Archive for September, 2012

English without the letter G

Posted on September 30th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Etymology | Leave a Comment »

What would the English language be like without the letter G?

An intriguing article at explores this question. The letter C used to represent the sounds of both ‘g’ and ‘c’. It was only after the invasion of William the Conqueror and the adoption of French as the lingua franca that the two were represented by different letters.

Both G and C have their origin in the Phoenician letter gimel, which meant “camel,” and looked something like an upside-down V (think of a camel’s hump—which, some believe may have been the inspiration for the letter’s shape). The Phonecians used gimel to indicate a sound that is equivalent to our present-day G (like the sound in “got”).

The Greeks borrowed gimel from the Phoenicians and renamed it gamma. Like the Phoenicians, the Greeks used the letter to represent the guttural G sound. When the Romans adopted gamma from the Greeks, however, they made a significant change. (Source:

Could we go back to having no ‘g’? What do you think?

Nonsense words game

Posted on September 25th, 2012by Michelle
In Etymology, Words | Leave a Comment »

I enjoy playing word games, and recently came across this one on Sporcle.

You’ve got 10 minutes to try and match 26 ‘nonsense’ words to their definition or etymology.

I got a fairly dismal 11 in 3 minutes; can you do better?

Going forward…

Posted on September 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, English, Jargon | Leave a Comment »

Management speak seems to be slowly creeping in to everyday English.

One example is “going forward”, where we used to say “from now on”. Comedian David Mitchell is vehemently against this change, and you can hear his rant in the video below:

Translating specs

Posted on September 20th, 2012by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

I wear glasses all the time, but they serve no purpose other than to correct my extreme short-sightedness.

For the money they cost, surely glasses could do more? Well, a British inventor has created a pair of specs that can do a rough translation during a conversation. Will Powell was inspired by Google’s Project Glass, which aims to create augmented reality glasses, and is still in development. At one point Google’s glasses were predicted to be on sale by the end of the year, but this now looks unlikely.

Take a look at the video of Will Powell’s glasses to see how they work.

Asian name pronunciation guide

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

We live in a multi-cultural society, so in our everyday lives, it’s likely we’ll encounter someone with an unfamiliar name.

If you work in higher education, it’s likely that you’ll meet international students all day long. So you might become familiar with how to pronounce certain names… but what about others?

California State Polytechnic University in America has produced a handy website if you’re not sure about pronunciation of Asian names. It also links to resources for help with names from around the world. Each page is linked to a particular language and has helpful hints as well as phonetic pronunciations of particular common names. You can also search the site for something specific.

Have you tried the website? It seem that it hasn’t been updated for a while – what do you think?

How do stereotypes evolve?

Posted on September 12th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Research | Leave a Comment »

Research has found that stereotypes evolve in a similar way to languages.

The research, presented at the British Science Festival in Scotland, was carried out by a team at the University of Aberdeen. They found that stereotypes are an “unintended consequence” of information sharing, which evolve as they move between people.

To address the genesis of such stereotypes, Dr Doug Martin and colleagues from the University of Aberdeen’s Person Perception Lab designed an experiment using aliens – an approach previously used to study the origins and evolution of language.

The aliens they invented each had a different colour, shape and set of personality traits; such as arrogance, pushiness or selfishness.

The team then asked a volunteer to learn the characteristics assigned to each one. The information retained by the volunteer was then fed down a communication chain.

What started out as jumbled and complex individual characteristics and traits ended up encompassed in sets of stereotypes.

Character traits became inextricably linked with form and colour – for example, blue aliens might be perceived as arrogant, pushy and untrusting. (Source: BBC News)

The experiment sounds a bit like a game of Chinese Whispers! The researchers will next be looking at if stereotypes can be manipulated.

How to learn English infographic

Posted on September 9th, 2012by Michelle
In English, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

This interesting infographic from Kaplan International looks at how non-native English speakers learn the language.

One of the things that grabs me from the infographic is the stat that 82% of people said that TV shows helped them learn English (with a focus on American sitcoms like Friends and How I Met Your Mother). This stat is reflected in anecdotal evidence from friends who have learned English – they all say they picked up a lot from watching TV!

It’s perhaps a little harder to find shows in your target language, but it seems like it’s worth the effort. If you enjoy the show you seem to get more language benefits from it!

Origins of the Indo-European Language Family

Posted on September 5th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Research | Leave a Comment »

A new paper in Science magazine explores the origins of the Indo-European language family.

Here’s the abstract:

There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. We used Bayesian phylogeographic approaches, together with basic vocabulary data from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages, to explicitly model the expansion of the family and test these hypotheses. We found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin. Both the inferred timing and root location of the Indo-European language trees fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8000 to 9500 years ago. These results highlight the critical role that phylogeographic inference can play in resolving debates about human prehistory.

You need subscriber access or to pay to read the full article, but it definitely sounds worth a read!