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Facts about languages

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Facts about languages

Did you know that:


1. At least half of the world’s population are bilingual or plurilingual, i.e. they speak two or more languages.


2. 231 languages are now completely extinct.


3. Languages are constantly in contact with each other and affect each other in many ways: English borrowed words and expressions from many other languages in the past, European languages are now borrowing many words from English.


4. 12.44% of the world’s population speaks Mandarin as their first language.


5. Esperanto is an artificial language, but is spoken by about 500,000 to 2,000,000 people.


6. French was the official language of England for about 300 years.


7. A dialect of the North African language Berber has words with no vowels. For example, “tzgr” means she crossed.


8. There are two official forms of written Norwegian – bokmål (book language) and nynorsk (new Norwegian).


9. Estonian language contains about a 1000 words that date back to the last Ice Age.


10. All pilots on international flights identify themselves in English.


11. Silbo is a variation of Spanish used to communicate over long distances in the mountains. It is comprised entirely of whistles.


12. In Japanese there’s no way of showing whether a word is singular or plural.


13. Hungarian is not related to any of it’s neighbouring languages.


14. The Papuan language Rotokas qualifies for the shortest alphabet with only 12 letters.


15. Most letters in the Bulgarian alphabet stand for just one specific sound.


16. There is a language called Taki Taki with only 300 words total.


17. The United States has almost 40 million native Spanish speakers.


18. There are 108 words for describing ‘sweet potato’ in Hawaiian, and 47 for ‘banana’, including ‘palaku’ – a thoroughly ripe banana.


19. Nine languages don’t have words for colour – they only differentiate between black and white. For example in Dan (New Guinea) things can be ‘mili’ (darkish) or ‘mola’ (lightish).


20. In Albanian there are 27 words for ‘moustache’ including ‘dirs ur’ – meaning the newly sprouted moustache of an adolescent.


21. Icelanders can easily read Old Norse, a dead language that was spoken in Scandinavia 1000 years ago because written Icelandic has changed so little.


22. The equivalents of the English saying “That’s Greek to me” are “This appears to be Spanish” (German), “This is Russian to me” (Dutch), “It’s German to me” (Philippines), “It’s Hebrew” (Finnish), “It’s Chinese to me” (Hebrew), “Sounds like Mars language/These are chicken intestines” (China).


23. Despite sharing the same oral language, British, Irish, Australian and American Sign Language are all completely different languages.


24. In chess, the word “Checkmate” comes from the Persian “Shah Mat”, which means “the King is dead”.


25. Although considered a difficult language for Europeans to learn, Chinese has no verb tenses, meaning that there are no conjugations to practise.


26. German is known for its long compound words; one of the longest words in general use is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (Law on delegation of duties for supervision of cattle marking and beef labelling) with 63 letters.


27. The pope tweets in 9 languages.


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