Archive for July, 2009

“T1hIngan maH!*” (Or: The Power of Television)

Posted on July 4th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Invented languages, Technology | 1 Comment »

KlingonI’m no sci-fi geek, but I’ll admit I did enjoy the recent Star Trek movie. Off the back of the movie comes something for uber sci-fi geeks and dedicated linguists: the Klingon dictionary for the iPhone.

Originally invented for the Star Trek TV series, the Klingon language is called
tlhIngan Hol, and even has its own language institute. It is one of the more successful invented languages, along with Esperanto and Elvish. It appears to be much more complex than either of those languages, however:

Marc Okrand is a student of various Native American languages, which are notoriously difficult for speakers of Indo-European languages to learn, and in creating Klingon he borrowed rare and unfamiliar grammatical and syntactical rules, along with tongue-twisting sound combinations, from those and other little-known world languages. Klingon verbs have 29 different prefixes to indicate subject and object agreement, Klingon sentences have a highly unorthodox word order (object-verb-subject), and Klingon vocabulary can be almost endlessly agglutinated, meaning that long phrases can be stuck together into single words. (The supposed Klingon proverb “If it is in your way, knock it down,” is expressed in just two words: “Dubotchugh yIpummoH.”) Okrent says her reaction to Klingon, as an accredited linguist, was that “it was completely believable as a language, but somehow very, very odd.”

Read the rest of the article on invented languages here. And if you’ve never heard Klingon being spoken, check out this young linguist.

(*That’s “we are Klingons!” for all you non-speakers.)

British Spelling Winners

Posted on July 2nd, 2009by Michelle
In Education, Events, Spelling, Words | 1 Comment »

The Times Spelling Bee WinnersThe first big spelling contest in the UK has been decided. A talented trio from St Martin’s School in Middlesex beat teams from all over the country to take the title of The Times Spelling Bee Champions 2009 at the Grand Final in London on June 23rd.

So what kind of word challenges did the winners face? Well, in the quick fire round (the team had to spell as many words in 2 minutes as they could), they spelled contemporaneous and rehearsal in seconds, no pause for thought. From the highlights I’ve seen, that’s what made the St Martin’s team winners – not only could they spell the words correctly, they could spell them quickly.

Other competitors were tripped up by words such as troglodyte and pterodactyl.

Compared to the Scripps Spelling Bee (the major American competition) however, it seems the British have a ways to go. Perusing the sample word list for The Times competition, I can’t say there are any words I haven’t seen before, compared with the final of the Scripps, which threw up zingers like schizaffin. Any kid who can spell that, let alone know the definition definitely deserves a prize. Let’s hope The Times Spelling Bee continues on to become as successful (and difficult!) as the Scripps.