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crazy english April 22, 2008

Posted by AP in international, language.
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the new yorker reports on gearing up for the 2008 summer olympics:

China intends to teach itself as much English as possible by the time the guests arrive, and Li [Yang] has been brought in by the Beijing Organizing Committee to make that happen. He is China’s Elvis of English, perhaps the world’s only language teacher known to bring students to tears of excitement. He has built an empire out of his country’s deepening devotion to a language it once derided as the tongue of barbarians and capitalists. His philosophy, captured by one of his many slogans, is flamboyantly patriotic: “Conquer English to Make China Stronger!”

Li peered at the students and called them to their feet. They were doctors in their thirties and forties, handpicked by the city’s hospitals to work at the Games. If foreign fans and coaches get sick, these are the doctors they will see. But, like millions of English learners in China, the doctors have little confidence speaking this language that they have spent years studying by textbook. Li, who is thirty-eight, has made his name on an E.S.L. technique that one Chinese newspaper called English as a Shouted Language. Shouting, Li argues, is the way to unleash your “international muscles.” Shouting is the foreign-language secret that just might change your life.

Li stood before the students, his right arm raised in the manner of a tent revivalist, and launched them into English at the top of their lungs. “I!” he thundered. “I!” they thundered back.

“Would!”

Would!

“Like!”

Like!

“To!”

To!

“Take!”

Take!

“Your!”

Your!

“Tem! Per! Ture!”

Tem! Per! Ture!

One by one, the doctors tried it out. “I would like to take your temperature!” a woman in stylish black glasses yelled, followed by a man in a military uniform. As Li went around the room, each voice sounded a bit more confident than the one before.

common errors in english April 7, 2008

Posted by KG in books, language, lists, misc.
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“Mixed-up, mangled expressions; foreign-language faux pas; confused and confusing terms; commonly mispronounced words—they’re all explained in this useful and entertaining guide.”

it’s all online here

some examples:

agnostic/atheist:

Both agnostics and atheists are regularly criticized as illogical by people who don’t understand the meaning of these terms. An agnostic is a person who believes that the existence of a god or gods cannot be proven or known. Agnosticism is a statement about the limits of human knowledge. It is an error to suppose that agnostics perpetually hesitate between faith and doubt: they are confident they cannot know the ultimate truth. Similarly, atheists believe there are no gods. Atheists need not be able to disprove the existence of gods to be consistent just as believers do not need to be able to prove that gods do exist in order to be regarded as religious. Both attitudes have to do with beliefs, not knowledge.

“Agnostic” is often used metaphorically of any refusal to make a judgment, usually on the basis of a lack of evidence; people can be agnostic about acupuncture, for instance, if they believe there is not enough evidence one way or another to decide its effectiveness.

chai:

Chai is simply the word for “tea” in Hindi and several other Asian languages. The spicy, milky variety known in India as masala chai is called “chai” in the U.S. Since Americans likely to be attracted by the word “chai” already know it’s a tea-based drink, it’s both redundant and pointless to call the product “chai tea.”

language and evolution February 5, 2008

Posted by AP in language, science.
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economist.com reports on new research that suggests biological evolution and linguistic evolution behave similarly:

Languages are formed not, it seems, by a gradual drifting apart of two groups who no longer talk to each other, but by violent rupture. Around a third of the vocabulary differences between modern Bantu speakers arose this way, around a fifth of the differences between speakers of Indo-European languages, and around a tenth of the Austronesians. That compares with around a fifth for biological species.

All this suggests that the formation of both languages and species is an active process. For species, adaptations to novel environments and the need to avoid crossbreeding with those on the other side of the split are both plausible hypotheses. For languages, the explanation may be a cultural rather than biological need to distinguish populations.