Yesterday I went driving, exploring and photographing in part of what some of my students call Blue Mountain, and what I insist on calling the Blue Mountains. There’s no place in Australia called Blue Mountain, but there are genuine linguistic reasons why some of my students (and, I guess, many others) change the Blue Mountains to Blue Mountain. Many languages do not have the equivalent of English a and the, and many speakers of English as a second language just aren’t used to saying those two English words. Many languages also do not have the equivalent of English plural s (or, as in Korean, it may be optional). English plural s often makes a double, triple or even quadruple consonant cluster with the final consonant(s) – here ns, which many second language speakers find difficult and want to simplify.
The Blue Mountains cover a large area, and people usually go to only a very small part of them. The officially defined geographic area covers 11,400 km2, almost as large as the Sydney metropolitan area (12,367 km2) and larger than 37 sovereign states. The local government area and the state electorate are, respectively, the City of Blue Mountains and the Electoral district of Blue Mountains, respectively.
And they aren’t blue. The sun filtering through evaporated eucalyptus oil gives the scenery a very slightly blueish tinge, but the trees are otherwise green and the rocks brown. I hope tourist books explain that.
The same linguistic issues arose when a student told me that she’d gone to Southern ’Ighland (viz, the Southern Highlands) the previous weekend. This sounded either like Southern Island (there is no Southern Island anywhere in the physical world) or (in my non-rhotic pronunciation) Southern Ireland (ooooh, a lot of Irish history and politics there).
(PS I don’t like giving any free publicity to corporate entities, but in this case it’s impossible not to.)
Some years ago (soon after I returned from Korea the first time, I think), I bought a quiz game made by a company called BrainBox. The shop had several in stock, but the one which I bought was of the countries of the world, which seemed most applicable to English language classes.
I have used it several times a year since. On Tuesday I was browsing through a local shop and saw another game from the same company, about Australia. I went back and bought it on Thursday morning and used it that evening in class.
Yesterday I posted about the computer keyboard I’d just bought. This morning I was looking at the quick start guide, which has six pages of information in ten different languages. I can identify or comfortably guess English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese (traditional or simplified?) and Korean. The Korean is a literal translation of the English. In the western European languages, there is quick, rapide/rápida/rápido and schnell; start, démarrage, startan and início; guide, leitung and guía/guia, as well as introduttiva and usuario. The German is the only one of those languages in which the three elements directly match the English.
Reading the guide, I found that the lights I mentioned in the previous post have 12 different settings (one colour, three, or rainbow; stationary or moving; fast or slow; from the left or right).
Gretchen McCulloch of All Things Linguistic posted without comment a graphic by Suzy Styles, of the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, of The Commonest Speech Sounds: Prevalence Rates for Phonemes of the World. Styles, in turn also doesn’t comment on it, beyond stating that she compared the speech sounds of 1672 languages on a certain online database. What follows are my own thoughts about the graphic, primarily as an ESL teacher and not as a linguist.
(There’s a large space under this graphic – keep scrolling.)
From How your job is killing you by James Adonis in the Sydney Morning Herald (I try to avoid giving free publicity to companies, but I’ve got to credit my sources):
The Japanese have a word, karōshi, to describe people who work themselves to death. … In China the word used is guolaosi. … South Korea, too, has a term for this pervasive condition: gwarosa.
A little bit of linguistic knowledge shows that those are actually the same word, in the pronunciation systems of those three languages. Japanese and Korean have borrowed a large number of words directly from Chinese, and have also created new words themselves from Chinese characters.
Languages can be divided into syllable-timed (where each syllable takes approximately the same amount of time and receives approximately the same amount of stress) and stress-timed (where the stressed syllables (longer, louder) fall at approximately regular intervals and the others are shorter and softer).
Many of my students speak syllable-timed languages, and tend to pronounce English in much the same way. The textbook and tests include sections on word stress, but I’m not sure that they understand it, or that I’m explaining it so that that can.
It doesn’t help that many English words have different stresses, for grammatical reasons, for example ex-PORT (verb) and EX-port (noun), or for British v American variety, for example of-FENCE (Br) and OFF-ence (Am) (some students from some countries watch American basketball).