language
unlimited!
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Have you ever
wondered…
how children learn
to speak?
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Have you ever
asked…
why there are so
many different
languages in the
world?
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Do you know…
where English
came from?
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Have you noticed…
some languages have
many more speakers
than others?
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Have you wondered…
how many languages
it is possible to learn?
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Strange for you,
normal for me!
Do you know
what language
this is?
Can you hear any
sounds different
from English?
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Xhosa
The language you
have heard is
spoken in South
Africa.
Can you name a
famous Xhosa
speaker?
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Nelson Mandela
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What do you think?
“Languages belong to everyone;
so most people feel they have a
right to have an opinion about it”
What is your opinion?
Maybe it will change as you find
out more…
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language unlimited!
Do you agree with
these opinions?
1. Sign language is
not a real language
2.The bigger the
language the better
it is
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Do you agree with
these opinions?
3. Some languages
are more beautiful
than others
4. Grammar tells us
how to write
correctly
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So many questions!
There are many different
questions about language.
Here are some answers…
can you match them up?
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1. What is the most
polite language?
A. Korean
B. Turkish
C. Chinese
Answer: A. Korean
There are 7 levels of
politeness which are used
to show respect to the
addressee.
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2. What is the oldest
writing system still in
use?
A. Korean
B. Turkish
C. Chinese
Answer: C. Chinese
This dates from around
1200 BC and although it
has changed since then it
is still used by millions of
people.
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3. What seems to be the
loudest language?
A. Korean
B. Turkish
C. Chinese
Answer: B. Turkish
This was measured in a
study in 1970 which set
out to measure speakers
over various distances.
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4. What is said to be the
most frequently spoken
word on the planet?
A. The
B. OK
C. ilunga
Answer: B. OK
First coined as a joke in
Boston newspapers and
meaning oll korrekt (a
conscious misspelling of "all
correct") it is now commonly
used and understood
worldwide.
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5. What is said to be the
most frequently word in
English?
A. The
B. OK
C. ilunga
Answer: A. The
This is number one in the
top 10 most frequent
words in British English as measured in the British
National Corpus.
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6. What is considered to
be the hardest word to
translate?
A. The?
B. OK?
C. ilunga? *
Answer: C. ilunga
A person who is ready to
forgive any abuse for the
first time,
to tolerate it a second time,
but never a third.
*‘ilunga’ comes from the language Tshiluba spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo
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What would have
happened if you hadn’t
learnt to speak as a child?
Evidence from discoveries
of ‘wild children’ suggest
that if you hadn’t learnt
your first language by the
age of 13 you probably
wouldn’t be able to learn
after that.
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language unlimited!
How many languages is it
possible for one person
to learn?
If you have the time
any number!
The most multilingual
person still living is
Ziad Fazah who speaks
58 languages.
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Ziad Fazah speaks all
these languages:
Albanian German Amharic Arabic
Armenian Azeri Bengali Burmese
Bulgarian Cambodian Cantonese
Mandarin Wu Sinhalese Singapore English
Korean Danish Dzongkha Spanish Finnish
French Fijian Greek Hebrew Hindi Dutch
Hungarian Indonesian English Icelandic
Italian Japanese Swahili Lao Malay
Malagasy Mongolian Nepali Norwegian
Papiamento Persian Polish Portuguese
Pashto Kyrgyz Romanian Russian
Serbo-Croatian Swedish Tajik Thai Czech
Tibetan Turkish Urdu Uzbek Vietnamese
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What makes a word
beautiful?
No word is inherently
more beautiful than
another.
In polls it is often the
sound, meaning or the
connotation of a word
that makes it beautiful.
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What makes a word
beautiful?
For example:
mother (English)
Rhabarbermarmelade
(rhubarb jam in German)
sommarvind
(summer breeze
in Swedish)
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Does size matter?
There are over 6,000
languages in the world, some
with lots of speakers and some
with very few speakers, some are
in remote places and some
stretch across the whole world.
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1. What is the BIGGEST
language in the world
(most speakers)
A. English?
B. Burumakok?
C. Mandarin
Chinese?
Answer: C. Mandarin
This is generally
agreed to top the list
of most speakers with
some 880 million first
language speakers
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2. What is one of the
smallest language in the
world (fewest speakers)
A. English?
B. Burumakok?
C. Mandarin
Chinese?
Answer: B. Burumankok
Burumakok, in West
Papua New Guinea, is
spoken by fewer than
300 people
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3. Which is the richest
language
A. English?
B. Burumakok?
C. Mandarin
Chinese?
Answer: A. English
English is spoken as a
first language by the
wealthiest economies
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4. Which language has
the most sounds?
A. English?
B. !Xũ?
C. Kâte
Answer: B. !Xũ
!Xũ is an African language
which has 141 phonemes
(a unit of sound that
distinguishes meanings of
words) including a large
number of clicks
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5. Which language is the
most widespread?
A. English?
B. !Xũ?
C. Kâte
Answer: A. English
28% of the world’s land
area is occupied by
countries having English
as their official language
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6. Which language has the
highest percentage of
second language speakers
A. English?
B. !Xũ?
C. Kâte
Answer: C. Kâte
93% of speakers of this
language spoken in New
Guinea are second
language speakers
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language unlimited!
Fact or fiction?
Many popular ‘facts’ about
language are not necessarily true
and many are still in dispute.
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language unlimited!
Here are some ‘facts’
about language, can you
spot which are true?
Answer true or false
Hint, some may be both!
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language unlimited!
Languages can
be dangerous!
True
False
True: Esperanto is an invented
language that was banned in
several countries by authoritarian
regimes e.g. Nazi Germany,
Soviet Union, China.
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Languages can be
bought and sold
True
False
True: in Vanuatu (South Pacific
island) a community sold their
language to their neighbours
and couldn’t use it any more!
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Languages never
change
True
False
False: languages change all the
time borrowing from each other,
making up new words (as new
things are invented), losing
others as they go out of fashion!
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Languages can
die
True
False
True: about 417 languages are
under threat of extinction which
means that they don’t have
children among their speakers.
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Languages can
kill
True
False
True: big languages can kill smaller
ones by being the language of
education or by their speakers being
more economically powerful.
English, Spanish, Portuguese are
the biggest killers!
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language unlimited!
You can’t just
make up a new
language
True
False
False: new languages have been created,
the most successful of these being Esperanto
(an international language created in 1887).
Klingon was made up for a TV programme.
Do you know which one?
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Languages have
relatives
True
False
True and false: most languages are related
to other languages. There are 30 different
language families — English belongs to the
Indo-European family.
Basque (spoken in Spain) can’t be traced to
any family — it is known as an isolate.
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language unlimited!
Animals can’t
learn to speak
True
False
True and false: chimps have been taught
some language (especially sign language) but
they don’t have the ability to pronounce
human language.
Birds can mimic human sounds e.g. parrots
and lyrebirds, but they don’t understand what
they are saying.
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language unlimited!
Languages can
solve crimes
True
False
True: criminals have been identified
from their writing or speech. For
example, the uncle of a murdered
teenager was identified as her killer by
text messages he sent from her phone
(pretending to be her).
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language unlimited!
English is the
easiest language
to learn
True
False
True and false: it is a matter of
opinion only. English has been
variously voted both easiest and
hardest to learn.
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language unlimited!
Eskimos have up
to 400 words for
snow
True
False
False: this is known as the Great Eskimo
Vocabulary Hoax which grew from a suggestion
that there were four or more words for snow
and the number kept getting bigger!
There are probably no more than 15 words in
fact and English has nearly that many!
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language unlimited!
Not all languages
have separate words
for ‘he’ and ‘she’
True
False
True: Finnish ‘hän’ covers he
and she and most African
languages don’t make the
distinction.
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language unlimited!
And there is much,
much more
As you can see languages are a
big and interesting subject to
study.
And it is not just about learning
new languages. It’s about finding
the answers to many more
questions about language.
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language unlimited!
Who has the answers?
People who are interested in the
big questions about language
have often studied a subject
called
linguistics.
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What is linguistics?
“Linguistics is about the
history of language and how
language works.”
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What is linguistics?
“Linguistics helps us
understand why human
language is the way it is.”
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language unlimited!
Descriptive not
prescriptive
Linguistics is not about how we
should speak or write.
Instead, it’s about how we speak
and write in reality.
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Here are a few questions
that students of
linguistics may
investigate:
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How do we make
speech sounds and
how do we understand
them?
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Why do some
languages seem to
be considered more
important than
others?
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Why do language
neighbours such as
English and French
appear to be so different from
each other?
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language unlimited!
Why do speakers from
different parts of the
same country often
use different accents and
dialects?
Image © www.themindrobber.co.uk
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language unlimited!
Why can you say
“John sent a text to me”
but not
“sent me text a John to”?
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Stop press!
Look at these recent
news headlines.
What do you think
the stories have in
common?
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It’s Hinglish,
innit?
Hinglish — a hybrid of
English and south
Asian languages, used
both in Asia and the UK
— now has its own
dictionary.
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language unlimited!
‘Chatty George’
talks himself up
George is a chat
robot who speaks
40 languages.
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Cows also have
regional accents
Dairy farmers have
noticed their cows
had slightly different
moos, depending on which herd
they came from.
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language unlimited!
They wouldn’t be news
without linguistics!
All these stories are about
language, and they wouldn’t
have hit the headlines without
someone, somewhere, showing
an interest in them.
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language unlimited!
A few more things to
consider
Linguistics can be useful in society:
It has helped to solve crimes
(forensic linguistics).
It can help to understand illnesses
such as strokes (which can damage
the speech area of the brain).
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language unlimited!
A few more things to
consider
It can develop new technologies
(voice recognition software).
Did you know that spellcheckers
were built by linguists?
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language unlimited!
So, why study
linguistics?
To find the answers to these
unlimited questions about
language… and much more!
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language unlimited!
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