Episode 20 – Language Families

In this episode I talk about language families – what they are, and how they develop, and I introduce some major and minor language families.

According to Wikipedia, a language family is “a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family”.

According to Ethnologue there are currently 142 different language families and 7,111 living languages. The ten largest languages families account for about 88% of the world’s population, and 74% of the world’s languages.

Top Ten Language Families

Language FamilyNumber of languagesNumber of speakers
Total5,2386,143,981,545
Niger-Congo1,526 519,814,033
Austronesian1,223325,862,510
Trans-New Guinea4783,580,507
Sino-Tibetan4531,385,995,195
Indo-European4453,237,999,904
Afro-Asiatic365499,294,669
Australian20437,032
Nilo-Saharan20053,359,610
Otomanguean1771,715,045
Austro-Asiatic167116,323,040

Here’s an illustration a the family tree of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages:

Elvish language family

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvish_languages_(Middle-earth)

More information about language families
https://www.omniglot.com/writing/langfam.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_family
https://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/family
https://www.mustgo.com/worldlanguages/language-families/

The tune featured in this episode

Dancing Donkeys / Asynnod sy’n Dawnsio

See the score for this tune

Costa Pacifica

Don’t forget that you can US$50 off the Polyglot Cruise 2020 by using the code OMNIGLOT.

Episode 17 – Slang

Slang argot jargon patter cant patois lingo

In this episode we have a little natter about slang – what it is, where it comes from, and how it’s used.

Here are a few definitions of slang:

  1. language peculiar to a particular group: such as argot or jargon.
  2. an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech.

Source: Merriam-Webster

  1. A kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect.
  2. Language peculiar to a group; argot or jargon.

Source: wordnik (from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition)

  • colloquial words and phrases which have originated in the cant or rude speech of the vagabond or unlettered classes, or, belonging in form to standard speech, have acquired or have had given them restricted, capricious, or extravagantly metaphorical meanings, and are regarded as vulgar or inelegant.

Source: wordnik (from The Century Dictionary)

  1. very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language, as Hit the road.
  2. speech and writing characterized by the use of vulgar and socially taboo vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
  3. the jargon of a particular class, profession, etc.
  4. the special vocabulary of thieves, vagabonds, etc.; argot.

Source: Dictionary.com

  • language (words, phrases, and usages) of an informal register that members of particular in-groups favor (over the common vocabulary of a standard language) in order to establish group identity, exclude outsiders, or both.

Source: Wikipedia

The origins of the word slang are not known. It was first used in writing in 1756 to refer to the language of “low” or “disreputable” people, or the “special vocabulary of tramps or thieves”. It possibly comes from the same root as sling, from the Old Norse slyngva (to hurl) [source]

Links

Information about slang
https://www.britannica.com/topic/slang
https://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/what_is_slang.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_slang
https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-back-slang-1689156M
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verlan

Details of specific words: natter, chat, gob (English), gob (Irish), mush, fika

Slang dictionaries
Green’s Dictionary of Slang
A Dictionary of Slang (British English)
Cockney Rhyming Slang
The Online Slang Dictionary (American, English, and Urban slang)

Music featured in this episode

The Scampering Squirrels / Y Gwiwerod sy’n Prancio

See the score for this tune

The Unexpected Badger / Y Mochyn Daear Annisgwyl

See the score for this tune

Episode 11 – Fewer than Less

In this episode I discuss the distinction between between less and fewer, and commonly-held beliefs about English grammar and usage. I investigate where these ‘rules’ and practises originated and find out who is responsible.

Less & Fewer

Less was used to mean fewer, i.e. a smaller number of from the 9th century. From the 11th century it was being used to mean smaller or lesser – a comparative form of little. By the 14th century it was being used to mean a smaller amount (of) or not as much.

It comes from the Old English lǣs (less), from the Proto-Germanic *laisiz [source].

Fewer is used to mean a smaller number of something, and is generally used before plural countable things. For example, fewer words, fewer letters.

It comes from few, from the Middle English fewe (few, little, not many; small, little), from the Old English fēaw (few), from the Proto-Germanic *fawaz (few), from Proto-Indo-European *peh₂w- (few, small). [source].

In his 1770 book REFLECTIONS ON THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: In The Nature of VAUGELAS’s REFLECTIONS ON THE FRENCH; Being a Detection of many improper Expreſſions uſed in Converſation, and of many others to be found in AUTHORS. (p 55), Robert Baker wrote:

“LESS. This word is moſt commonly uſed in ſpeaking of a number; where I ſhould think Fewer would do better. No fewer than a Hundred, appears to me not only more elegant than No leſs than a Hundred, but more ſtrictly proper.”

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Robert Baker on Less and Fewer

Splitting Infinitives

In his 1866 book, A PLEA FOR THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH: Stray Notes on Speaking and Spelling (p 188), Henry Alford, Dean of Canterbury, wrote:

A correspondent states as his own usage, and defends, the insertion of an adverb between the sign of the infinitive mood and the verb. He gives as an instance, “to scientifically illustrate.” But surely this is a practice unknown to English speakers and writers. It seems to me, that we ever regard the to of the infinitive as inseparable from its verb. And when we have already a choice between two forms of expression, “scientifically to illustrate,” and “to illustrate scientifically,” there seems no good reason for flying in the face of common usage.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Henry Alford on infinitives

Ending sentences with prepositions

In his 1763 book, A Short Introduction to English Grammer: With Critical Notes (p 141), the Right Rev. Robert Lowth, D.D. Lord Bishop of Oxford, wrote:

The Prepoſition is often ſeparated from the Relative which it governs, and joined to the Verb at the end of the Sentence, or of ſome member of it: as, “Horace is an author, whom I am much delighted with.” “The world is too well bred to ſhock authors with a truth, which generally their bookſellers are the firſt that inform them of.” This is an Idiom which our language is ſtrongly inclined to; it prevails in common converſation, and ſuits very well with the familiar ſtyle in writing; but the placing of the Prepoſition before the Relative is more graceful as well as more perſpicuous; and agrees much better with the ſolemn and elevated Style.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Robert Lowth on prepositions

Double negatives

In his 1711 book, An Essay Towards a Practical Engliſh Grammar, Describing the Genius and Nature of the English Tounge; Giving Likewiſe A Rational and Plain Account of Grammar in General, with a familiar Explanation of its Terms. (p 182), James Greenwood, Sur-Master of St. Paul’s School, wrote:

Two Negatives, or two Adverbs of Denying, do in Engliſh affirm.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

James Greenwood on double negatives

In the 1794 edition of Robert Lowth’s A Short Introduction to English Grammer: With Critical Notes (p 132), he wrote that:

Two Negatives in Engliſh deſtroy one another, or are equivalent to an Affirmative.

This is a reproduction of the original text:

Robert Lowth on double negatives

Tunes played in this epsiode

The Salmon’s Leap / Naid yr Eog

The Kettle / Y Tecell

The Swellies / Pwll Ceris

These and other myths about English are discussed on The Grammarphobia Blog.

More information and sources

Wikipedia, Visual Thesaurus, Corpus of Global Web-Based English, Google Books Corpus, Inky Fool