What part don’t you understand?

In August 2015, when I went to Korea for the second time, my working visa was delayed, so I had to do the ‘visa run’ to Fukuoka, Japan. While I was wandering around a suburb of that city, I saw a modern building devoted to the study and performance of traditional Noh theatre.  I thought that their slogan could be “What part of Noh don’t you understand?”. Unfortunately, on searching the internet, I found that Pat Byrnes, a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine, had beaten me to it. I thought I mentioned this in my blog post of the time, but apparently not. Certainly I mentioned it on Facebook.

The reason I’m mentioning it now is that a few days ago I was watching some of the Crash Course series on the history of theatre, one of which is about Noh. I’ve written before about the variable quality of their autosubtitles — usually perfect, but sometimes, inexplicably, very wrong. Maybe the fault is Youtube’s, not Crash Course’s, but the same principle applies Continue reading

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10,000 miles

One of the items my local choir is singing is a medley of the American folk songs Shenandoah (which I previously knew) and He’s gone away (which I didn’t). Because of the folk origins of both songs, information about them is confused and confusing. Shenandoah might be the Oneida Iroquois chief (“I love your daughter”) or the river in Virginia and West Virginia (“Away, you rolling river”) or both. On the other hand “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter” might just be a poetic way of saying “I love a young woman who lives in the Shenandoah Valley”.

The only information I could find about He’s gone away is that it’s from North Carolina. It contains the line “Look away over Yandro”. Where is Yandro? It probably isn’t. There is a possibility that it’s a local name for a local watercourse or mountain which (the name) didn’t survive, but the consensus of opinion on a discussion site for choral directors is that it’s a local pronunciation of yonder (indeed some versions of the words render it “over Yondro”, which might have originated as “over yondro”). One participant linked to what looks like a personal blog which claims that yandro means “the place we put our hopes and our longings. It is the place of reunions dreamt of fondly. It is the place, wherever it may be, that we meet our hearts”.  Yeah, right. That blog is private, so I can’t check its writer’s credentials. Continue reading

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 …

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).

[edit 6 Oct: after I posted on Facebook about another photo-hike to the Blue Mountains, an online friend from Canada told me that there is a Blue Mountain in Ontario (the name of the mountain and a ski resort), as well as nearby town named ‘The Blue Mountains‘.]

ABC lists – cities/towns I’ve been to

I spent rather too long last night thinking about making alphabetical lists of things rather than, you know, actually going to sleep. I thought about making a list of interesting cities/towns I’ve been to, but decided to start with the biggest cities/towns. I got about halfway through last night, then had to do a some extra searching (for cities/towns and populations) this morning. From this list, it’s obvious where I’ve lived or travelled. In some cases the ‘going to’ has been quite brief – a matter of hours.

Amsterdam (NL)
Busan (SK) (or Bangkok, Thailand if you count one hour at the airport)
Christchurch (NZ) (367,000), honourable mention to Canberra (Aus) (356,000) and Cardiff (Wales, UK) (341,000) – I thought they might be similar sizes. (Our overnight stop was at a motorway motel outside Cologne, Germany but we didn’t even see the city in the distance, so I won’t count that.)
Daegu (SK)
Echuca (Vic, Aus)
Fukuoka (Jap)
Goyang (SK)
Hong Kong (SAR of PRC)
Incheon (SK)
Jeonju (SK)
Kalgoorlie (WA, Aus)
London (Eng, UK)
Melbourne (Vic, Aus)
Newcastle (NSW, Aus)
Orange (NSW, Aus)
Paris (Fra)
Queanbeyan (NSW, Aus)
Rockhampton (Qld, Aus)
Seoul (SK)
Townsville (Qld, Aus)
Uijongbu (SK)
Victor Harbor (SA, Aus)
Wollongong (NSW, Aus)
X – none. There is one place name in Australia – Xantippe, WA, which is 300 km north-west of Perth and which Google Maps shows is located in the general vicinity of Rabbit Proof Fence Rd and Struggle St. Either I plan a trip there, or central China.
Yongin (SK)
Z – none. There’s about 20 place names in Australia, the most notable of which are Zetland (Syd, NSW (I’ve been under it – Green Square railway station is located in one corner)),  Zillmere (Bris, Qld) (located off the major arterial roads, so I haven’t even passed through it) and Zeehan (I haven’t been to Tasmania at all). Maybe I can stop off at Zhengzhou on my way to Xi’an.

past tense, travel, verb phrases, negative polarity questions

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’.**

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In-flight movies

The plane offered the full range of entertainment. I first watched Zootopia, then fell asleep, but didn’t sleep long or well. At about 2 am I decided that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep any time soon, so started watching the Korean movie 오빠 생각 (o-ppa saeng-gak)/A melody to remember, which I’d seen entirely in Korean in January and reported about here. This version had English subtitles, so I was able to fill in a few blanks.

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