Monday, August 31, 2009

English in China

This article from Sunday's Independent looks at how the English language is growing at a rapid pace in China.

"Chinese people are becoming more and more obsessed with speaking English, and efforts to improve their proficiency mean that at some stage this year, the world's most populous nation will become the world's largest English-speaking country. Two billion people are learning English worldwide, and a huge proportion of them are in China."

In a separate article from The Daily Telegraph, the growth of ungrammatical (and often very funny) Chinese English - sometimes called Chinglish - is looked at. And you can probably see from some of the ridiculous signs why so many Chinese people are keen to learn better English...

Hedging our bets

One popular stereotype about women and men's communication is that men are direct and confident in what they say and write, while women are more tentative and uncertain. Well, as Deborah Cameron is at pains to point out in her Myth of Mars and Venus (helpful extracts here), such stereotypes are a load of old cobblers: some women are tentative in certain situations, but so are some men. Gender isn't the main factor at all.

And now a piece of research from the USA into male and female writing styles appears to back up Cameron's points. Nicholas Palomares at the University of California found that given a written email task, both men and women used tentative constructions (hedges, disclaimers and tag questions). Here's a bit more detail:

"I found that women are more tentative than men sometimes, and men are more tentative than women sometimes," Palomares said. "It depends on the topic and whether you're communicating with someone of the same gender. Gender differences in language are not innate; they’re fickle."

In his study, Palomares asked nearly 300 UC Davis undergraduates -- about half of them female and half male -- to write e-mails explaining how to change a flat tire or buy make-up, among other gender-stereotyped and gender-neutral topics. Students were given the name and gender of the person they were e-mailing.

Men were tentative when writing about make-up or other stereotypically feminine topics, especially when they thought they were writing to a woman, he found. For example, one man, believing he was corresponding with a woman, wrote: "… maybe girls prefer the quality of products at Sephora over other major department stores? I don't know."

Women were tentative when writing about changing flat tires and other stereotypically masculine topics, especially when they thought they were writing to a man. For example, one woman, believing she was giving instructions to a man, wrote: "I think they start out by raising the whole car, or maybe just the one tire with a tire jack?"

Saturday, August 01, 2009

English around the world

Here's a quick link to an American article offering advice to American English speakers about how to avoid communication difficulties with other English speakers. It covers some of the main areas we'll look at in our A2 course when we look at Language Variation and how English is used around the world, specifically that the English used by non-native speakers is often a very different beast from what we use in the UK and USA. Here's an example:

Common colloquial American phrases will not mean much to a person who does not live in the United States. Telling a colleague that he or she should "go for it" will not take anyone anywhere and saying someone is "out of the loop" will likely put you there.


We've covered World Englishes (as they're often called) in previous posts, so if you want to stay ahead of the game...sorry, prepare so you are ready when we start this unit... have a look at these links:
The End of English - David Crystal's take on World English
Globish
French, English and American
Dirty English infects beautiful Italian