Questions tagged [language]

The specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication.

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Do the Finnish have a word for getting drunk alone in your underwear?

Urban dictionary (and many other articles on the internet) claim that the Finnish word "kalsarikännit" means: to drink by yourself at your house in your underwear with no intention of going out I ...
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66 votes
3 answers
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Do people think in a language?

I was discussing some things with a psychology major, and he insisted that people always use a language to think. This is quite opposed to my own experience. I agree that I am capable of formulating ...
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65 votes
3 answers
9k views

Can Chinese people read the literature of 2,500 years ago as easily as yesterday's newspapers

Bill Bryson in his book The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way, on page 110, writes: An equally useful advantage of written Chinese is that people can read the literature of 2,500 years ...
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48 votes
5 answers
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Are there 20,000 English words in the average adult's vocabulary?

Is there any consensus as to how many words are in the average adult's vocabulary? Over the years, I've come across various factoids and blurbs online and in magazine articles that have made ...
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42 votes
1 answer
9k views

Did Parker Pens release an advertisement in Spanish that accidentally implied their pens would prevent pregnancy?

I've heard some variation of this story a handful of times: an advertisement for a pen was meant to claim that it wouldn't leak in your pocket and embarass you, but in Spanish, they used the word ...
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40 votes
2 answers
41k views

Is it against the law to mispronounce Arkansas?

There are many sources that claim that it is illegal to pronounce Arkansas incorrectly and you can be fined for doing so. My favorite law is one designed to get Northerners into trouble. That's ...
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39 votes
1 answer
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Is xenoglossy a scientifically verified phenomenon?

It has often been said that people can speak in languages that were not formerly known to them. Arguably the most often recited example of this is in the context of demonic possession. For example, ...
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39 votes
1 answer
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Are LDS missionaries taught languages to a level of fluency in under three months which takes other schools years?

In How do Mormon missionaries learn foreign languages so quickly? it is claimed that LDS (Mormon) missionaries spend only up to ten weeks in languge learning, and that most are "fluent" within one ...
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38 votes
2 answers
5k views

Are Americans more likely to be monolingual?

From a comment on English Language & Usage, also mentioned in Wikipedia, and Chad Fowler's book The Passionate Programmer (Related blog post by the author: How Learning a Second Language Changed ...
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28 votes
4 answers
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Can toddlers learn sign language?

The other day came across a commercial of a 'course for sign language' for infants and toddlers. I was a bit sceptical from the start and my suspicions only rose, then I discovered that there is what ...
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27 votes
1 answer
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Did Germans receive corn instead of wheat and rye after WW2 due to a translation error?

After World War II, the U.S. army sent food supplies to Germany. There is a widespread legend that they delivered maize instead of wheat and rye because the Germans demanded "Korn" which means grain ...
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26 votes
1 answer
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Did Shakespeare introduce over 1700 new words to the English language?

I was cruising the JREF forums, and while I am very familiar with many of the phrases he coined and popularized in the English language, a post makes the claim. Shakespeare coined about two thousand ...
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25 votes
1 answer
3k views

Is profanity correlated with trustworthiness and honesty?

This image can be found on 9GAG and Facebook: Profanity is defined by Merriam-Webster as "an offensive word" or "offensive language". It is also called bad language, strong language, coarse language, ...
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25 votes
2 answers
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Are there more English speaking people in China than in the USA?

I have heard there are more Chinese who speak English than there are Americans who speak English. Is this true?
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25 votes
1 answer
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Is “Your Baby Can Read” effective and helpful?

I have seen these videos advertised online and on TV, and they make some pretty fantastic claims, showing kids as young as 2 reading complicated words. From what I can find online, it uses a ...
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23 votes
2 answers
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Does Arabic graffiti in "Homeland" criticise the show?

There are multiple reports that the show "Homeland" has Arabic graffiti that amongst other things criticise the show as racist. The news reports cite the graffiti artists commissioned by the show, ...
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23 votes
2 answers
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Do number systems in native languages affect math performance?

This blog post said that Asians are good at math because Asian languages have less-confusing number systems: So if it’s not the schools, what accounts for Asians succeeding in math across different ...
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22 votes
1 answer
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Can speakers of Kuuk Thaayorre navigate much better than Western speakers inside unfamiliar buildings?

Lera Boroditsky writes in the Edge article How does our language shape the way we think?: Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying ...
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21 votes
1 answer
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Did Reverend Mezzofanti fluently speak thirty-four languages?

In the John England's book titled "The Works of Reverend John England, Volume 6" (page 172) I read: Reverend Joseph Mezzofanti, first keeper of the Vatican library, of whom Lord Byron had ...
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20 votes
1 answer
3k views

Did Native Americans call European people "pale-face"?

In lots of American Indian novels you can read that the native peoples of North America called European people "pale-face" or "pale-faced": “Young Randolph! war-chief among the ...
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19 votes
3 answers
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Does using big words make people sound more professional?

I have read in several places that people use big, fancy, complicated, and little known words (such as Brobdingnagian) to give the impression that they are knowledgeable, smart, and professional. Does ...
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19 votes
1 answer
11k views

Is the "I before E" English spelling rule wrong more than it is right?

There are 923 words that break the "i before e" rule. Only 44 words actually follow that rule. This is a picture circulating right now, claiming that a huge majority of the words break the "i before ...
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19 votes
3 answers
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Did Japanese people misspell "We pray for MacArthur's election"?

The Internet is full of references to the same story: It was probably in 1946, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur was temporarily put in charge of running Japan, which was in tough shape after ...
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19 votes
1 answer
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Is Polish the hardest language to learn?

I've recently been to Poland and I've heard the claim that Polish is the hardest language to learn. I've found this claim repeated again today, for example on this blog post: The hardest language ...
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19 votes
1 answer
990 views

Are shorter lines easier to read?

People keep claiming that shorter lines are easier to read - especially when discussing user interfaces and fixed width layouts. I recall a stack overflow question years ago where someone essentially ...
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19 votes
1 answer
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Is a large percentage of human communication non-verbal?

The claim that 60, or 80, or 90 or 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal is endlessly repeated, not only in pop culture but in the professional worlds of education, business, and in some less ...
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19 votes
0 answers
804 views

Did Burmese typewriters contain an upside-down character, which subsequently became proper typewriter style?

I was reading about the Internet Archive's work to archive the materials of a famous New York City typewriter family: http://blog.archive.org/2020/08/26/an-archive-of-a-different-type/ I was ...
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18 votes
1 answer
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Was the phrase "hello" popularized because of the name of Alexander Graham Bell's wife/girlfriend "Margaret Hello"?

This is a popular explanation of the etymology of the word hello, seen in many email forwards: When you lift the phone, you say "Hello". Do you know what is the real meaning of "Hello" It is ...
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18 votes
4 answers
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Was the word 'racist' coined by Trotsky in 1927?

According to the image below, "racist is a made up word by Leon Trotsky in 1927." I searched in the Online Etymology Dictionary and found that racist (n.) 1932 [as a noun], 1938 as an ...
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18 votes
2 answers
6k views

In American Sign Language, does 2022 loosely translate to "bird go peace-peace"?

This Tweet is doing the rounds: Hearing people are like joke-panicking about the fact that 2022 is pronounced “2020, too”. But like in ASL, 2022 loosely translates to “BIRD go PEACE-PEACE” and that’s ...
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18 votes
3 answers
2k views

Was "their" a singular pronoun in English before the 16th century?

I saw this meme on facebook: So, was "their" truly a genderless 3rd person singular pronoun prior to some change in the 16th/17th century? This Wikipedia article indicates that the ...
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18 votes
1 answer
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Are people who love inspirational quotes less intelligent?

An article in the Daily Beast claims the following: A new study finds that people who love bullshit inspirational quotes have lower intelligence and more "conspiratorial ideations". Life ...
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18 votes
1 answer
953 views

Do people tend to have a particular language representational system (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic representational)?

One of the primary claims of neuro-linguistic programming is that people possess a particular language system (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic representational). For example: For example, a ...
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18 votes
1 answer
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Is passive listening useless when learning a language?

In an article on the blog Fluent in Three Months is a claim that listening to hours of a foreign language without really concentrating on it is "barely better than nothing". The shocking truth is ...
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17 votes
1 answer
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Is the origin of the phrase "suck it up" referring to WWII pilots?

I was reading this New Statesman article and was surprised to read this: The origin of the phrase “suck it up” is quite gross. Allegedly, it’s what WWII pilots were instructed to do if they vomited ...
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16 votes
2 answers
3k views

Churchill's quote: "This is just the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put."

Did Winston Churchill say, as some on the 'net claim, in response to being told he should not end a sentence with a preposition, something like "This is just the sort of nonsense up with which I will ...
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16 votes
2 answers
5k views

Do babies have their own language?

Is it true that when babies make their little noises, they are understood by surrounding babies? Is there a regular pattern in their actions and noises they make to signify their meaning?
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15 votes
1 answer
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Was the official language of the Union of India selected by a single tie-breaker vote?

This answer in Yahoo Answers claims: Hindi has been declared in the Constitution of India, as the official language of the Union of India. It is also one of the 23 languages recognised under the ...
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15 votes
1 answer
1k views

Are the ingredients listed in "Macbeth" common plants?

It is easy to find dozens of sites claiming, generally without attribution, that the ingredients in the famously gruesome witches' brew from Shakespeare's play Macbeth are herbalist jargon for common ...
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15 votes
1 answer
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Do 22% of Muslim women in the UK speak little or no English?

According to the BBC, the UK government claims: 22% of Muslim women living in England speak little or no English. It also quotes a former Superintendent of the Metro Police as disputing this ...
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13 votes
0 answers
1k views

Was there ever a universal human language or mother-tongue?

In "Is this how Eve spoke? Every human language evolved from 'single prehistoric African mother tongue'" from the UK Daily Mail: Every language in the world - from English to Mandarin - ...
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12 votes
2 answers
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Did the head of the Joint National Committee on language claim Jesus spoke English?

In Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue, it is claimed, that Dr. David Edwards, head of the Joint National Committee on Languages once said: "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for ...
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12 votes
2 answers
2k views

Is “Lord Privy Seal” a technical term in documentary film making?

Richard Dawkins has claimed many times in public speeches, especially in reference to the documentary “Expelled”, that documentary filmmakers use the expression “Lord Privy Seal” in a disparaging ...
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12 votes
2 answers
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Is Arabic the 4th most common language used on internet?

The Wikipedia page, Languages user on the Internet provides two different ways of ranking the most popular languages on the Internet. By content: Estimated percentages of the top 10 million ...
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12 votes
1 answer
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Does language acquisition become more difficult after a "critical period" linked to age?

The critical period hypothesis (from Wikipedia): The critical period hypothesis is the subject of a long-standing debate in linguistics and language acquisition over the extent to which the ...
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11 votes
2 answers
7k views

Was French spelling artificially altered for longer words?

There's a widespread belief that says that the reason for French having so many silent letters is that historically the authors were paid by the letter, so they were tempted to write longer words. ...
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10 votes
2 answers
12k views

Did World War II propaganda posters tell people to "Speak American", rather than languages of the enemy?

Wikimedia commons entry, claiming a citation to "Una Storia Segreta" by Lawrence Distasi. The licensing metadata from the picture claims that it is a "work prepared by an officer or employee of the ...
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10 votes
1 answer
2k views

Was this Harry-Potter themed text written solely by a computer program?

A YouTube video caught my eye with the title, "A Robot Wrote A Chapter To A Harry Potter Book, And It's Absolutely Insane." The video claims that a software algorithm created by Botnik Studios was ...
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10 votes
1 answer
2k views

Is dyslexia unheard of in Spain?

I've been told that dyslexia is unheard of in Spain, and presumably other Spanish-speaking cultures, because Spanish is pronounced as it is spelt. Is this true? Example: Cases of dyslexia and ...
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10 votes
1 answer
905 views

Is Lojban completely unambiguous?

The description from Wikipedia: Lojban (pronounced [ˈloʒban]) is a constructed, syntactically unambiguous human language based on predicate logic, succeeding the project of Loglan. I understand ...
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