North holding its own against spread of southern English dialects, study finds

‘We won’t all be sounding the same,’ says researcher after comparison of extensive survey with findings from 70 years agoDialects from southern England are spreading, research has shown, but it isn’t all having your dinner at teatime: the north is also pushing back.Researchers from the University of York, Lancaster University and New York University surveyed more than 14,000 native English speakers and compared how they speak today with findings from similar studies 70 years ago. Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics North holding its own against spread of southern English dialects, study finds

A broader view of old Scotland’s languages | Letter

The idea that Gaelic is the original language of the whole of Scotland is a myth, writes John EdmondsonI sympathise with Jenny Colgan’s inability to fully embrace Gaelic (The Gaelic language is stunningly beautiful, but I just can’t get my tongue around it, 25 July), but the idea that this is the original language of the whole of Scotland is a myth.It is essentially the Irish (Goidelic or Q-Celtic) version of the Celtic language family. It was carried over to Scotland and largely replaced the P-Celtic Pictish, which was more akin to Welsh. While the people of the Western Isles have a claim on Gaelic as their native language, it would be better for all concerned if Welsh were to be the la..

The Guardian > Linguistics A broader view of old Scotland’s languages | Letter

British universities will lose out by axing English language and linguistics courses | Letters

Karen Grainger laments the end of a programme at Sheffield Hallam that attracted bright students and taught vital skillsWhile it is shocking and regrettable that the English literature degree at Sheffield Hallam University no longer exists, very little attention has been paid to the suspension of the English language degree (Letters, 4 July).This course successfully recruited bright, working-class students who were interested in how both spoken and written language works in society. Students acquired vital transferable skills in communication, as well as in critical and analytical thinking. Graduates went on to careers in speech therapy, marketing, teaching and publishing, to name a few. Con..

The Guardian > Linguistics British universities will lose out by axing English language and linguistics courses | Letters

Wagwan? Why are more and more Britons speaking Multicultural London English?

Hench, peng, shook … if you don’t know what any of these mean, you’re nothing more than a wasteman. MLE is sweeping the country!Name: Multicultural London English.Age: About 40. Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics Wagwan? Why are more and more Britons speaking Multicultural London English?

May I have a word about … how headline hyperbole has taken an explosive turn | Jonathan Bouquet

‘Rocket’ was once good enough as a metaphor, but now the ante has been firmly upped skywardsWhen exactly did we become a nation of hyperbolic pyrotechnicians? I only ask because I can’t help noticing the glut of headlines featuring the word “skyrocket”.“Taste of things to come as food prices skyrocket” was just one example last weekend. Then there was, “Referral bonuses skyrocket as staff shortages rise”, “Used Tesla Prices Skyrocket, Selling For Huge Premium Over New Models”, “Burton jewellery firm started in leaky garden shed sees sales skyrocket”, “Energy bills set to skyrocket to £2,800 in the autumn for millions, MPs told”. Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics May I have a word about … how headline hyperbole has taken an explosive turn | Jonathan Bouquet

May I have a word about… how the Vikings changed the English language forever | Jonathan Bouquet

A reader reveals the fascinating links between north-east England and Scandinavia that survive to this dayI was delighted to receive the following letter from Jonathan Hauxwell, from North Yorkshire, about my last column, which included a reference to the Great British Dialect Hunt. “I discovered new (to me) words on the streets of Hartlepool in the 1950s... only they weren’t new. They were terms spoken since Viking tongues brought them to the north-east more than a thousand years before. Words such as rive, meaning to tug at; femmer – thin or fragile; ket – rubbish (the plural form meant sweets!). The one that sealed the link came when I was watching a Danish friend’s dog furiousl..

The Guardian > Linguistics May I have a word about… how the Vikings changed the English language forever | Jonathan Bouquet

The bimbo is back – and as a feminist I couldn’t be more delighted

We’ve already reclaimed terms like ‘queer’, ‘babe’ and ‘slut’. Now TikTok is helping to make skimpily dressed girliness respectableHaven’t heard of BimboTok? Then it’s time to wake up and smell the lip gloss. It’s a subsection of TikTok where self-proclaimed bimbos are proudly reclaiming the title. A bit of fun.You won’t catch me trying to stand in the way of evolving language. My efforts to keep up with the right words to use often feel like standing in a rough sea while the waves smash me in and out, occasionally flooring me. Thrilling, if precarious. Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics The bimbo is back – and as a feminist I couldn’t be more delighted

Putting Prince Andrew on the road to change | Brief letters

Renaming Prince Andrew Way | Barefoot stories | Positively woke | The A-Z of sleepI never expected my home town of Carrickfergus to be mentioned by Marina Hyde (18 February). While growing up, there was a road called Kennedy Drive, named after JFK I believe. During the Troubles it was changed to Prince William Way after perceived offence caused by Senator Edward Kennedy. Perhaps Prince Andrew Way could be renamed Kennedy Drive?David SinclairEdinburgh• Colin Hartley reminded me of when I taught in Swaziland (Letters, 21 February) . On arrival at school at the start of the week, the children took off their shoes, and at the end of the week, I had to remind them to take them home. While worki..

The Guardian > Linguistics Putting Prince Andrew on the road to change | Brief letters

Childhood memories and the fabric of life | Brief letters

Patchwork of bedtime stories | Being wick in Derbyshire | Mind over muscle | Going barefoot | Online grocery swapsRe your article on bedtime stories (16 February), use a favourite duvet cover or quilt as the starting point. My favourite stories were made up by my mother telling me about the fabrics she had used to sew the patchwork quilt on my bed. “This was the dress I was wearing when your dad asked me to dance with him the first time…”Lynne PointerBampton, Oxfordshire• As a northern lad born and bred in Derbyshire, I must correct Alan Hallsworth (Letters, 20 February). We always knew the saying as “Derbyshire born and Derbyshire bred: strong in the arm and wick in the head”. W..

The Guardian > Linguistics Childhood memories and the fabric of life | Brief letters

Learning about joy from the Germans | Brief letters

The opposite of schadenfreude | Marketing the moon | When rock’n’roll first paid a visit | Sole survivorIt’s a pity the English language hasn’t also adopted the word mitfreude (“with joy”) from the German, but only its negative opposite – schadenfreude (‘The pleasure of a chancer unmasked’: why we are living in the age of schadenfreude, 16 February). Mitfreude is the joyful emotion we experience when we delight in others’ good news, happiness or joy. How strange that we don’t seem to have a word for it. Martina Crowther-MennCambridge• Arwa Mahdawi refers to the Adam Smith Institute’s proposals (Privatising the moon may sound like a crazy idea but the sky’s no limi..

The Guardian > Linguistics Learning about joy from the Germans | Brief letters

Did you solve it? Hurdles for Wordle nerdles

The answers to today’s puzzlesInspired by the success of Wordle, earlier today I set you these three word puzzles that also test lexical ingenuity and pattern-spotting skills.I also said I’d tell you what my Wordle starting word is. See below. Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics Did you solve it? Hurdles for Wordle nerdles

Urdu, Chinese, even Old Norse: how Wordle spread across the globe

Non-English speakers may soon rival the millions playing the original version of the viral word gameIt only took two days for Louan Bengmah’s French-language version of the viral Wordle game to run into trouble. His online dictionary threw up “slush”, Québécois slang that was essentially an English word co-opted in North America.French players hoping to join the hundreds of thousands of English speakers cluttering up social media with boastful grids showing how quickly they had guessed a mystery word, were frustrated. Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics Urdu, Chinese, even Old Norse: how Wordle spread across the globe

From the archive: Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet – podcast

We are raiding the Audio Long Read archives to bring you some classic pieces from years past, with new introductions from the authors.No language in history has dominated the world quite like English does today. Is there any point in resisting? By Jacob Mikanowski• Read the text version here Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics From the archive: Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet – podcast

People flocked to language apps during the pandemic – but how much can they actually teach you? | Shelley Hepworth

The first of a series on how digital technologies shape our thoughts, emotions and interior lives In March 2020, as the Covid pandemic took hold, the language learning app Duolingo reported double its usual number of sign-ups. Stuck inside under lockdown orders, people had time on their hands and were looking for ways to occupy it.It wasn’t long before I joined its 500 million users in an attempt to recapture the feeling of learning Portuguese during three months spent in Brazil several years ago: that heady thrill of realising I had conveyed the meaning I meant to, the strange alchemy of suddenly understanding what people around me were saying. Could an app give me that? Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics People flocked to language apps during the pandemic – but how much can they actually teach you? | Shelley Hepworth

Dr Sarah Ogilvie: ‘Generation Z are savvy – but I don’t get all their memes’

The linguist and computer scientist discusses her optimistic assessment of a misunderstood generation – and delves into the nuanced ways to text ‘OK’Dr Sarah Ogilvie is a linguist, lexicographer and computer scientist at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, who works at the intersection of technology and the humanities. With Roberta Katz, Jane Shaw and Linda Woodhead, she is the author of Gen Z, Explained: The Art of Living in a Digital Age, which paints an optimistic portrait of a much misunderstood generation that has never known a world without the internet.Define Gen Zers.They are people born from the mid-1990s to around 2010. They’re followed by Generation Alpha, who are aged 10 a..

The Guardian > Linguistics Dr Sarah Ogilvie: ‘Generation Z are savvy – but I don’t get all their memes’

Budget promises fail to convince | Brief letters

Rishi Sunak | Inner voices | Swimming in sewage | Crossword | Empty shelvesYour print headline “Chancellor to strike bullish note in budget” (Report, 26 October) contains a spelling mistake and a missing letter. Large amounts of the funds are recycled from previous announcements and not new money at all. Adrian Quinn Caldicot, Monmouthshire• Internal voices are hardly the “last mind mystery” (The last great mystery of the mind: meet the people who have unusual – or non-existent – inner voices, 25 October). Far more fundamental and intractable are the appearance of “ideas” (a Greek invention) “from” somewhere, and, related but distinct, the (effortless, unconscious) exte..

The Guardian > Linguistics Budget promises fail to convince | Brief letters

Pinker’s progress: the celebrity scientist at the centre of the culture wars – podcast

How the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker became one of the world’s most contentious thinkers. By Alex Blasdel Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics Pinker’s progress: the celebrity scientist at the centre of the culture wars – podcast

Roger Boore obituary

My friend, Roger Boore, who has died aged 82, was a Welsh-language publisher and author. He will be remembered for his dedication to the Welsh language and its propagation, particularly among children. A chartered accountant, returning to his native Cardiff in the late 1960s, and with a growing family to educate, he noticed how few children’s picture books were available in the Welsh language. The result was the creation of the publishing house Dref Wen.He exploited the possibility of co-productions with European publishers to produce the very best available, including Welsh versions of Tomi Ungerer, Philippe Fix, Maurice Sendak and Astrid Lindgren. He himself translated several Asterix an..

The Guardian > Linguistics Roger Boore obituary

Pinker’s progress: the celebrity scientist at the centre of the culture wars

How the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker became one of the world’s most contentious thinkersOn a recent afternoon, Steven Pinker, the cognitive psychologist and bestselling author of upbeat books about human progress, was sitting in his summer home on Cape Cod, thinking about Bill Gates. Pinker was gearing up to record a radio series on critical thinking for the BBC, and he wanted the world’s fourth richest man to join him for an episode on the climate emergency. “People tend to approach challenges in one of two ways – as problem-solving or as conflict,” Pinker, who appreciates the force of a tidy dichotomy, said. “You can think of it as Bill versus Greta. And I’m very much i..

The Guardian > Linguistics Pinker’s progress: the celebrity scientist at the centre of the culture wars

Passing the ‘chimp test’: how Neanderthals and women helped create language

How did humans learn to talk and why haven’t chimpanzees followed suit? Linguistics expert Sverker Johansson busts some chauvinist mythsHow and when did human language evolve? Did a “grammar module” just pop into our ancestors’ brains one day thanks to a random change in our DNA? Or did language come from grooming, or tool use, or cooking meat with fire? These and other hypotheses exist, but there seems little way to rationally choose between them. It was all so very long ago, so any theory must be essentially speculation.Or must it? This is the question presented as an elegant intellectual thriller by The Dawn of Language: Axes, Lies, Midwifery and How We Came to Talk. Its author is..

The Guardian > Linguistics Passing the ‘chimp test’: how Neanderthals and women helped create language

I rely on the Met Office to bring me sunshine | Brief letters

BBC weather forecasts | Pudding proofs | Trains to Antwerp | Latin gatekeepers | Geronimo’s endThe BBC’s weather forecasts are often wrong (Zoe Williams, 17 August). For the last three Sundays they have forecast overcast weather for the brass band concerts at the bandstand in St Andrews, and each time we have had glorious sunshine. The reason is that the BBC changed its supplier from the Met Office, who had the last three Sundays correct, to MeteoGroup. They should change back. Margaret SquiresSt Andrews, Fife• An article about New Zealand’s handling of Covid (18 August) said: “The proof, experts say, is in the pudding.” Is this the most misquoted well-known phrase of all time? T..

The Guardian > Linguistics I rely on the Met Office to bring me sunshine | Brief letters

Did you solve it? Numbers in New Guinea

The answers to today’s counting conundrumEarlier today I set you the following problem about how to count in Ngkolmpu, a language spoken by about 100 people in New Guinea.Ngkolmpu does not have a base ten system like English does. In other words, it doesn’t count in tens, hundreds and thousands. Beyond its different base, however, it behaves very regularly. Continue reading...

The Guardian > Linguistics Did you solve it? Numbers in New Guinea

Can you solve it? Numbers in New Guinea

A rare way to countUPDATE: Solution can be read here.Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which aims to raise awareness of issues concerning indigenous communities. Such as, for example, the survival of their languages. According to the Endangered Languages Project, more than 40 per cent of the world’s 7,000 languages are at risk of extinction.Among the fantastic diversity of the world’s languages is a diversity in counting systems. The following puzzle concerns the number words of Ngkolmpu, a language spoken by about 100 people in New Guinea. (They live in the border area between the Indonesian province of Papua and the country of Papua New Guinea.) Continu..

The Guardian > Linguistics Can you solve it? Numbers in New Guinea

I’d dine with Charles if the price was right | Brief letters

Cash for access | Poetry | Power station | Tractor | Name twisterRe the article by Gaby Hinsliff (The ‘cash for access’ revelations mean a veil of secrecy around Prince Charles must be lifted, 2 August), for the avoidance of doubt, can I just say that Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak or Prince Charles would have to pay me to have dinner with them, not the other way round? About £10m would do it – I can think of lots of charities that would appreciate a share of that.Judy CliffeSutton on the Forest, North Yorkshire• I enjoyed Zoe Williams’ piece (2 August), but I must take issue with her offhand dismissal of Brian Patten’s lovely poem A Blade of Grass, which is a thoughtful, gentle poe..

The Guardian > Linguistics I’d dine with Charles if the price was right | Brief letters

Getting typecast in a 1950s newsroom | Brief letters

Printing gaffes | Giving blood | Dinner | Mixed-up names Among the hazards of hot metal (The changing art of the subeditor: ‘You had to read the type upside down’, 2 August) were stone hands misplacing type slabs. When I was a trainee on the Keighley News in the 1950s, just as it got to the bride, a wedding report morphed into an account of a prize-winning bitch at a dog show. A correction was out of the question. They had to run both stories again the following week.Don ChapmanWitney, Oxfordshire• Well done, Zoe Williams, for your first donation of O negative blood (I don’t like to boast – but even my blood is special, 3 August). I’ve been a donor since 1968 and have made 100 do..

The Guardian > Linguistics Getting typecast in a 1950s newsroom | Brief letters

What would cure Digby Jones’s snobbery? Elocution lessons are not the answer | Zoe Williams

My experience with being taught to talk proper is that it doesn’t work – and the lessons themselves are a corrupt conceptIf I were a lord with a very low workload, I would try to keep a low profile, in case the world raised its head to wonder what the point of me was. But that’s not Digby Jones’s way. “Enough!” Lord Jones tweeted last Friday. “I can’t stand it any more! Alex Scott spoils a good presentational job on the BBC Olympics Team with her very noticeable inability to pronounce her ‘g’s at the end of each word.” He went on to rail about others he apparently considered too common to be on TV, and to call for all of them to have elocution lessons.The great irony, f..

The Guardian > Linguistics What would cure Digby Jones’s snobbery? Elocution lessons are not the answer | Zoe Williams

Are northern English accents dying out? Are they eck as like | Stuart Maconie

Academics predict that northern dialects will soon fade away. That’s nobbut a load of soft southern bletherAh, the stalwarts of summer! Cowes, Goodwood, the Proms and, these days, gloomy academic prognostications about the future of northern accents. Last summer, Manchester University claimed that the speech differences of the big northern cities were fading, merging into a generalised uber-northern that, implausibly, might include Alan Bennett, Ant and Dec and Atomic Kitten. This year, Cambridge and Portsmouth “eggheads” (compulsory designation) tell us, yet more gloomily, that northern accents could start dying out within 45 years, drowned by the rising tide of “estuary” English ..

The Guardian > Linguistics Are northern English accents dying out? Are they eck as like | Stuart Maconie

Split infinitives: the English ‘rule’ that refuses to quietly die | Letters

Salley Vickers, Angelica Goodden, John Doherty, Eddy York and Barbara Benedict weigh in on an eternal linguistic debateRe David Roberts’ letter deploring your use of a split infinitive (29 June); Fowler, the acknowledged authority on English usage, says: “The split infinitive is … best avoided, especially when it is stylistically awkward. But it is not a major error nor a grammatical blunder; it is acceptable, even necessary, when considerations of rhythm and clarity require it.” What’s good enough for Fowler is good enough for me.Salley VickersLondon• The “rule” about not splitting infinitives doesn’t apply to English: it derives from the mistaken notion that the English v..

The Guardian > Linguistics Split infinitives: the English ‘rule’ that refuses to quietly die | Letters

English lessons from George Eliot | Brief letters

Football solidarity | An apology to German friends | Southern vowels | Middlemarch | School knickersIn taking the knee against racism and injustice, the England football team embraced one of the basic principles of Marxism – solidarity. Their 2-0 victory over Germany (Report, 29 June) suggests they have now progressed further and understand that success in the struggle is not about heroic individuals but the collective action of the team. If Gareth Southgate can address remaining contradictions in the side, this could be their year.Keith FlettTottenham, London• Liebe deutsche Freunde, Als ich hörte, wie die englischen Fans die deutsche Hymne verhöhnten, wünschte ich mir, Deutschland h..

The Guardian > Linguistics English lessons from George Eliot | Brief letters

I still haven’t fully mastered the English language – but then, who has? | Coco Khan

It’s just too big and ever-changing. Besides, it’s in the mistakes that magic happensSome months ago, my mother and I were taking part in our favourite pastime (entering competitions we have no chance of winning) when we were asked which languages we speak, and to rate our competency from one (“holiday phrases”) to five (“mastered”), for market research. “Click five,” I said to Mum as she hesitated over English. “But I wasn’t born here,” she replied. “There are many words I don’t know. I’m not a master.”Truly, no one is as preoccupied with language in the abstract quite like immigrants and linguists: Noam Chomsky and my uncle Tariq (who always replies to anyone ..

The Guardian > Linguistics I still haven’t fully mastered the English language – but then, who has? | Coco Khan