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P. A. Stonemann, CSS Dixieland
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CSS Dixieland

Probing the depths of knowledge

These essays by P. A. Stonemann, CSS Dixieland, cover a wide range of historical, philosophical, scientifical and technical subjects. Each page deals with a particular topic, divided into sections and explained by itself. Every page shows at its top hyper links to every other page. The Start page also has short descriptions of the other pages. CSS Dixieland expresses gratitude to the readers that make this work meaningful.

This Web document has been tested with KDE Konqueror, graphic HTML interpreter for Linux. It may not be rendered correctly by other graphic HTML interpreters. It will probably be correct when rendered by text-only HTML interpreters (visual, aural, or Braille tactile interpreters), but if feasible, please use KDE Konqueror. Uniform Resource Locator:

English Language page

Race and language are the basis of Ethnicity and Culture
Classification, origin and history of the English language

Walkyrie who takes our dead heroes to Walhalla in Asgard
Walkyrie who takes our dead heroes to Walhalla in Asgard.
Wagner Frost Illustration

Sections in this page

  Brief History of English
  Hyper links on English
  Search English words

Technical note: In languages other than English or Latin, but which use mainly Latin characters, some characters are taken from other alphabets, or some Latin characters are modified with diacritic marks for representing different phonemic sounds or other orthographic conventions of those languages. Those characters, when used in this document, have been encoded as entities of Hyper Text Mark-up Language or sometimes in Unicode UTF-8. Therefore computers using other character encodings may render some characters inaccurately, but hopefully, it will still be possible to read non-English words without too much difficulty.


Brief History of English

After centuries of linguistic studies, there is today a fairly accurate picture of the classification of English as part of the Aryan Family of languages. The most accepted taxonomy is shown in the lines below.

There are at least fifty linguistic Families in the World. Really many more, taking into account isolated languages that form a Family of their own, plus dead languages that have left material enough for study and classification.

The Aryan Family (also called Indo-European or Indo-Germanic) is formed of the Kentum and Sato sub-Families, and comprises at least the following twelve infra-Families: Tokahric, Indic, Iranic, Armenic, Anatolic, Baltic, Slavonic, Germanic, Celtic, Hellenic, Albanic, Italic.

Some authors propose the existence of one or two other Aryan infra-Families, at present extinct, whose dubious existence can only be inferred by vestigial remnants. Other authors put together some of the above infra-Families: the Baltic and Slavonic in a Balto-Slavonic infra-Family, or the Indic and Iranic in an Indo-Iranic infra-Family (of which the Darda Branch is a good example, because it is half-way between the Indic and the Iranic). Finally, there are authors who take some living languages out of the most accepted taxonomy, and rank them as an infra-Family of their own, or as common ancestors to two or more infra-Families, as it is the case of the Cafiric (Nuristanic) Branch.

The Germanic infra-Family counts three Branches:
-East Germanic: Old Gothic and related languages.
-North Germanic: Old Scandinavian and related languages.
-West Germanic: Old German and related languages.

The West Germanic Branch contains three sub-Branches:
Old German: High German (Hoch Deutsch)
Low German East (Platt Deutsch Osten)
Low German West (Platt Deutsch Westen)

The Low German West (Platt Deutsch Westen) sub-Branch has three or perhaps four infra-Branches or languages (classification and denomination is more controversial when cutting thin at the lower levels):
Dutch (including nowadays the Flemish and the Nederlands Afrikaans languages)
Frisian (a language between Dutch and Anglo-Saxon, closer to the Anglo-Saxon)
Saxon, Anglo (linguistically different, cited together for historical reasons)

The Saxon language has two sub-languages:
East Saxon (Jute). Modern dialects: Kentish.
West Saxon. Modern dialects: Essex, Wessex, Sussex.

The Anglo language has two sub-languages:
Anglo-Mercian. Modern dialects: East Midland, West Midland.
Anglo-Northumbrian. Modern dialects: Northumbrian, English Scots.

The only written form of Old English is in the West Saxon sub-language (one of the two sub-languages of the Saxon language) in which Christian monks from the VII to the XI centuries wrote poems based on modified oral traditions. The earliest is 'C\E6dmon's Hymn' from the year 670. Later came 'Beowulf' (over 3 000 lines, the longest known), 'The Battle of Maldon', 'Brunanburh' and some others, all anonymous. In total over 30 000 lines of Old English are known. The correct name of this sub-language is West Saxon, sometimes wrongly called 'Anglo-Saxon', though it entirely belonged to the Saxon language and there was almost nothing of the Anglo language in it.

The Saxon and Anglo languages were so similar at that time that they could also be considered as sub-languages or even as dialects. We call them 'languages' mainly in attention to their distribution following political boundaries at that time, and also to their historical development at later times, rather than following a strict linguistic taxonomy. This territorial distribution roughly reflects the Seven Kingdoms of the Heptarchy that existed from the V to nearly the XI century: A Jute kingdom (Kent), three Saxon kingdoms (Essex, Wessex, Sussex) and three Anglo kingdoms (East Anglia, Mercia, Northumberland). English Scots is the result of a later contact between English and Gaelic, this one a Celtic language.

In the XI century West Saxon began to be written also for other purposes, but the Saxon defeat in the year 1066 at the Battle of Hastings against the Normans, imposed Norman French as official language in England for about three hundred years. Saxon was still spoken, but seldom written, though there are a few texts that seem to belong to a period somewhat after the Norman invasion, and certainly not later than about 1150. No dialect is predominant in this period, known as 'Middle English'. When about 1360 English became official again, the written form was not West Saxon anymore. It was Anglo-Mercian, particularly East Midland dialect as spoken in the area of London. This period between the XIV and XVI centuries is called 'Early Modern English' or 'King's English'. Its later development in the XVI to XVIII centuries is known as 'Classic Modern English'.


410: The Roman legions retreat from Britain. Latin slowly declines before the commonly used Celtic.

450: Begin the Jute, Saxon and Anglo invasions. Celtic is pushed westward to Cornwales and to Wales.

670: 'Cædmon's Hymn', anonymous, is the oldest known text in Old English (West Saxon).

1066: Norman invasion. Latin, Celtic and Saxon lose all official status. Norman French is now the only official language.

1066-1370: Middle English period. No spoken dialect is predominant, West Saxon is written until about 1150.

1300-1370: The four English sub-languages begin to be written again for narrative literature.

1362-1363: English becomes official again, but it is not the West Saxon sub-language. It is now the East Midland dialect of the Anglo-Mercian sub-language.

1370-1550: Early Modern English, also called King's English. In narrative literature it begins with 'The Canterbury Tales' by Geoffrey Chaucer.

1550-1750: Classic Modern English. Initially it is best represented by the literature of William Shakespeare. This author used the richest vocabulary of all English authors ever: over twenty five thousand different root words, not counting inflections.

1750-1945: Contemporary Modern English. The rules of the language are fixed by the first grammars and dictionaries. Some of those pioneer works are:

    'A Short Introduction to English Grammar' by Robert Lowth

    'English Grammar' (1794) by Lindley Murray

    'English Dictionary' by Samuel Johnson

1945-today: International Modern English replaces French in diplomacy and German in science as a worldwide language.

1991: release of the World Wide Web by C.E.R.N.
It is calculated that in 2016 the World Wide Web has over twenty thousand million pages, and that between 80% and 90% of them are written in English.

This is the oldest known text in the English language, Cædmon's Hymn:

Original version in Old English
(West Saxon), year 670:

Nuí weí sculon herigean
Meotodes meahte
weorc Wuldorfæder,
eíce Drihten,
Heí æírest sceoíp
heofon toí hroífe,
aí middangeard
eíce Drihten,
fíírum foldan,
heofonriíces Weard,
ond his moídge-anc,
swaí heí wundra gehwæs,
oír onstealde.
eorþan bearnum
haílig Scyppend.
monncynnes Weard,
æfter teíode
Freía ælmihtig.

Translation into
Contemporary Modern English:

Now we must praise
The Measurer's might
the work of the Glory-Father,
eternal Lord,
He first created
heaven as a roof,
then middle-earth
eternal Lord,
for men earth,
heaven-kingdom's Ward,
and his mind-plans,
when he of wonders of every one,
the commencement established.
for men's sons
holy Creator.
mankind's Ward,
afterwards made
Master Almighty.

Character encodings for letters used in Old English

It can be observed in the above text the presence of three letters that are not normally used in Contemporary Modern English, although they may still be written in some specific words. One or more of those three letters are common part of some other human languages. Two of the letters are vowels:
-The ae diphthong ligature æ
-The i acute accent í

The third letter is a consonant:
-The thorn (also used in Icelandic) þ

The thorn is represented in Contemporary Modern English as the "th" digraph.

Using computers, those letters can be represented by different encodings:

-EBCDIC (Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code), 8-bit encoding mainly used by main-frame computers.
-IBM (International Business Machines), 8-bit encoding very similar to EBCDIC and also used by main-frame computers.
-Extended ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), 8-bit encoding used by most micro-computers, but not a completely uniform standard.

There is also a 7-bit Standard ASCII encoding used by the vast majority of micro-computers, an absolutely uniform standard world-wide, but the problem is that special characters such as the three letters listed above, cannot be represented in 7-bit Standard ASCII.

In theory those special letters can be represented in 8-bit Extended ASCII, but this has never been a unified standard. Different operating systems, such as Unix, DOS, Macintosh or Windows, may use different encodings for 8-bit Extended ASCII, which makes difficult the portability of texts using those letters, because it may result in strange characters appearing in the text. The font set may also be unavailable in a particular computer, in which case a similar glyph will, hopefully, be used.

Fortunately, those special letters can also be encoded for representation in SGML (Standard Generalised Mark-up Language), or in HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language), thus being displayed by user agents that recognise those mark-up languages. Due to the general availability of HTML in the early XXI century, and to the fact that it is a unified standard, it is recommended to use it whenever possible. There is below a table listing the encodings for SGML-HTML.

Letter used in Old English
Encoding in SGML or HTML
Small ae diphthong ligature
æ decimal 230
U+00E6 ISO Latin 1
Small i acute accent
í decimal 237
U+00ED ISO Latin 1
Small thorn (as in Icelandic)
þ decimal 254
U+00FE ISO Latin 1

Comment on Old English (West Saxon)

Old English reads as a foreign language when compared to Contemporary Modern English, because in fact Old English is really another language. As explained above, Old English belongs to the Saxon language while Contemporary Modern English belongs to the Anglo language. Saxon gradually disappeared as spoken language during the three hundred years in which Norman French was official language in England, with Saxon leaving only vestiges in the English of today. By influence of the political centre being located in London, the Anglo dialect known as East Midland became Modern English. The other Anglo dialects are gone in their original form, but they also left vestiges until today. So it happened to the Jute dialect of Kent.

Contemporary Modern English presents various degrees of influence from languages that at some time were spoken in the British Islands, such as Pictish-Caledonian-Hibernian (extinct somewhen after the V century), Briton Celtic (dead in the XVIII century in Cornwales, today spoken in Wales and in the Britanny-Bretagne-Armoricana Peninsula), Gaelic Celtic (today spoken in Scotland, official in Ireland), Latin (official in the Vatican State), Viking Norse (from which it derives modern Icelandic, Faeroese, and the Landsmaal Nynorsk of Norway, all official in their territories), Danish (official in Denmark, and as Riksmaal Bokmaal Dans-Norsk also official in Norway), and Norman French (dead in its original form, although it greatly influenced later French).

Contemporary Modern English also uses many terms of Latin or Greek origin, especially for scientific disciplines, although Greek never was substantially spoken in the British Islands. Latin was spoken, but it has left very few words from the time of Roman rule. Most Latin words used nowadays in English are much later incorporations into the language. Plenty of other languages can be traced in the English of the present, but most of those languages have only lent to English isolated words of natural phenomena that do not exist in Britain (Icelandic 'geyser'), of religious belief in their regions (Polynesian 'taboo', American aborigin 'manitou'), of plants and animals (and the food or other products obtained from them), or of other notions that have no easy translation into English. In fact, since the mid XX century many languages borrow terms from English (in particular technical terms), much more than the other way round.

In some isolated regions of the World certain forms of Classic Modern English have been kept to the present, forms that have disappeared even from England. Perhaps the most clear and well known example of this linguistic relict is Appalachian English, in the Dixie states of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, in the North American continent. Appalachian is today spoken by hillbilly people, many of them of Scottish origin, who began colonising those mountains in the XVII century from Jamestown, Virginia, an English colony founded in 1607 and which is the oldest English colony in the Americas, exception made only of Newfoundland, which was more of a seasonal fishing port than of a real colony. In spite of what certain ignorant Yankees may say, Jamestown was absolutely the first English colony in the American continents. The Yankee colony of Plymouth in New England was founded thirteen years later, in 1620.

Hyper links on English

The resources offered below will probably be of interest to those persons who wish to delve into different aspects of the English language. Readers are encouraged to send informations, advice, or corrections, which may enhance the service provided to other readers of CSS Dixieland. The electronic address of CSS Dixieland is given near the bottom of the Start page.

Books in Internet

The Internet has available all the known texts of Old English that have been preserved throughout the centuries down to the present day, about thirty thousand lines in total. The hyper link to Project Gutenberg, listed below, contains books wholly written in Old English. There are also some documents in the Internet that use Old English partly or entirely, making an effort to keep intact this important aspect of our History. In a time when Contemporary Modern English has been the victim of its own success as an international language, being horrendously debased by some foreign ignorants who borrow our words and use them improperly, or even deform them beyond recognition, it is of the greatest importance to keep ourselves loyal to our own eternal roots. A language is essential part of a culture, and our venerable Tradition must not be allowed to perish into the maelstrom of repugnant "modernism". Those books are available in electronic format in at least two on-line collections: Project Gutenberg and Many Books, hyper linked below.


Project Gutenberg
Since 1971, the oldest collection of Internet books (over fifty thousand in 2016)


Many Books
All of the books from the Gutenberg collection, converted to mobile formats


In a communication to CSS Dixieland, Lady Carole Fegan has informed of the availability of a Web page that offers a complete list of electronic book resources. Besides Project Gutenberg and Many Books, other collections of free books exist for the enjoyment and knowledge of those who love to read. Thanks to her report, the Uniform Resource Locator is here provided to the readers of CSS Dixieland:

Free Electronic Books: The Ultimate Guide
Complete list of electronic book resources in the World Wide Web


Interactive Stories

In an interactive story the reader can choose only one continuation, from two or more possible continuations that are presented to him. The story usually begins with a chapter that introduces a setting, some characters, and the start of a story line. At the end of the chapter, two or more continuations are offered in a few words, for example:

... You are walking along a sinister path in a thick forest. It is becoming dark and beginning to rain. You see a solitary house. What do You do now ?
-Enter the house
-Continue walking

At the end of the next chapter there are again two or more continuations, and so on. The branching ends abruptly for most of the continuations, either by returning to a main line, or simply by declaring the reader deceased:

... The monster approaches with evil intentions... You are dead, or worse...

Since the 1970's, several publishing houses have become specialised on interactive stories in various languages, offering different levels of plot complexity, a diversity of genres (predominantly adventure and fantasy), and books of all sizes, from a few pages to many of them. As a result of his choice, the reader is directed to one or another of the printed pages.

With the spread of the Internet, and mainly of the World Wide Web in the 1990's, interactive stories not only direct the reader to a different continuation according to his choice, but also offer him the possibility of continuing writing the story himself after reaching the end of a certain story line. As a result, chapters are written by different authors, with impossibly different ideas, styles, and literary levels.

The effort of writing seriously in a language is THE BEST WAY of learning that language, without any doubt. The writer must be careful with grammatical and lexical rules of the language, must be imaginative, must anticipate the guesses of the reader, must present an attractive story. It is necessary to read good authors, and to consult dictionaries or encyclopedias fairly often.

The hyper links immediately below contain interactive stories with varying degrees of quality and in different genres, ranging from humour to terror. Some of them offer free software that can be installed in a computer, to make easier the connection of chapters in the writing of a new story, invariably using hyper text to direct from one page to another. There are also some groups of enthusiasts devoted to this bizarre kind of literature.

Valerie Mates
Interactive stories written by readers


Speculative Vision
Interactive stories written by readers


Interactive stories written by readers


Correction of text by competent writers

It has been said above that writing seriously in a language is THE BEST WAY of learning it. This is true not only for narrative literature, but for any text of fiction or of non-fiction. Through Internet it is possible to write in a foreign language and request the review of competent writers or fluent speakers of that language, who eventually will point out possible errors and offer the alternatives considered more correct (or more common, depending on the ideas and knowledge of the reviewer). This help can be obtained from:

Correct My Text
Correction of text written in a foreign language


Literature and Comic Strips

Extant works of Sumerian or Egyptian Literature are thousands of years old, but the genre known in English as Scientific Romance, Scientific Fiction, Scientifiction, or Science Fiction, is of more recent vintage. The Sumerian 'Epopey of Gilgamesh' is mythical in nature, the 'Vera Historia' by Lukianos of Samosata is purely fantastic, the 'Gulliver Travels' by Jonathan Swift is a social satire of the times when the author lived, and so most other pioneer works. They cannot be considered Scientific Fiction, in the sense that we understand the term today. Some critics (Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, and P. A. Stonemann) consider 'Somnium seu Astronomia Lunari' by Johannes Kepler, published in 1634, as the first work of Scientific Fiction properly speaking. Other critics (Brian Aldis, Ben Bova) give that honour to 'Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus' by Mary Shelley, a Gothic novel published in 1819. Still others speak of 'The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaal' and some other stories by Edgar Allan Poe, or of several stories by Jules Verne, as deserving to be called the earliest examples of Scientific Fiction.

The controversy arises because Scientific Fiction itself is difficult to define, as it is often mixed with elements considered fantastic for their contemporary level of scientific knowledge. The submersible ship was already a reality when Jules Verne introduced his fictional Nautilus and fictional Captain Nemo in 'Vingt mille lieues sous les mers'. In real History, the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley sunk the Federal ship USS Housatonic, and sunk herself, during the War for Confederate Independence 1861-1865. The space ship was not yet a reality in times of Jules Verne, but the theoretical studies by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky on rocket propulsion came few years later. At any rate, the 'ship' of Jules Verne in 'De la Terre a la Lune' is a bullet shot from Earth by a gigantic gun, it is not a rocket. The ship of Herbert George Wells in 'The First Men in the Moon' is propelled by a fictional 'anti-gravitational substance'. For stratospheric or space rockets in real History, the merit goes to Robert Goddard, Esnault Pelterie, Herman Oberth or Werner Von Braun, who were physicists or engineers, not writers of Scientific Fiction.

In spite of their shots going wild, those fictional authors tried their best to imagine, as scientifically as they could, how space travel could some day be accomplished. By contrast, the time travel shown in 'The Time Machine' by Herbert George Wells, is only a speculation for which there is no theoretical explanation even today, other than the hints provided by some physicists. The experiment of Abraham Michelson on the speed of light gave the perplexing result that the rule of composition of speeds given in Newtonian Physics, cannot be applied to the propagation of electromagnetic (radiant) energy. Fitzgerald suggested that a body in movement suffers a contraction, axial to the dimension of that movement. Larmor and Lorentz accepted the hypothesis, and modified the Law of Transformations of Galileo into the Law of Lorentz. Albert Einstein then explained that Time is not an absolute continuum, but a dimension intimately related to space, and therefore to movement in space. Other theorists have written on the subject, but we are still far from any possible method for travelling in Time. It might be a physical impossibility, considering the paradoxes that come to mind when we try to imagine that.

Yet, it might also happen that some possible solutions have not come to our mind. As an example of scientific pessimism, Auguste Comte said that the chemical composition of the Sun or of other stars could never be known, since they are too far and too hot for us to go and take samples. In spite of his gloomy foresight, the invention of spectrographic analysis made possible to know with accuracy the composition of the chromosphere and the photosphere. As for the nucleus, we have to rely on indirect measurements and on our current ideas on nuclear fusion. As the character Mister Spock says in 'Star Trek' by Gene Roddenberry: "If we eliminate the impossible, what we have left is only the improbable". Or we have the CURRENTLY impossible for us, but not necessarily impossible for ever. More than impossible, we may term some techniques as currently UNFEASIBLE.

A clear example is cryogenic hibernation. Serious scientific studies have been carried out on Cryogenics, and we seem to be at the technical boundary of its factual possibility, at least in a limited form. But Cryogenics may only make sense for very specific purposes, such as a space travel lasting for years. Many other scientific and technical problems would also have to be solved for long term space travel to become a reality. The interest of such an adventure would have to be wholly justified in the eyes of many pragmatics, and the enormous economical resources needed for it would deplete the vaults of even the richest nations. Sad it is to recognise that the race to the Moon in the 1960's was fostered by prestige and competition during the Cold War, between the United States and their allies, and the Soviet Union and theirs, much more than by genuine scientific endeavours. Once that the Moon race was over, the Congress withdrew the money and Astronautics stagnated, in spite of the protests of the scientific community (of Werner Von Braun, director of the Apollo missions at NASA, and of many other outstanding scientists).

Even authors of the hardest line of Scientific Fiction allow themselves some sortie to the realm of imaginative speculation. The distinction between Scientific Fiction and Fantasy is useful nonetheless, blurred as it is the dividing line between those literary genres. The hyper links collected below must be briefly explained. The first one refers to general Literature (not everybody is prepared to understand Scientific Fiction, or to enjoy only that genre, there is place for other genres as well). The second link (already mentioned above, in connection with interactive stories) points to futuristic speculations. The third link is solely devoted to Scientific Fiction and Fantasy.

As for comic strips, the earliest series that existed is historically recognised as having been 'The Yellow Kid', published by the New York Herald at the end of the XIX century. Stories in the form of comic strips printed in pulp paper became classics, and greatly influenced animated cartoons in Cinematography, with artists such as Emile Cohl, George McManus, Winsor McCay, Max Fleischer, Stuart Blackton, Julius Pinschewer, Earl Hurd or Walt Disney as some of the earliest cartoonists. Techniques begin to overlap, when we realise that some of the best 'cartoons' in Cinematography were not made of hand drawings, but of animated muppets (Gerry and Sylvia Anderson), or of plastiline molded manually and animated by a sequence of photographic frames, or in more recent times using complex animation techniques aided by computers. All those techniques, however, belong more to the History of Cinematography than to the History of Literature, although cinematographic works are very often inspired on literary works.

Literary Organisation
General Literature


Speculative Vision
Futuristic speculations


Scientific Fiction and Fantasy World
In Literature, Comics or Cinematography


General Linguistics

These three hyper links offer a detailed list of ALL KNOWN LANGUAGES, and throw the reader into the most strict scientific research of the discipline known as Linguistics. The distinctive characteristics of a language are better understood by comparison with those of other languages. There are isolated languages without any known relative past or present (Basque in the Iberian Peninsula, Ainu in Japan, Burushaski in Pakistan...). There are artificial languages invented by some enthusiast of international friendly communication (Esperanto, Volapuk, Latine sine Flexione). There are tribal languages spoken by only a handful of individuals. There are even non-existing languages, directly taken from the imagination of Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek), of George Lucas (Star Wars), or of J. R. R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings, and related works). Tolkien was a linguist himself, besides his outstanding literary works of High Fantasy.

List of all known languages


Language Museum
Science of Linguistics


Introduction to many languages, and resources for learning them


English Linguistics

CSS Dixieland presents here a smorgasbord of hyper links for all tastes. Some are concentrated on crosswords or on other kinds of puzzles. Others feature an ample variety of linguistic games, from the classic Hangman to the most undescribable, atrocious brain-twisters brilliantly engendred by the sick mind of some confessed sado-masochist. Most of the links are of a pedagogic nature, they propose methods for teaching or for learning English, or any other language, and they offer plenty of resources by which that effort can, hopefully, be helped. Needless to say, they are places of necessary visit for teachers looking for ideas, or for students looking for advice.

Language learning games


Language learning games


Star Fall
Language learning games


Crossword Puzzles
All levels, from pretty easy to criminally difficult


Wired for Books
The classic form of knowledge transmission: books


Resources for language learning


English Club
Resources for language learning


Nellie Muller
Resources for language learning


Resources for language learning


English Specialist
Resources for language learning


E. S. L. Teachers Board
English as a Second Language


T. E. S. L.
Teaching English as a Second Language


Language learning: travelling complements reading

A French nobleman once said that Culture comes mainly from reading and from travelling. That statement is true for any learning, but most especially for the learning of a language. In theory it is not absolutely necessary to travel to a region where a certain language be commonly spoken. There are specialists who know dead languages quite well, which bears witness to the fact that it is possible to learn a language only from books or similar resources. However, it cannot be denied that the availability of fluent speakers for face to face linguistic interaction is of a tremendous help to the learner. Trying to learn a language without any contact with at least one competent speaker of that language, is a major effort that can only be successfully accomplished by a polyglot, or a highly talented and strongly motivated linguistic specialist.

Contact with a fluent speaker can be in written form only, through traditional postal service or through computer networks, sending and receiving text-only messages or also recorded voice, but the possibility of having a spoken interaction is of fundamental importance. Fortunately, having a computer with the appropriate hardware, software and network connection, it is now possible for the first time in History to interact by voice in real time. Telephone existed before that, but telephone is not really feasible for the purpose of learning a language. A computer can present a visual interface, possibly with text, which is an important help for matching pronunciation and orthography,

Another option might be having some personal contact with those expatriate foreign residents that exist in every big city in the World. There are often places where foreigners of a certain language or nationality tend to meet, such as consulates, cultural centres, libraries, restaurants, churches, or even private residences. Some such places are open to visitors, others are intended as a cultural refuge for their closed community, and they prefer not to encourage visitors. Besides, some are related to religious or political beliefs that may be common practice among those nationals, but not really appropriate for a person whose main goal is only learning their language.

Another solution is to listen to wireless or television broadcasts in the target language, such as by Short Wave Radio, or by cable broadcast services, or by Internet. It means listening to the spoken voice, possibly accompanied by textual captions, but it is a passive one-way communication, not the more active two-way interaction that makes for really efficient language learning. The same can be said as to watching cinematography with the sound track in a given language (original or dubbed), with or without written legends. It is an excellent practice, but it is only a single way, not a double way.

Finally, there is the solution of travelling. The advantage is that most people in the place of destination know the predominant language, therefore it is easy to find conversation partners. Also, almost everything visible or audible in the streets or inside buildings will be written or spoken in that language. The learner is almost continuously immersed in the target language. Notwithstanding that apparently perfect learning paradise, there are some key points that must be kept in mind when thinking of linguistic travel.

First, a warning: it is NECESSARY to know already something of the language, and something sufficient for at least a basic communication. Going to a place with only two dozen words in the head, armed with the classic phrase book for travellers, is a sure recipe for disaster and frustration. Under such heroic conditions, it would take a year to begin interaction at an acceptable level, a year of uncountable suffering. The traveller must arrive to the country possessing already the ability of reading relatively simple texts, such as newspaper headlines or captions, and the ability of writing not perfect, but clearly understandable sentences. The voice of native speakers will then help in learning the correct pronunciation, and in adding new vocabulary.

Second, the traveller must consider the kind of people with whom he interacts. Many languages have a cultivated norm used in formal occasions, and a popular lingo used in every day speech. There may be a gradation between those two extremes. Confusion will arise if using popular slang in a setting where more correct language is expected. The traveller is strongly advised to consult a good dictionary of the language for checking the acceptability of new words that he may learn from popular (and possibly ignorant) mouths, or to ask for verification from a competent speaker of reasonably high cultural standing.

Third, time of stay must be sufficient for the purpose in mind. A visit of one week may be nice for tourism, but it is clearly insufficient for learning the language, even for a talented polyglot. A sojourn of one month should be the bare minimum of stay time. More recommendable is to stay at least for three months, and actively using the language almost on a daily basis. Sorry, but in spite of fantastic claims made by some (rather dishonest) companies of cultural interchange, any stay of less than one month is as good as useless. The task should be taken seriously or not at all. Three months, if well used, will provide the ability of two-way communication in the chosen language.

The last consideration is purely pragmatic: how to find accommodation and other resources for living during those months. This is more difficult to inform, because different persons have different needs, but there is plenty of advice in travel books, magazines, or Internet. Mister Ivan, of Tip Top Coaching, has informed CSS Dixieland of the existence of an excellent Web document explaining in detail how to live in London. For those whose plans of linguistic travel include the capital of England, the Uniform Resource Locator of that London Guide is hyper linked below. For those linguistic learners who have other destinations, hyper links to travel Wikis are provided afterwards. Wiki Travel and Wiki Voyage also feature a collection of phrase books in various languages, to which the polyglot reader is invited to contribute.

Tip Top Coaching and School
Guide for living in London, intended mainly for language learners


Wiki Travel
Detailed information on many destinations for travellers


Wiki Voyage
Detailed information on many destinations for travellers


Search English words

English has today hundreds of thousands of words, although most of them are highly specialised or they have a restricted use inside a certain community or activity. A person commanding an active vocabulary of about ten thousand root words or more, can be called cultivated in the language. Most natural speakers of English do not go beyond an active lexicon of five thousand root words, some speakers do not reach even three thousand, although their passive vocabulary is normally twice or thrice the size of the active one.

Considering how rich our language is, the definitions provided by a good dictionary are of the outmost importance. Dictionaries also help in knowing the etymologic origins of terms, the accepted orthographic forms, the most standard phonetic sounds and orthoepy in the pronounced language, the prosody of accent, versification, figures of speech and related parts, the approximate synonyms and antonyms, or a view to syntactic or morphologic constructions considered correct by the best writers or grammarians.

Dictionary of the English language
One of the most complete in the Internet


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