Linguist David Crystal set himself a difficult challenge – covering the history of English in just 100 words. He met the challenge and the proof is in his latest book – The Story of English in 100 Words.
In an interesting article in the Telegraph, Crystal explains what his 100 words tell us about the origins and evolution of English:
At any one time language is a kaleidoscope of styles, genres and dialects. The story of English has to show these differences too. In particular, the words we use when we speak are not the same as those we use when we write. It’s the colloquial words which tend to be neglected, and so in my list along with dialect and debt we find doobry and dilly-dally. And I include words that represent a history of debate over usage, such as ain’t and disinterested, as well as words that tell the story of regional dialects, such as brock, egg and wee. Far more people speak a non-standard variety of English than speak standard English, and their story must also be told. (Source: Telegraph)
Some of the words on his list include the earliest example of a written English word – roe from the 5th Century; matrix, from the 16th Century, and ain’t, which dates back to the 18th Century. It looks like a fascinating read.
We all use slang terms for going to work and the things we do there – “the daily grind” for example.
These terms have been collected in a dictionary called The Wage Slave’s Glossary by Joshua Glenn, Mark Kingwell, and the cartoonist Seth. In the dictionary are words borrowed from other languages that reflect office life, new words appropriate for our current economic situation and historic words whose meaning has changed (career for example).
The Atlantic has a slideshow of words from each letter of the alphabet, I recommend you take a look. I’m off to take an inemuri.
Back in August I posted about words that have no English equivalent. Now there are 14 more to share!
This time my favourites are:
1. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”
I can really relate to that one!
2. Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)
Your friend bites into a piece of piping hot pizza, then opens his mouth and sort of tilts his head around while making an “aaaarrrahh” noise. The Ghanaians have a word for that. More specifically, it means “to move hot food around in your mouth.”
Again, this happens to me all the time! Why don’t we have equivalent words in English??
The next one is not something that has happened to me, but is nevertheless lovely. And we should definitely have a word for it!
9. Koi No Yokan (Japanese)
The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love.
Awww. Just like last time, you can see the full list here.
How seriously do you take Scrabble games? Think of them as a fun pastime that also may improve your vocabulary?
Well, however seriously you treat your home Scrabble games, competitors at the World Scrabble Championships are much more serious than you. A Thai player this week demanded his opponent be strip searched to try and find a tile that went missing during the game.
Luckily for his English counterpart, the referee did not grant this request. But the mystery remains – what happened to the ‘G’?
A fascinating article in Discovery Magazine looks at into the discovery of the FOXP2 gene, which may shed light on the origins of language.
First discovered in a family in London, the gene came to light because some members of the family had an unusual difficulty with words. Some of the children were attending a special speech and language school and had difficulty interpreting the meaning of sentences, as well as with speech. The example given in the article is “The girl is chased by the horse” may be misunderstood by family members as “The girl is chasing the horse.”
The difficulty was not limited to children in the family – some of the parents as well as the children’s cousins had the condition too. Geneticists eventually traced it to the grandmother, and concluded that she had a rare mutation she must have passed along. This came to the attention of researchers in Oxford, who with the help of an unrelated five year old boy, discovered the gene link to language.
So far, so fascinating. Researchers are now looking at the gene’s proteins and links to other species. Take a look at the article and prepare to be amazed!
I like a bit of language fun, and also think llamas are awesome. So I thought I’d share with you the amazing Llama Font!
The website is very simple – just type in whatever you like and click ‘llamify’ and the site will convert into cute llama letters. Here’s an example.
For me, alpacas are superior to llamas. Anyone know of an alpaca font website??
The world’s newest nation, South Sudan, has adopted English as its official language.
South Sudan was created after a referendum earlier this year, splitting off from the mainly Arabic speaking Sudan. Leaders hope that choosing English will make South Sudan a modern country and see it as a “tool for development”.
“With English,” the news director of South Sudan Radio, Rehan Abdelnebi, told me haltingly, “we can become one nation. We can iron out our tribal differences and communicate with the rest of the world.” (Source: BBC News)
There are issues, however. Around 150 different languages are spoken in the country, with most people having grown up speaking a form of Arabic. Few people speak English, and a large proportion of the population are illiterate.
Let’s hope that South Sudan can become a successful and peaceful country, with or without English.
Every child aged five or over should be learning a foreign language, the education secretary Michael Gove has proposed.
“There is a slam-dunk case for extending foreign language teaching to children aged five.
“Just as some people have taken a perverse pride in not understanding mathematics, so we have taken a perverse pride in the fact that we do not speak foreign languages, and we just need to speak louder in English. It is literally the case that learning languages makes you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning.” (Source: The Guardian)
The proposal includes reform to teacher training and a review of the national curriculum to see if more subject-specialist teaching is required. Previous reports have shown the number of students taking GCSEs in modern languages has fallen as a result of it becoming non-compulsory. Language learning from the age of five seems like a step in the right direction.