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Posts categorised ‘Languages’

Why I Still Find Spanish Imperatives Hard

I started learning Spanish over 11 years ago and I’m not too bad at it now, but I have to admit but one of the aspects I still find hella difficult is the imperatives – the “do this, don’t do that” form.

In English, imperatives are easy: you just use the bare infinitive (e.g. be, go, do), regardless of whether you’re talking to your best friend or your grouchy boss. …

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The Evolution of Canadian, Australian and NZ Englishes

On Quora, I once answered a question about why Australian and NZ English sound more like “British English” (really, the questioner meant the accents of southeast England) than Canadian English does. At the time I answered, a lot of the other answers were along the lines of “Canada is sooooo diverse and Australia isn’t so that’s why”, even though in reality the …

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Why aren't words pronounced the way they're spelt?

Some time ago on Q&A website Quora, I answered a question about why English words aren’t pronounced the way they’re spelt. The original question made particular reference to the name Greenwich, which as you may know is pronounced in modern times as /ɡɹɛnɪtʃ/ (“grenitch”, if you’re not familiar with IPA). But if the first part is “green” and …

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Thinking back to my 12-year-old self today, and how I didn’t understand why we needed to spend like 10 weeks in a row in French class learning the words for everything in my pencil case. Well clearly, the reason is that my teacher knew that many years later I might have a day’s work covering Art, at a small school where the Art teacher also does French, and all the labels on all the drawers and cupboards would be written in French 😅

And despite all of that I still couldn’t get the kids the rubbers they wanted because I couldn’t find anything, anywhere, with les gommes written on it 😠

I came across this interesting video on YouTube, WIKITONGUES: Jack speaking Ladino. If you’re not familiar with it, Ladino is the traditional language of Sephardic Jews who were forced to flee Spain in 1492. It retains many features of Spanish as it was spoken at that time (e.g. lacking usted/ustedes; the range of sibilants – not just s and ch but also ts, sh, z, zh; a lot more word-initial f), along with some Hebrew influences.

What impressed me is how easily understandable this video is to me even as a non-native speaker (although knowing a little Catalan and Portuguese perhaps also helps!). I can hear differences from the Spanish I know, sure, but I still understand, with the words I don’t recognise being guessable from the context. If you speak Spanish – or even Portuguese – you might find it interesting to give it a listen and see what you notice.

My honest opinion that I absolutely will not stand by if challenged by someone with coercive power over me is that English needs more flexibility to spell how you feel. I write “centre”, as is standard in Australian English, but “centring” looks so wrong compared to “centering”…

Mental Models of Languages

So as we know, children acquire their native language by being exposed to lots and lots of input in that language, internalising it, and not only memorising vocabulary but also developing mental rules (the grammar) of how that language is spoken. As such, when we come to be adults, we have a very sophisticated mental model for what’s grammatical and what’s not in our native language. …

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Dabbling in Language-Learning

In recent times, I’ve been tossing up whether I should try to learn some basic German. The thing that’s prompting my temptation is that I keep encountering German-language posts on social media, and with my current (completely non-existent) knowledge of the language these are impenetrable walls of text. I’m kind of wondering how much German I would have to learn for these to …

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photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.