Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sounding Like a Native Speaker - The English Pronunciation Reduction of -ing

I figured I'd make this post since I couldn't find much information about it on the internet.  Native speakers often take liberties when it comes to pronunciation. Often words or letters may be reduced for the sake of fluency and rhythm.  Recently, I spoke to a class about how Americans frequently reduce the -ing sound in the continuous form.


I'm walking to the park. 

When spoken with the natural flow of native fluency, it becomes: 

I'm walkin' to the park.  

The -g gets dropped at the end of the verb.  Therefore, walking sounds like walkin'.  This is how many American native speakers pronounce verbs in the continuous form.  However, it's important to note this rule doesn't really apply in the case of gerunds, when nouns look like verbs with the -ing ending.


Walking is fun.

In this sense, the full word is pronounced and not reduced.   

Sunday, February 3, 2013

An English nuance in Namibia - NOW NOW NOW

There many English nuances in Namibia.  Many fall within the realm of Namlish, a portmanteau that describes the amalgamation of language and country.  Some nuances are extremely subtle, while others...not so much.  Perhaps my favorite English word in Namibia was the word now.  It's used in a form of tautology to express a varying degrees of time.  Sound strange?  Well, here's how it's used.

When someone says now, they really means later.  If the person says now now, then they mean very soon.  But if a person were to say now now now, that that really means right now.

This form of Namlish was commonplace throughout the country.  Often I'd have fun with it, especially in the classroom.  If I wanted the students do something right away, I'd repeat now about a dozen times.      

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Do U English?

English     noun
-    The West Germanic language of England, now widely used in many linguistic varieties throughout the world.

How does one define something as all-encompassing as English?  The language defines so much of the world we live in today.  It’s how we communicate, how we understand, and the way we do business.  English has gone viral around the world, and it doesn’t even have a YouTube video.  The world speaks English, reads English, writes English, and studies English.  It has touched just about every square inch of this planet that the human race has inhabited.  Yet how can we begin to define the scope of something without knowing how it’s used?

English can be used as a noun; there’s no doubt about it.  I just did it.  How about as an adjective?  Can we use the English language as an adjective?  Done!  Supposedly, it can be used as a transitive verb if followed by an object, such as if you’re going to translate something.  I’ve never heard this before but let’s try it.  He’s going to English Don Quixote.  To me, it just doesn’t sound right.  And I imagine grammarians hate this argument – it doesn’t sound right!  But why shouldn’t our ears be guidelines to linguistic acceptability?  I for one would like to hear English used as an intransitive verb.  Let’s give it some action.  We were Englishing at the restaurant, when we overheard the people behind us Spanishing.  I kind of like it!  And why can’t we play English?  We can speak it, write it, read it, and listen to it.  I’d much rather play English than do any of those other things.  I think it would also make a great adverb.  If only something could look, sound, or feel Englishy.  Like many things in this world, English has rules.  Rules should be followed, but quite often they are broken.

The beauty of the English language is that it's adaptable.  The more people who try to learn English, especially as their second language, the greater the variance we see in the way it's both spoken and written.  Today, English the most widely-used second language in the world.  According to estimates by the British Council, about 750 million people speak English as a foreign language.  It's also believed that over a billion people are currently learning English worldwide.  Countries and empires will not conquer the world, bu the English language just might.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can We Use THEY As A Singular Pronoun In English?

The English language is a monster.  Many believe it contains more words than any other language in the world, although this argument is unlikely to ever be proven.  Yet how can such a complex language like English lack basic coherence?  How can English have close to a million words and not one of those words address gender-neutral singular pronoun.  One of my biggest gripes with English is the universal acceptance of a gender neutral singular pronoun.

I, along with many other people, frequently use the pronoun they as singular.  Let me give you an example.  If someone has an idea for a gender-neutral singular pronoun, they should speak up.  In this example, the subject someone and the verb to have show singular agreement.  In the main clause, the subject someone is referenced again, but this time using the "plural" pronoun they.  Whether or not this is okay has been an ongoing debate. 

An instructor from the School of Journalism might say that the coordinate he or she is grammatically correct when referencing gender-neutral pronouns.  If someone has an idea for a gender-neutral singular pronoun, he or she should speak up.  Or, some deem it acceptable for the author of an article or body of work to use their own gender to represent a gender-neutral singular pronoun.  If someone has an idea for a gender-neutral singular pronoun, he should speak up.  But of course this is not considered politically correct and some my find it offensive.  So what's the solution?

Even though the singular they is commonly used in English, many people still consider it to be grammatically incorrect.  There are actually a lot of people out there care about debunking the use of they as singular pronoun.  Google lately came under fire when the company altered the Google+ social network.  In Google+ people are allowed to hide their gender, which prompts the use of they and their when updates are listed.  Google's product manager even had to address the grammar issue in a video outlining the new privacy feature.  Dennis Baron, a well-known grammarian and professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Chicago, has done extensive research into the lack of a gender neutral pronoun.  He has cited numerous examples throughout history of attempts to coin a pronoun to replace the cumbersome coordinate he or she.  Some suggested alternatives include:  thon, his-her, le, ne, and ip.  All attempts have failed, probably because these words sound foreign.  Perhaps someday linguists, grammarians, and the general public will agree on a gender-neutral singular pronoun.  But until that day, I'm just going to stick with they.  It just sounds right!  Besides, the singular they already has its own Wikipedia page. :)  Singular they - Wikipedia Page.

Other arguments for the singular pronoun THEY

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Borrow vs. Lend (Can you borrow me some advice?)

The verbs borrow and lend are often confused by English learners all over the world.  There are myriad of reasons for this.  One reason is that the verbs have a similar meaning, but are used in opposite directions. Borrow means "to take," while lend means "to give."   In order to distinguish which to use, one trick is to try substituting "take" for borrow and "give" for lend.  

Another reason for such confusion is because sometimes in a learners native language there may be only one word to signify both meanings.  For example, in Spanish the verb prestar is commonly used to indicate meanings of borrow and lend, although the true meaning of prestar is closer to lend.  When I lived in Namibia, the native language in my area was called Kwanyama.  In Kwanyama there is one word which signifies the English meaning of borrow/help/lend - kwafelenge.  This caused much trouble for the learners, as they'd sometimes ask me, "Sir, can you help me a pencil?"  However, more often than not they'd confuse borrow and lend as the the story below illustrates...       

“Mr. Wes, can you please borrow me $2?” asked a boy in grade 12 as I was walking home.  He was standing with a group of friends, each smiling to see how I’d react to this boy's request.  Getting asked for money was something I’d grown accustomed to in rural Namibia, and from time to time I’d get asked by some of the kids at school.  Interestingly enough, no matter where I went, everyone would always ask for $2.  Not $1, $3, or $4 - $2 seemed to be the standardized panhandling amount.  I had a longstanding precedence never to give learners money.  However, the education was free.  And if they asked me like this, I’d always correct them.

“You mean to say lend,” I told the boy.  “Borrow means to take something.  Lend means to give something.  So what should the question be?” I asked.

“Mr. Wes, can you lend me $2?” the boy appropriately corrected himself.  I told him good job and patted him on the shoulder.  He looked proud, and probably thought I may actually give him the money.  However, the lesson was not over.

“Now you realize,” I continued, “that in either case, the intention is that you’re going to return the money.  In this case, you plan to pay me back the $2.”

“Ouh, sir, but you are very rich!” the boy protested, and some of the others laughed.

“Nevertheless, if you ask me to lend you $2, then it means you plan to pay me back.  Now do you want to pay me back?”

“Of course not,” the boy said with a smile. 

“Okay, then what should you ask me?” 

The boy contemplated this for a moment.  I think he thought I was trying to trick him.  He looked to his peers for some assistance.  Finally, one of the boys said, “Have…use have.”

The boy turned to me again and asked, “Sir, can I have $2?”

Now we were getting somewhere.  I’m not sure if this little lend/borrow exercise would actually stick, but it was a common mistake that continuously needed to be addressed.  Of course, in the end, all the boy would have was an explanation.  But then again, most would agree that education is priceless.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What the hell is a portmanteau?

A portmanteau is word many people probably don't know of.  Yet, we use portmanteaus all the time in our daily conversations.  A portmanteau has two different meanings.

:  a large suitcase

:  a word whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms

List of some of common portmanteaus

Smog - smoke and fog

Brunch - breakfast and lunch

Spanglish - Spanish and English

Cheeseburger - cheese and hamburger

Bromance - brother and romance

Moobs - men and boobs

Cineplex - cinema and complex

Motel - motor and hotel

Sexting - sex and texting

Mexicali - Mexico and California

Spork - spoon and fork

Romcom - Romantic and Comedy

If you can think of any other portmanteaus, feel free to leave them in the comments below. :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Among vs. Amongst

Among all the words in the English language, some have variances.  Among can also be used as amongst, although it's usage varies amongst English speaking countries.  Among is commonly used in American English, while amongst is sometimes used in British, Australian, or Canadian English.  However, among is the universally accepted frontrunner.

Among, as well as amongst, are prepositions.  Among means in or through the midst of, amongst several other meanings.  Among also means:  

1 - surrounded by <hidden among the trees>
2 - in company or association with <living among artists>
3 - by or through the aggregate of <discontent among the poor>
4 - in the number or class of <wittiest among poets> <among other things she was president of her college class>
5 - in shares to each of <divided among the heirs>
6a - through the reciprocal acts of <quarrel among themselves>
6b - through the joint action of <made a fortune among themselves>
So should we use among or amongst?  Keep in mind, among is more frequently used and accepted than amongstAmong other things, remember who your audience is.  However, if you choose to use amongst, there may be discontent amongst some grammarians.  Yet the most important rule of thumb is to be consistent.  Among and amongst, although interchangeable, do not appear agreeable when dually used in books, articles, or even blog posts such as this one.