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Silly Linguistics Magazine Preview #31

A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen
Master:
“If I work very hard and diligently how long will it take for me to find Zen.”
The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.”
The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply
myself to learn fast – How long then?”
Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.”
“But, if I really, really work at it. How long then?” asked the student.
“Thirty years,” replied the Master.
“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student.
“Each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do
you say that?”
The Master replied,” When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye
on the path.”
– Zen Parable

The first time I read this parable I felt a conflict inside my head. I was convinced that a strong desire to reach my goal was the crucial component to achieve that goal. I also believed that to estimate the time required and to set hard deadlines was the best way to keep me productive.

These approaches have become common sense in our culture: we tend to apply them to everything, not only to work but also in private life. That’s why we find “motivators” and “project managers” in every corner of society. And there are also good reasons for it, of course, because these approaches have their advantages and I will go back to them in a minute. While my common sense was defending goal-oriented project management,another voice in my mind was thinking: “the Zen dude is right though, and you knew it already! Where did you know it from?”

I realized that there were actually many fields in which I never set a goal but I was nevertheless extremely productive and successful, and one of these was: language learning..


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Silly Linguistics Magazine Preview – Issue #29

When Alex the African grey parrot was asked “What shape?” about a triangle, he’d correctly
reply “three-cornered”. If Alex was shown a collection of three red, five blue and four green
blocks and asked “What colour five?”, he would correctly say “blue”. Alex even understood the
concept of zero, because when asked “What colour bigger?”, he’d say “none” if the two
objects were the same size. I find it surprising and impressive that a bird can understand us so
well.

Parrots are well known for being good at mimicking human words. In fact, they are so good at repeating human phrases that one can get easily get confused about whether a parrot or a person is talking. For example, Boris the parrot, owned by the Speaker of the UK House of Commons, has surprised train passengers by shouting “Order, Order” and “Lock the doors. Lock the doors”. Passengers have reportedly looked around and even replied in confusion “Who’s shouting lock the doors?”.


Read more in our magazine Silly Linguistics and get access to all previous issues at no extra charge

What if William the Conqueror never existed?

William the Conqueror, as he was later known, is famous for invading England in 1066 and setting up a dynasty that has lasted until today. He came from Normandy which was French speaking and so the Normans brought a lot of French to England. 1066 is commonly regarded as the end of the Old English period and the beginning of the Middle English period. French became the dominant language after 1066 and English became merely the language of the peasants. It wasn’t until 1200 that English start reemerging as a written language.


Read more in our magazine Silly Linguistics and get access to all previous issues at no extra charge

Silly Linguistics Magazine Preview – Issue #28

This month’s dispatch, after a brief summer hiatus, is from Italy as Aisla McArthur discusses her experience
of language learning in Florence, during the pandemic, as she also learns the role of non-formal language
acquisition.

A trip to Florence in 2020 seemed like a pipe dream just a few weeks ago. This year was hardly the prosperous start to a new decade that most of us had anticipated. Having been cooped up in quarantine, like the other responsible citizens of the UK, I was understandably itching to get out of the house. Between endless quizzes, cocktail nights
and gardening, the days had really started to blur together. The plan to return to Italy became a real possibility, and a strong desire, when my university sent me extra work to do as reparation for not spending the required time in Italy.


Read more in our magazine Silly Linguistics and get access to all previous issues at no extra charge

Silly Linguistics Magazine Preview – Issue #28

If there’s one thing everyone in the world can agree on, it’s this: English is a very, very weird language.

How weird, I hear you ask? Well, apart from having more exceptions to rules than rules themselves, I’ve recently discovered a sentence that is both nonsensical and grammatically correct. It contains the word “buffalo”… and
nothing else.

How does it work?

The word “buffalo” has three different meanings. It’s the name of an American city; it’s a name of an animal also known as bison; and it’s a verb, meaning “to bully, harass, or intimidate”. So “Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” would
mean something along the lines of “The buffalo from Buffalo buffaloes (bullies) the buffalo from Buffalo” – two bison from Buffalo are in a turf war, and one is harassing the other.


Read more in our magazine Silly Linguistics and get access to all previous issues at no extra charge

Silly Linguistics Magazine Preview – Issue 50

Wow! We made it to 50 issues. Thanks to everyone who helped us get here 🙂

Editor’s retrospective

Retrospectives from the writers

The reality of word learning

By Lydia Pryba

Amazing Australians

By Joana Atanasvoa

Tolkien, the Philologist

How a linguist brought Middle Earth to life

By Rebekah Bradshaw

Today’s specials: an untold fold, crushed and cold

By Joana Bourlon

When sports lexicon gets knocked-out with expatriation: a boxing example

By Valentin Pradelou


Read more in our magazine Silly Linguistics and get access to all previous issues at no extra charge