Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sing 'The Star Spangled Banner'

A few weeks ago when we were discussing customs and traditions, one of my CAE students asked if I would sing the National Anthem. I sang a few bars but promised I would teach it to them. The following week after searching on YouTube for a simple, straightforward rendition of the song (and failing!), I ended up downloading a music track for 'The Star Spangled Banner', and we sang it karaoke-style.

There are several reasons to teach our National Anthem. First, there's actually quite a lot of useful vocabulary (dawn, twilight, burst, perilous, banner, broad, stripes, 'the land of the free and the home of the brave'). Secondly, as with any song, by singing or saying it aloud, you get a sense of the rhythm and pronunciation of English. You learn to pay attention to stress patterns and to link final consonants to words with initial vowel sounds (dawn 'searly light). Finally, if you live in a town with football or baseball teams and your students attend games, they can participate in the opening ceremonies and sing the National Anthem with the crowd of sports fans. Even though these students are not American, they can take part in our tradition of singing this song and, unlike some Americans, actually understand the meaning of the words.

Here I also include The National Anthem link to Wikipedia which gives the history of the anthem (for a longer content-based lesson). Now stand up and sing!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Did you do it by accident or on accident?

It's hard enough teaching Cambridge students differences between British English and American English, especially in the use of prepositions ('at the weekend' vs. 'on the weekend'; 'in hospital' vs. 'at the hospital'). Now, apparently, in addition to regional differences in American English, I may need to be aware of generational differences in prepositions. Today NPR's (National Public Radio) 'A Way with Words' discussed the finding that 'by accident' (accidentally) is used by people who are 30 years of age or older while the under-30 age group sometimes uses 'on accident' to mean the same thing.

Good grief! At this rate of 'evolution,' will all the prepositional phrases that I use and teach sound odd to the next generation? Where did 'on accident' come from? Is the change related to the expression 'on purpose'? The word wizards on NPR didn't have an answer to this either....

Monday, October 5, 2009

What's the point of other Englishes?

I am currently studying Japanese using textbooks and some online resources and wondering again about all the English that has gotten into the Japanese. In fact, a few nights ago on T.V., I watched a news clip about Japan's interest in 'gureen enerugii' (グリイーン エネルギー) - that is, 'green energy.'

The absolute worst words for me to say in Japanese are the words that are 'English' words, but are transliterated into Japanese, like アイスクリーム (aisu kureemu), アメリカン(amerikan), or コーヒー (kouhi) - ice cream, American, or coffee. These words are the dead giveaways that I am definitely NOT Japanese (even though my bloodline is '100パーセント' (100%) Japanese. That's a topic for another day!)

For a quick overview of loanwords in Japanese, I found this link to be instructive and fascinating. Of course, vocabulary has moved in the other direction too. Wikipedia contains a list of Japanese words that have found their way into the English dictionary.

Exploring my roots in anthropology, I recently read an article on 'karuchua' (culture) and how Japanese primatologists adopted that word to describe behavioral patterns observed in monkeys (i.e., the famous potato-washing monkeys). Here it seems that 'カルチャー' was chosen to distinguish it from human culture (bunka 文化). In addition, Michio Kawamura, the author of a recent article entitled 'Interaction Studies in Japanese Primatology' (Primates 50:142-152, 2009), wrote that "as a native Japanese speaker, I am aware that papers written only in Japanese or papers that can only be expressed in Japanese contain unique ideas and important observations. I will not be able to introduce all the ideas that even their original authors could not express in English."

To answer my own question, perhaps the point of 'Japanese English' is to be able to use some items or concepts (using Japanese transliterations of English words) for which there doesn't seem to be a Japanese equivalent. On the other hand, Professor Sharon Traweek (personal communication) mentioned years ago that in her field of comparative science studies, Japanese physicists often spent time creating new combinations of kanji to create a Japanese word for a thing that already had an English label. Similarly, the French avoided transliteration of the word 'computer' by coming up with their own term, 'l'ordinateur', which you're expected to use when speaking French and doing business in France (M.B. Vineberg, pers. comm.).

As English continues to spread around the world, there has been a lot of transliteration going on. Some words or concepts are easily adopted, but others seem resistant to this process. Now that, to me, is fascinating!