Here is why it is impossible to know how many words a language​ has.

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People like counting. People like to compare things. These two trends are exaggerated even further on the internet. So it’s no wonder that there are websites like this, Global Language Monitor, that tout that the number of words in English as some precise number  (1,013,913 and growing at 15/day), as compared to woeful 2nd place finisher Mandarin.

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English Words You Didn’t Know Come From Arabic.

Arabic is one of the most ancient, varied, and beautifully scripted languages. It is spoken by nearly 400 million users, placing it among the most 5 spoken languages in the world. Its influence on Spanish since the time of the Moors is well known, but what’s less well known is how many commonly used English words were actually taken from Arabic. English didn’t borrow all of the words directly; they mostly came filtered through Latin, Turkish, French, Spanish, German, and/or Italian, and have changed in form — and sometimes meaning — since they left Arabic. Here is a list:

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As native speakers, how many rules do we not know but still follow?

One of the first things you realize when you study linguistics is that language, every language, is filled with an amazing amount of complexity and regularity to the point of defying description. And I mean that literally. There is not one single natural language that has been completely formalized at all levels of description in any way. So, with that said, the answer to the above question is pretty much all of the rules we don’t know but still follow. Well, we actually know them, but this knowledge can be described as tacit knowledge; stored under the threshold of consciousness. To put it in another way, we know these rules but we don’t know that we know them! 

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6 Subtle Grammatical Mistakes Most People Still Make.

Many of us get into the habit of making writing mistakes either because of unawareness on our part or just mere sloppiness. Many of these mistakes affect the way readers perceive our pieces of writing; foolish typos can make the difference between a great first impression and a tainted one. We at The Language Nerds took the liberty to collect the most common mistakes that the majority of people tend to make and we want you to watch out for them so that there is nothing to worry about when you want to apply for your next job or when you want to email your boss. So let’s see what we’ve got! 

1. Fewer vs. Less

This one is tricky but easy to avoid. Use fewer when you can count the number of things being discussed. Fewer than the required number of people passed the test.” Use less when describing intangible concepts, like time. “It took me less time to complete the paper.”

2. Which vs. That

This one is not entirely easy to spot. There are two ways to remember whether to use which or that in a sentence.

First, if you can remove the phrase and not change the meaning of the sentence, use which; if you can’t remove it without changing the meaning of the sentence, use that. You can dump the “whiches”. Let’s see this in examples. “The report, which contained several lovely images, was well received.” Take out “which contained several images” and the sentence still makes sense. But, in this second example: “Reports that contain images are more easily understood.” Take out “that contain images” and this sentence doesn’t make much sense.

Another simple way to look at this is if the phrase is offset by commas, it should contain which. If you don’t need commas, it can be that.

3. Into vs. In to

If you think that into is just a combination of in and to, you are mistaken, as was I. Into always indicates movement. “I walked into the office twenty minutes late.” In and to, however, can be used in lots of different ways that have no relation to movement. “I was called in to go over the reports.”

4. Like vs. Such as

In conversational, spontaneous speech, we use like for pretty much everything. But technically, it’s not always correct. When you use like, you are comparing two things that are alike. For example, “My stupid dog barks like every other dog.” But when you are giving examples, you should use such as: “My stupid dog has many annoying qualities, such as his tendency to bark loudly late in the night.”

5. Me vs. I

This is a classic mistake. Many people get confused about when to use me and I. Both are pronouns, but one is used when it’s the subject of a sentence — the one doing the action — and the other when it’s the object — the one being acted on.

If you say, “I love cake” the word is the subject, and cake is the object. Unless you are Cookie Monster, you would never say, “Me love cake.” If you say, “Cookie Monster loves me.” the word me is the object, the thing being loved. The same goes for her and him and they and them. One case that trips people up is the phrase, “Between you and me” or “Between him and me.” In this case, between is a preposition (like uponat, or around) and the pronouns are the objects of that preposition, so it is correct to say me instead of I.

6. Advise vs. Advice

To advise someone is to give them advice. Advise, with an S, is the verb, while advice, with a C, is the noun. To avoid this mistake remember that advisors advise; it helps to remember which is the verb. (A note of advice: as I was writing that previous sentence, Grammarly and spell check marked “advise” as incorrect! So even the grammar checker can be wrong in this one.)

Stay with us for more language tips. Thank you for reading the article. If you think it will benefit someone, don’t forget to share it. Have a blessed day 🙂 

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What is Universal Grammar?

If you are even slightly interested in language and linguistics, chances are you heard the term Universal Grammar a fair amount of times. It is a central concept in modern linguistics and the most controversial. It is a term that was born in the pursuit of trying to answer some very fundamental  and old questions about language. But what exactly is Universal Grammar? 

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What linguists know that other people don’t.

Studying languages is a privilege. When you analyze language and everyday speech you realize that there is an astonishing amount of wonder in this system that we take for granted. Linguists questioned the obvious, which is language, and got answers that forever changed mankind’s understanding of Language and human nature. In this article, you will see what linguists know that is not so evident to other people. So let’s see what we’ve got.

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Here is why language is incredibly important and special.

Language is by far the most powerful tool that humanity has. After all, what distinguishes us from animals is this sweet little thing we call ‘language’. By just manipulating the air that comes out of our mouths, we can start a relationship, a marriage, or even a war. The things we can do with language and their gravity are tremendous. The communicative potential of the human language is open-ended and breath-taking. We can talk about literally anything, even about hypothetical things that have no existence outside our heads, like math, philosophy, or unicorns. It’s like what Pinker wittingly said: “we can shape events in each other’s heads with exquisite precision”. 

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List Of Problems That Linguists Haven’t Solved Yet.

 Linguistics as a field of study flourished tremendously beyond the hopes of its founders. Modern linguistics started a cognitive revolution in the 1950s and has been extending ever since. Thanks to linguistics we know so much about human languages than ever before, from their origins, why are there so many of them, and how to use language to solve crimes. Not only that, linguistics gave us pretty compelling insights into the nature of the human mind, how to build talking machines, how to train people with dyslexia so they can read, how to repair brain functions that pertain to language, etc. It is an impressive feat. 

There is only one very big problem: the main language mysteries that linguistics set out to unravel are still as mysterious as ever before. Many fundamental problems to linguistics are still unsolved. You’d be surprised to know how little we know about central issues in the study of language. That’s what this whole article is about. So, let’s go through these unsolved problems: 

The language faculty:

Our ability to learn languages is by far the most defining human property. But we know so little about this ability; we don’t know what exactly distinguishes human language from other communication systems found in other species. Humans’ closest relatives, such as gorillas and chimps, have demonstrated a remarkable ability to learn and use sign language. In a meticulously designed experiment, Koko the Gorilla, throughout the years, was able to learn hundreds of signs and learned to combine many of them into phrases. A book that details all the stages of this experiment can be found [here]. 

Bird-songs and birds’s ability to acquire and use certain calls has been show to demonstrate remarkable syntactic properties as well. A fascinating scientific article that expounds this ability can be found [here]. Parrots show an interesting ability to pronounce a wide variety of human sounds. Bees and their dances are also something interesting from a linguistic point of view. If the animal kingdom is abundant with communication systems that are comparable in some way to that of humans, then the difference between our language faculty and that of other species is only qualitative. The question that linguists are struggling with is: What distinguishes human language from other animals’ communication systems? 

Another question is: How special is language? Are there aspects of language that are completely unique and encapsulated (distinct) from the rest of our cognitive system, or is language ultimately just a special combination of a lot of domain-general functionality that humans already posses? We don’t really know.

Language learning: 

How do adults learn language is a toughie!  Obviously, the question of how babies learn language is paramount, but how adults learn a 2nd or a 3rd language is also an intriguing puzzle. Do they use the same, diminished, mechanisms as babies or do they learn language differently? What are some predictors of adults’ language learning success?

What is fluency? Fluency is a fundamental concept in linguistics, underlying a lot of assumptions, but I don’t think there is a clear operational definition. We say things like, “any baby can become fluent in any language,” or “children are fluent in their native language by the time they’re 5,” and so on, without a clear definition of what fluency means.

Modeling and measuring language: 

What is the optimal model for reconstructing languages phylogenetically? There is still a lot of debate on how language relationships (oftentimes modeled as trees) should best be constructed given that there are things in language that don’t really exist in evolutionary biology (the source of linguistic trees), like language contact, borrowing and so on. Associating time with trees is also a big puzzle underlying controversies such as the age of Indo-European.

How can we measure language complexity? Again, a key concept in linguistics, but without a clear operational definition, preventing us from answering whether some languages are more complex than others. Attempts to do so (e.g., J Nichols) are a great step forward, but clearly far short of an all-encompassing definition.

Language in context: 

What are the interactions between language, culture and thought? This one is a toughie. This is partly encapsulated by the Sapir-Worph hypothesis, but I think the question is much bigger than that. How does language influence culture? Can culture then influence thought? How do the three interact?

Language and the brain: 

This is probably the biggest area in which linguistics is lacking. The “what is going on in the brain during language?” is quite broad and can be broken out into more detailed questions such as: 

How is language lateralized in the brain? How do the left and right hemispheres interact during language production and comprehension? Is there massive redundancy so that people can recover from stroke by relateralizing these functions?

How do we recognize words? How do we go from an acoustic signal to a word, especially given how impoverished the acoustic signal often is? What are the respective functions of the dorsal and ventral processing streams in the brain?

What is the function of Broca’s area? Is Broca’s area really specific to syntax and more specifically, syntactic movement, or does Broca’s area have a more general cognitive function?

How modular are the respective parts of the brain that have been associated with different functions? Previous research has suggested that certain parts of the brain are associated with things like speaking, word recognition, top-down effects in speech processing, syntax, phonology, processing emotional affect in language and so on. How do these different regions interact, and how modular are they in terms of doing their “tasks”?

These seem to be very simple questions, but their answers are very difficult and they challenge modern science and technology. Who knows, maybe as you are reading this you’d take a challenge and embark on some research and answer some of these question, you never know! The future of linguistics is powered by passionate people like you and me. With the right tools we can do wonders. So don’t let that language passion die within you. Carry the torch with an iron fist and pass it on to iron fists. 

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Here is the language​ that disproves Universal Grammar.

Linguists, led by Chomsky, did a wonderful job in describing how language works. By thoroughly studying a handful of human languages, they were able to devise a theory, i.e. Universal Grammar, which could explain all possible human languages with all their hidden features and peculiarities. Every single language fits in there nicely. They were able to account for all the differences among human languages and how they are effortlessly learned by children of 4. Thanks to them, we know more about language than ever before. 

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