Questions relating to the scientific study of language.

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128
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9answers
17k views

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

(Perhaps this only happens to me, but I doubt it.) 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 ...
56
votes
5answers
11k 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 ...
28
votes
3answers
34k 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.
21
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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

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 ...
20
votes
3answers
1k 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
6answers
2k 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 ...
16
votes
11answers
1k 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 ...
15
votes
3answers
732 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?
15
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 ...
15
votes
4answers
2k 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 ...
13
votes
5answers
418 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
3answers
1k 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 ...
11
votes
2answers
2k 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
1answer
2k 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 ...
10
votes
6answers
2k 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 ...
10
votes
5answers
10k 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 ...
10
votes
4answers
51k 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 ...
10
votes
3answers
215 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
3answers
7k 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
4k 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 ...
9
votes
4answers
442 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
4answers
1k 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 ...
9
votes
3answers
416 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 ...
8
votes
3answers
255 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
1answer
211 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
428 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 ...
7
votes
4answers
500 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?
7
votes
3answers
899 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 ...
7
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 ...
7
votes
4answers
977 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 ...
7
votes
3answers
755 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 ...
7
votes
2answers
292 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
1answer
802 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
2answers
938 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 ...
6
votes
4answers
2k 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
840 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 ...
5
votes
3answers
912 views

Is there a term for switching syllables of words?

Primary question: A common speaking mistake is to exchange syllables of words, saying "It's trace rhyme!" instead of saying "It's race time!", or pronouncing "kickin' chackatory" instead of "chicken ...
5
votes
3answers
665 views

Adjectives that do not have predicative position

I've read somewhere that some adjectives cannot be used in the predicative position; for example "this is a major problem" is acceptable, but "the problem is major" is not acceptable. I'm wondering ...
5
votes
2answers
170 views

Modern replacement for checking frequency tables?

What is the most up-to-date, robust, and reliable way to check verb (or other POS) frequencies in current usage? Is there any hope of an algorithm involving counting Google hits and dividing by some ...
5
votes
2answers
4k 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
674 views

Syntax for marking incorrect examples of language

I have noticed various marks in example sentences to denote incorrect examples of English: This is correct. *This incorrectly. The former is left alone; the latter has an asterisk marking ...
5
votes
3answers
696 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
162 views

Why is the state of being resident “residence”, but the state of being president “presiden-cy”?

Resident : Residence seems like the normal pairing to me. Residency isn't exactly unknown (see here), but it's far less common. But with President the derivatives are reversed and then some. ...
4
votes
1answer
469 views

Flexibility of English: Always so?

The other day I read a question about nouns being used as verbs. An answer informed that in English any word can be used as a verb, but that it is not so in other languages. Beyond verbs, English is a ...
4
votes
2answers
998 views

Analysis (tree diagram) of “She hugged and kissed her mother”

I was wondering how linguists analyze sentences like "She hugged and kissed her mother" or "Will you have that with or without syrup?" or "Four and five are the square roots of sixteen and ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

Are any of the t-glottolization, th-fronting, h-dropping, etc. in English a phonological complex?

Wikipedia gives the following, with plenty others ommitted by me, as some of the features of Cockney English: T-glottalisation: Use of the glottal stop as an allophone of /t/ in various ...
4
votes
3answers
415 views

Is there a name for the kind of sounds commonly found in profanities?

Fuck. Shit. Bitch. Cunt. I remember reading somewhere -- a very long time ago -- that these "hard" sounds are virtually necessary in profanities. The explanation I roughly remember is that because ...
4
votes
2answers
452 views

Is it possible to regard “vacant” and “vacancy” as allomorphs (variants) of the same root in Modern English?

Am I right to consider /΄veikənt/ and /΄veikəns/ in those words as variants of one and the same root morpheme in Modern English. But it makes me hesitate in my morphemic division if we take for ...