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Sound symbolism: the bouba/kiki effect

  Look at the shapes depicted on the left. In a 2001 study, VS Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard report that 95% of people pick the right image as kiki and the left as bouba. (Subjects are told… Read More

August 31, 2021 by Alison Tunley

Untranslatable words and positive psychology

If you are in search of some idle online linguistic browsing guaranteed to boost morale, take a deep dive into the magnificent “positive lexicography” project curated by Dr Tim Lomas. This is a collection of untranslatable words related specifically to wellbeing, highlighting the relationship between untranslatable words and positive psychology.…

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August 24, 2021 by Alison Tunley

Innocent until proven guilty: how language may be affecting verdicts in Scotland

BBC’s Law in Action programme recently described an interesting linguistic quirk in Scottish law, which is currently under scrutiny. Under Scots law, jury trials can issue one of three verdicts; the defendant can be convicted (found “guilty”), or alternatively they can be acquitted in one of two ways (“not guilty”,…

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August 17, 2021 by Alison Tunley

Celtic influences on English: rather limited?

Such are the vagaries of the Twitter algorithm you can never quite be sure what will pop up on your timeline. Sometimes it successfully manages to supply you with content that genuinely piques your interest and so it was that a tweet by the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice Naomi…

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August 10, 2021 by Alison Tunley

Old English and Frisian, … and a brown cow

While digging into a bit of historical linguistics, I was reminded of the fact that Frisian is English’s closest relative on the continent, with Scots staking a claim to a similarly close kinship within the British Isles (assuming you are prepared to classify Scots as a language in its own…

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August 3, 2021 by Alison Tunley

Graffiti grammar vigilantes on the streets

This blog has delighted in linguistic pedantry before, but the bar has been set to a whole new height by a group in Quito, Ecuador who go out correcting the punctuation and grammar they find in graffiti around the city. Meet the graffiti grammar vigilantes. [caption id="attachment_161491" align="alignleft" width="300"] graffiti…

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July 27, 2021 by Alison Tunley

A Greek dictionary fit for “translators of filthy comedy”

This blog is partial to a bit of ripe language, as discussed in relation to Emma Byrne’s book Swearing is good for you, and all linguists love a good dictionary, so here we combine these passions with a look at a new English dictionary of ancient Greek. Cambridge University Press…

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July 20, 2021 by Alison Tunley

Brexit impacts the UK language-learning industry

Looming large on the horizon are post-Brexit changes to the UK border regime that you may have forgotten about with the current focus on Covid-19 travel rules. From October 1 this year, new passport and visa regulations come into effect, including the requirement that all EU travellers have a full…

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July 13, 2021 by Alison Tunley

A potpourri of language and translation items

Whenever I stumble across something quirky and interesting about language and translation, I make a little note so I can include it in a blog post. This is a great system but, to be honest, most of the bits and bobs I collect are not worth a whole post and…

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July 6, 2021 by Alison Tunley

The inclusive “x” and its vexed history

Campaigns for changes to vocabulary to help drive socio-political change are nothing new (see previous blog on requests to modify “sexist” dictionary definitions). As Professor Sally McConnell-Ginet puts it: “Linguistic and social change go hand in hand because linguistic practices are fundamental to social practices more generally.” Campaigners for greater…

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June 29, 2021 by Alison Tunley

Contranyms – words that contradict themselves

Here we delve into the charming world of the contranym, a word that has two distinct meanings that are contradictory or opposite. These words are also referred to as auto-antonyms or Janus words (after the god with two faces). Classic examples in English include cleave, which can mean to adhere…

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