Can sounds have meaning? The peculiar case of West-Flemish tj and dj

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As linguists, we investigate all sorts of building bocks of language, such as sentences, predicates, prefixes and suffixes, and even individual sounds like p and z. Most of these building blocks have some kind of meaning. For example, a sentence like The cat sat on the mat means something, a predicate like is crazy in John is crazy means something, and even prefixes and suffixes mean something, such as pre- in pre-heated, which means something like ‘done in advance’, so that pre-heated means ‘heated in advance’. But, you may ask, do sounds like p and z also have meaning?

We know that sounds may distinguish meaning, but it is not so obvious that they have meaning. For example, …

Book review: An extinct creole language of the Danish West Indies

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Cefas van Rossem defended his thesis on the now extinct Dutch Creole language of the former Danish Antilles, or Dansk Vestindien ‘the Danish West Indies’, or the Virgin Islands, on December 20 2017, at the Radboud University of Nijmegen. I had the privilege of judging the manuscript and being one of the eight (!) opponents.

It is in fact the second dissertation on the language within a year – accidentally one hundred years after the three islands St John, St. Croix and St. Thomas were sold by Denmark to the USA. Robbert van Sluijs defended his thesis of the development of tense, mood and aspect in the language in May 2017.

Why would a Danish colony foster …

Creoles, fieldwork and linguistic theory – an interview with Peter Bakker

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Photo: Peter Bakker with a speaker of Yamomami in Brazil

Peter Bakker is a Dutch-born linguist who is active in a number of different linguistic fields, chief among which pidgins and creoles, mixed languages and contact-induced language change. He has also published extensively on Romani linguistics. He is the author/editor of numerous books, which include A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Métis (1992), Bibliography of Modern Romani Linguistics (1997, with Yaron Matras), The Typology and Dialectology of Romani (1997, co-edited with Yaron Matras and Hristo Kyuchukov), and Contact Languages: A Comprehensive Guide (2013, co-edited with Yaron Matras; paperback 2016). Some of his other interests include genderlects, language genesis and the …

Around Europe in Sixty Languages by Gaston Dorren. Book review.

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This post is a book review of Gaston Dorren’s Lingo: A Language Spotter’s Guide to Europe AND Lingo. Around Europe in Sixty Languages. First edition 2014. New York: Grove Press. Accompanying website:

A friend of mine went all the way to the United States and all she bought for me was this book, “Lingo”. The similarity between the name of this blog, and the book is purely coincidental. The author of Lingo is the Dutch language journalist Gaston Dorren.

Lingo is an English adapted version of his Dutch book Taaltoerisme, or “language tourism”, which Dorren wrote a few years ago. A respected friend and colleague had read the book in its Dutch version, and his judgment …