I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Carousell is a fantastic classified ad platform. It embodies one of my favorite proverbs, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

However, to find the treasure, you have to hunt. There are clues, but sometimes the clues are misleading.

In particular, I’ve noticed that people use words for different kinds of furniture in surprising ways.

There are people who use the word cabinet to describe a piece of furniture when it is clearly a shelf—and vice versa!

Deciding what to call something is hard. Especially if you’ve got more than one language rattling around in your brain.

See below for proof.

Continue reading I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Carouspell: A collection of spelling mistakes in Carousell classified ads

Oral language is a blur. We don’t notice, unless we try to sing karaoke and realize we have no idea what the words to our favorite songs actually are, or—worse—that we’ve been singing them wrong with utter conviction for decades.

Eggcorns (plausible malapropisms) are words or phrases that exist thanks to this kind of ambiguity. Wrong song lyrics, in case you’re curious, are called mondegreens.

On classified ad sites like Carousell, language assumptions that pass unnoticed in speech are made visible. You can learn a lot about the local dialect by cataloging the unintentionally hilarious mistakes that local native English speakers make.

See below for examples.

Continue reading Carouspell: A collection of spelling mistakes in Carousell classified ads

English grammar: How to use pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’

The first-person singular pronouns of English are ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’. Although in daily speech people have been known to use them somewhat interchangeably, IMO it’s worth knowing which roles those different words are supposed to play in a sentence.

Give yourself a quiz. Read each of the sentences below and decide whether it is grammatically correct.

Me/Myself/I Usage Quiz

  • The horses were trained by Sylvia and myself.
  • Me and Sylvia sold the horses to a riding school.
  • The boss split the profit between Sylvia and I.

Answers and explanations after the jump.

Continue reading English grammar: How to use pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’

Does “oblong” mean “rectangle”?

Imagine you are reading 1984 by George Orwell, and you come across this passage:

The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.

So. What shape is the telescreen? Does “oblong” mean “rectangle”?

Continue reading Does “oblong” mean “rectangle”?

Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

This box set contains three folk tales told in Singlish style: The Three Little Pigs Lah, The Red Riding Hood Lah, and The Goldilocks Lah.

The plots are not very different from other adaptations of these familiar tales. The characters are not very different, except that the bears in the story of Goldilocks are not bears but wolves, a change presumably made to connect the third book with the first two. The setting for the stories is Singapore. The illustrations are a mix of drawings and photos of objects and places, and each book’s drawings are by a different artist.

The appeal of these books (in general and for me specifically) is that they use and teach Singlish dialect and slang expressions. The target audience includes both those who want to see their own dialect used for humorous effect and those who are unfamiliar with Singlish and interested in increasing their understanding of it.

See below for more details about these books.

Continue reading Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

Does your language control you? Lingering questions.

See below for discussion of the following questions related to my recent Funzing talk on language:

  • How do people like the Hopi whose language does not have words for left and right keep track of the cardinal directions?
  • The Hopi have a less egocentric idea of the locations of things. Does that correlate with a less egocentric kind of worldview or ethics?
  • Since language has a biological basis, doesn’t that mean that linguistic relativity is a myth?
  • What’s the difference between studying a language and using it?
  • How does using sign language differ from using a spoken language?
  • How do memes (macro images), smileys (aka emoticons or emojis), text-speak and other digital innovations relate to more traditional forms of communication?
  • Why might reading something in two different languages produce two different impressions?
  • Do there exist languages (like a fictitious Star Trek alien one) that are extremely difficult or impossible to translate because they rely noticeably more on metaphors and allusions?
  • What are some other properties of language that might make one language appear strange compared to another?

Continue reading Does your language control you? Lingering questions.

Public talk 7 August 2018: Does your language control you?

I am excited to be giving a public talk on language for Funzing Singapore next month. Hope to see you there!


Does your language influence—or even control—your very thoughts? Join us for a scintillating night as we delve deep into the spookier aspects of language. You’ll never think about language the same way again…

In this talk we’ll look at how much we rely on our language to frame our understanding of the world. You’ll be surprised to see how different languages choose to express or emphasise seemingly basic aspects of experience like gender, direction and colour!

Some languages, including Classical Chinese, lack separate words for ‘blue’ and ‘green’. Meanwhile, Eskimos are said to have dozens of words for snow. What do we make of these oddities?

Do differences in our words reflect differences in thought? In other words, do speakers of Chinese view the world differently from speakers of English, Malay, Tamil, and other languages of the world—or do we all talk differently but think somewhat the same?

What would happen if people purposely changed the language we use? Would they be able to improve or impair our thinking as in the film Arrival or the novel 1984? Examining insights from research on ‘linguistic relativity’ and examples from literature and popular culture, we’ll uncover just how much our words affect our lives!


Venue
Distrii (a co-working space at 9 Raffles Place, Republic Plaza, 048619)

Date / Time
Tuesday 7th August, 7 p.m. (Talk starts at 7.30 p.m.)

Tickets
Available online for $9 (or use your Funzing Unlimited Pass)
No tickets will be sold at the door.