Posted by: Sharon
So here we are, at the penultimate vowel of this amazing Alphabet Blog! You may not have noticed this, but O is actually one of the most hard-working of the five vowels, as it appears in so many words in the English language.
What many people like about the letter O is its beautiful round form. Actually, although we have talked about several letters which have evolved from a shape that was completely unrelated to their current one, O does not show any signs of ageing and has been almost the same since the Phoenicians, which means that its nice form has remained unchanged for about 3,000 years. Also, I had never really thought about it before, but the upper and lower case of O have almost exactly the same shape: o and O, the little one and the big one. I think that’s quite cute! Although C, S, V, W, X and Z have the same feature, O is the only vowel to appears this way!
O can also be a word on its own in English, as a synonym of the exclamation ‘Oh’. In Italian, ‘o’ means ‘or’. Do you know any other languages where O can be a word on its own? In addition, O carries several regional accents. For example, ‘about’ is usually pronounced ‘abewt’ by people from Ontario, while ‘notes’ might sound like ‘nayts’ when heard from Australians.
O is also ...Continue Reading →
Why do the nose and the letter N go together? Well, of course, you need your nose to properly pronounce this letter. If you don’t believe me, either wait until you catch a bad cold, or close your nose with your fingers and pronounce something like ‘Nine nannies and nine nuns’. Together with its sister and neighbour M, N is the only nasal in English (and I can safely say in Italian too).
However, I might go as far as to say that, although M and N are almost twins and definitely sisters, N is a bit cooler. M is easy to pronounce, as it is formed by the lips, whereas N is heard when the tongue hits the hard palate.
So, now a bit of history about this cool geometric letter. N was actually invented by the Semitics or Egyptians by copying an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic picture of a snake. This is a bit confusing, as in the Phoenician alphabet the ancient nun meant ‘fish’, so nothing to do with a snake. In the ancient Semitic language, the word for snake was nahash, and this was probably what the letter was called at the beginning, since that term starts with N too. But later on, M and N were put one next to the other in the alphabet, as they were so similar. During the passing of time the shape of N started ...Continue Reading →
It has often been said that children are able to learn foreign languages more easily than adults. However, this belief may be wrong. At least that is what a recent study, carried out by the University of Haifa in Israel, suggests. The study showed that a person’s age does not influence the time required to learn a foreign language.
In brief, the experiment involved three groups of people of different ages: the first was comprised of eight year old children; the second group was represented by young people aged 12 years. The third group was made up of adults. A fictitious language rule was explained to all the groups, based on pronouncing verbs in a different ways when referring to animate or inanimate objects. After the class, each of the three groups received a list of verbs and was asked to pronounce them in accordance with another list of words. The 12 year old and adult groups scored 90% on the test, while children of eight years responded mostly in a random way.
Thus, it was proved that adults have an easier understanding of the rules implicit in a foreign language. According to the study, differences in learning have nothing to do with age or the brain, but are because children are more open than adults to error correction and criticism; it is also due to the method used to teach children a language, which ...Continue Reading →
The Spanish word for tongue twister is “trabalenguas”, which comes from the verb “trabar” (to jam) and the noun “lengua” (tongue), and which literally means “something that jams/ties the tongue”.
So, here are some of my favourite “trabalenguas”. I’ve included literal translations in English, and although most sound like nonsense, it will help give you an idea of what’s actually being said.
• Tres tristes tigres comían trigo en un trigal.
(3 sad tigers ate wheat in a wheat field.)
• El suelo está enladrillado. ¿Quién lo desenladrillará? El desenladrillador que lo desenladrillare un buen desenladrillador será.
(The ground is paved with bricks. Who will unpave it? The unpaver who unpaves it will be a good unpaver.)
• Me han dicho que has dicho un dicho, un dicho que he dicho yo, ese dicho que te han dicho que yo he dicho, no lo he dicho; y si yo lo hubiera dicho, estaría muy bien dicho por haberlo dicho yo.
(I’ve been told that you’ve said a saying, a saying that I said, that saying that they’ve told you I said wasn’t said by me; if I had said it, it would be very well said since I was the one that said it.)
• Como poco coco como, poco coco compro.
(Since I ...
I think everyone involved in the language services industry has heard this one once or twice. It is normally accompanied by the gnashing of teeth and an “if looks could kill” expression on the face of the translator being asked.
I can completely understand where people get this idea from – people who don’t speak different languages aren’t to know that machine translations are largely useless, and they often don’t consider the knowledge required to assess and translate the nuances and connotations of a particular utterance. That said, most first aiders recognise that they are not qualified to perform heart surgery, so why is translation different? Despite the fact that it is a highly academic discipline, and one which requires years of training, people just don’t recognise it as a legitimate profession. As Chiara mentioned in her article about Translation Day, there seems to be very little knowledge of the industry, and this can lead to misunderstandings.
Personally, I think that we all need to be a little less tetchy about this, and start to look at the positives. Someone just asked you a question about jour job, for a start. They actually showed an interest, so explain to them what goes into a good translation. We’re certainly not going to improve the image of the industry by biting people’s heads off for asking an innocent question. If we take these opportunities to educate people, and give them a glimpse into the business we work in, we have a much better chance ...Continue Reading →