May 13th 2013

What would you say to a prehistoric hunter?

What if you had the opportunity to communicate with someone from 15,000 years ago? What would you say? What could you say?

You, hear me!

Give this fire to that old man.

Pull the black worm off the bark and give it to the mother.

And no spitting in the ashes!

If you found yourself muttering these sentences in your native tongue while mingling with hunter-gatherers, you just might be understood. Many of today’s modern languages originate from an ancient common ancestrial language in Asia, and researchers now think that a surprising number of words have been preserved over time.

The words in these sentences come from a fascinating list of 23 ancient “cognates,” or words that both sound the same and mean the same thing, that date back to the end of the last Ice Age 15, 000 years ago. Examples of cognates of the word “father” include: padre (Italian), pere (French), pater (Latin) and pitar (Sanskrit).

Researchers at the University of Reading in England worked hard to identify these 23 words that have been “ultra-conserved” over 15,000 years. This new research contrasts the common view that words do not survive longer than 8,000-9,000 years.

Below is a complete list of the 23 words that have remained largely unchanged in several different languages.

thou, I, not, that, we, to give, who, this, what, man/male, ye, old, mother, to hear, hand, fire, to pull, black, to flow, bark, ashes, to spit, worm

Which words would you expect to see on the list?

Read more about this study here:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/linguists-identify-15000-year-old-ultraconserved-words/2013/05/06/a02e3a14-b427-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_story.html

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May 8th 2013

How to Overcome Writer’s Block


Writer’s block is that horrible feeling where your imagination turns off and you are left with a loss for words. Writer’s block can be fleeting or last for years. In extreme cases, some authors have even quit their profession!

We have 3 solutions to keep your imagination active.

1. Solve a Problem
Writing about ways to solve a problem forces you to outline the problem and creatively think of solutions. Problems range from the simple to the complex. Is your microwave always dirty? Do your shoes always come untied while running upstairs? Are you looking for a better way to communicate with your boss? Brainstorm solutions and share them with the world.

2. Sleep!
A 15-minute nap can gently ease your stress and free up your imagination. Let’s face it, we all deserve a nap, don’t we?

Set a timer, lie down somewhere quiet and comfortable and let your thoughts run free until you drift into a light sleep. Short naps between 10-15 minutes are revitalizing. Don’t have an alarm nearby? You can use Salvadore Dali’s zany alternative. He would sit with his arm holding a spoon and relax and start to drift off to sleep. The spoon would loudly clatter to the ground when he completely fell asleep and wake him up. He claimed that this nap worked wonders – and we know he didn’t have a problem with creativity!

3. Take Pixar’s Advice: Write what would NOT happen next! http://thewritepractice.com/writers-block-pixar/

If you are stuck writing fiction, take a page out of Pixar’s giant library of success and write what would NOT happen next! Is your protagonist out on a walk by the beach? Make a list of bizarre things that would likely never happen.

Maybe a turtle walks out of the water and asks for directions (yes we are thinking about finding Nemo!). Perhaps a giant submarine pulls up and the president of the United States pops up and invites him to go surfing? While these ideas may not be relevant to your story, they will get your imagination working overtime, and at the very least give you a reason to smile and continue writing.

What ideas can you add?

 

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May 6th 2013

Alternate Realities: The Subjunctive Mood

Phuc Tran speaking at TED

In his Ted Talk, “Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive,  Phuc Tran discusses the subjunctive and how this verbal mood can impact the way in which we see the world.  

 “What would have happened if…”

How many times have you asked yourself this question? Phuk Tran often spends time thinking about what would have happened if his family had not escaped Saigon in 1975. Before boarding a bus to flee, Tran began crying and shrieking uncontrollably. His family did not get on the bus, which minutes later exploded. What if he had not cried? What if his family had not made it out of Saigon?

These type of “what if” questions are known as the subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is used for expressing hypothetical statements such as “what if,” “I wish,” “I would,” “I could,” etc. As opposed to the indicative mood, which is used for stating facts, the subjunctive mood expresses potential and alternate outcomes.

Subjunctive: Time/space dream machine

According to Tran, the subjunctive is a “time/space dream machine that can conjure alternative realities.” Since Vietnamese lacks the subjunctive mood, Tran had the ability to imagine alternate possibilities to various actions whereas his parents did not. For his parents, reality was simply what happened. There was no sense of what could have happened.

Many of us get brought down by wishing we were someone or something else, and this Tran refers to as the “dark side of the subjunctive.” Tran believes his parents’ resiliency to deal with their difficult situation stems from the lack of the subjunctive in Vietnamese. Without a linguistic way to express the concept, his parents did not waste time worrying about alternative realities.

Vietnamese optimism

In a 2011 Gallup International poll, Vietnam was considered the most optimistic country, a fact that Tran attributes to their lack of a subjunctive mood. Without the ability to linguistically express what could have happened, Vietnamese do not spend time pondering over what they “should have” done, and instead, live with what happened or did not happen.

While the subjunctive can cause us unnecessary anxiety by worrying “what if,” it also allows us beautiful creativity in our thoughts and language. Use the power of the subjunctive correctly – choose to have an optimistic outlook like the Vietnamese, but continue to dream the lovely dreams of “what if.”

Check out Tran’s TED Talk here: http://tedxdirigo.com/speakers/phuc-tran/

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Apr 30th 2013

5 Tips for Stress-Free Essay Writing

Do you dread writing essays? Does just the thought of doing the research make you break out in a cold sweat? Stop worrying and start writing! Use these 5 quick tips to help lessen your essay agony and increase your productivity.

1. Choose an engaging topic!
This may seem obvious, but picking an essay topic that you feel connected to will keep you writing when the going gets tough and your coffee runs out.

2. Write everyday!
December 15th may seem light years away when you are enjoying the sunny, carefree afternoons of late September, but it isn’t. Write early and write often to save yourself from last-minute stress!

3. Finish at the start!
Only write the introductory paragraph after you have finished the rest of your essay and you can explain your thesis and arguments in the best way possible. 

4. Set realistic time goals.
Telling yourself that you will sit down for 5 hours to work on your essay is easier said than done. Manage your time by taking a 5-minute break every 25 minutes. This helps you stay fresh and in control of your inevitable distractions.

5. Either lose the mistakes or lose your marks!
Download Ginger’s Spelling and Grammar Checker to keep your essay error-free!

 

What tips can you add?

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Apr 14th 2013

What’s Your Style?

English is the most complex and vocabulary-rich language in the world. As of January 2012, there over 1 million words in use and a new word is added to the English language every 98 minutes! English incorporates many words and grammatical rules from other languages which makes it even more complicated.

How do we use language? Naturally, with so many influences and new additions, there tend to be disagreements on how language is used. Below are three disagreements over style.

Is it email or e-mail?

Back in 2011, this question was in the news due to two giants in the writing business: the Associated Press and the New York Times. To hyphenate or not to hyphenate? The AP Stylebook removed the hyphen since they thought it was only needed to explain that email meant “electronic mail” in the early days of the internet where new concepts needed clarification.

The New York Times decided to stick with the hyphen in e-mail while acknowledging that there is no longer the need to write the “message” after the word e-mail as in “e-mail message.”

Starting a sentence with and or but

Grammatically speaking, it is acceptable to start a sentence with “and” or “but.” The problem with starting your sentence with one of these conjunctions is that your writing will often come off as informal.

Instead, you can replace “and” with “in addition” and replace “but” with “however” to sound more professional.  

Hanged or Hung?

Until recently, both “hanged” and “hung” were used as the past participle of hang.

Today, however, “hanged” usually only refers to someone who has been executed by hanging: “His neighbor was hanged.”

Objects are “hung”: “Nostalgic posters were hung around the restaurant.”

 

Do you have other examples of style differences in English?

 


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