Luni, 19 Mai 2014 03:00


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Spoken on all continents by 220 million people, an official language in 29 countries, learnt as a foreign language worldwide and extensively used in international diplomacy, French is also known as the language of culture, art, fashion, gastronomy and love. We hear it when we think of Louis XIV, Molière, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, Astérix, The Three Musketeers, The Phantom of the Opera or The Little Prince. At the same time, French is a dynamic language, evolving and striving to counterbalance the global influence of English (which, apropos, borrowed almost half of its basic vocabulary from French - words like money, air, car, stupid, blue, arrogant, to gain, to cry, to marry were all French at some point). And, whether we realize it or not, the French language and culture have a major influence on our lives. We fancy French fries, French kisses, French manicure and French windows, but we also have déjà vus, tête-a-têtes, ménages à trois and, essentially, the joie de vivre. Cliché, menu, force majeure, haute couture, femme fatale, belles-lettres, coup d’état and coup de foudre may sound equally familiar. Rich, elegant and melodious, French has a je ne sais quoi that makes foreigners either love it or hate it. We inserted below a few things you may not know about French, which will hopefully make you want to (re)discover its charm and what this language is really about beyond the usual stereotypes. We selected the crème de la crème of French curiosities, main difficulties, and reasons why it is a gold mine for linguists.

Cultural evolution represents a pervasive element in modern societies, along with language, which is a reflection thereof, for it actually points to the changes occurring within such communities. Every modern society undergoes change from a social, demographic and ethnic viewpoint and must respond to increasing globalization, immigration and all sorts of influences. Under these conditions, undesirable and unpleasant effects are produced, one of which is what is widely known as “calque”. This article explains and emphasizes this particular aspect of language change, by looking into the case of linguistic calque.

Vineri, 14 Martie 2014 02:00


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Linguists have long been puzzled by the fact that the words used for ‘butterfly’ in most languages do not resemble one another, even within the same linguistic family. For instance, in Romance we find farfalla, papillon, mariposa and borboleta; Germanic languages display butterfly, Schmetterling, vlinder and sommerfugl. In Slavic languages, babochka, peperuda, motyl and leptir are no more similar. No other familiar creature has so many utterly different names. These words are as diverse, mysterious and charming as butterflies themselves, but, however they sound, they are always evocative, bringing to mind a plethora of images. They all appear to be unique, language-specific coinages, defying the general principle which postulates that words should be mutually recognizable in a linguistic family because they are all derived from one common root; borrowings between unrelated neighbouring languages are also surprisingly scarce. Why do butterflies generate such diversity? Do they have a particular impact on our basic cognitive creative processes or can it all be explained by historical linguistics in terms of inheritance? This paper, limited to European languages for space reasons, aims to answer such questions, analysing word differences from a historical point of view - entomology through the looking-glass of etymology. Find out how butterfly names relate to one another, but also the stories behind each word, explanations ranging from occult beliefs to religion, from the prosaic to the crude.

Luni, 09 Decembrie 2013 02:00


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Etymology can disclose fascinating stories surrounding the origin or evolution of words. Some of the most captivating accounts are related to eponyms - common nouns derived from proper nouns, i.e. names of (real or imaginary) persons or places. These may be words we use every day, so well integrated in the language that we couldn’t suspect that once they were just somebody’s name. But it is these words which do not allow the characters that hide behind them to be forgotten, telling their story and thus helping them survive within syllables. You may find below a few English eponyms the stories of which are worth telling, not only due to their interesting development, but also because they remind us of special real-life characters. Discover how they were created, who they stand for and other surprising facts, such as the relationship between present-day television and Louis XIV of France, or between sandwiches and gambling.

Luni, 11 Noiembrie 2013 02:00


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If you took a moment and considered the prodigious diversity of the world’s languages, you would doubtlessly realize that some languages encode more information than others. For instance, Mandarin has no word with the exact meaning of English uncle; instead, speakers have to use distinct terms to denote which side of the family the uncle is on, whether he is related by blood or by marriage, and, if he is the father’s brother, whether he is older or younger than the father. Other languages, like Vietnamese, use the same term for blue and green, which are regarded as shades of the same color. Even more surprisingly, Pirahã, an isolated Amazonian language, has no numerals, whereas speakers of another language in the Amazonian basin, Matsés, have to denote how exactly they became aware of whatever they are reporting: according to Deutscher (2010), in order to impart the passing of an animal, the Matsés will use distinct verbal forms, depending on whether the event was directly experienced (they saw it pass), inferred (they saw footprints), conjectured (animals usually pass there that time of the day) or hearsay. Examples of linguistic variation could be multiplied endlessly. The fact that we need to observe different rules in speech and encode different aspects of reality in order to properly use our own language makes one ponder.

Sâmbătă, 26 Octombrie 2013 03:00


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“Untranslatable” is a label assigned to terms in one language for which there is no single-word counterpart in other languages (or, more often than not, in English). They express ideas or emotions that other languages do not identify with a name, although the concepts may not be unfamiliar to speakers of those languages. When potential counterparts are advanced in translation, there are always subtle differences left, nuances that only a native speaker can truly understand and explain. Even though such terms doubtlessly pose a challenge to translators and, notably, interpreters, their actual untranslatability is debatable, as it is straightforward that quality translation does not entail word-count equivalence. Every language has words the exact meaning of which is not reflected in a single lexical unit in several other languages, but this does not necessarily render translation difficult or impossible. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to assume that one language can express human cognition in its entirety. Each language integrates terms or ideas that its speakers need at some point in history and may then discard them in the course of its evolution.

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