Pepper and Salt

There are some pairs of words that often go together, and usually in a particular order. For example, the title of this post, Pepper and Salt, might seem a bit strange to native English speakers, as we usually say salt and pepper. There are many ideas about why we do this, but it might just be an old habit that developed over time.

pepper en zout

To Dutch speakers zout en peper (salt and pepper) would sound strange, as they usually say peper en zout (pepper and salt). Are there any other languages that do this?

The linguistic term for such pairs of words is binomials, and pairs of words that always, or almost always, appear in the same order are known as frozen binomials.

Some ideas about why these words are ordered in this way include:

  • More powerful and important words go first: kings and queens, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, mum and dad, granny and grandpa, mother and child, ladies and gentlemen, cat and mouse, bread and jam, fish and chips
  • General words go first: rules and regulations, terms and conditions
  • Marked words go first: horse and carriage, trial and error, friend and foe (concrete before abstract, living before nonliving, positive before less positive, etc)

Pairs of words that always go together in a particular order and have a collective meaning in addition to their individual meanings are known as irreversible binomials.

Examples include: rock and roll, and legal terms like law and order, (last) will and testament and:

  • goods and chattels = any property that is not freehold, usually limited to include only moveable property
  • kith and kin = one’s acquaintances and relatives – kith (friends and acquaintances) only appears in this context
  • aid and abet = to assist another in the commission of a crime by words or conduct.
  • let or hindrance = having no impediment or obstacle to progression

Are there any language in which black and white is usually white and black, or other common pairs are reversed compared to English?

More about binomials
https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/frozen-binomials-why-do-we-cringe-at-pepper-and-salt
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreversible_binomial
https://www.learngrammar.net/english-grammar/irreversible-binomials-definition-types-with-examples
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_doublet

Linguistic Quarantine

According to an article I came across today in the New York Times, quarantine has brought linguistic benefits to many bilingual homes.

Parents who raise their children with two or more languages often find that if one of their languages is not spoken, or not widely spoken, outside their home, their children will develop a preference for the dominant language of their community. This commonly happens after the children start school and discover that all, or most, of their classmates speak the dominant language. They may speak the non-dominant language, or at least understand it, but rarely use it.

Apparently in places where children have been spending a lot of time at home with their parents due to quarantine and lock downs, they have started speaking the non-dominant language(s) more.

For example, in Nigeria, where children are taught in English at school, but speak many other languages at home and elsewhere, they are now speaking more local languages, such as Luganda.

If you have a bilingual or multilingual household, have you noticed any differences in language use recently?

The Linguist

A while ago I was approached by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) asking if I’d like to by interviewed for their journal, The Linguist. They were looking for linguists and others involved with languages who have set up language-related businesses.

This sounded like a good thing to do, and I was interviewed over the phone. Some months latter I was sent a copy of their magazine with the interview in it. I didn’t mention at the time as I was waiting for it to be available online. It is now available in the Februrary/March edition (page 7).

part of my interview with The Linguist

I talk about Omniglot – what it is, how it came to be, how I make a living from it, and my own language background.

I’ve been wondering whether to join the CIOL – I would qualify for membership, I think. Are any of you members or this, or other professional organisations for linguists? Is it worth joining?

In other news, this week I was interviewed, in French, for a podcast by Céline Guerreiro. I’ll let you know when that is online. We talked about language learning, mainly.

Bilingual Kids

Many families raise their children to be bilingual. This might involve one parent speaking one language, and the other parent speaking a different one. Or maybe the family will speak one language at home, and the children will pick up another at school. The hope is that the children will end up speaking both languages fluently.

Recently I got talking to a Czech woman, who told me that she spoke Czech to her sons for the first year or so, while her husband spoke English to them – he doesn’t know much Czech. After that however, she switched to English, as she found it too hard to speak Czech to them all the time. This surprised me, as you’d think that speaking your mother tongue would be easier than speaking another language, but not in this case, it seems.

As they currently live in Wales, the main languages her boys encounter are English and Welsh. Maybe their mother is the only Czech speaker around – I certainly haven’t come across any others. Maybe she feels more comfortable speaking English than Czech after living here for many years.

She told me that they’re soon moving to Czechia, so her sons will have to learn Czech. They’re young (4 and 2), so will probably soon pick it up. Whether her husband learns it is another matter – it is quite a challenging language to learn as an adult.

Are any of you raising your children bilingually?

What challenges do you face, and how do you deal with them?

Have you become more comfortable speaking a foreign language than your mother tongue?

Patois

One of the things we talked about last night at the French conversation group was patois, specifically Jamaican (Jimiekn / Patwah).

In French patois means

“Système linguistique essentiellement oral, utilisé sur une aire réduite et dans une communauté déterminée (généralement rurale), et perçu par ses utilisateurs comme inférieur à la langue officielle.” [source]

or

“an essentially oral linguistic system, used in a small area and in a particular community (usually rural), and perceived by its users as inferior to the official language.”

In English patois means “an unwritten regional dialect of a language, esp. of French, usually considered substandard; the jargon of particular group.” [source].

Another definition of patois from Wiktionary is:

1. A regional dialect of a language (especially French); usually considered substandard.
2. Any of various French or Occitan dialects spoken in France.
3. Creole French in the Caribbean (especially in Dominica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti).
4. Jamaican Patois, a Jamaican Creole language primarily based on English and African languages but also has influences from Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi.
5. Jargon or cant.

It comes from the Middle French patois (local dialect), from the Old French patois (incomprehensible speech, rude language), from the Old French patoier (to gesticulate, handle clumsily, paw), from pate (paw), from Vulgar Latin *patta (paw, foot), from the Frankish *patta (paw, sole of the foot), from the Proto-Germanic *pat-, *paþa- (to walk, tread, go, step), of uncertain origin [source].

Patois was first used in written French in 1643 to refer to non-standard varities of French, and to regional languages such as Picard, Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Catalan. Such varities and languages were assumed to be backward, countrified, and unlettered. Use of the word was banned by king Louis XIV in 1700.

There is no standard linguistic definition of patois, and to a linguist it can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, or vernaculars [source].

Are there similar words in other languages?

Mixing Languages

Mixing languages

In bilingual communities it is common to switch between languages regularly. This certainly happens a lot among the Welsh speakers I know and hear every day.

Some conversations are mostly in Welsh with occasionally bits of English every so often, some are mainly in English with some bits of Welsh, and some regularly weave between Welsh and English.

According to a friend, it might not be so common for Catalan speakers to mix Catalan and Spanish. He is learning Spanish, and also knows a bit Catalan, and plans to learn more. He believes that Catalan speakers either speak one or the other, and don’t usually mix them in one conversation. So if he went to Barcelona and spoke the little Catalan he knows mixed with Spanish, people might find this strange. Is he correct?

According to the Urban Dictionary, Catañol is the mixture of Catalán and Español that people in Catalán-speaking areas of Spain often use to converse.

According to the Wikipedia, Catañol is spoken in Barcelona, especially by young people, and is a form of Spanish with Catalan influences. It emergered during the 20th century as a result of migration to Catalonia from other parts of Spain. It is apparently considered ‘vulgar’.

Are there any bilingual or multilingual communities where language mixing is rare or even stigmatised?

Polyglot Conference – Day 1

The Polyglot Conference officially started today. There were talks and workshops all day on all sorts of interesting topics. I went to talks on Slovenian, linguistic relavtivity, Romani, the Cathars, and audiolinguistics. They were all interesting, especially the linguistic ones.

There was plenty of time between the talks to talk to other participants, and I managed to make some recordings in quite a variety of languages for the next episode of my podcast. I hope to make more recordings tomorrow.

I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, Irish, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and tried to speak a few other languages.

They are preparing Ljubljana for the Ljubljana Marathon tomorrow, and quite a few streets are being lined with barriers. I hope I’ll be able to get to the conference venue tomorrow.

Word Monkey

My nephew enjoying an icecream at Knowsley Safari Park

I spent the past few days with my sister and her family. Her son is just over 2 and a half years old and is speaking a lot more than the last time I saw him at Easter this year.

He has trouble pronouncing certain sounds, such as r and consonant clusters like st, but at long as you listen carefully, you can usually work out what he’s saying.

He also invents new words, or gives words new meanings. For example, he has several toy monkeys (see below), and calls one ‘monkey’ or ‘daddy monkey’, another ‘other monkey’ or ‘mummy monkey’, and a smaller one he calls monkeykey, which I thought was very cute. He also calls playing cards, dominoes and other parts of games current buns. I’m not sure why.

Up-date: it turns out that I misheard the name of the monkey – it’s actually Monkey Keith not monkeykey.

Monkeys / Mwncïod

Language acquisition

Language quiz image

I spent Christmas at my brother’s house and had a nice time. It was interesting to see how the language skills of my niece (4) and my nephew (1) are developing.

My niece speaks a lot, mainly in English, and sometimes in Russian (her mum is Russian), and is learning to read and write in English. She can recognise the letters, and with help can read and write words. When she writes some letters are back-to-front or otherwise not quite right. She hasn’t started learning to read and write Russian yet, I don’t think.

My nephew is at the one-word stage. He can say quite a few individual words in English, and sometimes puts them together into short sentences. He also understands Russian, but I haven’t heard say any words in Russian.

Book hunting in Montreal

Yesterday I spent the morning hunting for interesting language books with Lindsay Dow, of Lindsay Does Languages, Benny Lewis, of Fluent in 3 months, Steve Kaufmann, of lingq, and Josh Koehn from California.

The first book shop we went to had a good selection of books in and about a wide variety of languages, including Old Irish, Middle Welsh, Breton and Sanskrit. I resisted buying anything as I have no spare space in my bag, and already have plenty of language-related books at home.

After wandering around Vieux Montréal for a while we had lunch in a nice café, then Lindsay and I went to meet Moti Lieberman of The Ling Space, where there are videos which explain and discuss linguistic and language-related topics in an accessible way. I hadn’t heard of this site before, but will definitely have a look at some of the videos. It sounds very interesting.

In the evening we met up with Kris Broholm of Actual Fluency, Oli Richards of I will teach you a language, and some local friends of theirs for dinner in a vegetarian place on Rue Saint-Denis.

I’m taking it easy this morning, and after lunch will head to the airport – my plane leaves at 16:45, and I’ll arrive in Manchester at 07:50 tomorrow morning, as long as my flight from Paris isn’t affected by the planned strike by Air France staff.