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I generally try to stay away from Western films with Eastern themes, because despite over a century of colonization/trading relations, the whole “mysticism” veil still persists. Admittedly, I’m always extra sensitive when people of my (East Asian) ethnic background are portrayed in western media, especially since the cultural and linguistic similarities are very scarce.  But on a whim, since I used to be a Jet Li fan (notably before he broke into Western media), I decided to try out Forbidden Kingdom (2008).

But this blog isn’t a personal film review, although I will say that the effects were stunning and impressive. The plot was also decent. But as far as the linguistic angle goes, there seemed to be some awkward lines. Within 30 minutes of the film, I’d already caught some very awkward translations:

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Another blog post headed by a flashback to my LING101 class: Apparently the words “perfume” and “fragrance” have been rising and falling on syncopated peaks. The rich will prefer “perfume” and then the lower classes will copy them, and then the rich will switch to “frangrance” to stay ahead. …And then the lower classes will copy them again and use “fragrance”, forcing the rich to switch back to “perfume”. And this flip-flipping has been going on for a few hundred years now. Unfortunately, I forget which one is currently ahead in England, but I’m going to stake a guess with “fragrance”.

This entire process is fascinating to me, even though it clearly doesn’t occur within a generation. For one thing, it’s yet another counter-example to the “golden age” fallacy of language perception (the idea that our current use of language is corrupted from some earlier pristine state). But for another, it also demonstrates that pro- and prescriptive efforts in language use aren’t always entirely effective. English, however, does not have a sole claim to this phenomenon.

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So earlier this morning (Feb 5), I followed a friend’s link to the Daily Mail’s online article citing a psych study on the correlation between cognitive ability and political views. Essentially, people who can’t abstract that well, can’t consider other people’s perspectives as well, which translates to being unable to relate to people who are different from them (whether by sex, race, or sexual orientation). And the afternoon before, I had had a discussion with some Japanese friends about what famous personalities of Japan are known in Canada (or vice versa), which highlighted the idea of “stereotypical faces” in my head. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes, the smallest words make up the most interesting errors. A common speech error I’ve noticed among ESLers, is the addition/placement of “it” as the object in a complement. For example, consider the following:

*1. Your questions are always hard to answer it.
*2. What you just said is something that we cannot do it.

(Linguists conventionally head an unnatural sentence with a [*], and a questionably/regionally unnatural sentence with a [?])

In both cases, the “it” at the end is superfluous, because either (a) the whole complement (ie, the bit that goes after “is/are”) is used to describe the subject (the bit that goes before the “is/are”), and so it would create a recursive referent (e.g. “your questions are hard to answer themselves”); or (b) because it’s part of the subclause modifying the noun (e.g. “questions {that are hard to answer}).

But admittedly, this is a relatively high-level error. After all, consider the following related sentences:

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Glossary

COCA - Corpus of Contemporary American English
L1/L2/... - Primary/Secondary Language
NNS - Non-Native Speaker
NS - Native Speaker