Posted by: scribe9 | July 1, 2010

Which English?

I got a letter to the editor printed in a magazine this week. Of course, it had been translated, so the “learned” that I wrote showed up as “learnt.”  The same magazine ran an article about an American scientist a few weeks back, in which one of her children addressed her as “Mum.” Possible, but rather improbable: more likely another translation.

One group of Year 7s (no, there are no grades–neither the age groupings nor the assessments, which are known as marks) that I tutor was amazed at how I pronounce or write certain words, such as leaving out the u in neighbour. They did admit, however, that the American “er” at the end of such words as center makes much more sense than the British “re” ending.

New Zealanders pronounce most short a’s as aw–bath is bawth–but not all of them. The other day we were working on verse. I suggested a pair of words which turned out to rhyme in American English but not New Zealand English.

Today those year 7s wrote poems about colors. The boy was writing about purple, and mentioned a purple cow. I immediately launched into Gelett Burgess’s verse. (By the way, he also wrote “Table Manners” about the Goops–worth looking up, if you enjoy silly poems, at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/burgess_gelett.html.) The boy asked, “But why wouldn’t you want to be a purple cow?” I replied, “Because they end up as steaks.” His next question: “Who would want to eat hot metal?” He had been saying purple car, but it sounded to my somewhat deaf American ears like purple cow. All four tutees got a good laugh out of that one. Later one asked whether I would call my top a jersey or a jumper. Neither, I replied; it’s a sweater. Another round of laughter.

Thus inspired, I pulled out one of my favorite jokes (that means my family never wants to hear it again), which was timely since today is Canada Day. I told them that Canada was named by one person pulling letters out of a hat, and the other giving the popular Canadian response: “C.” “Eh?” “N.” “Eh?” “D.” “Eh?” Since they were familiar with that habit, they appreciated the joke. At least I’m providing entertainment.

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