Tip of the Tongue

Translation (Eng - Ice)

Eitt aðalsérkenna menningar Skandínavíu er sú staðreynd að elstu bókmenntirnar sem við varðveitum, sér í lagi þær sem skrifaðar voru eftir kristnitökuna, sýna einkenni sem ekki finnast í hinni dæmigerðu munnlegu hefð. Margir fræðimenn hafa leitað að hinum munnlega uppruna skandínavískra texta. Til þess hafa þeir leitað vísbendinga sem gætu fundist í þeim eintökum sem hafa varðveist og taka í því skyni tillit til þess að þeir voru skrifaðir mörg hundruð árum eftir að stafrófið var tekið upp:

"Í kjölfar vettvangsrannsókna og fræðilegra tilgátna gætum við nú, meira en 40 árum eftir að Singer of the Tales eftir Albert B. Lord kom á sjónarsviðið, hugsanlega metið það hvernig samansafn kenninga um munnlega hefð hjálpi skilningi okkar á þeim miðaldatextum sem tilgáta er um að eigi sér slíkan uppruna. [...] (sic) Í nýlegum rannsóknum á munnlegri hefð hefur því verið mikilvægast að bera saman upplýsingar frá mismunandi menningarsvæðum, frekar heldur en að notast við formúlur."

Jafnvel þótt tilvísunin í Gísla Sigurðsson hér að ofan hafnar þeirri gnægð nýlegra rannsókna sem hafa slíkar formúlur fyrir grunn getum við samt fundið greinar eins og þá eftir Lars Lönnroth, þar sem hann fjallar meðal annars um notkun slíkra formúlna og sérstaka eiginleika þeirra í skandínavískum textum. Þar að auki hefur Paul Acker nýlega lýst hinum mismunandi formúlum sem notaðar eru í skáldskap í fornri Ensku og fornri Íslensku. Samt sem áður hafa bæði Acker og Lönnroth gert tilraunir til þess að bera hefðir Skandínavíu saman við nokkrar aðrar, hvort heldur sem er við hefðir Engilsaxa, Júgóslava eða þá Hómers. [...]


Seijas, Elena Miramontes (September 2014). Literacy in Scandinavia. A passage from orality influenced by runes. Sótt 22. Apríl 2015 af http://hdl.handle.net/1946/19557

Translation (ICE-ENG)

3.1 Drawing the interest of linguists

The catalogued history of the research of speech errors reaches back to the 8th century, when the Arabic linguist Al-ki-sa’i wrote a book about the public’s speech errors, called Errors of the populace (V. A. Fromkin, 1988, pg. 117). It was in the late 19th century, however, that scholars in the Western world really became interested in speech errors, as a linguistic and psychological research material on potentially being the reason for changes in languages, amongst other things. It was for example stated (probably first by Hermann Paul (Paul, 1886)) that historical changes in languages are related to errors of speech, even going as far as to claim that repeated speech errors could have been a stimulus for change, as in the change from the Indo-European potmen to ptomen (Pfau, 2000, pg. 11). Rudolf Meringer (1859-1931), a comparative linguist from Wien, was the first to sort and research a large collection of speech errors. He released the collection with the neurologist Carl Mayer (Meringer and Mayer, 1895), and another 1908 (Meringer, 1908). Meringer trailed the path laid out by Paul but found no examples of speech errors where sounds switched places within the same syllable, like in ptomen for potmen. On the other hand his collection has a great amount of examples on words switching places as in example (36), word stems as in (37), affixes as in (38) and single sounds, as in (39) (Celce-Murcia, 1973).

(36) Die Venus von Milo → Die Milo von Venus

(37) … auf einer Seite drei, vier Worten → … auf einer Worte drei, vier Seiten

(38) Verbrechergehirne → Gebrecherverhirne

(39) problematisch → preblomatisch



Sigurður Jónsson (Janúar 2012). Mismæli og íslensk málfræði. Sótt 26. Apríl 2015 af http://hdl.handle.net/1946/10628

The joy of lexicography

Contrary to popular belief, lexicography, the practice of compiling dictionaries, is not about deciding which words are good and which words are bad. This is the main point in Erin McKean’s TED talk, “The joy of lexicography”. “I do not have a lexicographical whistle”, she says.

The idea of what a dictionary is has remained constant for a very long time, since at least the Victorian era. Even online dictionaries are basically paper warped upon your screen. And paper isn’t a good form for a dictionary – there can be no book large enough and flexible enough to fit the entirety of the English language.

But how do we know if a word is “real”? Is Selfie a real word? How about Duckface? Usage, according to McKean. “You know, anybody who’s read a children’s book knows that love makes things real”, she says. “If you love a word, use it. That makes it real”.

Ultimately, what McKean wants is for us to help her catalogue the words of the language. “I find an un-dictionaried word […] in almost every book I read. […] If only one in 100 of [newspaper] pages had an un-dictionaried word on it, […] that’s 500 000 more words”.

I chose this video because it seemed interesting. Most linguists are descriptivist, i.e. note down language as it is, not as it should be, but the general consensus of the public is that language is a rigid, un-changeable structure. This is not true at all.

The link to the full video is below:

The linguistic genius of babies

The human brain is a magnificent thing. When it comes to linguistics, this holds especially true for babies. Their tiny brains absorb their mother tongue like sponges absorb water. When you’ve reached a certain age you lose this ability to absorb. Thus, it’s easier to learn languages at a younger age. When you learn a foreign language as an adult, you do so by constantly comparing it with your native tongue, focusing on grammar and dictionaries.

As babies, we can make all the sounds a human voice is capable of making. Yet as adults we’re limited to a small set of voices native to our mother tongue, and maybe a few extra that fall beyond that. For example, Japanese people can’t differentiate between L’s and R’s, English people find it hard to intone vowels, as is done in Chinese, and Icelandic people can have a hard time differentiating S’s and Z’s.

So, as a test, Patricia Kuhl and her team gathered a few babies and a Chinese person who spoke to them in Mandarin. When they then looked at the babies’ abilities to differentiate between Mandarin sounds not existent in English, they found that they could do so and, in fact, were equal to babies in Taiwan who’d been listening for Mandarin for ten months. The control group, babies who were not exposed to Mandarin, couldn’t. They’d lost that ability.

The most interesting part, however, was the fact that having a real, physical human being talking to the babies was crucial – it didn’t work through audio or via a TV.

This talk interested me immensely, the fact is that the origin of language is unknown, but these studies might help explaining how we are able to communicate and why that happened.

Link below:

A Rosetta Stone for a lost language

Some 4 000 years ago there was a booming civilization in the Indus Valley. Today, all that remains are some figurines and some small seals containing symbols that have as-of-yet not been deciphered. There is a large debate whether or not these symbols represent a language or if they’re more akin to the symbols found on traffic signs. Rajesh Rao and his team are amongst the former.

Even if the symbols are found to represent language it is still up for debate whether that language would belong to the Indo-European family of languages, or perhaps the Dravidian family, spoken in a large part of Southern India today.

The answer to this question would come clear if you were able to decipher the script. This is no easy task, however, as there has yet not been found a “Rosetta Stone”, an instance of the Indus Valley script co-appearing with another, known script.

In 2007, Rajesh met some Indian scientists who were attempting to use computer models to try to analyse the script. And so he joined their team to collaborate.

It was determined, due to symbols on some seals being crammed as space ran out (as we still do today), that the direction of writing was probably right to left. Furthermore, the symbols on the seals have patterns, not unlike modern language. Feeding the symbols to a computer, they were able to get it to correctly guess the next symbol in a sequence 75% of the time.

It is known that most of our earliest scripts are ideograms or logograms, that is, incorporate images in order to tell a narrative. An example of a modern logographic script is Chinese. Assuming the Indus Valley script is a logograph, Rajesh’s collaborators have begun an attempt to decipher it, assuming that the language in question is Dravidian and also that many of the seals likely contain names. For example, the word for “fish” in Dravidian languages is meen, which sounds like the word for “star”. There’s an ancient Indian tradition of naming people based on the horoscopes present at the time of birth. The Dravidian word for the Big Dipper, for example, is elu meen, Elu” meaning “seven”. Similarly, the Pleiades are aru meen, seven stars. And there just so happens to be several seals with six or seven strokes, followed by a symbol that looks like a fish.

The secrets of the Indus Valley civilization still evade us, and will continue to do so for a long while yet. However, Rajesh and team’s breakthrough idea might just be the key to the puzzle. And just like the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs or the Aztec glyphs, once perplexing, have been cracked open, so might we be able to crack the Indus Valley script.

As per usual, link’s below:

Interview with Matthew Whelpton - a linguist

After a referral from my teacher, I decided to email Matthew Whelpton, an english teacher at the University of Iceland, HÍ, with my interview. Unfortunately, technology didn't quite agree with us but I finally recieved his answers, which are, in my opinion, extremely interesting.

What is it that sparked your interest in languages?

"I guess there are two answers to that question: Tolkien and Latin (!). I discovered the Lord of the Rings when I was 11 and was blown away. In particular, the use of languages and poetry throughout the work really captured my imagination and gave me the sense of a hidden world waiting to be discovered. Also my prep school (primary school) taught Latin from age 8. I started one year late and had to catch up. So I sat at the back of the class working through a Latin grammar book and I found it completely fascinating: again, the complexity of the declension and conjugation systems seemed like a mystery worth solving!"

Where did you study?

"My primary school was called Foremarke Hall (http://www.foremarke.org.uk/). My secondary school was called Repton School (http://www.repton.org.uk/). My university was Oxford (B.A. in English Language and Literature; M.Phil in General Linguistics; D.Phil. in English Linguistics)."

Is it a difficult subject, in your opinion?

"Yes, I think it is a difficult subject, partly because it is the meeting point of so many disciplines: those with a natural feel for linguistics often come from the arts and humanities but the techniques that are employed in contemporary linguistics come from natural science and mathematics. But it is a tremendously rewarding subject because of that."

What job opportunities are there in your field?

"Linguists go into a wide range of careers. Teaching, translation and journalism are very common. But given the growing importance of language technology (e.g. talking to your phone or your household appliances) you also find linguists in all kinds of data mining and information technology work. And I recently talked to a linguist who consults with the UK police as a forensic linguist."

Why did you take the decision to become a teacher?

"I think it happened naturally as a result of my research interests: teaching is an important aspect of university work. It has turned out to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of the job. Precisely because linguistics is such a difficult subject, the moment when a student suddenly grasps some aspect of linguistic analysis is incredibly satisfying."

What branch of linguistics did you study?

"I am trained in the generative tradition of linguistics, founded by Noam Chomsky, and I focus on the relation between syntax and semantics: how form and meaning constrain each other."

I want to thank Matthew Whelpton for taking the time to answer these questions and for also being so kind as to send the questions to my teacher, Guðfinna Gunnarsdóttir, when technology failed us. I also want to thank Guðfinna for referring me to him.