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6 Comments

  • Great post! How about turning the verb ‘to agree’ into an adjective, roughly matching the Spanish prepositional phrase ‘de acuerdo’, and use it as complement of the verb BE (e.g. “I am agree”) as most Spanish speakers do?

    Or anglicizing Spanish words like ‘estrenar’ (to wear a new item of clothing for the first time), thus turning it into ‘strenate’: “Are you strenating?”

    Or the overuse of negative questions: “Haven’t you seen Ana? I’ve been looking for her all day.”

    Gold.

  • Jeremy is surely right that, from the point of view of effective communication within a specific speech community, there really is nothing wrong with saying ‘homeworks’ (and Bilal’s Comment shows that this plural form isn’t confined to Mexico).
    But where does this leave dictionaries? Our goal is to describe the language as it is used by mother-tongue speakers, and I believe that this is what most users of our dictionaries expect us to do. Consequently, our entry for ‘homework’ includes a grammar note saying that it is ‘uncountable’. In some cases, we go even further: look, for example, at the ‘Get it Right’ boxes in the entries for information, evidence, or knowledge. These boxes are based on an analysis of large volumes of learners’ writing, which shows that these three words – uncountable in mother-tongue English – are very often pluralised by people whose first language isn’t English, and the notes there explicitly warn users to avoid this tendency.
    I would be interested to know what people think of this: is the information useful, or are we seeking to impose a norm which many users of English don’t recognise or follow?

  • I think it is always worth pointing out the most correct or most natural way of saying something (in a teaching context, of course). I’ve been speaking Spanish for twenty years now and I am always grateful and interested when someone points out a mistake or less than natural usage. I may not be able to change it if it has become fossilized but I am always glad to know and usually wish that someone had told me years earlier. There is a big difference between wanting to know how question tags work but still continuing with ‘Yes? No?’ and actually not being interested in how they work. Anyone genuinely interested in learning a language would want to know (whether they want or are able to use it or not is another matter) and so yes it is important that dictionaries try to transmit the most correct or standard usage and try to point out common mistakes – who wouldn’t want that guidance?

  • A student of universitiy level used to say “bomberman” to refer to a firefighter, that in Spanish is “bombero”. I think this happened because he knew the cartoon superheroe “Batman” . It´s so funny, because nowadays this is a nice anecdote at school and students know they shouldn´t say “bomberman”. Sometimes they play and make new words like this.