Who would know?

Some time ago, I encountered the sentence:

Who would know aught of art, must learn, act, and then take his ease

as an example of the vowel sounds of English.

A few days ago, for no apparent reason, I got thinking about this again, specifically “Hang on, there aren’t enough words/vowels in there”. It has 14 words and vowels. Most varieties of English have more (though the number and exact line-up varies). My generally standard Australian English has 20, which matches the Macquarie Dictionary’s count. Further, the six which are missing are all diphthongs, but know and take are there. I searched online and found a blogpost by Lauren Gawne (a fellow Australian) from last year. She quotes a post by John Wells (an Englishman), who says he doesn’t know its origin, then (among other things):

[It] is sentence that not merely contains 14 [different] vowel sounds, but has the sound in a particular order (going clockwise more or less round the periphery of the vowel area) … to work properly the sentence requires the speaker to use RP [received pronunciation, standard British English] or something similar, with strong forms of would, of, and must, which in ordinary speech are usually weakened, but a weak form of and … the sentence covers only the monophthongs and narrow diphthongs. To complete it with the remaining diphthongs aɪ aʊ ɔɪ ɪə eə ʊə we would need something like “My loud voice nears their moors”. Or has someone got something better?

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It’s not that simple

I recently discovered a blog which I won’t identify because I am about to disagree with one part of one post. It has a number of contributors and most of the posts are very good to excellent. However, I must disagree with part of one. The blogger writes:

British English speakers have the ability to use the phrase “at the weekend”, when Canadian English speakers would normally say “on the weekend.” We [linguists and other people interested in descriptive approaches to language] that Canadian English speakers can’t use “at” in front of “the weekend”; it’s ungrammatical.

But take a short swim across the pond [North Atlantic Ocean], and the Canadian preposition “on” seems very out of place; British speakers don’t say “on the weekend,” so for them this expression is expression is ungrammatical.

It’s not that simple, for two reasons. Continue reading

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

Write on queue

A few days ago I had to ring a government department. I hate ringing government departments, but I couldn’t find anything on their website about this particular issue. The call took an hour and 44 minutes in total, being about one minute talking to the first person, about one minute talking to the second person who the first person put me through to, about three minutes talking to the third person who the second person put me through to, and about an hour and 39 minutes listening to ‘on hold’ music, announcements about the information I could find on the website, and automated recordings telling me that I was now the [number]th caller in the queue, starting from 59th between the first person and the second person, and 68th between the second and the third  and gradually counting down.

I mentioned this on Facebook, and one online friend who lives in another English-speaking country commented, using the spelling que three times in an otherwise perfectly written comment. I sent her a private message asking whether that was her usual spelling, or was widely used in her English-speaking country. Continue reading

Grammarbites part 10 – determiners

Part 1 – introduction

Part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 9 – Latin, Greek, French, Norse and English words

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 10 – determiners

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

Part 7 – pronunciation – the basic sounds of English

Part 4 – pronunciation – consonant clusters

A determiner goes before a noun to make a basic noun phrase, usually giving information about which one(s), whose, how many and how much? The most basic are a, which can be used with any singular countable noun, and the, which can be used with any noun: a/the pizza tastes good (singular countable), (-)/the pizzas taste good (plural countable), (-)/the pizza tastes good (uncountable). 

Pronouns can replace noun phrases, usually giving information about who or what? The most basic are I~me, you, she~her, he~him, it, we~us and they~them. Any singular and most uncountable noun phrases can become she, he or it, and any plural and a few uncountable noun phrases can become they: it tastes good, they taste good. Continue reading

Travelling in boots

A few days ago I was scrolling through the complete New South Wales road rules (for work-related purposes). My eye was caught by rule  headed ‘persons must not travel in or on boots’. I immediately thought of footwear, but why specify boots? And what kind of boots? Think of all the people travelling in workboots or fashion boots (or, in western Sydney, ugg boots). But how do people travel ‘on boots’?

Oooohhhh … not those boots, but the rear luggage compartment of car, what my North American readers would call trunks, but ‘persons must not travel in or on trunks’ is a) not standard Australian English and b) really not much better. The actual rule states ‘A person must not travel in or on the boot of a motor vehicle’. Oh, all right then.

This rule is redundant, anyway. A previous rule prohibits travelling in a part of a car which is ‘designed primarily for the carriage of goods’, unless it is enclosed and there is a seat with a seatbelt, which covers the rear-most part of an SUV or station wagon. So that covers travelling ‘in’ boots. Another sub-rule of the same rule prohibits travelling ‘in or on a motor vehicle with any part [or all parts] of the person’s body outside a window or door of the vehicle’. So that covers travelling ‘on’ boots. (There are a few exemptions, which are not relevant.) There is no specific rule against travelling on the bonnet/hood or roof, so why specify boots?

(I guess that very few people actually read the complete road rules. Learner drivers are given the Road Users’ Handbook (also available online) and do a computerised Driver Knowledge Test, but the is no formal requirement for reading, studying, knowing or being tested on the road rules beyond that. (And, for many drivers, it shows.))

inning and innings, outing and outings

On  Saturday evening I went for an outing to a baseball game. This is slightly unusual in Australia (there is a baseball competition, but it is almost unknown) and very unusual for me (I would not otherwise go to a baseball game, except …).

Last year I semi-did a course in photography on Coursera (I watched the videos and did the standard quizzes, but didn’t pay money to do the assessment quizzes and submit my photos for peer review). A few weeks ago one of the lecturers (a professor of photography at a university in the USA) emailed people in Australia who’d done the course, saying that he would be in Australia in late Dec-early Jan and was planning a trip to the baseball. (Which makes about as much sense as me travelling to the USA and going to a cricket match, but his son is involved with the baseball team here.) Seven photographers and three hangers-on attended. We had a short session together, then wandered around taking photos before and during the game. After some time, we each had a one-on-one with the lecturer, and he said some seriously nice things about my photos.

Photos first, then language: Continue reading