The art and science of languages

I've always fancied learning linguistics, as I think understanding the language will help you understand more about history and culture, which in itself are fascinating subjects. I'm fortunate to grow up bilingual, speaking Cantonese which is a tonal language, and English, which is not. The differences between the two languages have helped me to a certain extent to understand culture and history better - hence the desire to learn more about languages, but not necessarily to speak them all.

Here's some other random thoughts that has piqued my interest to study linguistic.


Both Cantonese and English came naturally to me when I was growing up, I never had to 'learn' it as a foreign language. I couldn't tell you why the ugly massive 100 year old tall grey concrete building is the correct way to describe a building, and why the tall concrete grey massive 100 year old ugly building is incorrect. We just know it doesn't sound right. Grammatically, adjectives have a hierarchy Source It's just that I, and I imagine 99.9% of all native English speakers don't know about it. We were never taught grammar at school. Likewise Chinese have no grammar either (I think😕) though I'm sure the linguistics will differ on that. What are the different rules for different languages?

Above or below the line

Some years ago I was chatting to a colleague from India and the topic of Chinese writing came up. Then he asked me a really weird question, which to this date, still baffles me. He asked me Is Chinese written above or below the line? What on earth was he on about? A word is a word, you just write it. At least that's how it's written in Chinese. But luckily knowing English meant I get to partly see his point. I guess English is considered above the line, expect when the lower part of your g j p q y drop below the line. I'd love to find out more about languages below the line.


This is one that is very difficult for native English and Chinese speakers to grasp. For us, a book is a book, a fork is a fork. But for many languages, every (?) noun is classified as either masculine or feminine, or neutral. Why? And how is the gender determined?


I remember at school, one time we had to do a 10 minute presentation for our English language lesson. I choose to talk about Chinese, or rather pictograms. Some Chinese words originate from pictures that represent that particular object, and over the years they have become words. Egypt is another great example of pictograms. What influenced the transformation journey from picture to words over time?

In the image below, I have written four Chinese words in their modern-day form, and their original pictogram underneath. Can you guess what are these four words? I'll let you know at the end of the post.



We all know that there are 26 letters in the English, or rather the Roman alphabet. Cambodia tops the list with 74 letters in their alphabet but apparently many are no longer used. That itself is an interesting point, does it mean their language has changed or even simplified over time? Chinese have no alphabet, that's why it's said to be the most difficult language to learn, you just have to remember the strokes that make up a word.
Image credit

Alphabets forms the basis of a language, and I'd love to find out a bit more about it.

Tea and mother

Tea is the most popular drink in the world after water, unless you are a coffee addict.

The English call tea - tea 😄,

Chinese call it cha
Danish call it te
French call it thé
Greece call it tsái
Hindu call it chaay
Spanish call it té
Thailand call it Chā
Turkey call it çay
Ukrain call it chay

And I could go on and on based Google translate. The point it, this is just a small selection of countries from around the world, all with different cultures. Why does their local word for tea all sound so similar? This could possibly be explained by the tea trade that started in the 17th century. When you introduce a new product to a country, the importing country is likely to adopt whatever name they are told.

But let me give you another example - mother. This relationship has been around since Adam and Eve 🍏 no external influence. I did a google translation, and many countries' pronunciation also starts with m. Don't you find that a bit mind boggling? Perhaps linguists can provide some answers to that.

Actually, since you made it nearly to the end of my post (thanks for reading) perhaps you can tell me how you write and say (phonetically) mother in your language, and how different do you think it sounds from English?

Lost in translation

And finally to my last point. One thing that used to confuse me a lot on Hive is when Spanish users kept on saying 'healing report' or 'heal my post'. It took me a while to understand that they really meant because this is what happens when you do a double translation of the word curation. I'm not sure where this sits with linguistics, but I'm sure it has a home there.


Pictogram answers

As promised, here are the answers to the pictograms. How many did you get right? And if you have time, please let me know what mother is in your local language. Thanks.

The Weekend Experience prompt ask that authors use their own images to show character and personality. Sadly I don't have many images suitable for this topic so have had to improvise with a little quiz for my creativity. Hope that works 😊


Languages are fascinating. I actually studied linguistics for my master degree but it was not until my later nomadic adventures in foreign countries where I really started to see and admire the real beauty of languages, the way they are connected and influenced by each other etc.

In my native (Czech) language, "tea" is "čaj" (same pronounciation as "chay" or "chai") and "mother" is "matka" ;)

You did!!! Wow. What led you to study that? I'm always nosey curious to know why people studied what they did. Do you think studying linguistics helped with your travels?

Well, my mum was an English teacher so I probably got somehow influenced by that and I picked Business English as my bachelor major. However, there was no master program to continue this major with at that uni so I went for English Philology as my master at another uni. The language studies did provide some useful background for me and reinforced my interest in languages in general but it was the stays abroad and the direct exposure to foreign environments and cultures what taught me to see and appreciate the beauty of languages and the way they are connected :) But I´m far from being a real polyglot... Just an enthusiast let´s say :)

Well, that was an interesting read... I was growing up in a bilingual environment too... Speaking with parents and grandparents in one language, and with friends in another... Learning in school English as a third language, and now, living in Spain speaking in fourth... lol...

Anyways, I can confirm that your little experiment with tea and mother worked out in most cases, except Hungarian which has a completely different word for mother... 😂 It has nothing to do with M as it's said "anya"... But, I know that Hungarian is a weird language that is very much different from most others... 😂

Wow,!!! You're quadlingual!!! And you speak all four fluently coz you grew up with two, your English is very good and now you live in Spain. What's your two native language? I'm guess Hungary is one of them?

Now you're making my jealous by speaking so many languages

I went to a Serbian school, and spoke in Hungarian with my grandparents when I was a child... In school learned English, which I still suck at (but thanks for your kind words... lol... 😃)... and my Spanish is awful, but I do understand 90% :)

You're so modest!!!

Very interesting post. I'm in the UK so mother is mother, but there are a number of dialects up in Scotland, and mither is used in a few of those (sounds the same as spelt).

Woops! I didn't realise Scotland had many dialects as well, I thought it was just Gaelic 😅

Dialect is an important part of language and linguistic, you lose it, and you lose the entire history and culture

Hindu call it chaay

Hindi call it chaay, Hindi is the language. Hindu is the religion. Hindu, the people are so varied they can call it differently based on location and language. For example:

Fun fact. Bengali (language), who may or may not be Hindu, call it Cha, just like Chinese.

I never paid attention to the minute details Hindu vs Hindi. Now I will remember.

Would you happen to know anything about writing above or below the line that my Indian friend asked? I tried to google it, but nothing came up

Yes. Hindi and most North Indian Sanskrit derived scripts are written'hanging' from the line. While English is written on or below the line

Thanks. I knew I could rely on people here!

Don't you find that a bit mind boggling?

It's the first sound a baby can make with its lips 'mamama' 'bababa'!


ah!!! but why is it always m for mother and b for father? That can't be explained....

Just out of interest, did you find learning Chinese difficult?


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The Portuguese call tea chá which is the same as the Chinese. We went to a lovely place in Funchal called Loja de Chá which is home of tea.

Think the Portugese were one of the earliest traders in tea, maybe that explain why it exactly the same

Absolutely, that’s what I was thinking.

Oh I thought
Sun moon mountain path
Auf Deutsch ist es
Der Tee (maskulin)
Die Mutter

The female masculine thing in German is gettin SO crazy since feminists feel themself bad with.

Example - the teacher - the teachers
Der Lehrer (m) - die Lehrer
Die Lehrerin (f) - die Lehrerinnen

This means if you say in German
"All teachers Go to school"
"Alle Lehrer gehen in die Schule"
It was meant ALL includes f and m,
But now
Its recommended to write and even say
"Alle LehrerInnen gehen in die Schule " something like
"All teacherEsses go to school" 🤣

So crazy and in my eyes, speaking of gender equal rights, there are more important things to change

What, that is so confusing and crazy. If that is fundamental grammar how can you change it due to calls from feminists, it's not like it's offensive or anything. Luckily we don't that that problem in English otherwise we'd probably have to relearn the way we talk.

In fact, I wonder why English does have the gender thing? It's Germanic... another point to add to my wonder list

Yes and it is not helpful at all

Maybe the female masculine neutrum comes from the Romans and Latin language?

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I was almost right for every of those four pictograms :)
Just took the water for a road, but in a way, I was not that far 😂

So in order, the four words in French are : jour, lune, montagne, eau.
... and without a surprise, the word for tea is "thé" in French !

Thank you for this interesting research !

I wouldn't go as far as calling it research 😃 more like random things that I've been wondering all the time, and now happens to be a good opportunity to tie it all together.

I'm trying to think if the four French words have appeared in my world anywhere, and the only one I recognise is eau, for your famous perfume!!

Yes, maybe not academic, but it's the beginning of the connection all the same :)

Ah yes, the famous "eaux" hehe !

I hope you had a good weekend ✌️

In Hindi, it is chai

Guess maybe India and China go back a long long time in terms of tea culture.

Bit curious on that so I asked Bing.
Tea originated in China around 2750 BC where it was originally used as medicine. Then from around 202 BC, tea started to be used as a drink in China and different varieties were also discovered. Just 200 years later it was becoming increasingly popular in China. The tea plant is native to East Asia which probably originated in the borderlands of southwestern China and northern Myanmar.

Then I asked about India.
Tea was introduced to India by the British in 1836.

So if Bing's ChatGPT wasn't hallucinating, it went from east to west and then east to south asia.

The tea thing is interesting. Nearly every country uses either a form of cha or te. See:


I've always liked linguistics. Languages are interesting. I don't honestly have much of a desire to speak any outside of English, Japanese, and a bit of Italian, but I do like learning about them all. (Well, I would always like to improve the three I do know, including my English)

The gender thing is also interesting. At university I took a stab at learning Old English, mainly because I fell in love with Beowulf and wanted to read the original. Gender was one of the hardest things for me to learn. Oddly I don't find it too difficult in Italian. But still strange. I think because gender worked a little differently in Old English. Anyway, I gave that up.

Chinese characters are very interesting. I love learning them. It's extra interesting that we now have at least 3 sets. The original kanji, the simplified Chinese, and the simplified Japanese. Well the Japanese only simplified 364 of them, so it's not too much. Some of those two simplified versions match up between chinese and Japanese, but they usually are different. Now I'm not crazy: I just learn to read and write the simplified Japanese kanji, but it is interesting about all three to me.

As a fellow language enthusiast, I couldn't help but be captivated by your reflections on linguistics! It's like diving into a linguistic wonderland where culture, history, and language intertwine.

Grammar and language are like the secret code that native speakers possess without even realizing it. Who would've thought that the order of words or the arrangement of adjectives could be so significant? It's like an unspoken agreement among English speakers that certain word combinations just "sound right." And let's not forget about Chinese, where grammar seems to dance to its own rhythm! The absence of traditional grammar rules might have us scratching our heads, but that's the beauty of language diversity.

And lost in translation, the language labyrinth! It's amusing how a simple word like "curation" can take on a whole new meaning when translated multiple times. Spanish users turned it into "healing report" and "heal my post"! It's like a game of linguistic telephone where meanings twist and turn along the way. But hey, let's not get lost in translation ourselves, because the beauty of language lies in its ability to surprise and sometimes confuse us. Considering also, that there is no direct translation for each word.

Thank you for sharing your linguistic wonders with us!