Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Spirit of SNAIL

As the festive season of the country/culture I live in draws nigh (I'm trying not to offend or exclude anyone who doesn't live in a country or belong to a culture which doesn't celebrate the same festival as mine does... phew!) my mind turns, invariably and inevitably, it seems, to words.

As I type, my father is currently, for want of a better word, being chunnelised (or chunneliZed, I suppose, for American speakers of English, or is it the other way round, I can never remember). And should that be one 'l' or two? Which do you prefer?

Some of you will already be very familiar with the excellent blend, chunnel, mixing channel and tunnel in referring to that big tube under the sea between France and the UK. My father is currently sitting in a train, one of four, which is sitting stationary in the aforementioned chunnel, not going anywhere fast. He has been there for about 14 hours now by my calculation. Horror stories creeping out about lack of oxygen and heart attacks don't make me feel any more reassured although it must be said that papa is the stoic type so I'm assuming he'll pull through this ordeal in the true war spirit, stiff upper lip and all that.

Of course, the only way a new word can be successfully coined and then accepted into everyday usage is if it assumes a role of explaining something we want to say better than any other word or combination of words has done before. And to hope that my word, even if is genuinely new, which I doubt, is accepted the thing I'm using it to describe must be something widely acknowledged to exist for it even to have its own word assigned to it.


The phenomenon of getting stuck in the chunnel because of a change in temperature between chilly France and cozy seabed is probably a bit too specific to work. But this certainly isn't the first time a train has got stuck in the chunnel, although causes range from breakdowns, fire, people strolling through, rushhour and probably as many more as well as my dad's specific problem.

So I suggest chunnelise as a verb to be used principly in the passive (i.e. to be chunnelised) indicating that the great god Eurostar has been having problems again. I'm sure there will be plenty of occassions to use it over the next few years. I can imagine the British press headlines already:
Chunnelisation Major Cause Of Seasonal Discontent
Hapless Holiday Brits Chunnelised Again
Gay Vicar In 'Church of Chunnelisation' Sex-Factor Scandal
Any other contributions for new words or headlines to describe the Eurostar: Late Again! phenomenon will be received with interest.
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Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Introducing Sab's New Academy of the Ingleesh Language (SNAIL)

Well hey, if the French can have their Academie Française, and the Spanish their Real Academia Española, then I think it's high time we English speakers had our own Academy too.

If you google 'English Academy' you get a bunch of language school home pages, so I reckon the coast is clear to set up my very own, my original, my totally official Sab's New Academy of the Ingleesh Language, or 'SNAIL' for short.

Based firmly on the original (and best, of course) missions of our Gallic and Hispanic cousins academies, SNAIL shall insist on the absolute minimum amount of change to the language from the days of, oh, let's say Shakespeare, for a start.

This train of thought was started when I read that the venerable Real Academia Española has just updated the 1931 version of its Nueva gramáticade la lengua española , the word nueva having become somewhat compromised in recent decades.

Some of the oh-so-grudgingly included 'exceptions' to the pure version include accepting that a handful of unenlightened individuals (mostly living in South America but increadingly found on the Iberian Peninsula itself) have completely dropped the polite or familiar plural form of you (vosotros) from both their daily speech and even their grammar books in favour of ustedes. Ouch!

A Caribbean pronunciation of amor (love) as amol is another example, as well as mentioning that some Latin American friends don't actually bother to invert the subject and the verb in questions such as "¿Qué quiere Luis?", prefering "¿Qué Luis quiere?" instead. You can almost hear the grinding teeth back at the old Academia, can't you?!

I have to make an admission. Having made fun of these poor old institutions, what they have done in producing the Nueva gramáticade la lengua española is actually a massive and hugely admirable step towards linguistic reality. Where the 1931 version basically told people how they should speak the Spanish language, the new one attempts to describe how people all over the world actually speak it. And there's the great difference, and what a marvellous difference it is too.

In my review of the excellent Cambridge Grammar of the English Language I praised CUP for doing exactly the same thing: describing instead of prescribing, and the approach is as refreshing as it is simply sensible.

So cut a long ramble down to just medium sized, this has been Sab Will introducing his brand New Academy of the Ingleesh Language (SNAIL), with the sole aim being to enjoy this curious, crazy language, and hoping that you'll join me for the ride, and contribute whenever you feel moved to do so.

BCNU.
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Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre
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