One of the things I find the most difficult about speaking in a new language is talking on the phone. Without any common visual cues or references, I think telephone conversations are the most difficult of any that you might have in a foreign tongue. If you are chatting online, it is so easy to take a moment to re-read what the other person has written, or check your own text (or throw it all into an online translator if you need to). If you are speaking in person it is much easier to refer to written material or a dictionary.
Speaking on the phone, especially if the other person is speaking at a native speed (which they inevitably will), gives you no clues. In the last few days, I have had to deal with some problem phone calls, including trying to cancel an order which I thought was cancelled (and so wasn’t expecting the courier to call me), ordering a taxi that wasn’t available at the time I wanted, and ordering dinner from a menu that is now obsolete. In all of these situations, I would have been able to deal with the transaction going smoothly (“Oh, you have something to deliver to me? Great, I’ll be home in an hour.”). It’s the unexpected situations that are the problem.
I inevitably have to resort to asking them to re-explain, rush to look terms up in the dictionary, and let streams of conversation run over my head. I will likely feel stupid and/or useless at some point in the dialogue. In the end, I managed to get what I wanted (cancelled order, earlier taxi, food), but I still feel like I missed important parts of the conversation (hopefully none that cost me money). Nevertheless, I’m still fairly proud of myself.
Besides endlessly asking people to repeat themselves, trying to get them to email you, or begging a better-spoken friend to handle your day-to-day issues, what can you do when dealing with people on the phone? Any suggestions?
With the devastating earthquake in Canterbury two days ago, there’s not much that anyone else in New Zealand is talking about. The area was hit by a bigger earthquake last September, but because it was further away and in the middle of the night, there was no loss of life. Unfortunately, the earthquake that hit on the 22nd was at lunchtime and much nearer to populated areas. Reports are still coming in of damage, loss of life, and people reported missing. The stories that are coming out from survivors are only a reflection of the devastation that the residents are going through.
Something that was brought to my attention by a friend is that this 6.3 magnitude quake is still classed as an aftershock of the 7.1 earthquake on September 4th. Usually aftershocks are associated with smaller, less destructive quakes that happen fairly soon after the initial quake. Still, experts say that the two big quakes are definitely related to each other. More interesting, though, is that, according to the Wikipedia entry: “An aftershock is a smaller earthquake that occurs after a previous large earthquake in the same area (the main shock). If an aftershock is larger than the main shock, the aftershock is redesignated as the main shock and the original main shock is redesignated as a foreshock.” I suppose some things have to be redesignated sometimes, but it would make sense to me if there were more than one word for aftershock, to include whether it was bigger or smaller in magnitude?
Linguistic anomalies aside, there is a good summary of ways to donate money and time on the NZ Herald site, and if you have an offer of a place to stay for displaced Cantabrians, register on Quake Escape. Our thoughts are with the people of Canterbury.
So I am probably about the last adult on earth to get around to reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but I finally did (after some not so subtle urging). I knew the general premise and had heard of many of the words and phrases made commonplace by the book (Big Brother, doubleplusgood (meaning extremely good), the adjective Orwellian), but I obviously really needed to read the book.
Orwell brings up a lot of issues that are still – or even more – relevant today than in the 1940s when the book was written. The most interesting of these, to me, being the use of Newspeak, a completely cut-down version of English that the totalitarian government introduces to reduce the ability of the general populace to think outside a very small sphere of knowledge.
Some of the changes that are made seem logical, such as standardising superlative forms (good, gooder, goodest). Then the changes become bigger. Synonyms and antonyms are removed, and bad becomes ungood. Why have more than one word for the same thing? Other words are shortened to remove any connotations the original words might have, e.g. the word Ministry becomes mini, removing the feeling of government. All words deemed unnecessary by the government are removed altogether.
What is left is a collection of words that are functional but not descriptive. Many concepts we rely on (freedom, democracy) are deleted altogether, leaving a society that couldn’t think for itself even if it knew that were possible. Of course, people can imagine things that don’t exist, but it is much harder to distribute your ideas when you can’t even describe them.
Do you think the spread of Newspeak would have achieved its government’s aims? How does lack of language affect lack of concepts in a culture, even today?
This is one of the issues that is still argued over (online and in real life), even though the style guides all agree that you should use (place your bets now) … only one space after a full stop (or period, for American readers).
Many people, me included, were taught that the correct way to format was to use two spaces after the end of a sentence (sometimes called English spacing). Most of these people still think this is the correct way to do it.
Typography professionals and style guides disagree, however. Many websites will automatically remove superfluous spaces as well. The reasoning is that the double space is no longer needed. Originally, it came from manual typesetting, where all letters were the same width (monospaced), and it was thought that using double spaces after full stops would help the reader see the spaces between sentences. These days, with proportional fonts (where, say, the letter M is wider than the letter I), it is argued that double spacing is ugly and obsolete.
This post on Slate.com slams double spacers, but, to be honest, if you aren’t a professional, does it really matter? Especially with so many ‘laypeople’ thinking that two spaces are acceptable, if not correct, it makes vehement single spacers seem a bit obsessive.
Further information: Wikipedia.