Archive for the 'English' Category

November Novel Writing

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

I would like to write more but instead of writing I spend time thinking about writing.  Or reading books on language and writing.  Last night I started reading a book on Hypnotic Writing.  I get the impression that this is supposed to be about writing that is so good that you are put under a spell by it.  The book, unfortunately, put me to sleep.

To help me find focus I have decided to join the NaNoWriMo writing challenge.  I have no idea if I’ll be able to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November but it might be a fun thing to try.  This will mean writing around 1,700 words a day.  (At the minute this blog post only has 125 or so words in it).  I also have no idea what I would write a novel about but if all else fails I suppose I could write something about a Japanese half-werewolf, half-vampire, that decides to terrorize Ireland… or maybe not.

Writing Tips

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

I would like to be able to write better.  This leads me to read various articles about the art of writing.  Today I read Russell’s article “How I Write“.  There are some things that worked for him that would never work for me.  He would think about a topic for a long period of time, let it simmer in his sub-conscious,  until he got to the stage where revelation hit.  And then he was able to dictate his whole essay or book.  I certainly need time to think but I prefer a cycle of writing and editing.

He gives three maxims to improve writing:

  1. Never use a long word if a short word will do.
  2. If you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences.
  3. Do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the reader to an expectation which is contradicted by the end.

My favourite piece of advice is directed at professors but would be useful to anyone who writes in a field filled with jargon:

I am allowed to use plain English because everybody knows that I could use mathematical logic if I chose. … I suggest to young professors that their first work should be written in a jargon only to be understood by the erudite few. With that behind them, they can ever after say what they have to say in a language “understanded of the people”.

What Does Handsome Mean?

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I was reading some Japanese today in which a girl described her friend’s family. It was all really normal until I got to the line “your Dad is handsome”. I don’t think I have ever told a female friend that her Dad was handsome. At first I thought it was because the word seems old-fashioned but I had difficultly thinking of a more modern word. My teacher suggested “good-looking” or “attractive” but both these seemed to be a strange way to describe a friend’s Dad. I realised that the problem had to do with sexual connotations and how I think a female friend would react if she thought I found her father attractive.

As a teenager I would have avoided describing anyone’s family members in any way that would have made my friends think that I found either their brothers or Dads attractive. Children don’t like to think of members of their family as sexual and even some adults don’t cope well with the concept. And I certainly wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think I was only her friend because I thought her brother was hot.

In Japan the adjective handsome does not imply that the person is sexually attractive and refers only to the person having a pleasing or dignified appearance. My teacher assumed that the meanings would be identical because the Japanese word is a loan-word taken from English.

I wonder if I think the word means more than that because I associate it with the “handsome prince” in fairy tales who goes on to become the heroine’s lover or is at least someone who is desired?

English: not quite everywhere

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Standing on the train last night I commented on how badly it smelt. I really hate the smell of alcohol seeping out of people’s pores. Marty asked me, when we were walking back to our apartment, if I realised when making that comment that people on the train might have been able to understand me. I was surprised that he asked me this because of course I know that people may be able to understand me when I speak. And I have no problems stating that I find something smelly.

Some linguists reckon that around 1.5 billion people speak English. That’s an estimate based on mother tongue, second language and foreign language speakers. That means that 1 out of every 4 people in the world can speak English well enough to understand when I say that a train carriage is smelly. Of course I am living in a city were English is only known as a foreign language so it won’t be a many as 1 in 4 Japanese who can speak English but I can’t imagine being on a full train carriage in Tokyo where there isn’t someone there who could understand me.

Being a native English speaker I have never had the luxury of thinking that others can’t understand what I am saying. Yes, I have an accent that some find hard to follow but the meaning of what I am saying can usually be picked up by other people who speak English. I have noticed that some people speak in their own language when they want to hide what they are saying. It’s rude to do this but it hasn’t people I know in Holland from saying things in Dutch that they hoped I would not be able to understand.

It’s not that sensible to assume that the people around you can’t understand when you insult them in your native language. I know that my Dad has had a lot of fun listening into Dutch conversations when he is on holiday as the Dutch assume that only other Dutch people can understand them. They hear him speak English and just assume that it’s the only language he knows. Not clever.

So Marty, your wife who is currently studying the English Language and who was reading David Crystal’s “The English Language: a guided tour of the language” when you met her last night is indeed aware that lots of people in the world can speak English.

I am an Irish

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

There is an English phrase that keeps appearing in my Japanese textbooks that drives me mad. And it came up again today. “I am a Japanese.” The first time I saw this I told my teacher I believed that it was wrong and that it should really be “I am Japanese“. She countered by saying “I am an American“. After a bit of thought, and chatting to some friends, I realised that the word “American” is both a noun and an adjective whereas I believed that the word “Japanese“, used in this context, is an adjective.

When we saw it again today, in a respected textbook, my teacher told me that she believed it was correct and that if a student writes “I am Japanese” in an exam it would be considered a wrong answer.

It is difficult for me to convince my teacher that I am correct about something in English. I don’t have any qualifications in the English Language and although I am well educated I am aware that I speak a dialect of English and that I could indeed be wrong about the use of a particular word. The other problem is that I rarely think of English sentences in grammatical terms and sometimes when I know that something is wrong I find it very hard to articulate why. So, we looked the word up in a dictionary and it said that “Japanese” is both a noun and an adjective. But since I wasn’t on the ball I didn’t quickly realise that the noun form means “the language of Japan” and may not refer to a native of Japan. I told my teacher that I would research it further.

Since I have just started studying for an English degree I have access to the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). What I discovered made me feel much better about the word. Japanese, meaning native of Japan, was formerly a noun but now it is used as an adjective. What I can’t find out is when it changed from being a noun. At least now I know that in modern English it is correct to say “I am Japanese“. What I don’t know is whether it is also correct to say “I am a Japanese“. The OED does not say that the noun is obsolete just that the use has changed and I don’t know the conventions of the dictionary well enough to know how long it takes an entry to move from former use to obsolete use.

However, it is not correct to say “I am an Irish.” as the word meaning native of Ireland is an adjective and I can’t find any reference of it ever having been a noun when used in that context.

A Time To Study

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

I’ve just read through the details of the first assignment for my English Language course. I’m really surprised by it. The assignment is in two halves. In the first half I have to make a post to a university forum about a word that is either an English dialect spoken word, a word that has recently changed meaning or a word that has become extinct. The bit that surprises me is the second half of the assignment. I am expected to post a response to one of the other student’s postings. In doing this I am supposed to display my understanding of the genre of academic online posting of messages including netiquette. I wonder what they’ll make of smileys…

Marty is already campaigning for me to write about the word “hacker”. My first thoughts drift towards the word “spam”. But I do think I’ll be avoiding writing about words in the Northern Irish dialect as I suspect most of my tutor group will do that.