Wikipedia:Reference desk/Language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Wikipedia Reference Desk covering the topic of language.

Welcome to the language reference desk.
Want a faster answer?

Main page: Help searching Wikipedia

How can I get my question answered?

  • Provide a short header that gives the general topic of the question.
  • Type '~~~~' (that is, four tilde characters) at the end – this signs and dates your contribution so we know who wrote what and when.
  • Post your question to only one desk.
  • Don't post personal contact information – it will be removed. All answers will be provided here.
  • Specific questions, that are likely to produce reliable sources, will tend to get clearer answers.
  • Note:
    • We don't answer (and may remove) questions that require medical diagnosis or legal advice.
    • We don't answer requests for opinions, predictions or debate.
    • We don't do your homework for you, though we'll help you past the stuck point.
    • We don't conduct original research or provide a free source of ideas, but we'll help you find information you need.

How do I answer a question?

Main page: Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines

  • The best answers address the question directly, and back up facts with wikilinks and links to sources. Do not edit others' comments and do not give any medical or legal advice.
Choose a topic:
See also:
Help desk
Village pump
Help manual

November 8


What does varce lectiones mean as to linguistics (or rather study of ancient scriptures; (might be))? WBGconverse 16:10, 8 November 2018 (UTC)

"Varce" is not a word of Latin as far as I can tell (unless it's some kind of place name), but lectio means "reading", and appears in several technical terms, such as matres lectionis and lectio difficilior... AnonMoos (talk) 17:05, 8 November 2018 (UTC)
Variae lectiones, however, is pretty common in editions of classical texts. It's the plural of varia lectio. Deor (talk) 17:58, 8 November 2018 (UTC)
Deor, Thanks; I was talking about Variae lectiones, as the corresponding definition fits very aptly to the context. The book had a typo. WBGconverse 19:29, 8 November 2018 (UTC)
I thought this was a church term, but it's clearly just "variant readings". (talk) 17:52, 10 November 2018 (UTC)

November 10

Kool Aid

Our page on "drinking the kool-aid" is just about the term and Jonestown. But surely at least a few people used the phrase earlier, in reference to the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests? Temerarius (talk) 15:59, 10 November 2018 (UTC)

[Courtesy links to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Jonestown]. One would think it plausible, given the ten-year interval between the book's publication (and longer since the antics described therein) and the mass-poisoning event, but the only way to be sure would be to find uses of the term between the 1960s and 1978, which I'm sure others will be much more adept at than myself. Obviously, the intended meanings of any usages prior to 1978 will differ somewhat from most usages afterwards when the darker implication became a trope. {The poster formerly known as 87.81 230.195} (talk) 16:30, 10 November 2018 (UTC)
And another courtesy link to Drinking the Kool-Aid. Alansplodge (talk) 15:24, 11 November 2018 (UTC)
I was a child before the hippie era and before Wolfe's book was written. Back then, talking about drinking Kool-Aid was completely innocuous. I do not recall any negative connotations emerging in common language after Wolfe's book was published. Certainly, the book was well known but did not impact general meanings of Kool-Aid. But the Jonestown mass suicide was a gut punch to hundreds of millions of people. I lived in San Francisco at that time and I could see an assembly point for People's Temple bus trips across the street from one of my apartments in 1973. They were very well known and somewhat influential. The Jonestown mass suicide seared that phrase about drinking the Kool-Aid into the popular consciousness, and the phrase still resonates over 40 years later. Cullen328 Let's discuss it 07:10, 11 November 2018 (UTC)

November 11

If Venezuela means 'little venice' ...

What would a 'big venice' be called, if there were such a thing?

Adambrowne666 (talk) 11:34, 11 November 2018 (UTC)

-uela is indeed a Spanish diminutive, Adambrowne666, feminine of wikt:-uelo. One augmentative form in Spanish would be Venezón (see wikt:ón#Spanish) but I haven't found any examples of that use (there's a handful of ghits, but they seem to be other things). --ColinFine (talk) 12:40, 11 November 2018 (UTC)
That link should be wikt:-ón#Spanish. —Stephen (talk) 04:43, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
See also Little Venice, London, Little Venice, Michigan and Venice of the North (there are more than thirty) and List of places called Venice of the East (about forty). Alansplodge (talk) 15:16, 11 November 2018 (UTC)

Thank you for your responses. I'm asking the question for a novel I'm writing: there's an otherworldly city that bases itself on Venice, but flatters itself that it is superior to the original: bigger and better, stranger, richer in stink. Does this inspire anyone to more names you'd like to suggest? Adambrowne666 (talk) 06:15, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

The opposite of a diminutive is an augmentative. If Venezuela somehow derives from an Italian diminutive (looks more like a Spanish one to me, but it doesn't make that much difference, as they are fairly parallel), then I suppose maybe Venezione?
The problem is that Italian (and I think also Spanish) augmentatives carry connotations other than just size and importance, and these tend to be unflattering. The small is beautiful notion seems to be built into the Romance languages in this way. Diminutives are affectionate, whereas augmentatives carry a sense of something big and ugly or dangerous or stupid.
Depending on what you're going for in your novel, I suppose that might actually work. Only you can decide that. --Trovatore (talk) 06:23, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

Oh, another thought: How about Veneziotto? English Wiktionary claims that Italian -otto is a diminutive, but the example is not very convincing — a giovanotto is usually someone who is not anymore that young, possibly late twenties or early thirties. And risotto supposedly derives from risum optimum, "excellent rice", though I don't have a cite for that. --Trovatore (talk) 06:34, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

That's a great answer, thank you, Trovatore. Today I learned that the opposite of diminutive is augmentive. Can I press you further? - can you, or others, come up with a name for a superior Venice? Adambrowne666 (talk) 07:43, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

Something like "Venicissima", perhaps. Xuxl (talk) 18:52, 12 November 2018 (UTC)
La Serenissima ma anche di piu`. Or maybe La Serenissimissima. :-) --Trovatore (talk) 18:56, 12 November 2018 (UTC)
Thanks, Trovatore and Xuxl - i had to look up La Serenissima ma anche di piu - 'Venice but even more' - I reckon I will actually use it somewhere, but as a sort of nickname for the city; and it is the sort of novel where I'd get away with a gag name like La Serenissimissma, but it would work only in passing, referring to some weird city on another world that's mentioned once and not again - hapax legomena - still looking for a convincing, cool name. Only if people are interested, of course. Thanks again. Adambrowne666 (talk) 03:13, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

On shortened or full personal names

Sometimes people call each other by a name other than what they were introduced with. I've noticed a gender difference. It seems like men call other men a shortened version of their names to show familiarity, which is obvious and expected. But women call men, more than sometimes, the longer version of their given name to show familiarity or affection. What's this about? Temerarius (talk) 17:51, 11 November 2018 (UTC)

I don't know the answer, but will point out that it's an awfully muddy area. My full first name is "Mathew", but I've always hated it and always go by "Matt". When the guys at work want to use a nickname, they go with "Matty". But is "Matty" an augmentative version of "Matt" or a diminutive of "Mathew"? Neither? Both? While you're researching, the word Hypocorism may come in handy. Just out of curiosity, was your question triggered by the final season of House of Cards? It was a point of conversation in a couple of episodes. Matt Deres (talk) 18:40, 12 November 2018 (UTC)
Matt is a diminutive or nickname of Mathew or Matthew, and Matty can be a diminutive for both. The Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson, who was born Christopher Mathewson, was called by two diminutives: "Christy" and "Matty". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:42, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
Matty can be the pet name of Matthew or of Madison (Madison means son of Matthew). There is also Mattie, which is the pet name for Martha, Madeline, or Matilda. A lot of my male ancestors were named Madison and went by Matty. My grandmother was Matilda, or Mattie. Then there is Maddy and Maddie, pronounced like Matty and Mattie, and which are short for Madison or Madeleine. —Stephen (talk) 05:09, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
"Maddie" also. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 06:22, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
Interesting that a major character in the original UK series of House of Cards was a woman named Mattie Storin. It was never explained what the origin of her name was. -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 05:16, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

November 12

Ergative-Absolutive Language

Ergative language
Sentence: Martin etorri da.      Martinek Diego ikusi du.
Word: Martin etorri da      Martin-ek Diego ikusi du
Gloss: Martin-ABS has arrived      Martin-ERG Diego-ABS saw
Function: S VERBintrans      A O VERBtrans
Translation: "Martin has arrived."      "Martin saw Diego."

Ay theories or research on how and why such a system would develop? "Martin has arrived" is clearly a sentence without an object, without a patient. Martin isn't being arrived, nor is he being made to arrive, yet EA languages mark him as if he were being acted upon, aka as if he were the object. Then again, in this case Martin isn't marked at all... déhanchements (talk) 04:02, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

Makuta_Makaveli -- The subject of a stative verb (such as "John is sleeping") really has very little in common semantically with the subject of a non-stative or "dynamic" verb (such as "John kicked Bill"). In some languages, stative verbs sort of merge with adjectives -- while in other languages, the subject of a stative verb grammatically groups together with the object of a transitive verb, which is quite natural, since both the stative subject and the transitive object are affected by the action of the verb (i.e. are semantically undergoers or "patients"), while the transitive subject has a different semantic role as an "agent" (i.e. the kicker, rather than the kickee).
Grouping together together the subject of a stative verb with the object of a transitive verb is already the nucleus of ergativity. However, this leaves it undetermined how the subject of a non-stative and intransitive verb ("John arrived") is to be classified. If the subjects of non-stative intranstive verbs are grammatically grouped together with subjects of stative verbs then you have full ergativity.
Note that there are various partial way-stations on the path to or from full ergativity (which linguists call by such names as "semi-ergativity", "split egativity" etc.) AnonMoos (talk) 13:12, 12 November 2018 (UTC)
That's cool, didn't think of that. It's just speculation on my part, but I think that many Nominative-Accusative and Ergative-Absolutive languages were once split ergative/Active-Stative, or developed from one that was. PIE seems to have been one of these. déhanchements (talk) 00:46, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
EA languages mark him as if he were being acted upon, aka as if he were the object. They mark him so if we forget that they are EA languages and analyse this from the viewpoint of NA languages. ¶ I think AnonMoos simplifies slightly. While I know no Basque and don't know how to say "She's running" in Basque; in English run is intransitive but certainly not stative. And it's a freakish verb, I know, but undergo is transitive yet its subject is, well, pretty much the reverse of an agent. ¶ I believe that full, unambiguous ergativity is very rare and that split ergativity is a lot commoner. (Though I don't know what this implies.) ¶ A good book to consult is Miriam Butt, Theories of Case, ISBN 9780521797313. -- Hoary (talk) 23:46, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
Why is "run" different than "arrive" in the classification of verbs as stative vs. non-stative and intransitive vs. transitive? Under some theories, the subject of "to undergo" would be an experiencer (not necessarily exactly the same thing as a patient)... AnonMoos (talk) 07:57, 14 November 2018 (UTC)
Good question. Both run and arrive are non-stative and intransitive. I think I read your comment too sleepily. Sorry about that. I find the business of theta-roles rather frustrating. A typical syntax textbook introduces them in a breezy way, uses them to demonstrate a couple of things and then drops them -- not before introducing "UTAH" or whatever's the notion du jour, but before the reader asks too many questions. Anyway, am I changed by having undergone this or that? I think I am; and if I am, then I think I'm a patient rather than an experiencer. -- Hoary (talk) 13:37, 14 November 2018 (UTC)

Nigerian languages

Countries with English as Official Language.png

Is English used by a majority or a minority of the population of Nigeria? I don't know much about Nigerian linguistic culture; most publications I've seen from there are in English, but obviously the literate portion of the country's population is more likely to be familiar with English than the illiterate. These two maps appear to me to contradict each other: the first one seems to depict it as "Official with majority", while the second definitely portrays it as "States where English is an official language, but not the majority language". Languages of Nigeria says "As reported in 2003, Nigerian English and Nigerian Pidgin were spoken as a second language by 60 million people in Nigeria" but doesn't have statistics on first-language usage, while Nigerian English and Demographics of Nigeria don't have many usable statistics beyond the fact that there are 196 million Nigerians (so the maximum possible number of native anglophones is 136 million). Presumably there would have to be 38 million native anglophones for it to be a majority language, which would fit with the numbers, but I don't know how realistic that is. Nyttend (talk) 15:47, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

Not many Nigerians use English as a first language, although quite a few learn it from a very young age. It's a lingua franca that is commonly used to allow Nigerians to understand one another and is the language used by the government, but its usage is largely confined to educated urban populations. There are huge swaths of the country where hardly anyone speaks English. --Xuxl (talk) 18:56, 12 November 2018 (UTC)
So Xuxl, you'd conclude that Nigeria should be "official and used by a minority"? Nyttend (talk) 01:55, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
Looking at the article English-speaking world, where the first map is used, it seems to include "native speakers of dialect continua ranging from English-based creole languages to Standard English." The inclusion of creoles alongside standard dialects could easily account for the difference in numbers of speakers shown in the two maps. --Khajidha (talk) 02:43, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
Getting back to Nyttend's question, that's a fair representation. There's an interesting academic article here [1] on the use of English in Nigeria, which goes into some of the subtleties of the situation. --Xuxl (talk) 15:52, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
What on earth is meant by saying that English is "not official with majority" in Germany? That a majority (more than 50% of the population) can sort of speak some English as a second language? But in France it is less than 50% that are good enough, and so "not official but minority" ?? --Lgriot (talk) 16:37, 14 November 2018 (UTC)
That's my reading of it, yes. Kind of an odd phrasing, but it makes sense. --Viennese Waltz 16:48, 14 November 2018 (UTC)

November 13

Which language is first to speak or use

Which language is considered the first one to be spoken for a person to learn in his or her nation that is multilingual for the following nations: Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland and Afghanistan? Donmust90 (talk) 01:03, 13 November 2018 (UTC)Donmust90Donmust90 (talk) 01:03, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

Are you seeking a separate answer for each of them, or are you saying "if one person from each country learns the same second language, which language is it most likely to be?" Nyttend (talk) 01:54, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
Thinking just of Switzerland, the different languages are regional. If a child is born and raised in a French-speaking region, he or she first learns French, and later learns the other languages of Switzerland. It's not as if all the languages of Switzerland are spoken natively in every part of Switzerland. —Stephen (talk) 05:20, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
Languages of Luxembourg, Languages of Belgium, Languages of Afghanistan has data to answer your question, as does Languages of Switzerland to go along with Stephen's post above. In general, you can find information to answer questions you have in this subject area by looking for the Wikipedia article titled "Languages of XXXX" where "XXXX" is the country you have a question about. --Jayron32 12:10, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
If a child is born and raised in a French-speaking region, he or she first learns French [true] and later learns the other languages of Switzerland [uh ... let's say: starts to learn at least one of them]. It's not as if all the languages of Switzerland are spoken natively in every part of Switzerland [true]. Stephen's main point (I think) -- that it's mistaken to think that each area of Switzerland has two or more native languages -- is valid. The most famously bilingual part of Switzerland may be Biel/Bienne; but I believe that even there, "balanced" bilinguals (people equally competent in both languages) are rare. -- Hoary (talk) 23:12, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
And more: The article Languages of Switzerland does point out that Swiss German is not standard German, but perhaps could be clearer about this. As I understand it, the average adult Swiss speaker of German is already effectively bilingual (their particular variety of Swiss German, plus standard German); in addition to one or more among French, Italian, Romansh, English, Spanish, etc. And in places, the article gives an odd impression: in the trilingual canton of Graubünden, more than half of the population speaks German, while the rest speak Romansh or Italian; this isn't clearly wrong, but I doubt that there are more than a very few speakers of Romansch who don't also have native-level competence in one or other of German and Italian. -- Hoary (talk) 23:31, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

What language is this?

Al-Jamʻīyah al-Saʻūdiyah li-Ṭibb al-Usrah wa-al-Mujtamaʻ  and al-Jāmiʻah al-Urdunīyah, ʻImādat al-Baḥth al-ʻIlmī

What language are these, and if we can identify the language, what do they mean? They come from Ulrichsweb (they say that these are the publishers for four and for one periodical, respectively), but unfortunately I don't have any information about the publications themselves, and reverse-searching Ulrichsweb produces no results (probably it doesn't like the ʻ and - characters). It looks like Arabic, but if I copy normal Latin-transliterated Arabic into Google Translate, it gives me what it believes to be the original Arabic and attempts to provide a translation, while it's doing neither for these phrases. So I'm not sure whether there's some mistake in the original phrases, or a mistake by Google, or something else.

A search for mujtama finds results, e.g. "Harakat mujtama' as-silm" is the name of the Movement of Society for Peace, and maybe references to "Jama'at" (e.g. as in Tablighi Jamaat or Jama'at Khana), plus I wondered about some reference to Urdu in the second, but that's probably a false positive because this doesn't look like Urdu.

Thanks for your help. Nyttend (talk) 16:37, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

The definite article 'al' and the conjunction 'wa' preceding the words strongly suggests Arabic, but it's probably just a list of names. Since names are not really translatable, that may explain why google doesn't know what to do with it. - Lindert (talk) 16:47, 13 November 2018 (UTC)
They're Arabic names, but under a transcription a little different than may be usual on Wikipedia -- for example ʻ = IPA sound [ʕ] = Arabic letter ع. The spelling "-īy-" is a transcription of the nisbah suffix... AnonMoos (talk) 16:48, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

As limited as my Arabic is, I seem to make sense of these.

Al-Jamʻīyah al-Saʻūdiyah li-Ṭibb al-Usrah wa-al-Mujtamaʻ
الجمعية السعودية لطب الأسرة والمجتمع
"Saudi Association for Family and Community Medicine"
al-Jāmiʻah al-Urdunīyah, ʻImādat al-Baḥth al-ʻIlmī
الجامعة الأردنية، عمادة البحث العلمي
"University of Jordan, Dean's Office for Scientific Research"

These are my attempts for literal translations. The institutions may have different official English names. --Theurgist (talk) 22:54, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

Thanks very much! If I take the Arabic text you provided and run it through Google Translate, it transliterates it as well as translating it, and the results are quite similar to the original Latin text I had; between the effects of various Arabic dialects and of a machine translator, it seems that the discrepancies are quite negligible. I'll definitely run with these translations. Nyttend (talk) 02:38, 14 November 2018 (UTC)
The first one is the Saudi Society of Family and Community Medicine. The second is the Deanship of Academic Research at the University of Jordan. Adam Bishop (talk) 14:32, 14 November 2018 (UTC)

November 17