not to be sappy on main BUT one thing that i really loved when studying linguistics was that the more important a word is, the earlier the concept of this thing was given a word. for example, the word water is similar in many similar languages (aqua, agua, água). so, the more important a word is, the more languages it’ll be similar across and the older this word will be, theoretically and generally speaking (many other things also affect this)
AND SO in my years studying linguistics, there was one word that was nearly identical across so many regionally different languages (though there are outliers of course), from europe to most of asia to subsaharan africa to indigenous languages. across nearly all languages this is the first word people learn how to say and maybe the first word humans in general officially named and defined:
mamãe - portuguese
妈妈 (māmā) - chinese
ਮੰਮੀ (mamī) - punjabi
mamah - mayan (yucatec)
мама - bulgarian, russian, ukrainian
ماں (mäm) - urdu
মা (mā) - bengali
mẹ (may) - vietnamese
ママ (mama) - japanese
అమ్మ (am'ma) - telugu
mama - quechua
મમ્મી (mam'mī) - gujarati
അമ്മ (am'ma) - malayalam
amá - navajo
엄마 (omma) - korean
māmā - native hawaiian
onam - uzbek
aana - yupik
mema - tagish
μαμά (mamá) - greek
mama - swahili
أمي (umi) - arabic
mayi - chichewa
माँ (ma) - hindi
mam - dutch
ម៉ាក់ (ma) - khmer
แม่ (mæ̀) - thai
அம்மா (am'mā) - tamil
අම්මා (ammā) - sinhala
amai - zulu
ama - basque
आमा (āmā) - nepali
အမေ (amay) - myanmar (burmese)
אמא (ima) - hebrew
mamá - spanish
this isn’t actually the first word because we teach babies this word (most likely), but because the “mama” or “ama” sounds are the easiest things for babies to say, and it’s nearly always the only thing they can say at first, and adults across all languages defined their language around that.
babies all over the world for thousands and thousands of years all started out blabbering sounds like “mama” and mothers everywhere were all like Oh Shit That’s Me! I’m Mama!
Okay, this is yet another of my countless microscopic pet peeves, but:
Logic is a process of reasoning
Logistics is the science of allocating, transporting and storing resources
The second one isn’t just a fancier way of saying the first one. I bring this up because there have been several cases recently where I’ve been asked for a recommendation for game about logistics, and a bunch of folks have burst into the notes plugging games about logic puzzles – and while there’s often some overlap between those two genres, they’re not interchangeable!
language learning tip: an interpreter’s guide to learning vocabulary
If I had a penny for every time someone told me they had trouble memorizing words, I’d probably had hundreds of pennies, which is not very helpful in terms of paying rent but hey, could just possibly lure a tiny dragon under my couch, so.
Anyway, if you’re one of those people and feel like you don’t have a good head for words, here are a few tips.
1) Sounds silly, but stop focusing on how bad you are at this. Vocabulary is most of what you need in any language - if you’re serious about speaking that language, you’ll need to find a learning technique that works for you, and if you keep convincing your brain you just can’t do it, you’ll end up believing it. Not helpful.
2) Learning anything gets much harder with age, and also when you’re stressed. Be patient with yourself, and manage your mental health. if you’re learning for school or for some important test, give yourself time to get there and plan ahead, because vocabulary learning is not the kind of studying you can get done by pulling an all-nighter. And if you’re an older learner, just remember what you’re doing is extremely healthy for your brain, so however long it takes you to achieve some results, you’re doing something really good for yourself: kudos!
3) Whether you’re writing your own material or studying with online apps, keep vocabulary lists short. You’re not going to learn 100 words in one go. It’s much better to work with groups of 20, or even 10, so if you’ve been given a list from a teacher, or are compiling one from your textbook, remember to chop it down in smaller units.
4) The sad thing is: many people learn better by writing things down, especially by hand*. Personally, there are still words I write down fifty times, but thanks to the current magic of technology I mostly go on websites like Memrise or Quizlet and use the ‘write’ function. As a warning: it’s going to be difficult and irritating, especially at first, because obviously these programs won’t forgive you spelling mistakes, but in the long run, I find writing things forges a direct path to your brain that’s not easily undone.
(*This is also why you shouldn’t use a computer when taking notes in class.)
5) Another good way of learning is creating context. You can simply associate a word to another (for instance, noun + adjective, which also helps you memorizing gender if gender is a thing in your target language), or you can write lists centered around specific themes (animals, family, the nuclear winter we’re all headed towards). One thing I find helpful are lists based on clusters of similar words - think stuff like sun, sunrise, sunny, sunglass and so on.
6) Speak as often as you can - not necessarily with people. A conversation with a potted plant can be just as helpful, and placing a new word you’re learning in the context of a sentence is a very good way to give life to it.
7) If you have access to an etymological dictionary, use it. Remembering words is much easier if you understand how a specific word was born, and the logic behind it.
8) Use post-its or change your computer’s wallpaper to difficult words. Seeing stuff all the time is an excellent way of making it seep into your subconscious. I used to write on my arms, which is Quirky and Interesting, but also not very kind to your skin, so maybe stick to the bathroom mirror.
9) Remember there’s a difference between active and passive knowledge, and that both are normal and good. Active knowledge are those words you’d use in conversation; passive knowledge are words you recognize and understand, but wouldn’t use yourself. Depending on your level, education, linguistic curiosity and reading habits, the number of words in each category and the ratio between them will vary, but your passive knowledge is always going to be much deeper than your active one. Don’t be stressed about that.
10) Finally, some good news: you need fewer words than you think. Many native speakers around the world function on as little as 500 words of active knowledge; 2000 words is considered a good base for reading most texts. If you find it helps you, keep track of how many words you’re learning, but don’t let it obsess you. Human brains are built to fill in blanks with reasonable solutions, and the more familiar you become with grammar and basic words, the more you’ll find that you’re able to guess the meaning of new words simply by their context or what they look like.
Oh, and since this is tumblr -
11) Don’t learn an excessive number of ‘weird’ or ‘cute’ words, especially if you’re a beginner. Writing lists of elf-related words can be fun, and a way to keep yourself motivated, but ultimately what you need are normal words - stuff you can use in conversation, in a restaurant, and to read the news. I met people who stubbornly fill their notebooks with absurd lists, and it’s all very nice and instagrammable, but what tends to happen is that sooner or later, they feel they’re not making any progress and get discouraged. So please remember - whatever language you’re learning, it’s most probably a human language human people use to speak to each other, which means you’ll need all sort of boring words to understand them and make yourself understood. Embrace the boring, the average and the mundane - they’re never as boring, average and mundane as you fear.
Me, an aspiring linguist: all words are made up and so let’s talk for the next 40 minutes about the process that made this new word and also just how cool it is that we can and do make up words as needed, please.
The Romans named the days of the week after the five planets visible to them (Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn), the moon, and the sun. As their empire expanded they encountered Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons). These Germanic People translated the weekdays into their languages by substituting the Roman god each planet was named for with one of their own. This system led to the names of the days of the week in most modern Germanic languages.
French and the other romance languages, being Latin’s natural heirs, preserve a version of the Latin names somewhat warped by time, but still recognizable.
Day of the Sun
Latin: solis dies
English: Sunday, a direct translation from Latin
French: Dimanche, when the Romans converted to Christianity there was a push to rename the days with christian names rather than pagan ones. These new names only stuck for two days of the week, Dominica dies (god’s day) being one of them. As Latin separated into different languages dominica dies became ‘dimanche’ in French. Interestingly the day’s association with the sun is only preserved in the Germanic languages. If the pagan name hadn’t be wiped out the French name for this day might have been something like soldi or soleidi.
Day of the Moon
Latin: Lunae dies
English: Monday (moon + day)
French: Lundi (Lunae dies)
Day of War
Latin: martis dies, named for Mars, roman god of war
English: Tuesday, from old English Tiwesdaeg, Tiw being the germanic god of war
French: Mardi, from martis dies
Day of Knowledge
Latin: mercurii dies, named for Mercury the messenger to the Gods
English: Wednesday from Wodnesdaeg or Woden’s day. Woden (Odin) was the all father, chief of the gods and at first glance he has more in common with Jupiter than mercury. However, the ancient Germanic peoples saw Mercury’s association with knowledge as a messenger and linked him to their all knowing, all powerful Woden.
French: Mercredi, from mercurii dies
Day of Thunder and Lightning
Latin: Iovis Dies, named for Jupiter, King of the gods
English: Thursday from Thunresdaeg. Seeing Jupiter’s association with lightening, ancient Germanic people pared him with their god of thunder, Thor (Thunres)
French: Jeudi, from Iovis dies (I and J used to be the same letter)
Day of Love
Latin: Veneris dies, named for Venus roman goddess of love
English: Friday, from Frīgedaeg, named for Frigg (Freya), Germanic goddess of love
French: Vendredi, from Veneris dies
Day of Rest and Renewal
Latin: saterni dies, for the father of Jupiter, Saturn
English: Saturday, saturn + day (saturnesdaeg)
French: Samedi, as with Dimanche, Samedi comes from the newer Christian names for the days of the week. In this case ‘Samedi’ comes from the Vulgar Latin Sambatum dies, which comes from the latin, dies sabbati, or sabbath day. Only four languages (Afrikaans, Dutch, English, and Scots) preserve the original connection with the god Saturn. If French had retained the pagan influence for this day, it’s name may have been something like ‘saterdi’.
“When you have an experience, the language you are using becomes associated with it. For bilingual people, this means certain memories are more closely linked to one language than the other—a phenomenon called language-dependent memory. For instance, a childhood memory is more likely to be remembered when the language spoken during that childhood event is spoken again. Just as listening to nostalgic music can transport you back to a specific period of your life, the language you are using in the moment acts as a hook to draw associated memories closer to the surface. Memories will also often be more emotional when there is a match between the language spoken when the experience took place and the language spoken when remembering it.
Charlemagne was not born “Charlemagne,” nor was he always called Charles the Great. He was born the son of Pepin the Short, and baptized under the name Austel Lucretius Nogale, Pepin’s Son, only taking the name Charles when he was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor.
For most of his youth, Charlemagne was known commonly as Austel Pepinson, which was specific to his Frankish upbringing. The Proto-Germanic language over time evolved into modern German, and the name Austel Pepinson was directly phonetically modernized as Austen Pauenson, or in Western dialects Pauener.
Both his first and last name have direct English cognates. Austen in English became rendered Austin with an I. Pauener was rendered directly as Powers.
Charlemagne’s real name would be modernized as Austin Powers.
In your bi/pan info-graphic post (which is very nice) you used the term irregardless. That's not a word.
A fascinating statement!
What is a word? Let’s discuss.
(Please rest assured - I’m not here to mock you or argue with you. I’m a linguist through and through, and I find that it’s endlessly entertaining to consider various linguistic fallacies.)
A word is a sound, or a collection of sounds, given meaning through mutual societal agreement between one or two people (though usually it is a community that shares the language).
Relatively speaking, this particular textpost gives a rather succinct historical overview:
To summarize - people see Thing, people give Name to Thing. People Disagree on Name and work it out amongst themselves until some community consensus is reached.
Now, you have to understand one thing - Language is… organic. It’s not a machine that we build. It’s a thing that grows. When we (linguists) talk about grammar, we are not writing a manual on ‘proper use’ - we are describing a naturally occurring phenomenon that has happened - has BEEN happening - all over the globe for, oh, at least 60,000 years.
Descriptors such as ‘incorrect’ are rare, and most of the time, we’re just concerned with making a RECORD of the latest version of whatever is happening on the Language Nature Chanel before it inevitably changes once again.
When scientists are out observing their subject of study, it’s not “Oh, look, the Lion is chewing on the bark of a tree, which is the WRONG use of Lion Teeth, which are only for chewing on ANTELOPE LEGS.” That would be silly, right? It’s more like “Oh, look, that lion is chewing on the tree. Why is it doing that? That’s unusual. What might be the purpose of such a behavior? Is it standard? Is it widespread? We must make note of it!”
Human grammar is something that changes, shifts, evolves. Human vocabulary follows the same patterns. It’s not a steadfast thing governed by rules or rulers, who sit on some imaginary Proper English Throne somewhere out of sight and pen Grammar Laws.
And similarly, words are not always going to be the same. Which I think is rather obvious - I mean, look at how language has been changing for the past few centuries!!
Now, you said specifically: ‘irregardless’ is NOT a word.
What you meant was - it’s a non-standard use of the word, and morphologically it’s redundant because ‘regardless’ already means the same thing, and people adding the prefix ‘ir’ onto it creates a double stack of the same meaning which is already accomplished by the original morpheme ‘less’ to mean ‘without regard’.
But what you REALLY meant was: “You’re being ungrammatical and I feel like you’re breaking some sort of rule so I have to send you a message to correct you.”
Which - cool! Thanks.
But linguistically speaking, ‘irregardless’, despite its redundancy and how much it’s hated by the Grammatical Rules (Do Not Break: Fragile!) Community…. IS a word.
Because you KNOW what it means. You KNOW what I meant by it. Like it or not, that word has already entered public knowledge and it HAS been used since the 18th century by various people! It’s a non-standard use, true, but it IS a set of sounds, and it DOES have an agreed upon meaning. The word itself carries across a concept, and you UNDERSTOOD that concept, you KNEW what I meant, and therefore - the word ‘exists’ in the public sphere of community knowledge.
And frustrating as it is, this is actually how MOST words come about. MANY words which we today consider ‘grammatical’ and ‘proper’ have evolved from earlier versions of language which considered their use ‘incorrect’ or ‘bastardized’ or ‘uncouth’. That’s just… what language does. If something becomes common through usage, it will sound familiar to our ears, enter our vocabulary and before you know it….. YEET!
Anyway, grammar is fake and nothing matters. I’m not here to write an essay for my stuffy English Professor. If you understand me, we’ve achieved communication and that’s good enough.
There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the crew encounter an alien species for whom the universal translator doesn’t work properly, because almost their entire language is cultural references. And when I first heard about it, I thought it was so cool.
And I still think about it sometimes.
And I think about it when I hear a podcaster use “Blue Skadoo” as a verb and instantly understand a complex idea that would otherwise take at least a sentence to otherwise convey.
And I think about it when I read about someone “staring into the camera like they’re on the Office”.
And I think about it every time a loved one excuses themselves from a situation because of a lack of spoons.
And I think about it every time a task is Herculean, a motion is robotic, a hero is Byronic, a journey is an Odyssey.
And I think about it when I casually drop allusions to various memes in casual spoken conversation, including pantomime of whatever images or gifs might be relevant.
And I think about it when I carefully tweak my entire vocabulary around every single person I interact with, based on what I know of their memes and media and subculture.
And I think about how literally every human being capable of communication has been doing the exact same thing since communication was invented.
And I start to wonder how in the world a universal translator could ever work to begin with.
I was just reading the wikipedia article of “common misconceptions” which includes the origin of the word “fuck” and I’m SO HAPPY I googled the poem they mentioned because it’s bonkers
“Flen flyys is the colloquial name and first words of an anonymous, untitled poem, written about 1475 or earlier, famous for containing an early written usage in English of the vulgar verb “fuck.” In fact the usage was “fuccant”, a hybrid of an English root with a Latin conjugation, and was disguised in the text by a simple code, in which each letter was replaced with the next letter in the alphabet of the time (so that fuccant is written as gxddbou).
Written half in English and half in Latin, the poem satirised Carmelite friars in the English county of Cambridgeshire. The poem takes its name from the opening line Flen, flyys and freris meaning “fleas, flies and friars”.
The famous line reads “Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk.” meaning “They [the friars] are not in heaven, since …” followed by words that when decoded, taking in account the alphabet of the time (where u and v were interchangeable, as were i and j, and uu represented w), read “fvccant vvivys of heli”, a Latin/English mix that means “…they fuck the wives of Ely” (Ely being a city near Cambridge) as well as being a pun on the word “hell”.”
I love how characters in cartoons who are notionally speaking a very informal dialect of some dead or alien language are “translated” into English sounding like they’re from Southern California. Like, I realise the real reason is that American English has a strange relationship with the informal register, but I very much enjoy the implication that SoCal surfer culture exists on every planet and in every time period.
Because Internet will be coming out on July 23 – that’s only 2 months away! You can make it appear as a delightful surprise for your future self (and signal to the publisher that people are interested in linguistics so they should print lots of copies) by preordering it here.
Lingthusiasm Episode 40: Making machines learn language - Interview with Janelle Shane
If you feed a computer enough ice cream flavours or pictures annotated with whether they contain giraffes, the hope is that the computer may eventually learn how to do these things for itself: to generate new potential ice cream flavours or identify the giraffehood status of new photographs. But it’s not necessarily that easy, and the mistakes that machines make when doing relatively silly tasks like ice cream naming or giraffe identification can illuminate how artificial intelligence works when doing more serious tasks as well.
In this episode, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne interview Dr Janelle Shane, author of You Look Like A Thing And I Love You and person who makes AI do delightfully weird experiments on her blog and twitter feed. We talk about how AI “sees” language, what the process of creating AI humour is like (hint: it needs a lot of human help to curate the best examples), and ethical issues around trusting algorithms.
Finally, Janelle helped us turn one of the big neural nets on our own 70+ transcripts of Lingthusiasm episodes, to find out what Lingthusiasm would sound like if Lauren and Gretchen were replaced by robots! This part got so long and funny that we made it into a whole episode on its own, which is technically the February bonus episode, but we didn’t want to make you wait to hear it, so we’ve made it available right now! This bonus episode includes a more detailed walkthrough with Janelle of how she generated the
Robo-Lingthusiasm transcripts, and live-action reading of some of our
favourite Robo-Lauren and Robo-Gretchen moments.
Also for our patrons, we’ve made a Lingthusiasm Discord server – a private chatroom for Lingthusiasm patrons! Chat about the latest Lingthusiasm episode, share other interesting linguistics links, and geek out with other linguistics fans. (We even made a channel where you can practice typing in the International Phonetic Alphabet, if that appeals to you!)
Okay, well this is actually a really interesting question.
Before we go further, I need you all to commit to memory the following diagram*:
*All diagrams from Fortescue’s Eskimo Orientation Systems (1988)
Got that? Oh there’s also this one.
Let’s focus on point “c” in the first diagram, which represents Nuuk or standard West Greenlandic.
The compass points here are (in extended form, with standard third person singular ending):
N - avannaa
E - kangia
S - kujataa
W - kitaa
But if we look at point “a”, Ammassalik in East Greenland, (sorry about image quality):
We see that “av-” no longer points north but closer to south. And all the other alternative designations from point “c” have become directionally reversed! (i.e. allowing for sound changes, each of pav-/pu-, sam-/sav-, qav-/qav- now points in the opposite direction)
So what is going on here? As Map 1 suggests, which compares the directional systems across the entire Inuit language continuum (and wider Eskimo-Aleut domain), there is a lot of individual variation, and the relationships between neighbouring areas can even be a “mirror” one, whereas the relationship between West Greenland and East Greenland is a rotational one.
The answer is based in the fact that the concepts of “true north”, “true east”, etc are not native to Inuit dialects but rather the terms used locally are reflective of the environment in which each community has lived. Each term has an underlying meaning that relates to that environment in some way, so:
avannaa is from Proto-Eskimo (PE) avan (from a demonstrative av- “over (there)”)meaning “area around”/”surroundings”, which over time in West Greenlandic has semantically moved to mean “off from land”, and in turn with -naq (something resembling) giving avannaq with specific meaning “north wind”, and from there with 3s possessive giving avannaa, now meaning generically “north”. But in East Greenlandic, which was derived from West Greenlandic as a wave of Greenlanders steadily moved south and then round the southern tip of Greenland back up the east coast, the term has retained a similar directional meaning from the perspective of being “to the right, when looking toward the sea”. And in East Greenlandic qav- therefore effectively now means the opposite “to the left, when looking toward the sea”. You can see from the diagram that Fortescue notes that av- and qav- type stems also act as similar opposite pairs (left/right or upriver/downriver) in other western Inuit dialects.
kitaa is from PE kətə- “area in front or towards the water” which has a more transparent meaning in the context of West Greenland settlements. A similar term used to exist in East Greenlandic with meaning “outwards” as shown here:
but as seen in the diagram another term kana- has taken over the meaning of east in that dialect. I also understand that more recently the West Greenlandic standard terms have been incorporated into East Greenlandic, no doubt due to some natural cultural pressure (national media presumably being almost entirely in West Greenlandic) and the fact that some of the West Greenlandic terms like kitaa (for west) no longer has a native East Greenlandic term to compete with. But it does create the unusual position that if an East Greenlander uses kitaa for west the term would literally be pointing in the opposite direction of the original meaning (i.e. now inwards, away from the sea). [NB this is perhaps no different in a sense from someone in the Southern hemisphere using the term “south”, since the etymology of this is derived from the direction of the “sun”, which for them would actually be in the north.]
So to come back to your question, “north west” in West Greenlandic is “avannaa-kitaa”, but I didn’t want to answer so quickly without giving a hint of the interesting background.
With respect to the previous Anon who asked about you knowing another Slavic language... Why is Portuguese and Latin American Spanish almost the same language outside of a few outliers? I don't understand why is Portuguese considered it's own language instead of a dialect of Spanish (or visa versa)...
I’m not sure if you’re a Spanish/Portuguese speaker with personal experience or if you’re an outsider looking in, but I’ll try to approach this pragmatically.
First thing to note is:
Languages are organic. That means that all languages exist on a spectrum and it’s not always clear where one language ends and another begins. For the most part, that kind of classification is up to humans. And humans often make decisions about this based on
2) amount of guns
3) idk we just feel like it
So the very EASY answer to your question would be - “because Portuguese and Spanish speakers have told us that the languages are different ENOUGH to be considered different languages”.
To be fair - Spanish and Portuguese ARE very closely related. (As close as Ukrainian and Russian are.) But they’re also closely related to like, 7 other languages that are ALSO all mutually intelligible-ish.
So long story short - other people telling you and your sibling that you look ‘just like twins!’ does not necessarily mean your genome is the same.
EDIT: IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY, PLEASE JUST COMMENT ON THE POST. DON’T SEND ME AN ASK. I’m not a post office.
I just wanna point out that though the use of y’all is closely linked to Southern American English, it’s also very strongly linked to AAVE, which has often been appropriated by the LGBTQ+ community at wide. I’m definitely not trying to accuse you or anon of anything, but as a bi black person, I thought this was a point worth mentioning. :)
And yeah, actually quite a bit of LGBTQ+ slang has been directly appropriated from AAVE (African American Vernacular English, for those that don’t know the abbreviation) so it’s not a far reach. Looking through historical LGBTQ+ media like Paris Is Burning that’s even more apparent.