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?

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

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

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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 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

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

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?

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

Word Bites — Divergences in Korean words

The demarcation of the border between the Republic of Korea (ROK), or South Korea, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, marked the separation of not only a people separated by ideology, but also how new words entered the Korean language. Over time, different policies towards the Korean languages in the … Continue reading Word Bites — Divergences in Korean words

The language of the Orchid Island — Tao (Cizicizing No Tao, Ciriciring No Tao, Ireriak No Tao)

Some 46 kilometres southeast of Taiwan, lies a small volcanic island governed as Lanyu Township of Taitung County, Taiwan / Republic of China. Separated from the Batanes islands of northern parts of the Philippines by the Bashi Channel of the Luzon Strait, this island is inhabited speakers of a language more similar to languages spoken … Continue reading The language of the Orchid Island — Tao (Cizicizing No Tao, Ciriciring No Tao, Ireriak No Tao)

Black History Month — Gullah Loanwords, and Conclusion

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

Black History Month — How Gullah Works, Summarised

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

Black History Month — Introduction to Gullah (Sea Island Creole English)

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)

Languages of Taiwan — Paiwan (Vinuculjan, Pinayuanan)

This language is so diverse, the dozens of dialects linguists seem to pick up are organised into geographical zones or other classification methods, making it a dialect cluster of rather immense proportions compared to the languages covered previously. Spoken by the Paiwan people, also known as Paywan, Kacalisian, or 排灣 (Hanyu Pinyin: pái wān), this … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Paiwan (Vinuculjan, Pinayuanan)

Languages of Taiwan — Seediq (Kari Sediq, Kari Seediq, Kari Seejiq)

Moving down the list of Formosan languages in Taiwan, we have the other member of the Atayalic branch, Seediq. Spoken in the mountains of Central and Eastern Taiwan by the Seediq and Taroko, this language is predominantly found in the counties of Hualien and Nantou. However, the number of native speakers prove concerning, although we … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Seediq (Kari Sediq, Kari Seediq, Kari Seejiq)

When Japanese Met Atayal — Yilan Creole Japanese

In 1895, Qing China ceded Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki after the first Sino-Japanese War. This began the five decades of Japanese rule of Taiwan. Although the administrative rule ended 75 years ago, the influence of Japanese culture on Taiwan still survives today. In Taiwanese Mandarin, Japanese loanwords are found, such as … Continue reading When Japanese Met Atayal — Yilan Creole Japanese

Languages of Australia — An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Languages

The Commonwealth of Australia is vast. Not only does it encompass the mainland of the Australian continent, it also includes the islands of Tasmania and the Torres Strait. A country of more than 25 million, it is quite surprising that many people know little of the languages spoken in Australia beyond the English language. It … Continue reading Languages of Australia — An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Languages

Languages of Taiwan — Introduction to the Formosan Languages

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

Te Reo Māori o Aotearoa — The Māori Language

Aotearoa, or New Zealand, is amazing. Uninhabited before the 13th century, the Eastern Polynesians settled here after a long series of voyages through the islands of the South Pacific. These early settlers would later be the Māori people, calling Aotearoa their home. Now numbering about 775 000 in New Zealand (as of the 2018 census), … Continue reading Te Reo Māori o Aotearoa — The Māori Language

Mathematics in language — Transcendental algebra

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

Writing in Africa — Nwagụ Aneke Script

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

Writing in North America — Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics

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

Korea’s other language — Jejueo / Jejumal (제주어 / 제주말)

The Korean peninsula is one of the most linguistically homogenous regions in the world, with around 75 million people, almost all of whom speak Korean. Korean's status as a language isolate, unrelated to almost any other language currently spoken in the world, depends on who you ask. Korean is part of its own language family, … Continue reading Korea’s other language — Jejueo / Jejumal (제주어 / 제주말)

The language with four-cornered letters — Bugis (ᨅᨔ ᨕᨘᨁᨗ) and the Lontara (ᨒᨚᨈᨑ) script

Indonesia is amazingly diverse. Hundreds of languages and cultures span the archipelago from Sumatra to the western half of New Guinea, encompassing more than 17 thousand islands. While Bahasa Indonesia is the most widely spoken language, by 80% of the entire country's population, many other Austronesian languages are spoken too, and more than 270 languages … Continue reading The language with four-cornered letters — Bugis (ᨅᨔ ᨕᨘᨁᨗ) and the Lontara (ᨒᨚᨈᨑ) script