Don't worry!!! But by the way: if you split up words (part of morphology, or of lexicon) and phrases (part of syntax) we arrive at about the same categories (in my other message).
A teacher once pointed out to me, and I've noticed since then, that since English is some kind of a mix of German-based and Latin-based, and because the German-based English words tend to be a lower register (less formal, I mean), Spanish-speakers when speaking English may use a higher register than a native English speaker would.
make (lower register) --> prepare (higher register) <-- preparar
wonderful --> marvelous <-- maravilloso
end --> terminate <-- terminar
So if a Spanish speaker said "I prepared a marvelous cake," because it sounded similar to what he would've said in Spanish, his use of a different register would betray the fact that he's not a native English speaker.
By the way, I guess I don't mean "higher" or "lower" registers, necessarily, but just different.
Please correct my mistakes!
Wow... I have never thought that my formal and "highbrow" manner of speaking was a dead give away of my non-native speaker status.
That is very interesting... And all that time I thought it was because of my horrendous accent.
Italians do the same, generally because of the historical reasons for the Romance lexicon to enter English, it was to do with being more formal / upper-class (i.e. French being the language of the king and the courts) and Latin being the language everyone spoke across Europe, science and general formality was conducted in French / Latin for the most part, resulting in this language entering English.
For this reason, I know so many 'fancy' words in English, through their relatively normal Italian counterpart, so it works the reverse for me. These following examples are all my personal opinon.
"Greedy" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "avarous" (avaro in Italian)
"Start" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "initiate" (iniziare in Italian)
"Red-hot" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "ardent" (ardente in Italian)
"Understand" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "comprehend" (comprendere in Italian)
"Get" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "obtain" (ottenere in Italian)
"Tiredness" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "fatigue" (fatica in Italian)
"Let (someone do..)" (normal level English) -> more formal word in English "consent (to)" (consentire in Italian)
Etc etc, so it has certainly introduced me to many words that I might have read / heard but have been unsure of the meaning, but generally what you are saying, I believe is true!
As someone who has spent time with Italians speaking English, they translate quite literally and I'm often quite impressed that they know a few words that are quite formal in English, but then I remember these are just their normal words, and it's not like showing off, but they know this word exists in English and using it puts across a more highbrow nuance (in my opinion) so it can be quite misleading, and to the person that knows about it certainly something to betray them as a non-native speaker!
[In this post I have purposely made no statement about levels of formality of the Italian words in relation to the normal English ones, only that there is a formal counterpart to the formal word in English]
Last edited by Alxmrphi; 11th January 2010 at 8:43 PM.
I apologize if this is elsewhere in this thread (which I haven't read entirely yet), but I also find this "higher register bias" among non-native speakers from a variety of speaking backgrounds.
For example, the graduate student in our lab is Tamil-speaking and I have never heard him say the word "make" - exclusively, "prepare." (Some other interesting phenomena unrelated to register are he uses the verb "keep" to mean "put/place" ("I have kept a book on the desk for you" etc.) in addition to "keep" and I have never heard him utter the word "put." I assume this has to do with the semantics of Tamil?)
He also has a bias towards using the "have"-compound (so-called "perfect") tenses instead of the simple past tense.
But in general he uses more high register Romance vocabulary where simpler Germanic vocabulary would be more common. I wonder if it has to do with how English is taught in his region of India? He doesn't speak a Romance language so there's no reason that the Romance vocabulary should be a priori easier for him to remember.
The tense issue: I would not call it a bias. I notice myself that German for example uses more perfects where we in Dutch and English use simple past. It is a peculiarity but not a bias.
The register issue may be a matter of bias indeed. One cause might however be that foreigners tend to use dictionaries, and thus are misguided by that non-distinct (if that is the right word) list (frequent verbs are listed alongside very uncommon words). But the result seems to be a register conflict indeed.
I am actually quite curious now about English instruction in India, because I've noticed similar phenomena like I've stated in my previous post from speakers of a variety of languages (Dravidian or Indic), which are otherwise unrelated. Anyway, I'd probably start a new thread to explore that.The register issue may be a matter of bias indeed. One cause might however be that foreigners tend to use dictionaries, and thus are misguided by that non-distinct (if that is the right word) list (frequent verbs are listed alongside very uncommon words). But the result seems to be a register conflict indeed.
As for the perfect : are we speaking about the same concept here of 'bias' ? Influence from some other kind of language or from other time concepts is not a bias to me, rather a value judgment - and I cannot imagine any regarding perfect. Do you have one in mind ?
I think we´re all referring to bias in the sense of tendency toward, not value judgment.
Anyway, I´ve noticed some tense tendencies too, like the perfect tense tendency Clevermizo mentioned. I hear native Spanish speakers use the simple present tense in English more often than native English speakers would. For example, they´d say "You come pick me up at my house?" instead of using the present progressive "Are you coming to pick me up at my house?" That makes a lot of sense to me since the present simple tense is used in Spanish in a lot more situations than in English. Also, I imagine it´s easier to form the present simple.
Similarly, I bet my overuse of the present progressive and even the "ir a" tense in Spanish betrays me as a non-native speaker.
Please correct my mistakes!
Last edited by clevermizo; 24th January 2010 at 7:25 PM.
Wow! Very interesting discussion.
In my opinion two of the most difficult things to learn (and therefore that can spot non-natives) are the right use of prepositions, and the register.
I'm always editing a text like hundreds of times before I send it, especially if it's something formal, because for a foreigner is really difficult to know if a word is low-register, normal or high-register.
As regards English-Spanish, besides the obvious accent (some of my British professors have lived in Italy for more than 30 years, and they still have a very strong accent, and the same goes for the Spanish, and us Italians), probably a non-native speaking Spanish would not guess a single por/para. I had a very hard time learning the use of those prepositions, and I believe I still make mistakes. I actually understood the usage only spending a semester in Spain. Back in Italy our professors would explain it again and again, but I never really got it. But then, hearing Spanish people using it, I understood it.
And of course you can spot Italians because of our gestures. No matter what language we're speaking, we'll always have our hands moving around our body
I noticed in Australia I was chatting to an Italian girl (in Italian) and my hands were moving everywhere, I don't do that with English and I stopped mid conversation and said something like "Non capisco il motivo ma non riesco a tenere firme le mani quando parlo in italiano...", I don't know about any other learners but I think it must be the language that makes people do it!And of course you can spot Italians because of our gestures. No matter what language we're speaking, we'll always have our hands moving around our body
(un pensiero: penso che stessimo parlando delle mosche, le mosche da incubo ....... allora forse c'era buon motivo per i gesti )
True! I am better now at using the subjunctive correctly and choosing the right prepositions, but I know I used to mess that up a lot! I think another major mistake English speakers make in Spanish is with direct and indirect objects--their place in a sentence, mixing the two up, and leaving them out altogether (or just using a mí and not both a mí and me). I'm sure it makes us sound very non-native.
Please correct my mistakes!
(sufficient to say you need a fly-net)
But what I said was correct, right? (except for the firme/ferme svista, of course)Lots of native English speakers would say "non posso tenere ferme le mie mani" (I can't keep my hands still).
But I see your point, the typical English way of speaking instantly gives away the fact they're not native by using possessives for parts of the body (which Italian doesn't do) and the riuscere / potere distinction that doesn't exist really in English.
Last edited by Alxmrphi; 29th January 2010 at 10:01 AM.
You are right. I had a native American teacher to whom I had complained that I always had some errors on prepositions in my tests, 'What could I do?' She answered me, 'Never mind, we natives are never sure about that to'. Then I realized that the same is true for us natives, we don't use the right prepositions all the time - most of us - in our own language too, because 'regência' is one of the hardest part of grammar for us.In my opinion two of the most difficult things to learn (and therefore that can spot non-natives) are the right use of prepositions, and the register.
Eu quase que nada não sei. Mas desconfio de muita coisa...- Guimarães Rosa
en las letras de 'rosa' está la rosa, y todo el Nilo en la palabra 'Nilo'.