Author: kingleo4ever

Why English is tough [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2006-1-2 12:44:48 |Display all floors

And try dialects!

I'm a native speaker of English, and I find it much more difficult to translate things from English to either French or Esperanto than it is to translate from French or Esperanto to English. Why is this?

One reason is that in formal writing French and Esperanto have a standard corpus (as defined by the Académie Française for French, and the Akademio de Esperanto for Esperanto), to which most speakers of these languages adhere worldwide for any formal writing, whereas English doesn't have any international standard (granted some nations have national standards, but China isn't one of them). This means therefore that if I read 'billion', I don't know if one means 'thousand million' (as is the most common meaning today), or 'million million' (as is the traditional meaning in britain as well as etymological meaning of the word!).  And if I should read 'corn', does it mean 'grain' or 'local grain' (the most common agricultural meaning in the UK outside the phrases 'corn on the cob' or the word 'corn-cob', which is usually wheat in England and oats in Scotland, or is it 'maize' (as is traditionally the meaning in the US, and now also a common meaning in Canada, Australia and New Zealand)?  And what's an 'elevator'?

In the end, in order for me to be able to translate such texts effectively, I need to be able to guess the meaning of the word from context, and that can be created a few ways.  It can come from a knowledge of the original writer's nationality and national background (so if he's a usonian who's always lived in the US, his English is likely to be consistently usonian; if he's a  usonian who's lived in the UK for awhile, or for whatever reason seems to show a preference for british English, then I as the translator of his text might need to relay on other clues to figure out the meanin gof his words), education (if he's chinese, but I know for certain that he's studied US English all his life, lived in the US awhile, never set foot on British or other national soil, and is a true usonophile, then I could guess that his use of words is likely to b e usonian), culture (if the text is talking about, let's say, the corn industry of the Province of Jilin being famous across China, yet I know that Jilin is not necessarily famous for grains in general, but more specifically for maize, then it's reasonable to guess that by 'corn' is meant 'maize', especially if US spelling is often used in other parts of the text), logic (for instance, the phrase 'corn' could only mean 'maize' in the phrase 'corn is the most profitable grain in this province'), or an explicit language and corpus policy (for instance, if the document I'm translating should specify as a matter of policy that the national variety of English the organization in question ought to use for all its documents in the English language is the standard national variety commonly used in the UK, or the US, or wherever). Now even spelling means nothing, sinse some Chinese (and I've witnessed this myself) will use an Oxford dictionary (thus using primarily British definitions) but relying on Microsoft word on the US setting for spelling, seeing absolutely nothing wrong with mixing the two varieties in this way, and unaware that this merely leads to an inability on the part of the translator later to determine the national variety to follow, again especially if much Chinglish is involved).

One problem which could occur, however, is that none of these factor are present.  Let's suppose for a moment that I don't know who the original writer of the English text is, and am unsure of his ability to distinguish between US and UK English (due to the strong presence of Chinglish in the text, which can also take away any logical context which could allow me to guess the meaning of the word), and sinse I might not be familiar with local industry myself, the cultural context breaks down likewise!  At that stage, I'm at a loss as to which national variety of English I ought to follow!

When I translate to English, I'll usually avoid bi- or multi-dialectic words, recognizing that, especially for non-native readers of English around the world, English is tough enough as it is, without having to look into the dictionary just to find so many national definitions from which to choose.  For instance, instead of 'corn' (unless the context is obvious, even for those who might not possess a high level of English, such as'corn on the cob or corn-cob), I'll more universally defined words such as 'maize', 'grain', 'local grain', 'wheat' or 'oats', depending on my meaning.  Instead of 'billion', I'll use 'thousand million' or 'million million', and instead of 'elevator, I'll use 'lift', 'grain elevator' or 'escalator'.

These are just some ideas for anyone who should write text which is intended to be translated into other languages later, especially if the translator might not necessarily know you personally, and thus be unable to ascertain your nationality.


This has in fact lead me to believe that if China intends to rely on English for international communication [which seems to be the case, judging by the current education policy of the central government (i.e., English as the obligatory second language for most Chinese)], then it would seem sensible for the education othorities to adopt an official corpus policy, whereby all Chinese would be required to learn the same national variety of Enlgish nationwide.  This would mean that, over time, chinese English would become known for that variety, and so whenever one is in doubt of the significance of a particular word due to its not being obvious from context (which is common with strong Chinglish), he would know to default to the official Chinese national variety, whatever that might be.  Alot of Chinese seem to underestimate how 'nationally contextualized' English really is, with breakdown occurring almost as soon as a national variety can't be determined.

Anyway, this is just from my experience with English in China.

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Post time 2006-1-2 12:51:16 |Display all floors
The Chaos
Charivarius (G. Nolst Trenité)
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

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Post time 2006-1-2 12:52:27 |Display all floors
I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough** and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead-it's said like bed, not bead.
For goodness sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for pear and bear.
And then there's dose and rose and lose
Just look them up--and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward.
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come I've hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five!

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Post time 2006-1-2 12:53:17 |Display all floors
At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
They were too close to the door to close it.
It was difficult to coax the coax cable through the conduit.
The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
The dove dove into the bushes.
The entrance to a mall fails to entrance me.
I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
The insurance for the invalid was invalid.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
A cat with nine lives lives next door.
She will mouth obscenities unless you stop her mouth.
After a number of injections, my jaw got number.
I did not object to the object.
We polish the Polish furniture.
There is no time like the present to present the present.
A farm can produce produce.
She was reading a book in Reading.
The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.
On the road to the race, the oarsmen rowed about who rowed the best.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
I shed a tear when I saw the tear in my clothes.
The unionised gas smothered the unionised workforce.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
The bandage was wound around the wound.

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Post time 2006-1-2 16:59:50 |Display all floors
nothing is difficult but making  the decision to do it.Once you deside,then,try every means to make it.Make impossible possible.

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Post time 2006-1-3 18:13:46 |Display all floors
Originally posted by mencius at 2005-12-24 23:44
Try learning French! Trying to remember which nouns are "masculine" or "feminine",


i take French as my 2ed language. It is hard indeed. Though, i'd like to take full use of my winter holiday ,e.g. pick up what i have missed out. I have lots of credit hours this semester. I spend much more time on French but the results seem to be not good. Maybe i should change my way of learning French , coz there are some difference between English and French.Well ,the rule of the  pronunciation is much easier.
English is not as tough as you think, at least , you can be a good learner.
There is nothing we can not conquer~~~summon up our courage! that's it!
Vouloir, c'est pouvoir!*(.".)*

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Post time 2006-1-7 08:37:30 |Display all floors

The secret

I think that any language has its own unique kinds of difficulties. The reason why children are able to learn more easily is that they don't question anything; they just accept and follow.

Adults, who are already familiar with the rules in their own language, find it difficult to accept the completely different rules in another language.

When learning a new language, in your mind you are always questioning and rejecting everything in the other language. You are always thinking, "why cannot it be like my own beautiful language", etc.

It is often this resistance, this questioning, this rejection that creates barriers to learning. Because your mind rejects it, it does not retain it.

So you have a problem. On the outside, you want to learn the language. But on the inside, your mind pushes it away.

The only way to overcome this problem is to learn complete acceptance. Teach your mind to accept. Only when you have mastered the language can you start questioning its logic.

To use a sentence from Stephen Covey, "Seek first to understand, and then to be understood".

Imagine that you can play tennis, and you want to learn soccer (football). Will you start asking, "Why is this football so big? Why cannot it be small, like my beautiful tennis ball? Why do you need such a big field?" etc?  It sounds silly, doesn't it?

But we do exactly this when we are learning languages. We question why the new language cannot be like ours.

But if they are the same, why would you have to learn a new language?

The problem with languages is that they are not created at one single point of time, by a very clever person with a very clear plan. They just develop over the centuries. We inherit them, and then we make some additions and some changes (English has changed a lot in the past), but we cannot really make too many changes, because then the language would become completely different. That's why humans have been searching for the ideal universal language, and experimenting with things like Esperanto.

[ Last edited by changcheng at 2006-1-7 08:41 AM ]

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