topic: linguistics

English spelling: unity over ease of learning

A while back I read a blog on cluborlov in which Dimitry Orlov railed against how English spelling often bears so little relation to the way its words sound that, as a consequence, it made learning to read and write the language far harder than it should be. At the time I would have liked to wade in with some opinions of my own, however, the comments on that post soon proliferated and, since I […]

allowing ideas time to form

shaping clay

I have come to understand that expressing an idea too early can limit what it can become: clay, once fired, loses its ability to take on any form. I was not a patient child. I recall trying to put together a model of a pirate ship when I was perhaps seven years old. It came as a kit of many plastic pieces. I followed the instructions, but could not bear to wait for the glue […]

learning Persian

I am waiting to see if the Iranians are going to give me a visa – and, if it comes through, I should be off to Iran in a couple of weeks. I am a tad nervous about the visa because, against the advice of a friend of mine who has been to Iran, I wrote “author” for my occupation. He had expressly told me not to put “writer” because it could lead to the […]

buying it

Americanisms have been entering Britain for quite some time. It is natural for oldtimers like me to bemoan the language being pulled out from under us. However, I am well aware that it is inevitable that language should change constantly – and I am certainly not interested in being any kind of linguistic (proverbial) Canute. Further, I am also aware that it is an error to see American English as diverging from British English: the […]

language and the human face…

The April 25th issue of New Scientist has an article discussing a computer that can read from a speaker’s lips what language he/she is speaking. This reminded me of something I came across stating that people in southern Russia had a characteristic face shape that was thought to be due to the heavy bread that was their staple – the intense and persistent chewing required, bulked up certain face muscles. I would suggest that what […]

hand holding halberd…

Continuing my, possibly reckless, exploration into Chinese, I want to discuss the character for the singular pronoun (I, me) wǒ which is the first character shown. Now this is composed of two elements: the one on the left, the 2nd shown, is a pictograph for ‘hand’; the one on the right is a pictograph for ‘halberd’ or ‘lance’. So wǒ is written as a hand holding a halberd… This seems to me to pose two interesting questions. […]

how a rabbit may have run off with the sun

I had become increasingly curious about the Chinese language, but everything I read about it contradicted everything else. So at last I took the plunge and I am now in the 2nd term of a course in Chinese. I am less interested in learning to speak it than I am in learning to read and write it – at least a little bit. Fundamentally, what I am after is an insight into China and its people: I […]