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LOL Linguistics

May 11, 2015 - Author: aelish


I swear, there's a difference.

from: Bruce, Gösta (1977) Swedish Word Accent in Sentence Perspective


(Oh dear god, I hope there is.)


No Comments - Categories: Language, LOLLinguistics


April 5, 2015 - Author: aelish

So Duolingo is training me to be unemployed in multiple languages!

Thanks, jerk. I already noticed.

Anyway, in a desperate attempt to avoid real homework (that is actually on Swedish), I’ve been reviewing my skillset on Duolingo. Here’s what the top of my skill tree looks like now:

So much gold :) (Gold means your skills are “strong,” whatever that means in Duolingo standards. The gold bars fade quickly the longer you go without practicing. The other colors mean you’ve done those lessons, but probably forgotten everything like a total dummy. Grey means you haven’t started yet.)

I feel great looking at the top of the tree. But my feelings of accomplishment take a sharp tumble when I look further down…

oh wait there’s more….


Oh dear god. So many skills. So. Many. Skills. On the upside, this is way better than figuring out Swedish tone, which is what I’m supposed to be doing right now.

No, really. Did you know that Swedish has tone? Well….


Swedish has tone – a fact which nobody tells you until you have been sufficiently lured in. Or maybe they are just hiding it and hoping we don’t ask because, as it turns out, it’s a terrifying and complicated topic.

Really, I’m fine with just learning to hate turtles and be unemployed.

4 Comments - Categories: Language, OkDuolingo

More Useful Swedish

March 18, 2015 - Author: aelish

Some more useful phrases from the Swedish corner of Duolingo…
"He gives me European shoes"

Han ger mig europeiska skor. Like a good friend!


"Why is there a Norwegian Architect lying in my bed?"

Uhh…. pretty sure the question is Varför INTE?

"I like everything except turtles."

Turtles are the worst.

No Comments - Categories: Language, OkDuolingo

Aside: I’m Completely Fine With Not Using This Word Anymore

- Author: aelish

What word is that? Expat. 

I used it proudly and frequently, ever since I was one. I embraced the word as much as I embraced the identity of an American living and working abroad.

But some recent articles (and some shocking linguistic data) have called out the way we apply expat, and now, a bit shamefully, I’m convinced it’s time for me to retire the word completely.

You can read the original discussions above, but the long-story-short is this: expat, as it is actually used, is basically a special term for white (often wealthy) westerners living abroad, as opposed to non-white, non-westerners who are categorized as migrants or immigrants.

Now, maybe these aren’t the definitions you thought you were invoking when you said expat. Maybe (hopefully) that’s not what you, consciously, explicitly were going for when you used those words. I know I wasn’t. But as demonstrated very clearly in the recent discussions, the discriminatory meanings are present, whether we realize it or not.

And not only are the terms themselves poorly, unequally applied, there is a bushel of stigma that tags along with them. The data in the third link above displays the grossly divergent way in which the words immigrants and expats are applied, with the former being connected with many more negative, stereotypical, and harmful attributes than the latter. Whether Webster’s recognizes it or not, expat is a word we’ve carved out specifically for a privileged group of people to reinforce race, ethnic, and class distinctions.

As I watched the discussions around these articles, I see some resistance to recognizing the discriminatory effect of these words – words that many, like myself, have used forever without even thinking. There’s a lot of pointing at definitions and saying BUT THAT’S JUST WHAT THESE WORDS MEAN!

But the terms expat, migrant, and immigrant aren’t as simple as going some place forever  and going some place temporarily

(And protip: if you rely on dictionaries to understand the far-reaching, human effect of words in the real world, you’re gonna have a bad time.)

I can only speak from my personal experience. But even though I didn’t think about my own linguistic biases, until it was brought to my attention, the critiques of it rings true.

In China, I met (white) westerners who’d lived there for years and years and years, or who made careers out of traveling outside their country of birth, and weren’t likely to return. I called them expats without even thinking about it. On the other end of the spectrum, many westerners had every intention of returning, and even many of those in it for the long haul still moved from country to country, picking up every few years to find work elsewhere. But they still got the special title of expat. What tied these two groups of people together under the same term? Well, it wasn’t their residency status.

Obviously, I didn’t mean to perpetuate such loaded and negative distinctions. But I – and pretty much everyone around me – did nevertheless. It may be awkward or embarrassing to consider how oblivious we’ve been for so long, but being called out on it is a good opportunity to reconsider our words.

So I am completely fine with listening to the critics and stepping away from expat. I feel literally zero need to defend outdated or bad terminology, because it isn’t just words that are harmful. It’s the ideas behind them; it’s the way we categorize people in a way that puts some above others. And that’s not something I want to support going forward.



4 Comments - Categories: Language

The World According to Google

March 15, 2015 - Author: aelish

Someone should tell Google that Finland and Sweden are different. Sweden doesn’t rule the (nordic) world anymore! :)



As an outsider, I found it mildly funny that the first result for “Finnish vowel inventory” is a Swedish chart. I think some Finnish people would have something to say about THAT. (Ok, technically it’s first except for that one diagram of vowel harmony, which is lovely but really not what I meant by vowel inventory. Thanks, Google.)

What am I looking for?

I’m trying to understand WHY I have such a hard time distinguishing and articulating Swedish, but not Finnish, vowels.

Finnish is a way more difficult language in every other way, but its pronunciation isn’t terribly hard to imitate. Yes, both Swedes and Finns have those awkward y and ö sounds, which drive English speakers crazy. But it’s really just a matter of practice to familiarize oneself with new sounds. What is harder – and what is driving me absolutely insane – is the sounds which look like ones I should already know, but sound quite different when spoken by a native speaker.

Have you noticed, for instance, that while Swedish, English, and Finnish all have a sound written as o, the way o is actually pronounced sounds very different between the three languages?

Textbooks and language learning platforms are not that helpful, because they rely on orthography – the way a language is written, not the actual pronunciations. (For instance, English vowels are often pronounced as a schwa, like the first “e” in beginner, but this sound can be written with ANY of the vowels in our orthography. How absolutely confusing for English learners! o_O )

Textbooks also don’t do a great job describing small differences in sound qualities. Sometimes we do talk about vowels as “long”, “short”, “tense”, “pure” etc., but common use of these words often doesn’t convey much measurable, demonstrable phonetic information. And nobody ever breaks out the spectrograms to actually look at what they’re saying. A lot of speaking instruction amounts to: just say it like THIS.

So it’s frustrating when learning a language and hearing slight differences in pronunciation, but then struggling to understand exactly what those differences are.

But I’m not going to give up!

Though it may seem nitpicky to anyone who doesn’t love staring at spectrograms and measuring waveforms all day, figuring out exactly what I’m missing has become a very entertaining side project for me. While I am going ahead with grammar and vocab practice, I’m also raiding Forvo, breaking out the phonetics software, and invading the library to figure out what exactly Swedish and Finnish people are doing when they speak.

If I make it back in one piece, I’ll let you know what I find.

6 Comments - Categories: Language

New Words, New Concepts

March 13, 2015 - Author: aelish

One of the most interesting things about learning new languages is the way that they encapsulate familiar concepts in entirely new ways.

Here are a couple Swedish words that English speakers need to steal immediately:
(Explanations below!)

Picture from Flickr user Moyan Brenn: CC BY

Picture from Flickr user Moyan Brenn

Picture from Flickr user Nick: CC BY

Picture from Flickr user Nick

Orkar and hinner mean to have enough energy and to have enough time, respectively. Jag orkar inte and Jag hinner inte of course mean I do NOT have enough energy/time, (which is probably a WAY more familiar concept in any language.) Finally some truly useful vocabulary! Time copyOrkar copy

No Comments - Categories: Language

Finnish-English Literature

March 12, 2015 - Author: aelish

True Fact: I haven’t read this level of literature in YEARS! Took a break from Swedish & seriousness and stumbled onto this gem:

Am I small? A Finnish-English kids book about a girl with a cat on her head, a pretty drunk flower, and many creatures of dubious speciation.

10/10. Would recommend.


No Comments - Categories: Language

Useful Swedish

March 8, 2015 - Author: aelish

Duolingo to the rescue!
Bringing you the knowledge you need, when you need it.
Every Damn Time.



New Challenge: Work “myra” into conversation with a Swedish person.



 Mildly offended that this is something Duo thinks I want to say?


Ouch, Duo. Ouch…


WELL IF YOU HAVE TO KNOW. Mind your own business, Duolingo, k?

2 Comments - Categories: Language, OkDuolingo

Distant Cousins

February 19, 2015 - Author: aelish

Does anyone else think Duolingo looks like an overly enthusiastic version of the Adium bird? I mean, I love it. It’s adorable. I’m just saying.


No Comments - Categories: Language, OkDuolingo

Linguists, Facing the World’s Tough Questions

- Author: aelish

You guys…. this is what I’m getting my degree in.

"Babies are illogical. Nobody who is despised can manage a crocodile. Illogical persons are despised. Therefore, babies cannot manage crocodiles." From Introduction to Natural Language Semantics  by Henriëtte de Swart

“Babies are illogical. Nobody who is despised can manage a crocodile. Illogical persons are despised. Therefore, babies cannot manage crocodiles.”From Introduction to Natural Language Semantics by Henriëtte de Swart

No Comments - Categories: Uncategorized

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