The topic in the textbook was emotions and one of the questions was ‘Do you enjoy horror movies?’. One student said yes, so I asked for an example. He said ‘Saw’. Another student said ‘But that’s an action movie’. He and I looked puzzled. He quickly searched for an image of that movie and showed it to her. She said ‘Oh, I thought you said /sɔ/’, then quickly searched and showed us an image of Thor.
/θ/ is one of the last phonemes which native English speaking children acquire (indeed, some don’t acquire it (and /ð/) at all – dis, dat, tick and tin are part of several established varieties of English), and it is probably the hardest phoneme for second language learners (/ð/ is at least far more common, in higher-frequency words like this, that, these, those, there, then, mother, father, brother).
I’m surprised that this misunderstanding happened this way around. I would far more expect the first student to mispronounce /θɔ/ as /sɔ/. Anyway, the misunderstanding was cleared up, and I was able to give them a brief explanation.
This morning’s New Testament reading was Romans 8:14-17. Of particular linguistic interest is verse 10: ‘you received the Spirit of sonship [fn: Or adoption]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”‘ (NIV) Abba is the Aramaic word for father, which Paul uses alongside the Greek equivalent: Αββα ὁ πατήρ (abba ho pater). (Paul uses it twice, here and in Gal 4.6, and Mark once, in 14.36.) Some commentaries state that the Aramaic word has connotations of intimacy and childlike trust (indeed some paraphrase it as ‘Daddy, Father); others that it is the usual, natural, neutral word. If there is a connotation of intimacy, it is because Aramaic was the language of the home and everyday life, whereas Koine Greek was the lingua – um – franca of international communication (which is why the New Testament was written in it).
My earliest memory of consciously exploring language is a child’s activity called (I think) ‘Mix and Match’, which I had when I was about 5 or 6. Searching on the internet earlier today, I couldn’t find any reference to this. There were about 12 large cards, each with nine beginnings of words (one or two consonants – I now know the technical term ‘onset’) in a 3 x 3 grid, and about 50 small cards, each with one end of a word (one or two vowels and one or two consonants) (technical term ‘rime’). The letters on the large card had a thick coloured border around the left side and half of the top and bottom, and the letters on the small cards had a similar border around the right side and half of the top and bottom, in a variety of colours. After choosing a large card at random, the task was to form words using the small card, chosen at random. The first time through, you also had to match the colour (which cut down the number of possible combinations). The second time through, you were allowed to mix the colours. I remember being fascinated that the pronunciation of the ends changed as you joined them to to different beginnings, eg ‘ear’ and ‘hear’ but ‘wear’.
I don’t know what happened to that. None of my sisters ever mentioned it, not even when their children were that age.