Online language communities

On an episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Word of Mouth, that I listened to recently, they talk about how English might change in the future. One interesting thing that came up was that new linguistics communities are emerging online on forums and other places where people spend a lot of time chatting to one another. One way this happens is that misspellings and typos, which might be accidental or deliberate, are adopted by other members of the virtual community and become a way of identifying insiders from outsiders. While such words might be viewed as errors by outsiders, for insiders they become the norm, and might eventually replace the ‘correct’ words.

So if you hear or see words being used in a way that seems odd, ignorant or incorrect way to you, don’t forget that that usage might be acceptable and normal among a particular group of people. This is one way how language changes and new varieties emerge.

English, Language, Linguistics Leave a comment

Building up gradually

I often see that when starting a new project, such as learning a language, we often commit ourselves to studying of a certain amount of time every day or every week – it might be an hour a day or at least 10 hours a week, for example. There’s nothing wrong with this, and if you’re very self-disciplined and consistent you can sustain it. However, it can be difficult to stick to such plans if you’re somewhat lacking in self-discipline, especially if your plans are ambitious.

I don’t usually announce my language learning plans publicly. I might mention that I’m concentrating on a particular language, but I don’t give exact details of how long and how often I study, as this tends to vary a lot. I might start out with the intention of studying for an hour a day, but rarely stick to it for any length of time Usually after a week or two my regular study times become short and/or more sporadic and I might start another project – learning another language or a new instrument, or something completely different.

To acquire a new habit, such as studying a language every day, it might be best to build up to it gradually. So instead studying for an hour a day from the start, maybe it would be better to do 5 or 10 minutes, and if you can keep that up for a week or two, then increase it to 15 or 20 minutes. By building it up gradually like this you ease gently into the new habit, which might make it more sustainable.

Do you jump straight into new projects? Can you maintain your enthusiasm for them, or do you tend to burn out or loose steam after a certain time? Have you tried building up to them gradually?

English, Language, Language learning 1 Comment

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 8 Comments

Beech Tree Lane

This morning in Abergele I saw a road called Lôn Ffawydd. I know that lôn is the Welsh for lane, but wondered what ffawydd might mean as I hadn’t seen it before.

Ffawydd can mean beech tree, fir tree, chestnut tree, pine tree or fir tree. It appears in such expressions as:

– ffawydd Albanaidd = Scotch fir
– ffwaydd arian(naidd) = silver fir
– ffawydd coch = pitch-pine
– ffawydd coprog = copper-beach
– ffawydd gwyn = white pine/spruce
– ffawydd melyn = yellow pine
– ffawydd Norwy = Norway pine
– cnau ffawydd = beech-mast
– pen ffawydd = stupid person, simpleton, idiot, fool

English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases 5 Comments

Twistles and forks

There is a place in Lancashire in the north west of England called Oswaldtwistle [ˈɒzəl.twɪzəl], which a friend went to after visiting me yesterday. Naturally, as we’re linguists, we wondered where the name Oswaldtwistle came from and what it might mean. My friend thought it might have something to do with Saint Oswald, who was King of Northumbria from about 604-642 AD.

According to Wikipedia there is a legend that St Oswald passed though the area and gave his name to it. The twistle part comes from an old English word meaning “brooks meet”. Alternatively the village might been named after a local Oswald.

The word twistle, which I really like the sound of, apparently means a boundary stream and literally means “double, forked”. It comes from the Middle English twisel/twisil, from the Old English twisla (confluence, junction, fork of a river or road), from the Proto-Germanic *twisilą (fork, bifurcation), from the Proto-Indo-European *dwis- (twice, in two). It is cognate with the German Zwiesel (fork). [source. It also appears in the names Entwistle and Tintwistle.

English, Etymology, German, Language, Words and phrases 1 Comment

Happy languages

I heard some people talking today in what I think was Nigerian English, which always sounds happy to me. These particularly people seemed to be very cheerful, but there seems to be something about Nigerian English that makes it sound very jolly, to my ears at least. I think it’s something about the sounds they use and the intonation patterns.

This got me wondering whether I alone in thinking this, and whether other languages have an inherently happy sound to them.

Jamaican also sounds happy to me.

Do any particular languages, dialects or accents sound happy/jolly/cheerful to you?

English, Language 5 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 4 Comments

Talking about language and languages

I love using my languages, especially the ones I speak well or at least fairly well. Even the ones I know bits of are fun to use. However, I also enjoy taking about language and languages. I like finding out where words come from and finding connections within and between languages. I’m fascinated by how different languages work – their phonology, syntax, morphology, and also like to discover different cultures and customs.

Actually learning languages is also fun, though can be somewhat tedious at times, and even frustrating, when I don’t make as much progress as I want to, or can’t remember simple vocabulary and grammar. This is probably because I tend to dabble in many languages, learning bits here and there, and rarely focusing on one for any length of time.

Do you see languages a subject of interest and fascination in themselves, or as tools to help you communicate, meet people, and explore other cultures, etc? Or maybe as a bit of both.

I think I’m more interested in languages themselves.

Language, Language learning 9 Comments

Schlittschuh laufen

While listening to the German version of Radio Praha this morning I heard them taking about Schlittschuh laufen and wondered what this might involve. I guessed that it had something to do with sliding – Schlitt has a deliciously slidey sound and feel to it – and might be skating or skiing. It is in fact (ice) skating: Schlitten = sledge, sled, or big car; Schuh = shoe, and laufen = to run, go, walk.

Schlitten also appears in:

– Pferdeschlitten = (horse-drawn) sleigh
– Rodelschlitten = toboggan
– Rennschlitten = bobsleigh
– Schlitten fahren = to go tobogganing
– mit jdm Schlitten fahren = to have sb on the carpet, to bawl sb out
– Schreibmaschinenschlitten = carriage (in printer), cradle
– ein toller Schlitten = a fancy car
– Schlittenbahn = toboggan run
– Schlittenhund = sledge/sled dog; husky

Are there similarly slidey words for skating/sledging/skiing in other languages?

English, German, Language, Words and phrases 3 Comments

Language quiz

Here’s a recording in a mystery language.

Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken?

Language, Quiz questions 3 Comments
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