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?
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)
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)
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?
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
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?
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)
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?
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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?
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)
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)
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)
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)
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?
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)
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)
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
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/
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
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?
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
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)
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
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?
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
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
Our next language of Taiwan is also found in the southern end of the island, spoken by an indigenous people numbering in the hundreds today. Even so, this language, Kanakanabu (also known as Kanakanavu, or in Mandarin, 卡那卡那富語, Hanyu Pinyin: kǎ nà kǎ nà fù), is now classified as moribund, teetering on the brink of … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Kanakanabu (Kanakanavu)
We have seen the various influences of West African languages, and varieties of English, on the development of Gullah spoken in the Sea Islands of the United States. Here, to conclude the post series on Black History Month 2021, we will explore the influences on Gullah by loanwords introduced from West African languages. As we … Continue reading Black History Month — Gullah Loanwords, and Conclusion
In the past couple of posts, we have looked at the history, development and sounds of Gullah, drawing some influences from West and Central African languages, some of them noted by the father of Gullah studies, Lorenzo Dow Turner. Today, we will explore how Gullah grammar works, in brief, and try to draw similarities between … Continue reading Black History Month — How Gullah Works, Summarised
Previously, we introduced the brief history, and current status of the lesser-known English creole spoken in the United States, Gullah. In this post, we will explore the sound system of Gullah, and how it blends in both influences of the English variants, and of the West African languages. The study of Gullah and its features … Continue reading Black History Month — The Sounds of Gullah
Disclaimer: This post discusses the role of slavery in the origin and development of Gullah creole, we want to make this communication the least offensive possible. We welcome any feedback or comments on how further refine this communication, but still reflects the history of the creole in the most accurate way possible. Nestled in the … Continue reading Black History Month — Introduction to Gullah (Sea Island Creole English)
Disclaimer: This post describes an ongoing project to modernise the Nsibidi script, which as of writing, is not the finalised form. The accuracy of information is true as of 29 July 2020, so several things would have changed in the project by the time of this post. We will update this post when more information … Continue reading Writing in Africa — Neo-Nsibidi’s “kana”
Disclaimer: This post describes an ongoing project to modernise the Nsibidi script, which as of writing, is not the finalised form. The accuracy of information is true as of 29 July 2020, so several things would have changed in the project by the time of this post. We will update this post when more information … Continue reading Writing in Africa — Modernising Nsibidi
Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC), or Formosa, is often linguistically associated with Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien and Hakka today. It is understandable, given that about 95% of Taiwan's population is Han Chinese. However, Taiwan is also known for something quite different; it is arguably the origin of the Austronesian languages, a language family widely spoken … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Introduction to the Formosan Languages
Does mathematics transcend all languages? Mathematical equations seem to be able to communicate quantities, derivations, theorems and proofs across a large number of people, which may make it seem that mathematics is generally universally intelligible. The logic it contains is sort of homologous to what we see in language. The concepts of negation, comparison and … Continue reading Mathematics in language — Transcendental algebra
Using the Latin alphabet to write some languages brings a lot of challenges, since 26 letters may not always be enough to capture all the sounds in a language. Tones, nasal vowels, some consonants may be omitted, or have to adopt clunky digraphs like "gb", "ngg", and "ndl". This is true for many languages in … Continue reading Writing in Africa — Ńdébé
Igbo, a language spoken by at least 45 million people mainly in Nigeria, has tried adopting several writing systems throughout its linguistic history. From Nsibidi to Ndebe, Igbo has experimented, or is currently experimenting with these systems, but what we know is that Igbo is now predominantly written in the Latin alphabet. A couple of … Continue reading Writing in Africa — Nwagụ Aneke Script
Sierra Leone, like many places in West Africa, is diverse. It contains at least 15 spoken languages, plus English, but more commonly spoken as a form of creole known as Krio. While Krio is spoken by the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans, in the southern region of the country, exists a regional lingua franca, spoken … Continue reading Writing in Africa — Mende Kikakui
23 letters. 1011-word glossary. Some short manuscripts. This is among what remains of the legacy of St. Hildegard of Bingen OSB, one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, and the creation of this language she called Lingua Ignota. If confirmed, it could mean that Lingua Ignota is the oldest constructed language in human history, … Continue reading Lingua Ignota — The Earliest Known Constructed Language?
High in the Andes live a group of itinerant herbalist healers. They are known for herb-based treatments in Bolivia, stretching towards Peru, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Panama. Walking through ancient trails, which can date back to the Incan period, they search for plants said to contain medicinal properties. Some contained quinine, a compound used to … Continue reading The languages they don’t want you to know — Secret languages
In the 1880s, syllabic blocks of text recorded the languages of Ho-Chunk, Fox and several more languages. Derived from the Latin alphabet, this writing system strongly resembled Latin texts. But yet, no digitisation of this writing system was ever made, and what is revealed online is only an approximation, usually using a cursive Latin script. … Continue reading Writing in North America — Great Lakes Algonquian Syllabics (GLAS)
This writing system is unlike those discussed previously. It did not arise in the 19th century, under the legacy of Sequoyah on the writing systems of North America. In fact, its writing system arose after the language was officially declared extinct in 2005, following the passing of Lucille Roubedeaux, the last native speaker of the … Continue reading Writing in North America — Osage Script
In 1827, an English-Canadian missionary and linguist set foot onto Rice Lake, Ontario. By the turn of the 20th century, virtually all Cree speakers were literate in a new writing system. From the Nunavut Inuktitut languages in the north to Ojibwe and Cree in eastern Canada, this writing system certainly has made its mark, and … Continue reading Writing in North America — Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics
Previously, we have covered the various writing systems in Africa, to much interest, as not many are aware about the scripts used in the continent. From Ge'ez to Nsibidi, we have discussed the features and successes of these writing systems. This series of posts have certainly shown that writing systems in Africa are not just … Continue reading Writing in North America
When people talk about featural writing systems, almost all the time, the Hangeul writing system pops up. Its simple 40 letters (19 consonant and 21 vowel sounds) organised into syllable blocks form what is now the simplest writing system so far. Promulgated by Sejong the Great in the mid 15th-century, Hangeul has since been ingrained … Continue reading Writing in Africa – A Korean-like Script?
Now that we're back to introducing writing systems of Africa, this one takes us to the southern region of the African continent, intended to represent kiSwahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba, and to a limited extent, Lingala. Invented in 1978, this script appears to be a robotic mess of lines, an alphabet which is organised into syllabic blocks. … Continue reading Writing in Africa – Mandombe
Solomana Kante, a Guinean writer and an inventor of a writing system, but most importantly, a man who was determined to change the beliefs that Africans were a cultureless people. The Manding languages lacked an indigenous writing system at that time. And so, after a night of deep meditation, Kante went on to create an … Continue reading Writing in Africa – I say N’ko (ߒߞߏ)
Our next writing system takes us to the West African country of Liberia and Sierra Leone, in which lie some 120,000 native speakers of this Mande language called Vai. A tonal language of 12 vowels (of which 5 are nasal) and 31 consonants, using a syllabary to represent the sounds of this language surely is … Continue reading Writing in Africa – The Vai Syllabary (ꕙꔤ)
In the late 1980s, two Guinean teenage brothers, Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry, devised a new alphabet to represent their Fulani language, spoken by about 24 million people in the Sahel Region in Western Africa. Using the first four letters of this new alphabet, they named it Adlam. Producing handwritten copies of books using the Adlam … Continue reading Writing in Africa – The Adlam Alphabet
Tucked away in the region of southeast Nigeria lies the birthplace of a writing system used to document the Igbo, Ekoid and Efik languages. This is the Nsibidi script, in which thousands of symbols are found across various items like pottery, wall designs and leaves. A mess of lines, dots, circles and arcs unreadable to … Continue reading Writing in Africa – the Nsibidi script
Africa, a continent of thousands of ethnic groups, the most among all continents. Alongside these ethnic groups lie the linguistic diversity, rivaled only by the language diversity of Papua New Guinea. Many of these languages are still vulnerable to endangerment and extinction, and many of these also lack a written form to document their language. … Continue reading Writing in Africa
Our final part of Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English covers the controversy surrounding this creole of English. In Singapore, you may notice newspaper articles and educational materials are written (or more rather, typed) in grammatically correct English, but the English you hear on the streets tend to be rather ungrammatical (with respect to Standard English). … Continue reading Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Singlish in Society
We're finally back after the brief intermission where we talked about one of the most well-known indigenous languages, Inuktitut. Now, we will be discussing the hallmark features of Singlish particles, the use of particles like lah, leh, loh etc. We hear it quite often, they're normally used at the end of sentences, and they can … Continue reading Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – More Particles
Singlish particles truly define this creole, giving it its identity, making it stand out as much as Bislama and Tok Pisin, both of which are other creoles of English spoken in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea respectively. Singlish particles draw influence mainly from Chinese (and its dialects) and Malay (and one from Tamil). This post … Continue reading Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – The curious case of “already”
Verbs. You know, those action words that bring life to sentences. Some languages conjugate by number, some by tense, some by aspect, mood, gender... yeah you get the point. Some don't even conjugate it at all. This post brings you verbs in Singlish, and how they differ from Standard English. One of the most prominent … Continue reading Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Verbs
Singlish, or more formally known as Colloquial Singaporean English, is an English creole which closely resembles that of Colloquial Malaysian English, drawing influences from the languages represented by the ethnic groups that make up the speakers' population. It's something I encounter almost every day, and I thought it would be good to make some observations … Continue reading Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Topicalisation
Writing has existed for millennia, recording human history, heritage and knowledge over time. Many scripts have been invented, some stayed, some continued to be used, and some have yet to be deciphered. Now let's see some of the most fascinating scripts humans have come up with! 1. Ersu Shaba Ersu Shaba is a script used … Continue reading 5 of the Most Interesting Writing Systems