Archive for August, 2010

Esperanto Trail

Posted on August 28th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Esperanto | Leave a Comment »

Reading the latest issue of Lonely Planet magazine, I came across a short piece on the Esperanto Trail in Poland.

Ludwig Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was born in the city of Bialystok, northeast Poland, and the newly launched Esperanto Trail visits aspects of his life including his birthplace. Some train timetables at Bialystok station are even written in Esperanto.

The trail is part of the wider Culture Trail, which includes Bialystock Esperanto Centre. Bialystock is a place where many different languages and cultures meet, and this may have influenced Zamenhof’s dream to create a ‘universal’ language.

This dream was never fulfilled – as evidenced by the Trail’s signage, which is in Polish, Esperanto and English.

New Oxford Dictionary of English entries

Posted on August 23rd, 2010by Michelle
In English, Events, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

The third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English has announced new entries, including the word “vuvuzela”.

Released on August 19th, the dictionary contains 2,000 new words and 200 new phrases, including “on the naughty step”. “Vuvuzela” made an impact during the recent World Cup – it is a horn instrument blown by football fans – because of the controversy surrounding the noise it makes.

Oxford University Press uses a constantly updated “word bank” to ensure the dictionary is up to date – the first edition published in 1998 included “alcopop” and “eye candy” while the second edition additions included “Ruby Murrary” (rhyming slang for a curry) and “chav”. Other entries for this edition include “microblogging” – the posting of short entries on a blog and “staycation” – a holiday in your own country.
Climate change and the financial crisis also impacted on the dictionary – with the introduction of “toxic debt” and “carbon capture”.

The aim of the dictionary is to reflect current trends in the usage of English words. What words would you add?

(Source: BBC News)

Language and comedy

Posted on August 18th, 2010by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Translation, Words | Leave a Comment »

Listening to the radio in the car earlier, I heard about a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival called Bilingual Comedian.

The show is by Becky Donohue, and in it she apparently “attempts to ‘teach’ the audience and herself Spanish using nothing but ‘borrowed’ language tapes”. The show is based on the genius Eddie Izzard’s ‘Bring Bilingual’ (see video).

Coincidentally, I also read an article today about comics from overseas performing at the festival. The article explores the idea that comedy is different in different languages – for example a joke that works in Italian because it uses Italian wordplay would not have the same effect in English.

Being able to laugh and joke in a different language seems to be quite difficult to achieve – not only do you need to know the language, you need to know the cultural background. If you enjoy comedy, make it part of your language learning by finding comedy routines in your target language and listening until you can understand – or at least raise a chuckle.

Weird words quiz

Posted on August 17th, 2010by Michelle
In dialects, English, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

How well do you know the English language? That’s the question asked by this quiz in The Guardian today.

The ‘weird words’ quiz tests your knowledge of English slang, dialect and old usage. For each definition, you have to choose the correct word. How many can you get right? (I got a miserable three out of ten). Test your knowledge here.

The First English Dictionary of Slang

Posted on August 14th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford have announced they are publishing the first dictionary of slang, which has been out of print for 300 years.

Originally entitled A New Dictionary of Terms, Ancient and Modern, of the Canting Crew, its aim was to educate the polite London classes in ‘canting’ – the language of thieves and ruffians – should they be unlucky enough to wander into the ‘wrong’ parts of town.

With over 4,000 entries, the dictionary contains many words which are now part of everyday parlance, such as ‘Chitchat’ and ‘Eyesore’ as well as a great many which have become obsolete, such as the delightful ‘Dandyprat’ and ‘Fizzle’. Remarkably, this landmark of English from 1699 was compiled and published anonymously, by an author who has left us only his initials – ‘B.E. Gent [gentleman]’. (Source: University of Oxford)

Sample entries include Bundletail, “a short Fat or squat Lass”; Dandyprat, “a little puny Fellow”; and the more familiar Urchin – “a little sorry Fellow; also a Hedgehog”.

Why Qwerty?

Posted on August 11th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Events, Technology | 1 Comment »

A new series of Fry’s English Delight starts on BBC Radio 4 tonight, with the first episode looking at the origins of the Qwerty keyboard.

Fry asks how we became so reliant on this odd layout of letters, and wonders what impact Qwerty has had on languages.

But did Sholes really doctor the configuration of letters to slow the typist. Would an inventor really hobble his own brainchild?

If so, argues Fry, then the Qwerty keyboard and its inventor could be accused of “conspiracy to pervert the course of language and to limit the speed of creativity and language input, endangering billions with repetitive strain injury”.

Qwerty can be seen, he argues, as “a deliberate spanner in the works of language, metaphorically and technologically”. (Source: BBC News)

You can listen to Fry’s conclusions on Radio 4 at 2130 BST or afterwards using BBC iPlayer.

Language learning – not just for celebs!

Posted on August 7th, 2010by Michelle
In Arabic, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Russian | Leave a Comment »

Angelina Jolie recently proclaimed her love for the Russian language, but language learning isn’t just for A-list movie stars – as footballers from Manchester City recently showed.

Whilst Jolie learned Russian for her new movie, Salt, the footballers picked up some Arabic for the launch of a website in the United Arab Emirates. The Sun reports they had varying degrees of success, with the club’s Arabic media executive saying “I was surprised how fast some of the players picked it up. Adebayor was especially good.”

The footballers and Jolie had a common purpose for their learning – it was required for their work. And whilst they might not be fluent in the languages, they definitely made an effort.

Angelina also pinpoints one of the reasons for her success – practice!

I just had to practice over and over and over and I was told that I was getting it wrong a bunch of times and I had to keep practicing. (Source: US Weekly)

Medieval names

Posted on August 5th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, English, Historic, Words | Leave a Comment »

William, Robert, Henry, Alice. All good, solid English names.

Actually, the names have their origins in the Norman invasion of England. The Battle of 1066 and William the Conqueror will be familiar, but not many realise the impact of the invasion on the English language – names introduced over 1,000 years ago are still popular today.

As these French-speaking, wine-drinking, castle-building conquerors swiftly took over England and intermarried with Anglo-Saxon women, it was not just newborns named in their honour.

“The ruling elite set the fashion and soon William was the most common male name in England, even among peasants. A lot of people changed their names because they wanted to pass in polite society – they didn’t want to be mistaken for a peasant, marked out with an Anglo-Saxon name.”

Look at baby name league tables today, and the Old English name of Harold languishes far below the French-derived Henry in popularity. William, meanwhile, was the second most popular name for boys 200 years ago, the most popular 100 years ago and has held its place in the top 10 in England and Wales since 2000. (Source: BBC News)

The use of surnames also has origins in the invasion:

It soon became necessary to distinguish between all these Williams and Roberts, and so the Norman tradition of surnames was adopted. As well as family names derived from one’s occupation, surnames with the prefix Fitz date from Norman times.

“Fitz comes from the French ‘fils’, meaning ‘son of’. So Fitzsimmons once meant ‘son of Simon’ and Fitzgerald ‘son of Gerald,” says Prof Bartlett, whose own first name Robert is solidly Norman in origin.

What are the origins of your name?