Star/Steer, 1966 Ian Hamilton Finlay © The estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay Poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay experimented with the physical possibilities of language – its shape, texture, colour and the way it’s laid out on the page – as well recognising the power of language to shape our the way we see the world. In 1967 he published his first book of concrete poetry (poetry in which the layout and typography of the words contributes to its overall … Continue reading this article

We want to find out a little bit about you. Can you spot all of the Curious posts and answer them all? Where in the world are you from? Are you from a country that speaks English as its main language? Or does your country have lots of official or unofficial languages? Let us know in the poll and then tell us more in the comments!

In Alice in Wonderland, there are lots of crazy conversations, like the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and lots of poems that are full of words that are very strange to Alice. She hasn’t grown up in Wonderland, so she doesn’t understand its language! Learning different languages is hard because each language is composed of different kinds of sounds. For example, English-speaking people can tell the different sounds in English apart very easily, but they find it much harder to differentiate … Continue reading this article

Truisms, 1984 Jenny Holzer © Jenny Holzer In the late 1970s, Jenny Holzer devised nearly 300 slogans which play on commonly held truths and clichés. The Truisms are deliberately challenging, presenting a spectrum of often-contradictory opinions. Holzer hoped they would sharpen people’s awareness of the ‘usual baloney they are fed’ in daily life. Truisms, 1984 Jenny Holzer © Jenny Holzer When phrases like this are looked at on their own, there’s a kind of challenge to the viewer to figure … Continue reading this article

We want to find out a little bit about you. Can you spot all of the Curious posts and answer them all? We want to know how many languages you can speak right now. Specifically, how many do you speak fluently – do you speak, read and write more than English? Maybe you have a parent from another country so you speak a different language at home? Tell us your answer in the poll below, and let us know more … Continue reading this article

Txtspk baffles me. When my students text me “C U L8R” it takes me a while to figure out what they mean. But that’s because I was not brought up with mobile phones and SMS – yes I really am that old! Most young people today use textisms with ease. They make up new abbreviations that refer to particular words or phrases, often in a playful way. Try ROFL – do you know what that means? It made me laugh … Continue reading this article

Pacific, 1996 Yukinori Yanagi © Yukinori Yanagi Languages other than English have been taught in our schools for many years. When my parents went to school they were taught Latin – but that was a very long time ago! I was taught French and Spanish. I’ve forgotten most of my Spanish but I can still speak French – although not very well. But who decides which languages children should learn? China has a rapidly growing economy and is becoming very … Continue reading this article

Should written English be made easier to learn to read? Written Activity No. 7, 1969 Jack Smith © Jack Smith Learning to read and write in English is not easy. This is because of the way the letters link to the sounds in English words. Try reading the sentence below: “Come home gnome!” What do you notice about the letters and sounds in these words? Each word shares three letters in the same order – ome – yet they sound … Continue reading this article

Do you have a baby brother or sister? How much do you think they understand? For several years now scientists have been trying to find out how much babies understand about the speech around them. From a very early age babies are starting to learn the words for everyday objects and actions. They even become aware of common sounds in certain places in words, such as sounds at the beginning and ends of words. This helps them know where words … Continue reading this article

In her adventures in Wonderland, Alice talks to many different creatures including a rabbit, a mouse, a caterpillar, a dodo, a lizard, a cat and others. But how can they understand her? Does your pet understand you? Girl and Cat, 1791 John Russell © Tate The question of whether or not animals have language has puzzled scientists for decades. Through observing animal behaviour it seems that animals communicate with each other. For example, the song of birds, the changing colour … Continue reading this article