Carmel vs. Caramel

I’m not going to say we have this conversation at work often because we eat a lot of candy, but is it pronounced “car-mel” or “caramel”?  The debate is on, and it turns out, it depends on where you live!

This is a great website that strives to show how word pronunciation differs, even just across the US. This is just the carmel/caramel example. Have fun looking through the maps.


How Do You Pronounce That?

I come across words everyday that I’d probably mumble into my shirt if anyone asked me to say them out loud. Unless you happen to hear a word or a name you’re unsure of, how else can you be sure of a pronunciation?

forvo is a fabulous site that allows people to ask for a word or name they don’t know how to pronounce, and someone will upload an audio file of that word so everyone can hear it. Isn’t that amazing? There are words in other languages, words you might find in a dictionary, but also names and places that you might be reading about in far-off countries. Readers can vote on the pronunciations they think are most accurate, so there won’t be any discrepancies because of local dialects etc.

Even if you’re not struggling with a word right now, it’s a fascinating site to peruse. You might even come away learning a thing or two!

Endangered Language

Distribution of language families and isolates...

Distribution of language families and isolates north of Mexico at first contact. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Most of us probably never think about the language we speak, unless we’re visiting another country and find it difficult to communicate.  But what if you spoke a language that had slowly died out with all of the people who ever knew it, until you were the only person who could still speak it?


Even worse…what if there was someone else who also knew the language, but refused to speak to you?


This isn’t such an improbable scenario.  In Mexico, for example,  there are many indigenous languages that are slowly fading away as the population ages.  One such language is called Ayapaneco—spoken in the town of Apaya, Mexico for generations. Unfortunately, the language is about to disappear as only two men still speak it…and they refuse to talk to each other.  Linguists have stepped in and are trying to convince the men to converse with each other so that the vocabulary, diction and accent may be recorded and studied, in hopes of preserving it. But the men just don’t seem to get along.


It’s not clear why the men refuse to talk to each other…maybe a feud or maybe they just don’t have a lot in common…but if no one is able to get them chatting, Ayapaneco is just one of many languages that will probably disappear in this generation. There are probably similar languages in the area, as is common with indigenous peoples, and linguists might be able to piece together some aspects in order to preserve parts of it. But it would be much easier if they had a little help, of course.


One might argue that the English language has evolved and changed so much through generations (and is still changing), that it might be hardly recognizable to someone who spoke it 500 years ago, let’s say. The advent of computers and the use of spell check and short forms and the like has certainly changed the written form. Could massive changes to the spoken word be far behind? Could it be that someday, someone will be lamenting over the loss of English?  It seems unlikely, I know, but it makes you stop and think about communication and language in a new way when you hear stories like this.  You can read more on the story of the Mexican village and the men who are willing to let their language die out, right here.


Would YOU refuse to talk to someone if you were the only two people who knew a language?


What if?

In this world of emails and texting, sometimes I feel the need for different types of punctuation when I want to get a certain “tone” across.  Since words can be misunderstood so easily, it might be time for new punctuation marks to help us communicate better as a society. What if we had something like this?


This is a funny collection of alternative punctuation marks to help us with our daily communication. Drop by the website to see more! Would you use any of them, or do you have your own suggestions?

Whilst I’m thinking about it….

Recently, I read a book by an author who doesn’t like to use punctuation. I won’t go into specifics, but she has written several books and even won some prizes for her writing! Sentence after sentence without commas or semi-colons makes for some confusing reading, I tell you. The book was very good–once I got past the punctuation problems–but I still wonder if style should be placed on a higher level of importance than proper grammar. It doesn’t make for an all-round enjoyable reading experience, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

I’ve read several articles complaining about the poor writing in Fifty Shades of Grey, particularly the use of words that are too formal. That being said, it didn’t stop people from reading.  I sometimes wonder if authors think they need to use BIG language in order to make their work seem more literary. Let’s face it, Fifty Shades is not a literary piece, so why does this author (and others) use words like “whilst”, “thus”, and “heretofore” in her dialogue? A modern setting just doesn’t call for embellished language such as this. It draws a reader out of the story and makes  books clunky.

Is it “bad writing” then, to use long words when a simple word would convey the same thought and move the story along better? Does proper punctuation (or lack of punctuation) make or break a work?Should story trump all? If recent publications are any indication, it would seem so.  What do you think? Is story more important than language?

The “F” Word.

Yes, that “F” word.

Watching TV the other night, I started thinking about the fact that the majority of television programs don’t allow the use of the word.  And do you miss it?  No. You still know when a character is angry or frustrated.  You can still tell that something bad has happened and someone is upset. But the lack of the word doesn’t make the conversations sound any less realistic, as far as I can tell.  Or maybe we’ve just become used to a Pollyanna version of life?

While literature can span the gamut of clean speech to text riddled with swearing, once again, it isn’t needed. So why do we hear it used so often in everyday life? (Okay, I’ll admit, I  probably go a few days without hearing anyone utter the word, but you get the point.) Why do we develop these types of words in our language and what purpose do they really serve?  Are they just words that undereducated people use? Hardly.  So, why do they even exist?

The F-Word has been around since the 15th century, in a variety of versions. The taboo nature of the words make them powerful, but it doesn’t explain why people use them in everyday conversation, especially when a strong moment isn’t needed. However, linguists believe people use them when speaking to one another (especially friends) to give some intensity to their conversation.  We get the point when someone says ” That was a great concert.”   But, it has no emotion.  Pop in the “f” word, and it becomes description that gives more emphasis to the sentence. If someone is willing to cross acceptable social boundaries to use the word, their idea must be important, right?

But then, how do they get around not using it on TV?  We’ll probably hear it pop up as time goes on (it seems that TV becomes more “realistic” all the time), but for now, they’ve proven we don’t need it. And there are many substitute words that work just as well.

Do you think the F-word would just phase itself out of our world if we didn’t use it?  Or would we just come up with something else instead? Does it matter?  Is it an important word, or just a word that needn’t be discussed?  I haven’t decided yet. 

It’s a sign!

Just a little fun for Thursday right before a long weekend. (Of course, the library will be closed tomorrow, so we’ll have a bit of a blogging break until next Tuesday.) In the meantime, let’s see how much you know about punctuation!

This great quiz by Stacy Conradt, will leave you scratching your head (or maybe not). Can you match up all the symbols with their proper names?