularly in a landlocked country called Malawi. Home to several Bantu languages, like Chichewa, Malawian Lomwe and Lambya, Malawi sure boasts a variety of languages in the Bantu language group. The origins of Mwangwego trace back to linguist Mr Nolence Moses Mwangwego, born in Zambia to … Continue reading Writing in Africa — Mwangwego
How do I even pronounce the Swedish “sj-“?
If you are learning the variants of Swedish in the northern parts of Sweden, or that spoken in Finland, then one sentence should be sufficient to explain it. It is best approximated as a "sh-" sound. But if you are learning Swedish as it is spoken in places like Stockholm or Malmö, strap in, because … Continue reading How do I even pronounce the Swedish “sj-“?
I asked ChatGPT to invent its own language (Pt 1)
The world of constructed languages is near limitless. From the days of Lingua Ignota, to more modern ones like Esperanto, constructed languages have pushed creativity to further heights in the linguistic fields. Such inventions have appeared in many pop culture scenes, aiding in world building, lore, and creating a more authentic-sounding fictional culture. Examples include … Continue reading I asked ChatGPT to invent its own language (Pt 1)
Why did we learn cursive?
If you grew up in the 20th century, or heck, even into the early 2000s, and you are a speaker of English, you might have gone through the ordeal of learning penmanship, and most particularly, the cursive script, at some point in either preschool, primary school, or elementary school depending on your education system. For … Continue reading Why did we learn cursive?
What is Cockfosters meant to mean?
Picture this. You just landed in London Heathrow Airport, made it through passport control, and collected your checked baggage, if you brought some along. You now needed to make your way towards the city center (or Zone 1) because that is where your hotel is. You decided to board the London Underground because that is … Continue reading What is Cockfosters meant to mean?
The “-sex” in some British place names
The United Kingdom has some interesting place names. From names that could sound rather vulgar, like Bitchfield in Lincolnshire, Penistone, and Scunthorpe in South Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire respectively, to some outright ridiculous names like Braintree and Splatt. Many of these names are scattered throughout England, and to a smaller extent, Scotland. But today, we … Continue reading The “-sex” in some British place names
Writing in Africa — The Somalian Alphabets (Pt 2)
Previously, we covered the Osmanya alphabet created in the early 20th century meant to write and represent the Somali language. Its spread was unfortunately put to an end by the Italians, who suspected its proliferation to be part of a pro-independence movement. But this was not the only writing system to arise in that era, … Continue reading Writing in Africa — The Somalian Alphabets (Pt 2)
Writing in Africa — The Somalian Alphabets (Pt 1)
In the Horn of Africa, several languages are widely spoken. From Amharic and Tigrinya in Ethiopia to Afar in Djibouti, many languages of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family are spoken here. In Somalia, Somaliland and Djibouti, Somali has official language status in the former two, and national language status in the latter. … Continue reading Writing in Africa — The Somalian Alphabets (Pt 1)
How did we get tones in Mandarin Chinese?
There are a bunch of tonal languages spoken throughout the world, but by a large margin, Mandarin Chinese comes up at the top in terms of number of native speakers. But its size or scope of usage is not the focus of our discussion today. One thing that intrigues me is the history of the … Continue reading How did we get tones in Mandarin Chinese?
From politics to proverb
A proverb is meant to be simple, it is meant to be insightful, and it expresses a perceived truth based on common experiences. Often figurative or metaphorical, proverbs collectively form a sort of folklore passed down by oral traditions. You may have heard of "Your mileage may vary" or "ignorance is bliss", but how about … Continue reading From politics to proverb
Where did Idaho come from?
While browsing meme pages and terrible or not-so-terrible maps, I came across this one: Ignoring the notion of Proto-World, it appears that 48 of the 50 states plus Washington DC in the US of A have some sort of an etymology. After doing a bit of fact checking, that is correct. But now we come … Continue reading Where did Idaho come from?
Where did “pineapple” come from?
Ananas. That is the name of the fruit that contains bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down proteins. Known for its tropical and exotic feel, this fruit has also found itself deep in controversy over its status as a pizza topping, dividing gastronomic communities all over. Yet, there is also another thing this fruit has stirred, … Continue reading Where did “pineapple” come from?
When capitalisation actually makes a difference
There is a curious poem in the book titled The Word Circus, written by Richard Lederer, and published in 1998. Called "Job's Job", it goes something like: In August, an august patriarchWas reading an ad in Reading, Mass.Long-suffering Job secured a jobTo polish piles of Polish brass.Richard Lederer, in The Word Circus, 1998 While seeming like … Continue reading When capitalisation actually makes a difference
Yet another vertical writing system
In a previous post, we have introduced one of the writing systems that is written vertically, but read horizontally. But what if I told you that there are more writing systems that sort of use similar writing directions? That is right, because today, we will dive into yet another one of these writing systems, that … Continue reading Yet another vertical writing system
Swiss High German has one fewer letter than Standard High German. But why?
When prowling through various orthographies, and their changes throughout modernity, I came across a particularly interesting case study on the use of the letter "eszett" (or scharfes es) in relation to the surrounding vowels, the letter s, and the digraph ss. These changes somehow disproportionately applied to Standard German, particularly those used in Germany and … Continue reading Swiss High German has one fewer letter than Standard High German. But why?
The story of Eszett (ß)
You only see this letter being used in German today, but not just any German, more rather, the German typically spoken in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, and parts of Belgium. You might see this on street signs, or basically everywhere. For learners, you might have first encountered it in the very first lesson of a beginner's … Continue reading The story of Eszett (ß)
A look at Australia’s unusual language — Kala Lagaw Ya
The Torres Strait Islands are a group of more than 270 islands straddling the Torres Strait, which separates Australia from the island of New Guinea. On them, live about 4 500 inhabitants, according to a 2016 census. Some of them speak a language indigenous to the central and western Torres Strait Islands, although it is … Continue reading A look at Australia’s unusual language — Kala Lagaw Ya
Putting a ring on it — The å’s diacritic
The letter 'å' (typed using Alt+0229) is perhaps one of the most recognisable letters in the languages of Scandinavia, as you may have recalled the last time you went strolling about in an Ikea store. It is even the entire name of certain places in Norway and Sweden. So too does it represent a unit … Continue reading Putting a ring on it — The å’s diacritic
Where can we find the letter Đ?
This letter has long been associated with the Vietnamese language, ever since it switched over to the chữ Quốc ngữ from the traditional Chữ Nôm. In addition to the amount of diacritics and tone marks, the letter Đ is perhaps one of the most iconic in the Vietnamese alphabet. Yet, it is not the only … Continue reading Where can we find the letter Đ?
Why does the Hawaiian language have so few sounds?
The Hawaiian alphabet is short. In comparison with the English set of 26 letters, Hawaiian has only 13. 5 vowels, 7 consonants, and the 'okina, written as '. There is the macron used to mark long vowels in the Hawaiian language, but these vowels carrying macrons are not considered separate letters. With such a short … Continue reading Why does the Hawaiian language have so few sounds?
Why does “ph” make an “f” sound?
Phone. Phase. Phoenix. These words start with a "ph", yet this digraph is pronounced with an "f". In some other languages, we see such a pattern as well. Take French, for example. The word for "the seal", le phoque, also has its "ph" pronounced as an "f". We also see such a pattern in Vietnamese, … Continue reading Why does “ph” make an “f” sound?
Going on a little break
I have a little announcement to make. I have decided to go on a little break over September, to refresh, read up, learn, and reflect on various aspects of language and language learning. I will be back in October to present to you more weekly content, so yeah, be patient with me, and stay tuned! … Continue reading Going on a little break
Language and Ecology — Island Biogeography of Languages
As someone who has a background in ecology and many things biology, there are often many times I have tried to observe parallels between biodiversity and linguistic diversity. In fact, I have written a couple of posts before about these topics, breaking down published academic or scientific papers that explore these concepts. We see that … Continue reading Language and Ecology — Island Biogeography of Languages
The languages where you greet like pirates?
Greetings. Probably the second thing you learn in a new languages just after the swear words and profanities. Across Europe, you would hear something along the lines of "hello", "hi", "good day", and the like. But there is this area in Europe that has a more, well, maritime-sounding greeting. Meet the languages of Czech, Slovak, … Continue reading The languages where you greet like pirates?
The language where the pronouns have tenses — Wolof
We have different ways of expressing the idea of something happening now, something happening in the past, and something that is going to happen at some point in the future. For languages like Mandarin Chinese, there are no conjugations -- as the way Mandarin Chinese works does not support conjugations for the most part. There … Continue reading The language where the pronouns have tenses — Wolof
The writing system written in one direction, but read in another
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7 400 islands, and home to dozens of languages, most of which belong to the Austronesian language family. While Tagalog, Filipino, Ilocano, and Cebuano stand out as some of the more spoken languages, or better known ones in the Philippines, there are many others with much fewer speakers, … Continue reading The writing system written in one direction, but read in another
The mystery of Maridi Arabic
Going down the list of notable and documented pidgins spoken all around the world, I came across a curious entry that, it verified legitimate, would be the oldest known pidgin in the world. The issue is, its existence was only known through 50 words in a single text, written some time in the 11th century. … Continue reading The mystery of Maridi Arabic
A sixth anniversary post
The sheikh's sixth sheep's sick. That is probably the most difficult tongue twister in English, owing to the tricky consonants and phonemes put together. But do you know which other sixth is happening? That's right, The Language Closet is celebrating their sixth anniversary today! We have been operating on a weekly post basis for the … Continue reading A sixth anniversary post
A look into the Dzongkha language
Mountainous. Isolated. Intriguing. This country is so isolated, it only allows visa-free access to citizens of Bangladesh and the Maldives, and freedom of movement with India. Straddling the Himalayas, its elevation can range from just under 200m to over 7000m, with climates ranging from sub-tropical, to alpine or even polar. Known as the Land of … Continue reading A look into the Dzongkha language
When English lost its grammatical genders
Er, sie, es. Hann, hún, það. He, she, it. One of these is not quite like the other. Spotted it? The odd one out is "he, she, it", the third person singular pronouns used in English (the other trios being German and Icelandic respectively). Why? This is because English lacks grammatical genders. But what do … Continue reading When English lost its grammatical genders
Probably the weirdest language crossover
What happens when a bunch of speakers with no common language come together and want to communicate? A simplified form of the languages involved starts to form, usually impromptu, or through social conventions. Pidgins are not considered a native language by any speech community, instead learned as a second language (L2). However, pidgins usually form … Continue reading Probably the weirdest language crossover
Where did the word ‘scam’ come from?
A web of deception. Lies. All resulting in the financial loss in the victim, with almost nothing good in return. It comes in many different forms, from the street, to your phone as robocalls, or to your emails in your spam folder. With it, comes many different terminologies specifying the type of deception, like the … Continue reading Where did the word ‘scam’ come from?
The differences between “genau”, “eben”, and “gerade”
In colloquial German, and perhaps online discourse, you would see one of these words used in conversations. Just like other expressions like the infamous bitte, these words have different meanings, and are used in slightly different contexts. Here, we will be looking at the differences between the words genau, eben, and gerade. Genau In German … Continue reading The differences between “genau”, “eben”, and “gerade”
A look back at Wordle
In January 2022, a game took the Internet by storm. In a burst of popularity, millions have taken to solve daily challenges, with a simple objective -- to guess the five letter word of the day within six guesses. Although originally released in English, this game has since been released in other languages, but ultimately … Continue reading A look back at Wordle
How did this word mean three different pronouns?
When learning languages, one can never escape from having to learn about pronouns. For some, it is quite "straightforward", while for others, not so much. As such, I was not surprised to see some of my classmates in German class trying to understand which pronoun this one word meant in certain contexts, written or spoken. … Continue reading How did this word mean three different pronouns?
The story of the cedilla
This diacritic we will cover today will bother a lot of font developers who want to make a sans-serif font, basically a typeface that lacks any sort of protruding bits at the end of a stroke. These projecting features are called "serifs", and here, the one bothersome bit is called the cedilla, a diacritic mark … Continue reading The story of the cedilla
Why does French have circumflex letters?
French is probably one of the more well-known languages with diacritics, although it does not get as elaborate as languages like Vietnamese today. This language has five different types of diacritics, also known as accents -- the accent aigu (é), accent grave (Eg. è), accent circonflexe (Eg. û), accent tréma (Eg. ë), and cédille (ç). … Continue reading Why does French have circumflex letters?
The silent “w” in some British place names
In the past couple of Word Bites posts, we have gone over some of the most difficult (more rather, misleading) British place names to pronounce, and how those names originated, and some ideas why the pronunciation changed to strongly deviate from what is written. But today, let's explore some of the typical patterns in some … Continue reading The silent “w” in some British place names
Little did we know about this grammatical rule
In grammar, there are generally a number of typical patterns languages use to express the relationship between the subject, the object, and the action (or verb). This includes the nominative-accusative group, and the absolutive-ergative group. Within these groups, these elements can follow certain word orders with varying degrees of flexibility. The word order we are … Continue reading Little did we know about this grammatical rule
Word Bites — Des milliers, des millions, des milliards
I remember a song by a French singer Jean-Louis Aubert titled "Milliers, Millions, Milliards", translated as "Thousands, Millions, Billions" in English. While a rather catchy song in its melody and lyrics, the title alone sort of hides a little linguistic curiosity. Let's explore another example, using a different language branch. In German, "million" is, well, … Continue reading Word Bites — Des milliers, des millions, des milliards
Word Bites — Why does the word “irregardless” exist?
It sounds ungrammatical, yet seemingly so intuitive to say. Even so, this word has attracted much controversy about its use in the twentieth century, in definition, usage, and the like. While it has been recognised as a dictionary entry decades ago, it still shows up as a spelling error in some text editors, including the … Continue reading Word Bites — Why does the word “irregardless” exist?
Word Bites — What is the deal with the word “obligated”?
When asked for a word meaning "a morally or legally bound act for a person", or "a duty or commitment", one would probably mention the word "obligation". And they would be right. However, when asked about the verb form of the noun "obligation", this is where we start to hear multiple answers. While I tend … Continue reading Word Bites — What is the deal with the word “obligated”?
The truth about the other Swedish ‘yes’
When searching up weird sounds or expressions in languages like Swedish, you may have encountered this video clip by The Local (Sweden) in Umeå, eastern Sweden: https://youtu.be/URgdIAz4QNg The clip showing off an unusual way Swedish speakers may say 'yes' In fact, this video has been shared over many articles online, showing off how Swedish has … Continue reading The truth about the other Swedish ‘yes’
Why do Italian speakers have these hand gestures?
Looking back at 2021, some events have certainly thrust some parts about language into the spotlight. Perhaps the most prominent one was the Euro 2020 cup, especially in the Italian team: Perhaps one of the most significant memes of the Euro cup this year This is not one isolated incident; on Twitter, there are clips … Continue reading Why do Italian speakers have these hand gestures?
The writing system that resembles Arabic, but is not
The Arabic abjad has its influences throughout many parts of the world. From the Urdu script for, well, Urdu, and Persian script for Farsi, to the Jawi script for Bahasa Melayu, there are many letters added to the 28 original letters of Arabic from these respective languages. However, these scripts will not be the focus … Continue reading The writing system that resembles Arabic, but is not
The variant of German not quite spoken in Germany now
When people talk about High and Low German, one might think that High German refers to the variant spoken in the northern parts of Germany, while Low German refers to the variant spoken in the southern parts. But as geography suggests, this is not the case. Low German is used to refer to the German … Continue reading The variant of German not quite spoken in Germany now
Word Bites — From servitude to greeting, the story of “Servus”
When starting off in learning languages, learners would tend to take two different starter paths -- learning the greetings, and learning the profanities. Today we are talking about the former, one which has a rather interesting history. While I have dabbled here and there in German before coming to Germany to study, I realised down … Continue reading Word Bites — From servitude to greeting, the story of “Servus”
Learning Mandarin Chinese characters… with more Mandarin Chinese characters
For a long time now, I have been wondering, how did people back then learn Mandarin Chinese characters? Today, we have the convenience of learning new characters by just looking at the hànyǔ pīnyīn, which is the official romanisation system for Standard Mandarin Chinese in mainland China, and is also used in teaching Mandarin Chinese … Continue reading Learning Mandarin Chinese characters… with more Mandarin Chinese characters
The language in Bavaria you may not be aware of — Bavarian (Bairisch)
So I have been living in Germany for several months at this point, particularly in the state of Bavaria, learning German along with some of its Southern variants. But, I have encountered something which did not quite sound like German, nor any of its variants I know about. Upon doing some bits of reading up, … Continue reading The language in Bavaria you may not be aware of — Bavarian (Bairisch)
Word Bites — Different cities, similar names (Helsinki / Helsingfors, Helsingborg, Helsingør)
There are many places in the world that share the same name, or rather similar names. Take the distribution of all the Londons, Parises, and Romes of the world. While the most popular versions are the "originals" found in the UK, France, and Italy respectively, it did not stop the US, Canada, and even Kiribati … Continue reading Word Bites — Different cities, similar names (Helsinki / Helsingfors, Helsingborg, Helsingør)
Languages of Australia — Tiwi (Tunuvivi)
In the field of language isolates, finding examples which maintain a sizable speaking population today is quite hard. Many language isolates are after all, extinct, or teetering to the brink of extinction. And on the other extreme, there are language isolates which still enjoy a vibrant status like Korean. The language we are covering today … Continue reading Languages of Australia — Tiwi (Tunuvivi)
👏🏻 Method 👏🏻 Review — Drops
Some months ago, I tried my hand at learning the Maori language, made more accessible through the release of learning applications developed in New Zealand, as well as the addition of Maori to several language learning applications we discussed, particularly Memrise. However, other than Memrise, there is another application which I am rather fond of, … Continue reading 👏🏻 Method 👏🏻 Review — Drops
Word Bites — More notorious British place names to pronounce
Previously, we have covered three of the British place names which do not seem to follow any pronunciation rule at all. This week, we are back with another installation of three place names to dissect -- their etymology, possible evolution pattern, and what this place actually is. You might also want to keep a score … Continue reading Word Bites — More notorious British place names to pronounce
Languages of Australia — Muruwari
In Australia, lies a micronation no one recognises. Spanning the territory along the state border of New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, this corresponded to the traditional homeland of the Murrawarri people. It declared its independence in 30 March 2013 from Australia, and even brought their sovereignty campaign to the United Nations to request for … Continue reading Languages of Australia — Muruwari
Word Bites — Why are people of the Netherlands called Dutch?
As we have covered before in the segment on the demonym "Soton" to refer to people in Southampton, there are many weird and interesting demonyms around the world. So today, we will take a look at an interesting etymology behind yet another demonym, this time, used to refer to residents residing in the Netherlands. Sometimes, … Continue reading Word Bites — Why are people of the Netherlands called Dutch?
Languages of Taiwan — Sakizaya (Sakiray), Truku, and a conclusion
By the time this post is published, it would have been about 16 months since our very first post on the indigenous languages of Taiwan. Today, we will cover the final two Formosan languages still spoken in Taiwan, before wrapping the series up (for now, at least). Sakizaya In Hualien County, there is a people … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Sakizaya (Sakiray), Truku, and a conclusion
Why does the Caucasus have so many languages?
Sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Caucasia is home to the Caucasus Mountains, separating Eastern Europe and West Asia. Encompassing mainly Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and some parts of Southern Russia, the Caucasus may seem geographically small. But make no mistake, this region is among the most linguistically and culturally diverse regions on … Continue reading Why does the Caucasus have so many languages?
Word Bites — Beaulieu, Woolfardisworthy, and other wacky British place names
Some British places are famous for their significance, like say, Brighton, or Manchester, or Greenwich. Other British places, however, are a bit more notorious for their wacky pronunciations, as with what is often regarded as the most difficult to pronounce British place name, Frome in Somerset, England. Among its ranks come Woolfardisworthy in Devon, and … Continue reading Word Bites — Beaulieu, Woolfardisworthy, and other wacky British place names
Languages of Australia — Burragorang (Ngunawal – Gundungurra)
While browsing the various realms of the Internet for things about languages I find interesting, this one caught my attention: Interpret it for yourself, but its supposed intended message was to notify the motorist that the Maccas' at Yass opened at 6am. So what is Yass exactly? It turned out that Yass is a town … Continue reading Languages of Australia — Burragorang (Ngunawal – Gundungurra)
The biggest mistake I make when learning languages
When thinking about languages to learn, I often ponder about what I wanted to achieve from the journey, and what I wanted to use the language for. Languages are designed to communicate -- verbally or in print and writing, relying on the utterances or graphemes transmitted by the sender or speaker, to be decoded by … Continue reading The biggest mistake I make when learning languages
Languages of Taiwan — Saaroa (Lha’alua)
This continuation of the Languages of Taiwan series introduces yet another critically endangered language, one at a rather precarious position. Traditionally considered as a subgroup of the Tsou people, the Lha'alua or Saaroa people received official recognition from the government of Taiwan, becoming the 15th recognised indigenous people in Taiwan. Numbering around 400 today, the … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Saaroa (Lha’alua)
I did a speedrun on Duolingo. Here’s what I learnt
There probably is a saying that goes, for every game that exists, there is a speedrunning community for it. Apparently, this extends to some language learning methods as well, particularly those which provide a gamified experience to users. With its own category on Twitch, I knew what I had to do on there for once … Continue reading I did a speedrun on Duolingo. Here’s what I learnt
Languages of Taiwan — Thao (Thau a lalawa, Sao)
The next language we are going to cover is a critically endangered one, one with less than 200 speakers, among a people group numbering less than 1000 individuals. Not to be confused with the Tao, the Thao, also known as Sao or Ngan, is an indigenous ethnic group inhabiting the Sun Moon Lake region in … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Thao (Thau a lalawa, Sao)
Languages of Taiwan — Saisiyat (Saisiat)
Making up around 1-2% of Taiwan's indigenous population, the Saisiyat people numbered 6743 in 2020. Among them, around 2000 were native speakers of the Saisiyat language, according to the Council of Indigenous Peoples Taiwan in 2015. The UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger has classified this language as "severely endangered", with many of … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Saisiyat (Saisiat)
Word Bites — Similar words, different origins
Sometimes, people suggest that languages are related just because of a small number of lexical similarities between them. However, it could be extremely likely that these words appear similar by sheer coincidence. Perhaps, one of the most well-known examples quoted is the rather striking similarity between English and Mbabaram, for the word "dog". However, English … Continue reading Word Bites — Similar words, different origins
Languages of Taiwan — Kavalan (Kvalan, Kebalan, Kbalan)
This language was formerly spoken in the northeastern regions of Taiwan, but today, the language is no longer used there. Currently spoken in Eastern Taiwan, in Hualien, Yilan, and Taitung counties, it has experienced a continual state of decline in use. With many Kavalan speaking other languages like Amis, Mandarin, Japanese, and Taiwanese Hokkien, it … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Kavalan (Kvalan, Kebalan, Kbalan)
What do we know about the Sentinelese language?
Uncontacted peoples -- people groups who have never made sustained contact with neighbouring communities, let alone the outside world in general. These people groups are often indigenous, and many of them are scattered in South America and the island of Papua. Some 100 of them exist, but here, we will focus on one of them. … Continue reading What do we know about the Sentinelese language?
Languages of Taiwan — Rukai (Drekay)
In the previous posts in this series, we have explored some of the more special aspects of each Formosan language (and Yami), from sounds, to words and grammar features. This language we are exploring here has a special grammatical system, and is hypothesised to have diverged from the Proto-Austronesian language extremely early. This language is … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Rukai (Drekay)
A Life Update
I do not really do this often, but this event I am preparing for is strongly relevant to the content I write here. This would be the start of a new chapter in life for me, and I sure am looking forward to what is in store. I am moving to Germany for my post-graduate … Continue reading A Life Update
Languages of Taiwan — Puyuma (Pinuyumayan, Peinan, Beinan)
Among the Austronesian languages, linguists have suggested that this language is among the most divergent, that reconstruction efforts for Proto-Austronesian, a hypothesised ancestor of the Austronesian languages, often leaves out this language. Spoken by the sixth largest indigenous people group in Taiwan, the Puyuma language has hundreds to thousands of speakers, although most of these … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Puyuma (Pinuyumayan, Peinan, Beinan)
Languages of Taiwan — Bunun
In the previous posts in this series, we have covered some of the indigenous languages spoken across various regions in Taiwan, from the most commonly spoken, to the most endangered or moribund. Here, we shall introduce you to a language spoken by the fourth largest indigenous people group in Taiwan, primarily in the island's central … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Bunun
Word Bites — Is Japan “Nihon” or “Nippon”? Or both?
Described by the West as "The Land of the Rising Sun", the country of Japan is known to us English speakers as, well, Japan. In Japanese, this name is written as the kanji 日本, but carry two commonly used pronunciations, "Nihon" and "Nippon". We see and hear both forms across Japanese media and maybe some … Continue reading Word Bites — Is Japan “Nihon” or “Nippon”? Or both?
Word Bites — Why do some people say “this here” instead of “this”?
In some videos, movies, or films, you may have heard some characters or people use the phrase "this here (something)" or "that there (something)", probably to portray a more country or old-style atmosphere. However, occasionally, I have heard instances where phrases like this are spoken in perhaps some places in America. So this got me … Continue reading Word Bites — Why do some people say “this here” instead of “this”?
Speaking Japanese — The Interchangeability of /s/ and /h/
It is said that, before the Second World War, there were curious differences in the writings on signboards of pawnshops, which seemed to differ based on the prefecture one was in. If you were in Tokyo, you might see 「しちや」 (shichiya). But if you were in the Kansai region, particularly Osaka, you might see 「ひちや」 … Continue reading Speaking Japanese — The Interchangeability of /s/ and /h/
Trying to understand a Mongolian phonology rule
When I first set out to learn Mongolian, I expected the sound system and alphabets to be more straightforward than some other languages like say, Tibetan. With this, came this expectation of sort of a one-to-one relationship between letter and sound. However, in reality, I realised some letters were not quite pronounced the way I … Continue reading Trying to understand a Mongolian phonology rule
Trying to understand the “fleeting-n” in Mongolian
For the past couple of months, I had been exploring the Mongolian language, learning about the rather interesting phonology system, the vowel harmony it sort of shares in common with some of the Turkic languages, and perhaps a bit of the writing system, Mongol bichig, which is probably one of the few writing systems today … Continue reading Trying to understand the “fleeting-n” in Mongolian
Word Bites — From Ross to Pferd
There are odd etymologies in various languages, and here, I want to present one of them. One that is rather commonly used, identified, and known by all. That is the word "horse". Understandably, given that English is a Germanic language, we would expect to see a rather similar sounding translation for this word. Right? Well, … Continue reading Word Bites — From Ross to Pferd
Zuni vs Japanese — More than just a coincidence?
Searching up language mysteries or weird coincidences, chances are, two languages would pop up. Spoken in Arizona and New Mexico, Zuni is considered by many linguists and anthropologists as a language isolate, a language with no established genealogical relationships with any other language. However, one anthropologist, Nancy Yaw Davis, has picked up some possible similarities … Continue reading Zuni vs Japanese — More than just a coincidence?
Word Bites — “Yard Sard” or “Yale Sale”
You may have encountered this meme, as vintage as it may be, now lurking in the depths of internet history and being dug up from time to time. A simple misspelt sign appearing in 2008, this has come to spread far and wide. But this is not a one-off event. Signs reading "Yard sard" or … Continue reading Word Bites — “Yard Sard” or “Yale Sale”
The Only German-based Creole — Unserdeutsch (Rabaul Creole German)
Here on this site, we have covered several creoles based on various languages, from Japanese-based creole called Yilan Creole Japanese spoken in Taiwan, to the Portuguese-based creole, Papiah Kristang spoken in Malaysia and Singapore. In this post, we will cover yet another special creole, this time, the only known German-based creole spoken in the world, … Continue reading The Only German-based Creole — Unserdeutsch (Rabaul Creole German)
Reviving a “lost” Viking language — The Nynorn Project
Way back in the 9th century, the Norse people settled the islands of Shetland and Orkney. With this, they brought along a dialect of Old Norse spoken in the Viking times. These Norse people also likely migrated to Iceland and the Faroe Islands thereafter, spreading the old North Germanic language around. Over time, the language … Continue reading Reviving a “lost” Viking language — The Nynorn Project
The Language Closet — 5 Years On
On this day, five years ago, I started this site to compile some of my most memorable things I encountered in my language learning journeys, reflections, and some of the most interesting things about languages around the world. I have seen how my writing style changed, hopefully giving a more reflective take on some posts, … Continue reading The Language Closet — 5 Years On
Writing Japanese — H-hentaigana?
Ok. No, it is not what you are probably thinking. Hentaigana has nothing to do with perverted stuff so stereotypical in popular culture. This hentai we are talking about here pertains to this thing called 変体, or variant forms, and that hentaigana, or 変体仮名, basically means the historical variants of the currently used hiragana script. … Continue reading Writing Japanese — H-hentaigana?
3 languages that I’ve wanted to learn
Sometimes, I would ask myself this question -- given the time, resources and opportunity, which languages would I have got to learning? Recent events have provided opportunities to get started on some of these languages, but for the most part, I felt that I had accumulated quite a bit of backlog on language learning. Here, … Continue reading 3 languages that I’ve wanted to learn
The gaps in our languages
Fingerspitzengefühl. Hygge. Ubi sunt. What do these words have in common? While these words come from German, Danish, and Latin respectively, they all share a common feature -- that they do not really have any kind of direct English translation. Very often, translators may encounter obstacles and challenges in finding equivalents of certain words or … Continue reading The gaps in our languages
Speaking Japanese — The Four Kana (Yotsugana)
If you have learnt Japanese, you most likely have been introduced to how it is spoken in Tokyo, or to a lesser extent, Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, or any Kansai variant. However, there are some kana sounds that may or may not sound different based on the prefecture you are in. These four, づ, ず, じ, … Continue reading Speaking Japanese — The Four Kana (Yotsugana)
Speaking Japanese — Understanding Aidzuchi
Verbal communication brings out a lot of colour in a language, way beyond the confines of the materials upon which the language is recorded in. Everyday expressions, slang terms, and other kinds of word variants can be picked up through speaking and listening in a conversational context. Very often, when listening to Japanese conversations, or … Continue reading Speaking Japanese — Understanding Aidzuchi
Speaking Japanese — What Exactly is Rendaku?
When learning Japanese, you would have encountered several patterns in speech. For example, while a person in Japanese is 人 (ひと, hito), the plural may be 人々 (ひとびと, hitobito). In a rather similar fashion, time is 時 (とき, toki), while sometimes is 時々 (ときどき, tokidoki). You may be asking, what is the pattern here? Notice … Continue reading Speaking Japanese — What Exactly is Rendaku?
Word Bites — Dord?
In 1934, a curious word entry appeared in the D-section of the second edition of the New International Dictionary, published by G. and C. Merriam Company, what is now part of Merriam-Webster. The word was defined as a synonym for density, used in the contexts of physics and chemistry. However, this word was completely removed … Continue reading Word Bites — Dord?
Obscure languages — Wymysorys
Today, we will explore a rather obscure language, but at a rather precarious predicament. This language has less than 20 native speakers as of 2017, most of whom are elderly, prompting several revitalisation efforts to try to revive the language. Spoken in the region of Wilamowice, Poland (Wymysoü), this language is also quite an interesting … Continue reading Obscure languages — Wymysorys
What happened to Bulgarian’s grammatical cases?
Down by the Black Sea, lies the country of Bulgaria, the primary home of the Bulgarian language. Rather closely related to Macedonian, this Slavic language is part of what is known as the Balkan sprachbund, an ensemble of generally common features shared by languages spoken in the Balkans, like grammar, vocabulary, and phonology. What sets … Continue reading What happened to Bulgarian’s grammatical cases?
The mystery of our alphabetical order
I am pretty sure you know how the alphabet song goes, from any language that uses some form of the Latin alphabet. Something that always intrigues me is why the alphabet, the English one at least, is ordered this way, and not any other sequence. Was it because the ABC song only sounds appropriate when … Continue reading The mystery of our alphabetical order
Messing around to learn about Zipf’s Law
In quantitative linguistics, you may have encountered word frequency tables, listing out how abundant one word is relative to another, and the sort. Scrolling through these lists, there seems to be a trend. In English, the most commonly used words include "the", "of", and "and", while in Spanish, they are "de", "la", and "que". These … Continue reading Messing around to learn about Zipf’s Law
Japanese Speech Contest 2020/21 (日本語スピーチコンテスト 2020/21) — The translation
As scheduled, here is my translation of what I wrote, under the guidance of my Japanese language tutor, for the script used in the Japanese Speech Contest submission entry! I included the original Japanese text at the top, followed by the English translation, to make referrals to the original script a bit easier. シンガポールの消滅危機言語の復興ークリスタン語 Language … Continue reading Japanese Speech Contest 2020/21 (日本語スピーチコンテスト 2020/21) — The translation
Japanese Speech Contest 2020/21 (日本語スピーチコンテスト 2020/21) — The script
今週の投稿は少し異なる。去年の12月に英国日本語教育学会の日本語スピーチコンテストに参加することに決めた。決勝大会に選考されなかったが、この経験で書き方や話し方など色々なを身につけたと思う。それでは、書いた台本をこのサイトでシェアしたい。自己紹介や形式的な表現などの切ったところがあるが、内容としてたいてい保たれる。英語の翻訳は水曜日に出せる。 This week's post will be a little different. Last December, I decided to take part in the Japanese Speech Contest held by the British Association for Teaching Japanese. While I was not shortlisted for the finals day, I think that through this experience, I learnt a lot of stuff, from writing to speaking and … Continue reading Japanese Speech Contest 2020/21 (日本語スピーチコンテスト 2020/21) — The script
Word Bites — The Mystery of Soton
Sometimes, place names can often make little to no sense. Take Southampton and Northampton, in the United Kingdom, for example. One might think that they are bordering each other, but no. While Southampton is a city in the county of Hampshire, curiously deriving its name from Southampton itself, Northampton is located in Northamptonshire, somewhere in … Continue reading Word Bites — The Mystery of Soton