Native speakers of English

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by ShyRebel, Mar 26, 2013.

  1. ShyRebel Registered Member

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    You are lucky to be native speakers of English. I'm not saying I hate Arabic (of course I love my native language!) but nowadays it's hard to get well-educated and read the most interesting books in the world and learn new things if you are a native speaker of Arabic living in the Middle East and not fluent in English. I feel like I'm missing sooo much in this life. I want to learn but it's hard!
     
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  3. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    There's a another viewpoint: most native speakers of English can't speak any other language, and have no idea what they are missing. So when you have acquired passable English you will have an advantage over them in more than one way.

    Also, since so many different people learn English, there is no one way to speak it - no high and rigorous standard you must meet to be acceptable, and a lot of room for contributions from Arabic. Your version will be OK in most places, as good as most people's.
     
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Actually there is both an American standard (the Hollywood-Manhattan hybrid that you hear commonly in broadcasting) and a British standard (R.P. or "Received Pronunciation," which Americans call "Oxford English" or "BBC English).

    British English has several dialects, meaning that vocabulary, grammar and/or syntax differs from standard. Cockney and Birmingham (or "Brummy") are famous.

    Dialects in the U.S. have been almost completely leveled by TV, and by the fact that the average family moves to a different city every five years. The only true dialect of any importance is AAVE, "African-American Vernacular English," also called "ebonics." But nearly all people who speak AAVE are fluent in American standard and can switch back and forth with no effort.

    There are also "accents," meaning that only the pronunciation varies. There are a number of distinctly different British accents, but in American English only a few are sufficiently different to be noticed, such as Southern and Boston, and they'll probably become rarities in another generation.

    Nonetheless, both the U.S. and the U.K. have huge immigrant populations, so we're accustomed to hearing our language spoken with a foreign accent. In the U.S., particularly Chinese, Mexican/Salvadorian and south Indian.

    English phonetics are extremely difficult so it's unusual for a person who learns English as an adult to pronounce it perfectly, and we've become accustomed to it. American English is spoken rather slowly compared to, say, Italian or Japanese, so we can usually understand foreign accents.

    As long as you use the right words and get the grammar about 95% correct, we'll understand you and be content with your communication.

    As I said in another thread, it's extremely difficult for an adult to learn a foreign language well. By age 20 our native language has completely taken over both our brain and our speech organs. As a result:
    • We can no longer learn to think in another language. We think in English and try to translate in real time.
    • English grammatical and syntactical patterns are hard-wired, so it's grueling to remember that some languages have a subjunctive mode for verbs and inflect their adjectives for masculine and feminine.
    • Our vocal organs have been optimized for English phonetics and we can no longer learn to trill a Spanish R, to palatalize a Russian T or to nasalize a Portuguese Ã.
    The same is true of people trying to learn English as adults, except, in my observation, it seems to be quite a bit harder than Spanish, Russian or Portuguese.
    • Our two TH sounds are unknown in all but a handful of other languages.
    • The American R is apparently unique.
    • Our consonant clusters are daunting: splurge, bursts.
    • And the way we use aspiration to distinguish between, for example, "wake up" and "weigh cup" is something most people cannot even hear.
    So it's misleading to tell someone his language will "be as good as most people's." He may master our vocabulary, but in grammar, syntax and phonetics he will not even come close if he didn't start when he was fifteen, at the latest.

    But as I said above, we'll understand him and his communication will be satisfactory.
     
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  7. ShyRebel Registered Member

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    I dont think english speakers are missing so many things.
     
  8. ShyRebel Registered Member

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    OMG this is so depressing. But I think it's difficult for older people to learn other languages just because they can't focus on studying it... it's not all about their brains?
     
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Sure, but I'm just talking about people in their 20s and 30s. And it's not just the brain, it's also the vocal organs. Like any other muscle, the muscles in your tongue, lips, jaw and glottis are conditioned by the motions you make with them. If you get to your 25th birthday and you've never once made your tongue form the weird retroflex R of Czech or Mandarin, you don't have the synapses to send the signals for it to the muscles in your tongue, and those muscles have lost most of their elasticity in that direction. You'll have a hell of a time learning to do it, and the odds are that you might not ever master it.

    Fortunately, in children who grow up bilingual both the brain and the vocal organs seem to have gotten the hint that if there's more than one language in the world, then maybe there's more than two. Bilingual people have a much easier time learning a third language, even in their 30s or 40s, than monolingual people have just learning a second language.

    I was lucky. In Arizona in the 1950s Spanish was a mandatory class in the 7th grade. We didn't learn it well enough to get along, but our brains and tongues got the message. When I studied German in college it was a breeze. I was 27 when I started to study Mandarin, and although I have the vocabulary of a four-year old (from living with my Chinese girlfriend and speaking it at home, so I can talk about cooking and cleaning and feeding the cat) I'm always told that I don't make many grammatical mistakes and my pronunciation is perfect. Well except for the fact that I acquired a bit of her Sichuan accent.

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    This is why so many people in smaller countries are so much better with languages than we are. Everywhere they go as children, they hear more than one language.
     
  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Oh, but they are. Chances are that a foreigner will have better English spelling and grammar than a native. Because a foreigner actually has to learn English, while a native speaker merely picks it up, like lice.

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  11. ShyRebel Registered Member

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    Oh I see. Thank you for the explanation

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    I have difficulty pronouncing some English words. sometimes when I speak English I feel like I'm doing some kind of tongue twisters XD I try to speak slowly so that I can pronounce the words correctly. my speech sounds weird though. I'm fine with Japanese words
     
  12. ShyRebel Registered Member

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    I'm not talking about grammar here. I know that native speakers don't usually notice how their language works. You are able to read science books and new studies without struggling to understand what is written.
     
  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    I'm not a native speaker of English, though.
    And I am quite sure by now that I am better able to read various English texts better than many natives.
     
  14. ShyRebel Registered Member

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    94
    You live in an English speaking community right?
     
  15. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    30,994
    Ursula Le Guin provided my favorite example in "The Lathe of Heaven", having protagonist George Orr be addressed by his alien employer as "Jor Jor". I've found musical notation useful for explaining the matter to foreign students, btw - it seems to inform or alert the ear, so they can hear what I'm referring to.

    I doubt it. The claim is not that he will speak without accent, or blend in indistinguishably, but that his language capabilities in ordinary life will match those of most people in the US. He will lack a degree of street fluency, and possibly high end subtlety or control of tone, but then so do I and most other Americans in many places - such as communities in which the street speech is "Ebonics", to note your example.
    Phonetics don't really matter that much, since so many linguistic worlds have moved into English with each their own accents. He'll have an accent, big deal. Grammar and syntax? You may be overestimating the height of that bar, among "most people". I know several adult-acquisition English speakers whose grammar and syntax are closer to the Oxford or American Standard than what is normal in my places of work, say.
     
  16. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    BULLSHIT!

    No please cite me wrong, show me a study that proves that past twenty no one can learn to even think in a another language!

    I know many people personally who have managed this accomplishment, its not even that hard all it require is full out immersion for many years having to speak another language and you WILL think in it. Sure you may never be able to speak without an accent, like my father, or my grandfather, or my aunt and uncles, but that is a lack of neural adaptivity to your tongue, lips and vocal cord, your brain will still think in that language. And considering how fast most of my family can spit out English accurately they would need to be thinking twice as fast to translate in their head Spanish to English and thus thinking much faster then any normal human. Heck many times I can hear them speaking spangling because they are thinking in a hybrid of both languages at times when they want to express themselves with accuracy neither languages's lexicon could do alone. My family is not exception, yes many have doctorates and advance degrees but they aren't geniuses! And more so I've seen this in many other "nationalized" friends who immigrated over as adults.

    Sure it hard, it would require a lot of rout memorizing day after day, for years either by cue cards or constant practice with native speakers, but it not impossible, million have accomplished it! I have Arabic speaker friends that I know that learned English as adults and speak very well.

    Even japanese native speakers that start out without even being able to hear Rs and Ls can learn to after intensive training, often just weeks of such training, sure their accuracy to distinguish may never be as good as a native english speaker but it will still be good enough for using English in day to day, international business or science communication.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8408964
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7963022
     
  17. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Brummie's not really that famous a dialect any more. I would actually say that it now barely even exists as a dialect as, through the increase of long-distance travel, and especially television, the idioms and phrases for which it was known have been subsumed into the mainstream. It still exists as one of the heavier accents, though.
    The main dialects left are those of mainly rural areas: Cornwall, Yorkshire, and probably the thickest (i.e. heaviest) is Geordie (from Newcastle).
    Aye, and a number of the heavier ones are nigh on impossible to understand for non-locals - especially Geordie - even if they don't speak in their dialect.
    I disagree. I have a number of friends who only learnt languages when they started work well after the age of 20 who are now fluent and think in the language when speaking it. One of them, an English guy, does so in Japanese where he has lived for the past 15 or so years.
    It is certainly harder for most of us to pick up languages the older we get, but not impossible.
     
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Japanese phonetics are one of the world's easiest to learn. Only the five cardinal vowels, two semivowels, only twelve consonants (depending on how you count them) which are never clustered. Of the languages I've encountered, only Hawaiian is phonetically simpler: six consonants.

    Okay, I'll take your word for it.

    In America we regard accents as strictly regional; in the U.K. they have a strong class connotation. So we often find foreign accents exotic or even charming.

    British English is easier for them because the Brits flap their R's just like they do. The American gargled R is a challenge for most foreigners. The northern French and Germans, the Dutch and the Scandinavians swallow their R even deeper than we do so they can usually master it.

    Interesting. Just five years ago our British members were making fun of Brummie.

    Cornwall, like Wales and the Isle of Man, were the last holdouts of the Celtic peoples in southern Britannia when the German invaders turned it into Angle Land after the collapse of the Roman Empire. They continued to speak their Celtic languages. Only Welsh still thrives. Cornish is on life support and Manx is being brought back from the dead by scholars.

    So we'd expect those people to speak English with accents that are downright "foreign."

    That makes two of you. I stand corrected.

    Fair enough.
     
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    No.
    I've had to speak several languages since I was little, due to international circumstances. I can't imagine what it must be like to speak only one language, or to consider a particular language to be a defining factor of one's identity.

    I think that the idea that one's language is a defining factor of one's identity, and the idea that one's linguistic abilities are mostly defined by one's mother tongue, esp. if one begins to learn foreign languages only later in life - I think those ideas have more to do with a particular cultural bias, stereotype or pride, rather than with anything pertaining to language and the learning of language per se.
     
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Although I have conceded many points over my years on SciForums, including one in this thread, I continue to stand behind that particular assertion, and I'm hardly alone.

    Except (maybe!) for musicians, sculptors, etc., the overwhelming majority of our thoughts are formed in language. Every language is rife with bias, from Japanese with its grammatical subordination of the feminine, to English with its egalitarian lack of a formal second-person pronoun, to Hopi with its (to us) strange view of time. These biases become part of the way we think, so we can't help having them contribute to our personality. Particularly in childhood, when we're less sophisticated and it's not easy to challenge ourselves.

    This is the main reason I urge people to teach their children a second language. If we can restate a thought in a different language, we'll identify many of the hidden biases. After doing this routinely we'll start to wonder if they're fair, or even if they're part of the identity we'd like to have.
     
  21. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Like I already said: /.../ those ideas have more to do with a particular cultural bias, stereotype or pride, rather than with anything pertaining to language and the learning of language per se.

    You're talking about culture, not language per se. You're conflating culture and language. Like so many people do.


    That's a very humanist idea, and I think it is grossly overrated.
    There is no guarantee that identifying what appears to be a bias will automatically offer us a different, more wholesome way to look at things. Too much insight into biases only paralyses a person, it doesn't make things easier for them.



    I said:

    I think that the idea that one's language is a defining factor of one's identity, and the idea that one's linguistic abilities are mostly defined by one's mother tongue, esp. if one begins to learn foreign languages only later in life - I think those ideas have more to do with a particular cultural bias, stereotype or pride, rather than with anything pertaining to language and the learning of language per se.

    I wasn't talking about language as such, but about one's language, esp. one's mother tongue. It is typical esp. for many minorities to consider their particular language as a defining characteristic of their identity.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2013
  22. ShyRebel Registered Member

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    94
    I think I'll have to read your posts once again. I can't follow..

    But what kind of bias are you guys talking about?
    Is it something like the word cheap in Japanese 安いthat has the kanji character of a woman 女? or the Arabic word for non-Arabs is 'ajami, that sounds like 'ajam (=dumb)?

    I've been thinking about racism in language for a while... but maybe I misunderstood the word bias here
     
  23. ElectricFetus Sanity going, going, gone Valued Senior Member

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    Well ShyRebel for example some languages are gender specifiers, Spanish with all its gender inflections, heck in English we have no neutral gender 3rd person singular pronoun, when speaking of a hypothetical person we have to say things like "When the first person steps foot on mars, he will have to make a speech" what if its going to be a she? We thus often say "he" when we mean anyone, its kind of sexist, but saying the alternative "she" which technically has "he" within it sound strange to some.

    There are tons of other such limitations in language expression for example we covered on another thread how Russians have different forms of "you" some of which are depend on a persons class. Some languages like Korean are very descriptive of class and you have to use different words when speaking of or to another person of superior/inferior class. Classicism I would say is an even bigger problem than racism world wide, both (as well as sexism) are part of a human instinct to categories other into who is superior to ones self and who is inferior, or who is an ally and who is a potential enemy/competitor, and an instinctive urge to befriend and care about the ally and hate and be merciless to the enemy. As a result of these instincts people can even go about killing each other because they root for different soccer teams!
     

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