Mother’s Day a Celebration Around the World

15929-happy-mothers-day-watercolorThis weekend we will be celebrating Mother’s Day. Unlike religious or national holidays, it is a day that brings the world together in a common and shared love of mothers. Each one of us has a mother or mother figure who spent a great deal of their life shaping us into the people we are today. No matter your mother nation or mother tongue, Mothers are worth celebrating.

But where did the term “mother tongue” come from?

To answer this we have to go back to a time when mothers were the sole source of information on customs, traditions and languages. While in the western world this means going back before the 19th century in many places around the world mothers are still the only ones performing these roles.

Before the public schooling system took root in society, children, from infants to adolescence, spent almost all of their time with their mothers. It was during this time with their mothers that children learned all they needed to be a functioning member of their society including cultural identity, language, laws and other societal norms. During these developmental years mothers were the most important members of their communities because without them children would learn how to be a part of the larger family unit.

The term Mother tongue stems from the fact that, for a large part of human history, mothers were the teachers of one of the most incredible advancements in our species development, language. It was because of that fact that we could come together as a species and communicate ideas and thoughts which created a collective knowledge pool which helped us create the amazing things that we have today.

While the role of mothers has changed over the many years, one thing hasn’t changed: All Mothers are amazing. So when you are celebrating your mother, grandmother or mother figure this weekend and what they have done for you, also remember that our world is full of mothers and they are each worth celebrating whether they played a part in your life or not.

Able Translations Wins the Consumer Choice Award

CCA LogoAble Translations has been awarded the Consumer Choice Award for business excellency in the interpretation and translation industry for the year of 2016. The award is given to businesses that provide only top quality services to their clients on a consistent basis.

The Consumer Choice Awards is an organization that employs independent market research firms to establish which organizations are the best in regards to consumer orientation within specific categories. Since 1987 the Consumer Choice Award has been given out to the most highly deserving businesses and it has allowed consumers to make improved, smart, and more knowledgeable purchase decisions when it comes to choosing a service.

Able Translations has always had a customer focused business model. We have created a system of personalized service options which allows our clients to receive the perfect solution in order to assure that they are always satisfied.

Our model is simple yet effective. We recognize and identify our clients’ unique needs and then create service offerings that meet the demand of those needs. We do not restrict our clients by providing rigid services which only partially meet their necessities. This has been a vital part to the core of our services which has led to our path of success over the many years we have been in business and it is definitely what has allowed us to win the Consumer Choice Award this year.

We would like to thank all of those who have been apart of helping us achieve this and we look forward to continuing our consumer driven approach for the upcoming years!

Why is Transcription Important to your Business?

Professional-Transcription-Services-1Able Translations provides professional, high-quality
transcription services. We employ a pool of skilled and
knowledgeable transcriptionists who are experienced
in transcribing recordings in English as well as over 150 other
languages and dialects. We accept audio files in various formats
such as mp3 and wav and always deliver the transcribed file according
to the client’s specifications thereby facilitating ease of use.

Benefits of Transcription:

  • Serves for better archiving and retrieval of information
    when required
  • Allows for more accurate documentation of an event
  • Aids in maintaining good records and facilitates
    informed decisions.

Information is priceless!

Let Able Translations be your transcription provider.

Uncommon Customs: La Tomatina

gettyimages-178255292-e1440521189353Each corner of the world is filled with the unique. Not only does each place have different landscapes and buildings but the people that inhabit them are vastly different.

Each group of people celebrate life, and the many events that are experienced throughout it a little different. It is these cultural distinctions and traditions that makes the world such a magical place to explore and discover.

While some traditions have routes back in ancient times some are a mystery to us all. Stories are woven and passed on about how the tradition really began will always remain unknown.

La Tomatina is one such mystery. Occurring on the last Wednesday in August in Bunol, Spain, this festival begins with a spectacle and ends with a spectacle.

After the streets fill with people wearing white shirts and goggles, a ham is placed on a greased pole. The festival does not truly begin until that ham is taken off of its perch by a valiant man or woman.

Immediately after that transpires, trucks filled to the brim with tomatoes enter the city. These tomatoes will not be cooked or used as food but rather their sole purpose is to be thrown. 150,000 tomatoes are thrown during the day by 35,000 people.

It surely is a messy affair but one that will always remain a beautifully chaotic mystery.

Language of the Day: Squamish

Aquamish Image Let’s take a journey…

Mount Garibaldi makes its presence known in the distance as it rises off to touch the clouds and the 335 meter tall Shannon Falls crash into rocks and deep blue waters as its waters makes their decent. If you made your way to the summit of the Stawamus Chief you would see the whole Squamish community below. It is in this picturesque area of British Colombia that we find the speakers of the Squamish language.

The Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) people are an indigenous group that traditionally resided within many areas of British Colombia. Like many groups, their language, traditions and customs have been passed down orally over the years as no formal writing system was established for much of their history. It is this reliance on their language that has led to the recent support on trying to rebuild the language from its nearly extinct standing.

The Squamish people have a rich culture which based on the natural landscape by which they are surrounded. This is demonstrated by their complex set of affinities that connect their social life and cultural events to different families and neighboring nations.

Storytelling is an integral aspect of their history and in 1965 their version of the origin of the world was recorded, “In the beginning water was everywhere and then the tops of the mountains came out of the sea and land was formed. The first man to appear was named X̱i7lánexw. He was given a wife, an ax-like tool, and a salmon trap. X̱i7lánexw and his wife populated the land and the Squamish descend from these ancestors.”

While this language has been on the decline since the European colonization there has been a recent push in order to save the language and the culture of the Squamish people. You can read more about the initiative to save the language here:

Video Remote Interpreting

logoHave you ever had the need for an interpreter

One which you prefer to see the interpreter rather
than a less impersonal approach such as telephone interpreting?
Well look no further, Able Translations has developed a fast and
interactive video remote interpreting tool called vickiTM
(Video Interpreting Centralized Knowledge Interface).

Specifically tailored to meet the needs of our clients,
this unique solution responds to the ever-growing need for
on-demand multilingual and sign language communication.
vickiTM is a real-time video remote interpreting service that brings
the user face-to-face with a qualified interpreter on demand.
It reduces the cost of interpreting as travel costs and mileage
are not incurred. The solution is highly adaptable to an array of
working environments and industries. It provides the ultimate
level of flexibility while maintaining quality interpreting.
vickiTM meets interpreting demands where on-site qualified
interpreters are not available, especially in remote locations.
This reliable, secure and user friendly solution is an excellent
fit for organizations seeking face-to-face communication
with an interpreter at a moment’s notice.

American Sign Language 101

aslAmerican Sign Language (ASL) is a language that is distinctly different from English. It contains all the fundamental features of a language such as rules for pronunciation, word order and complex grammar.

Every language employs different strategies to distinguish when a question versus a statement is being raised. For example, English speakers ask a question by raising the pitch of their voices whereas ASL users ask a question by raising their eyebrows, widening their eyes, and tilting their bodies forward.

In addition to individual differences in expression, ASL has regional variations in the rhythm of signing, form, and pronunciation.

If you would like to learn some ASL take a look at this video

How to Overcome Common Linguistic Problems

LinguisticsThe interpretation process has many elements and can be
ineffective if not properly managed. Here are a few tips
to overcome possible linguistic barriers when using an

Technical Terms
It is always advisable not to use technical terms when speaking to a client
who may not understand them. However, if it is absolutely necessary, give the
interpreter an opportunity to look up the term in a dictionary, or accompany
the term with a description or an explanation of its purpose. The
interpreter should also be encouraged to show the client pictures
if available.

An idiom is a figure of speech that expresses an idea in a way that is unique
to the language in question. It is usually hard to avoid using idioms, just
be mindful that it may take the interpreter a little longer to apply an
appropriate equivalent in the client’s language.

Inarticulate Clients
There are occasions where the client may not be the best at expressing his or
herself and therefore does not appropriately answer a question or provide
a complete thought. One should never assume that the interpreter is at
fault. Asking the client clarification questions is a good way to ensure that
the message is being delivered effectively.

Dialectical or Regional Differences
Some languages are spoken in several different countries and as a result
there may be regional variations in usage. A trained interpreter will be
able to deal with dialectical differences. But if you are aware that the
client and the interpreter are not from the same country, you can avoid
problems by giving the interpreter a little extra time to work around
regional variations and avoid misunderstandings.

Able Translations’ Inaugural Paddle Battle Raises Over $23,000 for Mental Health

Paddle Battle Image 1

Toronto, Ontario, March 8, 2016 – Able Translations, a Canadian translations and interpreting company, and Able Transport, a full-service transportation company, raised over $23,000 on March 3rd with their inaugural Ping Pong Tournament, aptly named Paddle Battle for Mental Health. All of the proceeds from the event were donated to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in support of their work with mental health and addiction patients as well as their families across Canada.

Able Translations partnered with its sister organization Able Transport in order to bring awareness to the pressing issue of mental health. Throughout their respective histories both organizations have shown a commitment towards social issues both in their local community and outside of it. Paddle Battle is the latest installment in a long line of charitable endeavors and it was by far the largest with attendees ranging across a variety of industries and a number of notable celebrities.
“Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.” Said President of Able Translations and Able Transport Wilson Teixeira regarding the event his companies organized.

“25% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, whether it be mild or severe.”

“It affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures but we can all do our part to help.”

CAMH estimated that by 2020 the leading cause of disability around the world will be depression. With the numbers being as staggering as they are it is clear that more support is needed in order to combat this growing trend. That is why the work of CAMH is crucial.

The event itself featured fantastic entertainment as teams competed to be the first ever champion of Paddle Battle for Mental Health. Fittingly, the first place team was representatives from CAMH.

Whether it was team outfits, shared smiles or high fives each and every team put their joy on display no matter if their team won or lost their match. If there is one thing to be said about the event, it would be that it was fun in every sense of the word and supported an amazing organization in a very significant way.

With the overwhelming support for Paddle Battle being so evident, Able Translations and Able Transport were proud to announce next year’s Paddle Battle will take place on March 2nd 2017.

You can head over to today to get the latest information on next year’s event.

Top Three Reasons to Translate Your Website





Businesses now operate in a global environment and as such it is critical to be  equipped with the right tools to effectively market your products and services to  your target audience. Digital marketing is a growing medium and many persons first  interaction with a company is through their website. It is therefore imperative that  organizations position themselves to be able to effectively communicate with their audience(s). At Able Translations we follow best practices to ensure that your translated website is completed accurately so as to yield the benefits discussed below.


Market Expansion

It is no longer the norm to accept English as the universal language and, as such, it should be of primary importance being able to meet the language needs of your targeted demographic. Languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and French continue to grow exponentially, with over a billion people speaking Chinese alone. This is not to be overlooked as the potential for growth in these markets, as well as locally, is tremendous and can significantly impact the profitability of your organization.

website image

Search Engine Optimization

Having your website translated can also improve search engine optimization. This is because of the added content resulting from translating your content into multiple languages. This will yield a higher ranking search result and thereby lead to increased traffic on your website.



Brand Building

Building and managing a positive and professional image is important for every brand. Having your website translated will promote your offerings to a wider audience and aid in gaining the confidence of both your prospective and active clients. This will promote more increased product/service usage. Overall, your website will have a more global appeal thereby helping to better position your brand.

Able Translations Leading the Way in Simultaneous Interpreting

Julio Montero conducts the demo of the remote simultaneous platform

Can you adapt to a changing landscape? 

If you are young and entering the job market, things can be tough.

In the wake of the recession, the number of jobs is down, particularly for young people. When young people do find work, it’s often in jobs for which they are overqualified. (Interestingly, though, university grads still earn more money, and a degree is your best bet for employment prospects.) As if things were not hard enough, the language industry — translation and interpreting — are in a state of rapid change.

So how you do you, as a new interpreter on the market, find work in your chosen field? Well, a recent public panel discussion at Glendon shed some interesting light on that subject.

Donna Achimov paints a picture of a changing landscape

On Friday, November 28, we welcomed three guests to our campus.

  1. Kent Johansson, European Parliament, Directorate General for Translation, Multilingualism and External Relations Unit
  2. Donna Achimov, CEO, Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada
  3. Robin Strang-Lindsey, Senior Director, Service to Parliament and Interpretation, Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada

The European Parliament and t

he Government of Canada both run some of the largest translation (and interpreting) services on the planet. But, as the panel members explained, the way they run their businesses has changed. Here are some of the drivers of change that they discussed.


Increasingly, language services in the public sector are being asked to demonstrate their worth. Not only do they have to get their financial houses in order, they also have to measure their productivity and their impact. They need to have numbers to prove to the powers that be that they are efficient. For example, the European institutions can demonstrate that the total cost of interpretation and translation per year is less than 3€ per citizen, about the cost of a cup of coffee.

Robin Strang-Lindsey discusses value-added service.

Value-Added Service

It’s not enough to give value for money, services also have to add value in other ways. Members of Parliament on both continents are asking for new kinds of services. For exa

mple, some want translation and interpreting not just for the business of Parliament, but their own dealings as members. Others are asking for real-time translation of social media messages, so that they can tweet and post in multiple languages.

Thinking Outside the Box

Language professionals are being asked to think ahead of the curve. In the case of the European Parliament, will the Union expand and add new languages? If so, are language services agile enough to train and recruit a cadre of language professionals to meet the new need? Here in Canada, we have a similar issue with aboriginal languages. Also, following the recent attack on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, language professionals stepped up to the plate and devised a plan to work more closely with law enforcement and security agencies. In this way, real-time messages in times of crisis can go out accurately and quickly in multiple languages.


It’s no secret that technology has completely reshaped translation. Today’s translators have to be able to manipulate translation memories, develop term banks, manage projects, and standardize work flow. Increasingly, they also need to integrate state-of-the-art machine translation where and when appropriate. Technology has also begun to change how interpreters do their work.

Our Translation Bureau colleagues are working with Able Translations to explore remote simultaneous interpreting. Julio Montero of Able was on hand to demonstrate their remote simo platform. Julio’s English audio feed was sent over the Internet to an offsite location, where an interpreter worked into French. The French audio was then sent back to the room, where a radio-frequency transmitter broadcast it to receivers that our audience members were using. All present seemed to agree that the sound quality was on par with normal, onsite simultaneous interpreting.

Future language professionals, what does all this mean for you?

MCI faculty member Qjinti Oblitas takes in the remote interpreting demonstration.

First off, you need to stay informed. You won’t be able to change with the changes if you don’t know what they are in the first place. So find ways to stay in the loop. Join professional associations. Go to conferences. Read industry newsletters and blogs. Make sure you are scanning the horizon for future opportunities.

Second, get comfortable with technology. (There is a reason why Year One of the MCI is delivered online — it’s so our students are used to interpreting using remote platforms.) Figure out how you can use it to do your job faster, better, and smarter.

Third, be aware that you have to add value. Your standard skill set as an interpreter or a translator is not enough. You have to have two, three or more extras that make your services better than those of the competition. Maybe that’s a strategic combination of working languages. Maybe it’s knowledge of one or two specialized areas. Or maybe it’s something unusual that I can’t even think of because only you can bring it to the table.

Finally, adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur. (Or, if you are working within a large organization, of an “intrapreneur“). Develop a vision for your professional self. Where there are problems, imagine solutions. Seek out like-minded people and join forces. Organize to chase down opportunities.

Got a suggestion for adapting to a changing landscape? Let me know by leaving a note in the comments field below.


By: Andrew Clifford, Glendon College

What Makes a Word Profane?

George-CarlinLife is demanding, it may not always be but it has its moments, and from time to time that demand builds up and makes us feel stressed. This can because of too many things on the go or just something that needs to get done but you have been leaving on the backburner. There are many pervasive things that cause stress and then there are other things that are more individual, for some that is meeting the in-laws while for others it is doing a speech in front of a crowded room.

Generally speaking stress is exertion, mental or physical, that is overly demanding and if exposed to it for long periods of time can cause major health issues. says:

“Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process.”

Now all of this may sound stressful in of itself and albeit it somewhat is, but did you know that swearing can relieve stress and pain?

In a study performed by researchers at Researchers at Keele University, in Staffordshire, England it was shown that swearing or using offensive phrases while under painful or stressful situations reduced the pain or stress the individual was feeling. This is because, the researchers hypothesised, swearing sets in a type of flight or flight response within the brain reducing the effect that the pain or stress has and allowing people to increase their tolerance level.

One researcher, Dr. Richard Stephens, described the study’s results and its connection to human language thusly: ”Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon. It taps into emotional brain centres and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain. Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists.”

The relief one gets when using bad words is called Lalochezia and it comes from cathartic swearing. Cathartic swearing is the use of bad words for an emotional release of some kind and it is one of the five forms of swearing that were outlined by Stephen Pinker when discussing the topic of cursing in language in his book “The Stuff of Thought”.

Five Forms of Swearing:

  1. Abusive swearing – for abuse or intimidation or insulting of others. This is the usage that swearing is normally associated.
  2. Cathartic swearing – when something bad happens like coffee spilling, people curse. One evolutionary theory asserts it is meant to tell the audience that you’re undergoing a negative emotion.
  3. Dysphemistic swearing – Exact opposite of euphemism. Forces listener to think about negative or provocative matter. Using the wrong euphemism has a dysphemistic effect.
  4. Idiomatic swearing – swearing without really referring to the matter.. just using the words to arouse interest, to show off, and express to peers that the setting is informal.
  5. Emphatic swearing – to emphasize something with swearing.

Each type of swearing has its own purpose and is utilized to convey a specific meaning although some are more relevant and useful than others. Just like any other element of language it has its place within the language itself and is a recognized part of that language even if it is obscene and frowned upon.

It is because of this lack of social acceptance that swear words gain their power and their meaning. Every bad word has its socially accepted counterpart and yet we still need those words to convey a specific meaning which cannot be found in its counterpart.

How then does a word go from being a regular word that is used every day to something known as profanity?

This answer is different for every language as it is based in its history. For English it comes down to the original speakers of the language. During the infancy of the English language there were two major groups who were broken into classes. There was the Saxons who were in the lower class and talked with a Germanic language and then there was the upper class which was made up of Normans who spoke a Latin based language.

These two groups built the English language through their interactions and over time the two separate languages amalgamating into one. But while this was happening the two languages were still very much separate and because the lower class’ language was more Germanic in roots it gave birth to English words which were not as sophisticated and more guttural in nature. While on the other hand the words that came from the Latin roots, which were spoken by the ruling class, developed into more refined words which were treated as proper forms of their Germanic equivalents.

Both sides could develop a word that was defined in the very same way but because of its roots its connotation was established and denoted. Many if not all of the swear words we use today are the consequence of the separation of classes and come from the Germanic side of the fence while the words that represent the same thing but are socially acceptable are Latin in roots.

George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” is probably one of the most famous examples of swearing as it brings together seven of the most socially unacceptable words, but that was back in 1972 when you could be arrested for saying such words, which Carlin was when he performed the bit at Summerfest in Milwaukee. Today, most of those seven words can now be heard across all forms of media. On twitter alone, every second 22 of the words Carlin said could not be said on television are tweeted out into the world to frolic in all their glory.

Swearing is changing and evolving which makes logical sense as the English language itself evolves over time. The words we use today for swearing will more than likely change and we will more than likely see the rise of new swear words which do not exist in today’s language. We cannot say for certain whether or not a word will be viewed as profane in the future or what words will arise as profanities but one thing that is for certain is that swear words will always play an integral part in language.

Language of the Day: Andaman Creole Hindi

P2230088Let’s take a journey…

The waters of the Bay of Bengal surround this lush archipelago which rests off of the coast of India and Myanmar. There are 325 islands in the grouping and their shores are touches with the white sand of the tropics. The sun never ceases to bathe the land in heat and rains are usually uncommon leading to a dry warm air that is made pleasant by the moisture that coalesces with the wind as it sways across the Bay of Bengal and onto the many islands.

We are in Andaman Islands and it is across this large grouping of islands that we find the speakers of Andaman Creole Hindi. The language is a creolization of Hindustani, Bengali, and Malayalam and originally formed as a trade language as the three groups attempted to communicate with one another.

Throughout the many islands of Andaman Islands there resides around 10,000 speakers of the language and although many are spread out most of the speakers are multilingual; speaking Hindi with outsiders and Andaman Creole Hindi with their families and other locals. This has led the language to be taught to all children and allowing the language to flourish within the current population of speakers.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.

Language of the Day: Cornish

Falmouth marine bandLet’s take a journey…

There is a strong damp wind blowing from the west. It’s the breeze that rises from the waves of the Atlantic Ocean’s Celtic Sea and is salty and cold. This breeze shapes the land which comes to a point in the south where the Celtic Sea meets the English Channel. The high waves of these frigid unfriendly waters splash up on high cliffs which stand straight true leading to the spindly and rocky interior.

It is on the high cliffs overlooking the waves that we find the speakers of Cornish. We are in Cornwall which is the southern peninsula of England. Cornish is a Indo-European language and is sister languages of Welsh and Breton which descend from Common Brittonic.

The language was declared extinct for many years but the classification was removed in recent years as there has been a push to grow the language and revive it. It is unknown how many speakers actually exist but with Religious services held in Cornish, Evening classes, correspondence courses, summer camps, children’s play groups, residential courses and even a full time Cornish language nursery school being set up the language is rapidly growing.

It may be many years before there are a strong number of speakers of Cornish but with the language being spread to the youth the language is in the right place and has all the opportunities it needs to become a stable language.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.

Language of the Day: Chin, Chinbon

chin-people-myanmarLet’s take a journey…

There is rain falling from the low lying clouds. It falls it torrents and it is warm as it runs along your skin. Mountains spread in all directions but they are covered in dark green trees from valley to crest as they go from India and Bangladesh in the west to China, Loas and Thailand in the East. The Indian Ocean lays to the south past more emerald mountains. In the distance there are some mountains who wear hats of white as they stand above all those other mountains around them. They are giants and they make the others look like hills.

We are in Burma also known as Myanmar and it here in this mountainous country that we find the speakers of Chin, Chinbon. Also known as Chindwin Chin, Chinpon, Oo-pu, Sho, Tuishiip, Tuiship, Uppu, Ütbü; Chin, Chinbon is a language from the family of Sino-Tibetan. It is closely related to Asho Chin which is much larger language.

Chin, Chinbon has around 20,000 speakers and is taught to all the youth with most of its speakers being monolingual. It is a strong language with its speakers being from many different backgrounds as it has spread out across the Burmese mountains. The people who speak the language belong to a group of people called the Kukish which is a large of people who speak a language from the group from which Chin, Chinbon comes from.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.

The Confusing Words for Small Number Sets

question-mark-faceTechnology has taken hold of our lives and it is not letting go.

To some this statement may seem post-apocalyptical or at least a sign of when the robots rise up, laying siege to our society and eventually taking over our world, playing out the plot of the countless robot movies on the world stage. But, more rationally speaking this is not the case. We have been using technology ever since we became what we call man.

The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes is the definition of technology and as one can tell it is both very broad and vague. In other words all we can really say about technology is that it is the application of knowledge for practical purposes.

Technology started out as fire and the wheel but has now turned into cell phones loaded with apps and the internet. These advances have done a great many things for society but one new thing that has come into the fold is the idea of the quantified self.

The quantified self is the utilization of large amounts of aggregate data for the purposes of understanding ourselves in a numerical fashion. This practice gives us a new insight into ourselves that would not be otherwise available without us having to waste our day away recording all the information by hand. With devices like fitness bands and mobile apps which allow users to see numerical representations of their lives, individuals can both understand themselves in a different light and then compare themselves for the purpose of self-improvement.

At the end of the day you could take a look at your app and see you have walked this many steps, taken in this many calories, burned this many calories and so on. The result is a list of information on your life and who you are. Taking all that information over a year in order to find your daily average could be incredibly insightful as you would see what your average day is like in comparison to someone else’s average day, the countries average, or the world’s average over an entire year. Or you could go further and quantify all of your actions for your entire life and see how many steps you took in a lifetime.

This whole process of knowing exact numbers for representing our lives is handy to say the least and far easier than tracking it mentally or on paper which more than likely would turn into generalizations and guesses for  most people. The internal dialog would probably turn into something like this:

“We only had a couple French fries at lunch today”

“You know that a couple means 2 or 3, right?”

“Well we had a few then”

“So 5? We only had 5 fries? Or is it less than that?”

“Well it wasn’t many”

As you can see there is much more value in exact numbers than range values, it’s easier to understand a specific number rather than a range. But what are the actual definitions for words like couple, few, handful, several, some and many?

Word Range
A Couple 2-3
A Few More than a couple less than some
Some More than a few less than several
Several More than some less than many
Many More than several, large quantity
A Handful Quantity that fills the hand


While it would be nice to have exact numerical representations for each of these words the language has made them variable words which only represent as much as you want them to at the time when they are used. For the most part they could all be used to present three of something at any given time, which in of itself is perplexing.

Now imagine if we had no definitive numbers and only variable words like the ones we just went over?

It just so happens that there is a tribe in the Amazon called the Pirahã which has this exact element in their language system. They have no way of differentiating between certain number sets because the words they have are built around variable number words.

In 2008 Michael Frank published a set of experiments with the tribe.

For the first one he gathered groups of spool and placed them in ascending order from 1 to 10 and asked the Pirahã members to label each group. The single spool was given a unique word, another word was used to label the groups from 2 to 3 and then groups from 4 to 10 were all given the same word.

A second experiment was done in the opposite fashion; Pirahã members were asked to label the spool groups from 10 to 1 rather than 1 to 10. Surprisingly the same three words were used but this time to represent different things. This time the spools from 1 to 5 were all labeled using the word that had previously been reserved for a single spool, the spool groups from 6 to 8 were labeled using the middle value word and 9-10 were all given the large value descriptive.

In some ways this seems alien because we are so used to having exact values for specific quantities but the Pirahã tribe only represents things as small, medium or large. With all the languages in the world it is always fascinating to find a language that is so different than the rest of the world. While we find our general number set descriptors as confusing and clunky for the Pirahã tribe that is all they know.

Language of the Day: Trinidadian Creole English

Carnaval-Trinidad-and-Tobago-©-kids.britannica.com_Let’s take a journey…

It’s warm but there is a nice salty breeze blowing. There are the usual signs of the tropics: sun kissed skin, palm trees and sandy beaches are all around; this is a place that you would visit on a vacation. The water is warm and it is that clear light blue that can only be found in the waves of the Caribbean. There is a multitude of islands speckling the waters but we find ourselves focused on two which sit at the precipice of the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Paria.

Our toes are covered in the sand of Trinidad and Tobago and it is here, on these two islands in the Caribbean that we find Trinidadian Creole English. The language is based off of English which was brought over from the colonials during the colonization of the Americas. While there are differences to English, Trinidadian Creole English is very similar to its parent language.

Since it was established the language has flourished becoming the de facto language of national identity for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. With 1,000,000 speakers the language is in safe hands and is a part of the greater continent of English which has spread its reach around the world.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.

Language of the Day: Iaai

vilvil_dancingLet’s take a journey…

Like the moon at most times during its cycle the island is in the shape of a crescent. Surrounded by sandy white beaches that drift into the Pacific Ocean this picturesque island is just a small piece of a larger group of islands. The lush green of vegetation covers the ground which stretches for 50 Km in length and 7 Km in width.

We are on Ouvéa Island which is one of the Loyalty Islands, in the archipelago of New Caledonia and it is on this small island that is in overseas territory of France that we find the speakers of Iaai. Coming from the Loyalty Island line of the Austronesian family Iaai is a well-documented language with a number of publications on the linguistic elements of the language.

Ouvéa Island is the home of one other language, Fagauvea which is significantly different than Iaai even though the two languages have been in contact with one another for many years. With around 4000 speakers Iaai is considered a threatened language but with schools now dedicated to teaching the language and other preventative measures in place the language is well on its way to preservation.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.


Language of the Day: Goundo

Let’s take a journey…

The heat of the Sahara Desert lays to the south but it is not where we find ourselves. There is no place for sand in the Sudanian Savanah which is covered in the light green of grasses and shrubs. Within these grasses thrives many different animals, including many species of birds, reptiles and large mammals. There are also a number of rivers which flow through leading their way to the north where they empty into Lake Chad.

We are in southern Chad and while there may be a great many animals populating this grassy region there is also many different people who speak a many different languages. One of these languages is Goundo. Extending from the Niger-Congo family of languages, Goundo is a fleeting language.

While Goundo is similar to Besmé and Kim, other languages spoken within the area, its people have ceased teaching it to the youth. With only 30 speakers remaining, all whom are in the later stages of life, the language is on its last legs. Because of the proximity to other languages younger people have switched over to either Kabalai or Nancere, more prominent languages in the area.

The language is on its last legs and it will soon join the many other languages that have fallen out of use, it is a sad tale and one we have seen many times. But if not this language it will be another.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.

Language of the Day: Waris

WarisLet’s take a journey…

Born out of a collision between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific plate, the snow-capped Maoke Mountains range from the west to the east, its ten peaks reaching up 4000 metres into the sky. As the mountains slowly fall away into grassy and river infested hills they become lowlands which are blanketed in the lush greens of an ancient rainforest and pocked with low lying swamps.

It is in West Papua that we find ourselves, the home of Waris. From the family grouping Border comes the language of West Papua and Papua New Guinea. It is similar to the Imonda and people who speak the language can understand people who speak Waris and visa-versa. While it is also similar to Amanab the two languages are unintelligible.

Waris is spoken by 4000 people and is taught at an educational level in the places where it is spoken. The people who speak it may be small in number but they are passing the language torch on to their youth and because of that the language is growing in numbers.

Thanks for joining us on this journey in language.