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).
There are some mistakes which I can understand, and others which I can’t. In class one day this week, the topic was travel, and there were two readings on ‘My worst holiday’. The grammar focus arising from the reading was past simple, because most travel stories are recounted largely that way. The past simple forms appeared in the stories, but the grammar focus activity gave the plain present forms, which the students had to change to the past simple forms, then check them from the story.
One student gave the past simple form of ‘go’ as ‘goesed’, which I don’t/can’t understand how he produced. He has never encountered that form, and there is no rule in English grammar which allows the addition of two different verb inflections, especially when one of them is a present tense form and the other is a past tense form.* Just possibly, he was thinking that she/he/it needs ‘-es’ always, then added ‘-ed’ to make the past tense form, except that the story was told in first person. Just possibly, we would understand the answer ‘I goesed home’ to the question ‘What did you do after class yesterday?’, but would be at least momentarily flummoxed by it.
Another student wrote ‘gone’ as the past simple form. I can understand that. go-went-gone is probably the second hardest verb paradigm for students to remember (behind ‘be’). ‘gone’ is visually and aurally more similar to ‘go’; indeed, ‘went’ began as a completely different word. Certainly, we would understand the answer ‘I gone home’.**
Last Sunday, I attended church in Korea for the last time. At the end of the service, the congregational leader announced that I was leaving, and the priest invited me to speak. I noticed that a Korean woman who’d lived in England for some time, and spoke English well, had also come to the front and was standing next to me holding a microphone, obviously to translate for me. But I surprised everyone, including her, by speaking in Korean, about 30 seconds of thank you and goodbye which I’d been composing in my head the day before and during the service. At the end, I turned to her and said ‘Please translate that’. She was so flustered that she gave a brief summary in English!
A few weeks ago, I went to a national cemetery on the outskirts of the city I’m living in. At one point, I took two photos six seconds apart of (a modern reproduction of) a traditional pavillion reflected in a pond, adjusting various things in the time between. Looking at the two photos, one is ‘almost but not quite’ and the other is now in my album of ‘very best photos’ for this year. The differences are small: in the first, a few leaves on bush on the near shore are visible, along with a band of the reflected sky; in the second, I’ve zoomed slightly, framing out the bush and sky, and including less of the trees at the top. The reflection is not quite symmetrical horizontally, but the fish fills the extra space. It may not be the best photo ever, or even my best photo ever, but I unhesitatingly chose it among my ‘very best’ for this year.