Wednesday, September 28, 2005


So, the hot-off-the-press book that is catching the attention of the media's reviewers this week is The Meaning of Tingo. This details words from languages all over the world which express a concept it would take several, if not many, words to say in English. The articles linked below give lots of examples, including the entirely fascinating fact that there are 27 words in Albanian for different types of facial hair.

This book is interesting from a number of points of view. Firstly, it gives us a perspective on the relationship between the rampant spread of global English and other languages of the world. It's dead easy to think of the benefits of global English (particularly if you are a native speaker of any of its varieties...) but these curious words show very clearly how language encodes cultural values and outlooks. When we lose a language we lose a window on the world.

It's also interesting in terms of language change. Shedloads of words from other languages have found a home in the English lexicon. My particular favourite is karoshi, from the Japanese, which means to die while working at one's desk. There's a word for that?!! The words are likely to undergo anglicisation of spelling and pronunciation, and if they stick around long enough they often start mutating more via the processes of lexical change - prefixes and suffixes added, conversion into other word classes, etc.

It would be worth taking one of the languages mentioned in the book, exploring what words have already entered English from this source (use the online Oxford English Dictionary if you have access to it), and then trying to predict which of the Tingo words might be most likely to enter English at a future stage. Or are the words the writer has collected too weird for that? Is there any pattern to the types of words that do and don't get adopted?... Or how about this? If you want to check out how language forms spread, take one of the words that you think it would actually be useful to have in English, and start spreading it. It's like one of those balloon races - see how far your word will fly in a set period of time. Hmmm.... Crazy but interesting...

Okay, check out the links below, plus the author's blog is linked in the blogosphere section on the right hand side here.

Weird and wonderful vocabulary from around the world

Tingo, nakkele and other wonders


At 4:27 pm, Blogger Mike said...

Isn't there a rule somewhere that states that once a word hits print a number of times it's considered worthy of inclusion into the New Oxford Dictionary.


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