Lilac jacaranda under blue and gold: in this pacific paradise, you’re kicking stones and humming as the city drops away below. A Cuban trumpeter trails flat orange notes. You spin me round by fountains splashing carmine Carmenere. I’m ecstatically serene. It’s raining rainbows.
“Look at them!” you say: two children kissing on a plant pot. “They’re finding their own way in love.”
Like we will, in the southern sun.
“Like I will,” you say, to yourself, “One day.”
I struggle after you in the high heat. Did I hear right?
“But not yet,” you say, to the stones, “Not yet.”
© Joanna Rubery 2017
There was one thing I wanted to know as the plane touched down: were we actually abroad? On the one hand, everyone was driving on the left, paying in pounds, and speaking in English (albeit with what sounded like a faintly South African accent). On the other, everything was the wrong colour: yellow telephone boxes, red squirrels, and green pound notes (yes, pound notes – remember them?). As we wound our way through a lush forest of palm trees on the way to the capital, I looked at the bus ticket the driver had given me and saw:
Bouônjour à bord d’la beusse
It looked like French; or rather, it looked how French might look through a tropical haze. In fact, it was my first glimpse of real Jèrriais, the native language of Jersey – rich, colourful, and full of quirky phrases. I’m not sure if I ever worked out whether we were actually à l’êtrangi (abroad) or not; but I did learn this handy Monday-morning response to Comme est qu’ tu’es? (How are you?): J’sis coumme eune pouque mouoillie (I feel like a wet bag).
Continue reading “[For the Oxford Words blog:] Jèrriais, the language of Jersey”
Do learners of English make particular mistakes in grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary depending on their mother tongue? (While linguists distinguish between an error, made by a student who doesn’t yet know the correct rule, and a mistake, made by a student who knows the rule but momentarily forgets it, I’ll use mistake to cover both cases.)
It makes intuitive sense that some (particularly lower-level) mistakes are more likely to be made by speakers of certain languages. One well-known example is that speakers of Slavic languages, such as Polish, often miss out articles (*she bought new car) while speakers of Romance languages, such as Italian, occasionally drop in too many (I love the my sister!). These kinds of mistakes reflect the nature of the students’ mother tongues, and are arguably fairly minor, but other kinds – such as the greater tendency among speakers of certain Asian languages (like Khmer or Japanese) to mix up he and she – may lead to real communication difficulties.
Continue reading “10 mistakes made by learners of English”
ooh, cute guy at the bar!- but we’re off
#1 – well. I guess it’s not a deal-breaker …
#2 – mmm, visa hunter
OK #3 is blind drunk
#4 – nice eyes!
#5 – ”…the rope snapped and -” aargh! the bell
#6 – sits with his back to me
#7 –…isn’t it “aged up to 40”?
#8 – no. just – no
#9 – man from the bar! “At last!”
#10 – …sorry, still thinking about – we’re done?
definitely #9! #4 and #9…
I’ll just hit refresh
© Joanna Rubery 2017
Cast your mind back to your twelve-year-old self stuck in the classroom on a Friday afternoon in the middle of a French lesson. (Or German, or Spanish, for that matter.) If you grew up as a native monolingual English speaker, what was the thing you struggled with the most when learning a foreign language? Was it the convoluted concoction of verb conjugations? The weird and wonderful sounds you had to produce? Or perhaps the fact that téléphone was masculine and voiture was feminine?
This last point – getting the gender right – is one that perplexes many native English speakers, who scratch their heads at the idea that random inanimate objects could be thought of as masculine or feminine, perhaps because of all the cultural associations we attach to those terms. In fact, classifying nouns by gender is not unusual – around half of the world’s languages spoken today feature some kind of formal gender system. The English language itself used to be no different to modern German in this respect, as Old English grouped nouns into three genders. In Anglo-Saxon times, if you stood on a brycg (bridge – feminine) looking out to sea, you may have glimpsed a wifmann (woman – masculine, oddly enough) on board a scip (ship – rather interestingly, neuter). You would probably then realize you had been drinking too much ealu (ale – also neuter.)
Continue reading “This blog is a he: gender in foreign languages”
This interactive quiz works much better over on OxfordWords, where it was published on October 4, 2016.
It would always throw people when we told them. The four of us – my sister and I, and the two boys – spent all our school holidays together, and we all had dark hair. So when people asked if my “brothers” wanted an ice cream too, I’d have to take a deep breath and explain – in the long-suffering way that only a ten-year-old can – that they weren’t actually my “brothers” but my “second cousins once removed”. Typically, the reaction would be one of deep befuddlement (particularly from other children: “removed from what??”) Meanwhile, anyone vaguely familiar with the workings of kinship would hazard tentatively, “But if they’re once removed…why are they the same age as you?” (If you can guess why we were all more or less the same age, check your answer at Age is just a number.)
So this article is an attempt to help you fathom out your family tree, or at least the lower branches. First, though, let’s look at the pedigree of the word cousin itself.
Continue reading “Relational language: the language of cousins”
“They’ve called me back,” she says, letter in hand.
“You’ll be fine, mum,” they all soothe. “Look, it’s snowing!”
White flakes. White coats. White lies.
“I’m very sorry -” but he isn’t, at all -“There’s nothing more we can do.”
No. She’s not ready. She has unfinished business. “Nothing?”
He’s scrawling away.
“Except the usual,” he says, nodding to a door in the corner, an ordinary door, with “Enjoy!”
She opens the door and steps through to sunshine and sea, her bare feet tiny on hot sand.
“And where’ve you been?” asks mum, shaking out a towel.
© Joanna Rubery 2017
Onyx eyes, you hypnotize
My polyandrous heart.
I came in here ambivalent
But found my counterpart.
Though you’re a born philanderer
And I’m more orthodox,
We dialogue, philosophize,
And synch outside the box.
We’re sympathetic telepaths,
You’re zinging pyrotechnics
Throughout my anatomy
With cryptic, enigmatic,
You render me ecstatic
When you pseudo-brush my arm.
So let’s be democratic
And put it to the vote:
Let’s abandon logic after
Your next anecdote,
And convert to kinetic all
That latent energy.
Kiss and decakiss my
You can be my sine, my cosine,
And I will be adjacent,
Perpendicular, your muse.
Let’s create a synthesis
Of perfect geometry,
Since loving is cathartic, but
love’s just hyperbole.
I don’t care about tomorrow!
Let’s hedonize tonight!
Autograph my psyche
In your mythologic guise.
Tonight I’m Aphrodite,
You are Eros, telling lies.
© Joanna Rubery 2017
Reflect and refract
When was the last time you looked out the window and said, “Oh look! There’s a many-coloured refraction of light from drops of water!”? Well – OK, if you said that last week then feel free to skip the next paragraph, but most of us refer to the sudden splash of colours in the sky as a rainbow, an eye-catching natural phenomenon which has been rich in cultural significance throughout human history.
The science behind rainbows is reasonably straightforward: when sunlight hits a raindrop, it slows down and is refracted, or made to change direction. The raindrop acts as a tiny prism, splitting the white light into all its individual hues. Some of this light is reflected back and further refracted on entering the air again, dispersing outwards to create the spectrum of shades whose names we probably all remember from the school playground.
Continue reading “Chasing the rainbow connection”