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?
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
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
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)
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)
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/
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”
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)
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
If you have learnt Japanese, you most likely have been introduced to how it is spoken in Tokyo, or to a lesser extent, Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, or any Kansai variant. However, there are some kana sounds that may or may not sound different based on the prefecture you are in. These four, づ, ず, じ, … Continue reading Speaking Japanese — The Four Kana (Yotsugana)
Verbal communication brings out a lot of colour in a language, way beyond the confines of the materials upon which the language is recorded in. Everyday expressions, slang terms, and other kinds of word variants can be picked up through speaking and listening in a conversational context. Very often, when listening to Japanese conversations, or … Continue reading Speaking Japanese — Understanding Aidzuchi
When learning Japanese, you would have encountered several patterns in speech. For example, while a person in Japanese is 人 (ひと, hito), the plural may be 人々 (ひとびと, hitobito). In a rather similar fashion, time is 時 (とき, toki), while sometimes is 時々 (ときどき, tokidoki). You may be asking, what is the pattern here? Notice … Continue reading Speaking Japanese — What Exactly is Rendaku?
In 1934, a curious word entry appeared in the D-section of the second edition of the New International Dictionary, published by G. and C. Merriam Company, what is now part of Merriam-Webster. The word was defined as a synonym for density, used in the contexts of physics and chemistry. However, this word was completely removed … Continue reading Word Bites — Dord?
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
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 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
Our next language of Taiwan is also found in the southern end of the island, spoken by an indigenous people numbering in the hundreds today. Even so, this language, Kanakanabu (also known as Kanakanavu, or in Mandarin, 卡那卡那富語, Hanyu Pinyin: kǎ nà kǎ nà fù), is now classified as moribund, teetering on the brink of … Continue reading Languages of Taiwan — Kanakanabu (Kanakanavu)
We have seen the various influences of West African languages, and varieties of English, on the development of Gullah spoken in the Sea Islands of the United States. Here, to conclude the post series on Black History Month 2021, we will explore the influences on Gullah by loanwords introduced from West African languages. As we … Continue reading Black History Month — Gullah Loanwords, and Conclusion
In the past couple of posts, we have looked at the history, development and sounds of Gullah, drawing some influences from West and Central African languages, some of them noted by the father of Gullah studies, Lorenzo Dow Turner. Today, we will explore how Gullah grammar works, in brief, and try to draw similarities between … Continue reading Black History Month — How Gullah Works, Summarised
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)
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)
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
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)
In 2016, Duolingo made a new application which functioned quite a bit like Memrise. Using aesthetics and assets similar or inspired by the main Duolingo project, the flashcard app, Tinycards, was unveiled. It tried to be like its cousin Memrise, using a similar flashcard method, but with their own user-created or Duolingo-style art attached to … Continue reading 👏🏻 Method 👏🏻 Review — The Short-lived Tinycards (2016 – 2020)