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English Detective # 90 Some Oddities of English 9-5-17
September 05, 2017

# 90 Some Oddities of English 9-5-17


While working on a course about English Vowel Sounds (almost done now), I’ve come across some of the odd and fascinating aspects of English. This issue links to articles on the schwa (the vowel sound of unaccented syllables), some quirks or oddities of English, and the way British and American terms get adopted by (or “corrupt”) the “other side.”

To understand the schwa, it’s important to remember that English is a “stress-timed” language. We don’t allow equal time for every syllable, but give much more importance to the stressed syllables that carry the majority of the meaning. When we speak quickly, we barely take time to pronounce the “unimportant” syllables, and slide into an easy neutral vowel sound. There’s a better, more complete explanation here.

Hannah Karnei makes some fascinating comparisons between English, Spanish, French, Belarusian, and Russian in “Language Quirks.” My only reservation in sharing this is that some of the sentence structure, especially in the last paragraph, is as much Spanish as it is English. Don’t use that paragraph as a model, but it’s well worth thinking about the ideas she shares. I’d be very interested in any comments you have about the differences between English and other languages you know. (If you’d like to share those thoughts, you can ‘reply’ to this email. I will include them in the next issue of English Detective. Please say whether you would like your name mentioned or not.)

In ”Language Corruption is a two-way street,” Ben Yagoda discusses the ongoing exchange of words and expressions between the U.S. and the U.K. He argues that British complaints about unwanted “Americanisms” now being used in England are only half the story. He gives examples of many Britishisms Americans have recently adopted.

The process may be as old as the connection between the two countries, but it has speeded up with the Internet and international news services. It appears clear that even language purists who don’t want any new terms from across the Atlantic can’t put up a wall high enough to keep them out!



Take a break from vocabulary practice this issue. (Some of you have just gotten back to school, and to be honest the articles in this issue have little vocabulary in common!)

If you really need something more to do, after Sept. 6 or so you could check out the Overview video—part of the free intro to my Vowel Sounds course. Slide 6 gives some examples of words with a schwa. I hope to have that video up by Sept. 6 or before, and the rest of the course uploaded within a week or so.

(I think you have to sign up for the course to see any of it, but you don’t have to pay unless you want more. The Overview and the lesson on the Ways to Pronounce ‘A’ are free.)

If you do look at it, I would love feedback about it: was it clear enough? Did it leave out information that would be important for someone learning English to know? How could I improve it? I’m still just learning how to present courses online (& barely have started learning video recording!) but I hope I can make it understandable.

If you have feedback or suggestions, you can just reply to this newsletter.


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