Archive for March, 2012


Posted on March 30th, 2012by Michelle
In Invented languages, Words | Leave a Comment »

It’s one of the longest and probably one of the most famous words in the English language, but where did supercalifragilisticexpialidocious come from?

A nonsense word, it was popularised when it appeared in a song in the musical Mary Poppins. Songwriter Robert B. Sherman explained its origins:

“We used to make up the big double-talk words, we could make a big obnoxious word up for the kids and that’s where it started. ‘Obnoxious’ is an ugly word so we said ‘atrocious’, that’s very British,” he explained. “We started with ‘atrocious’ and then you can sound smart and be precocious. We had ‘precocious’ and ‘atrocious’ and we wanted something super-colossal and that’s corny, so we took ‘super’ and did double-talk to get ‘califragilistic’ which means nothing, it just came out that way,” and that “in a nutshell what we did over two weeks.” Simple. (Source: Contact Music)

Simple indeed!

What’s in a name?

Posted on March 27th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

You may have heard of a little movie that opened last Friday, a movie that’s based on some bestselling books. Yep, I’m talking about The Hunger Games.

The books definitely aren’t just for kids, and if you haven’t read them I highly recommend doing so. One thing I didn’t really like though, were the names of the characters. Katniss? Peeta? Coriolanus Snow? I found them distracting.

Having read this article from Slate though, I am more appreciative of the names. Although author Suzanne Collins has never revealed how she came up with the names, I think Slate’s writer gives pretty good explanations. If you haven’t read the books though, don’t look at the article as it contains spoilers!

Also, if you want to find out your own Hunger Games name, try this site. Mine’s Elleless B. Divelily, what’s yours?

Pre-schoolers have language show

Posted on March 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Education, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

A new programme on BBC kids channel CBeebies aims to introduce pre-schoolers to language and culture.

The Lingo Show is an eleven minute programme hosted by an animated bug named Lingo. Lingo then introduces other characters who sing about their country and culture. Children learn words in the different languages through the songs and repetition.

Wei is the character in the first episode, and introduces Mandarin Chinese words including numbers up to ten and colours. Later episodes feature a Spanish bug called Queso and French bug Jargonaise.

You can watch episodes on BBC iPlayer, and also visit the show’s companion website to sing along with songs from the episodes.

Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation

Posted on March 21st, 2012by Michelle
In Accents, Culture, English | Leave a Comment »

We all remember the horror of stumbling over Shakespeare’s texts in school English classes, but what do the plays sound like when not spoken aloud by embarrassed teenagers?

The British Library has released a CD featuring scenes and speeches from Shakespeare’s work as he would have heard them. The selection of speeches includes Hamlet’s “to be, or not to be” and Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”, with scenes featured from Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth and Othello.

The recording reveals new ways of looking at Shakespeare’s work, with lines that were meant to rhyme actually rhyming and puns that don’t work in modern English revealed. You can listen to some clips from the recording here. People have said the accents sound Cornish, do you agree?

Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation CD is available from the British Library shop.

Security guard helpful in 49 languages

Posted on March 19th, 2012by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Speech | Leave a Comment »

A security guard in Henley can greet people in 49 languages, according to the Henley Standard.

John Bowman works for a security company in Maidenhead and calls himself a “walking phrase book”. Despite only having been abroad twice, he can greet people in 49 languages and is semi-fluent in seven, including Russian and Italian.

Mr Bowman works next to a university, and so comes into contact with people from all over the world. These people teach him some of their language in return for his help, but his leaning secret?

He writes words on paper and recites them until he’s able to do it from memory.

Twitter adds right-to-left languages

Posted on March 15th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Hints and Tips, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Twitter is now available in languages written right-to-left, including Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Urdu.

Work began earlier this year via their Translation Center, which crowd-sources translations to make Twitter available to people around the world. Almost half a million people contribute to the Center, and have so far made 28 languages available.

Around 13,000 volunteers worked on the project to make right-to-left language available. Twitter had to create new tools to ensure Tweets, retweets and hashtags work properly for users who may send tweets with both right-to-left and left-to-right content.

To suggest a new language for Twitter, you can file a language request.

Slang or no slang?

Posted on March 10th, 2012by Michelle
In Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

We heard recently about the linguistic power of young women, but a school in Sheffield apparently hasn’t.

Sheffield Springs academy has asked students to stop using slang whilst at school, in order to enhance their employability prospects. The school is in one of the most deprived areas of the city.

The United Learning Trust (ULT), a charity that runs the school, said the policy had been introduced so that pupils could recognise what kind of language was acceptable between friends and what would be suitable in more formal situations.

The school had an ethos that “the street stops at the gate”, said Kathy August, ULT’s deputy chief executive. Pupils were told to replace hiya, cheers and ta with good morning and thank you.

“We want to make sure that our youngsters are not just leaving school with the necessary A to Cs in GCSEs, but that they also have a whole range of employability skills,” August said. “Understanding when it is and is not acceptable to use slang or colloquial language is just one part of this.” (Source: Guardian)

Another school initiative asked sixth formers to wear suits to school to promote a professional attitude towards their work.

What do you think? Is saying ‘hiya’ really damaging employment prospects?

Language diversity

Posted on March 7th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Indigenous languages | Leave a Comment »

Ever wondered which are the most linguistically diverse countries in the world? Well, look no further.

Ethnologue’s language diversity chart (pictured, via The Economist) shows that Papua New Guinea and Congo are the most diverse. Papua New Guinea has an incredible 830 indigenous languages! The chart is based on the number of languages spoken in a country and Greenberg’s diversity index, which “scores countries on the probability that two citizens will share a mother tongue”. That explains why Congo is second on the list despite having a mere 215 indigenous languages compared to third-place India’s 438.

At the bottom of the scale is North Korea, with one indigenous language spoken and a score of nil on the diversity index.