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WHAT A LANGUAGE!
This story is about three Frenchmen who lived for some time in England. The first Frenchman once heard someone shout: "Look out!" He was at a hotel when he heard these words. He put his head out of the window and a bucketful of water fell on him. "It seems 'look out' means in English 'don't look out'," he said.
The second Frenchman was once on a ship and heard the captain shout: "All hands on deck!" He put his hands on the deck and someone walked on them.
The third Frenchman wanted to visit a friend of his. When he came to the door of the house he knocked. A maid opened it. He said: "Is Mr. Brown in?" The maid answered: "He's not up yet. Come back in half an hour." When he came after half an hour the maid said: "He's not down yet." He said: "If he's not up and he's not down, where is he?" The maid answered: "Oh, that's simple. When I say 'he's not up' I mean he has not got up, and when I say 'he's not down', I mean he has not yet come downstairs."
The Fumblerules of Grammar
The following humorous piece by William Safire appeared in The New York Times Magazine section on November 4, 1979, in the column “On Language”. Each rule commits the exact fault it tells the reader to avoid; this is the reason for the use of the invented word “fumblerule,” fumble being an attempt tp grab hold of something but missing it.
Do you know many of these rules? Most are observed by serious writers, but a few, although they may be taught to schoolchildren, are unrealistic and are often not observed even by educated speakers.
Get together in groups to see how many of these “fumblerules” you can correct. What strict rules about the use of your language have you been taught?
Not long ago, I advertised for perverse rules of grammar, along the lines of "Remember to never split an infinitive" and "The passive voice should never be used." The notion of making a mistake while laying down rules ("Thimk," "We Never Make Misteaks") is highly unoriginal, and it turns out that English teachers have been circulating lists of fumblerules for years.
As owner of the world's largest collection, and with thanks to scores of readers, let me pass along a bunch of these never-say-neverisms:
· Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
· Don't use no double negatives.
· Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and
· Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not
· Do not put statements in the negative form.
· Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
· No sentence fragments.
· Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
· Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
· If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of
· A writer must not shift your point of view.
· Eschew dialect, irregardless.
· And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
· Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
· Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of
· Hyphenate between syllables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
· Write all adverbial forms correct.
· Don't use contractions in formal writing.
· Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
· It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
· If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
· Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
· Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
· Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
· Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
· Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular
· If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
· Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
· Don't string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
· Always pick on the correct idiom.
· "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks."'"
· The adverb always follows the verb.
· Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives
EDUCATED OR STANDARD ENGLISH
(W. Nelson Francis)
The followingselection is from a college text whose author has wrtitten many works on the English language and on linguistics. Note his definition of standard English it terms of who uses it and how it is acquired. Note also his use of many examples to make his meaning clear.
As you read, watch for the author’s distinction between what is considered standard English in the United States and in Great Britain.
In this selection, the author refers to several speech areas in the United States. Linguists divide the United States speech areas into three main groups – Northern (including New York City);Midland, or General American (which consists of all middle America, from the East Coast to the West Coast); and Southern (especially the Southeast). Generally, a speaker from one area can understand the speech from another area. Some speech differences are beginning to disappear because of the influence of television.
Educated or Standard English is that naturally used by most college-educated people who fill positions of social, financial, and professional influence in the community. Some people learn it as their native speech, if they come from families that already belong to this social class. Others acquire it in the course of their schooling and later by conscious or unconscious imitation of their associates. Control of standard English does not, of course, guarantee professional, social, or financial success. But it is an almost indispensible attribute of those who attain such success.
In addition to its social importance, educated English is on the whole a more flexible and versatile instrument than the other social varieties. As the language of the professions and the learned disciplines, it is called on to express more complex ideas, for which it has developed an extensive vocabulary. Its grammar, too, is more complex, and it uses longer sentences with more levels of subordination. This does not mean that it presents greater difficulties to the listener or reader, provided he is familiar with its vocabulary and grammar. But the fact that it is often used to express complicated and difficault material means that, unskillfully used, it can be vague or obscure. When its resources of vocabulary and grammar are overexploited in the expression of simple ideas, it may become the inflated jargon sometimes called “gobbledygook”.
With regard to personnel utilizing the premises after normal working hours, it is requested that precautions be observed to insure that all windows and doors are firmly secured and all illumination extinguished before vacating the building.
This is obviously only a much elaborated expression of the request that can be more simply and effectively stated:
If you work late, be sure to lock the doors and windows and turn off the lights when you leave.
In the first sense of the phrase “good English”, this translation is good and the gobbledygook which it translates, though it contains no errors of grammar or usege, is incredibly bad.
The British version of standard English, RP, is the same for all speakers regardless of their place of origin. In America, however, there is no such thing as a single standard form of American English, especially in pronunciation. The nearest thing to it is the speech of anonymous radio and television announcers, which one linguist has aptly called “network English”. In contrast to the well known individual commentators, who are allowed to use their native regional pronunciation, the network announcers all use a common version of English which is in most features that of the Inland Northern area …
Because of its nationwide use, network English is an acceptable standard form everywhere. But it is not a prestige dialect. Educated speakers in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Charleston, Atlanta, or New Orleans use the dialects of their own regions in educated form. The last five Presidents of the United States are a good example of the diversity of pronunciation to be found in standard English. President Johnson speaks the educated South Midland speech of Texas. President Kennedy’s Boston speech with its lack of postvocalic /r/ and its intrusive /r/ at the end of words like Cuba, was very distinctive. President Eisenhower’s speech was a good illustration of the Middle Western variety sometimes called General American. It betrayed his Kansas origin in spite of a military career that took him to many parts of the English speaking world. President Truman retained many of the South Midland features of his native Missouri, and President Roosevelt spoke the educated version of New York City speech, somewhat modified by his Harvard education and New England connections. Although most of these men had long careers in politics and frequently addressed nationwide audiences, each of them used the educated version of his native regional dialect.
1. What is the definition of Standard English in terms who uses it? How is it acquired? Give examples to make the meaning clear.
2. What is the author’s distinction between what is considered standard English in the USA and in Great Britain?
3. The USA speech areas:
- Northern (NY)
- Midland or General American (America from the East Coast to the West Coast)
- Southern (Southeast)
Can a speaker from one area understand the speech from another area? Why are some speech differences beginning to dissappear?
BRITISH ENGLISH – AND THE LANGUAGES OF THE UK
It isn't always easy these days to distinguish between people from different parts of Britain. That's because British people move about the country more than they used to. Northerners come and live in the south. Southerners and East Anglians go to, the north, and lots of Scots, Welsh and Irish come and live in England. More people settle in London and the south than in any other region. That is why many Southerners do not really have a special accent - except the Cockneys from the East End of London.
Still, many Northerners think that Southerners have their own accent. They sometimes make fun of the 'southern accent': 'I say, thanks orfully, old chap! It's vair nice of you...'1 Very few people speak like that today. In fact, it is a form of upper class dialect.
The North still has a character of its own, and Southerners who settle in the North usually take on the Northern way of life. Their children soon pick up the accent from their school friends. The first thing visitors notice is the way Northerners pronounce 'mother', 'much', 'southern', 'done'. In the North these words are pronounced like the standard English 'pull'. Northerners pronounce 'dance', 'chance', 'France' like the 'a' in 'man' - as the Americans do, but when they say 'can't' they pronounce it in the Southern English way, like the 'a' in 'far'. Sometimes Northerners leave out the article, 'the', and also the possessive adjectives, 'my', 'your', 'their', etc.
Here's a Yorkshireman talking to his son, who has just returned from a long stay in London: 'Take feet off t'table, lad. London folk may put feet on t'table, but here we put 'em on t'floor.'2
Cockney has a pronunciation, accent and vocabulary unlike any other dialect. Cockneys pronounce 'wait', 'late', 'tray', etc. like 'white', 'light', 'try', etc. 'Wait for me, Dave!' becomes, 'Wite for me, Dive!', and they drop their aitches: 'have' becomes 'ave", etc.
This is how a Cockney tells his friend, Herbert, what happened to Dave when he came home drunk from the pub:
'Poor old Dive!, 'e always 'its 'is old woman when 'e's drunk. But this time, when 'e gets 'ome from the pub, 'is old woman 'as 'er bike 'elmet on. But 'e don't see the 'elmet, so 'e 'its it 'stead of 'er 'ead. 'urts "isself. 'e does!'3 Cockneys usually tell a story in the present tense.
Many linguists today say that dialects are a natural way of speaking, and that it does not matter, if the grammar and pronunciation are not standard English.
Here's some more Cockney: 'I ain't pleased with them repairs wot 'e done.'4
Norfolk dialect: 'She say it's wrong. She don't know a lot, do she?'5
West Country (Devon and Somerset): 'I be vat and wold, zurr. I stays at wom.'6
None of these examples are correct Standard English, but they are quite correct in the regions where they are spoken.
There are several non-English languages spoken in Britain today. Indian immigrants are mostly Hindu and speak Hindi. The Muslim Pakistanis speak Urdu, which is very like Hindi. Their children are bilingual. There are Indian and Pakistani children who speak with perfect Cockney or Northern accents. English is the language of West Indians, but the dialects of some of the islands are very difficult to understand. West Indian children in Britain, however, often have dialects or accents which are completely British.
There are Welsh people who are doing all they can to preserve the Welsh language. Many Welsh school children have to learn Welsh when they would prefer to leam German or Spanish. Most public signs in Wales are in Welsh as well as in English, even when this isn't really necessary:
Toilet/Toiletd. The leading members of Plaid Cymru are Welsh-speaking, but not all Welsh-speaking people want independence, or even a separate parliament. English tourists find Welsh place names like Pwllheli impossible to pronounce.
Gaelic on the Hebridean islands of Scotland will not survive as long as Welsh, because children have to go to secondary school on the mainland, where they speak English. Many school leavers find life on the islands too hard and lonely, and move to the cities.
Many Scots who do not speak Gaelic have a broad, colourful dialect that most non-Scots find difficult to understand:
'What do ye think o' yon bonnie lassie, Angus? Dae ye ken her?'
'Ay, but I dirma like her.'
'Why's that, Angus? '
'Well, mun, she's a Sassenach.'7
1 I say, thanks awfully (very much), old chap! It's very nice of you …'
2 Take your feet off the table, lad. London folk may put their feet on the table, but here we put them on the floor.
3 Poor old Dave! He always hits his wife when He's drank. But this time, when he gets home from the pub, his old woman has her bike helmet on. But he doesn't see the helmet, so he hits it instead of her head. Hurts himself, he does!
4 I'm not pleased with those repairs that he's done.
5 She says it's wrong. She doesn't know a lot, does she?
6 I'm fat and old, sir. I stay at home.
7 'What do you think of that good-looking girl, Angus? Do you know her? '
'No, but I don't like her.'
'Why,s that, Angus?'
'Well, man, she's English.' (Sassenach ='Saxon')
BRITISH ENGLISH - AND THE LANGUAGES OF THE UK
1. Find another word or phrase for the following:
2. Answer the questions:
· Where are most Cockneys born?
· How do Northerners pronounce (a) can't (b) dance?
· Find as many words as you can with the same vowel sound as: done, much, southern, mother.
· What would Dave answer if you asked him if he'd hurt his wife?
· Why do many children in South Wales not want to (earn Welsh?
· Why won't most Hebridean children go on speaking Gaelic?
3.Translation or summary:
· Either translate into your own language, or write in English a summary of the paragraph beginning: 'Gaelic on the Hebridean islands of Scotland will not...'
· Translate into standard English the Cockney passage beginning 'Poor old Dive... 'urts issetf, 'e does.'
Use these phrases to answer the questions in the dialogue:
Nonsense! – I don’t agree – Why should I? – That’s a silly argument! – That’s unfair.
British students build new language barrier
Insularity and complacency are leading youngsters to reject learning foreign tongues, raisins problems for the future, writes John O'Leary
Britain’s presidency of the European Union will begin with another demonstration of national insularity as universities prepare for a further slump in applications for degrees in modern languages.
While ministers and civil servants brush up their French, a long-term fall in interest is creating a spiral of decline in language learning. Key languages for exporters, such as German and Spanish, are no longer available in many schools.
According to research commissioned by the BBC, a third of Britons are embarrassed by their inability to speak foreign languages and 28 per cent are interested in learning one. But the emergence of English as a world language has bred complacency among many young people.
Figures to be published later this month are expected to show languages hearing the brunt of a 6 per cent fall in applications to higher education. The take-up for language A levels has dropped sharply in the past five years in spite of a general increase in student numbers and a larger pool of pupils taking French in their early teens.
The introduction of tuition fees is expected to hit four-year language courses particularly hard.
Out of almost 300,000 new undergraduates in 19% - the last year for which statistics are complete - only 249 started degree courses in Spanish and 340 in German. Even French, attracted only 1,030 new entrants. Fears are growing that the numbers taking language degrees may not be sufficient to replenish the already inadequate supply of teachers in those subjects.
Only half the 14-year-olds taking national curriculum tests in modern languages had readied the expected standard.
Research by academics at Glasgow University into a steep decline in French suggested that teenagers found the subject hard and felt under peer pressure to abandon the language.
Professor Alan Smithers, the head of Brunei University's Centre for Education and Employment Research, said:
"There is a vicious circle in which consistent decline means there isn't a big enough pool from which to recruit teachers and the quality of teaching suffers as a result. Teenagers are more excited by history and other subjects.
There is a particular problem arising from the position of English as the dominant world language. Teenagers do not have the same motivation as those in other countries to learn a foreign language and they do not know which one to learn."
There are now at least 1.5 billion English-speakers around the world. In Europe more than 40 per cent speak the language. Most continental children learn English at primary school and continue well into their teens, often adding a second foreign language.
British students' growing insularity is underlined by a drop in the numbers taking part of their degrees on the Continent. In 1995-96 nearly 22,000 continental students visited Britain on European Union programmes - the most popular destination - while fewer than 12,000 British students returned the compliment. Figures published this month suggest a decline of more than 900 Britons since then.
BRITISH STUDENTS BUILD NEW LANGUAGE BARRIER GUIDE
1. Match the following formal words with their less formal (neutral or colloquial) equivalents:
2. Join the two parts of the collocations. Supply the necessary form words (articles, prepositions, etc,):
3. Pick out from the text the words and expressions that describe the unsatisfactory state of affairs in language learning in Great Britain.
4.Explain the following:
· presidency of the European Union
· tuition fees
· peer pressure
· vicious circle
· pool (of pupils)
5.Show the difference between:
Pupil, student, entrant, undergraduate.
6.Answer the questions:
1) People of what professions need foreign languages more than others?
2) What foreign languages are popular in Great Britain?
3) How many Britons can speak foreign languages?
4) How can you account for English peopled lack of interest in foreign languages?
5) Why is it difficult to keep up the quality of language learning in Britain?
7.Compare the situation with foreign language in Britain and Belarus.
8.Work out several arguments that you think might persuade British teenagers to take up foreign languages.
LET’S RECAST THE SPELL
Patricia Hughes argues that we should do ourselves a favour, go thru the English Language and simplify the spellings.
In 1800, before the peak of imperial administration, Anne Lister of Yorkshire used words such as “honor” and “favorite”. Yet dictionaries always list “honour” and “favourite”. While at school in the 1950s I was taught that the former spellings were American and should therefore be avoided.
The truth is that American English might just have made some improvements, though we are loath to admit it. The British are subject to a myth that English never changes and never should change, though all languages do.
Where did we get this myth of our unchanging language? It came from the same stable as the notion of the Empire on which the Sun Never Sets. When the British Empire began to send missionaries around the world it became necessary to establish what belonged to the culture and what did not. Since almost all communication was by letter, spellings had to be formalised.
To invoke respect the language had to be old and traditional. This meant a conscious invocation from Latin, ancient Greek and Norman French. Thus "honor" became "honour" in line with French "honneur". Shortened forms of words in common use such as 'tho', 'thru', 'thoro' (though, through, thorough) were deliberately lengthened and made more complicated to prove their archaic heritage.
Grammar was also affected by the adoption of Latin rules superimposed on the Germanic framework of English. Verbs dependent on prepositions (to put off, to put by, to put up with) were judged to be vernacular or dialect. Whenever they were used, intricate rules based on Latin were followed to express disapproval, leading to oddities such as "Up with that I can no longer put!".
I suggest that we continue to adapt our language to our present use, and for the sake of ease of spelling. In any case, if we dont it will go the way of Latin and become obsolete except in administrative use. We should divest English English of any over-complex spelling rules that relate to Norman, Latin or ancient Greek:
· spell -our at the end of words with -or, (honor, favor);
· drop -gue and -que at the end of words, (catalog, analog);
· change -ous to -us (anomalus. deciduus, humorus);
· change -le at the end of words to -el (russel. trifel, cycel);
· change -ain at the end of words to -an (mountan, certan);
· change -ph to –f (fenomenon, telefone. frase);
In addition, simplification of the hardest spellings in the language is long overdue: though/tho; through/ thru; thorough/thoro; thought/ thort: their, there/ther.
We should do this, first, by allowing a period of change; second, adjusting spellchecks of computers to the new spellings so people get used to seeing them in print; and third, printing dictionaries with old and new spellings. This would ensure that oldies like me can still write in their own way, but also would allow youngsters to loam logical spellings.
Patricia Hughes teaches modern languages
in a comprehensive school