Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category

Can Your Hands Speak 40 Languages?

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I’m always reading and doing research for any number of projects, and occasionally something sticks with me that just continues to be fascinating.

This post is about one of those fascinating things … but prepare yourself.
The more you think about this one, the more interesting it gets.

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I Listen to Podcasts. Wanna Know 6 of ’Em?

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We’re all friends here, so you can admit it:

You’ve always wondered what I’m listening to while I’m folding laundry.

Keep reading for 6 of my favorite podcasts…

Epic Rap Battles of Linguistics!

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Bet you thought you’d never see that title. Still, there it is in black and white.

You’re welcome.

So, all you avowed word-nerds will certainly love this. But have you ever studied English as a foreign language? Maybe you’re an anglophile (mmm … scones). Or maybe you just have a hankerin’ for a rap battle, ANY rap battle.

Then you’ll dig this video.

As a part of their “What’s Your English” theme at the Macmillan Dictionary website, they apparently:

… asked Baba Brinkman (a Canuck) and Professor Elemental (a Brit) to produce a satirical rap-battle on the theme of stereotyped Canadian English versus stereotyped British English. The result was this ‘What’s your English?‘ video …

There you have it.

Also, I have to admit I stole my blog title from one of the best things on YouTube. It’s this guy, Nice Peter, who does videos called Epic Rap Battles of History. They’re probably not safe for work or children … and that’s exactly why they’re awesome-possum.

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May 19, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Who’s Better at English? Swedes or 6-Year-Olds?

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Ever go to plan a vacation (somewhere … anywhere but here!) and wonder where your English will be of the most use?

Of course, I’d advocate learning at least some, if not a significant amount, of any local tongue. But let’s face it: learning all of the world’s estimated 6,500 languages is hard. Like, really hard.

So what countries speak English the best?

This blog post from The Economist highlights a new study that examines the fluency of foreign English speakers.

According to the post:

EF Education First, an English-teaching company, compiled the biggest ever internationally comparable sample of English learners: some 2m people took identical tests online in 44 countries. The top five performers were Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The bottom five were Panama, Colombia, Thailand, Turkey and Kazakhstan. Among regions, Latin America fared worst. (No African country had enough takers to make the lists’s threshold for the minimum number of participants.)

The post, which is fairly short and contains lots of other intriguing tidbits about the whys and hows of foreign fluency.

But one thing in particular caught my eye:

Starting young, while it seems a good idea, may not pay off: children between eight and 12 learn foreign languages faster than younger ones, so each class hour on English is better spent on a 10-year-old than on a six-year-old.

Huh?

All right. I guess I can buy that, especially from a financial standpoint, but I would like to point something out.

Even though children may be able to learn more quickly at a later age, it still may be a good idea to start a second language younger so that by age 10, they’re already working with a good foundation and can grow from there.

An often-cited study by K.A. Ericsson and A.C. Lehmann shows that expertise in almost any field requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

If older children really soak up languages better than their younger brothers and sisters, think how much more and how quickly a ten-year-old would learn if he’d already had four years of instruction.

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April 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

“Bimbo” Lost in Translation?

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Hennes the billy goat loves 1. FC Köln!

So, I like soccer. When I lived in Germany, I lived near Cologne, and naturally my Bundesliga team was the local 1. FC Köln. Even now, I’m still a fan of die Geißböcke, though games are hard to catch on TV.

(Left is Hennes, their mascot. As if you needed another reason to love Cologne.)

Here in the States, though, soccer is much less prominent, but despite that, I recently got a local team of my own to cheer for. And that, dear friends is Philadelphia Union.

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January 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Controlling Your Tongue

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Just one of many

If you’ve ever taken college English, you know something about styles of writing. And you know there are different ones with different rules.

MLA, Chicago, AP … and those are just a few established style guides in the US. Then you’ve got spelling differences between American English and British English (color and colour).

But what if there were a central agency to regulate English spelling, usage and grammar? Other languages have them.

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May 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Go into a Coma, Speak Fluent German?

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In a previous post about language disorders, I mentioned Foreign Accent Syndrome. That’s where  a person who’s suffered a brain injury suddenly  sounds as if they have a foreign accent, usually due to a specific speech impediment.

Something seemingly similar, but actually quite different, happened recently in Croatia. This article talks about a recent instance when a girl awoke from a coma unable to speak her native Croatian. Instead, she was fluent in German.

Of course, being in a coma didn’t impart any miraculous lessons ala Phenomenon; she had been studying German already.

Still, it’s interesting to think about how the brain handles language if her first language (Croatian) is suddenly inaccessible and her facility with a second language she’d been studying is enhanced.

I don’t know how much follow-up there will be in this case, though I’d be very interested to learn if her Croatian returns, and if so, will she still retain a high-level of German proficiency?

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April 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm