What did you say?


I usually do not remember what channel the tv was on when I turn it off the night before so that when I switched it on again the next day, I was not surprised to find a weather report going on and while I did not recognize the confident and well-dressed young meteorologist, who spoke fluent English, it took a moment for me to realize that he was talking about and showing Japan, not a local forecast. I had to watch to the finish because as he danced across the map pointing out this and that, I was greatly amused to hear him speak of “Sea-effect” snow as here in Ohio we are constantly talking about “Lake effect” snow or rain. He has probably watched a lot of American forecasters, or maybe he was educated here, everything about his delivery was so like our own.

Since our own news channels offer so little real information, I often turn on the France 24, Nippon, where my favorite newscaster is the elegant and clear speaking, Kathryn Kobayashi, RT News, BBC and others. When all the news of the world is who is bombing whom, I cannot get myself to watch.

There used to be a young woman who was broadcasting out of Taiwan who put an emphasis on about every sixth syllable – which I assumed was a carryover from her native language. It was so difficult for me to listen to her, that I usually changed the channel when she got started. It is easier to sift through mispronunciations than the steady accent on regular syllables since we do not speak like that at all. I do think it is amazing that there are so many young people who speak a very high level of English, and are so professional that I often imagine they have been educated here, which may be quite wrong. Aside from the professionals, many people from crowds, being interviewed also speak English, and pretty good English at that.

In his small book Mother Tongue, English and how it got that Way, Bill Bryson talks about how the American language developed and he theorizes that it was the language of the lower classes which helped to make it one of the most popular languages in use in the world today. He also points out some of the hilarious mistakes made by people trying to speak English who don’t quite have it down pat. One of the funniest lines I remember reading in a tiny brochure for jewelry made in the expensive Japanese pearl industry was about a lovely neckless. While we do pronounce the word as neckless, it is spelled, necklace.

Often I despair over the state of our “Mother Tongue” when I hear people constantly saying “your” when they mean “you’re”, or “Om good!” instead of “I’m well” and the list goes on and on. Sometimes I think we have reverted to our own level of archaic English, in which people, even fairly well educated people say “I seen” instead of “I saw or I have seen.” This does not even include the illiterate, using double negatives, the wrong homonym, or worse. Long ago I gave up trying to “help” people by correcting them, all I can hope to do is to understand what they are trying to say and keep going.


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