Coldplay = ice hockey?

One of the most important skills in learning anything, including a second language, is figuring out what’s important to know and what can be safely ignored. Students wanting to know is a good thing; I don’t want to discourage that. Maybe I’m just explaining it badly.

Yesterday’s lesson had a lot about pop music, and the activities and our extra discussions were full of singers and groups and songs and words and music. Today’s lesson included a story in which a young woman and young man met while a particular song was playing – “It’s by Coldplay. It’s called Yellow”. Coldplay and the song then play no further part in the story. They could have met while any other song was playing, or in total silence.

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Hail, Driver!

Two days ago I saw a local bus with a sign saying “Please hail driver” in the front window. My first thought was ancient Rome or 1930s-1940s Germany. My second thought was the driver would understand my hail to mean that I wanted to get on the bus, which I didn’t, and even if I did, it was on the other side of a big traffic intersection.

Given that they asked so politely, I kind of feel bad about not hailing the driver.

So, do we have to hail the driver every time, or only when we are standing at a bus stop wanting to catch that bus?

Effective English

… more important than so-called good English [is] effective English. English that clearly, strongly and unambiguously ‐ unless you’ve a penchant for ambiguity – conveys from writers’ brains through their typing fingers and onward to the imaginations of their readers what it is that writers are attempting to communicate.

Benjamin Dreyer is “is vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief, of Random House”. He has just released a book called Dreyer’s English AN UTTERLY CORRECT GUIDE TO CLARITY AND STYLE, which I am neither endorsing nor not endorsing. I am less likely to buy it after finding myself described as a “godless savage”, and Dreyer obviously didn’t proofread that job title himself. And I would question three things about style in the quotation itself. But I fully endorse effective English.

Today on the Sydney Morning Herald website is this article, from which the quotation comes.

(Checks post very carefully in case there’s any mistakes: Muphry’s Law.)

On the plaza

One of the choirs I sing in has just started rehearsing for a concert performance of Bizet’s Carmen later this year. As part of my diligent preparation, I’m watching a full performance on Youtube, sung in French but subtitled in Spanish.

The first words in French are Sur la place (usually /plas/ but in the opera /pla·sə/) and in Spanish Por la plaza. The English translation provided by our conductor gives On the square, which a) is rather prosaic, and b) doesn’t fit the melody. If the opera was sung in English, this would have to be On the plaza (or possibly (not) In the main street).

English place, French place, Spanish plaza and Italian piazza are all derived from Latin platēa, street, courtyard, area and Greek plateîa broad street and  platýs broad, flat, as in platypus (broad foot). Plaza is now a full English word, and piazza would be understood by many English speakers but is probably not a full English word, while French place is not an English word and by itself would probably not be understood by many English speakers.

I might call the main square of Brussels /ɡʁɑ̃ plas/ or “the main square”, but not “the /plas/” and certainly not “the place” (“I’ll meet you at the place”).

Compare sur la plage (on the beach) which is certainly not English. 

micro-brewery

I read in passing that the owners of a micro-brewery are planning to expand. This will presumably make it a milli- brewery. After that, they may skip being a centi-brewery or deci-brewery and progress straight to being a brewery.

PS I’m being silly, of course. Greek mīkrós meant “small” long before it meant “one one-millionth”, just as mégas meant “large, great” before it meant “one million times”.

gong hay fat choy and gong xi fa cai

From the time of the gold rushes of the 1850s to about 1989, most Chinese people who came to Australia were from the southern provinces and spoke Cantonese, Hokkien or Hakka. I can remember seeing Lunar New Year decorations and advertisements saying gong hay fat choy (or variations thereof). 

About nine years ago I started teaching at a college which overwhelmingly catered to Chinese students. It being February, I started with gong hay fat choy! and no-one understood me, because they all spoke Mandarin (and/or because my Chinese pronunciation is so bad). Finally one student understood what I was trying to say.

Especially post-Tiananmen Square, more people from the northern provinces came here and Mandarin gradually overtook Cantonese as the most-spoken kind of Chinese. The 2016 Australian census reported that 2.5% of Australians speak Mandarin at home, alongside Cantonese at 1.2%, and Arabic, Vietnamese, Italian and Greek (with between 1.4 and 1% each).

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“Let us all Thy grace receive”

If there’s anything worse than a linguistic rabbit hole, it’s a theological rabbit hole.

At choir practice on Thursday night, we rehearsed an anthem on the famous hymn Love divine, all loves excelling by Charles Wesley. For the first time, I noticed the ambiguity in the line:

Let us all Thy grace receive.

Is that:

(Let) (us all) (Thy grace) (receive)

or

(Let) (us) (all Thy grace) (receive)

?

Linguistically, there’s no way to decide in this case. Both are grammatical and usual/natural. In both, the word all can be omitted, perhaps with a change of emphasis but not of basic meaning. To the extent that I’d ever thought about it, I had always assumed the first reading.

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