Monday, August 31, 2009

Verb Position in Indirect Questions

In English the verb position in indirect questions is usually different from that of direct questions. Indirect questions can also be called embedded clauses because they are attached to clauses known as matrix clauses.

The following examples will help to clarify the difference in the verb position of direct and indirect questions.

Where is he?
I can't remember where he is.

In the indirect question the verb follows the pronoun "he".

What is she doing?
I can't remember what she is doing.

Here the auxiliary verb "is" follows the pronoun "she" in the indirect question.

Which bag is hers?
I can't remember which bag is hers.

Here the verb position is the same in both cases.

Who did she see?
I can't remember who she saw.

Here not only the verb position is different but in the indirect question we have a main verb in simple past rather than the auxiliary in simple past and a base verb.

When can she come?
I can't remember when she can come.

Again we see the familiar pattern where the auxiliary follows the pronoun in the indirect question.

What is the fastest way to get there?
I can't remember what the fastest way to get there is.
I can't remember what the fastest way is to get there.
I can't remember what is the fastest way to get there.

In this case the verb position of the indirect question can vary. It can come at the very end of the sentence, at the end of the noun phrase "the fastest way" or after the pronoun "what".

What is going to happen?
I can't remember what is going to happen.

Here the verb position is the same in both cases.

Do you know what the capital of Tahiti is?
I can't remember what is the capital of Tahiti.
I can't remember what the capital of Tahiti is.

Here the verb position of the indirect question varies. It may come again the pronoun "what" or at the end of the noun phrase "the capital of Tahiti".

In English we usually have a different verb position in direct and indirect questions. With short questions such as "Where is he?" this is invariably the case. However, with the pronoun "which" this does not apply. With "which", the verb position is the same in both direct and indirect questions.

With direct questions that have the auxiliary verb "do", it does not appear in indirect questions. With a be verb followed by "going to", the verb position is invariable. In direct questions with a long noun phrase, the verb position of the indirect question can vary. It may be the same as in the direct question, follow the noun or come at the end of the sentence.

The verb position of direct and indirect questions in English is usually different. However, it is sometimes the same and in the case of long noun phrases may occur in as many as three different places. Thus, the position of the verb in indirect question sometimes varies.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sun and Moon

High above earth, sun and moon work as one,
Guarding sky and space in perfect accord.
Day and night they exhibit unison,
Their light and warmth an enduring reward.
Burning constantly is the ball of light,
Flames of fire extending to all below.
When day disappears, the moon signals night,
Reflection of light her comforting glow.
Throughout time the two have served to inspire
With their radiant light and wondrous colour.
Full moons, sunrises and sunsets of fire
Grace our vast universe with their wonder.
Changing form to mark the time and season,
Burning sun and glowing moon become one.
Celestial bodies of deepest passion,
They love one another, our moon and sun.

This poem was inspired by Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan. I've never visited it, but have seen many pictures. In this poem, I aim to capture the special relationship of the sun and moon. The rhyme scheme is a regular a,b and each verse has ten syllables. In the final verse, I personify the sun and moon by comparing them to a couple deeply in love with one another. My poem symbolizes not only love but also co-operation, inspiration, perserverance and dedication.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Functional Syntax

Of the various types of syntax, functional syntax is not very popular. In fact, the study of functional syntax is less common today than it used to be. It probably reached its height of popularity in the 1970's. Nevertheless, it is useful for analyzing the function of phrases in sentence structure.

I will illustrate the use of functional syntax with infinitive clauses. The bare infinitive consists of a verb as in "I must go" and "They can come". In both examples, the infinitive is preceded by a modal. In other cases, though, the infinitive consists of a particle, "to" and a verb. This is illustrated in the example "Oliver needs to study." Here the infinitive consists of "to study". This infinitive can be classified as a clause consisting of a particle and a verb but the infinitive clause can be expanded as in the following examples: "Oliver needs to study more", "Oliver needs to study math", and "Oliver needs to study because he has an exam tomorrow".

Now let us consider the different functions of infinitive clauses. The following sentence is a famous one: "To err is human". In this sentence the infinitive clause is "To err". It has a nominal function because it can be replaced with the pronoun "It." In the sentence "I want to eat now", the infinitive clause "to eat now" also has a nominal function because it can be replaced by the pronoun "it". In the sentence "To graduate in one year is Martina's goal", the infinitive clause "To graduate in one year" also has an nominal function.

In the sentence "Erik Frost is the man to lead our company", the infinitive clause "to lead our company" has an adjectival function. It describes the kind of man that Erik Frost is. In the sentence "The best way to remain healthy is a good diet and regular exercise", the infinitive clause "to remain healthy" has an adjectival function because it modifies the noun "way".

Infinitive clauses can also have an adverbial function. Consider the sentence "Richard is taking Chinese this semester to prepare for his trip to China". The infinitive clause "to prepare for his trip to China" has an adverbial function because it modifies the verb "taking" and also answers the question "Why is Richard taking Chinese this semester?". In the sentence "Paul is too sick to go out", the infinitive clause "to go out" also has an adverbial function because it modifies the adjective "sick". It functions as an adverb also known as a degree word such as in the examples "so hot", "very tired" and "really windy".

Functional syntax is a type of syntax which is rarely studied today. Despite its relative obscurity, it can be very useful for the study of the function of different elements of sentences. One example is the study of the different functions of infinitive clauses.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Names of Cities in Different Languages

I decided to compare the names of twenty well-known European cities in ten different languages. The languages I chose were four Germanic, four Romance and two Uralic. They were English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Hungarian and Finnish. In the list below, I provide the names of the cities in their respective languages. The order is the same as in this paragraph.

Paris, Paris, Parijs, Paris, Pari’s, Paris, Paris, Parigi, Pa’rizs, Pariisi

London, London, Londen, London, Londres, Londres, Londres, Londra, London, Lontoo

Stockholm, Stockholm, Stockholm, Stockholm, Estocolmo, Estocolmo, Stockholm, Stoccolma, Stockholm, Tukholma

Milan, Meiland, Milaan, Milano, Mila’n, Mila~o, Milan, Milano, Mila’no’, Milano

Rome, Rom, Rome, Rom, Roma, Roma, Rome, Roma, Ro’ma, Rooma

Vienna, Wien, Wenen, Wien, Viena, Viena, Vienne, Vienna, Be’cs, Wien

Florence, Florenz, Florence, Florens, Florencia, Florenc,a, Florence, Firenze, Firenze, Firenze

Naples, Neapel, Napels, Neapel, Na’poles, Na’poles, Naples, Napoli, Na’poly, Napoli

Warsaw, Warschau, Warschau, Warszawa, Varsovia, Varso’via, Varsovie, Varsavia, Varso’, Varsova

Munich, Mu:nchen, Mu:nchen, Mu:nchen, Mu’nich, Munique, Munich, Monaco, Mu:nchen, Mu:nchen

Lisbon, Lissabon, Lissabon, Lissabon, Lisboa, Lisboa, Lisbonne, Lisbona, Lisszabon, Lissabon

Berlin, Berlin, Berlijn, Berlin, Berli’n, Berlim, Berlin, Berlino, Berlin, Berliini

Brussels, Bru:ssel, Brussel, Bryssel, Bruselas, Bruxelas, Bruxelles, Bruxelles, Bru:sszel, Bryssel

Prague, Prag, Praag, Prag, Praga, Praga,Prague, Praga, Pra’ga, Praha

Hamburg, Hamburg, Hamburg, Hamburg, Hamburgo, Hamburgo, Hambourg, Amburgo, Hamburg, Hampuri

Moscow, Moskau, Moskou, Moskva, Moscu’, Moscovo/Moscou, Moscou, Mosca, Moszkva, Moskova

Venice, Venedig, Venetie:, Venedig, Venecia, Veneza, Venise, Venezia, Velence, Venetsia

Athens, Athen, Athene, Aten, Atenas, Atenas, Athe`nes, Atene, Athe’n, Ateena

Geneva, Genf, Geneve, Geneve, Ginebra, Genebra, Gene`ve, Ginevra, Geneva, Geneve

Belgrade, Belgrad, Belgrado, Belgrad, Belgrado, Belgrado, Belgrade, Belgrado, Belgra’d, Belgrad

Moscow has two forms in Portuguese. Moscovo is European and Moscou is Brazilian. The cities with the most variants are Moscow (ten variants if we include European Portuguese and nine with Brazilian) and Athens, Venice and Warsaw with nine variants each. Stockholm has the fewest variants at four. The name "Stockholm" in used in six languages: English, German, Dutch, Swedish, French and Hungarian. Two languages, Spanish and Portuguese, use "Estocolmo".

The list shows that the names of many European cities can vary significantly from one language to another. This is often not the case for cities of other continents. The reason for this variation is probably due to the history and importance of these cities in the languages discussed here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Opening Trap

At the highest levels of chess it seldom happens, but at other levels players may often fall victim to an opening trap. In the following game played between Canadians Serge Lemieux and Dimitri Feoktistov in 2001, Serge Lemieux was the victim. The game was so short that he resigned after only six moves. The moves are as follows:

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6

Lemieux plays the Queen's Gambit. He offers Feoktistov his c-pawn because he wants to play e4 on his third move to increase his control of the centre. If black plays dxc on his second move, this opening is known as the Queen's Gambit Accepted. However, if black declines the pawn as in this game, we have the Queen's Gambit Declined.

3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Bg5 Nbd7

With his fourth move, white pins black's knight because if the knight moves, white can capture the queen. Black opts to defend the king knight with his queen knight.

5. cxd exd
6. Nxd5 Nxd5

After the exchange of pawns, white plays Nxd5 with the belief that he has won a pawn. He does not expect black to play Nxd5 because to do so is to expose the black queen to capture. To his complete surprise, black sacrifices his queen. Realizing that black has a superior position, white resigns.

If white plays Bxd8 on his seventh move, black plays Bb4+. The only way white can reply to the check is with Qd2. Then black plays Bxd2+. White must recapture with Kxd2 but then black plays Kxd8 and he is ahead in material.

White's sixth move is a blunder. Because he must lose his queen after 7. Bb4+, the capture of the d-pawn by the knight on the sixth move is premature. To prevent the loss of the queen to the check by the bishop, white can play moves such as a3 or Nf3 on his sixth move.

This game features a well-known opening trap that can be very successful against an unsuspecting opponent. In this trap, the queen sacrifice is only temporary because black later regains the queen with a material advantage.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What is a dialect?

A dialect is simply a mutually comprehensible variant of a language. Some claim that the true difference between a language and a dialect is that a language has an army and a dialect does not.

Let me explain. The languages of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are usually mutually comprehensible to the speakers of all three languages, particularly in the case of spoken Swedish and Norwegian.

For political reasons, though, they are always referred to as languages. Danes tend to have more difficulty understanding Swedish than Norwegian, but if the language is spoken slowly and clearly, they usually understand it very well. In their written forms, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are all easily understood by the speakers of those particular languages.

Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian are essentially the same language, but for political reasons, they are referred to as separate languages. It is true that they have different writing systems. Serbian is written in Cyrillic and Bosnian and Croatian are written in the Roman alphabet. However, they are all easily understood in their spoken forms.

Hindi and Urdu are also essentially the same language, but for political reasons are considered separate. Hindi is spoken in India and Urdu in Pakistan. Not only are they spoken in different countries but also by members of different religions. Most speakers of Hindi are Hindus and most speakers of Urdu are Muslims.

The Chinese dialects of Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka share the same writing system but are mutually incomprehensible in their spoken forms. For political reasons, though, they are usually referred to as dialects. Calling them dialects gives the impression that all Chinese speak the same language, but of course this is far from the case. If Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka had phonetic writing systems, there is no question that they would not be mutually comprehensible in any form. The writing systems make it possible to preserve a sense of unity. The Tibetan language, however, written in a different script, is not comprehensible to speakers of languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka in any form. However, it is also banned by the Chinese government at school or work, so many Chinese may not even be aware of its existence.

To be called a dialect, a variety of a language usually has differences in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. However, sometimes dialects of a language may be more incomprehensible than two separate languages. For example, speakers of standard Italian may have an easier time understanding French or German than understanding Sicilian. This is particularly true if they have studied those languages and had little or no exposure to Sicilian.

The definition of a dialect can be a tricky one, but generally we regard it as a variant of a particular language such as American English, Australian English, Canadian English and British English. For political reasons, dialects may be referred to as languages or languages as dialects. Some may claim that they do not speak a dialect but the truth is that every speaker has a dialect regardless of how standard it may be.

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