Posts about Linguistics

Sentence length in Spanish

Sunday, 20th September 2020 ◆ Time line (8) ◆ Comments (3)

Although I have read a couple French novels as part of an educational requirement, I had never read a foreign-language novel for pleasure until now. I have just finished reading "El Príncipe de la Niebla", a small teenage fiction novel by esteemed Spanish writer Carlos Ruis Zafón. His first novel, in fact.

El Príncipe de la Niebla El Príncipe de la Niebla


Most common words

Friday, 24th July 2020 ◆ Schedule railway to leave stream (4)

I've picked three works of fiction which are freely available from Project Gutenberg, and extracted the 10 most common 6+ letter words from each.

Using only that list of words, can you guess what the novel is? Some may be more obvious than others!

Novel 1

  1. prince
  2. pierre
  3. natásha
  4. andrew
  5. himself
  6. princess


A changing English

Friday, 10th July 2020 ◆ Development cycle without lead (9)

Linguistic evolution happens just fast enough that we can watch it happen in front of us. What an exciting prospect!

Even so, it is interesting to step back and look at the larger picture from time to time, in order to get a sense of just how quickly our language changes.

Here are a few examples from the past to illustrate this change:

| Approximate date | Original | Modern translation | Source |


Linguistic Analogies for the English Speaker

Friday, 7th February 2020 ◆ Lofty monarch loses initial lisp speaking (7)

There are several features of other languages which seem completely alien to me, a native English speaker. When I come across one of these features, I enjoy trying to come up with an example in English which approximates the feature. Here I share a few of the analogies I've come up with.


In English, we use he or she to refer to people (and sometimes animals), and it to refer to things. Barring personification (and antiquitated practices like using 'she' to refer to ships), all 'things' are treated the same.


Taming of language

Tuesday, 5th March 2019 ◆ Strangely, I don't cry; AI used to find meaning (10)

I used to be a stickler for grammar, and an avid prescriptivist. I would get annoyed at signs proclaiming "5 items or less". I read Lynn Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves and was wholly on board: punctuation must be used correctly. I was the annoying person spouting: "I think you'll find it's 'you and I', not 'you and me'." If you were to ask me for a fruit salad, I would suggest a bowl of chopped tomatoes and cucumber.