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English is About to Get Its Millionth Word

The English language is about to hit a new milestone next month, according to this article on UPI.com.

Paul JJ Payack is predicting that the millionth new English word will be coined on June 10, 2009 @ 10:22 am Shakespeare’s time. How can Payack, the president of the Global Language Monitor, tell when the millionth word will be added? Is he psychic?

Not quite. The prediction is based on analyzing how fast words are currently being created-about once every 98 minutes, according to this earlier article about the researchers. At that rate, on June 10, 2009, the Global Language Monitor figures that we will officially hit 1 million words.

Here’s the question, though: How do we know when a new word is created? People coin words all the time-who decides when they officially get to join the English language?

Actually, it appears that the Global Language Monitor gets to make that decision-at least as far as their research is concerned.

Currently, they are trying to decide which words have the honour of becoming the millionth word in the English language.

According to the articles referenced above, here are some of the contestants:

•    Defollow
•    Defriend
•    Greenwashing
•    Noob
•    Chiconomics
•    Bangster (a combination of bankster and gangster)
•    Mobama
•    Recessionista
•    Wonderstar (think Susan Boyle)

Which word will be the winner? And how does the Global Language Monitor get the authority to declare that “greenwashing” is just now a word? Or “noob”?

And do these guys actually look up the words they are considering on UrbanDictionary.com? Because if they did, I don’t know why they’d consider assigning “chiconomics” to the historic role of the English language’s millionth word.

WARNING: If you are easily offended, please avoid looking up “chiconomics” at Urban Dictionary’s site.

Since this seems to be an arbitrary decision-making process for an arbitrary milestone, perhaps they should set up a website and let people vote on which of these words will be the “official” millionth word in the English language. Power to the people!

Language Classes For Immigrants

Everybody wants immigrants in the UK to learn English, but budget cuts are about to make it much more difficult for them to do so. According to the Independent, almost 80,000 people in the UK will soon lose access to free English classes. To help trim the budget, free English classes are to be reserved for active job seekers. Everyone else will have to pitch in at least half the cost of the classes, which can cost up to £1,000 per year, money that in many cases simply isn’t there.

The requirement that immigrants be on “active benefits” to access free classes means that women will bear the brunt of the cuts. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told the Independent:

“Women are the most likely not to be on active benefits and are therefore the most likely to be affected by this policy. The Government says everybody has the right to integrate, but it is impossible to integrate if one can’t speak English. To ignore the needs of the most vulnerable people in society makes a mockery of the Big Society rhetoric.”

Having a population of women who are isolated and completely dependent on their husbands and children to interact with outside world creates its own problems, as well. Plus, many of these women would prefer to work outside the home, but of course they need to learn English to do so. Sure, some people can teach themselves a new language on their own, from books and TV shows, but many others need the structure and guidance found in a classroom setting. Read more

The Different Types of English

Who invented the English language? This is a question that is just as complicated and diverse as the language itself. In truth, English can be considered one of the few “melting pot” languages of the world. With far-ranging roots including (but not limited to) Germanic, Dutch, Latin, Old Norman, French and even ancient Greek. It should come as no surprise that English offers an interesting insight into the past.

However, we also need to realise that different regions of the world speak entirely different dialects while the exact same words will have entirely different definitions in regards to where we live. Believe it or not we do localise (or should that be localize) texts for different ‘English’ speaking markets, this is part of our Transcreation Service. Let me show you what I mean and take a look at some examples that will leave you tongue tied at the end of this article.

The USA Vs the UK

Let’s assume that a British citizen is visiting the states and needs some repair work done on their car. Strutting into a garage and asking the employee to take a look under the bonnet would be quite confusing. “Bonnet” is the head covering for an infant. “Hood” refers to a vehicle. Still, the laughs don’t stop here. Many an American has found himself red in the face after referring to his trousers as “pants”. Suddenly, privacy seems to have been thrown out the window. In the same way, an English woman would never be caught dead wearing a “fanny pack” around town for obvious reasons! I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago on the Association of Language Companies’ blog, the link is here – US and UK EnglishRead more

20 Endangered British Languages

English may be the third most common language in the world in terms of native speakers, but other British languages aren’t faring nearly as well. In fact, the Telegraph reports that Cambridge University has just put together a database that includes 20 British languages that are either endangered or believed to be extinct. Some evolved here, some were brought here, but all once had active, vibrant communities in the UK.

Here’s a little bit about some of the endangered/extinct languages on the list that are native to the UK:

Old Kentish Sign Language: Now extinct, this was a type of sign language once used in Kent. In some communities in Kent, many children were born deaf, and this sign language let them communicate with hearing friends and family.

 

Polari: Derived from elements of English, Italian, Romani and other languages, this was a code language spoken by circus and carnival performers, and by homosexuals at a time when homosexual relationships carried stiff legal penalties. When gay relationships became legal, there was no longer a need to use it. Plus, mainstream exposure ensured that it no longer served its purpose as a secret language.

 

Cornish: In the 18th century, Cornish died out completely. However, it has since been revived and now there are at least 2,000 people who speak Cornish fluently. It is still classified as “critically endangered.” Read more

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, as well as the anniversary of his death. Although he lived 400 years ago, the Bard still influences the English we speak today.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives him credit for coining more than 2,000 words, though of there’s some dispute over whether or not he actually invented all of them.

How did one man come to have so much influence on the English language? In Shakespeare’s case, it was a combination of luck, talent and craft that allowed him to leave such an enduring legacy behind.  To say that Shakespeare “had a way with words” is a serious understatement, of course, but he also had the good fortune to live in a time when the English language was changing rapidly. Wars were being fought, new lands were being explored, and England’s contact with and knowledge of the rest of the world increased tremendously. The English language needed new words to describe all of these changes, and Shakespeare was perfectly positioned to help supply them.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, here are some of the many words Shakespeare (may have) created:

Aerial: First used in Othello to describe the sky on the horizon, where Othello’s ship is expected to emerge.

Arch-villain: You may think of old James Bond movies when you hear this word, but the first “arch-villain” in the English language was actually the corrupt judge Angelo in “Measure for Measure.”

Fashionable: First used by the character Ulysses in “Troilus and Cressida.”

Tranquil: Though the word “tranquility” dates back to Chaucer, Shakespeare is the first person known to have used the adjective “tranquil.”

Downstairs: First used by Prince Hal in King Henry IV.

Pander: In the medieval tragedy “Troilus and Cressida,” Pandare, Pandaro or Pandarus was a character who arranged to have his niece Cressida sleep first with the Trojan warrior Troilus and then with the Greek lord Diomedes. Shakespeare first used “pander” to mean “pimp” in Henry IV, Part II.”

Majestic: “Majesty” has been in use since the 14th century, but as far as we know, Shakespeare was the first person to use the adjective “majestic.”

Obscene: Yes, Shakespeare coined this word, too, by Anglicizing the old Latin word obscenus.

Sanctimonious: First used by Lucio, in “Measure for Measure:”

“Thou concludest like the sanctimonious pirate, that
went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped
one out of the table.”

Image Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by david__jones

 

A Gaijin in Tokyo

A Gaijin in Tokyo

In our last article, Alison noted how lazy we Brits are when it comes to getting a handle on the native language when preparing to travel abroad. From my own experience I’ve seen just how extensive this can be and I’m guilty as charged.

In both 2011 and 2012 I travelled to Tokyo for a combined total of 5 weeks. As a generally reserved chap, I wanted to try and make sure that I could be polite and avoid any basic cultural faux pas. So I learnt how to say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” & gave myself a crash course in Japanese numeracy and most important of all, ensured I could order a beer. A bit of light reading from a guide book and off I went.
Read more

Foreign Language Education Surges in Spain

Mired in an economic crisis, more and more Spanish people are facing the question “¿Habla inglés?” as they search for jobs.

Being able to speak English fluently is a huge advantage in Spain right now simply because being bilingual gives you a better chance of being able to find a job in another country. According to the New York Times, Spain currently has a 20 percent unemployment rate. Read more

Is English a Scandinavian Language?

A linguistics professor at the University of Oslo has been making headlines with a controversial claim. He believes that English is, in fact, a Scandinavian language, placing it in the North Germanic language family rather the West Germanic family, where it has traditionally been placed.

The professor, Jan Terje Faarlund, explained his hypothesis in an interview with Science Daily:

“Modern English is a direct descendant of the language of Scandinavians who settled in the British Isles in the course of many centuries, before the French-speaking Normans conquered the country in 1066,” says Faarlund.

This goes against the prevailing scholarly view, which is that Modern English is a direct descendant of the Old English dialects brought to England by the Angles and the Saxons, with a hefty dose of influence from Old Norse as well as from other languages like French.

Instead of merely influencing Old English as it transformed into Middle English, Faarlund believes that Old English was almost completely replaced by the Old Norse dialects carried over the sea by waves of Scandinavian invaders in the 9th and 10th centuries. According to Faarlund, the huge gulf between Old English and Middle English exists
“because Old English quite simply died out while Scandinavian survived, albeit strongly influenced of course by Old English.”

As proof, Faarlund points to changes in both vocabulary and grammar. English undoubtedly borrowed a tremendous amount of words from Scandinavian languages. In many cases, even if there was already an Old English word for the same concept, the Scandinavian word is what we use today.

English also borrowed a striking amount of grammar and syntax from Old Norse. According to Faarlund and his team, in almost every instance where English sentence structure differs from that of other West Germanic languages, it is because the structure is Scandinavian in origin. According to Faarlund,

“The only reasonable explanation then is that English is in fact a Scandinavian language, and a continuation of the Norwegian-Danish language which was used in England during the Middle Ages.”

But is that the “only reasonable explanation?”

According to Sally Thomason at Language Log, the answer is “no.” She points out there have been a number of documented cases of one language borrowing both vocabulary and grammar from another language. She also notes that while Norse may have had all of the prestige in the Danelaw (because the Scandinavians were the ruling class), Old English had the numbers. She writes,

“After the period of Norse rule, when the former Danelaw was once again under English control, the available evidence indicates that Norse ceased to be spoken after just a few generations, about sixty years.”

So, perhaps you’re not reading a Scandinavian language right now after all.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet-That Is the Question

Well, its official. “Twitter” has officially joined the English language as a verb, at least according to the Associated Press.

The latest addition of the AP’s Stylebook (the style Bible for most of the press) includes the verb “to Twitter” as acceptable usage. Of course, if you use Twitter, you may be aware that some people say “to tweet” instead of “to twitter.”

Snotty grammar geeks on both sides of the divide often step up to ostentatiously correct each other in blog comments and forums.

Currently, it’s almost impossible to talk about Twitter without sounding foolish to somebody. Nobody disputes that an update posted on Twitter is a tweet, but saying “I just posted a tweet” sounds awkward, so you really do have to take sides.

Has the AP settled the debate? Actually, no… They have also approved the use of “tweet” as a verb, leaving the word choice up to individual writers.

So which is it, to twitter or to tweet? The AP may not be taking sides, but Twitter co-founder Biz Stone did, in an interview with TV show The View, last month. According to Mr. Stone, “to Twitter” is the preferred nomenclature.

In addition to approving the use of “twitter” and “tweet,” the AP Stylebook also has its very own Twitter account. You can keep in touch with them by following @ AP Stylebook. However, they don’t take grammar questions through the Twitter account. If you have additional questions about how to write about Twitter’s products and services, you can use the “Ask the Editor” feature on the AP website.

By the way, a couple of weeks ago, we reported that the English language was about to acquire its one-millionth word, at least according to the publicity-hungry folks at the Global Language Monitor. Oddly enough, the one-millionth word was recently declared to be “Web 2.0.”

English is a Crazy Language

When you speak it every day, you tend to take it for granted, but the English language is actually kind of crazy. In fact, a video reminding us of all the ways in which its sanity could be called into question recently went viral on YouTube. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

A few gems from the video (all excerpts from Richard Krogh’s poem “The English Lesson”):

“If you speak of a box, then the plural is ‘boxes.’ But the plural of ‘ox’ should be ‘oxen,’ not ‘oxes.'”

” One is a goose, two are called ‘geese.’ Yet the plural of ‘moose’ should never be ‘meese.'”

“We talk of a brother and also of brethren, but though we say ‘mother,’ we never say ‘methren.'”

“I take it you already know/ Of tough and bough and cough and dough?”

“Watch out for meat and great and threat/ (they rhyme with suite and straight and debt).”

Why is English so weird?

Wikipedia notes that “In general, English spelling does not reflect the sound changes in the pronunciation of the language that have occurred since the late fifteenth century.”

For example, once upon a time, tough, bough, cough, and dough were all pronounced the same. However, the pronunciations naturally shifted over the years. The spelling, on the other hand, did not.

In fact, it seems like the only “spelling reforms” that ever stuck in English were the reforms that had the effect of making things more confusing. Take “debt,” for instance. Originally, it was spelled “dette.” Apparently the “b” crept in there when people began trying to tie it to the Latin word “debitum,” from which it was believed to be descended.

What about the irregular plurals? Many of them go back to the days of Old English. For example, “oxen” and “brethren” come from Old English weak declension, while “geese” is from Old English consonantal declension.

Crazy, isn’t it?