Recently in Books about language Category

Good English: spelling

Spelling English words correctly is the bane of many people's lives. I once read that a Frenchman said he would rather spend six months doing hard labour than try to learn how to spell in English.  German looks to be difficult to the untutored eye because the words can be so long. But, in fact, what you say is what you write. There are no silent letters such as in 'knife' or 'gnat' or confusions with pronunciation caused by words that look similar such as 'laughter' and 'daughter'.

There was an article in the Guardian recently discussing the length of German words and how practical they are - until you come across such gems as Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz which almost made me laugh when I was once confronted with it. Long as it is, it is easy to spell as every letter is pronounced:  Rindfleisch etikettierungs überwachungs aufgaben übertragungs gesetz.

As part of Topping's Autumn Book Festival in Bath, David Crystal, the well-known linguist, academic and author, will be speaking about spelling. On a journey from sixth century monks to the language of text messaging, he will explain why certain words are spelled the way they are and, with a bit of luck, help us with remembering how to spell the words that catch us all out.

The event will take place on 26 November.

News of language bookshops

I have only just discovered that the wonderful London foreign-language bookshop, Grant and Cutler, is now located at Foyles on the Charing Cross Road (and has been since March 2011).

I am particularly fond of Grant and Cutler because I was a frequent customer during my undergraduate days. It was located in Buckingham St in a wonderfully labyrinthine building down by the River. The rooms were small and stuffed from top to bottom with all sorts of fascinating tomes; one could easily allow a couple of hours to pass unnoticed ensconced in the atmospheric surroundings.

After graduating, I was employed in the shop's German department after the business had relocated to Great Marlborough St. This was a very lively area - just next to Liberty's and Carnaby St and directly behind Oxford St. I was assigned a desk in the middle of the shop with a typewriter that looked as if it might have been state-of-the-art in 1936 when the shop first opened its doors but which looked decidedly antiquated by the time I came to use it. I don't think the little finger on my left hand has ever quite recovered from the force needed to hit the "a" and "z" keys ("z" is much more commonly used in German than in English). Computers were not in common use at the time and unbelievable as this may sound these days we managed perfectly well with ordering and despatching books without their advantages.

I shall make a point of going to visit the shop in its new incarnation when I am next in London and see if I can spot any former colleagues lurking behind piles of Goethe plays and Kafka novels. I don't suppose their desks will be in the middle of the shop!

The next piece of bookshop news is slightly more current. Waterstones has recently announced that it is opening a bookshop selling Russian-language books in its Piccadilly branch. A bit of healthy competition for Foyles perhaps?

New Year Reading List

I once heard that a 40-year old man worked out that if he lived to the age of 70, he would have time to read only another 360 books at his current rate of one per month.  It does not sound like an awful lot of books so with that in mind one has to be discerning about what one selects. There is no time to waste on the wrong kind of book - whatever you might deem that to be.

Two books that I have come across recently are definitely on my reading list and are likely to appeal to almost all readers of this blog.

The first is The Etymologicon by Mark Foster which is a fascinating stroll through the highways and byways of the English language during which he demonstrates the links between words. See if you agree with his sweeping claim that "almost every word in the English language derives from shah"!

Never dusty, always entertaining and I can recommend it as un-put-downable. (I've had to hide my copy from myself (!) to make sure I concentrate on a project I'm currently doing!!)

51SSrCHF6KL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_.jpg(If you want to look inside, you'll have to visit the Amazon website. I obtained my copy from the wonderful Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath - a hugely satisfying "real world" experience).

Another book I cannot wait to start looking at is already causing a buzz in the translation world.  Most translators will be already familiar with Mox's blog - and now the hilarious cartoon strips of the world of freelance translation have been collected into book form by Mox's creator, Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. Follow this link to find out more about Mox. Illustrated Guide to Freelance Translation.


A couple of ideas for Christmas presents for linguists

We are already in the midst of the season of commercial madness when we feel moved to buy a present for nearly everyone we know. In a moment of generosity and goodwill to all wo/men, I have compiled a short list of books you might like to give to your nearest and dearest linguist.

Adam Jacot de Boinod has written a series of books that should keep even the most avid reader occupied until well beyond Boxing Day:
The Meaning of Tingo and Toujours Tingo, books featuring words which have no equivalent in the English language. Tingo is a word he borrowed from the Pascuense language of Easter Island meaning, "to borrow things from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left".

He also collected more material for I never knew there was a word for it which is sure to introduce the reader to a whole new vocabulary. The only problem with this book is, of course, that if you use these newly-acquired words in conversation, you are likely to meet with blank looks - as nobody else is likely to know there was a word for it either!

Last month, I attended an event organised by the wonderful Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights here in Bath to promote the launch of the late Miles Kington's Le Bumper Book of Franglais . With dramatic readings by Franglais-speaking actors, including veteran comic actress Stephanie Cole, the book was brought alive. A word of caution: I have found in the past that native speakers of French do not find the British version of Franglais very funny. It seems that when the French speak Franglais they emphasise different aspects of the language - and these tickle them. There's probably a PhD in comparative linguistics in there somewhere!