Recently Dawn published an article about the idosyncracies of the English Language which in turn had been found at Vicki's Here and Now. While the contents are not new, it was certainly a welcome re-read, and reminder of how tough it is to keep English straight, even for native English speakers.
I never have a straight answer when people ask what *my* "native language / mother-tongue" is. Here's why:
- Official politically-correct mother-tongue: Malay
- Mother's mother-tongue: French
- Language I think in, and am most at ease with: English
And while my grasp of English language and vocabulary was much greater than even my teachers'...
- I remember it was English with Ms Babs, so I probably was in Std 5 (11 y.o.). She was asking for "opposites of friend" - apart from the usual "enemy", she was also accepting answers like "thief". So I raised my hand and provided one of my fave words: "FIEND". Why was it my fave? Cos it's "friend" without an "r" .. because it already struck me, at an early age, that it was kinda cool to have almost-opposite words looking almost the same. Unfortunately, Ms Babs was like "Huh?", had never heard of the word, and told me I was mistaken, there was no such word in English. Oh yeah - She didn't even have a dictionary on hand to check it out. So the basis of her "What word is that? You made it up, izzit? No such thing lah!" was just her (poor) range of vocabulary.
- And how about Ms Pill who insisted that use of the word "pout" was ONLY in conjunction with "a kiss", as in "she pouted for a kiss", or to paraphrase, "she pursed her lips for the kiss". No other use/definition of pout existed. Errr... the rest of the class knew that when a kid gets upset, he could pout - which could mean "pursing" the bottom lip, or just to plain sulk! But we couldn't really do anything,,, after all, the teacher has spoken! Looking back, I wonder why none of us thought to challenge her by looking up the word in the dictionary. Then again - "the teacher has spoken" :p
... and people wonder why I have no respect for most of the teachers I've had in school...
... a lot of my vast English vocabulary was actually very passively- / theoretically-acquired; developed by reading, not hearing:
- I knew in Std 4 (~ 10 y.o.) what a hypocrite was. I'm not sure how many 10 y.o. Malaysians would know of that word at that age. Yay for me. But I thought it was pronounced hi-poe-cryt (as opposed to hippo-crit). Ugh.
- I remember my mother coming back from one of her Speakers Club meets where it had been her turn to give a speech, all excited, asking me "How do you spell A-W-R-Y?" I chose to overlook the error (unlike my [smartass] bro who answered "A-W-R-Y" LOL! Good for him!!) and replied the way we all were pronouncing it at the time: "awe-ree". Turns out she'd used it in her speech, and had been corrected and informed of the proper "uh-rye" pronunciation.
- Ms Pill again. Insisting that "milk" be pronounced something like "muhhlk". And "syrup" as "srrp" (uh-huh, didn't sound likere there were ANY vowels in there!). Fine, so we shouldn't pronounce it in its corrupted Malay form "see-rahp" when speaking in English, but "srrp"??? Puhleeeeze!
Of course, for those who were wondering, most of us Malaysians have no idea that most good dictionaries not only help provide a guide for spelling and definition and usage, but also pronunciation! Even for me, it was only much later (maybe after the awe-ree/uh-rye incident?) that I started to turn to the dictionary when in doubt of a word's pronunciation.
Nowadays I'm pretty confident with most of my words... but I *still* have problem areas:
hard vs soft g's
- Babylon 5's chief security officer is Michael Garibaldi (hard g). Played by Jerry Doyle (sounds like a soft g). No thanx to Kosh, I now have a tendency to call his character "jerry-baldi" (doesn't help that he *is* kinda short on hair, LOL!!)
- okay, seriously: the things that fish have, to help them breathe? To this day I still can't remember if it's hard "GILLS" or soft "jills"
- and for some reason, even "GESTURE" has me struggling... for some reason I think a hard g is right, but I prefer the sound of the soft g, and guess what, it *is* a soft g! But I still struggle every time I use this word...
- maybe it's a name thing... you know the actor Gil Gerard who starred in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century? so, how to say his name, ah? Jil Jerard (both soft), or both hard, or hard then soft, or soft then hard??
- then did you know of the existence of the horrid horrid "GAOL" which is pronounced the same as "jail"?????? But i think that is a British thing.
... and to a lesser extent, hard vs soft ch's
- ... speaking about British things - whether you say "sheh-jule" or "sked-yule" for "SCHEDULE" helps indicate whether you were British- or American-bred.
- what's CHIANTI, hard or soft? It's an Italian word, I *think* it's hard, but I never know....
Darn. There were more. Plenty more. But now they don't want to be shared. Bleah. You'll just have to make do with this.