The dictionary game: for learning and entertainment

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The dictionary game is an entertaining board game and it costs nothing. That is, if you already have a dictionary, sheets of paper that are blank on at least one side, and a number of pens / pencils, so that everyone has a sheet of paper and something to write with.

I’ve played it with between six and eighteen people. You play individually, and it may be less important who wins, than about having fun.

The game is simple. You take a dictionary from your bookshelf in a language that everyone knows, or a language that no one knows, but then it should be a bilingual dictionary, preferably in both directions. It is usually played with a (not too elementary) …

The Swedish Romani language, historically and today


Today it is World Romani Day. Jon Petterson contributes an article about his variety of Swedish Romani. 

The first known source of Romani speakers is a document describing a traveling party of a people never seen before arriving Stockholm in 1512. Originally mistaken for being Tartars they came to be called Thatra. Today the term tattare is still in use in Scandinavia. In Sweden it’s considered to be a disparaging term, but in Norway it is used as a self-definition for Romanies.

From the 16th and 17th century, the sources mentioning Romanies with the synonymous terms tartare and ziguenare are very few. In 1637 a royal decree proclaimed that Romanies should settle or leave the country within three months.

Sietze Norder and languishing languages and islands

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As a co-author of a recently published article on languages on islands, I was delighted to learn that there was a biologist who had written a book on islands in which he also wrote something about languages. The author of the book is called Sietze Norder.

I was even more delighted to learn that this researcher was now part of the research group of linguist Rik “Enrique” van Gijn in Leiden. At the end of the 1990s, Rik van Gijn was in Aarhus for half a year to write his thesis on the sound systems of mixed languages, for which he had sought my expertise. Van Gijn is now working at the University of Leiden on the languages ​​of …

Pilot: “We’re running out of fuel” Air-Traffic-Control: “Okay”. A mini CA-based analysis of the final moments of Avianca flight 52


On January 25th,1990 Avianca flight 52 flying from Medellín, Colombia to New York crashed around 30 km from John F. Kennedy airport, killing 73 of the 158 people aboard. The official Aircraft Accident Report subsequently concluded that the main causes of the accident were “the failure of the flight crew to adequately manage the airplane’s fuel load, and their failure to communicate an emergency fuel situation to air traffic control before fuel exhaustion occurred” (National Transportation Safety Board: v). Here, I offer a mini conversation analysis (CA) based analysis of some of the final Pilot-Air Traffic Control (ATC) interactions from Avianca flight 52. The audio was recorded on the Cockpit Voice Recorder aka the black box of …

Lang Belta: the Belter language from SYFY/Amazon’s The Expanse

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The Belter language, which in the TV show is referred to as Lang Belta, is a Creole language spoken by the Belter people in the The Expanse universe. A creole language can be characterized as a new language, based on the vocabulary of an existing language, but with an innovated grammatical system.

The Expanse takes place 200 years from now, in a future in which Earth has colonized the solar system. In this world, people emigrated to the Asteroid Belt from Earth looking for work, and now survive by scavenging materials in the Belt. In this contribution I will outline the construction and general characteristics of this very complex and interesting Creole and discuss some of its grammatical characteristics.

It’s just not quite the same


On 21 September 2019, I was invited to give a speech at the departure reception of Professor Morten Kyndrup, former executive director and founder of Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, honoring his work in establishing the institute. I ended my address with a mention of a short skit I did with a Dutch friend for a Norwegian-American friend’s birthday in August 2019. The birthday deal? No gifts, only performances.

My Dutch friend and I had been speaking a lot about a concept we were both enamoured by and heard often in Denmark spoken by Danes to non-Danes when the latter try to make sense of many things Danish: “Well, you see, it’s just not quite the same.”

The sketch went

My favorite popularizing book about linguistics (after “Limits of Language”, that is)

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Language myths, mysteries and magic.

by Karen Stollznow. 269 pages. Price: too expensive.

Palgrave MacMillan 2014.


Originally, I bought this book in a sale, in order to hand it over to the people behind Linguistic Mythbusters. A book with such a title would contribution to their mission to debunk widespread but untrue ideas about languages. The book has “language myths” in the title, so it should fit their turf. But I thought, I will read it myself first. And while I was reading it, I thought, I am going to keep it for myself, it is too good to give away. In the meantime, it also appeared to me that Linguistic Mythbusters’ activity level was so low, that …