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?
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
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?
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
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)
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
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
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?
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?
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?
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
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 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
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
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
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
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?
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”
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
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?
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?
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
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
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
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?
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”?
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’
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 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
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”
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
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)
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)
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)
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
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
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
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?
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?
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
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)
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
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)
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
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)
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
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
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?
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”?
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/
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
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
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
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?
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”
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
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?
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?
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
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
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 English language is weird, yet interesting. Words that form from similar roots can take different, or opposite meanings. Sometimes, word pairs that sound like they have opposite meanings have rather similar, or identical meanings. Plus, there are also contronyms, where words can have opposite meanings based on the context in which they are used. … Continue reading Word Bites — Awful vs Awesome
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
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”
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
Our next language to look at takes us to the Hsuehshan mountains, in the central-north region of Taiwan. The Atayal language, Tayal, or 泰雅語 (Hanyu Pinyin: tài yă yŭ), yet another member of the Formosan languages, is spoken by some 10 000 people, a very tiny proportion of the ethnic Atayal people. Despite the small … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Atayal (Tayal)
Our first dive into the indigenous languages of Taiwan takes us to the Amis language, referred to as Sowal no Pangcah by the Amis people, and 阿美語 (Bopomofo: ㄚ ㄇㄟˇ ㄩˇ, Hanyu Pinyin: ā měi yǔ) by the Mandarin speaking majority of Taiwan. The largest of the Formosan languages, it is spoken as far north … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Amis (Pangcah)
In this post, I want to try something different. About five years ago, I posted a reflection post about my learning experiences in Latin, on Facebook, read only by my friends. As The Language Closet developed and became the main repository of my personal reflections, I want to revisit this post, and to dissect what … Continue reading What I Got Wrong — Revisiting Latin
It has been 10 years since I started learning Arabic, but never quite got to writing a full-length reflection on this journey thus far. I feel that it is time to share my experiences on the learning process, and the various challenges I encountered along the way. December 2009. I had only just completed my … Continue reading A Journey in Arabic (MSA)
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
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
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
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
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
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
I remember being asked about why I had this passion for learning languages, and I kinda regretted not giving a complete answer, or a well-thought response, and having watched this enthusiast’s story, I think it’s about time I write about it. Having spent a considerable portion of my early childhood in the French province of … Continue reading Language and my Personal Experiences
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
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)
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
In November 2017, I announced a hiatus, amidst working on my series about Japanese kanji. Two and a half years later, I have decided to return. What happened during this time? A radio silence lasting a couple of years broken by a sudden post, a profile update, a growing urge to return to writing, and … Continue reading On Returning
Having studied Japanese for three years as of the time of writing, I decided to delve deeper into the depths of the Japanese kanji. This little exploration would take up a few posts due to the extensive system behind this script, but anyway, some time in the first century CE, the Japanese people had encountered Chinese … Continue reading Exploring Deeper into Japanese
When people talk about Estonia or Estonian, the first thing which usually comes to mind is, what is Estonia? Let me try to enlighten you in the most unbiased way possible. Estonia, or Eesti, is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe (not eastern), just south of Finland and west of Russia. It … Continue reading Rääkimine eesti keelt — A Journey in Estonian