My name is Indo-European

My very last lesson as an English language teacher provided an interesting insight into languages … twice. I was using the Schoolhouse Rock and Grammaropolis songs to illustrate the main points of English grammar. My students on that day were from South Korea, Colombia and Nepal, so along the way I commented briefly about similarities and differences between English and Korean (eg, basic word order of subject-object-verb), and English and Spanish (eg, basic word order of noun-adjective). I could say absolutely nothing about Nepali. The only two things I know about Nepali are that it’s Indo-European and most closely related to Hindi and Urdu. So towards the end of the lesson, I went to the Wikipedia page on Nepali  in the hope of gleaning something of interest. One of the example sentences is My name is Bryan Butler, which is given in Nepali script as मेराे नाम ब्रायन बट्लर हाे । and then transliterated as mero nām brayan batlar ho.

mero nām – Indo-European much?

The Spanish student provided me with mi nombre and I know the Korean 내 이름 (nae i-reum) (usual/natural) and 제 이름 (je i-reum) (polite). Clearly, Korean is not an Indo-European language. Continue reading

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498th post – Last day as English language teacher

Today is my last day as an English language teacher, after more than eleven and a half years at a language college, provincial government high school and university in South Korea and language colleges in Australia. I am making this move for a wide variety of reasons, related to the ESL sector in general (an Australian student visa requires attendance at classes for 20 hours per week, so most teachers are engaged for 20 hours per week, and there is very little opportunity to advance to a full-time position), the college and colleagues (some classes at some colleges are run as courses – the students start at the same time, do the course, and finish at the same time, but our English classes have been ‘start and finish when you need to’, and I’ve had to share a small office with up to four other people of various degrees of loudness in various languages, as student of various degrees of loudness in various languages come and go), the students (who have different levels of English, life experience and personal and study backgrounds, some of whom attend way less than 20 hours per week, and come and go, use their phone, chat in their own language or sleep when they are there), and myself (basically, dealing with all of the above, and commuting). 

Through English language teaching, I’ve lived in South Korea for two periods totalling three and a half years, met my wife, travelled to Hong Kong and Japan, met all kinds of other people in South Korea and Australia, gained my masters degree (and may yet go on to doctoral study), attempted to learn Korean (하지만 아직 잘 못 해요), developed a serious hobby of photography and started this blog. On the other hand, I’ve had to largely give up my other serious hobby of classical choral singing. (I can and will return to that, but it remains to be seen whether I will ever again perform at my peak.) So now it’s time for a change. From tomorrow …

How many sheep?

My mother’s father was fond of wordplay and was an important influence on my love of language. I remember one of the riddles he told me, which is difficult to render in print: A man had twenty-si/kʃ/heep and ten died. How many did he have left? This is impossible to answer correctly. If I interpreted twenty-si/kʃ/heep as twenty-six sheep and answered sixteen, he would say, “No, I said ‘twenty sick sheep’, so he had ten left”. And vice versa.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when a lesson in the textbook included the linking of words in normal speech. One example was first of all, and one student said that it sounded like festival. In isolation, maybe, but not in a sentence like “Festival, I would like to welcome you all here today”.

The pronunciation issues are slightly different but similar enough that I told them the riddle and wrote the two interpretations on the board. Another student thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. In English, at least. I’m sure they have silly puns in that language.

Harry Potter and the Overworked Translator

A few days ago the topic in the textbook was books, especially translating books between languages. Most of the students I’ve ever taught read very few books, and this class was no exception. Some of them had read books in English. I asked about Harry Potter, probably the most famous set of novels in English in the recent past, and available in many languages. Some had read at least some of the books either in their language or English, but not both. I asked about the titles. The first book is usually either ‘magic stone’ or ‘magician’s stone’, but the Korean word translates as ‘wizard’. The Nepalese students conferred, then said ‘shining stone’. Continue reading

Schoolhouse Rock songwriter Bob Dorough dies

I have mentioned the Schoolhouse Rock songs on English grammar. I use them in class occasionally, but have not fully explored them here.

In the news is the death of the songwriter Bob Dorough, whose name I had not encountered or thought to ascertain. He wrote many but not all of the songs.

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A convenient playlist of the grammar songs

 

celebrate celebrities, because because

One recent grammar activity in the textbook was building abstract nouns from a given concrete noun, verb or adjective plus one of give set of seven suffixes: –hood, –ship, –dom, –ity, –ness, -(a)tion and –ment. One of the given words was celebrate. The expected answer is celebration, but one student wrote celebrity. In real life, yes, in this activity no. Maybe in these days of manufactured famous-for-being-famous “celebrities”, we lose sight of the fact that we (should) celebrate celebrities and celebrities are, literally, celebrated. A celebrated tv star is very different from a celebrity tv star (though in one or two cases I won’t name, it could be arguable exactly which side of the coin s/he is on).

But in this activity celebrat(e) + ity results in celebratity, which is wrong. But are we limited to root + suffix, or can we make other spelling changes? There’s the drop-the-e rule, obviously, and another example was possible > possibility, which needs the insertion of an i. And is celebrity an abstract noun? No and yes. We most often talk about a celebrity (concrete), but we can also talk about the idea of celebrity (abstract). Continue reading

Strenuous laboratory

Two snippets from this week.

1) My class was practicing changing verbs into nouns into adjectives and vice versa. One word was strength, to be changed into an adjective. Most students wrote strong, but one wrote strenuous. To the extent that I have ever actually thought about it, I have never thought that strenuous is related to strong, so I had to check it quickly. No – it’s not. Online dictionaries didn’t give quite enough information, but Etymology Online shows the derivation of each, slightly confusingly, but convincingly.

Strong is from Proto-Germanic *strangaz and Proto-Indo-European *strenk-. (An asterisk with an etymology means that word has not been directly attested, but has been reconstructed by comparing forms in related languages.) Strenuous is from Latin strenuus and is possibly related to stern.

The student happily accepted his classmates’ answer of strong, but I told him that if he’d written strenuous in a test, I would have given him a mark. Continue reading