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

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 (or “corrupted”) by 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!)

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