Monday, April 19, 2010

Assessing the strength of a language

A language has depth and breadth if it has sufficient words to translate the following.

Glint, glisten, glitter, gleam ...

Tiffany though a lot about words, in the long hours of churning butter. "Onomatopoeic," she'd discovered in the dictionary, meant words that sounded like the noise of the thing they were describing, like cuckoo. But she thought there should be a word meaning a word that sounds like the noise a thing would make if that thing made a noise even though, actually, it doesn't, but would if it did.

Glint, for example. If light made a noise as it reflected off a distant window, it'd go glint! And the light of tinsel, all those little glints chiming together, would make a noise like glitterglitter. Gleam was a clean, smooth noise from a surface that intended to shine all day. And glisten was the soft, almost greasy sound of something rich and oily.

- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

Sunday, April 11, 2010