The first rule of proper English? There is no proper English

Wednesday, 25 March, 2015

I am, sometimes, and who knows why, asked to offer my advice (I almost said advise), as to what constitutes correct, or proper, English, in certain circumstances. Not an easy question really to answer, given 1200 million people, all across the globe, speak the language.

The user base is simply too diverse, too spread out, too alive and in the moment, to make the imposing of lasting rules possible. Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t learn the rules, or conventions first, before you go – as it were – breaking them.

The grammatical rules invoked by pedants aren’t real rules of grammar at all. They are, at best, just stylistic conventions: An example would be the use of a double negative (I can’t get no satisfaction). It makes complete grammatical sense, as an intensifier. It’s just a convention that we don’t use double negatives of that form in Standard English.

Read more posts on related topics

, , ,

Graffiti, with punctuation and grammar, only in Quito, Ecuador

Friday, 13 March, 2015

Just as one Wikipedia member is intent on ridding the online encyclopaedia of the grammatically incorrect phrase “comprised of” from articles, counterparts of a sort are on a mission to tidy up errors made by graffiti artists and others, in the Ecuadorian city of Quito:

In the dead of night, two men steal through the streets of Quito armed with spray cans and a zeal for reform. They are not political activists or revolutionaries: they are radical grammar pedants on a mission to correctly punctuate Ecuador’s graffiti. Adding accents, inserting commas and placing question marks at the beginning and end of interrogative sentences scrawled on the city’s walls, the vigilante editors have intervened repeatedly over the past three months to expose the orthographic shortcomings of would-be poets, forlorn lovers and anti-government campaigners.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

On devising sign language for the new words entering the language

Friday, 6 March, 2015

With new words entering our vocabulary almost daily, those charged with devising sign language terms for the deaf community must surely have their work cut out for themselves.

Just look at the Oxford English Dictionary, who added terms like “duck face,” “lolcat,” and “hawt” to their prestigious lexicon this past December. For the English-speaking world, these additions are anywhere from ridiculous to annoying but at the end of the day, the terms are accepted and agreed upon. But how do these new, internet-laden turns of phrase enter the sign language community? Was there a way of expressing “selfie” in ASL, was there a sign for “photobomb?”

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Idioms from languages other than English

Thursday, 26 February, 2015

Idioms. Where would we be without them? We probably use them so frequently that we’re not aware we actually are. “Add insult to injury”, “back to the drawing board”, “costs an arm and a leg”, or “kill two birds with one stone”, to reference but a few, that English language speakers commonly use.

I doubt we could go too wrong by incorporating such phrases from other languages into our vernacular though, even if their meaning may not be entirely clear, at least at first.

For starters, there’s “to buy a cat in a sack”, from German, or “to slide in on a shrimp sandwich” from Swedish, or “to jump from the cock to the donkey”, from French, although there are many more to choose from.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Google pronounce, helping travellers say place names correctly

Friday, 13 February, 2015

Streatham is a suburb located in South London. Supermodel Naomi Campbell was born there. We used to go and see movies at the Odeon along the high street. Not with Campbell however. But if this is by chance the first time you’ve heard of Streatham, how would you pronounce its name? It’s not quite as straightforward as it looks.

What then of all the other places across the globe that stand to be misspoken? Enter then a Google initiative, that promises to make things a little easier for travellers, by offering them the opportunity to learn the correct pronunciation of a town, or place, name ahead of time:

The patent details how Google could determine the most common pronunciation of a place name from audio clips submitted by locals, then offer that pronunciation when someone searches for the place on Google Maps. This function could be handy, as Google says in the patent, “when traveling in a foreign country.”

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

It’s not cherry, it’s not rose… time to look up the colour thesaurus

Tuesday, 21 October, 2014

Just as there are a thousand, or thereabouts, shades of grey, there are many shades of other colours. Variations of the colour red, for example, could be cherry, rose, jam, merlot, crimson, or garnet, to name but a few.

It looks to me like a colour thesaurus is something we should not be without.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

A sign language that defies our understanding of their development

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014

Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, or ABSL, is a form of sign language that has emerged in recent years among the deaf inhabitants of a village in a region of Israel’s Negev Desert. What is particularly fascinating to linguists here however is the structure of the language, which differs somewhat from many others:

ABSL provides fodder for researchers who reject the idea that there’s a genetic basis for the similarities found across languages. Instead, they argue, languages share certain properties because they all have to solve similar problems of communication under similar pressures, pressures that reflect the limits of human abilities to learn, remember, produce, and perceive information. The challenge, then, is to explain why ABSL is an outlier – if duality of patterning is the optimal solution to the problem of creating a large but manageable collection of words, why hasn’t ABSL made use of it?

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

How how our function words say things that we don’t

Tuesday, 9 September, 2014

Our use of so-called function words – such as the, this, though, I, and, there, and that – can say a lot about who we might be romantically compatible with, through to where we see our place in some sort of hierarchy, says James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychologist:

We use “I” more when we talk to someone with power because we’re more self-conscious. We are focused on ourselves – how we’re coming across – and our language reflects that.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

Could should always be an option when it comes to decision making

Monday, 8 September, 2014

From the office of infinite possibilities, an alternative problem solving method… when a decision looms, instead of asking yourself what you should do, ask instead what you could do.

Asking yourself, for example, “What should I do with my life?” tacitly implies that there’s a right and a wrong answer to that question. It seems that the word should can cause us to think in black and white, while could reveals the in-between shades of gray.

Now where was this pearl of wisdom when I needed it the most?

Read more posts on related topics

, ,

The future lies in front of us doesn’t it, or is it actually behind us?

Thursday, 28 August, 2014

When we think of the future, many of us see it as being ahead, or in front, of us. When it comes to the past, what’s behind. But not everyone visualises the future or past in those ways, and the language we speak may play a part in our perceptions in this regard. Many Moroccan Arabic speakers for example think of the future as being behind them, and the past in front.

This test confirmed that, despite speaking of the future as being in front of them, the majority of Moroccan Arabic speakers think of it as being behind. Around 85 per cent of them located tomorrow’s object behind the person in the diagram, compared with just over 10 per cent of the Spanish speakers. De la Fuente’s group think the reason has to do with temporal focus. Their theory – “the temporal-focus hypothesis” – is that people and cultures who focus more on the past tend to locate it in front.

It’s an interesting way to look at how we move through time, as if we have our backs to the future, as we move forward, meaning the future is indeed behind us, and the past is before our eyes, hence in front of us, even if we are moving away from it.

Read more posts on related topics

, ,