28 June 2011

are loving

I am currently in Melbourne for a couple of weeks. I have heard an expression that seems unusual:
What are you loving at the moment? (said by a radio disk jockey)
I have someone here who is wanting to close a bank account. (said by a bank employee)
In Standard English, the progressive is not generally used with stative verbs like love and want.

I don't know if these are isolated instances or if they reflect an innovation in Australian English; and if the latter, I don't know if they are restricted to Melbourne or are found in other places in Australia.

23 June 2011


Here is a sign in a shop selling film CDs:In Britain or the USA, pieces would be omitted, because CD is a count noun. But use of pieces for countable things seems to be the norm in this part of the world.

Here is a sign in a supermarket:Again, we find pieces used to refer to something countable, apples.

I strongly suspect that this usage will become the norm in World Englishes. After all, it is perfectly clear, so everyone can understand it with no problem.

13 June 2011

10 Most Lucrative Languages

I just read an on-line article about the ten most lucrative languages to learn (here). The list is:
  1. Chinese
  2. Japanese
  3. French
  4. Arabic
  5. Swahili
  6. Spanish
  7. German
  8. Russian
  9. American Sign Language
  10. Italian
Do you see anything missing? How about Malay? Is learning Bahasa Melayu/Bahasa Indonesia really less valuable than Italian or American Sign Language?

11 June 2011

Coffee Bake and Runtime

In my previous post, I mentioned the work I am doing on misunderstandings in the English used by people from different backgrounds.

I am currently working on the speech of someone from Laos being interviewed by someone from Brunei. After the interview, the Bruneian listened to the recording and told me what she was unable to understand. From this we can work out what features of pronunciation the speaker from Laos might focus on.

Crucially, there are four things that caused a problem:
  • use of [r] in place of [l] in initial position in a word such as like
  • omission of [r] in a consonant cluster such as at the start of present
  • omission of final fricatives and affricates, so there is no [s] at the end of nice
  • use of [n] instead of [l] in the coda of a syllable, so old sounds like own
The first three of these combine when the Laotian said:
the food they serve in coffee break or the lunch time
but the listener heard 'coffee bake or runtime'. In fact, the only way we could work out what he had actually said was by asking him to come back and tell us.

05 June 2011


At the moment, I am doing some work on misunderstandings in conversational speech, specifically to try and work out what features of pronunciation result in loss of intelligbility and which ones do not matter so much. If we can determine this, we can help teachers to know what they should focus on. Some sounds are more important than others, and it is important for learners to know which are the most important.

One would think that context can help resolve most issues, and indeed it usually can. But sometimes even in context one gets confused. And occasionally this confusion can be quite surprising.

When I was at Guangxi University in Nanning, I recorded lots of students talking to me. One of the questions I asked is, "What do your parents do?" One of the students told me that her parents sell flutes; and it took me quite a while to work out that they actually sell fruit, not flutes. Initially, I visualised them selling bamboo musical instruments to tourists or something like that.

Afterwards, I felt really stupid, as I know full well that [l] and [r] tend to get confused in word-initial consonant clusters in the English spoken in south China; but this is the kind of misunderstanding that is common for listeners. And it is valuable for speakers to realise that distinguishing [fl] from [fr] at the start of a word is important.