Category: Typology

Typology studies and classifies languages according to their structural features.

Nothing left is right

8 Mar 2010 In: Etymology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Typology

I read a joke on Facebook, a witty play on words:

My left brain has nothing right,
My right brain has nothing left.

The wit obviously lies in intentionally confusing two pairs of homophones, namely left as a direction and left as the past participle of leave, and right as a direction and right meaning proper and correct.

After a smirk or two, my inquisitiveness compelled me to ask questions. Are these words homophones by chance, or are they actually related to each other somehow?

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Babylon is fallen

15 Nov 2008 In: Morphology, Semantics, Syntax, Typology
Tower of Babel in Babylon

Tower of Babel

♪♩♫ Joy to the world 
The Lord is come… ♫♩♪

Wait, wait. The Lord is come? Isn’t there something wrong? First, we know that come cannot be in the passive voice here, as come is an intransitive verb, it does not have an object, which basically means it cannot have a passive form. On the other hand, if it was in the present perfect tense, then the auxiliary used should have been “have” (has) instead of “be” (is). What is happening?

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So many nationality suffixes

22 Oct 2008 In: Etymology, Morphology, Typology

After posting my other article So many negative prefixes, I received very positive feedback and many readers apparently found the article interesting and useful. Indeed, these little affixes (prefixes and suffixes) can be puzzling when they are similar in meaning but nevertheless non-interchangeable. That makes people ask why they are what they are: is there a subtle rule beneath all the messy superficial distribution, or things just happen by chance?

Not long ago, a friend asked me whether there are rules governing the usage of those suffixes of nationality, such as -ese, -ian and -ish. I thought about it for a while, then I remembered that years ago I read a post on the Internet, saying that -ese is a derogatory ending used only on those countries that the western world thought to be inferior, so we have adjectives like Chinese, Vietnamese and Burmese. After all, many of the Asian countries do form their adjectives in -ese. But I had doubts, don’t the westerners just love Japanese stuff? And why Korean, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian then? So I decided to look for the answer myself.

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Never have I noticed this!

3 Jun 2008 In: Syntax, Typology

English is a Germanic language, it shares a common ancestor with languages like German, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic. However, despite this Germanic origin, English has been heavily influenced by two other languages, namely Latin and French, due to the ruling of England by the Romans in the first century and by the Normans, who spoke a dialect of French, in the 11th. It is estimated that about 70% of all English words ultimately have their roots from Latin or French (which is itself a descendant of Latin). As a result, Present Day English (PDE) is vastly different from other Germanic languages such as German.

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