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Common Mistakes #1 ~ “THE” is “the” problem October 22, 2008

Posted by Fantastic Four in Common Mistakes, Language, Language Study.
Tags: , , , , ,

The equivalent of the article the does not exist in many languages. Turkish being one, your average Turkish person is faced with the big problem of either over-using or completely neglecting the when speaking or writing in English. The “the” problem is nothing compared to the hassle of dealing with a variety of articles in German, but that’s my problem and I will deal with it in due time, perhaps in another post.

Proofreading becomes a painful affair, when one has to correct the same mistake in different sentences, over and over again. It’s feels exactly like it did when I was getting a tattoo on my back. I asked the tattoo artist, is it going to hurt much? He shrugged, no, not really. Then he flashed a trust-me-I-know-what-I-am-doing kind of smile and asked, have you ever been scratched by a cat? Now it was my turn to shrug, of course. Ok then, he dragged me to the chair where I had to sit backwards and hug the back of the chair, nothing to worry about. I quickly found out, however, that while he was right about the cat scratch analogy, he forgot to add that it would feel as if the cat is scratching the same spot over and over again for hours. Deleting and/or inserting thousands of the‘s and a‘s as I proofread, I go back in time and find myself sitting on that chair, hugging the back of it real tight. I want to just close my eyes and scream, scream until it is all over.

I remember, the night of completing a relatively large proofreading project, I had a nightmare. It was raining a’s and the’s and my umbrella was made of paper. A’s were snowflakes, not in the traditional star-like snow flake shape but a variety of capital and small a’s, in script or print form. They were pretty and they didn’t hurt me as they landed softly on the ground, like feathers. The‘s on the other hand were very scary, made of thick cut glass in gigantic bold type fonts. I was dodging them successfully but as they crashed onto the pavement to my left and right, I was not able to escape the little sharp shards breaking off the tails of e’s or the tops of the T’s. Blood trickling down my arms and legs, I woke up with a scream. Following the nightmare I took a break from proofreading for a while.

I personally find that, especially when I am tired, the first thing that goes is the correct use of the. Most of the time I say something and notice the mistake as soon as the words leave my mouth, even before they reach the ears of my intended audience, but a moment too late.

To put flesh on the bones of the the problem, here are a few very simple examples of common mistakes I have been talking about:


Obama went to the school in Hawai from 1971 to 79.

Shouldn’t we be doing something about green house effect.

I made the mistake. (meaning, I made a mistake)

I made mistake. (meaning, I made a mistake)

She is most sexy woman in the world. (the phrase ‘in the world’ is almost always correct. Yippie!)

Turkish Social Democrat Party has won 30 seats in Parliament. (trick question: two mistakes here – can you spot them both?)


I don’t mind at all if it is a tourist with a little dictionary in one hand and a phrasebook (perhaps a hand-held electronic translator gadget) in the other making such mistakes. I find it rather cute and charming when I see someone who is trying to communicate with another in that another’s language in that another’s country.

Learning a new language is tough, regardless of which language it is. Unless of course you are fortunate enough to be the toddler of a very international family.

I find the best way to learn a language, is to live and breathe it; immerse oneself in it for as long as possible, i.e. visit and stay in the country of that very language.

If residential learning is not an option, then make sure to listen to a lot of songs while reading the lyrics – Russian pop songs are just as bad as Turkish pop songs. Watch movies with subtitles; make new friends (perhaps on-line even) who are fluent in the target language. Read books simultaneously in both languages. I have books in English and Russian: War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, even a copy of Harry Potter: The Philosopher’s Stone.

Theory of language can easily be put into practice by simply using some of the methods I wrote above; we are only limited by our own imagination.

For over 20 years now, the has not been a big problem of mine. My problem is with my vocabulary. It is an enormous issue, as I usually hide behind the words I am familiar with or have used for a long  time, instead of letting myself rush off and adventure into the new ones I read in books or come across in other media. Some say I shouldn’t really worry about it.

I hope I won’t have another nightmare involving the assault of THE‘s, or worse, BIG WORDS tonight.

The End…


GaudiumDeLingua Going Multi-Lingual October 15, 2008

Posted by Fantastic Four in Language, Language Study.
Tags: , , , , ,

I have this most exciting project in my mind for this blog. I am going to write posts in four languages, two of which I am still learning. It will be impossible to do this if things get a little too technical but if I do it right, I think my language studies will benefit hugely. Extra-curricular learning via a little effort and research will improve my vocabulary in Russian and German.

The next few weeks I will figure out how to incorporate multi-lingual posts into the blog. I still have another post due, which I have planned in September.

Stay tuned ~ that is if you are still out there dropping by.

Lingua Latina July 12, 2008

Posted by Fantastic Four in Language, Language Study.

Fascinating language, Latin.

I have always thought Latin to be one of the most beautiful languages. Due to the fact that it was not a living, breathing, evolving language anymore that it was once, learning lingua Latina has not become a priority for me for a long time, whilst remaining a language I flirted with, in quotes only.

veni vidi vici (middle school history class)
cogito ergo sum (first heard it in junior high school)
noli nothis permittere te terere (from one of my favourite blogs)
gaudium de gaea (the joy of gaea, I made this up as a name for my blog)

Later on, however, as I was increasingly exposed to different languages I found out that Latin was not just a dead and buried language. It has evolved into several other languages, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian to name a few. Many countries, including Turkey, have adopted its alphabet. Have a look at this map, it shows the distribution of Latin alphabet in the world. And although English is a Germanic language by origin, majority of its vocabulary is from Latin.

And while it might not be the spoken language anywhere in the world, apart from being the official language of Vatican, Latin in my opinion lives on in many different ways.

Latin terminology is used in abundance when it comes to science; biology, zoology, medicine as well as philosophy and law. It is used to add weight and formality to documents, articles, academic papers, even blog posts. You always see abbreviations of Latin terms in various scientific and literary publications, ad lib, ad hoc, et al, per se, etcetera, etc. Horticulture students sweat over genera of plants. Scientific names for organisms are chosen from Latin most of the time. Latin terms can be seen everywhere in technical context. Various groups, organisations use their motto’s in Latin for a bit of added effect of antiquity, seriousness, formality as well as a bit of romance, perhaps nostalgia.

Latin alphabet evolved from Proto-Canaanite and Phoenician, then Greek and Old Italic.

Proto-Canaanite Phoenician Value and name Descendants
ʼ ʾalp “ox” א Α A
b bet “house” ב Β B)
g gamlthrowstick ג Γ CG
d digg “fish” ד Δ D
h haw / hll “jubilation” ה Ε E
w waw “hook” ו
z zen /ziqq “manacle” ז Ζ Z
ḥet “courtyard” ח Η H
ṭēt “wheel” ט Θ
y yad “arm” י Ι IJ
k kap “hand” כ Κ K
l lamd “goad” ל Λ L
m mem “water” מ Μ M
n naḥš “snake” נ Ν N
s samek “fish” ס Ξ
ʻ ʿen “eye” ע Ο O
p piʾt “corner” פ Π P
ṣad “plant” צ ϻ
q qup “monkey” ק Ϙ Q
r raʾs “head” ר Ρ R
š/ś šimš “sun, the Uraeus ש Σ S
t taw “signature” ת Τ T

There is renewed effort in Latin’s resurrection, possibly with the increased religious emphasis. It is also offered in the universities, in programs not only to teach reading and writing for the purpose of translating old text into modern languages, but also to teach how to speak it, converse using it. If this is not an effort to resurrect it, I don’t know what is.

It has always been a source of sadness for me, to imagine that a language is no more. Latin, however, is far from being a dead language, a fallen star, which has disappeared altogether as if it has never been. On the contrary, it is a language that influenced in one form or another many others, still influencing many aspects of written form of languages and life, even if not spoken as it was once.

The more I thought about it, the more it became clear that I would one day like to learn Latin. The complexity of grammar does not phase me. For those interested, there are online programs such as the Cambridge Latin Course.

Lingua Latina would also be a valuable asset to those who are set out to learn one of the Romance languages which evolved from Latin.

For a bit of an online read about Latin you can check out Wikipedia here.

A Language a Day Keeps Dementia Away June 30, 2008

Posted by Fantastic Four in Language, Language Study.

YES! It is happening! In August I am going back to school to continue undergrad studies. I will be continuing with Russian and German languages. Spanish will be the brand new one this coming term and will have the duty of keeping me on my toes, as a beginner all over again. And I am so very excited about it, I feel like I should start studying right this second!

Over the years, I have been exposed to many languages. I usually pick up the grammar and vocabulary with the speed of lightning and can converse within half a year. When I say converse it is general daily chatter, not discussions over mechanical engineering.

I have studied German at high school for 3 years; learned Norwegian when I was living in Norway as an AIESEC student exchange; and I have taught myself Korean alphabet and how to read words during a 2-week trip to Korea. Some 15 years ago I used to be able to conjugate almost any verb in Italian.

The problem is, I never seriously pursued these languages with a view to add them to my translation portfolio, in the professional sense. This was the case until I enrolled at Macquarie University. You would think the rest is history. Well, yes and no. Russian was easy to pick, but there are so many languages available at Macquarie I didn’t know which way to go. German seemed the right choice as I had some schooling on it in the past.

I thought maybe Chinese or Japanese, or even Korean. Naturally, this will have to wait till I have completed my European Languages degree and actively started translating from Russian into English and Turkish.

I find that learning a language is just the right exercise for my forever inquisitive and challenge-loving mind. It keeps me thinking, asking, practicing. Then of course the fun of watching international films with the English subtitles, what a great and entertaining way of practicing! In every way languages have proved to be a passion for me and I am hoping in the distant future they will help keep dementia away, keeping my mind sharp and alert.

Next post: Few thoughts on Latin. Still beautiful even though it has been dead for centuries.