The Blue Mountains v Blue Mountain

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).

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partner and mothers

One student has mentioned his ‘partner’ without specifying or otherwise revealing a gender, at least as far as I have been able to understand his speaking. I have suspected male, if it’s any of my business. Yesterday he told an extended story about his partner and rather disconcertingly switched between he/him and she/her randomly throughout. I didn’t say anything in front of the other students, but had a quiet word with him later, and his partner is definitely ‘he’.

Someone I spoke to later suggested that maybe the partner is transitioning and the student is still coming to terms with it. I think a simpler explanation is that the student speaks a language which has one gender-neutral pronoun; students from that country tend to struggle with he and she. Another factor is that the student has a slight sh-ishness to all his hs, which might explain he/she, but doesn’t explain his/her.

Another student completed the given beginning ‘I really love …’ with ‘my mothers’. I asked how many she has, and she quickly confirmed that she has just one.