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’

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

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 — 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 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

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?

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?

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?

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

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

Saying It Like It Sounds — Onomatopoeia

Language is actually quite a neat little concept, how it can be simplified to the expression of ideas, concepts, experiences and memories by the utterance of sounds that make sense to people who speak the same tongue. Sociology, human interactions with other humans and the environment, and the time-attested evolution could all impact a language's … Continue reading Saying It Like It Sounds — Onomatopoeia

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

Controlled Languages — Newspeak

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is a remarkable novel in many ways, from setting the scene of perpetual war, illustrations of a totalitarian state with extensive government over-reach and surveillance, to the extreme restrictions on freedom of thought. Many real-world parallels have been drawn from this novel, and its relevance persists to this day. Personally, this … Continue reading Controlled Languages — Newspeak

Language and Ecology — Distribution of Tonal Languages

Previously, we looked at the ecological drivers behind global patterns and distribution of language diversity. On a global scale, language diversity increases towards the equator, and the tropics are found to be more language dense. To explain these patterns from an ecological perspective, it was proposed that ecological risk played a more significant role than … Continue reading Language and Ecology — Distribution of Tonal Languages

Language and Ecology — The Latitudinal Gradient

In ecology, there is a widely-recognised global pattern in distribution of species. Studying terrestrial vertebrates, ecologists found that species richness increases from poles to tropics. This pattern is also seen in marine organisms as well. Birds, on the other hand, have the highest species richness in regions corresponding to the tropics and mountain ranges. The … Continue reading Language and Ecology — The Latitudinal Gradient

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

Talking to our future selves — Long-term nuclear waste warning messages

What if everyone could understand what is written, no matter what language, dialect, creole or patois they speak? We do have street signs, where colour and shape tell us the rules of the road but minor bits vary according to country driving regulations. We have those hazard symbols representing radiation, biohazards, corrosives and irritants but … Continue reading Talking to our future selves — Long-term nuclear waste warning messages

Puhuminen Suomen — A Journey in Finnish

Before starting on my reflections when learning Finnish, I would like to highlight the first impression other learners get from the language. Many memes have circulated here and there talking about the sheer difficulty in learning Finnish. Even I have rated it as among the most difficult foreign languages to learn as a [monolingual] native … Continue reading Puhuminen Suomen — A Journey in Finnish

A Non-Anglocentric Language Tier System?

1. How many languages do you know ? Okay, lemme define this question. To “know” a language, usually means to have the knowledge to speak, read, write, understand and communicate in a language. So yeah, as of now, I do know quite a bunch of languages to varying standards, like English, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, French, Japanese, […]

5 of the Most Interesting Languages I have Learnt so far

During my language learning journeys and escapades, I have encountered special sounds, special words and special ways to express ideas and concepts. These languages are mostly unique in this regard, but I will be showing you five of the most interesting languages I have learnt so far in this journey. 5. Mongolian Mongolian is the … Continue reading 5 of the Most Interesting Languages I have Learnt so far

Hypothetical Representation of a Language — Ithkuil

Previously, you have read on the simplest yet most ambiguous conlang you have come across so far. Now, we bring you what could be the most difficult but least ambiguous conlang to have ever existed. This is Ithkuil, a language constructed by John Quijada, designed to express deeper levels of human cognition briefly yet overtly and … Continue reading Hypothetical Representation of a Language — Ithkuil

Actions Speak Louder than Words — A First Impression on Sign Language

In recent days, I decided to take a short break from learning words and sounds and stuff of our spoken languages and tried learning something different, signing, specifically American Sign Language, because that is the sign language where resources are very abundant (I know Singapore Sign Language exists as well but I don't quite have … Continue reading Actions Speak Louder than Words — A First Impression on Sign Language

Speaking “Indian”- A Reflection on Learning Experience in Hindi

India- A huge country with a massive population, and home to a whole bunch of languages. In fact, India recognises 23 official languages, including Hindi, English, Urdu, Panjabi, Gujarati, Tamil and Malayalam, just to name a few. Yet, some people refer to these diverse group of languages as just Indian, like "Do you speak Indian?" … Continue reading Speaking “Indian”- A Reflection on Learning Experience in Hindi

Writing in Africa

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

Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Singlish in Society

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

Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – More Particles

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

Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – The curious case of “already”

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”

Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Verbs

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

Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Topicalisation

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

Languages With Consonant Clusters You Didn’t Know Are Possible

In the English language, consonant clusters aren't so much of a rare thing, like we have words like "strengthens", in which "str", "ngth" and "ns" are consonant clusters. In most of the Austronesian languages, however, consonant clusters are all but present. So let's explore the languages which have some of the really insane consonant clusters … Continue reading Languages With Consonant Clusters You Didn’t Know Are Possible