Posted by: scribe9 | June 2, 2010

Divided by a common language

I didn’t bring either copy of Bartlett’s with me (what, you don’t have two? One in the living room, one near the computer?), and there’s a dispute on the web about attribution, so I can only play the odds that George Bernard Shaw is the original source of the comment that England and America are divided by a common language.

That goes for other English-speaking countries as well, of course, in varying degrees. The other night, while waiting for the French Open to come on,* we watched a bit of Australian Rules Football (which isn’t much like American football–there’s almost constant motion–but is decidedly less gross than rugby). Even though I’ve been in New Zealand far longer than I was in Australia, I generally find Aussies much easier to understand than Kiwis.

It may partly be that Kiwis, being generally more diffident than Aussies, speak more softly and tend to mumble. And the men tend not to elaborate the vowels as much as the women do (“Thank ye-o-u” isn’t quite all females tend to do with the phrase), but still shift them so much–elongating short e’s, turning short i’s into u’s–that I can’t understand them any better. So, when I got the Settlement Support Newsletter (New Zealand caters to its immigrants) and saw the ad, “Would you like to understand what Kiwis are saying to you?” I was about to leap at the chance–but of course it was directed to non-English speakers.

And the synonyms keep piling up. A period is a “full stop” (I have a hard time remembering that one), and one uses “speech marks” rather than quotation marks. Hard candies are “boiled lollies.”

And then there are the plurals. In the British fashion, a team or committee with a singular name is treated as plural. “The cabinet are considering….” While mathematics is shortened to “maths,” sports are collectively “sport.” Ice cream cones or novelties can be “ice cream,” or “ice creams,” or “icecreams.” (And if I were typing this New Zealand/British style, the speech marks would be inside the commas and full stops.) A serving of food is a “serve.”

I can’t complain too much, since I’m lucky enough to have English as a first language. It’s truly impressive how much our Icelandic friends have picked up in their six months here. But the woman is expecting a baby, and has a hard time remembering that “pram” isn’t pronounced “prahm,” despite the fact that most short a’s are pronounced as “ah.” Ah, English, so full of inconsistencies.

*Except for highlights and the men’s final, it’s only shown live–originally starting at nine pm, but now that so many players have been eliminated, not until midnight–and it runs until five in the morning. I like watching tennis, but not that much. We got spoiled with the Australian Open, which was live during our afternoons and evenings.

Soccer fans are a bit luckier–although World Cup games start near midnight, the last start at 6:15 in the morning.

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Responses

  1. It was indeed George Bernard Shaw, but being too lazy to go upstairs to get my copy of Bartlett’s, I just googled it.


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