If ye love me

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may bide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.

One staple in the repertoire of the kinds of church or community choirs I sing in is If ye love me, by Thomas Tallis. Note ye and you, will and shall and pray the Father

Some people decry any change in language as the first step to incoherent grunting, but language has always changed and always will. Example 1: ye and you. Until about 400 years ago, (most) English speakers observed the distinction between the subject form ye (ye love me) and the object form you (give you, bide with you), and also the singular and/or intimate thee/thou/thy/thine and the plural and/or polite ye/you/your/yours. These all collapsed onto all-purpose you/your/yours, and almost no-one cared. (Art, wast and wert disappeared around the same time.)

The people who rail against singular they rarely mention singular you, which must have been just as shocking at the time, and the people who use non-standard plural forms such as y’all,* all y’all or yous(e) are railed at for being non-standard. (Note that you started off as plural anyway. If anything, we need a ‘singular you’.) (*I originally included you all, but the more I thought about it, the more I became sure that plural you all is standard: compare “I am very pleased to welcome you all here today” and “I am very pleased to welcome y’all here today”. (Also all of you.))

Because most people encounter thee/thou/thy/thine in Shakespeare, the King James/Authorised version of the bible or the Book of Common Prayer, or musical settings of texts from those sources, they imagine that these are formal/polite, and use them in conscious but often mistaken imitation. Leigh Brackett and/or Lawrence Kasdan, the scriptwriters of The Empire Strikes Back, has/have Darth Vader asking the emperor “What is thy bidding, my master?”. 

(Wikipedia has more about the T-V distinction (from Latin tu and vos).)

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Taking a break from watching travel videos of South Korea, I was watching travel videos of Japan. One presenter for a professional series of videos said something formulaic before enough of his meals that I noticed it, but he said it so fast that I had no chance of catching it. The internet to the rescue. It’s itadakimasu, which is variously explained by various people on the internet, and I won’t attempt to get to the bottom of it. Clearly, it is very different from Korean 잘 먹겠습니다 (jal meok-kess-seum-ni-da, I will eat well). 

Before drinking, he said something which I caught as kampai or gampai, which the internet tells me is kanpai, which is clearly related to the Korean which I remembered and searched for as geombae, but which the internet tells me is geonbae. So who borrowed the expression from whom? Neither – they both borrowed it from the Chinese, who say ganbei. Either way, it means empty cup, but does not necessarily require that all the contents should be drunk immediately. First up in the meal, it probably has that result, but later, after some consumption, I for one would take a sip rather than down the lot. Koreans now also say 원샷! (one shot). It is also more associated with soju and beer rather than makgeolli or wine.

My hearing the Japanese word as kampai and remembering the Korean word as geombae is another example of assimilation. Once you are pronouncing /n/, then close your lips for the beginning of /b/, the /n/ turns into an /m/. If you say it fast enough, the /n/ disappears completely. The same process happens in Latin/English in + bibere > imbibe (seeing that we’re talking about drinking). But the Latin/English spelling changed to reflect the pronunciation, while the Korean spelling 건배 retains the original form.

While English-speaking cooks/hosts can say ‘Enjoy your meal’ (most formally – there are also a number of less formal things to say), there is nothing really for the rest of us to say. It would sound strange to say ‘I will enjoy my meal’ before a meal, while ’Thank you/Thanks for the meal’ is more usually said after the meal. Saying a prayer doesn’t overcome the problem, because praying is talking to God, not to the cook/host, even if we add thanks for the cook/host’s time and effort after our thanks for the food. 

take a look v look

Today I consciously realised something that I have unconsciously known since primary school at the very latest, and that is that while ‘take a look’ basically means ‘look’, ‘take a seat’ doesn’t mean ‘seat’ – it means ‘sit’. This is because look is both a noun and verb, while seat is a noun (usually) and sit is a verb. The longer form with ‘take a’ has to be followed by a noun (I’m kicking myself now how obvious that is), while the short form by itself has to be a verb.  

There are subtle differences in usage. Saying ‘After work this afternoon, I walked’ sounds strange, while ‘After work this afternoon, I took a walk’ sounds usual/natural. (Following it with ‘the dog/to the station/(for) one hour/(for) five kilometres’ all add to the possibilities.) Being asked to ‘Sit’ would sound far too abrupt (‘Sit, please’ is just possible), while being asked to ‘Take a seat’ sounds usual/natural. The only other noun/verb pair I can think of which we would use here is bath/bathe. Saying ‘Have a bath’ sounds usual/natural, but saying ‘Bathe’ by itself sounds really strange, and it’s not helped by adding ‘please’. 

Google Ngrams shows that the things we most often take are a look, a step, a seat, a walk, a chance, a turn, a position, a part, a view and a recess. Not all of those are interchangeable with the relevant imperative verb. There’s also ‘have a’, which is most often followed by lot, chance, look, right, place, tendency, number, mind, copy and bearing, which list raises even more questions. The only word on both lists is look. Historically, ‘have a look’ was more common in British English, but this has now been overtaken by ‘take a look’, which was previously often seen as an Americanism.

Slightly related: when I was at primary school I noticed that teachers often said ‘Sit up (straight)’, ‘Sit down’ and ‘Stand up’, and commented on this to a teacher, who explained it is possible to ‘stand down’ from an important position (which I hadn’t encountered at that point of my schooling). But this phrasal verb doesn’t necessarily involve standing at all. One can stand down while staying seated. 

Could you read this blog post, please?

A few days ago the topic in the textbook was polite requests and responses, which reminded me of an incident which happened when I was teaching English in Korea in 2006-2009. I didn’t post it on my travel blog at the time or even record it in my diary, for no particular reason.

For part of that time I taught at a government high school. The students had varying levels and interests in learning English. One day I introduced the grammar or vocabulary point, set the students going on the practice task and wandered round checking their progress.

One student was sitting by herself, not doing the task and instead applying copious amounts of makeup. I asked, “Could you please put your makeup away and do your work?”. She smiled sweetly and continued applying her makeup. 

A few minutes later I wandered back and she was still applying her makeup. I said, “Please put your makeup away and do your work”. She replied in Korean, so I said “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Korean”.

A few minutes later I wandered back and she was still applying her makeup. I said “Put your makeup away and do your work!”. She looked at me, smiled sweetly and said

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