Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

English spelling

Saturday, 14 January, 2017

I was thinking I should post more stuff here. So I’ll try to add some things that I’d consider for Twitter, but which are too long to tweet. First off the bat:

I was reading a thread in the IWC forums that turned to discussing English spelling, and how terrible the “i before e except after c” rule is, and how it makes people actually mis-spell words sometimes.

Now I’ve been a native English speaker all my life and I’m a pretty good speller, but there are still some words I have trouble spelling. And of course if you were to say a word I was unfamiliar with and asked me to spell it, I’d pretty much just be guessing.

On the other hand, I’ve been learning Italian for just a few years. One of the exercises I do is listen to a computer generated voice reading Italian sentences, and transcribe them by typing them out in Italian (there are also different exercises where I translate into English). And as long as I listen carefully enough, I can always get the Italian spelling correct, even if it’s a word I’ve never heard before.

The problem with phrasebooks

Saturday, 9 January, 2016

I’m going back through my travel diary of my 2007 holiday to Germany, enlarging and adding photos, adding hyperlinks, and generally cleaning it up a bit.

I found a bit where we went into a chocolate shop and my wife wanted to get just a bar of chocolate. But we could only see fancy truffles and pralines and chocolates with various nuts and other fillings. The woman in the shop didn’t speak any English, so I checked my phrasebook for a word meaning “plain”, so I could ask if she had any plain chocolate. The book gave me ebene, so I asked, “Haben Sie ebene Schokolade?”

She gave me a very strange look, and had no idea what I was talking about. Despite further attempts, I had no success in explaining to her what we wanted, and we ended up buying some chocolate with nuts in.

It’s only now, nine years later, that I’ve looked up “ebene“. It turns out I wasn’t asking for “ordinary, unadorned” chocolate. I was asking for “large region of flat land” chocolate!

More Italian progress

Saturday, 8 August, 2015

Continuing my lessons, the sort of sentence translations I’m dealing with now are like “I wanted to believe that you would have looked at me one last time.” which becomes “Volevo credere che mi avresti guardato un’ultimo volte.”

The other thing I’ve started doing is reading my first book in Italian. Some time ago I picked up a copy of Diario di una Schiappa, the Italian translation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I tried to make a start at it a couple of times, bit each time it was a real struggle getting through even a page or two of the text, because I hadn’t learnt enough verb tenses and conjugations to make it more than a few words without having to look something up in my Italian-English dictionary.

But now I’ve started again, and am making good progress. I can read roughly half the sentences without needing to look up anything, and in most others I only need to look up a new vocabulary word or two. Which is good, because it’s broadening my vocabulary a lot more than just doing Duolingo’s lessons. For example, some of the new words I’ve learnt include: scherzo (joke), uscire (to go outside), riuscire (to succeed), svegliare (to wake up).

Oh, and it’s a hilarious book, which is keeping me wanting to read more. I’ve not read the English version, so it’s discovering new funny things each time I read a bit. And because it’s a children’s book in diary format, it’s easy to read a relatively small section at a time.

Italian progress

Monday, 20 July, 2015

So I’m up to conditional perfect tense in my Italian learning (basically, constructs using the phrase “would have”). I thought I’d collect the set of translation exercises I just did and record them here. I got most of them right – I’ve marked the three incorrect responses I gave with a note in parentheses.

Dove mi avresti portato? -> Where would you have taken me?
Avrei pensato a te. -> I would have thought of you.
Te lo avrei dato. -> I would have given it to you.
Sarei arrivato in tempo. -> I would have arrived in time. (I wrote “on time”)
Non l’avrei messa via. -> I would not have put it away.
Chi avrebbe parlato di noi? -> Who would have spoken about us? (“to us”)
Mi avrebbero preso per pagliaccio. -> They would have taken me for a clown.
Tu non avresti parlato con me. -> You would not have spoken with me.
I would not have put it away. -> Non l’avrei messa via.
I did not know when it would have arrived. -> Non sapevo quando sarebbe arrivato.
He said that he would have thought about it. -> Ha detto che ci avrebbe pensato.
Avresti chiesto? -> Would you have asked?
Lui sarebbe diventato ricco. -> He would have become rich.
Finalmente mi avresti creduto. -> Finally you would have believed me. (omitted “would”!)
Io avrei lasciato quel posto. -> I would have left that place.
I vicini l’avrebbero sentita. -> The neighbours would have heard it.
Il popolo non avrebbe capito. -> The people would not have understood.
Io non l’avrei tenuta. -> I would not have held her.
Would you have asked? -> Avresti chiesto?
I miei amici mi avrebbero creduto. -> My friends would have believed me.
I would have become really fat. -> Sarei diventato davvero grasso. (“Avrei” instead of “Sarei” – I always forget the correct auxiliary for diventare.)

Stuff I do

Thursday, 30 May, 2013

I tend to have quite a few projects going all the time. I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to list them all in a note-taking program. I was somewhat surprised with how long the list turned out to be. So I thought I’d share, so you have some idea of what sort of stuff I do in my “spare” time.

  • Webcomics
    • Irregular Webcomic! – I did this as a daily comic strip from 2002-2011. I’m no longer making daily comics, but am rerunning strips with additional writer commentary.
    • Darths & Droids – This strip started in 2007, and is ongoing, three times a week. I write it with a group of friends at work. We usually spend one lunchtime a week writing new strips and reviewing upcoming ones just before they are published.
    • mezzacotta – This is a combination webcomic and irregular blog of odd stuff. The comic actually needs no writing or maintenance, so it’s just the occasional blog post here.
    • Square Root of Minus Garfield – A Garfield parody webcomic, started in 2008, updating daily. Most of the strips are submitted by readers – my role is mostly selecting submissions to publish and adding them to the database.
    • Lightning Made of Owls – An original comic which readers contribute strips for. Started in 2008, updated three times a week for a long time but now subsisting on a trickle of submissions.
    • Comments on a Postcard – A “high concept” webcomic, again generated by reader submissions. Started in 2008, updated daily.
    • There are also two old webcomics which have petered out, so I’m not counting them as active projects.
  • Learning
    • Drumming – I’ve been taking weekly drumming lessons at Big Music since April last year.
    • Forming a band – With the friends from work who write Darths & Droids. We’ve only had a couple of practice sessions, but we plan more.
    • Italian – Learning on Duolingo.
  • Writing
    • Irregular Webcomic! essays – Since the daily new comics ended, I’ve been writing a weekly essay about some topic, often scientific, which appears on Sunday’s update instead of a rerun strip.
    • Travel diaries – Whenever I take a trip, I keep a daily travel diary. I stick them on my website when I get home.
    • Secret project – I have a secret writing project I’ve started and hope to finish some day.
  • Creative
    • Photography – I love taking photos. I take them on trips. I take walks and short drives around where I live to visit places just to take photos. I get up an hour before sunrise to go to the beach and photograph the sunrise. I post some of my photos on Flickr.
    • 365 Days Photography – This is a specific photography project. I’m aiming to take a photo every day during 2013. There’s a special set on Flickr for these.
    • Travel photo books – After an overseas trip, I like to assemble some of the best photos into a print-on-demand book, to give a copy to family members and keep a nice printed copy myself.
    • Puzzle solving – My work friends and I enter the annual MUMS and SUMS puzzle competitions. Our team is the CiSRA Puzzlers, and we have won a few prizes, including first place in MUMS in 2007.
    • Puzzle creating – My work friends and I run the annual CiSRA Puzzle Competition. We create our puzzles in our own time and test solve them during lunchtimes at work.
    • Sketching – I occasionally doodle and sketch things using Paper by 53 on my iPad.
  • Gaming
    • Roleplaying games – I haven’t actually run one for a while, but I always have roleplaying campaigns and adventures bubbling away in the back of my mind. I plan to run my friends through Tomb of Horrors (on the understanding that many characters will die and we shouldn’t treat it too seriously). I also plan to run a campaign based in the giant city of Ravnica, borrowed from Magic: The Gathering.
    • Magic: The Gathering booster drafts – My friends and I play semi-regular Magic booster draft tournaments, using the latest sets published by Wizards of the Coast. We also have a stash of old unopened booster packs going as far back as the original Ravnica block, which we occasionally mix and match to create weird hybrid draft formats. We do this sometimes during lunch breaks, and sometimes on Friday evenings.
    • Magic: The Gathering cube drafts – We create custom cubes for drafting Magic as well. So far, most of my playing group have created a cube which we have used. We’ve done powerful cubes full of high-powered cards, and quirky cubes, such as the off-colour cube (cards whose abilities violate the modern colour pie).
    • Magic: The Gathering invented sets – Not satisfied with what Wizards prints, we create our own entire sets and draft those. We’ve done a total of six different invented sets (from memory, it may be one or two more), and at least one of us is always working on another entire new set.
    • Board games – Sometimes we play board games at lunch. Favourites change over time, but have included Settlers of Catan, Formula De, Modern Art, Ra, Citadels, Poison, Tigris & Euphrates, Power Grid, Dominion, Blokus, Ingenious, Puerto Rico, Goa, Alhambra, Seven Wonders, Notre Dame. (I won’t link them all, look them up on BoardGameGeek.)
    • Invent board games – Not content with existing board games, we invent our own. Some are actually card games. Collectively we’ve invented something like a dozen games.
  • Physical activities
    • Walking project – I share this project with my wife. We have a map of North Sydney Council, in which we we live. We are in the process of walking the full length of every street and every walking track in the council area. We began two years ago, and might complete it this year. (The rule is: for a walk to count, we must do it together, and start and end the walk at our home – no car or public transport allowed.)
    • Stretching – Every weekday I do a short series of stretching exercises to strengthen my lower back muscles and keep my limbs flexible.
    • Swimming – From about October to April I swim. Usually 1200 metres, three times a week.
    • Tennis – I play tennis once a week. Well, up until a few months ago when my opponent had an injury. We should start again soon.

To close this post, I’d just like to say one thing. If your reaction to my list is to think, “Man, you have too much spare time,” then you are wrong. Please read this essay I wrote about creativity and spare time. I don’t think I can say it any better than that here. :-)


Monday, 5 November, 2012

I detect that in the future, some English words will grow to infinite length.

We began with the verb “to burgle”, meaning to steal something from someone. A person who burgled was then called a burglar.

Apparently now, according to many American sources, burglars don’t burgle any more. They “burglarise”. Or “burglarize”, I guess.

The next logical step must be that people who burglarise will become known as burglarisers. Or maybe burglarisors.

Then, given past experience, it will no longer be satisfactory to refer to the activities of burglarisors as “burglarising”, but rather it will become known as burglarisorising. And then people who burglarisorise will become known as burglarisorisers.

If you think “burglarise/burglarize” is a perfectly good word, just think of applying the exact same process to some other verb, like “run”. Someone who runs is a runner. According to this American English progression, what a runner does should no longer be described as running, but runnerising.

(Caveat: I know English is a living language, and usage changes over time, and trying to stop it is pointless and impossible. But… argh!!!)

Nothing to loose

Sunday, 16 September, 2012

Overheard in a shop today:

“Do you have your receipt?”

“Yes… I hope I didn’t loose it.”

Really. The woman actually said “I hope I didn’t loose it”, with a soft-S sound, not “I hope I didn’t lose it” with a hard-Z sound.

Verb of the day 5

Saturday, 10 March, 2012

andare (to go)
I go – (io) vado, vo
you go (inf.) – (tu) vai
he/she/it goes, you go (pol.) – (lui/lei/Lei) va
we go – (noi) andiamo
you go (pl. inf.) – (voi) andate
they go, you make/do (pol.) – (loro/Loro) vanno

A very useful verb, though the conjugation is rather irregular. I’m most familiar with this one from my last trip to Italy, when I went on a guided tour up the volcano of Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands. After each rest break or other interruption to our progress up the mountain, our tour leader would yell, “Andiamo!” – literally “We go!” or idiomatically “Let’s go!”

My Italian dictionary lists both vado and vo for the first person singular present tense conjugation, but it’s not clear to me what the difference is, or when you might use one rather than the other. A couple of other books I have list only vado. Maybe it’s a dialect thing? Or maybe vo is slangy, the sort of talk hip young kids on the streets of Naples use?

Verb of the day 4

Thursday, 8 March, 2012

fare (to make, to do)
I make/do – (io) faccio, fo
you make/do (inf.) – (tu) fai
he/she/it makes/does, you make/do (pol.) – lui/lei/Lei fa
we make/do – (noi) facciamo
you make/do (pl. inf.) – (voi) fate
they make/do, you make/do (pol.) – (loro/Loro) fanno

This will take some learning. I was not familiar with this verb before now, but it’s another very common one. Looking at my Italian dictionary, this is a verb with a lot of complexity in Italian. Not only does it do double duty for the common meanings of “to make” and “to do”, it’s used in an awful lot of idiomatic expressions. I’ll just have to try and get the more basic usages down first.

One thing about Italian verbs that you might notice is that in the conjugation list I’m putting the Italian pronouns in parentheses. This is because, unlike in English, the conjugations are all different, so they indicate the subject of the verb without the explicit subject word actually needing to be there. So Italian speakers typically simply omit the pronouns:

Faccio pasta. – I make pasta.

You could say Io faccio pasta, but the Io isn’t necessary since the subject “I” is implied by the conjugation of the verb. This is in contrast to the closely related Romance language Spanish (a little bit of which I learnt last year for my trip to South America), where the pronoun is still needed, even though the verb conjugation has to match, and implies what the pronoun must be:

Spanish: Yo hago la pasta.

Here the hago means the subject must be Yo, but you still need to say the Yo. Knowing some Italian helped me with Spanish, because apart from this difference the sentence structures are almost identical, and many words are derived from the same roots, so look familiar. Disclaimer: I’m no expert on Spanish! This is my understanding – I may be wrong. (I’m no expert in Italian either, for that matter, but I’m a bit more comfortable with it.)

Verb of the day 3

Tuesday, 6 March, 2012

avere (to have)
I have – (io) ho
you have (inf.) – (tu) hai
he/she/it has, you have (pol.) – lui/lei/Lei ha
we have – (noi) abbiamo
you have (pl. inf.) – (voi) avete
they have, you have (pol.) – (loro/Loro) hanno

Probably the next most important verb after “to be” is “to have”. You can be lots of things, and you can have lots of things.
Ho una pizza. I have a pizza.
Abbiamo una prenotazione. We have a reservation. (Useful for hotels.)

In Italian, avere is also used for many things that take the verb “to be” in English, such as states of mind or age.
Ho caldo. I am hot. (literally “I have heat”)
Ho fame. I am hungry. (lit. “I have hunger”)
Ha ventuno anni. He/she is twenty one years old. (lit. “He/she has twenty one years.”)

Be especially careful if you want to say you are hot. If you use essereSto caldo. – you are not saying the temperature is uncomfortably high, you are saying that you are hot, sexy stuff.