Wikipedia:Reference desk/Language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Wikipedia Reference Desk covering the topic of language.

Welcome to the language reference desk.
Want a faster answer?

Main page: Help searching Wikipedia

How can I get my question answered?

  • Provide a short header that gives the general topic of the question.
  • Type '~~~~' (that is, four tilde characters) at the end – this signs and dates your contribution so we know who wrote what and when.
  • Post your question to only one desk.
  • Don't post personal contact information – it will be removed. All answers will be provided here.
  • Specific questions, that are likely to produce reliable sources, will tend to get clearer answers,
  • Note:
    • We don't answer (and may remove) questions that require medical diagnosis or legal advice.
    • We don't answer requests for opinions, predictions or debate.
    • We don't do your homework for you, though we’ll help you past the stuck point.
    • We are not a substitute for actually doing any original research required, or as a free source of ideas.

How do I answer a question?

Main page: Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines

  • The best answers address the question directly, and back up facts with wikilinks and links to sources. Do not edit others' comments and do not give any medical or legal advice.
Choose a topic:
See also:
Help desk
Village pump
Help manual

May 18

Translating Rohan

In translations of The Lord of the Rings, how is the speech of Rohan most commonly rendered? Is it typically left alone, or is it typically rendered in an ancient form of the destination language? The latter seems more in line with Tolkien's wishes (I can imagine him appreciating the Rohirrim speaking Old Church Slavonic in Властелин колец and their poetry following ancient Slavic forms), but that would potentially require someone skilled in the older form of the language, and I can imagine it being cheaper just to leave the Mercian Old English in place and retain the alliterative half-line structure of the poetry. I suppose that the other languages are typically retained unchanged, as the only other related speech is the potentially Indo-European speech of the House of Bëor (see discussion of Finrod Felagund's name "Nom" in their speech in The History of Middle-Earth, perhaps in The Lost Road) and the Elven speeches and Khuzdul have no relationship to the Mannic speech rendered as English in the original text. Nyttend (talk) 01:55, 18 May 2017 (UTC)

Tolkien wrote up some notes for translators, the "Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings", in which he advises not altering Rohirric names (as is the case with almost all names and terms which are not predominantly modern English)... AnonMoos (talk) 03:19, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
Not sure of the copyright status, but you can read those notes here. Alansplodge (talk) 15:54, 18 May 2017 (UTC)

'To share a measure in common'

Is this expresion a pleonasm? Our article on irrational numbers says that two line segments are 'incommensurable' if they 'share no "measure" in common'. Isn't it redundant?

I suppose 'they share a measure' is equivalent to 'they have a measure in common' or 'they have some common measure' (a measure being such a smaller length which, if considered a unit, makes both segments' lengths whole numbers).
Using both 'share' and 'in common' in one expression seems incorrect to me. Am I right?

And if I am, does it need fixing in the irrational number article? --CiaPan (talk) (non-native speaker) 06:17, 18 May 2017 (UTC)

"incommensurable" seems to be just another way to say that one or both of the segments is an irrational number, hence the two can't be expressed as a ratio. If a right triangle's legs are both of length 1, then the hypotenuse is the square root of two. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 08:37, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
@Baseball Bugs: No, no, no. A segment is not a number, either rational or irrational. Segments are geometric objects, and a natural number (in Ancient Greek maths) expresses how many times one of them fits in another. Often this can't happen, so the Greeks invented an idea of a fraction, telling how many times a common measure (some 'unit length segment') fits in each of two given segments. Incommensurability is a situation when such a common measure does not exist.
But that's not what I asked about. See, this is a Language, not Math RD, and I seek for explanation of 'share sth. in common' in/correctness. --CiaPan (talk) 10:06, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
I should have said the length of one or both segments is irrational. Actually, it doesn't matter, since no matter the size of the triangle it can always be said to have a measurement of 1, while the hypotenuse can always be said to have a measure of square root of 2 in relation to each leg. Trovatore's explanation is what I was trying to say, only he said it better. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:34, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
It's a very old-fashioned way of putting it. I mean really really old-fashioned, like to the days of the Pythagoreans, though of course they didn't speak English. They had a rather rigid view of mathematics; as I understand it the only "numbers" they recognized were the natural numbers greater than or equal to 2. (Not only was 0 not a "number"; 1 was not a number either, but rather the generator of numbers.) This was akin to a religious belief.
So for them the only way to express the proportion of two lengths was to find a third smaller length, such that both lengths were natural-number multiples of the smaller one. That would be the "measure in common".
It came as an unwelcome surprise when they found out that the hypotenuse of an isosceles right triangle could not be thus compared with one of its legs. There's a story that they forced the one who discovered it to drown himself. I think it's just a story, but it goes to how they felt about it.
With the modern conception of the real numbers, this all seems a little bit silly (perhaps more importantly for the reals specifically, so do Zeno's paradoxes). But it was important at the time, and to some extent it has survived in language, albeit very dated language. --Trovatore (talk) 09:42, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
Oh, I re-read your question, and now I realize that wasn't what you were asking about. I guess common is a tiny bit redundant, but it doesn't sound bad to me. "Share a measure" doesn't make a lot of sense. You could substitute "have a measure in common", maybe, but I don't think it's an improvement. --Trovatore (talk) 09:56, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
@Trovatore: Actually, I'm not going to improve the article at the language level – I don't speak English well enough. When asking the question I aimed my own learning, not Wikipedia improvement. I just tried to learn something new about the language in the part of 'feeling correct'. :) Thank you for the explantion. --CiaPan (talk) 10:12, 18 May 2017 (UTC)

I've reworded it. -- (talk) 23:10, 18 May 2017 (UTC)

It seems clearer now. But did you intend to tell us your location? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:30, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
What's that got to to with the question? -- (talk) 02:23, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Your IP address can be tracked. A registered user ID cannot. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 20:21, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
And? Why do you need to know the OP's location? -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 22:29, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
I don't. But someone with less honorable intentions might abuse that information in some way. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 03:17, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Registered users post stuff while logged out, all the time. You're making an issue out of nothing. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 10:59, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
It's not my issue. I'm just trying to provide some friendly advice to the user. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 11:05, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
I do not perceive the current phrasing as being clearer now. The previous wording share no measure in common reflects imho in a very appropriate way the word in-comm(on)-(m)ensurable, which to explain it is intended. BTW, this wording was there for years (since 2004), already. Additionally, while tinkering around this paragraph in March, I did like the mutual corroboration by redundancy of share and in common, as pointing to a core concept of irrationality. The current formulation appears as clear to me, but also as not an improvement. Purgy (talk) 09:04, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
"Share no measure in common" is a reasonable exegesis of the etymology of "incommensurable", but it doesn't make sense, in English, for the concept being described. The word "measure" does not mean "submultiple of an interval".
So I wouldn't object to putting the phrase back as an explanation of the etymology, but we shouldn't use it as though it actually made sense, because it doesn't. --Trovatore (talk) 09:15, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
In no way I intend to modify the status quo of this paragraph, nor do I object to the notion measure having a special meaning in math (often), but I want to remark that I left the quotes around this word specifically to allow for the desired interpretation as some arbitrarily small line length (for heaven's sake, no infinitesimal), as an etalon, like the mètre des archives, to exhaust other line lengths. Purgy (talk) 09:42, 19 May 2017 (UTC)

What did Russian ca. 17-18th C. really sound like?

If someone were transported from 17th C. Russia/Muscovy/whatever into the $current_year, would they have an accent? What would that sound like? (talk) 16:26, 18 May 2017 (UTC)

Are you asking whether a Russian from that time period would sound different to modern Russians? Someone with knowledge of Russian might know, but consider this: If you beamed an English speaker of similar vintage into modern times, he might well sound different, and also he would be unfamiliar with modern idioms and slang. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:29, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
We have History of the Russian language, but it is not very detailed, and deals more with spelling and vocabulary changes. The most important changes that affect Moscovy Russian compared to other dialects are akanje, and the other types of vowel reduction in Russian and the development of the yers, unstressed forms of short 'i' and 'u'. Unfortunately, our articles don't give time periods for these changes, but they are the main reasons for the differences between the modern Eastern Slavic languages.
For example, one, nine, and rain in the Rusyn language are /'jɛdɛn/, /dɛwjat/ and /dɨt͡ʃ/, while due to akanje and ikanje, "one" is /ad'in/, nine is /'djevɪt'/, and rain is /dɔt͡ʃ/. These are all stress-induced changes, with Rusyn slightly closer to Old Slavonic, but /dɨt͡ʃ/ being an innovation in a word that originally had a yer vowel, like 'book'.
I highly suspect a 17th Century Muscovite would sound like a Ukrainian to a modern Russian, as Ukrainian is more conservative in its vowels. I'd ping Lyuboslov Yezikin, but he spells and signs his name so incongruently I can't recall it at the moment. μηδείς (talk) 00:33, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
@Любослов Езыкин:. —Stephen (talk) 01:30, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
I have little to add, Baseball Bugs has explained it above. Russian is hardly different from any European language in that respect. If the OP wants more details he might read Russian historical grammars (though there exist only a couple of them in English/German, namely by V. Kiparsky and by W. K. Matthews).--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 21:30, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
@Medeis: Jeden is a borrowing from Slovak or Polish, the Eastern Slavic form is odinъ (Ukr./Rusyn odyn; Russ. odin, but due to akanye the first syllable is reduced to an a-like vowel). In "rain" you seem to have misrepresented the last consonants, must be /ʃtʲ/ or /ʃt͡ʃ/.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 21:42, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Yes, I should have checked the Russian дождь, I was paying attention to the vowel. But the Rusyn is indeed dycz. Rusyn isn't really Eastern Slavic, it's intermediate between Ukranian and Eastern Slovak, and there's no standard, and had pronounced differences between villages. It rains (as my Grandmother pronounced it) is "Dycz pada", although Magocsi gives docz for the Prešov dialect. In any case, the Old Slavonic had a yer: *dъždžь. Jeden is just as much Polish as it is Slovak. Wiktionary calls Rusyn East Slavonic, but agrees with my pronunciation, see edinъ. μηδείς (talk) 22:23, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
I have no objections to the fact that yer in Rusyn can have been reflected into y, I did only not expect that the last consonant had simplified as well. Although, there is a parallelism with Russian, where the colloquial pronunciation has the last consonant /ʃ/.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 14:16, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

Rusyn "one"

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── I did not mean Rusyn is not Eastern Slavic, but that just this particular word for "one" is a borrowing. But it is impossible to identify the source language as the word sounds identical in both Polish and Slovak. Anyway it has nothing to do with Russian akanye.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 14:16, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

I agree with you that akanje has nothing to do with jeden. But wiktionary edinъ seems to show the (j)e and o forms were in free variation, and perhaps Rusyn simply fell on the Western side of that isogloss. Another complication with Rusyn is that there's an isogloss uniting eastern Slovak and Polish in having penultimate stress; some Rusyn dialects have free stress like Russiaan, some have penultimate stress. At some point, everything about Rusyns would end up explained as a borrowing, except for their genetic uniqueness. μηδείς (talk) 15:43, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
No, it's not a free variation. Proto-Slavic initial *e- turned out je- in the West and the South but o- in the East (see also W.&S. jezero, jesen’ vs E. ozero, osen’, etc., consult, e.g, The Slavic Languages by Roland Sussex and Paul Cubberley, p. 46). There are several explanations why Rusyn has turned out as such but it's certainly off-topic.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 16:13, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
So, Msr. Fermat, you have a proof, just not enough room in the margin? :) I asked if you had a source that says (explicitly) that jeden is a borrowing in Rusyn from Slovak. (Such a borrowing would be highly unusual.) Should I take it that you don't? μηδείς (talk) 16:25, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
I've given you a source, even the page. Unless you consider Rusyn West Slavic. What are the Rusyn words for "autumn", "lake", "deer", "alder tree", "sturgeon"? I couldn't find a proper full Rusyn dictionary.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 22:17, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Alright, from Uzhgorod: осень, озеро, олень, ольха, осетер. Strikingly East Slavic. With such a consistency you cannot say jeden has come miraculously directly from Proto-Slavic. Particularly with typical West Slavic *ь > e.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 23:28, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Autumn is восінь [wɔsin']. I don't have a dictionary, and the other words are not ones that came up in conversation. μηδείς (talk) 20:15, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
I am curious, @Любослов Езыкин: is this source from Uzhhorod recent? Does it purport to be Rusyn? And importantly, what is the form of the third person nominative masculine pronoun "he"? μηδείς (talk) 00:21, 23 May 2017 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Игорь Керча, Русинско-русский словарь (2007), Русско-русинский словарь (2012). He has based his dictionary on modern publications, but much of his material comes from the 1880s to the 1940s. "He" is un, (o)wun. Wosin’ is a perfect Ukrainian form with protetic w- and o > i. Magocsi gives wosin’ for Prešov and osyn’ for Transcarpathia. Alright, but how does it matter?--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 17:11, 23 May 2017 (UTC)

Thanks, @Любослов Езыкин: for your help and patience. I asked about "he" because the Preszov Magocsi has він, (and його) while my grandmother said [wɪn] and ['jɛhɔ].
It seems the Preshov/Lemko dialect has more in common with Standard Ukrainian than the Transcarpthian dialect. Seems expected since the Carpathians prevent the communication, while the Lemkos might have come to Slovakia from the north through Poland and not from the east. But why does it surprise you? Proto-Slavic *onъ (which in Ukranian/Rusyn has got prosthetic w- and underwent o > i) has a different root on the oblique cases *-. And in any case it has nothing to do with East Slavic isogloss *e- > *o-.--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 21:51, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
You may be interested in Атлас української мови (here at the bottom). The western part is volume 2; the word "he" is map #52 (p.159 in the file).--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 21:58, 23 May 2017 (UTC)

Classifying sounds: consonants and vowels vs. obstruents and sonorants

When young children learn to classify the sounds of language, they learn to use consonants and vowels. Wikipedia, however, says that the classification into obstruents and sonorants is more natural. Which classification is more natural?? Georgia guy (talk) 20:14, 18 May 2017 (UTC)

I'm not sure that children distinguish consonants and vowels in any conscious meta-linguistic way unless they become literate in an alphabetic writing system. In traditional Chinese society, any segmentation going beyond syllable onset vs. syllable rhyme was mainly of interest to some specialized scholars, and I'm not too sure how aware ordinary Chinese-speakers were of individual consonant and vowel segments which did not form a whole syllable onset or a whole syllable rhyme. AnonMoos (talk) 20:40, 18 May 2017 (UTC)
In English, it's easier to learn the vowels versus the consonants, because the vowels can be said with the mouth open, and relatively little other motions of the mouth other than lip rounding and position of the root of the tongue. Also, one has such sets as beat, bit, bait, bet, bat, bot, bought, but, boat, boot and book. Once you learn about syllables, you can learn that butter, battle, bottom, and button all end in syllables without real vowels, although we pretend, and say there is a schwa present. But one can't always substitute a sonorant for a vowel. Bert is fine as brt. But there's no such word as the impossible /bmk/ in English. μηδείς (talk) 00:39, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Look at Wikipedia's template at the top of several articles, including Affricate. It DOES say that obstruent vs. sonorant is important. Georgia guy (talk) 01:36, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
No classification is "natural", they are all created by people for their own convenience. When you ask which classification scheme is "better", you need to specify better for what. Also, what linguists do is different from what teachers do; how a language is taught is pedagogy which is different than how linguists might want to study the phonology of language. Two totally different fields with two totally different classification schemes for two totally different reasons. --Jayron32 10:55, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Are there some ways the obstruent vs. sonorant classification is better?? Georgia guy (talk) 14:33, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Better for what purpose? --Jayron32 14:48, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Your post implies that there are some pros of the obstruents vs. sonorants classification. How is it important?? Georgia guy (talk) 15:17, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Languages differ greatly in their phonetic systems. As I mentioned above, in English, the vowels form a coherent class, and any vowel can replace any other (with a very few exceptions like *theenk) and create a word that fits in the phonetic system of English. Sonorants can also be syllabic in English, but they cannot substitute for vowels in all cases. But in other languages, you can have items like the surname Ng or other Vowel#Words_without_vowels. How to analyze those languages depends on their nature.
There is not one ideal system that fits all languages, any more than there's a single way to classify vertebrates. For example, whether an animal lays eggs, or has placental or marsupial development of "liveborn" young is an ideal way to distinguish the three major living clades of mammals. But that method of classification would be totally useless if applied to birds. Words (concepts) are tools we use to investigate reality. If the words we are used to using don't fit with the reality we want to describe, we don't shoe-horn reality into our terminology, we change or develop new terminology that better fits the reality we are dealing with. μηδείς (talk) 19:28, 19 May 2017 (UTC)

May 19

Translation from German

Hello, how would you say "Wir sind eine Haltestelle zu früh ausgestiegen"? — I tried to find an appropriate translation in probably every German-English dictionary I could find, but it was useless. However, this is probably not exactly an "exotic" example, is it? I hope you can help me along a bit here. Best--Erdic (talk) 23:50, 19 May 2017 (UTC)

"We're one stop too early to get off." (I assume you want the English, and that the last verb was meant to be auszusteigen.)
Assume nothing. "We got off one stop too early" is the literal translation. Verbs of motion use sein to form the perfect. The literal translation is perfectly correct English, but it may be more idiomatic to say something like "We got off one stop before we should have" or "We got off one stop earlier than we meant to" or "We got off one stop earlier than we were supposed to" or indeed "We got off at the stop before the stop we should have got off at." Valiantis (talk) 00:42, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Just noticed the question mark! If it's intended to be a question the above suggestions would all need to begin "Did we get off..." Valiantis (talk) 00:48, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
(after EC) Thank you both. First of all, the question mark was supposed to refer to my question itself – my mistake, sorry! @Valiantis: I've already suspected that the literal and – as you state – grammatically correct translation is however not very idiomatic. Though I do wonder about the exact reason for that... Follow-up question: What if we left out the "stop" and simply wrote "We got off too early" instead – would that be unidiomatic, too?--Erdic (talk) 00:59, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
The "one stop too early" construction is fine in British English, see "Investors Getting Off the Bus One Stop Too Early", "The Girl on the Train: got off one stop too early" and "It almost ended an hour later when I got off one stop too early in Exeter and missed my connection to the midlands!". Alansplodge (talk) 01:16, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
  • I missed the ? too. But what is "stiegen"? And while I accept (and should have thought of) the perfect in sein, How would one then say, "We are one stop too early to get off?" With a different verb? A different construction? μηδείς (talk) 01:41, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
(aus)steigen - stieg (aus) - (aus)gestiegen is, afaik, a so called "Germanic strong verb". "stiegen" is one of the inflected forms (stieg, stiegst, stiegen, stiegt) in the past tense. A specifically German difficulty is the changing position of the "aus" in various forms. Your sentence might be translated to "Wir sind (noch) eine Haltestelle zu früh um auszusteigen." or "... zum Aussteigen." The first variant employs the infinitive and the second a nominalisation of the verb. OK? Purgy (talk) 07:50, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
@Medeis: Literally, it would actually be "Wir sind [noch] eine Haltestelle zu früh zum Aussteigen / um auszusteigen". But I guess it would be more natural to simply leave out the part after "früh" → "Wir sind [noch] eine Haltestelle zu früh" = "We're [still] one stop too early"? Would you say that – also with the "still"? And what about American English?--Erdic (talk) 14:59, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Thanks, Purgy, I am still confusing myself by thinking this is an infinitive, rather than a past participle. Erdic, everything you have said in English is quite grammatical. Which wording you might actually use would depend on the context, whether in writing or in real-life speech. The use of still would imply that the person addressed had almost gotten off two stops too early, and is doing it again, one stop too early. But that's not a hard and fast rule. You might also say still just for emphasis, even if they hadn't already tried to get off. μηδείς (talk) 15:15, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Is it possible that the phrase is used idiomatically to refer to coitus interruptus? I cite the similar English (originally Naval slang) expression used in the Portsmouth region, "to get out at Fratton" (which is the railway station immediately preceding Portsmouth & Southsea). {The poster formerly known as} (talk) 17:19, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Never heard of it and neither has Google as far as I can tell. Still, double-entendres have to start somewhere... Alansplodge (talk) 18:19, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

May 20

'not' favourable [reposted]

[reposted to give time for answers μηδείς (talk) 04:28, 20 May 2017 (UTC)]

what is the antonym (opposite) of "favourable/favorable" (unfavorable/unfavourable is not the answer). (talk) 11:55, 14 May 2017 (UTC)

Adverse? -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 11:59, 14 May 2017 (UTC)
What is your basis for saying "un-" is not the answer? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 18:08, 14 May 2017 (UTC)
i mean 'give me a word without the prefix un-'. (talk) 03:16, 15 May 2017 (UTC)
So you don't object to "unfavourable" as such, it's just that you would like a list of additional antonyms. Right? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 15:33, 15 May 2017 (UTC)
Correct68.151.25.115 (talk) 20:32, 19 May 2017 (UTC)
Would I be right in surmising that this is a crossword clue, where you already know that "un-" is precluded? {The poster formerly known as} (talk) 00:39, 20 May 2017 (UTC) has several antonyms for favorable (eg: disadvantageous) (here).2606:A000:4C0C:E200:0:0:0:1 (talk) 08:32, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

Names of nationalities in ASL

I'd like to understand the motivation for choosing the names of nationalities in ASL. Has this been analyzed by linguists?

Some look prejudiced nowadays, like using the same word for 'Mexican' and 'bandit'. In the case of 'American' they do a sign that resembles several strips. I assume this is an allusion to the American flag. In others it's difficult to see the inspiration. The sign for 'Canada' is knocking twice on the chest with the thumb up. Clipname (talk) 10:48, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

The motivation is not prejudiced, but to select visual characteristics that stand out. Russian is represented by hitting the hands on the hips as in the Russian squat dance. German has the hands crossed at the wrists and moving the fingers like feathers, so the hands are like the wings of an eagle (deutscher Adler). Chinese is the finger-spelling C placed at the outside corner of the eye, indicating squint eyes with initial C. Japanese is the same with a J. Korean is the same with a K. Italian is the finger-spelling i making the Catholic sign of the cross at the top of the forehead. Swedish is made with a finger-spelling S moved in a circle in front of the forehead. There are more than one sign for many things, and I don't know what sign you are referring to as Mexican/bandit. When I sign Mexican, I make a finger-spelling X which I move from my right shoulder to my left hand. Bandit is made by forming a pistol with the right hand (two fingers for the barrel, thumb up for the hammer), held in front of the nose. There is another sign for Mexican, where you make a V with your index and middle fingers and hold them in front of your forehead, representing a sombrero. The sign for American is made by interlacing your ten fingers and moving the resulting two-handed sign in a horizontal circle, representing a cooking pot with the contents mixing together (a melting pot). Sensitive people may read prejudice into some signs, but no prejudice was ever intended. Other than the finger-spelling, ASL signs are mostly based on the visual, because that is the principal sense they have to use to know the world. —Stephen (talk) 16:52, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
What's the sign and rationale for Spain/Spanish or Europe? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Hofhof (talkcontribs) 18:56, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
I got the Mexican sign it from ASL for dummies. May it be the old sign?
Rather than prejudiced, it's not PC. But I suppose the same happens in all languages. A common name about a group of people can be associated to something or get a negative connotation. Clipname (talk) 20:52, 21 May 2017 (UTC)

Not eating anything that has eyes

How do you call someone who does not eat anything that has eyes? Noneyetarian? --Hofhof (talk) 18:19, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

A non-potato-eater? Dbfirs 18:26, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
A ovo-lacto (or lacto-ovo) vegetarian, as they wouldn't object to eating animal products, e.g. dairy and eggs. -- Deborahjay (talk) 19:27, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
No, because Hofhof's mythical creature would be quite happy eating worms. HenryFlower 19:57, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Don't expect biological facts and ideological stances to coincide. Milk products and unfertilized eggs do not have eyes, but almost all other animals, including starfish and nematodes can sense light, whether or not they have complex eyes. I dated an ovo-lacto vegetarian for 10 years, and they wore leather shoes for hiking, admitting that the position was a personal preference, not an absolutely defensible and logical position. μηδείς (talk) 21:26, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
  • There's no need for snark; two seconds of searching would show you that the maxim of not eating anything that has eyes is common enough. This non-RS suggests that they are Ovo-lacto vegetarians, as Deborahjay mentioned. And, while I'm sure they'd appreciate you letting them know they could eat worms, it's a slogan clearly meant to emotionalize the issue rather a biological rule to be pedantically applied (cf. "Don't Eat Anything With A Face", "Don't Eat Anything With A Mother", etc.) Matt Deres (talk) 22:04, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
The snark was in the original question. HenryFlower 07:17, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
My Ph.D. advisor was a hardcore vegan (for moral reasons); even fed his cats that way, giving them supplemental taurine so they wouldn't go blind. I asked him once if he would eat insects. He said that, morally, he would probably be OK with it, but he just thought it was too gross. --Trovatore (talk) 22:00, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
A propos ... ---Sluzzelin talk 22:11, 22 May 2017 (UTC)

English and French polyglot

Which of the following sounds more natural? To me, they both sound grammatical, but I'm not sure which one is better.

I'm an English and French polyglot.

I'm a polyglot in English and French. Scala Cats (talk) 20:35, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

Polyglot usually involves more than two languages. You could say "I'm a polyglot who speaks French and English", which implies you speak other unspecified languages as well. If it's strictly those two, then you would just call yourself a bilingual speaker of French and English --Xuxl (talk) 20:59, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
Biglot? Diglot? -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 21:07, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
There's an old joke which runs something like "You call someone who speaks three languages trilingual and someone who speaks two languages bilingual, so what do you call someone who speaks one language? American..." -- AnonMoos (talk) 22:25, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
  • The first time I heard that joke, the answer was "English". -- (talk) 00:02, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
I actually heard it in Hebrew, with the three key words being תלת-לשוני, דו-לשוני, and אמריקני. (Of course I couldn't remotely remember or spontaneously re-tell the whole joke in Hebrew...) -- AnonMoos (talk) 07:41, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
And sometimes I think that's being generous. -- Elphion (talk) 23:57, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
How many Brits speak Spanish in addition to English? Millions of Americans do. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 01:18, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Not the newest figures, but a 2006 Eurobarometer reported that 34% of people in the UK and 38% of people in Ireland knew "a language other than their mother tongue" at the time.[1] A 2001 Gallup poll gives about 26% for people in the US who "can speak a language other than English well enough to hold a conversation" (in over half of the cases Spanish, indeed).[2] All these percentages are at the lower end in comparison with other European countries, one of the reasons, of course, being the lack of pressure to learn another language when you already speak the lingua franca. See for example "Oh, to be bilingual in the Anglosphere". (.. well, you chose to take the bait ...)---Sluzzelin talk 01:49, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Well, as of 2011, Hispanics accounted for 16.7% of the national population of the United States, so it makes sense to ask, how many white Americans "can speak a language other than English well enough to hold a conversation"... HOTmag (talk) 08:01, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
I am "white" in the sense of "gringo", but dream in Spanish regularly when it makes sense, usually in dreams that have to do with my days of working in a kitchen with Mexicans and Filipinos. I can also hold sophisticated conversations in French, and basic ones in German and broken Ruso-Slavic. I had a roommate in New York Presbyterian hospital from Minsk whose English was very limited. We got along well, but he kept worrying that the orderlies would know we were talking about them. Poly- means "many" (πολύς), not two, and is cognate with full. μηδείς (talk) 14:31, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
I wouldn't assume that all hispanics in the US speak Spanish. Many probably can only hold basic familiar conversations.Clipname (talk) 00:45, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
I was horrified to learn that my neighbor's grandson, who was Dominican, was enrolled in NYC's ESL (English as a second language) curriculum, although English was his mother-tongue, and he could not conjugate a verb in Spanish, or understand anything besides curses and food words. Talk about racism! The poor child was being taught to be illiterate in two languages, based solely on the fact of his perceived nationality. μηδείς (talk) 14:29, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
When I was first getting to know my partner, who was brought up in Sri Lanka, I assumed that English was his second language. His strong accent and his sometimes odd (to my ears) choice of words led me to that conclusion. I later learned that his mother was an English teacher and that (SL) English was his first and main language. He can get by in Sinhalese but it's not his forte. I like to think of myself as the antithesis of a racist, but this brought me down a peg or two. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 22:14, 22 May 2017 (UTC)

A moment-ous question

How long is a "moment"? I say it's at most a few seconds, while another editor says it's long enough for some bargaining, followed by a fight to the death (albeit between mismatched opponents - Doctor Strange vs. Dormammu - hence fairly brief). Clarityfiend (talk) 23:22, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

As with many such words, there is no precise value. It will depend on the context. Here is the definition. You'll note it does not list a specific window of time.--Jayron32 23:45, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
I've been having an ongoing "senior moment" for some years now, as many here could testify. :) -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 03:37, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
A story is told of a man who climbed a mountain and called out, “Dear God, is it true that for You a thousand years is but a moment?” As his voice reverberated across the hills a thunderous echo roared its response in the affirmative. The man rapidly fired off another question, “Is it true that for You a million dollars is but a penny?” To which the distant roar again replied affirmatively. Humbly the man asked, “God, can you spare me a penny?” To which God replied, “Of course. Just wait a moment...” Wymspen (talk) 11:55, 21 May 2017 (UTC)

English consonants sorted by frequency

Does anyone have a complete list of all consonant sounds in English sorted by frequency?? I'm sure the rarest is the wh in which. It occurs exclusively at the beginning of words and in compound words whose second word begins with wh; somewhere is a word of the latter kind. Any complete list?? Georgia guy (talk) 23:32, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

Letter frequency might could get your started in the right direction.--Jayron32 23:38, 20 May 2017 (UTC)
"Frequency of Occurrence of Phonemes in Conversational English"--William Thweatt TalkContribs 00:11, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
From its abstract, that source seems dubious, since it does not use the IPA, and it says that a, n, t, i, s, r, i, l, d, ε are the most common phonemes. It doesn't define a, doesn't address the cot/caught merger (or is that the cat vowel?) and suggests that i is both the 4th and 7th most frequent phoneme. μηδείς (talk) 02:45, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Whew! I looked at the link and thought it fishy, but my linguistics days are too far behind me. Listing the same phoneme twice also aroused suspicion. :) Matt Deres (talk) 03:29, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
The abstract is from 1978, and may suffer from OCR issues when it was digitized. I suspect the two i's were different originally, and the a phoneme may have been different as well... --Jayron32 03:52, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
The abstract says "The speech was transcribed using a quasi-phonemic system, known as ARPAbet," which gives me pause. The sit vowel should still come out as a small cap I, so I retain my dubity. In any case, it seems to be behind a paywall; I could not download the PDF. μηδείς (talk) 14:10, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
You can do this [3] (the paper from 1950 seems alright).--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 15:13, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Direct link to the 1950 PDF. Note that this is NYC English, and has strndl and a second type of d (maybe edh?) as well as the schwa, cat and sit vowels all with at least a 3% frequency. μηδείς (talk) 15:30, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Alright, just added "rp" to the search query and got these[4][5].--Lüboslóv Yęzýkin (talk) 19:44, 21 May 2017 (UTC)

May 21


Non-native speaker here. I have a question concerning the current usage of the word backlash, used without a qualifier, in political parlance: hitherto methought that a backlash can lash back at any lasher, leftward or rightward, but according to the German entry, which comes with a great many citations, it is by now synonymous with conservative/anti-progressive/reactionary backlash. Is that so? --2003:45:4B23:6300:D142:E45B:F20C:3B1 (talk) 11:09, 21 May 2017 (UTC)

If the German entry is correct, then the word in German is more restrictive than the English word.(see below). There is no requirement that a word with the same spelling has to mean the same in different languages. Perhaps someone fluent in German could comment? Dbfirs 11:17, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Our article is actually at Backlash (sociology), though at this point it fails WP:DICDEF and should probably be redirected to the Wiktionary entry here. There is no particular political slant left or right to the English usage. Matt Deres (talk) 12:19, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
The meaning of the term Backlash in German is described in the monolingual Duden as 'Gegenreaktion, Gegenströmung; Konterschlag'. The German WP article is pure OR. --Pp.paul.4 (talk) 15:12, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Note that a word can have different shades of meaning in two languages. For example, "molest" has come to mean "rape" in English, while it originally just meant "bother" (in old movies a woman might say to a cop "this man is molesting me"). In French, it retains the original meaning. StuRat (talk) 15:40, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Molest doesn't mean rape in Britain. Itsmejudith (talk) 22:41, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Interesting. So it can be used to just mean "bother" there ? StuRat (talk) 00:26, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Perhaps slightly more than "bother". The OED definition is "To interfere or meddle with (a person, animal, etc.) injuriously or with hostile intent; to pester or harass, esp. in an aggressive or persistent manner." with a more recent sense of "To harass, attack, or abuse sexually." Most people in the UK would not use "molest" if they meant "rape", though I suppose it might be used as a euphemism in some circumstances. Dbfirs 06:54, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Molest doesn't really mean rape in NA, either. Generally it refers to unwanted touching of a sexual nature. With regards to children ("child molestation" redirects to child sexual abuse in WP), it may be used as a euphemistic catch-all term where the details of the abuse aren't given. But a grown woman who was raped would not be said to have been molested. Matt Deres (talk) 11:09, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Painting your opponent as being irritable and prone to knee-jerk reactions (which is what backlash implies) is a lefty tactic (the conservative counterpart is "immoral" or "unpatriotic" - or was before the whole Russia affair, anyway.) So it figures leftists would use it wrt conservatives more often than vice versa, plus conservatives may loathe to use a word that has come to be associated with how leftists talk (other than ironically, that is.) This will limit its usage to those kind of situations (i.e., liberals unhappy with conservatives) even further. Liberals don't lash back, their reaction when they don't get their way is one of incredulous dismay at conservatives' irrational obstinacy ("I can't even.") PS There's also "frontlash", which is sappy human interest stories detailing some minority's purported fear of backlash, appearing as if on command whenever something big and nasty happens. Asmrulz (talk) 00:17, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Oxford Dictionaries doesn't support the German article's claim, either for British or American English - in fact, their first example is ‘a public backlash against racism’. It doesn't match my experience either. Of the sources cited in the German article, I can only access the first, which says "In contemporary American usage, the term backlash appears to refer to recurring attempts by a privileged class to rescind recently won rights and liberties gained by an underprivileged group or class." (My emphasis). It looks to me as though the German article (and its sources) are cherry-picking examples to support their claim. Iapetus (talk) 08:39, 24 May 2017 (UTC)

"Millions of data"?

"Data" and "information" are uncountable, right? Can I then say "millions of data"? And what about "information": Do I have to say "millions of pieces of information", which sounds a bit ponderous to me...? I'm very curious about your answers. Greetings--Erdic (talk) 18:49, 21 May 2017 (UTC)

Neither is "uncountable", but "millions of pieces of information" is correct, as is "millions of data" and "millions of items of data". Information is seldom seen in the plural in modern English so "informations" is often seen as incorrect, though it is still current in Scottish Law, and was used by Shakespeare, Swift, Carlyle and Robert Louis Stevenson. The singular of data is "datum", of course. Dbfirs 20:01, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Dbfirs Swift links to the birds and Carlye is a disambiguation. CambridgeBayWeather, Uqaqtuq (talk), Sunasuttuq 16:05, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Oops! Sorry! I usually check before linking, but I was in too much of a hurry here! I intended to link to Jonathan Swift and Thomas Carlyle of course. Dbfirs 16:40, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
  • When using data as an uncountable noun, as with the uncountable information, you can say millions of pieces/items of data/information, but it flows better if you say lots of data/information, or a lot of data/information, or a huge amount of data/information, or (slightly more formally) very much data/information.
My feeling is that it's very rare to use data as a countable noun preceded by a specific count: these data is moderately common, but five data or millions of data sounds very strange to me. Loraof (talk) 20:15, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Rare, but not unheard of. The singular is datum, which is still used in some contexts. It is used in philosophy (A premise from which conclusions are drawn) and in engineering (A fixed reference point). Wymspen (talk) 20:46, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Incidentally, I (and I assume the OP) was using "uncountable noun" in the sense of mass noun. In the phrase millions of items of data, items is a countable noun while data is a mass noun, like coffee in millions of cups of coffee. Loraof (talk) 20:53, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Datum and data are the singular and plural respectively. We can say "one datum" but not "two (or more) data". Are there other words that are countable in the singular but not in the plural? -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 23:01, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
In my English, "data" is a mass noun, and does not have a singular. I would not use "datum" at all. --ColinFine (talk) 23:22, 21 May 2017 (UTC)
Agreed. They started out as the singular and plural of the same word, but their meanings and usages have since diverged. StuRat (talk) 01:03, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
I suggest "millions of data points" as the most elegant way to say what you want. StuRat (talk) 01:05, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Our article on Geodetic datum uses the word "datums" several times, which is correct in that context according to [6].--Shantavira|feed me 06:38, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
In some contexts, "data point" is one expression that has replaced "datum" in the sense of "a single measurement". --PalaceGuard008 (Talk) 10:22, 22 May 2017 (UTC)

May 22

Is there a term for intentionally wasting a person's time ?

For example, if we were discussing economics, and I said "Read Smith and you will see where your argument is flawed". The other person might figure that I meant either the original Adam Smith, or George Goodman, who also went under the name Adam Smith. They might then read the writings of both and come back and say that nothing either wrote contradicts what they said. I could then add "I was not referring to Adam Smith", to get them to waste even more time trying to figure out who I meant. Of course, with modern communications it's simple to ask a clarifying question, but, in the days when letters took weeks or perhaps months to be delivered around the world, this strategy would be more effective. So, is there a term for this ? StuRat (talk) 14:53, 22 May 2017 (UTC)

Being an asshole? --Jayron32 15:12, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
I'm surprised you would characterize it that way, since you use this tactic yourself, when you provide large numbers of low-quality sources, apparently unread by you, with no comment, seemingly daring the OP or whomever you are attacking at the moment to read them all, in the futile hope of finding something relevant. StuRat (talk) 02:03, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
The exact term is not coming to me, but nudnik is in the neighborhood.[7]Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 15:41, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Another one is obstructionist, though probably not for your example. ---Sluzzelin talk 16:37, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Is there a problem with "time waster"? I've seen it used for both the subject and direct object (in your example, both the books and the person who suggested them). Matt Deres (talk) 16:39, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
In fictional court cases, when one side is compelled to turn over certain documents to the other side, they may choose to interpret the order so that they also provide a huge quantity of irrelevant documents in the hope that the first side receiving them won't have time to read everything and find the relevant ones; and this is called "burying them in paper". Presumably both the tactic and the term reflect real life. -- (talk) 19:56, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Thanks. Best answer so far. StuRat (talk) 21:30, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
In law, this is called Vexatious litigation, which is similar. --Jayron32 01:36, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
Well, not if by "this" you were talking about my answer above. Similar idea, though. -- (talk) 03:40, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
"Giving the runaround"? Clarityfiend (talk) 21:26, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
"Denial of productivity attack" is close. We don't have an article on it, but you can Google for some explanations, namely "any method employed that keeps a person, group, community or other set of humans busy in such a way as to prevent them from being productive in the tasks that they have prioritized for themselves." Shock Brigade Harvester Boris (talk) 01:17, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
Yes, this is similar to the delaying tactics approach politicians will sometimes use, by forming a series of committees, say, rather than actually addressing the problem. Here the idea is that the public will lose interest, or a new scandal will come along and distract them, or they will just make it to the end of their term without having to act, then it's the next guy's problem. StuRat (talk) 01:52, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
The specific original example could be described as Obfuscation, although that refers to making things hard to understand rather than specifically wasting people's time. Iapetus (talk) 10:41, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
The article cited by Jayron above could do with some work. A suit is not declared vexatious "regardless of its merits". It is so characterised because it is "frivolous, vexatious, and an abuse of the process of the court", i.e. the issue has been fully litigated and the case has no prospect of success. While the people against whom lawsuits are directed frequently characterise them as "vexatious" the legal meaning of the term is rather more restrictive. In politics, the descriptive term would be filibuster. (talk) 11:03, 23 May 2017 (UTC)
A filibuster does delay action, but the onus is on you to do the work, rather than your opponent. StuRat (talk) 12:33, 23 May 2017 (UTC)

Abstract-object-only transitive verbs and generative grammar

In the peer-reviewed linguistic literature, have any grammars been presented as the generative grammar for English, which don't distinguish transitive verbs whose direct objects can be concrete from those whose direct objects must be abstract? An obvious example would be one that accepted *"I think a fish" as a sentence. NeonMerlin 17:35, 22 May 2017 (UTC)

About the only thing you can think (as noun object in English) are thoughts, a cognate accusative construction. Otherwise, the verb "to think" requires a subordinate clause (or an inanimate pronoun referring to a clausal idea)... AnonMoos (talk) 21:15, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
There was a road safety campaign in Britain with the slogan "Think Bike", meaning watch out for motorcycles. Itsmejudith (talk) 22:09, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
If used in connected text (instead of gnomic headlinese), bike would be put in quote marks according to usual punctuation conventions... AnonMoos (talk) 22:18, 22 May 2017 (UTC)
Indeed, this is an example of the use-mention distinction, if I am not mistaken. --Jayron32 11:17, 23 May 2017 (UTC)

May 23

Has a linguist made a rough pecking order of languages​ or accents by "average amount of tone variations and stress"?

If you've heard some of the announcements at Rite Aid like "Go Green" and "KidCents charity" you'd know what I'm talking about. The voice actress puts way too much stress on things. Mandarin I think would be up there as it's tonal language with a lot of stressed syllables. I suppose there could be a language that on average sounds like a droning professor to those who know only English? (mood and speaker dependent of course) Sagittarian Milky Way (talk) 01:05, 23 May 2017 (UTC)

Unless one is measuring and graphing absolute frequencies (similar to this), this is a fairly subjective question as pitch, tone, intonation, stress, Isochrony, etc. are perceived relative to other nearby sounds. But for the record, Mandarin's tonal system is fairly simple in comparison to other languages of the world. Languages in Southeast Asia from the Hmong-Mien, Tai-Kadai and Lolo-Burmese languages can have as many as nine unique tone contours; the Wobé language of West Africa is reputed (though this is disputed) to have 14 tones; and, in the New World, dialects of the Trique language are said to have up to 16 tones. The exact values of the frequency ranges would have to be measured to find out which one has the greatest distance between the highest high and the lowest low and I'm pretty sure that hasn't been done for all the relevant languages in the world.--William Thweatt TalkContribs 02:39, 23 May 2017 (UTC)

May 24

Which Versus That

I see all these rules about when to use "which" and when to use "that"[8][9], but doesn't FDR's "A Date Which Will Live in Infamy" violate these so called rules? Who's right here, the English teachers or FDR? Scala Cats (talk) 03:24, 24 May 2017 (UTC)

You (and FDR) are quite right: there is indeed a fairly rigid rule that you can't use that in a non-restrictive relative clause, but the inverse rule promoted by some American grammar teachers, that you shouldn't use which in a restrictive relative, is a bogus rule invented by prescriptivists, and has never been observed in the living language. The LanguageLog blog used to have some rather entertaining polemic articles about this issue; I might find some links for you later. Fut.Perf. 05:04, 24 May 2017 (UTC)
Here's some: [10], [11][12] (with further links). Fut.Perf. 06:27, 24 May 2017 (UTC)
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Wikipedia:Reference desk/Language"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA