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Snow Time!

sty 11

It is commonly believed that there are no better experts on snow than Eskimos, as many of us have probably heard that they have more than 500 words for snow. It is not unreasonable to think this, given that their lives depend on the intensity of the snowfall, thickness and even density of the snow cover.  But is it really true that they have so many terms to describe a snow flurry that surrounds them?  Yes … Kind of … Well, not really.

The whole idea came from German anthropologist Franz Boas, who claimed in the introduction to his 1911 Handbook of American Indian Languages that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow. The first problem with this statement is, however, that there is more than one ‘Eskimo’ language, since the term ‘Eskimos’ refers to the Yupik and Inuit peoples that live in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland and who speak many different languages that include multiple dialects of each. And what is even more problematic, the Inuit and Yupik languages are polysynthetic i.e. their words are generated by combining a limited set of roots and suffixes. This allows them to describe complicated situations by using only one word generated by combing many root words and suffixes. For instance ‘dinliltla’ (one Inuit word) means ‘little balls of snow that cling to Husky fur’ (9 English words) – if we count that sentence as one word, it truly means that Eskimos have a heck of a lot of words for snow … and for everything else too.

We still can count how many root words Eskimos have for snow even though it can be problematic which are a ‘snow word’ and which are not, but most linguists agree that there are as many ‘snow words’ as in every other language. This means that if we are looking for snow experts we don’t have to look that far. All we need to do is to look outside the window!

(MW)

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Ancient Words

gru 29

We already know which phrase is the most difficult to pronounce and what is the longest word in the English language … well at least kind of. But the question still remains:  What is the oldest word in the world? As usual, it depends on your point of view.

Since words change while languages evolve, the definition of what is commonly understood according to the term “word” can be bit elusive. Scientists from the University of Reading claim that computer analysis of the family of Indo-European languages lets them determine which words have changed the least through the ages. According to that research “I”, “we”, “two” and “three” could be called the “oldest”, in the context that they probably would be recognised in some shape or form by our ancestors living 2,500 years ago or even earlier.

Still, we should remember that words consist not only of form but also meaning. The meaning can differ from language to language, even with terms that are commonly perceived as cross-language synonyms. For example English “friend” can be translated into Polish as “przyjaciel” and into Russian as “drug”, but these words vary on semantic level as they define different kinds of friendship. Because of that, Anna Wierzbicka, a linguist from Warsaw University and later at the Australian National University, developed the theory that led to the creation of neural semantic metalanguage. NSM consists of words that are semantic primitives – simple, indefinable, and universally lexicalised concepts, hypothesised to be language universals, such as: I, YOU, SOMEONE, PEOPLE or GOOD, BAD and THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL. As those are the most primitive (at least on a semantic level), they could be also among the first words spoken by humans.

There is also the possibility that we do not need supercomputer to find the oldest words. It is theorised that the most ancient are actually the words that are among first word-like sounds made by babbling babies, such as “mama” and “papa”. It is so not because of their meaning but simply because they are the easiest to pronounce using the human speech system.

So, what do you think about all of this? What is your #FavoriteWord? If you have one, share it with us on our Facebook page!

(RM)

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Monster Words

lis 18

Have you ever wondered what the longest word in English is? The short answer is
– there is no short answer. The main problem we have to deal with is what is your definition of ‘the longest word’. The easiest solution would be to look for technical terms such as ‘pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis’ – a 45-letter word that refers to lung disease and is the longest English word that can be found in a major dictionary. 45 is not bad but can’t we find something longer? Well if you are asking there is always ‘Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl…isoleucine’ – the name of the world largest protein, which contains 189,819 letters and takes about three and a half hours to pronounce correctly. It sure is a monster word but is it a ‘real’ word at all? The problem with technical terms such as chemical names is that there is no limit to their length and that feels a little bit like cheating.

Maybe then we should continue our searches in the field of literature. The longest word used in William Shakespeare’s work – ‘Honorificabilitudinitatibus’ (27 letters) – appears in Love’s Labour’s Lost. While it is used by Shakespeare, it is actually a mediaeval Latin word that means ‘being in the state of being capable to receive honours’. It is also worth mentioning that ‘Honorificabilitudinitatibus’ is the longest word in the English language that contains alternating consonants and vowels. We can also find a few interesting examples in the literature of words that are coined to be the longest they can be, such as ‘Antipericatametaanaparcircumvolutiorectumgustpoops’ that appears in the title of a made-up book on the library shelves in François Rabelais’ pentalogy of novels Gargantua and Pantagruel, or the 100-letter word ‘Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnk-onnbronntonnerronntuonnthun’ used by James Joyce to describe a symbolic thunderclap which accompanied the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. While they are all fun and entertaining, the question reoccurs as to whether these made-up words should count at all. If they are not good enough for you, maybe the old ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ will do the trick – it is still one of the longest (28 letters and 12 syllables) non-coined and non-technical word in the English language.

What is your favourite English #LongestWord? What is your favourite #LongestWord in your native language? If you have some, please share them on our Facebook page!

(RM)

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Twist it!

lis 03

Tongue twisters are not only a fun exercise and a humorous word game but also can be a great way to improve your fluency and pronunciation. Although they are intentionally designed so as they are hard to articulate properly even by native speakers, and they naturally pose a challenge for foreigners, tongue twisters are a useful tool for learning a new language. Laughter caused by humorous mispronunciation can be helpful with overcoming language barriers and creating a positive learning environment. Moreover, tongue twisters are often used by actors and singers to warm up all aspects of their vocal instruments and, in addition to improving our speech control, they can serve as a useful tool for eliminating a stuttering problem by helping concentration and re-training our speech system. Such similar exercises were used by the Australian speech and language therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who was trying to help King George VI (Colin Firth) to overcome his speech problems in the movie ‘The King’s Speech’.

Tongue twisters are also an intriguing phenomenon from a translation point of view – as part of folklore they can be found in almost every language:

English

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Polish

W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie,

i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.

Finnish

Appilan pappilan apupapin papupata pankolla kiehuu ja kuohuu.

Pappilan paksuposki piski pisti paksun papukeiton poskeensa.

There is also the question: what are the world’s most difficult lounge twisters? Actually, MIT researchers from Boston are claiming that they have designed a phrase that is nearly impossible to be repeated quickly 10 times in the row. A unique combination of vowels and consonants can cause some problems with the human centre of speech. If you don’t believe me, just try saying this 10 times as fast as possible. Ready, Steady, Go:

Pad kid poured curd pulled cold.

What are your favourite tongue twisters? Share them with us on our Facebook page and, if you are brave enough, you can post a video with #tonguetwisterchallenge!

(RM)

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Learning a foreign language can be fun!

paź 19

Are you afraid of going abroad or cannot find a good job because of your poor knowledge of foreign languages? Don’t worry! You don’t have to spend hours with dictionaries, it is possible to learn them in much more creative way.

Listen to the radio and music. You can do it everywhere – in the house, car, train, even at work. At the beginning you may become a little discouraged but you can be sure that every day you will understand a little bit more.

Watch movies in the original, with foreign subtitles. For most people it is easier to read new words than to listen to them. Try to mix these two things – you will double your chances of understanding.

Change the menu language in your phone. You use your mobile many times a day so you will contact new words very often and will memorize them quickly.

Try to cook local dishes based on the original recipes. If you like cooking, this way will be perfect for you. For sure you will have to look for some words in a dictionary, but after some time it will not be necessary. And if you make a mistake, maybe you will discover something completely new?

Find new friends who speak the language you learn. In the era of social media it is not a problem. And in this way you can not only practice your language but also meet fantastic people, who knows – maybe even find love?

Don’t be ashamed of speaking! What is the most important – try to speak a foreign language always when you have opportunity to do so, even if you know that you are making mistakes. Nobody is perfect and the more often you try, the easier it will become for you.

(BB)

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