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  1. Question: How many languages are there in the world? The answer can only be an approximation because the distinction between language and dialect is arbitrary. Most sources say there are between 3000 and 8000 languages in the world, and I think the latter number is closer to the truth. About 1000 of those languages are written. The number is getting smaller as we speak, though. Many of the non-written languages are endangered. Amazing to think Papua New Guinea alone hosts more than 700 languages, only a few of which endangered.
  2. It absolutely should. Besides the obvious practical benefits, learning a foreign language brings so many benefits to your brain, making it sharper. Here in Italy English language is taught since pupils are 6 year old, right from the beginning of high school, and this is compulsory. A second foreign language starts being taught in middle school, 11 year old. It's a good system, but sadly the quality of teaching is pretty low. Now, in English speaking countries there is probably less perceived need to learn foreign languages because of English's role as lingua franca. Anyone interested can look at this Eurostat research, containing some very useful charts about Europe's language teaching situation.
  3. Golly, lots of people with reactionary ideas in here! The dictionary is not a sacred text which contains words chosen from above, nor does it have to make a quality judgement when considering words to add. It's very simple: lots of people use it -> included in the dictionary. It describes how people speak, it does not prescribe it. And the only way to stop those words being included in the dictionary is to stop people from using them. But I don't see the point in that, language is beautiful because it evolves, it's never static. Some of us may find these words ridiculous because they're new, just like our grandpas thought many of the words we use were ridiculous when they first appeared.
  4. In the case of a native speaker: did you understand what they meant? If yes, let it go. The message was conveyed, thus language has done its job. Using a language is for communicating, and you can communicate successfully even without adhering to all the "rules". What does it matter that they made a mistake! That does not mean being "stupid" as sidney said; simply put, language has to be considered in its context, i.e., in use, and not on paper, on grammar books. In the case of ESL speakers: find out whether they want to be corrected in order to learn the proper grammar or if they would resent it, and respect their wishes. Some appreciate it, others don't.
  5. Oh my, that is very very good! I think not being a native speaker helps, you speak at a slower pace and it's easier to avoid the tongue twisting effect. Whereas when it's in your language you tend to try and say it at your normal rate of speech, and the similarity between phonemes makes you err. By the way your pronunciation is really good, you can definitely hear the Eastern Europe accent but what you say is very clear and correct!
  6. Oh my, I would love to hear this tongue twister pronounced by a native speaker with glottal stop! Anyway, I see no Italian tongue twister has been posted so far. By the way, tongue twister in Italian is scioglilingua (tongue-melter). "Sotto la panca la capra campa, sopra la panca la capra crepa." (under the bench the goat lives, over the bench the goat dies). Really infamous, it's much harder than it looks, and almost invariably you'll end up saying something like "under the bench the cramp clamps, over the camp the berch crepes". This one is very short, but surprisingly hard to pronounce, especially if you can't roll your Rs properly! "Tre tigri contro tre tigri" (three tigers versus three tigers)
  7. I'm not a native speaker of English, so I'll give my perspective as an outsider. The accent I prefer is pretty much RP; nothing sounds as good to me as the accent of, for instance, David Tibet (search for some Current 93 songs and hear his accent!). It is also the accent I find easier to understand, perhaps because during my academic career it was the main variety used for teaching. I also really like the Scottish accent. And Southern American sounds really evocative to me! It makes me imagine a lonely and rusty gas pump at the side of a road in the middle of the desert. The accent I dislike the most is the General American you find in American movies, it sounds slurred and garbled to my ears, although I understand it is a matter of personal preference, and that every accent is born equal!
  8. I kind of do. I wouldn't have known I did until I started studying Linguistics though! I'm from Southern Italy, from a town near Naples, where Neapolitan is really common. I'd say it's the first language of most people in this area. I grew up believing I was only a native speaker of Italian, and it never crossed my mind that Neapolitan could be a language. Then I learned that it is not a non-standard way of speaking Italian, it has grammatical differences from it, completely different sounds, important literature, and most importantly it has evolved from Latin in a different way than Italian. Neapolitan is recognized as a language, and it also has its own dialects, but of course common people here wouldn't ever believe, since it is a language without "prestige", without a nation, and with negative connotations in the eyes of the listener. So everyone thinks it's just a dialect, and that speakers are ignorant. It is sad because it's such a beautiful language, and everyone tries to suppress it to show they're cultured. But it is the language used in most informal interactions here.
  9. Some of those you listed are examples of cognates. Words are cognates when they share the same etymological origin. The Swedish "sex" and the English "six" are definitely cognates; they sound similar because they both come from the Proto-Germanic word "sehs" (reconstructed). Plan-plane are probably false cognates, or at least false friends. There are many, many words in Swedish that are identical to English. For example digital, access, tunnel. They are both Germanic languages, so that is to be expected. Kilat, ombudsman is a great example of Swedish loanword. Another one is tungsten.
  10. It's never easy, or very useful, to make generalizations about languages. But languages are strongly connected to cultures, and what you noticed could simply be a consequence of different cultures expressing concepts differently. I have translated a few technical texts from English to Italian in the past, so I can give you my perspective on this: compared to Italian, it does not seem more precise. It is, however, more short and to the point than Italian is. If you translate a technical English text keeping the same tone, in Italian it will sound quite informal. This is because academic and scientific texts in Italian tend to be overly complicated in their syntax and vocabulary, while those in English don't. So in my opinion it could be more a matter of style or tone than a matter of precision. I have a question for anyone knowledgeable about this: are we sure that English became the language of science because of its precision? Or did it change because of its status as main scientific language? About that theory: that seems far-fetched. There are numerous sources detailing the development of the English language, and they all describe a long, slow and gradual process of diachronic variations. If it had been created artificially for practical purposes there would be several signs of that, historical linguists would have discovered it.
  11. English is a foreign language for me, but I believe the original post implies songs not in English. So I'll choose Sodadeby Cesaria Evora. It's a pretty famous song, and it's sung in the Cape Verdean creole, which is based on Portuguese because Cape Verde was once a colony of Portugal. It's incredibly beautiful as a song, but I also enjoyed from a linguistic point of view. The Cape Verdean creole is really interesting: most of its vocabulary comes from Portuguese, but with variations in spelling and pronunciation, and the grammar is different from Portuguese grammar. I managed to learn how to sing it pretty well, and the language has a beautiful sound. By the way, the title of the song is the Cape Verdean spelling of "saudade".
  12. That's true, the Finno-Ugric group is not very large. The only languages in that group spoken by a decent number of speakers are Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian. When I was just beginning my linguistics studies it really amazed me to find related languages in two countries like Hungary and Finland, which are not that close geographically and culturally. But actually the whole grouping is controversial, it is unclear whether Ugric and Finno-Permic are actually related, there aren't that many words in common. Hence Finnish could have even fewer relatives! I think Finnish sounds and reads very differently from Hungarian, and without knowing it beforehand I would have never thought they were placed in the same group.
  13. Chigrey, that's a pretty old thread you resurrected! But it gave me a chance to read the original poem , not bad. And that's a great classic poem you chose as your favourite! How can one not love poetry! I admit I prefer reading poetry in small doses, though. I used to try reading a whole anthology of poems by one author, but I found it hard, probably because they are very dense from a lexical point of view, and a short text is meant to carry a lot of meaning. Incidentally I think that's why they're also difficult to translate. I usually like post-modern poetry, probably my favourite poem ever is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. On Youtube you can also hear it read by Eliot himself! Another favourite of mine is Pessoa, rainy-day poetry, existential and nostalgic. I especially love Não sei, ama, onde era, which I just can't find in English. It sounds incredibly beautiful in the Portuguese original! I want to share a very short poem by Ungaretti, an Italian poet of the Hermeticism movement. It's called Soldiers, and I think this is the best translation out there Talk about lots of meaning in a few words!
  14. It might be easier for a fluent non-native speaker to avoid all those spelling mistakes than it is for a native speaker. I know I never use the wrong word in each of the pairs you listed. Probably this happens because I first encountered those words in their written form, and then used them in everyday language. A native speaker, on the other hand, hears them constantly even before he starts reading, and thanks to the pronunciation "quirks" of English it's easy to mistake them because they sound quite similar. And once a mistake is stuck in your head it can be hard to correct. I believe it happens less often in languages where there is a more regular correlation between letters and phonemes. In Italian, for instance, the most common words are rarely misspelled. Misspellings happen mainly in tricky cases, like accents and apostrophes.
  15. The writing direction is not usually dependent on the language, but on the type of script. Hence the languages written right to left are all the languages using the Arabic script, those using the Hebrew alphabet, and so on. The right-to-left languages with more speakers probably are, apart from the two you mentioned, Persian, Urdu, Kurdish, Hebrew and Yiddish. You should note, though, that Chinese is written right to left only when using the traditional vertical writing. The same is true for Japanese and Korean. Today these languages, because of the influence of European languages, are often written horizontally, and in that case they are written left to right.
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