Friday, February 29, 2008

Voice onset time

In this figure, the top line shows the closure (single line) and opening (double line) of the lips. Each of the three other lines shows when voicing begins relative to the opening of the lips (the dashed vertical line) for three different stops, [ph], as in English pie; [p], as in Spanish pie; and [b], as in English buy and Spanish vaya.
For voiceless plosive consonants, vocal fold vibration is stopped for a period that is a little longer than the hold phase, so there is still no vocal fold vibration around the moment of release (when the articulators part and the plosion is heard) and posibly for a further brief time afterwards. This delay, measured from the start of the explosion to the point where vocal fold vibration begins, is called voice onset time (VOT). Though so short that it is best expressed in milliseconds, it is very important for the listener.
If the VOT is longer than 30 ms, a plosive doesn't just sound voiceless. The VOT can actually be heard as a brief [h]-like segment following the explosion and the plosive is said to be aspirated.
There can be a zero VOT (where the onset of the vocal fold vibration coincides with the plosive release), positive VOT (where there is a delay in the onset of the vocal fold vibration after the plosive release) and negative VOT (where the onset of the vocal fold vibration preceeds the plosive release).

Word of the day: salti

(eo) salti: altiĝi en la aeron kaj for de la tero, fleksante kaj subite etendante la krurojn (se fiŝo, la voston), kaj refali preskaŭ sur la sama loko, plejofte por montri vivplenon, ĝojon aŭ simple por ekzerciĝi.
(no) hoppe: gjøre et hopp, sprette.
(en) jump: move forward by leaps and bounds.
(sp) saltar: salvar de un salto un espacio o distancia.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Electropalatography (EPG or palatometry) is a technique for recording the timing and location of tongue contact with the roof of the mouth (hard palate) during continuous speech. It requires the speaker to wear an artificial palate which is similar to an orthodontic brace and fits against the hard palate. This false palate has 62 silver elctrodes embedded in it, arrenged in groups to cover the alveolar ridge and the hard palate. The electrodes are sensitive to the contact by the speaker's tongue. The outputs of the electrodes are continuously monitored by computer while the speaker is talking. The resulting analysis is displayed in a series of figures known as palatograms. an example of such a system is LinguaGraph. The conventional way of displaying the output is in a grid of cells. The alveolar area is at the top and the border with the soft palate area is at the bottom. If a cell is empty, then no tongue contact was recorded there.
EPG can also be used to help diagnose speech disorders like cleft palate, articulation disorders, hearing impairement and in adults with aquired speech disorders (for example, difficulty with speech following a stroke).

You can read a little of this technique's history here. You can read here the procedure followed to do a research with this technique.

Word of the day: ŝoko

(eo) ŝoko: stato en kiu, iu ĉagrenas iun ajn, malplaĉante al li kaj kontraŭante lian komprenmanieron pri dececo kaj konveneco.
(no) sjokk: en svært stor (og ubehagelig) overraskelse.
(en) shock: the feeling of distress and disbelief that you have when something bad happens accidentally.
(sp) conmoción: movimiento o perturbación violenta del ánimo o del cuerpo.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Word of the day: Skandalo

I should go back to the word of the day thingy. Again, I'll ba basing it on the word of the day sent by Lernu.

(eo) skandalo: kolektiva indigno, kaŭzata de la malbona ago kulpita de respektata publika persono.
(en) scandal: disgraceful gossip about the private lives of other people.
(no) skandale: noe som vekker stor forargelse og pinlig oppmerksomhet.
(sp) escándalo: acción o palabra que es causa de que alguien obre mal o piense mal de otra persona.

"Introducing phonetic science", by Ashby and Maidment

I've started reading Introducing phonetic science, by Michael Ashby and Jonh Maidment. You can find the chapter summaries here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin and the rest

Ever wondered why some of us learned the capital of People's Republic of China is Peking? And what about Beijing? The city that is called 北京 in Chinese (meaning "Northern capital") has been writen for us as Běijīng, Peiching, Pei-ching, and Peking. Maybe because it is pronounced [peɪ˨˩ tɕɪŋ˥˥].

In order to have something to study, I needed to look up some of the words and phrases in Chinese. I find that using pinyin is easier than the ideograms.
But how is pinyin read? And what is pinyin?
Pinyin is a romanization of Mandarin. This is, Madarin language written with Latin alphabet. A logical step, if you consider that for Westerns it'd be way easier to learn that language (and to be used on communications). Yeah, right. This approach has some important drewbacks.
For example, the conventions of how to use pinyin may not coincide with the use of those Latin letters in Western languages. Letters j, q, x and zh indicate sounds that do not correspond to any English sound, but the reader might be mislead and pronounce them as English sounds.
And maybe this is why someone comes and proposes his own romanization way. The most common of all is Hanyu pinyin (汉语拼音), but the current official romanization in the Republic of China is the Tongyong pinyin (通用拼音). These two replaced the old Wade-Giles system (威妥玛拼音).

In 1859, the British Thomas Francis Wade developed a system to write Mandarin language with the Latin alphabet. In his Chinese-English dictionary of 1892, Herber Allen Giles gave a settled form for Wade's system.
This system was the main one for transcription in the English speaking world for a good deal of the 20th century. It was used for all publications relating China until 1979, but it is still in use in the Republic of China.

The Chinese Postal Map Romanization (郵政式拼音) came into use in late Qing dinasty and was officialy sanctioned by the Imperial Postal Joint-Session Confernce (帝國郵電聯席會議), which was held in Shanghai in the spring of 1906. It was retained after the fall of the Qing dinasty in 1912, and since it was in use in the official postal atlas f the Republic of China, it remained the most common way of rendering Chinese place names in the West for a large part of the 20th century. It was based on Wade-Giles.

A group of linguists that included Yuen Ren Chao (赵元任) and Lin Yutang (林语堂) developed the Gwoyeu Romatzyh system (國語羅馬字, meaning "National [language] Romanization) from 1925 to 1926.
In 1928, China adopted the GR system as the official one. The problem with this one is that it was too narrowly based on the eijing dialect and it was too complex.

Then Hanyu pinyin came, developed by Zhou Youguan. The first edition of Hanyu pinyin was approved and adopted at the Fifth Sesion of the First National People's Congress on February 11th, 1958 (Hey! 50th birthday!) . In 2001 the Chinese Government issued the National Common Language Law, providing a legal basis for applying pinyin.

Tongyong pinyin was introduced in Taiwan in 1998 by Yu Bor-chuan (余伯泉) and it was aproved by ROC's Ministry of Education in 2002 but its use is not mandatory.

A comparision chart of Hanyu pinyin and Tongyong pinyin can be found here.
But besides all I've already mentioned, there are still more.
There is a Chinese transcription system by the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) that was in use in the French speaking world until the middle of the last century. It was created by Séraphin Couvreur in 1902.
In 1928, with the intention that the large Chinese population living in the Eastern region of the U.S.S.R. could be literate, the Soviet Scientific Research Institute on China (in Moscow) constructed the Beifangxua Latinxua Sin Wenz system (北方話拉丁化新文字). In 1931 a coordinated effort between the Soviet sinologists B.M. Alekseev, A.A. Dragunov and A.G. Shrprintsin, and the Moscow-based Chinese scholars Qu Qiubai, Wu Yuzhang, Lin Boqu (林伯渠), Xiao San, Wang Xiangbao, and Xu Teli established the Latinxua Sin Wenz system.
The Yale romanization was created during World War II for use by United States military personnel to communicate with their Chinese allies on battlefield.
Legge romanization is system used by the prolific 19th century Scottish sinologist James Legge.
The Simplyfied Wade is a modification of the Wade-Giles devised by the Swedish linguist Olov Bertil Anderson in 1970.
The Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (國語注音符號第二式, abbreviated MPS II) was used in Taiwan until it was abandonded in 2002. It was released on May 10th, 1984 by the Ministry of Education and after two years of public feedback, it was established on January 28th, 1986. It is called II to distinguish it from the Zhuyin fuhao (注音符號, officially called officially called "Mandarin Phonetic Symbols I", 國語注音符號第一式).
You can take a look at a brief comparision of some of these systems here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chinese numbers

I need to post here in order to not to forget it. Chinese numbers are easier than I had thought. Or at least the way they are formed beyond ten.
1 一 yī

2 二 èr
3 三 sān
4 四 sì
5 五 wǔ
6 六 liù
7 七 qī
8 八 bā
9 九 jiǔ
10 十 shí
0 零 / 〇 líng
The strokes are taken from the same site I did last time. And now, here's an audio file. It'll make it easier!
Once you know these eleven numbers, counting to up to 99 is easy thing:
11 (10+1) 十一 shíyī
12 (10+2) 十二 shí'èr
13 (10+3) 十三 shísān
19 (10+9) 十九 shíjiǔ
20 (2x10) 二十 èrshí
21 (2x10 + 1) 二十一 èrshíyī
22 (2x10 + 2) 二十二 èrshí'èr
30 (3x10) 三十 sānshí
40 (4x10) 四十 sìshí
90 (9x10) 九十 jiǔshí
99 (9x10 + 9) 九十九 jiǔshíjiǔ
Again, an audio file. Whoever is ready for an exercise, here it is! Or take a quiz!!
Today we also "learned" how to say our date of birth. It'd go something like 我 生日是 1975年 9月6号.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Manner of articulation

We have already talked about the place of articulation. But for each place the tongue touches, we can do something different. That's what the manner of articulation is about: different ways we use to generate sounds.

Stricture (or constriction degree) is how close the speech organs approach one another. Sounds can be classified as
  • stop consonants: with occlusion, or blocked airflow
  • fricative consonants: with partially blocked and therefore strongly turbulent airflow
  • approximants: with only slight turbulence
  • vowels: with full unimpeded airflow
Affricates often behave as if they were intermediate between stops and fricatives, but phonetically they are sequences of stop plus fricative. Sibilants are distinguished from other fricatives by the shape of the tongue and how the airflow is directed over the teeth. Taps and flaps are similar to very brief stops. Trills involve the vibration of one of the speech organs. Nasal airflow may be added as an independent parameter to any speech sound. Laterality is the release of airflow at the side of the tongue.

Here, an exercise. Also make sure to visit this interactive site.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jan Amos Komenský

Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670), known as Comenius, was a bishop of the Czech Unity of Brethren. With his fellow Protestants, he was exiled from Bohemia in 1628, and became a master, and later rector, at the gymnasium of Leszno, in Poland.

Comenius’s Janua linguarum was one of the most successful pedagogical works of the seventeenth century. Initially published in 1631, it was soon translated into a number of European languages,

Comenius planned a philosophical language which would be universal, to ease communication and understanding, much as his philosophically-grounded system for teaching in the Janua linguarum had aided the acquisition of tongues.

His work promised to overcome the curse of Babel by re-founding human language on a reformed philosophy, basing it on a simplified range of concepts which reflected a rational analysis of the natural world. The essence of these ideas can be detected in the form of the Janua linguarum, the book which made Comenius's reputation as a teacher and philosopher.

A little more about Comenius, by a Czech, here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Paralanguage refers to the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion. Paralanguage may be expressed consciously or unconsciously, and it includes the pitch, volume, and, in some cases, intonation of speech. Sometimes the definition is restricted to vocally-produced sounds. The study of paralanguage is known as paralinguistics.

The non-technical term tone of voice means the same thing as vocal qualifiers. There are various things that can vary, and that affect our perception of tone of voice; increasing loudness or softness (of a syllable, word phrase or sentence) is one obvious one.

A second set of vocal qualifiers involves raised or lowered pitch, which can convey things like fear, anxiety or tenseness, or designate a question.

Third, there's spread register and squeezed register which refers to the spreading or compressing of the time interval between the pitches when one speaks.

Another is rasp, or openness, which has to due to with the muscular tensions in the larynx when someone speaks. A tenseness will result in a more raspy type of utterance for example, a kind of choked sound, while openness is the opposite.

Then there's drawling or clipping which is associated somewhat with accent, and whether the speaker is drawing out individual syllables or clipping them. This is most noticeable if you compare a native English speaker to someone who has learned French, or German first.

Finally, tempo can be increased or decreased. Speaking quickly tends to communicate urgency or a high emotional state. Slow tempos give the impression of uncertainty. It's worth nothing that interpreting all of these vocal qualifiers requires knowing the speaker's baseline communication.

Vocal differentiators refer to another way that how one says something can be influence by how it is said. Examples of vocal differentiators are crying, laughing and breaking, where breaking refers to speaking in a broken or halting manner. Clearly a phrase uttered by a crying person will mean something different than once said by a laughing person.

Vocal identifiers refer to the small sounds we make that are not necessarily words per se, but have meaning. For example, ah-hah, un-huh, and huh-uh.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Starting with Mandarin

This post is of no use for anybody except me. As I am "taking" a lightning Chinese course, I just want to have all phrases (very basic ones) in one place so I can take a look at them before the next seven weeks end.
But even I can see some patterns here.

你 好 (hǎo): Hi!
谢 (xièxie): Thanks
妈妈 (māma): mum

爸爸 (bàba): dad
(wǒ shì Zhōngguórén): I am Chinese

(Zhōngguó): China
(Měiguó): U. S. A.
(Yīngguó): Britain
墨西哥 (mò xī gē): Mexico, 墨西哥 (mò xī gē rén): Mexican person
(Fǎguó): France, 法国 (Fǎguórén): French person
(Déguó): Germany, 德国 (Déguórén): German person
日本 (Rīběn): Japan, 日本 (Rīběnrén): Japanese person

他 (tā): he, 她 (tā): she
(wǒmen): we, 你 (nǐmen): you (plural)

All the lovely strokes were taken from this site.
OMG! Of course nobody is expecting ME to learn how to WRITE that down! It is an art!

An interesting thing I noticed while searching for the images is the different meanings of some of the words.
美, one of the "components" for "US.A." also means "beautiful". And 英, the starter for "Britain" also means "brave".
It is also interesting to notice the words for "he" and "she". They are spelled
他 and 她, respectively. But they are pronounced the same. 牠 and 它 are third person singular too. They correspond to the animate and inanimate "it", respectively. And they are also pronounced !
Originally, Chinese had no distinction for gender in the second and third person pronouns, and no distinction for animacy in the third person either. In fact, in the spoken language, they remain undifferentiated. These characters were created in response to contact with the West and its gender and animacy indicating pronouns.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Endocentric and exocentric constructions

An endocentric construction (also known as a headed construction, where the head is contained "inside" the construction) is a grammatical construction that fulfills the same linguistic function as one of its constituents. It consists of an obligatory head and one or more optional, dependent words, whose presence serves to narrow the meaning of the head.
Here, the word "head" refers to the morpheme that determines the category of a compound or the word that determines the syntactic type of the phrase of which it is a member.
The distribution of an endocentric construction is functionally equivalent, or approaching equivalence, to one of its member constituents, which serves as the centre, or head, of the whole.

Exocentric constructions are phrases and compound words which are not the same part of speech as their constituents. In an exocentric compound, the word class is determined lexically, disregarding the class of the constituents.

Endocentric compounds were called karmadhāraya, a type of compound in Sanskrit grammar.
Exocentric compounds are called bahuvrīhí (बहुव्रीहि, or bahuvrihi compounds). The term bahuvrihi was first used by Sanskrit grammarians, and is a specific Sanskrit example: a compound consisting of bahu ("much") and vrihi ("rice").

So, the distinction between endocentric and exocentric constructions is based on the question of an equivalence between the class of the construction as a whole and the class of any of its constituents.

Endocentric constructions are traditionally subdivided into two types: subordinative and coordinative. Subordinative ones have one centre and one other element subordinated to it, occurring as an optional extra, so to speak. In a coordinative construction, however, there are two or more independent centres with equal status; the more common type of coordinative construction there is, in addition to the centres, a marker of coordination, like and or or.
While the additive type of construction (with and) may involve a change of subclass, in that the coordinative construction is plural but may contain singular constituents, the alternative type (with or) and the appositive type maintain the subclass of their constituents.

Coordinative and subordinative constructions are so different that it is probably better to regard them as independent types alongside exocentric constructions, rather than as varieties of endocentric constructions.

The passive voice in Norwegian

The passive is expressed in two ways in Norwegian. First of all, by the auxiliary å bli ("become, get") with the past participle of the main verb: å bli rost = to be praised.
For "he was caught" English can also say "he got caught" and then comes very near the Norwegian construction.

But Norwegian, like other Scandinavian languages, has passive forms ending in -s: han roses = he is praised.

This -s is actually a remnant of the Old Norse reflexive sik (seg in modern Norwegian), which in course of time was reduced to -s when tacked on to the verb.

In most cases, the s-form can be changed into expressions with bli: han kastes ("he is thrown") into han blir kastet.
Sometimes, however, there is a slight nuance between the two forms.

The s-form has a more general meaning and is often used about customary and repeated actions. They are often met with in public notices and in announcements and advertisements. Constructions with bli are often used to denote isoleted and limited actions.

But on the whole, s-forms have a rather restricted use. they are quite common in the present tense and in the passive infinitive after the so-called modal auxiliaries.
In the past tense, it is rare, let alone the perfect tenses, but when it comes to verbs of the first conjugation (the -et class) we get such clumsy forms as kastedes, which belong to a bygone period. You may found them in the works by Ibsen, Bjørnson, Lie and Kielland.

The s-form is hardly ever used in the past tense of strong verbs either.

You can find a few examples and a quiz about this topic here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Caron, breve, inverted circumflex or what? Háček!

What is the name of the ˇ we use to place over some letters when doing phonetic transcriptions?
It appears, for example, in š and ž. But how is it called?
Some people call it a wedge, an inverted circumflex, an inverted hat.

It indeed looks like an inverted circumflex. Compare: ĉ and č.
The circumflex, ˆ, is a diacritic mark used in written Croatian, French, Frisian, Esperanto, Norwegian, Romanian, Slovak, Vietnamese, romanized Japanese, Welsh, Portuguese, Italian, Afrikaans, Turkish and other languages. It received its English name from Latin circumflexus (bent about, a translation of the Greek περισπωμένη).
But its name is not that of "inverted circumflex". That is a useful description only.

Some could think it is a breve. Compare: ă and ǎ. I can't say "they are clearly different". And that's why I am using a bigger font to show the difference.
A breve, ˘, (from Latin brevis, "short, brief") is a diacritical mark shaped like the bottom half of a circle. It is often used this way in dictionaries and textbooks of Latin, Ancient Greek and some other languages, such as Tuareg. In the Cyrillic alphabet, a breve is used for Й; in Belarusian, it is used for both the Cyrillic Ў and in the Łacinka Ŭ; in Esperanto, it is used for the consonant Ŭ. It is also used in Romanian, Azerbaijani, Tatar, Turkish and Vietnamese.

The ˇ is used in Pinyin for Chinese to represent the falling-raising tone (the third tone for Mandarin). In the transliteration of Thai, it represents the raising tone. It appears in Finno-Lappic languages that use the Latin alphabet (like Estonian, Finnish, Karelian and some Sámi languages), and in some Baltic and Slavic languages.

The typographical name of ˇ is caron. This name is believed to be derived from the union of the words caret and macron.

In Slovak it is called mäkčeň (i.e. "softener" or "palatalization mark"); in Slovenian, strešica ("little roof") or kljukica ("little hook"); in Croatian and Serbian, kvaka or kvačica (also "small hook"); katus ("roof") in Estonian; and hattu ("hat") in Finnish.

But the important name is in Czech. In Czech, it is called háček ("little hook"), the diminutive form of hák. The plural of háček in Czech is háčky.
Why is it important the name in Czech? Well, the caron is also used in the International Phonetic Alphabet and in the Americanist phonetic notation. And linguists tend not to call it caron, but háček.
If you look for háček in an English dictionary, you'd come with a definition like this:
A diacritical mark that resembles an inverted circumflex and is used over certain letters to indicate quality of pronunciation.
The háček evolved from the dot above diacritic (as from the form ż in Polish), which was introduced into Czech orthography (along with the acute accent) by Jan Hus in his De Ortographia Bohemica in 1412.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

One year!

A week ago I was back writing here just to realize that a year ago I posted for the first time.
It has been an intresting experience.
And now, with the course I am taking, I'll have more topics to talk about, what means more things for me to know about.
And to celebrate this day, one song I like:
From 1991, Blant alle guder, by Sissel Kyrkjebø:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Claude Piron KAJ Don Harlow

On January 22nd, 2008, the famous Swiss Esperantist Claude Piron passed away. He was a linguist and a psychologist, a translator for the United Nations (from 1956 to 1961) and a prolific Esperanto author.
If you have studied Esperanto, you have probably stumbled upon Gerda malaperis. (downloadable here).
And while searching for this post (I know, I know. I've been away from the movement for a while), I found out that Don Harlow died on January 27th, 2008!!!
All people looking for information about Esperanto in English has surely visited his website.

*sigh* May they rest in peace :(

Kondolencoj omaĝe al Claude PIRON
Jen la paĝaro de la Harlow-familio, kie oni ankaŭ povas lasi mesaĝojn en la familia kondolencpaĝo.

Guidelines for observation by student teachers

  • Teachers are busy professionals. Classroom observations are not always a welcome intrusion for the classroom teachers involved.
  • The observation of classroom teachers is serious business; it should not be approached casually.
  • Learning how to observe in a manner acceptable to all parties takes time, careful reflection, personal tact, and creativity.
  • An observer is a guest in the teacher's and student's classroom. A guest in the classroom is there thanks to the goodwill of the cooperating teacher.
  • A guest's purpose for visiting is not to judge, evaluate or criticize the classroom teacher, or to offer suggestions, but simply to learn through observing.
  • Visitors should contact the cooperating teacher for a brief orientation to the class.
  • A visitor who is planning to observe a class should arrive in the classroom a few minutes ahead of time.
  • If something unexpected comes up and the visitor is not able to observe a class at the agreed-upon time, the visitor needs to notify the classroom teacher as soon as possible. It's a visitor's responsibility to keep the classroom teacher informed.
  • Once having entered a classroom, the visitor should try to be as unobtrusive as possible, sitting where directed by the teacher.
  • If a student in the class asks the visitor a direct question (e.g., What are you doing here? Are you a teacher too?), the visitor should answer as briefly as possible. It is important to bear in mind that the visitor is not a regular member of the class. visitor should not initiate or pursue conversations unnecessarily.
  • A visitor should be appreciative and polite. At the earliest opportunity, the visitor should thank the classroom teacher for having made possible the opportunity to visit the classroom.
  • A visitor who is taking written notes or collecting information in some other way should do this as unobtrusively as possible. The visitor must make sure that the teacher and students are comfortable with any procedures used for data collection.
  • It is imperative for the visitor to keep impressions of the class private and confidential.
  • The visitors should explain to the classroom teacher that the teacher's name will not be used in any discussions with other people. any direct references to teachers, in either formal or informal settings, will be anonymous.
  • Any notes or information collected during a classroom visit should be made accessible to the teacher, if he or she requests.
More of this topic at Classroom observation and instruction and here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Place of articulation

When we pronounce consonants, we do something in our vocal tract. Basically, we move something against something else so we can obstruct the air coming out of our lungs. The first something is normally our tongue. The second something will give each consonant part of its special characteristic.
Here, the tongue is called the active articulator (the one that is moving) and the place it touches is called the passive articulator (the stationary one).
Below there is a sagittal section of a head, so these places can be identified easily.
Of course, the area is a continuum and it is very arbitrary to tell exactly where one zone ends and where another begins.

  • Bilabial: the point of maximum constriction is made by the coming together of the two lips.
  • Labiodental: the lower lip articulates with the upper teeth.
  • Dental: the tip of the tongue articulates with the back or bottom of the top teeth.
  • Alveolar: the tip or the blade of the tongue articulates with the forward part of the alveolar ridge.
  • Postalveolar: the tip or the blade of the tongue articulates with the back area of the alveolar ridge.
  • Palatal: the front of the tongue articulates with the domed part of the hard palate.
  • Velar: the back of the tongue articulates with the soft palate.
  • Uvular: the back of the tongue articulates with the very back of the soft palate, including the uvula.
  • Pharyngeal: the pharynx is constricted by the faucal pillars moving together (lateral compression) and, possibly, by the larynx being raised.
  • Glottal: the vocal folds are brought together; in some cases, the function of the vocal folds can be part of articulation as well as phonation.
When the front of the tongue is used, it may be the upper surface or blade of the tongue that makes contact (laminal sound), the tip of the tongue (apical sound), or the under surface (sub-apical sound).

If two consonants have the same place of articulation, they are said to be homorganic.

If you want to make the previous classification a little more detailed, here is a new sagittal section.

1. Exo-labial; 2. endo-labial; 3. dental; 4. alveolar; 5. post-alveolar; 6. pre-palatal; 7. palatal; 8. velar; 9. uvular; 10. pharyngeal; 11. glottal; 12. epiglottal; 13. radical; 14. postero-dorsal; 15. antero-dorsal; 16. laminal; 17. apical; 18. sub-apical.

Now try yourself solving this exercise. The best way to do it is saying the words out loud and trying to see what one does.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Some quotations about writing

The act of writing is the act of discovering what you believe.
- David Hare

Writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted.
- Jules Renard

We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospection.
- Anais Nin

We write to think; to be surprised by what appears on the page; to explore our world with language; to discover meaning that teaches us and that may be worth sharing with others.
- Donald M. Murray

Writing is putting one's obsessions in order.
- Jean Grenier

There are no rules in writing. There are useful principles. Throw them away when they are not useful. But always know what you are throwing away.
- Will Shetterly

The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.
- Edwin Schlossberg

The best way to become acquainted with a subject is is to write a book about it.
- Benjamin Disraeli

In time I began to understand that it's when you start writing that you really find out what you don't know and need to know.
- David McCullough

Writing is a really good first step toward that goal of knowing yourself.
- Jewel Kilcher

Also, they don't understand. Writing is language. The use of language. The language to create image, the language to create drama. It requires a skill of learning how to use language.
- John Milius


February 6th is the Sámi National Day. The first Sámi congress was held on February 6th, 1917 in Trondheim, Norway.
It is estimated that the number of Sámis is between 60,000 and 70,000: approximately
40,000 in Norway; 20,000 in Sweden; 7,500 in Finland and 2,000 in Russia.
The word Sámi (sometimes Saami) is the one used now to talk about them. In the past, they were identified by several derogative names: lapper (Lapps) or finner (Finns) in Norway; in Sweden, lappar (Lapps); and lappalaiset (Lapps) in Finland.
Sápmi is the name of the traditional homeland of the Sámi. The term is found in all Sámi
dialects. It derives from the Sámis’ own name for themselves, sámit or sápme­laččat.
There is no single Sámi language. All they form a family of eleven members: Southern Sámi, Ume Sámi, Pite Sámi, Lule Sámi, Norther Sámi (these are the Western Sámi languages) and Inari Sámi, Kemi Sámi, Skolt Sámi, Akkala Sámi, Kildin Sámi and Ter Sámi (these are the Eastern Sámi languages).
The Sámi language is rich in words and expressions describing nature, fauna, formations in
nature and snow; terms that are important in hunting, fishing and reindeer herding societies.
The changes in the Sámi lifestyle have resulted in loss of many particular terms and
expressions which are no longer relevant or in use today.
Not all Sámis speak their language nowadays. Kemi Sámi and Akkala Sámi are extinct. Southern Sámi seems to be the next on the list, as it is no longer the everyday language in many South Sámi families (it is estimated that only 300 speakers are left).

All Sámi languages use an extended version of the Latin alphabet. Depending on the language, these are the special characters (of course, not a single language uses all of them!): á, â, ä, č, ʒ, ǯ, đ, ǧ, ǥ, ǩ, ŋ, ń, õ, š, ŧ, ž, æ, å, ï, ø. Some of these letters are also present in Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish and Faroese. Kildin Sámi is the only one of them that uses an extended version of the Cyrillic alphabet. The extra letters are: ä, ӣ, ӆ, ӎ, ӊ, ӈ, ҏ, ҍ, (note that these ones are different from й, л, м, н, р and ь), ӭ, j and ѣ, and it makes use of macrons.

Article 110a of the Kongeriget Norges Grunlov, the Norwegian constitution states:
Det paaligger Statens Myndigheder at lægge Forholdene til Rette for at den samiske Folkegruppe kan sikre og udvikle sit Sprog, sin Kultur og sit Samfundsliv.
That is:
It is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling the Sámi people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life.
Sámi is an official language of the municipalities of Kautokeino, Karasjok, Kåfjord, Nesseby, Porsanger, Tana, Tysfjord, and Snåsa. In Finland, the Sámi language act of 1991 granted Sámi people the right to use the Sámi languages for all government services. The Sámi language act of 2003 made Sámi an official language in Enontekiö, Inari, Sodankylä and Utsjoki municipalities. On April 1, 2002 Sámi became one of five recognized minority languages in Sweden. It can be used in dealing with public authorities in the municipalities of Arjeplog, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Kiruna.

Sámis have highly spiritual songs called joiks. You can hear one (in a modern style) at Youtube, called Du čalmmit (great song, by the way!!), sung by Sofia Jannok and Anna Karstadt. Ann-Marie Andersen, another Sámi, made it to the finals of the Melodi Grand Prix 2008 (the Norwegian contest for the Eurovision Song Contest), but her song was knocked out. Yesterday the final took part. See her performance here.
The national anthem of the Sámi is Sámi soga lávlla ("Song of the Sámi family"). You can read the lyrics in Northern Sámi, Skolt Sámi and Inari Sámi and listen to it here.
Enjoy them and... happy Sámi National Day!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Revisiting personal pronouns

Last time I centered on the multiplicity of ways Thai can say "I".
But as it is understood, each language describes the world in its very own way. Some times we find similarities. And maybe that's the reason we frown on a use different from what we are used to.
Personal pronouns are not out of this notion.
So... are personal pronouns the same across languages? Fortunately, no.
The first that comes to my mind is "we".
you might know that many languages have two forms for the first person plural pronoun: one for feminine and one for masculine. Thus, Spanish has nosotras and nosotros; while Japanese has 私達, Russian only has мы and French only has nous.
But let's take Chinese, for example. Chinese also has two forms for we, but in this case, the distinction does not depend on gender but in clusivity. Chinese has 咱们 / 咱們, which means "we, in the sense of "you and I", and 我们 / 我們, which means "we, but excluding you". This is a handy distinction!

What about when you read legal papers? Aren't you tired of the text pointing to things like "he or she" or "s/he"? Or, to put it in a more difficult situation, some people who is afraid of telling their family they are homosexual, have to play the pronoun game when talking about their partner. Here, they have to avoid the specific gender pronouns so others don't notice their sexual orientation. How hard can that be in many languages!
There are languages that do not present these problems. You have a pronoun that doesn't point out at the gender of the person you are talking about.
Ido, for example, has il, "he"; el, "she"; and oli, "he or she". It is not that ol is equivalent to English "it", as "it" cannot be used to talk about a person.
But languages like Malay only have one form for the third person singular: Malay has only dia to mean "he" or "she" and the context will tell whether the speaker is refering to a man or a woman.
Continuing with the third pronoun, Spanish doesn't doesn't distinguish animacy and we have only él and ella (ello is a special form seldom used). And Turkish combines both: its pronoun do not reflect gender nor animacy. Turkish o can mean "he", "she" or "it".

All this arises some classifications. We have epicene pronouns (pronouns that neither reveal nor imply the gender or sex of a person) and androgynous pronouns (pronouns that refer to neither or both genders).

And there are even situations when a language needs a pronoun when another doesn't.
An expletive pronoun (sometimes called "pleonastic pronoun" and even the easier to remember "dummy pronoun") is used in non-pro-drop languages when a verb argument (or preposition) is nonexistent, unknown, irrelevant, already understood, or otherwise not to be spoken of directly, but when a reference to the argument (a pronoun) is nevertheless syntactically required, for example when there is increasing ambiguity between the pronoun and the subject or object.
The perfect example of this can be found in English: "It is obvious that the violence will continue". You won't be able to substitute "it" in that sentence with a noun phrase.

I think I need to explore this topic a little more in the future!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Who has been reading the random thoughts?

Some months ago, when this blog was updated almost daily, I thought it'd be interesting to see what language readers of this blog would be using for their internet browsers.
With no aditions to the blog, pictured showed back then is somewhat different from what I have now.
Now, in the 100 most recent visits, Spanish gained a share and is as used as English. The others are: Slovak (what the hell?! THIS was a surprise!), German, Thai (oh, I am sure this is due to the post about personal pronouns!), Dutch, Slovenian, Russian, Portuguese, Polish and Norwegian.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Organs of speech

Besides a brain (and the knowledge of the language), what do you need to use the spoken language?
We group them as the speech organs. Of course, right now I am only thinking of the very final phase of the incredibly complex process of speaking out.
As the speech organs can be divided into the respiratory system, the phonatory system and the articulatory system, I am mainly interested in this last one because we use these organs to modify the airstream coming out from our lungs. They are to blame for all spectrum of sounds we can create.

So what are the speech organs that belong to the articulatory system? They are:
  • lips: they serve for creating different sounds - mainly the labial, bilabial, and labiodental consonant sounds - and thus create an important part of the speech apparatus.
  • teeth
  • tongue: with its wide variety of possible movements, it assists in forming the sounds of speech.
  • alveolar ridge
  • hard palate
  • velum (soft palate): it should have holes forming that function during speech to separate the oral cavity (mouth) from the nose, in order to produce the oral speech sounds. If this separation is incomplete, air escapes through the nose during speech and the speech is perceived as hypernasal.
  • uvula: it functions in tandem with the back of the throat, the palate, and air coming up from the lungs to create a number of guttural and other sounds. In many languages, it closes to prevent air escaping through the nose when making some sounds.
  • glottis
If you want a neat and short tutorial about this, you can check this one (it even includes a pair of quizzes).
A more in-depth paper about the organs of speech and their application in the formation of articulate sounds can be found here (even though the original date of publication is some 100 years ago).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Yep, I'll be back to the madness of posting here.
The spirit, of course, will be the same this blog had since the very begining. And I think it'll help me organize my own notes and thoughts about this topic I really like.
I am starting a new process and I want to do it right.