Thursday, September 30, 2010

French Orthography

French orthography is one of the challenges of learning French. The French language has many silent letters and sounds which can be spelt in more than one way. Without question, it is not a phonetic language.

The word "eau" means water. Though it is composed of three letters, it has only one sound. It is pronounced similarly to "oh" in English.

The word "dansent" means dance in third person plural as in "They dance." The last three letters of the word are silent. It is pronounced somewhat similarly to the word "dance."

The word "noix" means nut/nuts. It is pronounced as if it were spelt "nwa." Though it has four letters, it has only three sounds.

The word "pays" means country. Though it has four letters, it has only three sounds. It is pronounced as if it were spelt "pei" with the "e" and the "i" pronounced separately.

The word "chaud" means hot. It is pronounced similarly to the English word "show."

The word "doux" means sweet. It is pronounced similarly to the English word "do."

The word "oeufs" means eggs. Though it consists of five letters, it has only one sound. It is pronounced with a mid front rounded vowel and sounds somewhat similar to the English word "uh."

The word "sept" means seven. In this case, the final letter is pronounced but the "p" is silent. It sounds similar to the word "set."

The word "mais" means but. Though it has four letters, it has only two sounds. It is pronounced somewhat similarly to the word "may" but with a monophthong as opposed to a diphthong.

The word "oiseau" means bird. It has six letters but only four sounds. The word is pronounced as if it were spelt "wazo."

One of the challenges of learning French is the orthography. Many sounds can be represented with a variety of spellings and many letters are not pronounced. French orthography is thus relatively unphonetic.

Monday, September 27, 2010

English Tongue Twisters

Tongue twisters can be quite tricky to say. This is especially true when they are uttered quickly. The following are a few popular English tongue twisters:

She sells seashells by the seashore.
The shells she sells are surely seashells.
So if she sells shells on the seashore,
I'm sure she sells seashore shells.

The sixth sheik's sixth sheep's sick.

If you keep a lot of liquor in your locker
It is wise to put a lock upon your stock
Or some fellow who is quicker
Will trick you of your liquor
If you fail to lock your liquor with a lock.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
How many pecks of pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's son.
I'm sitting plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucker comes.

The first and fourth tongue twisters are especially well-known. A peck is the equivalent of two gallons which is a little less than 9.1 litres.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lady MacBeth

In Act 1 Scene 5 Lady MacBeth speaks to MacBeth. The powerful words she uses encourage him to carry out the plan to murder King Duncan. Her lines are also among the most memorable of the play.

She says to her husband:

"O, never
Shall sun that morrow see!
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like th'innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't. He that's coming
Must be provided for: and you shall put
This night's great business into my dispatch;
Which shall to all our nights and days to come
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom."

Lady MacBeth compares King Duncan to the sun. As the sun in the sky rules over all below, King Duncan rules over Scotland. The plan is to murder King Duncan during the night. Once the plan is complete, he will not see morning.

She calls MacBeth a thane because he is not yet king. A thane is a Scottish prince.

She warns her husband that his face could make others suspicious of his intentions. It is like an open book. She wants him to remove any feelings of guilt about the plan.

To fool time, one must look like time. With these words, she reminds her husband that he must look and act the same as always. He must not draw any attention to himself. He must welcome King Duncan as if he were an honoured guest. His looks, actions and words must convince King Duncan that MacBeth is to be trusted. Though he should appear to be an innocent flower, he must be the serpent under it. He must be the exact opposite of what he appears.

The guest who is coming, King Duncan, must be given good care. Lady MacBeth makes it clear that she is the one in charge of the murder. The night's great business shall fall under her control. In the days and nights following the murder, she and her husband, the future queen and king of Scotland, shall have complete control and mastery of the kingdom.

Lady MacBeth's words are critical because she senses her husband's hesitation. To assure him, she tells him that they will soon be the ones in control of the Scottish kingdom. The irony of the play is that Lady MacBeth is later consumed with feelings of guilt and seems to regret her actions. MacBeth, on the other hand, loses his feelings of guilt as he becomes more self-centred and power-hungry.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Power of the Queen and Bishop

The queen and bishop on the same diagonal can be very powerful. In a recent game at chess.com, I used my queen and bishop to mate my unsuspecting opponent. In the game, my opponent was Aszasz of Romania who played white. Here are the moves of the game with my commentary:

1. d4 Nf6
2. Bg5 e6
3. Nf3 Be7
4. Nc3 a6
5. e4 Nc6
6. e5 Ng8
7. Bxe7 Ngxe7

I capture with my knight on g8 to bring it back into the game.

8.Bd3 0-0
9. Ne4 b5
10. c4 bxc
11. Bxc4 Bb7
12. Qc2 Nf5
13. 0-0 Nfxd4

I calculate that I can win a pawn.

14. Nxd4 Nxd4
15. Qd3 c5

I push the pawn to keep my knight in the centre.

16. Nd6 Bc6

Here I decide to target the g2 square.

17. Rfe1 Qg5
18. Rad1 Qxg2#

Black fails to notice the mating threat. My queen and bishop provide victory. At this stage, material is quite even. I only have two extra pawns but my powerful queen and bishop are the difference.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bringing Out The Queen Early

The queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard. However, it is often a mistake to bring the queen out early. The reason is that there are many pieces on the board and it is often possible to attack the queen. I recently played a game of speed chess at chess.com. My opponent and I both had eight minutes on our clocks. My opponent brought his queen out early and lost quickly. My opponent was Erickthegreat of the USA who played black. Here are the moves of the game along with my commentary:

1. e4 d6
2. d4 e6
3. Nf3 b6

Black's third move prepares Bb7.

4. Nc3 Bb7
5. Bd3 g6

Black's fifth moves prepares Bg7.

6. 0-0 Bg7
7. Re1 Nd7
8. Bg5 Ne7
9. e5 dxe

My goal is to open lines of attack against black's uncastled king. Black should castle here instead of capturing my pawn.

10. Nxe5 Nxe5
11. dxe5 Qd4

Black wants to win my e-pawn. His queen and bishop both attack it. I only have my queen to defend it. However, his king is too exposed.

12. Bb5+

Black resigns. No matter how he responds, he loses his queen. Black loses quickly because he brings the queen out too early and fails to get his king to safety.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Geysers of Glory

The poem "Geysers of Glory" was inspired by a visit I made with my mom to Yellowstone National Park in 2001. It was truly an unforgettable visit.

Geysers of Glory

Steaming inside,
Ready to surface,
Time after time,
Geysers roar,
Pressure building,
Heat escaping,
Visitors watch,
Waiting and waiting.
Time after time
A little water
Escapes
And falls
To the ancient ground.
The show
Seems to be over,
The steam subsides,
Quiet takes over.
And...
Then the water releases
High into the air,
Up and up,
Higher and higher,
The water shoots
Over the trees,
Towards the clouds.
Geysers of glory,
Wonders of nature
Carrying water
Through surrounding air,
Continue to inspire
Year after year.

In this poem I hope to capture the beauty and mystery of geysers. I will never forget my visit to Yellowstone National Park, one of the most spectacular parks I have ever been to. One of the most popular attractions of the park is the geysers which fascinate so many.