Language Learning for a Small World and a Big Introduction

December 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

Most commercials make me hit the mute button or click “Skip this Ad.” But some I like so much that I search them out on Youtube for a second, third, and fourth look. Here are two of those.

The first one, from Rosetta Stone Language Learning, begins with this: “Imagine the world if everyone learned just one more language. Imagine the stories we’d share.”

The second one, my favorite of the two, is from the American Heart Association. It opens with the words “Hello, Jack. Hello, Jack. I am your grandfather. I waited so long to meet you”—and ends with a nice surprise. (By the way, from what I can tell, the grandfather is learning his English from a Langenscheidt pocket dictionary.)

Advertisements

Pick a Name, Any Name (Well, Not Any Name)

September 18, 2014 § 4 Comments

2344959709_a50d4bffa5_z

For two years in the late 90s, Peter Hessler taught English in Fuling, China, as part of the Peace Corps. His experiences are the subject of his best-selling River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.

In one passage, he writes about the interesting English names that his students had chosen for themselves, including a girl who was named Keller, after Helen Keller:

This was a common pattern; some of them had taken their names from people they admired, which explained why we had a Barbara (from Barbara Bush), an Armstrong (Neil Armstrong), and an idealistic second-year student called Marx. A few had translated their Chinese names directly—House, Yellow, North. There was one boy whose English name was Lazy. “My name is Lazy,” he said, on the first day of class. “I am very lazy. I do not like to play basketball or football or do many things. My hobbies are sleeping.”

Other names made less sense. There was a Soddy, a Sanlee, a Ker. Some were simply unfortunate: a very small boy called Pen, a very pretty girl named Coconut. One boy was called Daisy . . . .

Not all of the “unfortunate” names came from the students themselves. When the students asked for surnames to pair with their English given names, Adam, Hessler’s fellow teacher, gave Nancy the last name Drew. And when Mo asked Hessler for a surname, he became Mo Money.

I have some friends from Taiwan with less than mainstream English names. But who can blame them? Aren’t a lot of American names just a combination of letters, with no real meaning or heritage? And don’t people sometimes take common words and turn them into names for their children? Yes, both are true, but for some reason, some names seem to sound less right than others. Why not Mray? Why not Cabinet?

But who am I to judge? Before I moved to Taipei, I asked a friend from China for a Chinese name. He gave me Ke Lai, based on the sound of Craig. I liked it. And even after my new friends in Taiwan said it wasn’t a great name, I hung on to it, even going so far as to come up with a tortured defense for it. Ke means “overcome” and lai means “come,” so I figured that my name could match up with the first words spoken by the Master in The Analects of Confucius: “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?” (overcoming?) and “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?” (come).

“Okaaaaaay . . . ,” said my my gracious friends, “but maybe it’s not quite right. It doesn’t sound Chinese.”

I didn’t want to give in—it was my name—until I realized that the Chinese for Chrysler is Ke-lai-se-le. I didn’t mind that my name sounded foreign, but sounding like a foreign car company was a little too much.

So how would you help an international friend who’s looking for an English name? Maybe you’d like to point them to the Bible as a good source for names. According to the Social Security Administration, during the first decade of the 2000s, 8 of the top 10 baby-boy names came from the Bible. But the Bible isn’t failsafe. Not every biblical name should be considered a good candidate. Some names have bad backstories (think, Judas and Jezebel), and some just don’t pass the sound test (for example, Shammua and Abishag).

To help out, below is my contribution to the cause. It’s a list of over 170 biblical names that have, over the years, often been used in the US. Following each name is its designation for males or females, its meaning (if it’s known), and some of the more well-known people (or in a few cases, places) in the Bible with that name.

By the way, this list makes up an appendix to Putting Words in Our Mouths: A Look at Biblical Expressions in American English. I started in Genesis, and I’ve made it through Revelation, explaining over 150 entries along the way. If you haven’t already, please drop by. You’ll probably be surprised at how often we quote the Bible without even knowing it.

So from Aaron to Zachariah, here we go. (Sorry, Zuriel didn’t quite make the cut.)

Aaron (m), possibly “teacher, lofty, mountain of strength”—Moses’ brother, first high priest

Abigail (f), “father’s joy”—King David’s wife

Abraham (m), “father of a great multitude”—father of the Hebrew people

Adam (m), “earthy, red, human”—the first man

Alexander (m), “defender of man”—member of the Jewish ruling council; man expelled from the church

Amos (m), “carried, burden, weighty”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Amos

Andrew (m), “manly, strong man”—Jesus’ apostle

Anna (f), “grace”—New Testament prophetess

Bartholomew (m), “son of Tolmai”—Jesus’ apostle

Benjamin (m), “son of the right hand”—Jacob’s son

Bethany (f), “house of dates, house of misery”—village east of Jerusalem

Caleb (m), “dog”—one of the Israelite spies sent to bring back a report about Canaan

Candace (f) possibly “one who is contrite”—queen of Ethiopia

Claudia (f) possibly “lame”—follower of Jesus in Rome

Dan (m), “judge, judgment”—son of Jacob

Daniel (m), “judgment of God” —Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Daniel

David (m), “beloved”—king of Israel who wrote many of the Psalms

Deborah (f), “bee”—nurse of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife; prophetess and judge of Israel

Eli (m), “lifting up”—Old Testament high priest

Elisabeth (Elizabeth) (f), “God is her oath”—John the Baptist’s mother

Ethan (m), “enduring, strong”—descendant of Judah; descendant of Levi

Eve (f), possibly “life, giver of life”—first woman

Gabriel (m), “God is my strength, champion of God”—angel

Hannah (f), “grace”—mother of Samuel, the Old Testament prophet

Isaac (m), “laughter”—Abraham’s son

Jacob (m), “one who grabs the heel, supplanter, deceiver“—son of Isaac, father of the Israelites

James (m), “supplanter”—Jesus’ apostle, brother of John; Jesus’ apostle, son of Alphaeus; Jesus’ brother and writer of the Book of James

Jared (m), “descent”—ancestor of Noah

Jason (m), “one who heals”—Thessalonian Christian; Paul’s relative

Jeremiah (m) “raised up by God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations (and possibly 1 and 2 Kings); Old Testament priest

Jesse (f/m) possibly “gift, wealthy”—King David’s father

Joel (m), “the Lord is his God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Joel

Joanna (f) “the Lord’s grace”—manager of King Herod’s household and follower of Jesus

John (m), “the Lord’s grace”—”John the Baptist,” prophet who announced the arrival of Jesus and baptized him; Jesus’ apostle and writer of the Gospel of John, Revelation,  and 1, 2, and 3 John; “John Mark,” companion of Paul and Barnabas, writer of the Gospel of Mark

Jonathan (m), “the Lord’s gift”—son of King Saul and friend of David

Jordan (m/f), “descender”—river in Israel

Joseph (m), “increase”—Jacob’s son who was sold as a slave by his brothers and who gained great authority in Egypt; husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother; Jesus’ brother; “Joseph of Arimathea” in whose grave Jesus was buried; one of two Christians presented as possible replacements for Judas as an apostle

Joshua (m), “the Lord saves”—leader of the Israelites after Moses died, writer of the Book of Joshua

Judith (f), “of Judea”—Esau’s wife

Julia (f), “downy, soft hair”—Christian in Rome

Leah (f), possibly “weary”—Jacob’s wife

Lois (f), possibly “better”—grandmother of Timothy, who was Paul’s companion

Luke (m), “light giving”—a physician and Paul’s companion who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts

Lydia (f), possibly “woman of the province of Lydia”—the first European to become a Christian

Mark (Marcus) (m), possibly “polite, shining”—companion of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter and writer of the Gospel of Mark

Martha (f), “lady, bitterness”—sister of Mary and Lazarus

Mary (f), possibly “rebellion”—Jesus’ mother; Martha and Lazarus’ sister who anointed Jesus feet with perfume; “Mary Magdalene,” follower of Jesus who was first to see him after the resurrection

Matthew (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote the Gospel of Matthew

Micah (m), “who is like God?”—Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Micah

Michael (m), “who is like God?”—angel

Miriam (f), possibly “rebellion”—Moses’ sister

Moriah (f)—possibly “chosen by the Lord”—region where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac; “Mount Moriah” where Solomon built the temple

Naomi (f), ”lovable, my delight”—mother-in-law of Ruth

Nathan (m), “gift, given”—Old Testament prophet

Nathaniel (Nathanael) (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle

Nicolas (m), “conqueror of the people, victory of the people”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Noah (m), possibly “rest” —man who built the ark and whose family was saved from the flood

Paul (m), “little”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 13 books of the New Testament

Peter (m), “rock, stone”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 1 and 2 Peter

Philip (m), “lover of horses”—Jesus’ apostle; one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem

Rachel (f), “sheep, ewe”—Jacob’s wife and mother of Joseph and Benjamin

Rebekah (f), possibly “ensnarer”—Isaac’s wife and mother of Jacob and Esau

Ruth (f), possibly “friend”—non-Jewish woman who married Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus, subject of Old Testament book named after her

Samuel (m), “heard of God, asked of God”—Old Testament judge and prophet, and possible writer of Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel

Sarah (f), “princess”—wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac

Seth (m), “compensation, a substitute”—son of Adam and Eve

Sharon (f), “a plain”—coastal plain in Israel

Simon (m), “he hears, hearing”—original name of Jesus’ apostle Peter; “Simon the Zealot,” Jesus’ apostle; Jesus’ brother; man who carried Jesus’ cross

Stephen (m), “crown”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem, first Christian martyr

Tabitha (f), “gazelle”—Christian woman with a reputation for helping others, she died and Peter brought her back to life

Thomas (m), “twin”—Jesus’ apostle

Timothy (m), “honored by God, honoring God”—companion of Paul, who wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him

Titus (m), “honorable”—companion of Paul, who wrote the Book of Titus to him

Zachariah (Zechariah) (m), “God remembered”—king of Israel; Old Testament prophet; father of John the Baptist

(Peter Hessler, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Harper, 2001)

[photo: “This is not my name,” by Jasper Visser, used under a Creative Commons license]

Noel, Missouri: Small-Town America and International City

August 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

10928762_e1b81e1c18_zFor many, strongman J. D. “The Ice Man” Anderson put Noel, Missouri, on the map. Leading up to his quarterfinals performance on America’s Got Talent this week, he talked about how the people in his hometown “wouldn’t even fill up the balcony at Radio City Music Hall.” He then went on to snap baseball bats in two, smash cinder blocks, and run headlong into blocks of ice.

Ask your grandparents and they might remember Noel’s heyday as a place to send holiday mail for its “Christmas City” postmark. With the help of singer Kate Smith telling the “Noel Story” on the radio in the 40s and 50s, more than half a million pieces of mail passed through Noel each year in the days leading up to Christmas.

Noel’s high point as “Christmas City” is probably behind it (the high point for mailing Christmas cards anywhere is probably in the past), and Anderson didn’t make it to the semifinals of America’s Got Talent.

But that doesn’t mean Noel’s time in the spotlight is gone. In fact, the small Ozark town can now stake a claim as an international city, with more per-capita cultural diversity than most metropolises hundreds of times its size.

The Joplin Globe reports that it all started when the Hudson Foods chicken plant in Noel recruited Hispanic workers from along the US-Mexican border. After Tyson bought the plant in 1998, more and more immigrants arrived, including refugees from Africa. Today, nearly two-thirds of the plants 1,500 workers are “minorities,” representing such places as Mexico, Somalia, Sudan, Micronesia, Kenya, Laos, Myanmar, and Ethiopia.

But the influx of immigrant workers to this town of 1,800 hasn’t always gone smoothly. A 2002 article in The Kansas City Star focuses on the difficulties—the graffiti, the stares, the shouted slurs. James Carroll, mayor of Noel, tells The Globe that when the Somalis came to town, a Mexican resident said to him, “I now know how you felt when we came here.”

According to a broadcast from Harvest Public Media, which was aired by NPR, in August of last year the tires on more than a dozen cars owned by Somalis were slashed. And Somali workers say they don’t feel welcome at Kathy’s Kountry Kitchen on Main Street, where servers wear t-shirts that say, “I got caught eating at the KKK.”

While it’s clear that some in the Noel community wish the immigrants and refugees hadn’t come, there are also many in Noel open to the changes and helpful to the new arrivals.

“If you want to know what America is,” Angie Brewer tells Harvest Public Media, “come sit in front of the feed store and watch people go by in a turban, in an island skirt and in their overalls, and they’re all just going to work.” Brewer is principal at Noel Elementary, where about 11 languages are spoken by the school’s 400 students. She says that the schools are the “government agency in town.” “People come here if they need shoes, if they need clothes, if they’re hungry. We send 37 backpacks home every weekend with kids that just don’t have enough food.”

The schools play a big part in the lives of the immigrant children because of the opportunities that education provides. This is a theme that we hear in comments, recorded by Harvest Public Media, of the children of the immigrant workers:

Soe Soe, 18, from Myanmar, grew up in refugee camp in Thailand. Instead of going to high school, he works at the plant to support his family, taking English classes in Noel offered by Crowder College. “I have problem,” he says. “I cannot speak English. I think one day, when my sister already 18, I can go school. She say, ‘Don’t worry my brother. I gonna support you.'”

Eighteen-year-old Oscar is from Mexico. He came to Noel with his mother when he was two and was a senior in high school at the time of the interview. “Right after high school, I will be going to college. I will be the first of my family to go to college. That’s what motivates me, right now, to finish high school.”

Brewer and her colleagues want to make sure that none of the children miss out on the benefits of a good education. They want to make sure that none miss out on having any of their needs met. “No one’s going to fall through a crack in Noel, Missouri,” she tells Harvest Public Media.

It’s not going to happen. I mean some of these are my own children’s friends and these are my friends. They’re real people and you’re not reading about them on TV or hearing about them. They’re people that I know. I’ve been to their house. I’ve sat on their couch. I’ve held their hand. They’re real people and they deserve the best.

(“Noel Christmas Postmarks,” Noel, MO; Wally Kennedy, “Somali Refugees Follow Mexican Immigration to Missouri Community,” The Joplin Globe, May 7, 2011; Donald Bradley, “In Small-Town Missouri, a Collision of Cultures,” The Kansas City Star, June 11, 2012; Abbie Fentress Swanson, “Noel, Mo.: Schools Build Safety Net for Immigrant Children,” Harvest Public Media, October 27, 2013; Peggy Lowe and Abbie Fentress Swanson, “Their Dreams, in Their Own Words,” Harvest Public Media)

[photo: “Immigrant Nation,” by Ruby Sinreich, used under a Creative Commons license]

A New Blog: “Putting Words in Our Mouths”

July 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

2250062732_5d9670fba0_zThe Bible has been called the most quoted, most translated, most published, most sold, and most shoplifted book of all time. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of its ideas on Western culture. And, particularly in the translation completed under the direction of King James I of England in 1611, it has had a leading role in shaping the English language and English literature. Alister McGrath, in his book In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture, writes,

No other book has so permeated and penetrated the hearts and speech of the English race as has the Bible. . . . The King James Bible, along with the words of William Shakespeare, is regularly singled out as one of the most foundational influences on the development of the modern English language.

I wrote Putting Words in Our Mouths: A Look at Biblical Expressions in American English with English learners in mind, to teach them the meanings of commonly used phrases and to familiarize them with the stories and concepts of the Bible. Familiarity with the Bible leads to a better understanding of the art, history, music, politics, and customs of English-speaking peoples. The authors of The Bible Literacy Report II state, “Almost without exception, English professors we surveyed at major American colleges and universities see knowledge of the Bible as a deeply important part of a good education.” The report quotes a professor from Northwestern University who calls the Bible the “most influential text in all of Western culture.”

But this doesn’t mean that all English speakers are aware of or understand the Bible’s influence. In fact, serious English-language students who gain a basic knowledge of the Bible may find themselves ahead of many native speakers.

Today, biblical words and phrases—including idioms—appear in informal conversation, news articles, blogs, television shows, movies, popular songs, and literature. Even the word bible itself has a place in modern English as any “authoritative book on a particular subject.” Bible comes from a Greek word meaning “books.” This is because the Bible is a collection of 66 books, written by at least 40 men over about 1500 years. And on the pages of these books are written many well-known stories, some of which take place on a grand scale or involve huge groups of people—such as Noah and the flood, the 10 plagues of Egypt, and the journey of the Israelites to the Promised Land. Therefore, something that is “enourmous or extremely extensive” can be said to be of biblical proportions or on a biblical scale.

I invite you to join me on a journey through the Bible, using common English expressions as our stepping stones.  We’ll start at the best place possible . . . in the beginning.


The format of Putting Words in Our Mouths is simple. Each word or phrase is introduced with its definition and a sample sentence showing how it can be used in conversation. Then an explanation of the word/phrase’s origin follows, along with the biblical passage from which it comes. Where it differs from the more modern translation, I’ve included in brackets the expression in its King James version.

I will be adding expressions as time permits, moving from Genesis to Revelation. You can view all the posts in order by clicking on Browse All Entries in the right-hand column. You can also look for specific topics by using the search field.

(Wachlin, Mary, and Byron R. Johnson, The Bible Literacy Report II: What University Professors Say Incoming Students Need to Know, Bible Literacy Project, 2006)

[photo: “Used Bible,” by Doug 1021, used under a Creative Commons license]

Senior Citizens Teach English, Food Photogs Feed the Hungry, and Coca-Cola Makes a Rainbow

May 28, 2014 § 4 Comments

When teenagers teach senior citizens about the internet, cultures are crossed.

When the two groups use the internet to communicate between countries, the culture crossing is even greater . . . and the results are very cool.

The global advertising agency FCB and the Brazilian English school CNA have teamed up for the Speaking Exchange, a campaign that matches English learners in Brazil to retirement-home residents in the US, using video chat.

The idea is based on the premise “Students want to practice English, and elderly people someone to talk to.” CNA calls it “an exchange in which everyone wins.” Using the Speaking Exchange program, students find seniors looking to talk and begin their interaction with guided topics. They progress to free chatting and their conversation is uploaded to a private YouTube channel where it is evaluated by a teacher.

Currently, the Speaking Exchange is in a trial period, but retirement communities can sign up at the program site to be notified when “official activities” begin.

Brazil’s Speaking Exchange is just one example of the creative campaigns produced by FCB, which operates in 90 counties. Here’s another.

Food Photos: Share and Share Alike

Next time you snap a pic of your Caesar salad, you photo may just get “liked” by Chamissidini from Niger. This Chamissidini isn’t a real girl, instead her profile is one of many, created by UNICEF New Zealand and FCB, to represent needy children in the developing world. When food photos are uploaded to Instagram, they’re liked by the UNICEF profiles. And when the photographers look to see who their new fans are, they’re invited to visit foodphotossavelives.org.nz. There they can purchase meals for the hungry and download Instagram-style images of emergency aid items to share . . . and continue the conversation.

And here’s one more.

The Colors of a Country

To celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa last month, FCB Johannesburg helped Coca-Cola create an actual rainbow in the capital’s downtown—a skyline-sized symbol of what Desmond Tutu dubbed “the Rainbow Nation.” “In South Africa I’m a person because of other people.” says one resident. “We call it ubundu.”

If You Could Talk to the Animals . . . You’d Know They Have Accents, Too

February 11, 2014 § 4 Comments

3256530575_3b4016287d_nLooks like my See ‘n Say needs a regional update.

When a woman from Nevada asked the folks at How to Do Everything, “How would a person moo in a British accent?” the hosts of the podcast looked to none other than Sir Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek and X-Men fame). He turned out to be a good choice, as discerning between cattle accents seems to be one of his areas of expertise. “In England,” he says, “we’re dominated by class, by social status, and by location.” And, according to Stewart, it’s the same for cows, too.

But while Stewart’s imitations of cows from West Oxfordshire, cows from Yorkshire, Cockney cows, urban cows, and well-bred cows were done with a mock earnestness, animal accents is a legitimate field of study. And there are no shortage of specialists—particularly in Great Britain—who take animal accents very seriously. Seriously indeed:

Goats say . . .

[Researchers] found that a goats’ “accent” changed as they grew older and moved in different groups, disproving claims that their voices were entirely genetic.

The team, from Queen Mary University of London, said their findings are the first to suggest that most mammals can develop an accent from their surroundings.

The findings have caused great excitement in the science community amid suggestions that “if goats can do it, maybe all mammals accents can be affected by their surroundings.”

(“Goats ‘Can Develop Their Own Accents,’” The Telegraph, February 16, 2012)

Dogs say . . .

The woof guide found Scouse and Scottish pets have the most distinctive growl—but there were differences in tone and pitch across the country.

Tracey Gudgeon, of the Canine Behaviour Centre in Cumbria, said: “It seems dogs are more able to imitate stronger, more distinctive accents than softer ones. It’s one of the ways they bond with their owner.” Idea for the research came with today’s re-release of 1955 Disney classic Lady and The Tramp on a special edition DVD.

The study even found some dogs have “posh” accents—just like Lady in the animated film. A delighted Disney spokesman said: ‘It seems we were right all along.”

(“Exclusive: Experts Say Dogs Growl with Regional Accents,” Mirror, February 13, 2006)

Cows say . . .

Cows have regional accents like humans, language specialists have suggested.

They decided to examine the issue after dairy farmers noticed their cows had slightly different moos, depending on which herd they came from.

Farmer Lloyd Green, from Glastonbury, said: “I spend a lot of time with my ones and they definitely moo with a Somerset drawl.

“I’ve spoken to the other farmers in the West Country group and they have noticed a similar development in their own herds.”

(“Cows Also ‘Have Regional Accents,'” BBC News, August 23, 2006)

Apes say . . .

Gibbons have regional accents, a new study suggests. While not a sexy Southern drawl, these accents can help scientists identify the species of gibbon singing and where they are from.

“Each gibbon has its own variable song but, much like people, there is a regional similarity between gibbons within the same location,” lead researcher Van Ngoc Thinh, from the Primate Genetics Laboratory at the German Primate Center, said in a statement.

(Jennifer Welsh, “Singing in the Rain Forest: Gibbons Have Accents,” LiveScience, February 7, 2011)

Bats say . . .

Researcher Brad Law of the Forest Science Center found that bats living in the forests along the east coast of the state of New South Wales had different calls.

He said scientists had long suspected bats had distinctive regional calls—as studies have shown with some other animals—but this was the first time it had been proven in the field.

(“Australian Scientists Find Bats Have Regional Accents,” Reuters, September 13, 2010)

Whales say . . .

Dalhousie Ph.D. student Shane Gero has recently returned from a seven-week visit to Dominica. He has been traveling to the Caribbean island since 2005 to study families of sperm whales, usually spending two to four months of each year working on the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. One of the goals of this project is to record and compare whale calls over time, examining the various phrases and dialects of sperm whale communities.

When they dive together, sperm whales make patterns of clicks to each other known as “codas.” Recent findings suggest that not only do different codas mean different things, but that whales can also tell which member of their community is speaking based on the sound properties of the codas. Just as we can tell our friends apart by the sounds of their voices and the way they pronounce their words, different sperm whales make the same pattern of clicks, but with different accents.

(“Whales Have Accents and Regional Dialects: Biologists Interpret the Language of Sperm Whales,” May 12, 2011)

Dolphins say . . .

Dolphins on the east and west coasts of Scotland have different “accents.”

White-beaked dolphins use a complex system of tail slaps, whistles and clicks which were believed to be common among the species. But expert Olivia Harries said: “They use different clicks on the east coast than those on the west coast.”

(“Study Reveals Dolphins on Scotland’s East and West Coasts Have Different ‘Accents,'” Daily Record, November 9, 2013)

Birds say . . .

The [yellowhammer’s] song differs in terms of pitch and tone, especially in the final part, depending on where an individual bird is found. Birds can also add in various “phrases” to their song, according to their dialect.

Experts believe that dialects can be so thick they may hinder the chances of birds breeding with partners from other areas.

(Jasper Copping, “Britain’s Birds Boast a Colourful Array of Regional Accents,” The Telegraph, May 19, 2013)

City Birds say . . .

A group of scientists from Aberystwyth University studying the great tit’s dulcet tones have discovered that the birds sing their songs at a higher pitch in built-up areas to help them travel further. . . .

Researchers from the West Wales university, working alongside colleagues in Copenhagen, have found that it is the buildings that are changing the way birds sing in cities. . . .

“Our cities are packed with reflective surfaces, open spaces and narrow channels, which you just don’t get in woodland,” said researcher Emily Mockford. . . . “The higher notes mean the echoes disappear faster and the next note is clearer.”

(“Urban Birds Find Their Voice with a New Kind of Twitter,” Wales Online, December 13, 2011)

and Ducks say . . .

“Cockney” ducks from London make a rougher sound, not unlike their human counterparts, so their fellow quackers can hear them above the city’s hubbub. But their Cornish cousins communicate with a softer, more relaxed sound, the team from Middlesex University found.

(“Ducks ‘Quack in Regional Accents,’” BBC News, June 4, 2004)

So, what are the practical ramifications of all these findings? I’m not quite sure, but I have come up with one thing: Whenever you’re faced with that crucial question of our time, “What does the fox say?” you should reply, “That depends on where the fox is from.”

[photo: “See ‘N Say,” by Chris Murphy, used under a Creative Commons license]

It’s the New Year, So How About a New Accent?

January 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

11678039353_deb2f45a1b_nIf you’re tired of failing your do-or-die New Year’s resolutions, maybe you should make a resolution lite.

Can’t see yourself losing 50 pounds? Why not shoot for 15?

Don’t want to read a book a week? Maybe a page a day is more your speed.

And if you’re not ready to learn a new language, here’s an alternative: Acquire an accent instead.

Learn Accents from a Pro

Professional help is just a couple clicks, and a couple minutes, away. Just listen to Gareth Jameson, London-based actor and voice coach, and you’ll be speaking like a Brit, or an Aussie, or a German speaking English, in no time. Take your pick from Jameson’s series of 19 videos at Videojug.

“The key to any accent,” says Gareth Jameson, “is to isolate the sounds that are specific to that accent.” Isolating—and reproducing—those sounds is tough for me. To my ear, there are two kinds of English: American and non-American. Tell me to imitate a Scott, and it comes out as something like a parody of Ringo Starr. Same for imitating a South African or an Australian. I know they don’t really sound alike, but I just don’t know exactly why.

So hear you go (yeah, I meant to do that). Click on the photos below for a sampling of videos, or go to the complete gallery, and soon you’ll be well on your way to annoyi . . . I mean, impressing your friends.

[photo: “Happy New Year!” by Chris Chabot, used under a Creative Commons license]

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the ESL and EFL category at Clearing Customs.

%d bloggers like this: