Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Quantitative Vowel Length in English

English has quantitative vowel length, but this is phonetically conditioned. For this reason, it is not phonemic as in other languages. In Finnish, the words tuli (fire) and tuuli (wind), are distinguished by vowel length alone. English also has vowel length, but this never distinguishes words.

The words made and mate are minimal pairs. They have different word-final consonants, but the vowel quantity is also different. The diphthong of made is longer than the diphthong of mate. In the word pair maze/mace, the diphthong of maze is longer than the diphthong of mace. The reason is that vowels become long before tautosyllablic voiced consonants. This can be written as a phonological rule: V → [+long] / _ [+consonant] $.  The symbol $ represents a syllable boundary.

Vowel length also differs before plosives and fricatives. In the pair maze/made, the diphthong is longer before maze than before made. The word maze ends with a word-final continuant. The continuous airflow of the fricative results in a longer diphthong than is the case with made, a word which ends with a plosive.

Here are more examples of words with different quanitative vowel lengths from shortest to longest:

hit hiss hid his
neat niece need knees

The words which end with voiceless plosives have the shortest vowel length. The ones which end with voiced fricatives have the longest. The words with the shortest vowel lengths end with voiceless consonants, and those with the longest vowel lengths end with voiced consonants.

Unlike in languages such as Hungarian and Finnish, vowel length in English is not phonemic. However, English has examples of quantitative vowel length. Vowels are lengthened before voiced plosives, and vowels are longest before voiced fricatives.

Monday, August 28, 2017


The English poet Christina Rossetti wrote Remember while she was a teenager. Here is the poem:


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of your future that you planned;
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

The poem Remember is a Petrarchan sonnet. As is typical with Petrarchan sonnets, there is a turn at the end of the eight verse and the beginning of the ninth. It consists of 14 verses with ten syllables in each. The ten syllables are further divided into five meters. The rhyme scheme is abba abba cdd ece.

Vanilla Custard

Vanilla custard is easy to make. Known in French as pot de creme, it's baked in a steam bath. Here is the recipe:

1 1/2 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Boil the milk and vanilla.
In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar.
When the milk has cooled, slowly add to the egg mixture.
Pour the mixture into four ramekins.
Be sure to feel only about 3/4 of the way.
Place the ramekins on a tray filled with water.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
After baking refrigerate the ramekins for at least four hours.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lyonnaise Potatoes

Lyonnaise potatoes are boiled, fried and baked. This French dish takes a little time to prepare, but it's well worth the effort. Here's the recipe:

1 kilogram potatoes, peeled
10 tablespoons butter
2 onions, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with salted cold water.
Boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
Drain and rinse under cold water.
Slice the potatoes into thin slices.
In a large pan, melt two tablespoons of butter.
Add about 1/4 of the potatoes.
Season with salt and pepper and fry until golden, about 6 minutes.
Continue frying, adding more butter each time.
Add 2 more tablespoons and fry the onions until golden, about 5 minutes.
Return the potatoes to the pan and mix gently.
Cook for 5 minutes to combine the flavours.
Transfer the potatoes and onions to a large baking dish.
Bake at 150 degrees Celsius for about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle parsley over the potatoes and serve.

These potatoes are very good with meat and fish dishes.

Pitch in Different Languages

Pitch varies significantly among languages. Also known as frequency, this varies not only among languages but also between men and women. Most men have a range between 85 and 180 Hertz, and most women between 165 and 255 Hertz.

Languages with low pitch include Hungarian, Greek, Finnish, Catalan and Hebrew. Those with high pitch include Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hindi and Turkish. English has lower pitch than Spanish but higher pitch than Dutch.

With respect to English dialects, the difference in pitch is relatively small. New Zealand English has the lowest pitch, and Irish English has the highest. Spanish demonstrates a much greater difference in pitch among dialects. Argentinian Spanish has the lowest pitch, and Peruvian has the highest. European Spanish has a low pitch and Mexican has a high one.

Tone languages such as Chinese and Vietnamese have a high pitch, but non-tonal languages such as Hungarian and Finnish do not. Related languages often vary significantly with respect to pitch. Though Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are closely related, they are different in pitch- Swedish has the lowest pitch followed by Danish and then Norwegian. Swedish pitch is lower than that of English, but Danish and Norwegian have higher pitch than English does.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The suffix -dom

English suffixes such as -ly and -est (friendly, quickly, fastest, strongest) are very common. In contrast, the suffix -dom occurs in few words. Here's a list of common words with -dom:


Less common than kingdom is queendom. The suffix -dom combines with either a noun or an adjective. This is illustrated by the following:

boredom A + Af
fandom N + Af
filmdom N + Af
freedom A + Af
kingdom N + Af
martyrdom N + Af
stardom N + Af
wisdom A + Af

The structure of boredom is bored + dom and of wisdom it is wise + dom. Af corresponds to affix.

The suffix -dom also occurs in words which have more common equivalents. For example, the words Christendom, consumerdom and sisterdom are less common than Christianity, consumerism and sisterhood.

The suffix -dom is far less productive than other English suffixes. It can combine with both nouns and adjectives. It can derive nouns from adjectives such as freedom and is thus classified as a derivational affix.

Love of Literature

Here is my latest poem. I hope you enjoy it!

Love of Literature

Love of literature brings new lands,
Exciting journeys, wondrous scenes,
Masterful works of different hands,
Dragons, palaces, kings and queens.

Inside this world we discover
Mystery, suspense, laughter, surprise,
Characters with wit and valour,
Views of different ears and eyes.

Dialogue creates a picture
Aided by imagination.
Time can shift from past to future,
Writers combine word with action.

Works of literature are memories
Of beauty, wisdom, adventure.
They are pages of new journeys
To continue through each chapter.

Literature is art on paper,
Living in our homes, schools and minds.
Literature is part of culture,
Leaving genres of many kinds.

Monday, August 14, 2017


Hypercorrection is the overapplication of a rule of grammar or usage. The result is a form which is considered non-standard. Many speakers commit hypercorrection in an effort to appear educated and sophisticated.

The word regardless has the suffix -less. However, many speakers use irregardless, which is non-standard. The reason is the overapplication of the prefix -ir in words such as irrational and irreparable.

Hypercorrection also occurs in the phrase between you and I. The phrase you and I is correct in subject position, but not as object of the preposition. After between, me is required. The standard phrase is between you and me.

Another example of hypercorrection is octopi. The standard plural is octopuses. The non-standard form occurs because many words derived from Latin such as alumni and fungi end in -i. The word octopus, however, is derived from Greek.

Hypercorrection often occurs in language. It applies to native and non-native speakers of a language. Hypercorrection is the result of the overgeneralization of a particular rule.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Victory in 16

In a game of speed chess, my opponent resigned after my sixteenth move. He was KingMichaelVIII of Japan, who played black. Here are the moves of the game along with my commentary:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nf6
3. Bc4 Bd6

The most common move for white here is Nxe5, but I choose a different line.

4. 0-0 h6
5. c3 c6
6. d4 Qe7
7. dxe Bxe5
8. Kh1 0-0
9. Nxe5 Qxe5
10. Re1 Re8
11. f3 d5
12. Bd3 dx3

I have a defensive position.

13. Bxe4 Bf5

If I take the bishop, black can mate. (Bxf5, Qxe1, Qxe1, Rxe1#)

14. Nd2 Bxe4
15. Nxe4 Nxe4

Black's move is a blunder. He needs to connect his rooks with Nd7.

16. Rxe4

Black resigns. His queen is under attack, but if he moves his queen, he loses his rook with check. Black's failure to connect his rooks on the backrank leads to his resignation.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

South African English

South African English has considerable social and regional variation. It features the trap-bath split and with the exception of speakers influenced by Afrikaans, is non-rhotic. The main phonological features of the South African dialect are the vowels.

The vowel in kit tends to be more centralized than in other varieties of English. In the word bath, the vowel is more open and retracted than in other dialects. The diphthongs of words such as town and side are often monophthongized.

With respect to consonants, /h/ is often voiced word-initially and voiceless plosives are often unaspirated or less aspirated than in other varieties.

Among South African speakers who don't monophthongize words such as town and side, the first component of the diphthong is more retracted than in standard English. The low front vowel of had is often raised to the vowel of head and the mid front vowel of head is often raised to the high front vowel of hid. This feature is also characteristic of New Zealand English.

Many South African speakers flap the [d] and [t] in intervocalic position. For these speakers, words such as medal and metal sound identical. Flapping is especially common in casual speech.

South African English has vowel retraction in words such as bath, a tendency to monophthongize the diphthongs of words such as town and side, vowel raising and flapping. It has the trap-bath split and is non-rhotic for most speakers. The English of South Africa is far from uniform and reflects the social and ethnic backgrounds of its speakers.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Fried Bread

Fried bread is popular in Hungary. It can be eaten with a variety of toppings such as sour cream and fresh dill, cheese and also chopped onions and garlic. Here is the recipe:

1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
oil to fry

Mix the sugar and yeast into the milk.
Let it stand for 10 minutes.
Place the flour into a large bowl.
Make a well in the centre.
Add the sugar, yeast and milk mixture.
Add the oil, mashed potatoes and salt.
Mix until the dough holds together.
Put on a smooth surface and knead for about 15 minutes.
Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for one hour.
After the dough has risen, flour your hands and divide into 4 portions.
Shape each into a round, flat cake.
Heat the oil to medium in a pan.
Fry for about 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
Serve with your favourite topping.

Spanish Adjective Order

In English adjectives are placed before the noun. This adjective order also occurs in Spanish, but Spanish adjectives usually follow the noun. In this post I will examine Spanish adjective order.

The adjectives bueno (good) and malo (bad) can be placed before or after nouns. Here are examples:

un libro bueno/un buen libro (a good book)
una idea mala/una mala idea (a bad idea)

Notice that the adjective bueno drops the o before the noun libro.

Certain adjectives must be placed before the noun. Here are examples:

el mejor actor (the best actor)
la peor clase (the worst class)

tres opciones (three options)
mi vida (my life)

In certain cases both orders are possible, but the meaning changes:

un amigo viejo (an elderly friend)
un viejo amigo (a longtime friend) 

un coche nuevo ( a modern car)
un nuevo coche ( a car that was recently bought)

Spanish adjectives usually follow the noun. However, certain adjectives can precede or follow the noun without a change in meaning and a few must precede the noun. With a few adjectives, the two adjective orders are possible, but the meaning changes.

Names of Major Cities in Esperanto

Esperanto, a language invented by Ludwig Zamenhof, is unique because all nouns must end in an o. This doesn't apply to all nouns, i.e., the names of people, but it applies to the names of major cities. Here is a list of major cities with their names in Esperanto:

Atlanto Atlanta
Berlino Berlin
Bruselo Brussels
Bonaero Buenos Aires
Detrojto Detroit
Filadelfio Philadelphia
Frankfurto Frankfurt
Hamburgo Hamburg
Jerusalemo Jerusalem
Manilo Manila
Montrealo Montreal
Moskvo Moscow
Novjorko New York
Osako Osaka
Oslo Oslo
Parizo Paris
Pekino Beijing
Prago Prague
Romo Rome
Seatlo Seattle

Many of the cities listed are very similar to their English counterparts. Cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Jerusalem merely add an o. However, the Esperanto equivalents of certain cities such as Buenos Aires and New York may not be immediately recognized.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Plum Soup

Plum soup is popular in Hungarian cuisine. Here is the recipe:

2 1/2 cups plums
3 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
six whole cloves
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Halve the plums and remove the pits.
Boil the plums, water, sugar and cloves for ten minutes.
Add the flour to the sour cream.
Slowly add to the soup.
Boil for five more minutes.
Add the cinnamon and lemon rind.

Plum soup can be served hot or cold. It's easy to prepare and very tasty.

Pronunciation of -ed in Adjectives

Many English adjectives have the ending -ed. They are formed from verbs as in cooked, processed and typed. However, a few adjectives have a different pronunciation in which the -ed ending is a separate syllable. 

These adjectives are relatively few. Here are five common ones:


When these words are used as verbs, the -ed ending is pronounced [d] or [t]. The pronunciation [Id] only applies when they are used as adjectives, and in most cases, as attributive adjectives. Here are examples where the [Id] pronunciation is used:

The aged leader announced his resignation.
My beloved grandparents are visiting tomorrow.
The baptism was a blessed moment.
They left the cursed home.
This is a learned journal.

In the case of They left the cursed home, cursed can also be pronounced with the ending [t]. Many speakers consider the pronunciation [Id] a bit archaic.

The adjective learned is pronounced with the pronunciation [d] in certain cases such as learned behaviour.

If the adjective aged has the meaning of age, the ending is pronounced [d]. For example, All high school-aged students will take part in the field trip uses the ending [d].

The ending [d] or [t] is used when these words function as verbs. Here are examples:

This cheese has been aged for 10 years.
They are dearly beloved by everyone.
Everyone felt blessed. (The spelling blest can also be used here).
The enemies cursed one another.
We have learned so much in the past year.

English adjectives formed from verbs which have the ending -ed are usually pronounced with a word-final [d] or [t]. However, certain adjectives are pronounced with the ending [Id] when they are used as attributive adjectives. The adjective learned is an exception and retains the pronounciation [Id] in predicates as in She is very learned. The pronunciation [Id] reflects an earlier pronunciation of the English language.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Icelandic Oatmeal Pancakes

Oatmeal pancakes are popular in Iceland. They are flavoured with cardamom. Here is the recipe:

1 1/2 cups cooked oatmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cardamom
2 cups milk
1/3 cup raisins (optional)

Stir the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into the oatmeal.
Add the eggs and cardamom.
Add the milk.
If desired, add the raisins.
Add butter to a hot frying pan and prepare like pancakes.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Pronunciation of Swiss German

The pronunciation of Swiss German differs from that of standard German in several respects. Swiss German has many dialects with differences of pronunciation among them. However, certain pronunciation features pertain to all Swiss German dialects.

Unlike in standard German, which devoices word final obstruents, Swiss German maintains an opposition between words such as Rat (advice) and Rad (wheel). In Swiss German the plosives /p/, /t/ and /k/ are usually unaspirated. For example, Tee (tea) is unaspirated.

Swiss German lacks the palatal fricative of standard German. The velar fricative is used extensively. In addition, the /r/ is pronounced as an alveolar trill in many dialects, though certain dialects, especially in the northeast of the country, have a uvular trill.

Many words are stressed differently in Swiss German. First-syllable stress is used more than in the standard language. For example, Kaffee (coffee) is stressed on the first syllable in Swiss German and not on the second as is the case in standard German.

Swiss German is very different from standard German. With respect to pronunciation, Swiss German has no palatal fricative and no devoicing of word-final obstruents. More words are stressed on the first syllable than in the standard language and plosives are usually unaspirated. Many dialects pronounce the /r/ as an alveolar trill. Swiss German has a distinct pronunciation.

Consonant Mutation in English

Consonant mutation is the change in a consonant of a word due to the morphological or syntactic environment. It is evident not only in English but in languages all around the world. Consonant mutation provides evidence of sound change.

In Old English velar plosives were palatalized in certain environments. This resulted in alternations. This can be seen in the doublet ditch/dike.

Consonant mutation occurs in the past tense of certain verbs. These include seek/sought and think/thought. Consonant mutation also occurs in loanwords from Latin. Compare confess/confession and fuse/fusion.

The palatalization of velar plosives before front vowels results in forms such as induce/induction and produce/production. In act/action the word-final alveolar alveolar plosive of act is replaced with an alveopalatal fricative in action. 

Consonant mutation provides evidence of sound change. In English consonant mutation is often observed in verbs and in loanwords from Latin. Though consonant mutation can occur in all parts of the world, it usually occurs word-finally.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Compensatory Lengthening

Compensatory lengthening refers to the lengthening of a vowel sound due to the loss of a consonant. This usually occurs in the syllable coda.  This phonology process is common in English and many other languages.

The word night provides an example of compensatory lengthening. It used to be pronounced with a velar fricative. The phonetic transcription is thus [nixt]. However, the velar fricative was later lost. To compensate for the loss of the fricative, the vowel lengthened to compensate. The word was then pronounced [ni:t]. As a result of the Grent English Vowel Shift, the pronunciation of the word night later changed to [naIt].

In non-rhotic dialects of English, words such as her and service have a long schwa. This compensates for the loss of the consonant. In words such as here and tour, however, many speakers have a schwa which replaces the rhotic consonant.

An example of compensatory lengthening can also be observed in Spanish. The word dos [two] is realized as [do:] in certain dialects. The word-final s isn't pronounced. To compensate, the vowel is lengthened.

Compensatory lengthening is a common phonological process. It usually occurs in the syllable coda and exemplifies sound change. The loss of the syllable-final consonant results in the lengthening of the preceding vowel. As a result, the language preserves the rhythmical quality of the word.

Featured Post

Finding the Proto-Form

Related languages have a number of words which are similar to one another. In the branch of linguistics known as historical linguistics, the...