By | David Shariatmadari
Everyone likes to think they know a bit about language:
There’s a term in Portuguese you simply can’t translate
The origin of a word tells you how it should be used
Standards of grammar have taken a nosedive recently
The real meaning of ‘disinterested’ is ‘unbiased’
Computers will soon be able to speak like human beings
A dialect is inferior to a language
The problem is, none of these statements is true.
Over the past few decades, we have reached new frontiers of linguistic knowledge. Linguists can now explain how and why language changes, describe its structures, and map its activity in the brain. But most of us know as much about language today as we did about physics before Galileo, and the little we know is still largely based on folklore, instinct or hearsay.