Topic 85  Bits & Pieces of Language 15 November 2019

1. An 'acronym' is a new word made from the letters of some old words. For example, 'U.S.A.' means 'the United States of America'. Usually, acronyms drop the full stop after each letter, as in 'USA'. How many acronyms can you think of?

2. "btw, imho u 4got". This means, "By the way, in my (humble) opinion you forgot". Phrases just written as the first letters in a word are 'abbreviations'. They are very common in text messages. How many abbreviations can you think of?

3. Here are two technical words: 'denotation' and 'connotation'. Denotation means the surface meaning. Connotation means the hidden meaning. For example, if a man asks a woman "What are you doing tonight?" the denotation is the simple dictionary meaning. The connotation here is usually "Will you come out on a date with me?". Now you try to think of some examples of denotations and connotations.

4. When a phrase or idiom is very common, sometimes the speaker will leave it unfinished in speech. For example, "Well, you know what I mean .." Sometimes a person says this when he/she doesn't want to speak something clearly, but expects the listener to understand. For example, "Jones is a risk. Well, you know what I mean ..". This might mean (for example) that Jones can't be trusted, so we had better not tell him XYZ. Try to think up some situations where you might say "Well, you know what I mean ..."

5. Sometimes new users of a language get the social level wrong. For example, I once heard a Korean official say to some English teachers in South Korea, "Everyone can get out now". He meant, "Everyone can leave now". "Get out!" is a very rude phrase to say when you are angry. Foreign teachers of English often make this kind of mistake. Can you think of some examples of this problem in English, or another language? [ The technical name for social levels of language is "register". So foreigners might confuse language registers].

6. In some cultures (e.g. Japanese), people might be quite comfortable to have a lot of silence when they are together. In other cultures there is strong social pressure to keep saying something and have little silence. Do you think long silences are OK in a conversation? What is your experience on this topic with English speakers?

7. Swearing (cursing) is very common in some cultures, and among different groups of people. Swearing has different 'jobs' to do (e.g. showing strong feelings, breaking taboos, being part of a social group etc). Swearing patterns change over time also. My father swore a lot, but never in front of a woman. Now in Australia that doesn't usually matter (and women with no men around sometimes swear a lot). When do you find swearing OK (if at all)? How often do you swear? Why or why not?

8. Every language changes all the time. Sometimes language changes slowly. Sometimes language changes quickly, especially when there is a lot of social & political change. Words change more quickly than grammar or pronunciation, but they all change. What are some examples of language change in English, and/or in your first language?

9. The biggest problem of being socially accepted by most Australians is not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. How you speak comes in INTONATION, RHYTHM and STRESS (the 'music' of your speech). Adults find it much harder to learn intonation than children. (Also most language teachers don't know how to teach intonation). How is the intonation, rhythm and stress of your first language different from English? How can you fix this problem?

10. English has thousands of dialects. How many different English dialects can you recognize? [Two dialects may have different pronunciation, words, or sometimes grammar. If you can understand the other speaker, it is a dialect. If you cannot understand them, it is a different language. (Dialect Vs language is not a clear black & white question).

Extra: see "Features English is missing - but most other languages have" 

85 Bits & Pieces of Language ©Thor May 2019