Stayed up late with the Greeks

I was going to do a blog post yesterday, but I ended up staying out very late with the very fun Greek Media Club, where most of the people really were Greek and some thought I was too. And oddly enough, even though the word "media" is part of the club's name, I think I was part of the media minority.

Most of the people I met last night were Greek-Americans, though some were bilingual, and even though the bilingual people were born in the US, they still had a tiny accent. But you'd have to be a language fan like me to enjoyably discern it :D

Even though I was allowed to get into work "late" (6:00 AM), I barely got any sleep. So it was my usual night of sleep deprivation. But I really met some very friendly people, and I could have easily stayed out most of the night and driven straight into work.


A really long word

Word Lily has a post about a really long word, which is the name of a village in Wales:


It's obviously the longest name in Britain, and I'm sure it's one of the longest in the world.

You can hear a pronunciation of the word here and learn about the history of the village at their official site, where they say that the name "was invented by a cobbler from Menai Bridge."


See star trek

I rarely see movies, but I decided to see "Star Trek" because I've watched several episodes of Next Generation, Voyager (my favorite series) and Deep Space Nine. But you don't have to know anything about Star Trek to enjoy this movie, and if you are totally into Star Trek's history, story lines, characters, and quirks, you will have to put all that aside because this movie is starting a new era.

You don't even have to be into sci-fi. It's just a good movie, and if you like action, special effects, good acting, and high quality production value, then you'll really like this movie.

And what's weird is that the guy who plays Kirk looks and acts like a guy I work with, which I'm going to tell him on Monday because I doubt he reads my blog :D


"-ic" vs. "ical": The distinctions can be fickle

Cheesy blog post titles aside, in my opinion, one of the trickier elements of English is the use of adjectives ending in "-ic" vs. those ending in "-ical" when they share the same root. For instance, is it "electric cord" or "electrical cord"? Although hardly scientific or academic, a simple Google search reveals 184,000 results for "electric cord" and 274,000 for "electrical cord." While the latter option is the clear winner, a very sizable minority uses the former. To make matters even more confusing, in some instances the distinction appears relatively clear. English speakers would probably feel that "electric guitar" is a much better choice than "electrical guitar" and "electric eel" is definitely preferable to "electrical eel." Similarly, English speakers would probably vastly prefer "electrical engineering" to "electric engineering." 
"Electric" is generally defined as something that uses, provides, produces, transmits, or is powered by electricity; "electrical" refers to something that simply has to do with electricity. Obviously, there is a considerable amount of overlap here. Why the difference? Both "electric" and "electrical" would seemingly refer to something that has to do with or powered by electricity. At first glance, this would appear to be redundant. After all, in many Romance languages, this discrepancy does not exist. In French, for instance, both "electric" and "electrical" are translated as "électrique." And a number of English roots have only one option; for example, we say "fantastic" and not "fantastical," "terrific" and not "terrifical." 
It would appear that the morphological rules in English regarding "-ic" and "ical" are quite complex, perhaps suggesting that the meanings of forms with "-ic" and "-ical" have either become more similar or have diverged over time. Consider "numeric" and "numerical," which would appear almost interchangeable (referring to numbers), as would "botanic" and "botanical" (referring to plants). Conversely, "economical" (referring to a thrifty solution) is quite different from "economic" (something relating to the economy), just as "politic" (an adjective meaning "prudent" or "shrewd") differs from "political" (having to do with politics).   
The Maven's Word of the Day site discusses the difference between "historic" and "historical," a particularly confusing pair.  It is generally accepted that something that is "historic" is important in history ("a historic event"), but that something that is "historical" simply has to do with history "a historical museum").  (And don't even get me started on the controversy between "an historic/historical" and "a historic/historical"!)
The site states that "The earlier word is historical, from the early fifteenth century. Historic is first found in the early seventeenth century, and the use of historic to mean 'important in history', is more recent still, from the late eighteenth century. The distinction between the two words is therefore relatively recent. Nonetheless, the distinction seems a worthwhile one, and since it is straightforward, you might as well follow it."
Hence, we can conclude that the rules regarding "-ic" and "-ical" are hardly set in stone, have a number of exceptions, entail varying degrees of confusion if flouted, and will likely continue to be a headache for non-native- and native English speakers! 

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)


Play date

If I had a lot of time, I'd want to look up the origin of the term "play date" (or playdate--I'm not sure of the spelling). I'd also research the first usage of that word, which probably comes from an article or book about parenting.

When I was young and played with other kids, we never called such times "play dates"--we just went to kids' houses to play. Now when I talk with parents or kids, they'll tell me that they have a play date with someone instead of saying that they're going to play with their friend.

When I looked it up in Wikipedia, there was one sentence that was a sad commentary on modern life (they said "Playdates are a late 20th century innovation"):

the work schedules for busy parents, along with media warnings about leaving children unattended, prevent the kind of play that children of other generations participated in.

It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a mother, who said she and her husband chose to live in a small town far away from Chicago because their kids can ride bikes and do other things without worrying about bad things happening. It's just sad that the sickos have to ruin kids' play time and some people are so busy they have to provide a formal word for something that kids naturally do.


Lithuanian invitations I can't read

My co-worker, who is from Lithuania, sent me an email with some information about Lithuanian concerts around the city. The only problem is that I can't read most of them (there were a bunch of them in the email). But I think it's really cool that I got all those Lithuanian mini-posters in my email, so I've posted a couple here.
Lithuanian concert

Lithuanian poster


Are there secrets?

I just walked outside to the store, and I passed an Asian woman speaking Chinese to her daughter. Then I saw a car pull up, and the driver was her American husband, who talked to them in English, then drove them away.

So it made me wonder about kids who grow up with parents who don't speak the same languages. In this case, they could all speak English, and I'm assuming the husband couldn't speak Chinese, otherwise they would've spoken that, since the wife could speak it a lot better than English.

So I wonder what the mother talks with the daughter about in Chinese--other than "clean your room" or "eat your vegetables." Could she be saying things to her that she doesn't want the husband to know, and can get away with secrets because he'll never understand?

How many kids have taken on the burden of keeping secrets because they were the only confidantes in the family who could understand one parent's language really well? And if they don't hear secrets, then have they eavesdropped on a parent's private conversations in the other language?

I've never thought of asking anyone this question, but maybe I will...bwahahaha.


The guy who didn't believe me

Now that I don't have as much time to do language stuff as before, for some reason it reminded me of a holiday gathering that I was at, talking to a coworker about my various interests. I told her that I've translated and studied various languages, but now that I've become more busy in radio and have had to work weird hours and put in a lot of effort and energy to make any progress, I can't study as much as before.

When I said that, another coworker nearby snorted and shook his head, as if I was making it up or trying to sound impressive. Because if you think about it, a lot of people aren't language nerds who enjoy studying and translating a bunch of languages, so it might have sounded pretentious to say "I used to speak and translate a number of languages, but now I don't have the time."

But honestly, I meant it, and I wasn't trying to show off. I truly don't have as much time as before for language pursuits, which is unbelievable because the radio industry is drying up and a lot of people are losing their jobs. But that still doesn't diminish my love for language :D


ESL videos

Someone told me about a site called ESL Basics where they have created videos to help people who are studying English as a second language (or "foreign" language as they say in England, I believe) learn vocabulary and phrases at various levels. They also offer support for teachers as well.

What strikes me about the site is that it's not only practical, but the creators seem to be genuinely interested in helping people and enthusiastic about English teaching. Since they seem sincere and intend on keeping the site free, then feel free to ask questions because they really want to help people.


The cow goes..."Hamba"?

"Onomatopoeia," in addition to being a great spelling bee word, is the term used to describe those words that are supposed to reflect an actual sound accurately. Examples of these words include "splash," "thud," and "boom." They also encompass words used to describe animal sounds. However, different languages represent animal sounds differently, sometimes with a surprising amount of variation. In Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship, Hans Heinrich Hock, et al. write that

While ordinary speakers (i.e. non-linguists) may be convinced that there is a clear connection between sound and meaning, at least in onomatopoiea,....linguists are just as firmly convinced that even here the relation is to some degree arbitrary. To support this view they can point out that other languages can employee different onomatopoetic means to express the same animal sound." (p. 228)

For instance, to an English speaker, a bird may say "tweet, tweet," while a Czech speaker will represent this sound as "jek jek," and a Spanish-speaker will swear that it's "pio pio." An English speaker will likely say that a cow says "moo," whereas a Bengali speaker will probably claim that a cow says "hamba." As for what a pig might say, the disparity indicates a real Tower of Babel. That grunting sound is interpreted by Croatian speakers as "rok-rok," English speakers as "oink oink," Chinese speakers as "hu-lu hu-lu," Japanese speakers as "buubuu," and Swedish speakers as "nöff."

Sometimes even two different dialects of the same language can produce two different representations. UK English speakers usually represent the sound a baby chicken (a chick) makes as "cheep cheep," while US English speakers often prefer "peep peep." Spanish-speaking Spaniards tend to think that a sheep says "bee," while Spanish-speaking Argentines generally feel that "meeee" is a more exact rendering of the sound. Similarly, a pig says "gruinh" to some European Portuguese speakers and "óinc-óinc" to Brazilian Portuguese speakers.

You can find more examples in this rather extensive list.

This variation in ways to mimic animal sounds could potentially cause difficulties when trying to use puns or other plays on words to a speaker who is not familiar with the terms used in a particular language. For instance, a cute greeting card with a picture of a happy cat and the caption "You're purr-fect!" might appear confusing and unfunny to a native Hungarian speaker who is used to hearing a cat's purr as "doromb."

Even humans' "primal" exclamations can vary from language to language. If you stub your toe, you may, as a reflex, cry out "Ouch!" if you're an English speaker, "Eina!" if you speak Afrikaans, and "Aie!" if you're a French speaker.

(posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken)