Ask the (sort of) Linguist Guy

I was inspired by this thread to start a thread where you can ask language related questions. I’m only a linguistics major and I have’t finished my degree, but I think I understand some of the stuff you might ask about.

So ask away. Maybe there will be people with even more linguistic expertise than I have.

I may take a little while to check this again because I have to go to sleep, but I’ll come back as soon as I can.


There’s an “ask a linguist” site on the internet where you can find answers to fascinating questions, staffed by professional linguists. I’m too lazy to look for it now, but it’ll come up if you type “ask a linguist” in your friendly neighborhood search engine.

My god! You are right. I forgot about that. I’ll get a link later.

Could you tell me what language this is written in?


Ha! Ha! Ranchoth! Good one! If you’re trying to be a wiseacre.

It’s the infamous Voynich manuscript. (Which no one has ever figured out and perhaps never will.)

sjc - Are you a cunning linguist? And, does your GF reciprocate?

There are half a dozen of the regular posters with some training in linguistics, incidentally.

As surprising as it may seem, I have no GF, but I would like to think I am a cunning linguist.

Here is the Linguist List if anyine is interested, according to the site it is the world’s largest online linguistics resource. Their Ask a Linguist section is here.

Ranchoth the link you provided didn’t work, but I guess that’s OK because I wouldn’t have known what it was, probably.

By the way, I do not claim to be able to answer very many of your questions. It really depends on the questions you ask (if you ask any). I hope other Doper Linguists (who I’m sure are all cunning) might help out.

How many times have you been asked how many languages you speak?
How many times have people told you “You know, the CIA is hiring linguists …”?
You tired of the “cunning linguist” joke yet? :smiley:

– Dragonblink, French/Linguistics double major

Ask-the-______ threads don’t belong in GQ, so I’ll move this thread to MPSIMS.

moderator GQ

Okay, here’s a real question.

Can you do a little to expand upon the whole language equivalancy thing; all languages being equal and correct, including ebonics and the use of prepositions at the end of sentences. I could really use somebody to sum up this argument against picky English teachers/up-tight grammarians for me.

Also, how’d you pick out linguistics as a degree? Is there a big market out there for it, or is it like an art history degree?

Hey, what’s the deal with the Great Vowel Shift anyway? Why did people all of a sudden decide to stop pronouncing the word for a little furry creature as “moos,” and start calling it “mouse”?

It looks like a form of Old High Romulan, written in an unorthodox style of cursive. Translated, it says something like this:

“We’re sorry, but this page is currently unavailable for viewing.
If this site belongs to you, please read this help page for more information and assistance.”

Sorry–just kidding. :slight_smile: I did figure out what you were referring to and ran a search on voynich manuscript. What is it, some sort of joke? Or did the first website I consulted just happen to belong to a loon? I went back to the Google search page, scanned some other site descriptions, and found the words “voynich” and “manuscript” appearing next to “end times” and “UFO.” So I came back here.

A mysterious text . . . seems to come from nowhere, but has been passed around a lot . . . the best linguists and code breakers in the world are unable to crack it . . . at least one professor has been driven insane studying the thing . . .

What’s the straight dope, guys? It looks like something that might be found locked away in the archives of the Miskatonic University Library. Or is it something real, like the Pyramids, that just happens to be unexplained enough to get absorbed into certain fringers’ personal mythologies?

Also, what second language do you think would be easiest for a native English speaker to learn? Looking at those linguistic trees leads me to think it would be German, but ever since I was in junior high people have been telling me, “Take Spanish . . . Spanish is easy . . . German’s too hard.” Same with French, although I don’t know why French would be more difficult than Spanish. Of course, I can barely speak English, so perhaps all the foreign languages taught at my school will be beyond me. Well, what do y’all think?



I’ve always wondered what do linguists do?

What can I do if I’m a linguist? I’m in a torrid relationship with linguistics and want to perhaps major in it in college, but what sort of jobs can I get if I do so? I don’t think the demand for field catalogers of languages is very high. I’m also considering minoring in one or two major languages, probably German (which I already speak fluently, but imperfectly) and Japanese (of which I know a dazzling twelve kanji). Good move or nay?

Formal or functional or both?

In my opinion, it all depends on the individual. German has a lot of vocabulary that’s similar to English, and the sentence structure is like older English sentence structure (think, say, Shakespeare). But it does have some pretty evil (to Anglophones) grammar such as cases of nouns. Romance languages also have similar vocabulary to English (due to the strong French influence on the language) and tend not to have kept the whole nominative - accusative - dative thing except in pronouns, but then again, you have things like French spelling, which takes some getting used to.

What I usually tell people is, “If you’re good at spelling, take French. If you’re good at grammar, take German. If you’re good at grammar and want to sound Educated, take Latin. If you want a language you can learn to speak well conversationally, take Spanish (since I’m in SoCal, where there’s no shortage of native speakers to listen to and hopefully practice with). If you like manga and anime, take Japanese. If you want to learn a language that has a lot of elements that’re different from English, and you’re looking for a challenge, take Mandarin.”

It’s worth noting that of the above-listed languages, I’ve studied a lot of French, a decent amount of German, have taught myself some Latin, have a passing acquaintance with Spanish (though we’re not on speaking terms), have a Japanese vocabulary limited to a few terms involving sushi or hentai (but not at the same time!), and know like one word of Mandarin. So this is all my highly biased opinion. My apologies to the OP for stealing the question :slight_smile:

Hmm, I’m in my third quarter of Mandarin Chinese right now, and I don’t find it to be nearly as daunting as people seem to think.

Once you familiarize yourself with the concept of reading Chinese characters (“hanzi”), and forget about having cognates to count on, you realize that Chinese is gramatically and orthographically very logical, with a sentence structure that (considerations of isolating vs. conjugating aside) isn’t all that dissimilar to English.

A large number of words are made up of very logical character combinations (i.e. the character for “tear” is a combination of the eye and water radicals). Some character “etymologies” are also quite funny and reveal a lot about how the Chinese think. For example, the word for computer translates to “electric brain”.

I could rant on here, but I’ve said my piece. Mandarin is a great study, it gets your foot in the door for the other East Asian languages (who needs to worry about kanji; they’re stolen from China anyway!!), and I’ve certainly got a lot more out of it then I would’ve from a year studying German or Italian or any other European language.

“If you’re looking for a job, take Arabic.”

Dragonblink for guidance councelor!

Seriously, though, if I really consulted with my advisor I would be tempted to print your post out and bring it to him when the time for me to pick classes for next semester rolls around. Thanks. :slight_smile: