Would a language borrow from another language a word with which it already has homophonous words in itself?

Yes, it would.

I’m not going to bother with examples other than grave (Germanic: tomb; French: serious).

It is a common perception that language change is driven by trying to avoid ambiguity. In fact, language has an astounding tolerance for ambiguity, because context usually takes care of it. Instances where words change in order to avoid ambiguity (eg French hui > aujourd’hui ) are actually pretty rare.

Why do English-speaking people often have strange first names?

The respondents so far have not given a satisfactory answer. How’s it feel when your culture is exoticised, eh?

I share Anon’s attitude towards Anglo nomenclature. Let’s try to unpack it.

Traditional societies have traditional approaches to naming people. If you’re a Roman, there’s only a dozen praenomina, some clan names, and a nickname cognomen that ends up being a surname itself. If you’re Ancient Greek or a Germanic tribesperson, there’s a fixed pattern of compounds. If you’re a Christian in Europe up until a century ago, there’s a fixed repertoire of saint names.

That’s not primarily about religion and books of fairy tales. That’s about having roots and a community and a cultural context.

One respondent found that horrifying. You know what I find horrifying? Running out and getting a random name for your kid just because. Saddling someone with Dweezil or Thursday. Dweezil dealt with it, sure (EDIT: he insisted on making it official when he was 5); but Dweezil was born in the Anglosphere.

(EDIT: And he was 5.)

And here’s the thing. The outlier isn’t OP, with his distaste of creative nomenclature. The outlier is the Anglosphere. Coming up with names with unfettered creativity, without any attention to community norms, is not the normal course of affairs.

And it wasn’t the normal course of affairs in the Anglosphere either, until the 20th century. There are fads and perturbations from the ’20s on, but the massive shakeup in most popular names in the US seems to date from the 1970s: Top 10 Baby Names by Decade

What changed around then? More and more individualism. Less sway of traditional structures, including religion and extended families. Hippie stuff. Social mobility. After that, it just snowballs in those particular communities: if noone calls their kid John or Mary any more, you don’t either. (In fact, Mary’s now are a retro thing.)

But that’s started as an Anglosphere thing. It’s been much slower to happen in Europe, and in fact parents wanting to emulate Anglosphere name creativity often bump into legal barriers.

The legal barriers aren’t to kill your buzz, man. They’re codifications of what was long presumed to be the normal way of doing things.

… And yes, were I to have kids, this would be a major issue of contention in our household…

Why are Australians hostile towards anything American?


An entirely intelligible response to a hegemonic culture with substantial overlap with your own: fear that your culture will be assimilated into the hegemon, that the country will become unrecognisable to you, that the virtues you are familiar with and have come to cherish will be eroded. That you will cease being you, and start being the Other.

In the panoply of worldwide reactions to hegemony, this one’s rather on the benign side. It’s not Trumpism. It’s not Sinophobia. It’s mostly jocular. And I’m sure it’s exactly what happens in Canada too—except that Canadians are much more polite about it than Aussies are.

(Except possibly for the Québécois, câlisse!)

You might wonder why Australians weren’t as overtly hostile about their former hegemon Britain. But there were flareups, even back in the unenlightened days before Gough Whitlam. The Bodyline tactics in cricket in 1932, leading to Australians boycotting UK products. The strain of Australian nationalism of the 1880s and 1890s, hosted by The Bulletin. The class and sectarian war behind the idolisation of Bushrangers.

Oh, and Why don’t Australians celebrate Halloween? BECAUSE IT’S A SEPPO HOLIDAY!!!



C’m ’ere.

Yeah, you.

Some of my best friends are Seppos. But don’t tell anyone, OK?)

What is the least amount of words you need to be able to form any other word?

Nick Nicholas’ answer to Why does the definition of one word recall other n words and m definitions?

  • Attempts at a rigorous semantics of definitions will inevitably have to bottom out on a list of Semantic primes, a set of concepts that have to be taken as givens rather than defined themselves.
  • Identifying that list of primes, and using them for definitions, has not been a popular pastime. It’s work. Natural semantic metalanguage is an admirable initiative in that direction.
  • Unfortunately, NSM also wanted to use those primes in human-intelligible definitions. That makes things dirtier. The initial Spartan beauty of Anna Wierzbicka’s Lingua Mentalis had 14 primes; now it’s in the 60s.

What is the first image when you Google your name?

Nick Nicholas. You wouldn’t think it’d be that popular a name, right? And yet, I’m the SIXTH Nick Nicholas here: Nick Nicholas’ answer to Are you the first to have registered with your name or did a homonym or namealike register before you?

The Nick Nicholas’s that do show up change; there was a jazz musician, there was an anti-spam programmer, there was the CEO of Time, there was a magician, there was a car salesman…

… these days:

  1. A gynecologist in Middlesex
  2. A golf writer in Florida
  3. Me (LinkedIn)
  4. Me (Academia.edu)
  5. Me (my homepage)
  6. The car salesman, in Florida. (So that’s what he looks like…)

The next hit is “Nick (Nicholas) Ilyadis”. “Nick (Nicholas) X” comes up a lot when I ego-surf.

What is the definition of allophone, what is the relationship between allophones and free variation?

Phonemes are groupings of phones (different sounds), which language speakers treat as equivalent.

The phones that are variants of the same phoneme are allophones of the phoneme.

Normally, the distribution of allophones depends on their context: there is a rule, based on surrounding phonemes, which determines whether one allophone or the other is used.

If you can’t work out such a rule, then you give up and say that the choice of allophone is random. (Or at least, it’s random phonologically: there may be other factors at play, such as sociolinguistics.)

If the distribution of allophones is not phonologically predictable, then the allophones are in free variation.

What decides if a word is easy to learn due to similarity with a known one?

It’s an interesting question, OP. I wonder whether too much similarity will make a word less easy to learn, not more, due to the potential for confusion.

There can’t be a categorical difference for when a word switches from similar to dissimilar. It’s not like a distance of 3 means similar and a distance of 4 means dissimilar. But here’s some starting points:

  • The Damerau–Levenshtein distance is a linguistically appropriate metric for how different two strings are: it allows for not only deletion and addition of letters, but also transposition and substitution.
  • You will presumably want to include syllable count in your metric: two words will be more different if their syllable count is different (meaning additional vowels). So in the distance metric, vowels count for more than consonants.
  • OTOH if the two words are related through morphology, e.g. derivational morphology, they belong to the same family, and all difference metrics are off: the two words are related through a morphological rule.

What are the best things about Islam even non-Muslims admire?

Can’t find a clip, annoyingly.

Bob Maguire: as Reddit r/atheism has put it, Father Bob Maguire a Catholic priest that an atheist could admire. Social campaigner, cantankerous and way cool old timer, beloved of notoriously irreligious Australians, does a lot of TV and radio sparring with atheist comedian John Safran.

Recently, he was on TV, talking (I think to Safran) about how religions have much to contribute to Australian identity. So Safran (I think) asked him to sum up in one word what each of the Abrahamic religions had to offer to Australia.

Judaism: the Law.

Christianity: Compassion.



Safran (I think) smirked.

“By which I mean,” (I paraphrase) “acknowledging there is something out there bigger than yourself.”

What are some famous Greek sayings?

Some highlights from List of Greek phrases. See the Wikipedia page for more detail and other phrases.

  • ἀγεωμέτρητος μηδεὶς εἰσίτω. Ageōmétrētos mēdeìs eisítō. “Let no one untrained in geometry enter.”
  • ἀεὶ ὁ θεὸς γεωμετρεῖ. Aei ho theos geōmetreî. “God always geometrizes”
  • αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν. aièn aristeúein. “Ever to Excel”
  • γηράσκω δ᾽ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος. Gēraskō d’ aíeí pollâ didaskómenos. “I grow old always learning many things.”
  • γνῶθι σεαυτόν. Gnôthi seautón. “Know thyself”
  • δῶς μοι πᾶ στῶ καὶ τὰν γᾶν κινάσω. Dôs moi pâ stô, kaì tàn gân kīnā́sō. “Give me somewhere to stand, and I will move the earth”.
  • εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος, ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης. Heîs oiōnòs áristos, amýnesthai perì pátrēs. “There is only one omen, to fight for one’s country”
  • ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα. Hèn oîda hóti oudèn oîda. “I know one thing, that I know nothing”
  • εὕρηκα! Heúrēka! “I have found [it]!”
  • ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς. Ḕ tā̀n ḕ epì tâs. “Either [with] it [your shield], or on it”
  • θάλασσα καὶ πῦρ καὶ γυνή, κακὰ τρία. Thálassa kaì pŷr kaì gynḗ, kakà tría. “Sea and fire and woman, three evils.”
  • ἰατρέ, θεράπευσον σεαυτόν. Iatré, therápeuson seautón. “Physician, take care of yourself!”
  • Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψεῦσται. Krêtes aeì pseûstai. “Cretans always lie”
  • κτῆμα ἐς ἀεί. ktêma es aeí. “possession for eternity”
  • μέτρον ἄριστον. Métron áriston. “Moderation is best”
  • μὴ μοῦ τοὺς κύκλους τάραττε. Mḕ moû toùs kúklous táratte. “Do not disturb my circles.”
  • μηδὲν ἄγαν. Mēdèn ágan. “Nothing in excess”
  • μολὼν λαβέ! Molṑn labé! “Come take [them]!”
  • νενικήκαμεν. Nenikḗkamen. “We have won.”
  • οὐκ ἂν λάβοις παρὰ τοῦ μὴ ἔχοντος. Ouk àn labois parà toû mē ekhontos. “You can’t get blood out of a stone.” (Literally, “You can’t take from one who doesn’t have.”)
  • Πάντα ῥεῖ. Panta rhei. “All is flux; everything flows” –
  • ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς. Rhododáktylos Ēṓs. “Rosy-fingered Dawn.”
  • σπεῦδε βραδέως. Speûde bradéōs. “Hasten slowly; less haste, more speed”.
  • σὺν Ἀθηνᾷ καὶ χεῖρα κίνει. Sỳn Athēnâi kaì kheîra kinei. “Along with Athena, move also your hand” — cf. the English “God helps those who help themselves.”
  • Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε / κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι. Ô xeîn’, angéllein Lakedaimoníois hóti têide / keímetha toîs keínōn rhḗmasi peithómenoi. “Stranger, tell the Spartans that here we lie, obedient to their laws.”

Should primary and ESL teachers use an English alphabet that has the 44 or so phonemes that the language has?

“44 or so”.

And there’s your problem.

English phonology

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The vowels in Received Pronunciation group as:

(tɹæp) (bɑːθ pɑːm) (lɒt klɒθ) (θɔːt)

They group the same way in Australian English, though as

(tɹæp) (bɐːθ pɐːm) (lɔt klɔθ) (θoːt)

The vowels in General American, however, group as:

(tɹæp bæθ) (pɑːm lɑːt) (klɔːθ θɔːt)

You can do that, and teach the phonology of only one dialect—but at the expense of having to reteach them an intradialectal phonology later; in effect, you’d be reinventing English spelling.