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Their result for Basic Knowledge of Linguistics Test ...

Average Joe

54% knowledge!

Most people don't know much about the actual nature of language and it seems you're not too different from most people. Sorry pal! It's never too late to learn more though. On that note, here are the answers, along with explanations:

I’ve gotten requests for an answer key, so I’ve decided to include the answers and an explanation to the answers.


1)      No dialect is better or worse than any other. Our ideas about “good” and “bad” language or “more logical” language are really little more than our impressions on the group that USES them. For instance, “ain’t” originated in the upper classes of Britain. It has since been downgraded though, and as it is mainly used by people who many would consider uneducated, it is considered less intelligent in and of itself. This is a false connection though. Nearly all linguistic forms are completely arbitrary. That is today, red only means red because we made it mean red. “Isn’t” is only considered standard over “ain’t” because we made it that way. All this could change. In 300 years, gork could mean red and red could fall out of use an “ain’t” could come to be considered excellent English if a group that was thought to be well educated and logical took to using it.

2)      The name linguists give “Black English” is African American Vernacular English and it most definitely has grammar. It didn’t, it would be impossible for people to communicate with it. Rules are the way we know what someone is saying. Grammatical rules (combined with vocabulary) are how we differentiate one meaning from another in language. As there are people all over the United States who communicate with ease in AAVE every day, this means it absolutely has to have grammar. Some of the rules are surely very different from “Standard English,” but they are rules none the less that make just as much sense to its speakers as the rules of SE make to those of us who use it.

3)      All languages do indeed evolve and change. If you don’t believe me, go take a look at Beowulf, Chaucer, any work in Old or Middle English (if you aren’t a native English speaker, check out any work more than a few 100 years old in your native tongue). English, just like every other language on the planet, changes slowly over time. People in nearly all recent (and by recent I mean the last few 1000 years) times have thought the language was deteriorating terribly. It makes me sad really. There is little reason to feel linguistic insecurity. Language change is some of the least threatening change out there. It’s slow and arbitrary. So fear not language change. It’s fairly painless and completely natural.

4)      There may be certain characteristics to sound some people find more pleasing in the same way that we find some people more attractive than others, but generally, our perceptions of the beautifulness, logicalness or hell, even sexiness or lack therefore, of a language is highly colored by our perceptions of  those who speak it (i.e. similar concept to question 1).

5)      Viva dangling prepositions! They are part of our fantastically fun heritage as English speakers. They’ve been with us for hundreds of years. They aren’t going away anytime soon and the only reason anyone tried to get rid of them was because of the infatuation of intellectuals of the past with Latin. They believed Latin to be the perfect language and tried to impose many of its rules onto English. This is also why we have the moronic “don’t split infinitives rules.” This has no place in a language like English. One didn’t split them in Latin because the infinitive form was a single word. This is not true in English, so go forth and split if you like!

6)      Double negatives are not illogical They exist in many languages, and once again, language forms are arbitrary. That we developed a strangely complicated system of negation in English is, if anything, a little less logical in that it’s pointlessly complicated. One could more easily argue that the simple nature of the structure in Spanish (no tengo nada – I no have nothing literally) is a bit more logical. More than that, double negatives do exist in several dialects of English; they just happen to not be the dialect of prestige in any English speaking nation. This is a question of custom and convention though, not one of logic or lack of logic. 

7)      fɘnɛɾIks

8)      Phonology is an area of language that is very hard for adult learners. It’s very hard to retrain one’s mouth to a new sound system. It is hard even to hear the differences between sounds if those differences don’t exist in one’s native language. This is one of the reasons Spanish speakers learning English often have such trouble. Spanish has 5 vowels. English has nearly 3 times that (depending on the dialect).

9)      It’s the same as the t in city BUT only in North American English or other dialects that use the alveolar flap. It is not a sound that exists in most dialects of British English. Here is a bit more info on it, should you be interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alveolar_tap

10)  It’s just deletion of an unstressed syllable. No worries. So many of us do it, that it doesn’t tend to interfere with comprehension because we’re used to it. Also, “laziness” is really a subconscious desire to conserve energy often in language use. Language DOES take a tax on our bodies, like everything else we do, so it is in our nature to want to simplify phonetically taxing words. This is why we no longer pronounce the “gh” in words like though or the k in words like knight. Phonetically, language has a tendency to simplify.

11)  The p in English is aspirated if it’s at the beginning of a word and not followed by a liquid consonant (like l as in plan). In Spanish and French, it’s also like it is in plan or span, unaspirated. The same rule in English is true of things with the “k” sound (such as kit and cat) and the “t” sound (as in tap), and conversely, the same is true in the Romance languages that in all positions, they are unaspirated. You may have never noticed this before. This is because in English, the aspiration is part of the concept of an “allophone.” This means in our minds, we consider them both to be the same sound (or phoneme, i.e. mental abstraction of a sound or set of related sounds that don’t alter the meaning of a word if someone uses the wrong one) even though in a literal sense, they are not. We don’t bother to pay attention to the difference because we don’t use aspirated p and unaspirated p to differenciate between words. The Koreans, however, do, and therefore, in Korean, they are two different phonemes, while in English, they are allophones of the same phoneme.

12)  With William the Conqueror in 1066 came a rush of French vocabulary which would go on to change English forever. A very large amount of our vocabulary comes from Old French and has given us nearly twice the vocabulary of most other Western European languages.

13)  Basque. Basque is not related to any other European language and its origins are rather a mystery to linguists. The other 3 listed, Catalan, Spanish and Galician, are not only all Indo-European, but all Romance languages and closely related ones at that. ‘

14) Norwegian and Swedish are the most mutually intelligible of these 4 choices. They are close enough that one could argue the main reasons they are considered different languages rather than dialects is for nationalistic reasons more than linguistic ones. French and Spanish, though related, are not generally mutually intelligble, though they do surely have things in common. German and English are also from the same family of languages, but have both evolved away from each other dramatically enough that mutual understanding without study is usually more dificult than not. Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese are an interesting situation, in that though they are often treated as very related for social reasons, very different and not mutually intelligible.

15)  Finnish is not Germanic, but rather in the Uralic language family along with languages like Hungarian and Estonian.

16)  Thought. Full. Ness. (yes, two t’s on full, because that is the original word.)

17)  Dog. S. The s indicates plurality, so this is why, even being a tiny word, it needs to be broken down like this. They are both meaningful parts.

18)  Slowness and drinkable

19)  Darkroom and football

20)  Syntax is the study of the formation of grammatical sentences and unfortunately, involves a lot of mapping that would have been incredibly annoying to put up on a site like this, hence why this was my only syntax question.


These are some great books that could be useful too you if you do want to know more: 

"Do You Speak American?" by Robert MacNeil & William Cran

"Language Myths" edited by Laurie Bauer & Peter Trudgill

"The Stuff of Thought" by Steven Pinker 

Language in Society" by Suzanne Romaine

"How Languages are Learned" by Patsy M Lightbrown & Nina Spada

If you happen to be a Portuguese speaker, "Sofrendo a Grámatica" and "A Língua do Brasil Amanhã e Outros Mistérios" are excellent light linguistics reading as well. 



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Most people don't know much about the actual nature of language and it seems you're not too different from most people. Sorry pal! It's never too late to learn more ... Read more

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