Monday, July 21, 2003

Mark my words

Many languages have the ability to express a particular thought in a variety of ways. Indeed, we instinctively base our choice of words on the current circumstances, casual for friends and peers, more formal for authority figures, playful or curt with children and so on. The differences sometimes don't amount to much and yet we have known since childhood how to make these adjustments and what they mean when others make them.

One form of language adjustment leads us to use what linguists call "marked" language. In this case, we use a form of address somehow inappropriate to the moment, but for a distinct reason. The article below discusses "marked" language and the way such language can complicate interpretation in a multi-national situation.

The Italians have a saying, "Traduttore, tradittore" which means "To translate is to betray." I think they mean that any translation to some degree misrepresents the original meaning, especially a direct translation which often misses the not just the essence but even the sense of the statement. Marked language may lead to just such a "betrayal".
Read the full article: Daily Yomiuri On-Line

English as a "first" language?

Many of us have had the experience of having to speak English slooowly and care-full-ly to a non-native English speaker. I think most of us would believe that learning English as our first language qualifies us as the "best" speakers of English. Now that English has emerged as the de facto language of world business, we have a natural advantage over all those millions of competitors who speak it as a second language.

Or do we?

In this interesting article by Peter Krouse of the Newhouse News Service, the author offers evidence that many people who have learned English as a second language can understand each other better than they can native speakers, regardless of their first language. Apparently ESL teaching has produced a somewhat simplified form of English that transcends accents and the lack of idiomatic understanding. Those of us who don't know this new form of English may soon find ourselves unable to communicate effectively in multi-national situations.

Perhaps I should title this item "English (1) is not English (2)"?

Read the full article: Newhouse News Service

Saturday, July 19, 2003

"It's just a word..."

In the literature of general semantics, we learn again and again that the words we use directly influence our thoughts and feelings. In this article from the British newspaper, the Guardian, Oxford professor Richard Dawkins reveals his changing perception of the importance of little words.

Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | The future looks bright