December 16, 2017 § 5 Comments
I’m glad I don’t have to learn English as a second language. Not only are there complex sentence patterns and odd figures of speech to figure out. But even the simple and basic things can be problematic. I’m talking about things such as yes and no. That’s about as simple and basic as you can get, right?
Well, my English-learning friends, here are six examples that say otherwise.
• Yeah, no
You hear it a lot. Maybe you say it a lot. It’s pure contradiction, yet it rolls off the tongue. (I caught myself saying it a few days ago and immediately thought, “Where in the world did that come from?” Then I washed my mouth out with two kinds of soap.)
Yeah, no. It comes about in conversations such as,
Do you like pumpkin pie?
Yeah, no, I think it’s great!
Here the meaning of the phrase is “yes,” but in other contexts it can mean “no.” It can also mean “yes” and “no,” with one part answering an actual question and the other answering an implied question. And then there are No, yeah and Yeah, no, yeah and all sorts of other variations. It’s enough to confuse even the most native of speakers. But no worry. You can pretty much ignore it, if you’d like. It doesn’t amount to much. Or does it?
The root of the matter: If you want to chew on the lexical meat of Yeah, no, take a look at Mark Liberman’s post at the University of Pennsylvania’s Language Log, where he analyzes its usage by sex and age and discusses it’s meanings. Also, “Steve at Language Hat” emailed Liberman and pointed to a 2002 article in The Australian Journal of Linguistics, in which the authors say that Yeah, no
serves a number of functions, including discourse cohesion, the pragmatic functions of hedging and face-saving, and assent and dissent.
Further thoughts from Kate Burridge, chair of linguistics at Monash University and coauthor of the aforementioned article, are referenced in The Age (another hat tip to Steve). She says that the phrase’s usage “falls into three main categories, each determined by context”: literal, where the speaker agrees in general with an idea and then adds something else; abstract, where a person accepts and then defuses a compliment; and textual, where someone agrees with what has been said but then goes back to an earlier point.
Kathryn Schulz, in The New Yorker, adds to the analysis, and the variations, with her look at No, totally. She calls the no in this phrase a contranym—a word with two, opposite, meanings—that came about through amelioration—where a negative word develops a second, positive, meaning. Another example of a contranym is dust, which can mean “to remove dust,” as in “dusting a shelf,” and “to add dust,” as in “dusting a cake with powdered sugar.” An example of amelioration is bad taking on the meaning “good,” as in, “I love that song. It’s really baaad!”
So does that mean that no can mean “yes”?
No, yeah, I guess it does.
(Mark Liberman, “Yeah No,” Language Log, April 03, 2008; Kate Burridge and Margaret Florey, “Yeah-no He’s a Good Kid’: A Discourse Analysis of Yeah-no in Australian English,” Australian Journal of Linguistics, volume 22, number 1, October 1, 2002; Birdie Smith, “Slang’s ‘Yeah No’ Debate Not All Negative,” The Age, June 11, 2004; Kathryn Schulz, “What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand?” The New Yorker, April 7, 2015)
• Yes, he isn’t.
Have you ever asked a non-native English speaker a negative question and gotten a simple “yes” as the answer? For example:
Is John not going to the movie?
So now tell me about John’s plans. Are you sure?
For native English speakers, a one-word “Yes” answer isn’t clear (Is it “Yes, he is” or “Yes, he isn’t”?), while a simple “No” most often means “No, he is not going.” I say “most often” because it’s easy to be confused. Therefore, we often follow up the “yes” or “no” with a full-sentence explanation.
The root of the matter: This hasn’t always been a problem. Gretchen McCulloch writes in The Week that things were different around the time from Chaucer to Shakespeare (about 1340 to 1580). Back then, English speakers showed agreement or disagreement with positive statements or questions by responding with “yea” or “nay,” respectively. But negative statements or questions got a “yes” or “no” response. Having the four options helped with clarity. But reduce the possibilities and you increase the potential for confusion.
(Schulz also refers to yes/no/yea/nay in her discussion of No, totally. She writes that totally [or certainly or exactly] may serve as the needed explanation following a no that harkens back to no/nay times and answers a real, or implied, negative question.)
So where is John going? The yes for many English learners would mean “Yes, he isn’t going.” But while that technically makes sense, it doesn’t sound too well to the native-speaker’s ear. That’s because English is a “truth-based” language, which means that speakers answer a negative question with the same particle (yes/no) that they would use for a similar positive question, and the particle agrees with the positive/negative value of the sentence answer (“Yes, he is” or “No, he isn’t). But many other languages are “polarity based.” This means that speakers use the particle that shows agreement or disagreement with the negative proposition of the question (“Yes, he isn’t” or “No, he is”).
But those aren’t hard-and-fast rules. To make matters even more complicated, whether English speakers use yes or no can also depend on whether the question uses not, or the contraction n’t (“Is John not going?” vs “Isn’t John going?”), on the questioner’s tone, or even on body language.
Now, is that not interesting?
(Gretchen McCulloch, ‘The Problem with Positive Answers to Negative Questions,” The Week, March 10, 2014; Feifei Li, et al., “Is Mandarin Chinese a Truth-Based Language? Rejecting Responses to Negative Assertions and Questions,” Frontiers in Psychology, December 20, 2016; Anders Holmberg, The Syntax of Yes and No, Oxford, 2016)
• Do you mind?
When we ask a question such as “Do you mind if I sit here?” or “Do you care if I use your pen?” many will answer as if the question were “Is it OK if . . .?” So if you don’t mind, you’d answer “Yes.” But, as above, a one-word answer can be confusing and often needs an explanation—because some people answer the meaning of the question while others answer the actual grammar. While related to the negative-question above, it kind of turns that discussion inside out, since “Do you mind?” and “Do you care?” are actually positive, but the ideas behind mind and care are negative.
I think I’m starting to get confused, here. Do you mind if we move on?
• Double negatives
We all know that logic tells us a double negative makes a positive. Or at least that’s what we’ve been taught. But the truth is, when we hear a double (or triple or quadruple) negative used in colloquial speech, we know that the meaning is most assuredly—and emphatically—negative. So while the prescriptivist grammarian (one who prescribes the way English should be) would say that using double negatives to express a negative thought is incorrect, a descriptivist (one who describes the way English actually is) would disagree, and might say, “That doesn’t make no sense at all.”
The root of the matter: It used to be (back to Chaucer and Shakespeare again) that people didn’t have a problem with negative concord—using more than one negation word in a sentence to express a negative meaning. But in the 1600s, when grammarians decided that the free-wheeling English language was getting out of hand, they used rules from Latin grammar to keep it in check. Not only was Latin the language of the learned, but because it was no longer spoken, it was immune to the conversational transformations of the masses. Therefore, because double negatives were not found in Latin, they should not be present in English.
I do, though, need to insert a caveat here. While this Latin-rule theory is supported by most linguists (see Linda Mitchell and Dick Leith), there isn’t 100% agreement. Amel Kallel has written an entire book arguing that the loss of double negatives was not the cause of Latin-inspired grammarians, but rather came about naturally, on its own.
Regardless of why double negatives have fallen out of favor in modern formal English, they’re not completely absent, especially in the form of litotes. Litotes is saying something by using the negative of its opposite, often with ironic understatement. Therefore, “good” becomes “not bad,” and World War II can be described as “not a small battle.” To make the meaning more clear in spoken English, a double-negative-as-litotes is often expressed by stressing the second negative, as in “Finding happiness in life isn’t nothing.”
I really hope that’s clear, because I ain’t gonna explain it no more.
(Stan Carey, “Ain’t Nothin’ (Grammatically) Wrong with No Double Negatives,” MacMillan Dictionary Blog, April 13, 2015; Linda C. Mitchell, Grammar Wars: Language as Cultural Battlefield in 17th and 18th Century England, Ashgate 2001; Dick Leith, A Social History of English, Routledge, 1983; Amel Kallel, The Loss of Negative Concord in Standard English: A Case of Lexical Reanalysis, Cambridge Scholars, 2011)
• I can’t hardly
If someone says, “I can hardly reach the shelf,” it means that person can barely reach it, or almost can’t, but can. The phrase “I couldn’t care less about what’s on the shelf” means that someone doesn’t care at all, so cannot care to a lesser extent. But we often hear people say “I can’t hardly” and “I could care less.” But rather than having the opposite meanings of their counterparts, they mean the same thing. We could say that these second versions are “wrong,” but in a way, the phrases have become idioms, where the meaning of the entirety stays the same, even if the parts are altered.
The root of the matter: Kory Stamper, associate editor at Merriam-Webster, says that could care less shows up before couldn’t care less, appearing in the 1867 serial novel, Birds of Prey as “O, believe me, there is no one in the world who could care less for that than I do.” Notice that no one adds a negative to the sentence, so the speaker is more or less saying, “No one else could care less than me because I, myself, could not care less.”
Now my linguistic research abilities are no match for the folks at Merriam-Webster, but I was able to find an earlier occurrence of could care less. It’s in the April 1, 1864, issue of The Gospel Magazine and Protestant Beacon, where we find,
No living man can write more disinterestedly than I do on this matter; few men in the diocese could care less who are the lucky recipients of Church gifts.
But here too, notice the negation effect of “few,” allowing that while some may be able to care less, the author’s lack of caring makes that difficult.
Stamper then adds that the first couldn’t care less she and her colleagues found is from 1886: “Ralph couldn’t care less for us if he wanted to ever so much,” where, oddly enough, Ralph could not care less not because he didn’t care at all but because he cared so much that he couldn’t stop himself—it wasn’t in his power to not be that caring. (I’ll give you a moment to work through that one.)
Can’t hardly figure it out . . . or could you care less?
(“Is It ‘I Could Care Less’ or ‘I Couldn’t Care Less’?” Merriam-Webster, January 18, 2017; Mary Elizabeth Braddon, “Birds of Preey,” October, 1867; Belgravia: A London Magazine, ; S.G.O, “Abuse of Church Patronage—Family Arrangements,” The Gospel Magazine and Protestant Beacon, April 1, 1864; Ethel Karr, The Australian Guest: A Novel, Remington, 1886;
• Irregardless and inflammable
Simply put, regardless and irregardless mean the same thing: “despite that” or “no matter” (though most consider irregardless nonstandard).
And flammable and inflammable share a meaning, as well: “able to burn easily.”
It doesn’t matter that both pairs look as if they’re made up of opposites.
The root of the matter: Irregardless most likely came about (in the mid 1800s) from combining irrespective with regardless, even though the ir- of irregardless on its own means “not.” In a letter to the editor of The Telegrapher, dated 1869, some Cleveland telegraph operators describe the poor situation in their office by writing about their office manager: “In fact, he is ‘irregardless’ of our comfort.” In this case, irregardless of means something like “uncaring about” or “pays no attention to.”
The Cleveland operators also close with
We do not intend to find fault unnecessarily, but whenever such a spiteful and petty spirit is shown by a sub-official, we shall consider it our duty to inform the fraternity generally, “irregardless” of the result.
It’s interesting that the authors put irregardless in quotation marks, as if the word hasn’t quite come into common usage yet.
In regards to inflammable, lexicographer Ammon Shea tells us that the word can be found in print as far back as 1574, while flammable first shows up in 1655. Both mean “burnable,” because the in in inflammable means “in/into” (as in inflammation), rather than having the meaning “not” (as in incombustible). In the 1920s, the National Fire Protection Association became worried that inflammable would be confused with nonflammable, so they promoted the use of flammable for warning labels, to save us all from lexical confusion . . . and fire.
You say flammable. I say inflammable. Irregardless, we mean the same thing.
(Cleveland Operators, “Petty Tyrany,” The Telegrapher, April 14, 1869; Ammon Shea, “Why Do Flammable and Inflammable Mean the Same Thing?” Dictionary.com)
So, in conclusion, after all this, I offer you, dear English learners, my sympathy.
Thank you very much.
Oh, think nothing of it. Now, to help your confidence, repeat after me: “I can do this, in spite of all the discourse cohesion, contranyms, ameliorations, negative concord, and litotes.”
OK, here goes. I can do this, in spite of all the disc . . . disc . . . I’m sorry, what was that?
Don’t worry. Simply put, English is hard.
I know, right?
Uhh . . . way to sound fluent, but don’t even get me started on that one!
May 9, 2015 § Leave a comment
While some given names in English have recognizable meanings (e.g., Hope, Pearl, Colt), for most, the definitions come from non-English origins and are long forgotten.
So when we look at the list of top-ten baby names for 2014, announced yesterday by the Social Security Administration, we don’t think much about the meanings behind them. We’re more inclined to think about their sounds or the feelings they evoke or maybe people we know of with the same names.
But the meanings are meaningful, so here’s the list from the SSA . . . with a twist. Instead of showing the names themselves, I’ve lined up those meanings.
The Boys’ names are first, then the girls’.
It’s rather poetic.
(If this reverese-look-up-style list leaves you in the dark, I’ve got the actual names and their languages of origin, too. Just use your cursor to highlight the list, and they’ll magically appear.)
Rest Hebrew: Noah
Will and protection Irish, Germanic: Liam
Stoneworker French: Mason
Deceiver Hebrew: Jacob
Desire and helmet Germanic: William
Enduring Hebrew: Ethan
Who is like God? Hebrew: Michael
Defender of man Greek: Alexander
Supplanter Hebrew: James
God’s judgment Hebrew: Daniel
Universal Germanic: Emma
Olive Latin: Olivia
Wisdom Greek: Sophia
God is her oath Hebrew: Isabella
Giver of life Hebrew: Ava
Rebellious Hebrew: Mia
Rival Latin: Emily
Father’s joy Hebrew:Abigail
Child of God’s gift English: Madison
Man Germanic: Charlotte
(Doug Walker, “Two New Arrivals: Our New Blog and Top Ten Baby Names for 2014,” Social Security Matters, May 8, 2015)
[photo: “Baby N – 5 Days New,” by RebeccaVC1, used under a Creative Commons license]
September 18, 2014 § 4 Comments
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
February 11, 2014 § 4 Comments
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.
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.”
January 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
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.
December 13, 2013 § 3 Comments
It all started when I asked one of my sons what he wanted for Christmas. He said a Moleskine journal. (By the way, this story would be better if I could tell it, rather than write it out.) I’d heard about them before, but come on. Moleskin?!! Do I look like I’m made out of money? I can’t afford a book with a cover made out of mole skins!
I looked it up on Amazon anyway, and I saw that it wasn’t as expensive as I’d expected, nor was it spelled the way I’d thought. Come to find out, it’s not mole skin, the fur. It’s Moleskine, the Italian company in Milan.
So, what’s the right way to say Moleskine? “The answer,” say the folks at the Moleskine website,”is: there is no predetermined answer.”
Moleskine® is a brand name with undefined national identity. And that’s the way we like it. As a literary name, it was used by British travel writer Bruce Chatwin in his book “The Songlines”, referred to the little black notebooks he usually bought from a stationery store in Paris.
Everyone should feel free to pronounce it as he/she prefers. Enjoy.
Well, that’s settled. (Or not.)
But what about all those other foreign words and names that escape obvious pronunciation? You can’t always just look them up. And even if you find them, how can you hope to decipher all the hieroglyphics of phonetic spelling? What do they really sound like? If only we could hear someone say them.
Fear not. There is help—and it’s only a couple clicks away.
Here, for your listening and learning pleasure, are 8 sites that will have you sounding like a native in no time—or at least you’ll sound like an intelligent non-native to your friends.
As the Moleskine people say, “Enjoy.”
“The largest pronunciation guide in the world.” Boasts over 2 million pronunciations in more than 300 languages. Gives you the ability to add words, pronunciations, and ratings. From their blog, “Pronuncionary,” here are the top pronunciations of 2013:
2. Chag Sameach
Started by Pinky Thakkar, a San Jose State graduate student from Mumbai. Includes people and place names. You can submit names for inclusion. Has its own YouTube channel, as well.
Good for names of celebrities, sports figures, politicians, and the like. Created for radio and TV professionals. Gives “Americanized” version of foreign names.
Surnames and given names from over 50 languages. Started by Elizabeth Bojang, an American who served in the Peace Corps in West Africa, to “help executives and customer service representatives compete in the global marketplace.”
Celebrity names and commonly used foreign words, with pronunciations that are “irreproachable replicas as produced by non-native speakers.” Run by Italians Patrizia Serra, a well-traveled journalist, and Laura Mazzoni, a translator and editor of linguistic dictionaries.
Voice of America’s guide to pronouncing names and places in the news. “The first of its kind on the Internet.”
Maintained by Judith West and Heather Henderson to provide resources for their colleagues in audiobook narration. An index of links to a slew of sites on pronouncing words in multiple languages, people and place names, food names, biblical names, and more.
A collection of sites from About.com. Includes entries for German, Italian, Japanese, and French cuisine.