Welcome to the Adventures

26 June 2009

Friday Language Rant

Why do the languages of the world have to have such complicated sounds? In English we have the famous "th" sound that children and ESL-ers alike have difficulty pronouncing. In Spanish I struggle daily with the "rr" sound. Oh, it's easy, everyone tells me. Just pretend you are riding a motorcycle and make the sound with your tongue "rrRRrrRRrrRRrr". No, not that easy. Really. I also have problems with the "l". I think sometimes I wasn't to roll my l's. I don't know why. It's something that my tongue does with my brain telling it. In German, I also work hard to say the r's because they are tapped, not rolled, or barely pronounced like English. And the ö? Wtf is that? It sounds like someone hit you in the stomach "öh!"

Maybe, what I'm getting at is the basis for the accents we carry in a particular language. Our pronunciation affects everything. It affects how people understand us, and how well we understand others.

Would it be easier if there was a language that consisted of, say the easiest sounds ever? We could do away with the rr's, the ö's and the th's of the world and exist in more pronounceable world. Obviously, I'm dreaming, and venting a little.

What do you think? What are the hardest sounds for you to say in a given language?

22 June 2009

Where Does Dialect Stop and Grammar Begin?

Examining dialect and grammar in emails.

Here's the scenario. You work with someone who is from the south, where the spoken dialect includes words such as ya'll and ain't. You are trying to sell something to this person, so in order to appear friendly, you adopt their lingo. The usage of these dialectal words shows up in emails as well. If words such as ya'll and ain't are used in an email, is it poor grammar (in this scenario, you are someone who is a prescriptionist) or is it an extension of dialect?

My argument is that it is an extension of dialect. Even within a business setting, many people write emails as if they were talking to the recipient - more informal than "professional." And if they write as if they were holding a conversation, then it makes more sense that using dialectal words is an extension of dialect rather than poor grammar.

What do you think?

19 June 2009

Word Buzz Friday: Top 25 German Words

Hello everyone! I hope your week has been a little less hectic and chaotic than my own. I was just thinking recently that the last time I was in German was exactly two years ago. While I wish I could travel there more frequently, I will just have to settle for German online for now. That is why I discovered this list of the top 25 German nouns. Can you see how many of them are cognates? (Remember my last post?) For more German words click here. Bis Bald!

1. das Jahr, -e year 14. die Leute (pl.) people
2. das Mal, -e time (as in number of times) 15. die Arbeit, -en work, job
3. das Beispiel, -e example 16. das Prozent, -e percent
4. die Zeit time 17. die Hand, -¨e hand
5. die Frau, -en woman, wife, Mrs. 18. die Stadt, -¨e city
6. der Mensch, -en human being, man 19. der Herr, -en man, gentleman, Mr.
7. das Kind, -er child 20. der/das Teil, -e part
8. der Tag, -e day 21. das Problem, -e problem
9. der Mann, -¨er man 22. die Welt, -en world
10. das Land, -¨er country, land 23. das Recht, -e right, law
11. die Frage, -n question 24. das Ende, -n end
12. das Haus, -¨er house 25. die Million (Mio.), -en million
13. der Fall, -¨e fall, case

18 June 2009

Language Learning Issues

As most travelers and expats know, language is very important. Maybe you already speak the language of your host country, but some of the words are different, like the difference between American and Australian English. Or maybe you know nothing. Not even "hello", "goodbye" or "please" and "thank you". Language can really make or break your experience because it's so vital to our everyday lives. One small slip up can be the difference between a friendly smile or a cold shoulder.

To make matters worse, many times there are words that you think you know because they appear so similar to your native tongue. But, be careful of these false cognates. Here are some in Spanish as provided by www.spanish.bz.

spanish word

actual english

how to really say
English version


at present actually - la verdad es que
asisistir to attend assist/help - ayudar
carpeta folder carpet - alfombra
chocar to crash choke - ahogar/sofocar
embarazada pregnant embarassed - avergonzado
éxito success exit - salida
largo long large - grande
parientes relatives parents - padres
realizar to actualize realize - darse cuenta
recordar remember record - grabar


sensitive sensible - razonable, sensato


put up with support - mantener
últimamente lately ultimately - al final
vaso drinking glass vase - jarrón

Here are some false cognates in German from www.learnenglishonline.yuku.com.

(D for Deutsch or German, E for English)

D - handy = E - a mobile phone

E - handy = D - handlich

D - Bad = E - bath

E - bad = D - schlecht

D - blamieren = E - embarass

E - blame = D - Schuld

What has your experience been with false cognates? Do you know any embarrassing ones?

12 June 2009

Word Buzz Friday

Yesterday's post was all about the one millionth word of the English language. Today's word buzz will be similar with some more of the newest words to make it into the Oxford dictionary as supplied by www.askoxford.com.

aerobicized or aerobicised
adj. (of a person's body) toned by aerobic exercise: aerobicized Hollywood women.

n. terrorist acts intended to disrupt or damage a country's agriculture.
agroterrorist n.

2. chiefly US the unintended adverse results of a political action or situation.

n. a celebrity who is well known in fashionable society.
origin 1930s: blend of celebrity and debutante.

n. a type of hip-hop or rap music characterized by repeated shouted catchphrases and elements typical of electronic dance music, such as prominent bass.
adj. US, chiefly black slang (of a person) very excited or full of energy.
origin 1990s: perh. an alt. past part. of crank1 or a blend of crazy and drunk.

the elephant in the room a major problem or controversial issue which is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.

Yogalates (also trademark Yogilates)
n. a fitness routine that combines Pilates exercises with the postures and breathing techniques of yoga.
origin 1990s: blend of yoga and Pilates.

3. a computer controlled by a hacker without the owner's knowledge, which is made to send large quantities of data to a website, making it inaccessible to other users.

Have a great weekend!

11 June 2009

One Millionth Word

Wow. I'll bet you never knew English had such an extensive vocabulary. Or if you did, pat yourself on the back.

This is what Yahoo Tech had to say about the new addition to our ever expanding language:

A U.S.-based language monitoring group crowned Web 2.0 as the one millionth word or phrase in the English language on Wednesday, although other linguists slammed it as nonsense and a stunt.

The Global Language Monitor, which uses a math formula to track the frequency of words and phrases in print and electronic media, said Web 2.0 appeared over 25,000 times in searches and was widely accepted, making it the legitimate, one millionth word.

It said Web 2.0 started out as a technical term meaning the next generation of World Wide Web products and services but had crossed into far wider circulation in the last six months.

Other linguists, however, denounced the list as pure publicity and unscientific, saying it was impossible to count English words in use or to agree on how many times a word must be used before it is officially accepted.

There are no set rules for such a count as there is no certified arbiter of what constitutes a legitimate English word and classifying the language is complicated by the number of compound words, verbs and obsolete terms.

"I think it's pure fraud ... It's not bad science. It's nonsense," Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told reporters.

Paul JJ Payack, president of the Global Language Monitor, brushed off the criticism, saying his method was technically sound.

"If you want to count the stars in the sky, you have to define what a star is first and then count. Our criteria is quite plain and if you follow those criteria you can count words. Most academics say what we are doing is very valuable," said Payack.

He has calculated that about 14.7 new English words or phrases are generated daily and said the five words leading up to the millionth highlighted how English was changing along with current social trends.

This list included "Jai Ho!" an Indian exclamation signifying victory or accomplishment, and "slumdog," a derisive term for children living in the slums of India that became popular with the Oscar-winning movie "Slumdog Millionaire."

The list also included "cloud computing," meaning services delivered via the cloud or Internet, "carbon neutral," a widely used term in the climate change debate, and "N00b," a derogatory term from the gaming community for a newcomer.

"Some 400 years after the death of the Bard, the words and phrases were coined far from Stratford-Upon-Avon, emerging instead from Silicon Valley, India, China, and Poland, as well as Australia, Canada, the U.S. and the UK," said Texas-based Payack.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)

09 June 2009

The Great Vowel Shift

Have you cursed the English language for its difficult spelling? Have you ever wondered why the spelling seems so messed up? A story from Sara's introduction brings to mind this idea. Here is what she said:
For seven months, I lived in Santiago, Chile teaching English. It made me realize how fortunate I am to have been born speaking English because if I hadn't I probably would never learn it. English, like French is not phonetic and that drives me crazy. It's why my Spanish speaking students doubted me when I told them about spelling bees. Why would anybody stage a competition around spelling when it's sooo easy? They had forgotten for a moment their own struggles to spell and pronounce some of our more difficult English words.
I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to learn English and attempt spelling. The languages that I've learned - Spanish and German - are both pretty easy to "sound out" (Spanish more so than German). This makes it easier to learn spelling and pronunciation. But English, not so much. A lot of English's "crazy" spelling can be explained by the Great Vowel Shift.

So what is the Great Vowel Shift? It is something that happened back between the years 1400 and 1600 C.E. (common era). Side note: My linguistics text book states 1400-1600 CE, but Wikipedia states this change happened between 1200 and 1600 CE. You see, languages tend to evolve over time. They change. The Great Vowel Shift is an example of one such change that has affected the way English speakers pronounce certain vowels. Evidence of this vowel shift remains in certain pairs of words. For example: please/pleasant, serene/serenity, sane/sanity. Do you hear the difference? The first word in each pair have been affected by the vowel shift, whereas the latter word has not.

So what does this have to do with spelling? At one time, English speakers DID pronounce words as they were spelled. Because spelling was pretty much already established at the time the Great Vowel Shift occurred, the pronunciation changed while the spelling did not. And that is why English has such "crazy" spelling.

Want to learn more about the Great Vowel Shift? Try starting here. You can also easily google it.