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Alaskan Range: Languages

...Our family doesn't have a special name for the cardboard rolls inside toilet paper, but according to Dickson, other Americans do: "daw-daw," "doot-do," "der-der," "hoo-hoo," and "to-do to-do." His list of family names for dust bunnies includes "pummies," "leap jeeps," "fizziewiggles," and "foochachas."...

Greg Hill delves with delight into the history and development of languages.

Many of us occasionally suffer from what Paul Dickson says is "menuitis, having so many choices that you take forever to make up your mind."

Dickson is a prolific nonfiction writer, and 17 of his 50-plus titles are listed in our library's online catalog fnsblibrary.org, and his specialties are baseball and slang words, which are combined nicely in his "Dickson Baseball Dictionary," a classic reference work on the topic. His latest book, "Family Words," isn't at our library yet, but it's concerned with the amusing neologisms, or newly made-up words, that are coined within families and, while making little sense to outsiders, are reliable sources of amusement within the clan.

For example, my son Gabriel came up with "accididn't" in an attempt to explain a mishap when he was knee-high, and it's been useful ever since. Our family doesn't have a special name for the cardboard rolls inside toilet paper, but according to Dickson, other Americans do: "daw-daw," "doot-do," "der-der," "hoo-hoo," and "to-do to-do." His list of family names for dust bunnies includes "pummies," "leap jeeps," "fizziewiggles," and "foochachas."

Nobody coined, modified, or combined words like Shakespeare. The folks at NoSweatShakespeare.com report that he used 17,677 different words in his plays and poems and was the first author to use 1,700 of them. Today most of them are old standbys, such as accommodation, amazement, baseless, bump, courtship, critic, dislocate, generous, hurry, obscene and pious, to barely scratch the surface.

English has evolved so much since Shakespeare's day, it's almost like a second tongue. Recent research at Northwestern University is showing that being able to speak two languages makes you much better at learning additional languages. ScienceDaily.com quotes NU professor Viorica Marian saying "It's often assumed that individuals who've learned multiple languages simply have a natural aptitude for learning languages. While this is true in some cases, our research shows that the experience of becoming bilingual itself makes learning a new language easier individuals can transfer language learning strategies they've acquired to subsequent language learning."

Words are understood differently in places like China, where the Latin alphabet isn't used. The Chinese language is made up of 20,000 single-syllable characters that each have its own meaning. Often they have several meanings and can be combined with other characters to form thousands of multisyllabic words. Pinyin is the written form of phonetic Chinese that uses the Latin alphabet. While Pinyin helps with learning the Mandarin Chinese language and pronunciation, Pinyin also allows the Chinese to use western computers, which is important since English and its Latin alphabet play prominent roles in computer operations around the world. Problems persist, however; for example "Baidu," the name of the Chinese equivalent of Google, can mean "a failed attempt to poison" and "making a religion of gambling."

Meanwhile, in northern India's Uttar Pradesh province, a temple was recently dedicated to the Goddess English. The NY Times tells us the goddess' idol is "a bronze figure in robes, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and holding aloft a pen," and over 1,000 Dalit tribesmen, an "untouchable" caste, attended her temple's dedication. The temple is intended to encourage learning English, since that can be a young Dalit's ticket out of poverty.

Many young people in this country are learning Chinese and Russian to get ahead in the world. The public library is here to help. Mango.com is an online foreign language data base that teachs languages ranging from Spanish and German to Chinese, Japanese and Russian. It also includes English-as-a-Second Language components in Spanish, Brazilian, and Polish. And you can get it through the Internet for free through the public library at fnsblibrary.org. That ought to put a smile on your face, and as a wise person once said, "There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all."


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