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

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 — 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?

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

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?

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)

Icelandic is not as difficult as you think. Here’s why

Icelandic has often been touted as one of the most difficult languages, if not, the most difficult language to pick up. Some believe that it is impossible to learn Icelandic, and that being fluent in that language is a rather formidable achievement. Its early divergence from the other languages of Scandinavia, coupled with its preference … Continue reading Icelandic is not as difficult as you think. Here’s why

Languages of Taiwan — Kanakanabu (Kanakanavu)

Our next language of Taiwan is also found in the southern end of the island, spoken by an indigenous people numbering in the hundreds today. Even so, this language, Kanakanabu (also known as Kanakanavu, or in Mandarin, 卡那卡那富語, Hanyu Pinyin: kǎ nà kǎ nà fù), is now classified as moribund, teetering on the brink of … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Kanakanabu (Kanakanavu)

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 — 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 – Arrernte (Upper Arrernte)

Our first dive into the indigenous languages of Australia takes us into the Northern Territory, home of the Arrernte, Alyawarre, Anmatyerre, Ayerrereng and Yuruwinga peoples. Although these people groups are indeed diverse, they speak various dialects of a language, or dialect cluster, of a language known as Arrernte. With a total of 4 537 native … Continue reading Languages of Australia – Arrernte (Upper Arrernte)

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

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

Interesting Things to Note in Austronesian Languages

At the start of this year I started to have a certain craving to learn some Austronesian Languages. We're not only talking about Malay and Indonesian, but also languages of the Polynesian and Micronesian Islands like Gagana Samoa, Niuean and the like. There were some nice observations I made when studying some of these (I'm … Continue reading Interesting Things to Note in Austronesian Languages