Humor site cracked.com have got a “top 10″-style list for almost every subject you could think of, and the English language is no exception. This time they’re lampooning the prescriptivists of the English language – those who apply rules and normative practices on the language’s spelling, grammar, syntax and pronunciation. This article lists 7 common “mistakes” in English that aren’t technically mistakes, such as split infinitives and people liberally using the word “literally” when they mean “figuratively”.
While these ‘errors’ so often fuel the ire of the grammar police, there is little – if any – evidence that they aren’t technically correct (the best kind of correct).
As always with cracked.com articles, before you click be warned that there will be plenty of foul language and childish humor! You can read the full article here.
Lifehacker ran an article today on polyglot Gabriel Wyner, an opera singer who was tasked with learning 4 languages due to his career choice. He has achieved near fluency in Italian, French, German, and most recently Russian.
His four-step method is simpler than you might think, and relies on taking each language step by step; first learning correct pronunciation, then immersing yourself entirely in the language to improve your grammar and overall vocabulary. After that, you work on listening, reading and writing, and only then do you work on improving your speaking skills. Read the article to find out more about Wyner’s language acquisition method, which has certainly proven to be pretty successful for him and serves as something of an inspiration for aspiring polyglots.
Gabriel Wyner attended a language immersion program for German back in 2004, and enjoyed it so much that he then tasked himself to learn French and Italian, followed by Russian. It helps that he’s living and working in Vienna, which means that most – if not all – of his daily routine will be performed in German. However, it’s certainly extremely impressive to have gained such fluency in 4 fairly disparate languages (French and Italian will obviously help each other out, both being romance languages) in such a short time.
The word ambidextrous is familiar to most people: it describes somebody who is be able to use both hands (and sometimes, in the case of soccer, feet) equally well. The word comes from the Latin words ambi meaning “both” (the same root for words like ambivolent) and dexter, meaning “right-handed” or simply “right”. Therefore the literal meaning is “to be right-handed in both hands”.
Since the majority of people are right-handed, being left-handed was often seen as contrary or against the norm. Since a mostly right-handed populace generally means that a society will use tools and implements primarily suited to right-handed people, anything to do with the left side was seen as unfavorable, and even potentially injurious.
This eventually gave rise to the Latin word for “left-handed” or “left”, sinister, having a rather more negative meaning in modern-day English. We use to word to describe a wicked, evil or troublesome person or deed, when the original root word simply refers to a direction.
However, this also means that ambidextrous has a wonderful, if little-known, antonym: ambisinistrous. This means to be equally clumsy or unskilled with both hands!
Most people know what a synonym is (a word that has the same or similar meaning to another word, e.g. “big” and “great”), as well as a homonym (a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, e.g. “steak” and “stake”).
However, a retronym is a little different. A retroynm is when a word is coined after the fact, because the original term has become inadequate. A simple example of a retronym is analog clock. Before digital clocks, all clocks were analog, and were just referred to as a clock; but after digital clocks became popular, the word clock alone was no longer specific enough.
Some more examples of retronyms are acoustic guitar (after electric guitars were invented), corn on the cob (after canned corn became common), dial-up internet (after broadband internet came along), live music (all music was live before the advent of recorded music), and First World War (simply known as “the Great War” or “the World War” before WW2 started in 1939).
Technological advancements and developments are responsible for a lot of retronyms, as they replace existing technology with better and faster substitutes. One of my favorite retronyms is snail mail, which became a popular phrase after email came along and made our lives easier.
I recently came across this video on YouTube of a native Arabic speaker – with no knowledge of the English language – mimicking the sound of spoken American English. Named “Mr John” by his fellow Arabic counterpart who proceeds to ask him questions, the man answers in pure gibberish, but due to the phonemes used throughout the gibberish, in a few instances he does sound like he might be talking English.
He begins every response with “yeah, um…”, which he clearly picked up from hearing American English speakers talking. Through intonation, he does occasionally manage to sound like he’s speaking English.
This clip is somewhat similar to Sqwerl, a short film made by an Australian director demonstrating what English sounds like to people who don’t understand the language.
Russian has a fearsome reputation as a tough language to learn, but it’s far more than just having to learn a new alphabet. A recent article on slavistix.nl explains six of the biggest basic hurdles of learning Russian, so those considering taking up the language should take note.
1. Stress is mobile and flexible and does not follow strict rules. The correct placement of stress is one of the major problems when learning Russian language.
2. There are 6 different cases in Russian language, inflection and declination are important features of Russian language.
3. Word order is flexible, as Russian is highly inflected. You can say красивая машина (beautiful car) or машина красивая (car beautiful) and it will be evenly grammatically correct.
4. Aspect. In addition to tense and mood Russian verbs possess a feature called aspect. They can be perfective or imperfective indicating if the action is completed.
5. Formal and an informal you. Russian is one of those languages that differentiates between a formal and an informal you. So please use the polite “Вы” for people you’ve just been introduced to and switch to the informal “ты” after you’ve been invited to do so.
6. Patronymic: a Russian name consists of the first name, patronymic and family name, eg. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, Mikhail Dmitrievich Prokhorov or Svetlana Vladimirovna Medvedeva. The patronymic does what it says – it’s based on the name of one’s father with -ovich behind it for a son and -ovna for a daughter. It is considered polite to address someone by his first name and patronymic. If you’re learning Russian there’s no better way to impress than knowing someone’s formal name. Learning to use it correctly in accordance with six cases is a completely different matter though.
Although China’s track record for joining the rest of their world in social networking isn’t the best (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are just three out of many sites that are blocked by the “Great Firewall of China” in the PRC), their language is ideally suited to it. Sites like Twitter, which force you to compress your thoughts into 140 characters or less, often force speakers of English and other languages to compress their language and use acronyms, initialisms and short forms of words. Due to the Chinese writing system, you can fit far more information into far fewer characters, and what’s more Chinese does not use spaces between words like many other languages.
The result, then, is that according to a study by economist.com, 1,000 characters in English is shortened by an average of 69 characters when translated to Chinese – and that’s even giving room for roundabout translations due to idiomatic English phrases and notions that are not familiar in Chinese.
Conversely, Romance languages such as Spanish and Italian tend to be more verbose than English, with Spanish averaging around 40 more characters than English for every 1,000.
Chinese’s relatively high language compression in microblogging is plain to see: Sina Weibo, China’s government-sanctioned version of Twitter, is not simply a site where people share short announcements, pithy wit and shortened links to other media – it is a huge base for in-depth discussion (when the topic is permissible and posts do not suddenly ‘disappear’), since far more information can be crammed into the 140 character limit than most other languages allow.
Rose Ramraj languagetrainers.com
Rose is a Blogger of all things fascinating. Her educational background is in writing and business studies. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and two mischievous toy poodles.