3.27.2006

Attempted explanation

I did a post about mistakes that Chinese speakers make in English, and a couple of people wanted some explanations. So, below are the "correct" sentences (I put "correct" in quotes because it seems like the "mistakes" are quite subtle to the point that they don't seem "wrong" even to native-speakers' ears/eyes). The revisions are in caps since I can't do bold, etc. in Blogger via a Mac.

Original: It was so late there was no taxi.
Revised: It was so late there WEREN'T ANY TAXIS.

Original: Your coat is broken.
Revised: Your coat is RIPPED [or TORN].

Original: Let me help you to do your work.
Revised: Let me help you do your work. [delete TO]

Original: Susan didn't make a fault anyway.
Revised: Susan didn't make a MISTAKE anyway.

Original: He becomes better.
Revised: He's GETTING better.

Original: I recommend you to take a long vacation.
Revised: I SUGGEST you take a long vacation. [delete TO]

Original: It was still bright outside.
Revised: It was still LIGHT outside.

Original: Wait here, please, I'll come back in a minute.
Revised: Wait here, please, I'll BE back in a minute.

Original: I am uncomfortable.
Revised: I FEEL uncomfortable.

The reason why I think that some are perceived as "incorrect" is because the speakers are trying to create idioms. And it's common for people to translate their own expressions into the target language instead of memorizing the phrases of the new language.

For instance, "bright" is a quality of lightness. I think that sentence is meant to say that it's light outside (ie, the sun is out), as opposed to dark. And I know that there is a Chinese character for "bright" that is used in Japanese, so I'm guessing that Chinese uses a similar character.

The "come back" phrase is perhaps technically correct, but "be back" is more "natural". Many native English speakers say "be back" instead of "come back." Maybe it sounds better because "come back" is too literal and precise. "Be back" is the phrase that is common.

Also, someone can be uncomfortable, but that's a feeling, which is why "feel" seems more natural. I am uncomfortable sounds so definite and factual.

Well, that's my attempt to explain why those are mistakes. I'm responding to what Arrogant Polyglot said in the comments section of my post.

2 comments:

Arrogant Polyglot said...

I love it when my name makes it to the first page!

So I re-read the phrases and I still maintain that the last phew phrases were ambiguous. The ones in which prepositions are the first to stick out in my mind.

But you're right: idioms are tough to decode. Even for the native speaker (hence my previous questions).

Giving 'come back' and 'be back' another glance, I think I may also have something to contribute. In my fabulous Canadian English, I would have a tendancy to perceive 'come back' as either an imperative form ie. "Come back here [right this instant]!", or as a means of expressing a promise to return, but after a long séjourn elsewhere ie. "Wait for me. I'll come back [for you]".

So the key thing about many of those subtleties is to be pragmatically aware of when and how to use them.

A lovely contribution to discourse analysis this would make.

mj said...

Cool--I'll put your name out there more often. That means it'll show up on Google more often, too.

The wait sentence: it only says "Wait here" sans the "for me", which implies that the person is just waiting, not necessarily for the other person.