The Oxford English Dictionary, like the English language, is all about change

Samuel Johnson once said a dictionary should aim to “not form, but register” the language. Indeed, a dictionary should “not teach men how they should think,” he continued, “but relate how they have hitherto expressed their thoughts.” We tend to think of our dictionaries as tools of instruction; as books that set the standard, with [...]

By |2019-11-07T11:56:32+00:00November 7th, 2019|English language, OED, Oxford English Dictionary|0 Comments

The US island that speaks Elizabethan English

I'd never been called a dingbatter until I went to Ocracoke for the first time. I've spent a good part of my life in North Carolina, but I'm still learning how to speak the ‘Hoi Toider’ brogue. The people here just have their own way of speaking: it's like someone took Elizabethan English, sprinkled in [...]

By |2019-07-06T15:51:18+00:00July 6th, 2019|English language, Ocracoke|0 Comments

Is the English language too powerful?

In 2016 I published the “Power Language Index”, a research note on the efficacy of languages. It was a systematic data-driven analysis using 20 indicators to compare the clout of the world’s languages. It tried to answer the question: which language best serves a person to engage in life from a global perspective? The index [...]

By |2018-11-06T16:24:03+00:00November 6th, 2018|English language|0 Comments

Can the language of the Vikings fight off the invasion of English?

“Coffee and kleina,” reads a large sign at a roadside coffee shop by one of the main roads in Reykjavik. Not so many years ago, such a billboard would simply have read: “Kaffi og kleina” – in the language of the Vikings, the official language of Iceland. It is a privilege of the few to [...]

By |2018-10-18T00:21:54+00:00October 18th, 2018|English language, Iceland, Icelandic language|0 Comments

‘Untranslatable’ words tell us more about English speakers than other cultures

When the word “hygge” became popular outside Denmark a few years ago, it seemed the perfect way to express the feeling of wrapping yourself up in a crocheted blanket with a cosy jumper, a cup of tea and back-to-back episodes of The Bridge. But is it really only the Danes, with their cold Scandinavian evenings, [...]

By |2018-08-10T10:38:41+00:00August 10th, 2018|English language, Translation, Words|0 Comments

Where Australians can’t understand English

Traveller's Rest, the dusty farm where I spent a month climbing, lies 260km north of Cape Town in the bosom of South Africa’s rugged Cederberg ranges. The mountains tower majestically above fertile citrus farmland, forming a wall that keeps the rain – and most of the tourists – to the south. Beyond the barrier of [...]

By |2018-06-28T10:55:20+00:00June 28th, 2018|Afrikaans language, English language|0 Comments

It’s Important to Know Your ‘False Friends’ in English and French

People learning a second language might have heard of the expression “false friend.” This term is used to describe words in different languages that look alike, but have different meanings. Last month, we looked at examples of false friends in two languages, English and Spanish. Today we will tell you about another language -- French [...]

OED looks for words used worldwide to reflect global nature of English

English has been spoken across the world for hundreds of years. And now the Oxford English Dictionary has launched a campaign to make sure its contents reflects the language's global nature. The dictionary is looking to expand its entries by including more words from Anglophone countries outside the UK. Eleanor Maier, associate editor of the [...]

By |2018-05-11T11:17:47+00:00May 11th, 2018|English language, OED|0 Comments

The Rise and Fall of the English Sentence

An iconic sentence, this. But how did it ever make its way into the world? At 71 words, it is composed of eight separate clauses, each anchored by its own verb, nested within one another in various arrangements. The main clause (a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires …) hangs suspended above a [...]

By |2017-11-22T14:00:57+00:00November 22nd, 2017|English language, Languages|1 Comment

The Randomness of Language Evolution

Joshua Plotkin’s dive into the evolution of language began with clarity—and also a lack of it. Today, if you wanted to talk about something that’s clear, you’d say that it has clarity. But if you were around in 1890, you would almost certainly have talked about its clearness. Plotkin first noticed this linguistic change while [...]

By |2018-02-22T00:27:09+00:00November 2nd, 2017|English language, Evolution, Language|0 Comments