Questions relating to the scientific study of language.

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185
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9answers
39k views

Is there a word or phrase for the feeling you get after looking at a word for too long?

Sometimes after looking at a word for a while, I become convinced that it can't possibly be spelled correctly. Even after looking it up, sounding it out, and realizing that there's simply no other ...
66
votes
5answers
55k views

If the letter J is only 400–500 years old, was there a J sound that preceded the design of the letter?

I understand that the letter "J" is relatively new — perhaps 400–500 years old. But since there has long been important names that begin with J, such as Jesus, Joshua, Justinian, etc., and which ...
59
votes
8answers
5k views

“kinda”, “sorta”, “coulda”, “shoulda”, “lotta”, “oughta”, “betcha”, “tseasy” etc. What are these?

In linguistics, is there a term describing this phenomenon, i.e., when the syllables of two words are slurred together in the spoken language? They are not contractions. While contractions are ...
32
votes
3answers
67k views

Meaning of “native speaker of English”

Who is considered a native speaker of English? I am a little confused by the various answers found online.
23
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7answers
5k views

Is it true that iambic pentameter is “natural” to English? If so, why?

When I first read Dante's Divine Comedy in high school, I remember once being puzzled at what I thought were strained rhymes in the translation, and mentioned it to my English teacher. In reply, she ...
23
votes
3answers
3k views

What is the origin of the “-th” suffix? What is the linguistic term for the meaning it adds to words?

I was teaching my young nephew some math the other day, and from discussing the typical sort of word problems he's encountering in class, I noticed that the "-th" suffix adds a distinct meaning to ...
21
votes
7answers
1k views

Has English adopted any common morphemes from languages that are not Greek, Latin, or French?

Has English adopted any common morphemes from any "exotic"-type languages? By that, I'm trying to exclude our most frequent borrowings; i.e. French, Latin, and Greek, from which nearly all our ...
21
votes
3answers
2k views

Old English instead of Latin in early Britain

For almost 400 years, Britain was a Roman province. During that period, naturally, Latin was an important language in the region. When the Germanic tribes invaded the British Isles (around the 5th ...
19
votes
3answers
4k views

Why is it “ladies and gentlemen” instead of “gentlemen and ladies”? [duplicate]

Is there a specific reason for this? After all, it is "boys and girls", rather than "girls and boys". If the boy (male) comes first here, why doesn't it come first in "ladies and gentlemen"?
17
votes
11answers
2k views

Language Gibberish

Sometimes, in humor (or an attempt thereof), people will make up gibberish in a certain language in an attempt to poke fun at a language or its speakers. Made-up French, German, Italian, Chinese, most ...
17
votes
4answers
2k views

How do you proceed from pronouncing “t” in the regular way to t-glottalization, as found in various English accents?

It's just strange to me because "t" is pronounced with the front teeth, while the glottalized "t" is produced with the back of the throat; that seems like quite a noticeable journey that couldn't have ...
17
votes
4answers
3k views

English questions and negation with *do* in syntax

A former lecturer of mine once explained why, from a syntactic point of view, the English rule that negation and questions are formed with the auxiliary do follows from other syntactic facts about ...
16
votes
5answers
116k views

What are “coherence” and “cohesion” in text linguistics?

I am still learning English. My English language professor has given me an assignment on coherence and cohesion. But it seems difficult to me. I've consulted my friend and he told me: Cohesion and ...
16
votes
3answers
887 views

Are there sounds where the tongue is not symmetrical?

Are there sounds in English languages and accents where the tongue does not move symmetrically in the mouth, i.e. the right side of the tongue is not moving like the left side?
13
votes
5answers
536 views

Regarding the “i” in “think” vs “bit”

This is a phonetics question. I am teaching English as a Second Language. In phonetics, we all know the "i" in "think" is a "short i" sound. Additionally, the "i" in "bit" is a "short i" sound. ...
13
votes
1answer
6k views

Is there a maximum number of suffixes that can be added to an English word?

You can add various derivational and inflectional suffixes on to most English words to create new longer words (or forms of words). But is there a definite or theoretical maximum that can be added in ...
13
votes
3answers
2k views

When and why did the letter “u” begin being called [ju]?

We pronounce the name of the twenty-first letter of the alphabet homophonically with the word you. Was this what the letter was always called (ever since the analogous letter in Latin), or did it at ...
13
votes
4answers
2k views

Why did “insofar” become a word, not “insofaras”?

So I'm thinking about how "insofar" became a word. This slightly unfair comparison shows that it happened relatively recently. Now, whenever I've seen it written, "insofar" is followed by "as". So ...
12
votes
5answers
30k views

Where does “ta!” come from?

Where does the expression "ta" come from? Wikipedia has only this to say: "ta!", slang, Exclam. Thank you! {Informal}, an expression of gratitude but no additional information or links about ...
12
votes
2answers
3k views

Is the history of h-dropping in English in any way related to the silent h of French?

I was reading up on Richard the III, and his exploits just now in Wikipedia — as is the nature of Wiki, that further me led to stumble to Stafford, Duke of Buckingham's page, where I learned ...
11
votes
6answers
3k views

Exactly what language do I (we) speak?

As an American, and a particularly myopic one, I am a bit confused to the language that I speak. I understand that we were once a colony of England, where English was/is spoken, but do we in the ...
11
votes
3answers
272 views

What is the standard of proof in etymology?

In this question the idea I put forward as a possible etymology for "ta" garnered the response that it is a well known false etymology for the word. That got me to wondering - being strictly a dabbler ...
10
votes
4answers
8k views

Is there a term for “*cough*<something>*cough*”?

What I mean is the act of "coughing" something that you don't actually want to (or rather dare) say outright. So instead of writing, say, "Miss Parker", you'd write "*cough*Ms Parker*cough*" or fake ...
10
votes
3answers
13k views

Origin of “you lot” and other plural forms of “you”

I've often heard the phrase "you lot" in British programs on PBS, e.g. "Oi! You lot! Shift y'selves" or thereabouts, and have sometimes wondered about its origin and how it gained currency. It seems ...
9
votes
4answers
669 views

Why we say “save file” and not “keep/preserve file”

Why do we say save the file/image instead of keep/preserve the file/image? Is it because the original meaning was to save (rescue) the object from being lost?
9
votes
6answers
2k views

What is the name of the phoneme produced in an upper-class Briton's pronunciation of the word “Duke”? What's different in the articulation?

When someone with a Received Pronunciation accent pronounces the word duke, as in The Duke of York, he doesn't pronounce it with a "hard" 'd', as one might pronounce the word duh, but a softer type ...
9
votes
3answers
502 views

Is spell-checking software becoming a linguistic authority?

It seems that‒whether intentionally or not‒spell-checking software in web browsers and productivity suites heavily influence our use of language. For example: in drafting a document, I found that my ...
9
votes
4answers
2k views

Why do we say 'commentator' instead of 'commenter'?

Another thread addresses the Englishness of the words. My question is different and a lot more convoluted: I hope I can make it plain and simple. I. There are straightforward nouns of action and ...
9
votes
1answer
456 views

Is there a well-known term for the synonym or near-synonym “telescoping” words?

This has been rattling around in the back of my mind for many years (way before Stack Exchange came into existence), so it's a relief to finally ask the question. There are words that can be ...
8
votes
8answers
776 views

Term for using “thingy-esque” phrases rather than a common word

{This question came to mind because of the recent question .. What do you call the interconnecting bits of a puzzle piece in English? } In my opinion, in English, it's reasonably common ...
8
votes
3answers
350 views

Verbs of inaction

It seems to me that most English verbs always convey some action. That is, no words (to my knowledge) convey that absence of an action. Let me explain. Let's assume that I wanted to say that a certain ...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

Was what happened to the pronunciation of the word “church”, as compared to the Scots-English “kirk”, a general phenomenon in Middle English?

The other day, I was reading a history of the Norman and Angevin kings, and came across the word kirk in an ecclesiastical context, which I had to look up, having no clue of its meaning. The Online ...
8
votes
4answers
769 views

Are there any indications that English is going to split into different languages in the next hundred years? [closed]

Are there any indications that (global) English is going to split into different languages in the next hundred years?
8
votes
1answer
295 views

What is it called when an antecedent noun follows the pronoun?

Here is the example that raised the question in my mind: He was splashing, enjoying the jungle's great joys, when Horton the elephant heard a small noise. Here, He refers to Horton; but one ...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

What makes a non-native English speaker sound foreign? [closed]

I'm not a native speaker. However, I have tried a lot during last 10 years to learn English at a high level of proficiency and to become fluent in conversation. However, when I talk to some of my ...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

Which does English “l” and “r” sound come under, an allophone or different phonemes?

I was very much embarrassed when I was pointed out by ELU Senpai that I made a great mistake by misspelling ‘Mod election’ as ‘Mod erection’ during ELU chat. We Japanese often make a silly mistake of ...
8
votes
1answer
219 views

What is the term for replacing a name or brand with a funny pejorative / sardonicism?

What is the term for when one replaces a well-known name [(Proper) noun, company, brand, etc.] with one that tries to be funny yet pejoratively descriptive, different but similar enough that one's ...
8
votes
2answers
1k views

Etymology of “binky” — three questions

Definition 2 of binky at wiktionary is "(rabbit behavior) A high hop that a rabbit may perform when happy." This definition is consistent with that at rabbitspeak, and not inconsistent with "A kind ...
8
votes
2answers
1k views

How much of the English language comes from each of its influences?

I was watching a video linked in this answer and it made the following claim: [...] like most words in English is derived from German. That got me thinking. While I know that Germanic languages ...
7
votes
6answers
411 views

Word meaning “its meaning stands alone”

This is a linguistic term I came across recently, but I can't quite remember it - and searching for it is downright impossible! The word implies that context is not required for a particular word. ...
7
votes
4answers
325 views

Ambiguous syntax tree and phrase structure rules

I’m studying for a final for my English Linguistics class and going through example sentences that we should be able to draw syntax trees for. The sentence He looked at the dog with one eye was marked ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

Linguistics term for word choice

I was taught a word once by a linguist. I can't remember it, but it would be very useful for a Google search I am trying to do to solve another question on a different StackExchange. It was a similar ...
7
votes
2answers
530 views

Are there names for consonant-shifts when suffixes are added?

I saw a spelling mistake on an SO question: submittion. That got me wondering, is there a name for the shift of ‑mit‑ to ‑miss‑ in submission, permission, admission and so on? Are there other patterns ...
7
votes
2answers
5k views

What's the difference between grammar and syntax?

I've never understood the difference between these two terms. I understand the difference between semantics and syntax, or between semantics and grammar, but I'm not sure what's the difference between ...
7
votes
1answer
1k views

Is the [ʊ] sound pronounced with lip rounding?

This [ʊ] sound is the vowel sound for words like hook, pull, and good. When I began to learn English a bit more seriously two decades ago, I used a book that taught me to pronounce it shorter and ...
7
votes
1answer
419 views

Why did “thou” become obsolete?

In the Elizabethan era, "thou" was universally used as well as "you". "Thou" represents intimacy. In French, "tu" is still used. The same for German "du". Why did "thou" become obsolete?
6
votes
3answers
832 views

Explanation and rules for adding and subtracting 'r's in British pronunciation?

For example, the sentence, "The Premier of China drank vodka and beer in his car with Obama." A BBC presenter would pronounce it like: The Premieh of Chiner drank vodker and bee'h in his ca' with ...
6
votes
4answers
5k views

If someone is an expert in written (rather than spoken) language, can they still be called a “linguist”?

When I think of “linguistics”, I typically think of the study of spoken languages, particularly phonetics. Compared to “language”, which of course is used of writing systems, ...
6
votes
6answers
1k views

Why does the following phrase sound old fashioned?

"We went swimming later in the afternoon, Jack and I." I am trying to describe what is happening here by breaking the sentence down into it's basic components, but I am having difficulty doing this. ...
6
votes
3answers
2k views

British upper-class pronunciation of words like “what” and “when”

More from the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. I've noticed in these sort of movies, when some very upper-class speakers talk, like the lawyer in the series, Mr. Tulkinghorn, they have ...