jrtom: (Default)
some of which is very funny, some of which is quite raunchy, and some which is both:

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/efee7/what_are_your_favorite_culturally_untranslateable/?sort=confidence

(I don't often get to use the tags 'linguistics' and 'humor' together. This may actually be the first time.)
jrtom: (Default)
http://edge.org/3rd_culture/boroditsky09/boroditsky09_index.html

Among other things, apparently native Russian speakers are better at distinguishing between light and dark blue...because Russian has no word for 'blue', but one for 'light blue' and one for 'dark blue'. And so on.
jrtom: (Default)
Heard this on NPR this morning:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102518565

The gist: as most of you reading this know, a number of languages have gendered nouns. (In Spanish, for example, problems are male and surprises are female. :) ) So a scientist decided to check to see whether the gender of a noun in one's first language affects the kinds of adjectives associated with it. The answer: yes.

What's more surprising (to me, anyway) is that this appears to be true even if you've just been learning a new synthetic language, and have no previous experience of languages with gendered nouns.
jrtom: (Default)
in response to Robin's "what it means to 'speak Chinese'" post:

It's actually a bit weirder and more complicated than that. As the
article points out (and as I learned when I studied Mandarin about,
oh, 20 years ago), the _semantics_ of the written Chinese characters
are basically the same in all Chinese dialects, but the spoken
syllables differ radically. It's as if anyone that could read
English could also read, say, Italian, and vice versa...without
conferring any ability to speak or understand the other language.

This is further complicated by the fact that mainland Chinese
generally (I think) uses simplified versions of the "original"
characters, whereas Taiwanese use the original characters, but that's
not really an issue in mainland China, AFAIK. (I might possibly have
it backwards, but the difference is there regardless.)

(Incidentally, I believe that Japanese characters (not the
"alphabetic" ones) also share at least some of the semantics with
written Chinese, putting Japanese, in a sense, on a similar footing
with the various Chinese dialects.)

On a random cultural note, I believe that this linguistic oddity may
explain why it is that I have heard that some Chinese, when speaking
Chinese to other Chinese, will sometimes scribble some of the
characters on their palms with their fingers: it disambiguates.

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