by Eva van Loon
Twins with the surname of Eye
will not let a sentence pass by
without Hurren Eye or Himmen
(Quick, check: men or women?)–
it’s enough to make English profs cry!
Oh, no! Another instance of language doing kinky things to itself!
Englese, that devilishly inventive tongue that seems to think it has a better way to say anything, has come up with a set of pronoun twins joined at the hip—or maybe it’s the head. Surgery needed if Standard English is preferred!
Hurren Eye should sit down for a good gabfest.
There’s nothing between Himmen Eye.
Who the heck are these Eye people? Nobody had ever heard of them forty years ago.
When I was a kid there were a few people who said me when they should have said I. Example: Me want a burger. Cringe! Baby stuff, right? What is this? Sesame Street?
Some teachers with far too much edjumacation went to great pains to explain that Standard English, although very successful in knocking the stuffing out of case endings for most words, still suffers from a bad case of case when it comes to the soft underbelly where the pronouns tend to gather. The pronouns are still clinging to case as if they were French, or Spanish, or even—gasp!—German.
English still has three leftover cases for those pesky pronouns: nominative, possessive, and objective. Think I, my, me, or he, his, him, or she, her, her and you’ve got it. The thing is, in Standard English you can’t mix and match. You can’t pick I from the nominative and him from the objective and jam them into the same phrase—that’s…well, kinky. Read more »
by Eva van Loon
Speech melody is that quality of sound that tells you which language is being spoken before you’ve understood a single word.
Lots of us can imitate the timing, pitch and emphasis of, say, Italian, throw in what we think are Italian vowel sounds, and everyone within earshot will understand instantly that we’re joshing around with Italian.
Any mother tongue has a unique speech melody. We never think about it, since we learned our mother tongue aurally, naturally. Only when people begin to read does the issue of speech melody arise. How does the music of English look on the page to someone learning to read?
“Tada tada tada tada tada.” That’s a typical English sentence, the kind Shakespeare liked. The period stands for a dropped, emphatic tone on the last syllable. Since the period is a full stop, count one-two before speaking the next sentence. The pause signals the listener that a fresh thought is beginning.
Commas signal a one-count pause, telling the listener an intervening thought is imminent. A question mark warns the reader to raise the voice towards the end of the sentence. Exclamation marks usually end only short sentences, because the reader needs to know right from the beginning that excitement is building.
In a hundred words, that's basic code for the speech melody of Standard English.
People who don’t have auditory-learning deficit hear in their heads the words they read. When they see a comma, they hear a pause. If you, are of the Pre-electronic Generation (a PEG), don't you hear the words on this page rising toward a question mark? You tense with excitement as your eye nears the exclamation mark! If you hit a dash, the most exciting and unusual mark of the code, your eyes are entitled to a full stop—perhaps even a tear or two. Read more »
by Eva van Loon
A recent US essay states that the degree of “lexical diversity” in a speech makes a difference in how intensely the audience listens. Apparently Clinton, McCain, and Obama during the recent election were “very unique” in crafting speeches “more different than others.”
Then, this yew-neekly horrible example of American Englese: “Using more different words forces the listener to more actively process.”
Only America can split an infinitive so magnificently!
Even the computer, a yew-neekly stupid instrument, suggested a right-click for grammar help when I typed that sentence. Just for fun, I right-clicked. Sure enough, Dumbo computer thought the sentence was a “fragment” and more or less politely suggested I revise it. (This so called grammar program couldn’t identify a verb if it waltzed across the screen, skirts flying, one hand on the subject’s shoulder and the other caressing the object of its affections.)
I’m beginning to think Englese is a eunuch. A yew-nuck is someone whose gonads are gone. To me, such careless botching of language, like this essay, leaves blood and phlegm on the page (along with fat red editing marks in my yew-neek handwriting). The language no longer gives birth to meaning. It’s just…a bloody mess. Read more »
by Eva van Loon
“Papas no hay!” yells my kid, head in the fridge, searching for dinner.
“Huh?” I am unprepared for Spanish.
“There’s no potatoes!” she transla-shouts.
“Aaarggh!” I snarl back. “There are no potatoes!”
“That’s what I said.”
“No. You said, ‘There is no potatoes.’”
“Right!” She’s exasperated with her nearest ancestor, who is clearly on the edge of dementia or at least maddeningly selectively deaf. “There’s no potatoes.” Read more »
by Eva van Loon
Everyone has their dream. Right? Or wrong?
In “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” I suggested America’s materialism, its obsession with possessions, likely kicked off the constant use of their and other possessives to the point where Englese, the language most of us normally speak, usually uses their to refer to a single person.
The above sentence sounds fine in Englese. It’s spoken on CBC a dozen times a day—so it must be right! Strict SE (Standard English) speakers, however, would complain, “That, my dear sir, is a number error, a variety of pronoun-reference error. Everyone is singular, while their is plural. Where did the extra people suddenly come from? What’s with the clones?”
Naturally the Grammar Gremlin, in its daily struggle to remain untainted by Englese, goes “Bzzt! Bzzt!” whenever the their clones appear on tax-supported public media.
I promised to divulge a hitherto secret theory about how this phenomenon came about. Cherchez la femme. Without Women’s Liberation, the clones never would have happened.
Understand that SE grammar books in the Sixties corrected that sentence to read Everyone has his dream.
Some of us girl hippies fretted over the constant use of the masculine gender. We felt left out. When given the brush-off with a supercilious, “Of course the masculine pronoun includes the feminine, silly!” we became more affronted rather than less. Somehow, his didn’t seem to fit feminine dreams, or anything feminine, for that matter. Would you say Everyone has his sexual preferences, for example? Hardly! Read more »
by Eva van Loon
Are you speaking Englese or English?
Listen to yourself for a few sentences. Notice how often the words my, your, his, her, its, our, and their pop up. Every sentence? Every common noun? You’re speaking Englese.
If we could wear out words as we do cars, Englese speakers would have driven all the possessive pronouns into the ground by now. Consider these examples (Standard English equivalents provided in brackets):
You’ve got your lame ducks, your dead ducks, and your fuddleducks.
(There are lame ducks, dead ducks, and fuddleducks.)
Everyone’s got their opinion.
(Everyone has an opinion.)
A person loses their self-respect in your situation of homelessness.
(A person loses self-respect in a situation of homelessness.)
We offer our every client their solution tailored to their problem.
(We offer every client a solution tailored to the problem.)
Notice that in each case, the switch from Englese to English is easily made either (1) by skipping the pesky possessive altogether or (2) by putting an article there, instead. Since English has only three articles (the, a, an), that’s an easy choice.
All but the first of the Englese sentences use a construction that has developed in just a couple of decades. The Grammar Gremlin is joggling my arm to remind me that, in Standard English, that new construction is wrong, wrong, wrong! Can you spot the problem?
Almost all of us use this Englese.construction. I’ve heard it in films set in a time when no one would have used it (fire the Continuity person!) and even caught even the Grammar Gremlin, who would defend Standard English to the death, slipping into it aloud. However, I’m going to make you, dear Reader, wait until next issue for the answer. A single column hasn’t room to entertain a social theory about how this change in language use came about so quickly. Read more »
by Eva van Loon
It’s such a little word to cause so much confusion!
In both Englese and Standard English, its and it’s sound identical and are used in the same way in daily speech. You’d never know there’s a problem.
When it’s written, however, it’s apparent that Englese doesn’t know what to do with that little tick of ink called an apostrophe (a-posst-roe-fee). Sometimes it’s there; sometimes it isn’t. When you reflect that Englese is still more a spoken than written language, this is understandable: if an apostrophe makes no difference to one’s speech, why bother with it on paper?
On the other hand, I’m mystified why Englese often inserts an apostrophe to denote a plural, like this: Grab the bargain’s! Our special’s rock. Yuck. What a mess!
It might be a great idea to dump the apostrophe altogether after its long and illustrious grammatical career. Standard English isn’t likely to dispense with the apostrophe soon, however. So, let’s figure out where this pesky apostrophe comes from.
There’s a slew of apostrophes in this column—eleven so far. Check ’em out: in every case, the apostrophe stands for something missing: it is, you would, let us, there is, is not, let us. This, Standard English calls a contraction.
Even a dog’s tail originally, many years ago, was a dog his tail. Now the apostrophe-s construction (or sometimes just the apostrophe) is used wherever a Standard-English writer indicates something belonging to another thing or person.
The Standard-English rule is this: use the apostrophe for contractions and possessives. NEVER plurals!
Try eliminating the pesky apostrophe from these samples. What can we get away with before meaning is muddled?
Englese / Standard English
It’s/its okay to pat it’s/its head. / It’s okay to pat its head. Read more »
by Eva van Loon
Once upon a time there was a muddled language that tagged along with its empire-building speakers across an entire planet and took vigorous root everywhere. The speakers and writers of this language boasted that “The sun never sets!” on their far flung empire. Little did they realize that the language they championed as “the richest language in the world” and “the language of Shakespeare” could not maintain its “purity” any more than its proponents could prevent miscegenation in the English Empire.
Despite its multi-ethnic and scandalous parentage, vestigial grammar and outrageous spelling, English proved popular and hardy, sprouting colourful varieties of itself from the tropics to the arctics for four centuries. Alarmed by the robust rebellions of all these upstart Englishes, the original owners dubbed their own, supposedly original version of the language “Standard English”—SE for short—and wrote thick books of classic rules which even today must be mastered, from Africa to America, as part of becoming a reasonably educated person.
Over time, miscreant Englishes won the right to dub themselves with such acronyms as SAE (Standard American English, the creature nobody knows), HCE (Hawaiian Creole English, or Pidgin to the tourists), Ebonics ((black American English), and last among many others but hardly least, SCE (Standard Canadian English, universally admitted to be a closer cousin of SE, quite possibly the rightful heir to its throne should England be drowned by rising seas). Read more »
by Eva van Loon
“The most unique books in the world!” gushed the Harry Potter fan.
“One of the single largest operations the province has seen….” read a local paper.
“One of the only all-Canadian teams in the game!” boasted the coach.
These actual speakers are well on their way to fluent ENGLESE. They understand that today, vagueness is a virtue. To be a fluent speaker of Englese, one must learn the fine art of waffling. Learn to mess with the language of uniqueness.
Today’s old farts grew up in a world that not only believed in the comparative and superlative—as in good, better, best; or ugly, uglier, ugliest; and fabulous, more fabulous, most fabulous--but also believed that a few phenomena are beyond such comparison, In Standard English, truly extraordinary things merit words meaning singularity. Unique, like only, means there’s only one, just as unicycle means just one wheel but bicycle means two wheels.
Don’t tell one woman her beauty is unique and the next she’s more unique—unless you like being slapped. Don’t call one team the best on Tuesday and another team the best on Wednesday—you’ll hear complaints. And don’t claim your business is the only such venture in the province—you’re risking a lawsuit for false advertising from entrepreneurs like you who believe their gig is an original.
Being slapped, sued, and complained about are unpleasant. Smart ENGLESE speakers opt for fuzzing up the concept of uniqueness. Why stick one’s neck out? On a planet this crowded and messed up, there’s bound to be another version of the unique woman, the only team, or the single largest business somewhere, isn’t there?
Standard English is too risky, and too much work. To claim an operation is “the single largest the province has seen” or a team is “the only all-Canadian” means you’d better do the homework before blathering. That’s a lot of research. Read more »