Introducing Linguisticator, a Language Learning Blog

Sep 28, 2015 by

LinguisticatorLogoHaving often complained about online articles that cover language-related matters very poorly, I find it a pleasure to find colleagues who run good language-themed blogs. One example is the Linguisticator blog by Aaron Ralby. The blog is part of a broader Linguisticator site that offers language learning tools, so unsurprisingly many of the blog posts are related to language learning (e.g. “What is fluency” mini-series, starting here) and language testing (e.g. “Measuring Language Ability in Levels is Flawed”).
A number of posts deal with writing systems and their history, a topic I am frequently asked about but have rarely written about in my blog. I find the Linguisticator post that touches on the use of Arabic letters to signify numbers of great interest: we often forget that what we call “Arabic numbers” in the West are not the numbers that Arabs actually use! (More generally, it is illuminating that the technique of repurposing alphabetic symbols to encode numbers has been used in many cultures, from ancient Semitic ones to Old Church Slavonic.) Some other posts deal with other practical language-related matters such as dubbing vs. subtitling (the more general issue of “language on film” has been the subject of several of my own posts).

Another Linguisticator post that has recently caught my attention, “Do You Have “Real” Spanish?”, deals with the question of what “proper Spanish” is and if there is such a thing at all. Frequent readers of my blog will recall that I touched on this issue briefly in the post on the debacle concerning a TV anchor in Arizona who insisted on pronouncing local Spanish-derived names and toponyms “the way the language is intended to be spoken” (her words). I pointed out that “speakers of Spanish pronounce numerous words differently, depending on where they come from”; the same is true of word choices (e.g. concerning the use of formal 2nd person pronouns) and grammar. Can any particular way of speaking Spanish be treated as “correct” or “proper” or “real”? The Linguisticator author Aaron Ralby discusses this issue from a language learner’s perspective, pointing out that “calling one language variety “correct” and another standardized variety “incorrect”” is simply… incorrect. He adds that this is especially true when the varieties in question “have been standardized through grammars and dictionaries and for which there is robust history, literature, and all manner of professional field conducted nationally and internationally within the language”. Deciding between Castilian (or “European”) and Latin American varieties of Spanish as the “proper Spanish” is as nonsensical as making the same kind of argument about British vs. American English—not that it stops many people from doing just that! Moreover, as the Linguisticator mentions, numerical weight and internal variation are both on the side of Latin American Spanish (or more precisely, “Latin American Spanishes”, as regional variation within Latin America is significant). Moreover, as the Linguisticator correctly points out, the “original variety” argument also gets us nowhere, as it can always been pushed further back into the past—the “original” Spanish, after all, can be traced back all the way to Latin of Rome or to Proto-Indo-European from southern Russia. And as a distinct language, Spanish was born much further north than Castile. As a practical solution to the “proliferation of Spanishes” problem, the Linguisticator distinguishes European and Latin American Spanish, offering language learning tools for them separately, but without going into finer distinctions among Latin American varieties. This solution seems very reasonable to me.

All in all, I think the Linguisticator blog is doing a great job introducing novices to a broad range of important language-related issues, and I am looking forward to reading future posts.



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