The Gods Must Be Crazy ( LM 10)

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, grammar is ‘the set of rules that explain how words are used in a language.’ From this simple definition, we understand that language has rules and it would be impossible to discern a message when everything is scrambled. In the essay, ‘Some languages have no grammar’ by Winifred Bauer she emphasizes that all languages have grammar. I totally agree with this point because otherwise the recipient of a message would have to waste time decoding it. Then again on the other hand that decoding would involve following some rules which would thus represent it’s grammar. She also reiterates that the existence of grammar in a language does not depend on a grammar book. This means that grammar exists in all languages whether it is written or not and some might be complex than others depending on the language.

I remember watching the movie, ‘The gods must be crazy’ several years ago. At the time I found it funny the way the Kung (South African) language was portrayed. Kung is a South African language that is spoken by the bushmen, each sound is a click followed by an exclamation mark. I was pretty sure they had no grammar, all one had to do was produce a number of clicking sounds when speaking it. On the other hand, these clicking sounds had to have some sort of pattern (grammar) for one to be able to understand and distinguish the different messages.

A High School Memory

I hurried down the stairs carefully like a server with a tray of bed sheets. I mumbled polite ‘hellos’ to my housemates as I joined the queue. “Subi, your pillowcase should be on top” whispered Grace. “Oops!” My knee almost hit my chin as I tried to rearrange the bed sheets, straightening every nook and cranny. I had unfolded, refolded, and super-folded linen several times that night, I was not about to let my efforts go to waste. I had even hidden the frayed corners out of view. When the house matron walked in, she grabbed the bedding off my hand and raised them up to the light, carefully surveying them looking for stains. One would think she was inspecting a fake dollar bill.

Mbinge! What is this? You need to go back and do it again! How many times do I need to show you how to fold?” She shouted as she threw the crumpled heap back at me. I dejectedly grabbed them and picked the thin towel from the floor, glancing at her black socks. I wondered why she always wore black socks. Was she mourning someone? I heard that her husband had passed away several years earlier. Perhaps this was her way of hanging onto that sad memory. On the other hand most of the other matrons wore black socks, maybe that was their trademark, just like the way nannies always have a hat and an umbrella.

I languidly slithered up the stairs, I was not in a hurry like the first trip. Experience had shown that once she rejected the sheets the first time it would take a couple more tries. She finally accepted them and handed over the clean sheets. The neatly folded, shrunk, tattered bed sheets at the bottom. The thin towel with transparent patches in the middle and the small pillowcase at the top.

This time, I went up the flight of stairs briskly, two at a time as I headed to my cubicle. I was certain I could hear applause and cheer on my way. After all, I had successfully done ‘laundry’ that Wednesday night!

Of Buttons and Elevators

I rushed to the elevator, with the hope that it did not close before I got there. One hand was barely grasping my book-bag as the other frantically alternated between gesturing for the elevator and closing the zipper. Somebody stretched out their hand and I made a maddening dash inside, ” Please press G,” I huffed and puffed to no one in particular. The elevator was half-full and the guy who was right behind me uttered, ” This is G.” “Oops, press L no, 1” The occupants started shifting uneasily, I could already feel the sweat beads on my nose. See, I inherited my dad’s nose which is quite big 🙂 it seats on my face like it was plastered there as an afterthought. When I feel anxious or embarrassed, I can almost always feel the sweat beads as they sprout.

The elevator buttons are labeled quite differently here in America, sometimes we have G (means ground but refers to basement), L (lobby), 1 (first floor) and so forth. Other times it is just G (ground) then 1 for first floor. I am used to, LG (Lower ground/ basement), G (ground), 1 (first floor). I know this might seem like minute details to some readers, but these really do make a difference when one is moving about. I thought ground level is the level we walk on, where the grass grows outside 🙂 and first floor is the first level above the ground. So every time I take an elevator my Voice Onset Time ( if I may use this, Mr. Worth) on the buttons takes awhile as my brain has to interpret the buttons. Nowadays I just avoid asking anybody to press for me any buttons as I do my own mental interpretations once inside. Perhaps next time I will take the stairs.

When you move to a new place, you should adhere to the saying ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do.’ Else, you will go about life constantly explaining yourself. Beware of words such as, hood instead of bonnet, trunk instead of boot, hallway instead of corridor, trashcan instead of dustbin and many more that are frequently used that maybe be different from what one normally uses.


We arrived in America when our first born daughter was barely 2 years old. She had just started speaking Swahili our mother tongue. One day we had to catch the bus and we were sitting next to a man who only spoke Cuban. He said something to me and of course I was perplexed as I could not understand him. He then started a conversation with my daughter, they seemed to really hit it off from the word go. They were laughing, pointing, chuckling and using various gestures all the way to my destination. Bear in mind each was speaking a different language.

I found it interesting that they could converse for so long when none of them understood the other’s language. Yet, somehow they communicated, maybe some? Anyway sometimes not being able to understand a local dialect might seem like a handicap to a visitor, but really human beings are pretty innovative and will find other ways of communicating. After all communication is just sending and receiving information. Sometimes the message might be misunderstood, but it is better to express yourself in any manner than to suffer in silence.

Lol (LM 8)

In the essay, ‘Children can’t speak or write properly anymore’ by James Milroy, he argues that there have been complaints about language decline connected to moral discipline. He states that these complaints have been associated with a certain part of the society and one form is blaming it on the children. Milroy argues that this is not true as evidence suggests that the level of literacy is not different in the past as it is now. He further states that in past generations, the level of literacy has not undergone any major changes and there is no such thing as the golden age. While I agree with his viewpoint, I feel that there is a lot that can be blamed on the young generation especially with regards to the role of technology on language. The question is, do you blame them or the technology itself?

In this digital age whereby everything is computerized, this has had a great impact on both the written and spoken word. Digital media does not only impact the young general, but it does so at a greater capacity. The young start learning about computers at a tender age, it is also their main form of communication and learning. For instance computers are used place of traditional classrooms, for dating, computer games, research, and communication with one another is done across a vast social media platform. The older generation also does have access to digital media, but all these technology came at a later age in their lives and therefore, they are not prone to learning it fast enough. I, for one do not know how to send a tweet. I understand that one has to type a maximum of 140 characters. I am not sure if I am supposed to ‘measure’ and ‘weigh’ my thought before I put it down lest I surpass the maximum number of characters allowed.

The youth on the other hand are constantly tweeting and texting and chatting and tindering and blogging… Do not get me wrong, I am not against all these media technological platform, it is just that the language used in each of them is totally different from the traditional language. Something like the ‘text language’ which aims at shortening almost every English word (for the purposes of shortening conveyance time), has developed a completely different language. Take the word ‘LOL’ which is short for ‘laugh out loud’, it is used during texting in a manner that it can take on several different meanings. Susan might ask, “Lol, is Chris short for Christopher?” and Chris may reply, “Lol, No, I go by Chris instead of Andrew.” In both cases the characters may or may not have been laughing out loud, might have been easing tension or creating a sense of equality between them. I know that one may argue that text language is text language and nobody speaks or writes like that in real life. But texting is in real life and not in a rehearsal so how long before there is a gray area between the 2?

Milroy also argues that there hasn’t been a decline in language in recent years otherwise there wouldn’t be books being written and produced. I disagree with this statement for he has not given us an analogy nor evidence of the number of literal books that have been written in recent times compared to earlier years. As time has been progressing of course there have been major developments in different areas of the world. This includes educational development, but this does not necessarily mean that the rate at which new writers are emerging directly correlates with the level of education worldwide. There might be a few or more writers now than there were several years ago, of course with respect to population size and the literacy depth. If we were to measure the decline of language by the number of good books being written, then we might as well ask why we do not have writers like William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and George Orwell in today’s society.

Finally, Milroy argues that there really has not been a decline in language but society needs to accept the different varieties of a particular language. This might be true as people really do speak different kinds of English, these may differ by accents, dialects or geographical position. We still need to adhere to some kind of standard language with definitive rules, because if not then everyone is bound to claim that their version is the correct one. I mean there has to be some common ground where the rules applies to everybody regardless of their level of education or social status. However, if there has to be an emergence of new languages such as text language, there should be some formal allowance for it in the linguistic system.

Culture Shock (LM 12)

Hi, welcome to my linguistics observation blog. My name is Susan and I come from Kenya. Kenya is a country in East Africa that was colonized by the British, so of course the English spoken over there has a lot of British influence. The English spoken in America was and still holds much of a culture shock to me. I notice that most of the young people use the F* word to pretty much describe anything. It is the universal simile around here. Such as, as cool as f*, as pretty as f*, as ugly as f*, it is as hot as f*, as crazy as f*… you catch the drift 🙂

I find this quite interesting as the true meaning of the word gets lost in all these opposite conditions in which it is used. First of all where I come from the f* word is one of those words that still holds its true and intended meaning. It can be whispered by lovers in the throes of seduction or tossed out loudly in a fit of anger. It is not a word that is spoken casually in everyday conversations. I still flinch a little when I hear it.

Yet on the other hand, one cannot classify the usage of this word in this manner as bad grammar because the similes are constructed in the correct way. Although the semantics of the similes get lost in the ambiguity of its usage. I am not sure which rules are being broken here, prescriptive or descriptive?

In Lesley Milroy’s essay, ” Bad grammar is slovenly” (Language Myths’ Myth 11, Bauer & Trudgill, eds.), she refutes this myth and asserts, what is considered bad grammar is widely spoken by many scholars worldwide. The very scholars who prescribed the rules of English by descent. She also states that some of the so called bad grammar is spoken and associated by low class status, but all of it is correct grammar. For instance a doctor might say something like, ” Give the patient advil stat.” This is not ‘bad grammar’ just because it is not normally spoken in the outside world, but it is correct because those within his environment understand and it is their norm.

Therefore nobody is in a position to judge on what is ‘good or bad grammar’. Those young lads who use the f* word in all their similes, are doing it within their circle and everyone understands what the other means, though it might not make sense to another.