Archive for July, 2012

Pronouncing street names in Denmark

Posted on July 28th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

I’ve not yet had the chance to visit Denmark, but apparently their street names are notoriously difficult to pronounce.

A lovely installation in Copenhagen aims to help out tourists with this problem. WTPh? (What the Phonics) has added speakers to street signs, with a recording of the street name playing. When participants lift the speaker off the wall, the recording starts playing the street name – first broken down into syllables and then spoken in full. The names are spoken by a Danish person, so you can be sure they are correct!

Take a look at the project video to see how it works.

Americans learn Cockney

Posted on July 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

With less than a week to go until the Olympics opening ceremony, there are plenty of foreign athletes arriving on our shores.

But what do the athletes know about London, and more importantly, can they decipher Cockney Rhyming Slang? Team USA have challenged their athletes to learn – and speak – the slang, with hilarious results! See some American athletes, including 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, gymnast Nastia Liukin and diver David Boudia take up the challenge in the video below.

The Oxford English Fictionary

Posted on July 21st, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Invented languages, Words | Leave a Comment »

This could well be my new favourite Tumblr: The Oxford English Fictionary.

The Fictionary is dedicated to “Defining words that aren’t real. Yet.” It accepts user submissions as follows:

The OEF exists to define words that do not exist. If you have a word that needs a definition, submit it. If you have a word that already has a definition, that’s very nice, but go contact Merriam Webster instead.

A couple of my favourite recent words are:

Anachronister (noun): a time-traveling spider. (word submitted by anonymous)

Shquibble (verb): to verbally argue with someone, with both sides in full anger, in complete silence after having been shushed by a librarian. (word submitted by Chris)

Why do words get cut from the dictionary?

Posted on July 18th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

Did you know that when new words get added to a dictionary, old ones get cut?

Neither did I, although I suppose it makes sense. An editor from the Merriam-Webster dictionary explains more in this helpful video:

Tattoo meanings

Posted on July 15th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture | Leave a Comment »

Tattoos have become part of mainstream culture over the last few years. Many people have them, including the Prime Minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron.

At one stage it was very fashionable to get a Chinese or Japanese character tattoo. Now it’s largely fallen out of vogue. So if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo, it might be worth thinking about the deeper meaning behind your chosen symbol.

A handy Guardian guide explains some meanings:

2 Anchor
By the late 1800s, 90% of those serving in the British navy were tattooed and sailing iconography is still influential – particularly with the trend for retro “romantic” tattoos. “Tattoos display an individual’s membership to a particular group in society,” writes sociologist Tony Lawrence. Practically, tattoos could help identify drowned sailors. Their meanings, however, depend on the era and even the specific ship. An anchor could mean crossing the equator, the soul of a dead sailor or symbolise hope – we may no longer take perilous journeys on high seas but still seek to “anchor” our self. According to Dr Matt Lodder, art historian at Reading University, rather than having a particular meaning, the anchor has also become an icon of tattooing – like the broken heart and the swallow.

10 Dreamcatcher
One of Miley Cyrus’s 14-odd tattoos, the dreamcatcher, is also sported by Zac Efron. According to Native American mythology, this is a protective covering for infants that stops the bad (in this case: paparazzi, scandal, stalkers) while letting the good (cash, fame, screaming fans) pass through. Urgh.

Take a look at the full article for meanings of some other common symbols, including Sam Cam’s dolphin.

English words borrowed from India

Posted on July 13th, 2012by Michelle
In English, Etymology, Words | Leave a Comment »

Have you ever heard of the Hobson-Jobson dictionary?

Colonel Henry Yule and AC Burnell began work on it in 1872. The dictionary started as a lexicon of words of Asian origin used by the British in India, and hasn’t been out of print since it was first published. It’s much more than a dictionary though:

“It’s a madly unruly and idiosyncratic work,” says poet Daljit Nagra.

“Not so much an orderly dictionary as a passionate memoir of colonial India. Rather like an eccentric Englishman in glossary form.”

Take the entry for the Indian word dam. The dictionary defines it as: “Originally an actual copper coin. Damri is a common enough expression for the infinitesimal in coin, and one has often heard a Briton in India say: ‘No, I won’t give a dumree!’ with but a vague notion what a damri meant.”

That is the etymology of dam. But Yule and Burnell have more to say.

“And this leads to the suggestion that a like expression, often heard from coarse talkers in England as well as in India, originated in the latter country, and that whatever profanity there may be in the animus, there is none in the etymology, when such an one blurts out ‘I don’t care a dam!’ in other words, ‘I don’t care a brass farthing!’” (Source: BBC News)

Some words we use that have Indian origins:

Avatar, cashmere, guru, loot

How many South African languages are there?

Posted on July 8th, 2012by Michelle
In Afrikaans, Indigenous languages, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Can you guess?

If you guessed 11, you’d be right. The 11 official languages of South Africa are: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Many countries have just one or two official languages (or in the USA, none at all). Some official languages are regulated by an authority, such as France’s Académie Française. South Africa’s languages are overseen by the government department PanSALB (Pan South African Language Board).

It seems that PanSALB hasn’t been too successful though, with the Economist reporting that it is underfunded and accused of being corrupt and mismanaged. So what’s the answer?

The Use of Official Languages Bill, introduced early this year, seeks to get government institutions using the native African languages more, alongside English and Afrikaans. But as South Africa has learned with PanSALB, implementation is the hard part. To improve, South African officials might see a model in India, whose 23 recognised languages—the most in the world—have found support in the respected Sahitya Akademi, the national academy of letters….

South African languages may too find greater support in groups founded and run by native speakers themselves, bottom-up and not top-down. The government might not have the resources or emotional investment to properly preserve and promote all of South Africa’s official languages. But at least the law gives all 11 languages equality in theory. Perhaps it’s time for indigenous language communities to make them more equal in fact. (Source: Economist)

A radical solution for saving languages

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

An Australian town has come up with a radical solution to revive the local Aboriginal language – and has had some amazing results.

The Wiradjuri language is learned by about 10% of the population every week in Parkes, a town in New South Wales. It’s taught in all primary schools as well as high school and TAFE colleges. Learning the language has taught much more than words – it’s given people a purpose, sense of culture and connection to their community.

Ron Wardrop was quiet for a while when I asked him why language mattered to him. “We need to keep the languages strong,” he said. “Like a river, the water tells a story, it just keeps flowing on and on, like generations of people telling stories. If that river dries up, then that knowledge and that flow of language and culture – which gives people a strong sense of connection to self and country – is going to die away. And that would be a sad thing.” Ron understands all too well what’s at stake when language and culture is lost. “If the kids don’t feel they have a sense of belonging, self, Aboriginality, then they feel they don’t have anything. And that’s exactly how I felt when I was a kid.” (Source: ABC)

This story just goes to show that there’s more to languages than words – they can have a much wider benefit.