Friday Report: Fascination with the English language |

Friday Report: Fascination with the English language

Most politicians are good with words, either ones they write, ones they steal from others, or ones they hire others to write for them. They know it isn't the pen that's mightier than the sword; it's the words that come out of the pen. The English language is unique in that it grabs new words like a refrigerator magnet. Even common names become nouns. A Jacuzzi is now the generic term for any old hot tub, much to the dismay of the Jacuzzi Corporation. Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine. Leotards were made famous by the French acrobat, Jules Léotard. We wear pants in tribute to a comic stage actor named Pantaloon who died more than 1,200 years ago. We don't lynch criminals anymore but in 1493, James Lynch Fitzstephen, Mayor of Galway, Ireland, hanged his own son from the balcony of his house after convicting him of murder. The guillotine was named in 1789 after Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a French physician and the first reformer of capital punishment. His proposal included a plea for humane executions by mechanically separating the guilty from their heads. Charles Boycott was the unfortunate land agent whose job, in 1880, was evicting Irish farmers who couldn't pay rent when the crops failed. He was shunned by the entire community. Laborers would not work for him, merchants would not sell him their wares and the post office wouldn't accept or deliver his mail. Bowdlerize is no longer a household word, but it's one that librarians shout out when they get drunk at parties. It means to edit away sexual and other material offensive to those of faint sensibilities. The bowdlerized version of Fifty Shades of Grey would be about a page-and-a-half long, for instance. Thomas Bowdler was a philanthropist and doctor of medicine. He is best remembered for his gentle rewrites of Shakespeare's plays. His edition, although tamed like a shrew, brought the Bard's works into the lives of ordinary families. Twenty years later his name was in common English usage. Jean Nicot, France's ambassador to Portugal sent tobacco seeds to Paris in 1550 along with enthusiastic reports about the effects of snorting a line or two. Parisian pharmacists dried and powdered the plant and called it nicotine, prescribing it liberally to counter depression. Not surprisingly, it took off like any fiercely addictive drug is apt to do when introduced to an uneducated populace. Upon learning that parishioners were reporting heavenly visions after just a couple of toots, Pope Innocent X excommunicated all snuff users. Perhaps the sneezing disturbed his sermons. English itself grew from a German dialect and is the second most-spoken language in the world. Chinese is by far the most commonly spoken as well as being the oldest, dating back over 4000 years. Oddly enough two languages based on whistling have grown up independently of each other. One is spoken, uh, make that whistled, in Turkey in a remote area near the Black Sea. The whistles convey an astonishing complexity of thoughts and facts. The other whistling language developed in the Canary Islands (I don't make these things up). As you might expect, whistlers from the two groups could not understand each other's tunes. Misunderstandings often crop up among speakers of different languages. When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova to Mexico, they were amazed at the poor sales until some Mexican-speaking person pointed out that "No va," in Spanish, loosely translates into "It won't go." They changed the name and the car sold like shrimp tacos. Misunderstandings often crop up among speakers of the same language. When an Englishman says to an American woman, "I'll knock you up," he's telling her to expect a phone call. There are about one million English words, far more than any other language. Modern dictionaries commonly list around 600,000, but there are fewer than 60,000 in common use. It requires a mere 800 for effective communication. Isn't it a shame that even with all those words at their disposal, politicians still can't explain what useful purpose they serve?

Colorado congressman wants ballots exclusively in English

DENVER (AP) – Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman is introducing legislation to repeal portions of the 1973 Voting Rights Act so that county clerks would be required to provide ballots and other election materials only in English. Clerks in 16 Colorado counties are awaiting a Justice Department decision as to whether they must print dual-language ballots this year. They say the cost would be significant. Eight counties already must provide ballots in Spanish as well as English. Two counties must provide interpreters for Ute tribal members in southwest Colorado. Coffman says forcing cash-strapped local governments to provide ballots in a language other than English makes no sense. He notes English proficiency is already a requirement for U.S. citizenship. According to The Denver Post, immigrant-rights advocates see Coffman’s proposal as an attempt to disenfranchise eligible voters. “We are talking about U.S. citizens, whether they were born here or not,” said Elena Nunez, program director with Colorado Common Cause. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler is neutral on Coffman’s proposal, said spokesman Andrew Cole. “We are focused on complying with the law,” Cole said. “Congressman Coffman obviously is a lawmaker, and if he wants to change the law, we will comply with the new law.”

The Friday Report: Put the fun back in Funk & Wagnall

The roots of the English language extend back to the cave paintings at Lascaux Grotto, in Dordogne, France. Carbon-14 dating puts that about 15,000-13,000 BC, but if you're a Creationist, call it about 1958. Found near the paintings was a curious narrative composition, leading linguists to believe there was a rudimentary written language used even then. Scientists have named this theoretical original language, Proto-Indo-European. At first, things changed slowly. For 100,000 generations man was a hunter-gatherer, concerned with little more than subsistence and procreation, whereas a scant 80 generations separate us from the time of Christ. About 2,500 BC, increasing populations caused a fanning outward across Europe and Asia and what started as this collective language broke up over time into regional varieties called dialects. Those widening dialects eventually became the 2,700 different languages that world inhabitants use today to express themselves. To be understood all across India, a person would have to know over 1,600 languages and dialects. Latin is called a dead language, but that's wrong on two counts. Thanks to the printed text, a person today can study and become fluent in Latin. They may get tired of talking to elderly Catholic priests, but it can be done. Secondly, Latin never died out, it just evolved into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. However, languages do die and vanish all the time. Oubykh was a Caucasian language spoken by 50,000 people living around the Crimea. In 1984, there was only one speaker of this complex language left alive. With 82 consonants and only three vowels, a conversation in Oubykh must have sounded like bowling balls in a clothes dryer. There were an estimated 1,000 languages in the New World when Columbus first landed. Five hundred years later, only 600 survive. The first known dictionary was written in Latin in 1225, but early definitions were not necessarily alphabetical. Some grouped words by types. In 1558, words in A Shorte Dictionarie for Yonge Beginners were grouped by subject. Under beast, for example, comes a lengthy list of beasts with names and definitions. Shakespeare died in 1616, and still the English language lacked the point of reference provided in today's dictionary. During the next hundred years, numerous dictionaries were published that limited themselves to unusual or difficult words, and were limited to a few thousand entries. It wasn't until 1755 when Samuel Johnson published his two-volume work, A Dictionary of the English Language, that the world had a modern English dictionary. With more than 43,000 entries, Johnson's work provided definitions for the majority of the words in common usage at the time. In 1788, Noah Webster published The American Spelling Book. It proved so popular that it sold over 60 million copies during the next 30 years. With the possible exception of the Bible, it is probably the bestselling book of all time. But these were just warm-ups for the big enchilada: the Oxford English Dictionary. Conceived in 1857, it took 71 years to complete. The OED's goal was to define every word used in the English language since 1150, tracing each word back to its origin, with a quotation showing its use in every century back to its first appearance. The OED is probably the greatest work of scholarship ever produced. It contained 414,825 entries supported by 1,827,306 quotations (out of over 6 million collected) comprising 44 million words sprawled across 15,487 pages. Most people compare the excitement of linguistic study to that of knitting. But for those still awake who would like to know more, let me recommend two books: The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson and The Professor and the Madman, A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester.

East, West Grand 3rd graders exceed state average in standardized testing

East Grand School District 3rd graders exceeded the state average in Transition Colorado Assessment Program scores at two out of three of the district’s elementary schools. The Fraser Valley Elementary School scored 81 percent proficient-to-advanced in TCAP testing, which exceeded the state average of 74 percent, and the Granby Elementary School 3rd-graders scored 75 percent proficient-to-advanced. The testing of 3rd-grade reading took place in February, with results recently released to Colorado’s schools. The Indian Peaks Charter School 3rd grade class three-year average score is a 52 percent. Because their are fewer students at Indian Peaks, the score is averaged over three years to protect individual results. The score puts Indian Peaks on a turnaround plan with the Colorado Department of Education. The Free and Reduced Lunch students at Indian Peaks, however, scored a 75 percent in reading achievement. Notably, the English Language Learners population at East Grand Schools exceeded the achievement level in reading of the overall student population. East Grand Superintendent Nancy Karas attributes this achievement to strategic interventions, close monitoring of student progress and the district’s use of literacy and English Language Learners coaches. Third-grade results are generated earlier than other state test results so schools and districts may begin determining strategies for students who are struggling with early literacy issues. According to the Colorado Department of Education, the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program is designed to support school districts as they transition to the new Colorado Academic Standards. Where possible, TCAP measures standards that are common between the old standards and new standards. TCAP results can be compared to past years of Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) test results. TCAP was designed to maintain comparable results that can be used in the state’s accountability system.

Granby " Autumn Phillips: Spanish page isn’t about immigration

Every Friday, we publish one page written entirely in Spanish. The page is put together by two volunteers ” Cecilia Peterson, a medical interpreter for Grand County Public Health, and Evelyn Ramos, a laid-back, Grand County-style girl, originally from Mexico City. Last week, I was disheartened when I read Ramos’ column. Ramos writes for Spanish speakers who are probably new to cold climates. She writes about snowboarding, experiencing the outdoors during winter and gives her readers advice about how to become a part of their new community. Writing for the Spanish page is Ramos’ way of giving back by helping those who may not yet be able to read the English language. As anyone who has lived abroad knows, even if you are studying every night to learn the language of your new country, it always feels good to read something in your native tongue. Ramos’ columns are usually very positive. But last week, I was surprised by the tone of her writing. She sounded discouraged. Unfortunately, people make the leap ” incorrectly, I believe ” that text published in Spanish is a statement about immigration, legal or otherwise. There is more to the story. I’m not sure how many of you were able to read what she wrote, but I thought it was important to publish it in English in case you didn’t. My Spanish is rudimentary, so this translation is an approximation of what she wrote. The Spanish Page: A window into the American culture By Evelyn Ramos Sky-Hi Daily News The following column is written in answer to a letter about the Spanish page, written in the Sky-Hi Daily News. An American reader suggests that the page should go away with the argument that it keeps the Hispanic community from trying to learn English. I do not see that this page has that effect. I ask myself if the American reader understands Spanish. If she does, she may have read many of the articles I wrote. I only write positive things about the American culture. I write about snowboarding and skiing and previewed events in order to help foreigners understand the American way of life. In fact, I have written about the town of Hot Sulphur Springs ” where the letter writer happens to live. With my work, I give the Hispanic community tools to better understand the American culture and the snowy climate, which is a different experience for many. How can we enjoy the snow when we do not know what to do with it or how to dress for the cold? Through my writing, I give to the community a very positive perspective on the snow, nature and wildlife, as well as an introduction to the area’s recreational activities that help reduce stress and lead to a healthier way of life. The Spanish page is an opportunity to read our language. The main objective is to report things that are going on in our area and to entertain Spanish speakers and those who speak Spanish as a second language. But my work is not to teach English. Nevertheless, I introduce Hispanics to the American culture by writing articles with some words in English and photographs of beautiful places around the county. I know that not only Spanish speaking people read my articles, but also tourists from other continents and many curious Americans who are learning Spanish. To assure myself, I asked several locals what they thought about the Spanish page. A few were indifferent, but most were positive. I was to mention that our English lessons begin the moment we arrive in this country. We learn English in the streets, at work, speaking with friends, seeing television and reading signs. We do not learn English through the newspaper. The majority of us work hard days and in the end of the day or during our breaks we like to read the newspaper to find something pleasant to simply to find out what is on television. The newspaper helps distract us from our stressful reality living in another country. The Spanish page reminds us of what it is like to feel at home again. In my case, I do not speak perfect English, but that has not stopped me from making American friends, learning to ski, working, carrying out transactions at the bank or even being able to write for the local newspaper ” all the things I did in my home city before crossing the border. The Spanish page is only a window into the American culture ” not a dictionary of English-Spanish. If we are going to live in this country together freely, we should share our cultures and languages, instead of resisting each other because of our differences.

The Friday report: The trouble with the Second Amendment

It’s strange that common words can be so individual as well. Take a simple word like “girl.” Reading the word brings a mental picture to each of us, but no two of those images would be alike. We fine-tune our words with adjectives like “pretty” and she becomes a “pretty girl” but again, each of us adds our own spin. English can produce a mental train-wreck by adding another word when she becomes a “pretty unpleasant girl.” Each word we string together adds another layer of complexity that can lead us away from the author’s or the speaker’s original intent. Languages also change over time. Words grow old and fall out of use. Take an old word like “kriboly,” which meant taking a bath in sheep’s blood, something most of us just don’t get around to anymore. Meanings and pronunciations change and words get added along the way. People 250 years apart linguistically would have a difficult time understanding each other. Throughout history there have been many attempts to make language more precise by starting from scratch. A constructed universal language would have many advantages, not the least is that it would avoid the complications and errors of translation. Most successful of the many serious attempts at an engineered language is Esperanto. Developed in 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof, Esperanto is a politically neutral, international language. His goal was to promote peace through international understanding among people of different nations and continents. Estimates of fluent speakers of Esperanto range upwards of 2,000,000, mostly in Asia, Europe and South America. Last year it became the 64th language added to Google Translate. This is a roundabout way to the Second Amendment. Why was it so important? Reading the arguments of the time, it’s clear that the majority opinion was that an armed citizenry was believed to be the best deterrent to the evils of an over-reaching government. That’s a hard-to-argue-with concept today looking at modern Syria. America’s Founding Fathers had just as tough of a time arguing about gun control as we do today. They came from England where they’d seen the Catholics trying to disarm the Protestants before the Protestants turned table and disarmed the Catholics. The right, and even the obligation, to bear arms is rooted in more than a thousand years of English law. In 1181, King Henry II decreed that, to defend the crown, the minimum arms any freeman could own were an iron helmet and a wooden lance. The problem was then, and now, one of national defense: A dictator controls his people with a large standing military. Some saw the balance to this in a militia, a separate people’s army living and working their lives, but armed and ready to answer any threat to the nation, either as allies or enemies of the nation’s army. Here’s exactly what our Founding Fathers finally said: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” They left us with 27 grammatically awkward, poorly punctuated, and mis-capitalized words that they couldn’t agree upon themselves. Consequently our self-infatuated legislators today have an impossible task: tethered to a 250 year old mandate that doesn’t make a lot of sense and faced with a current population of 310,000,000 who keep 270,000,000 firearms in the nightstand, we expect them to reduce gun violence. God bless us, one and all.

America: Are we still a nation-state?

According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, one of the definitions of “nation” is an “aggregation of persons of the same ethnic family, often speaking the same language or cognate languages.” Cognate, of course, means: related or similar. One of the definitions of “state” is a “politically unified people occupying a definite territory.” And finally, “nation-state” is defined as a “sovereign state inhabited by a relatively homogeneous group of people who share a common feeling of nationality.” OK, professor, what’s your point? The point is to bring attention to the terms: territory, sovereign, and nation-state. We’ll leave it to the reader to decide to what degree those terms still apply to the United States of today. In the 17th Century, religious persecution in England and worsening economic conditions caused several congregations of people to set sail for this continent. But the congregation of the Reverend John Winthrop did not intend to stay on this continent forever. They intended to return to England. They considered themselves to be on an “errand into the wilderness” to establish a “city on a hill” that would show the rest of the world how people should live. See: Perry Miller’s Errand into the Wilderness. In 1630, in his famous speech on board the Arbella, Reverend Winthrop was using the English word “city” in the same sense as the Greek word “polis,” from which we get “politics.” As it turned out, his congregation liked their “polis” well enough to stay here. Then, in the late 1700s, came a wave of immigrants from Scotland. According to Dr. Thomas Sowell’s Black Red Necks and White Liberals, they were a rowdy bunch, quite different from Reverend Winthrop’s Puritans. Later, back in their homeland, the 18th century Scots cleaned up their act. But first, they had to learn English. That done, the Scots founded some of the world’s best universities. They began to lead the world in medicine and science. Meanwhile, in this land, the religious congregations and even the rowdy Scots had, in general, the same political Weltanschauung (a German word beloved by college professors). Indeed, that worldview held even after the European revolutions of 1848 sent the first waves of middle Europeans to our shores. They quickly embraced English and the political institutions traceable to the Magna Carta. The years 1880 to 1910 saw an influx of immigrants from southern Europe. On the base of the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus described them as “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Not a PC thing to say about people who would soon learn English, embrace representative democracy and, in addition to the Mafia, produce many politicians. But then, I repeat myself. So, professor, what’s your point? The point is that masses of people came here and learned English, although often speaking their native languages at home. They bought into representative democracy. They adopted what we now call the Judeo-Christian Ethic. In that sense, we remained linguistically and ethnically cognate while, at the same time, being multi-racial and multi-religious. This brings us to “sovereign” and “territory” as they apply to a “state.” By definition, a sovereign state controls what is happening within its territory. In order to exercise sovereignty within its borders, it must control its outer borders. Again, we will leave it to our readers to decide if we are in control of our borders. But is our educational system teaching the values of previous generations? Or, is it extolling places where, after thousands of years, the toilets still smell and you can’t drink water out of the tap? Finally, are we still a nation-state? Do we still have sovereign rule over our territory? Some would argue that we know the location of every cow, calf, steer and bull but are clueless as to the people who are here and in what numbers. It will be interesting to see what happens after Jan. 20, 2009. ” William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton is a former assistant professor of political science and history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Fraser Valley teacher nabs top award

Fraser Valley Elementary School teacher Bree Baughman won the Jared Polis Foundation 2017 Teacher Recognition Award, one of just 10 recipients in the state. Baughman is the kindergarten through fifth grade English language and intervention teacher. The Jared Polis Foundation, JPF, honors educators who demonstrate results-driven teaching as well as compassion and dedication toward their students. "Her strong relationship with her students and parents and her ability to teach them English have impacted hundreds of lives," wrote Dr. James Chamberlin, principal at Fraser Valley Elementary, in his nomination letter. Baughman excels at creating a personal approach to engaging with her students, and is a strong advocate for using the most current instructional methods to help her students grow and learn. She is faced with teaching Fraser Valley's most at risk students who are trying to learn English as a second language, while also learning to read and write. "She has made a significant difference in the lives of students who are the most at risk of not succeeding in the traditional public education system by giving them the language skills to grow and learn throughout life," said Chamberlin. Baughman's commitment to her students goes beyond the classroom, as she is a constant source of encouragement for students to seek extracurricular activities. Each Year Baughman organizes a community potluck in celebration of students who have passed the English Language Proficiency Test, and also instructs adult community English lessons for free. For winning Baughman will receive a one thousand dollar discretionary award, a five hundred dollar technology award, a one thousand dollar teacher-directed school grant and the JPF's crystal apple award. "I was shocked initially, but then it was really validation for what we're doing for these kids and that they're being successful," said Baughman. "It really made me want to keep doing what I'm doing, and do more."

Spanish page is about immigration because it’s written only for immigrants

To the Editor: I feel that the Spanish page is about immigration. The articles written in Spanish may not be on the subject of immigration, but they are written for the immigrants. I am one of those millions of immigrants living in this country, but not from Mexico. I’d love to read an article in my native language in the paper, but I don’t think anyone should try to accommodate me for being here. I speak the English language, I work, I pay taxes. I raise my child in the American culture. I love it here. So, to Evelyn Ramos ” Write about the American way of life and the American culture in English. So many more may enjoy your articles. Alina Morar U.S. resident living in Granby

de Vos: Biblical texts

I got a text message from my brother-in-law in lolspeak. It made me appreciate each of the 500 miles that separate us. If you're wondering what lolspeak is, you might ask The American Dialect Society. The 125-year-old society studies English as spoken in North America. Since 1991 they've chosen one word annually to represent the language of the era. In 2005, for instance, they chose Colbert's "truthiness". Last year they awarded "lolspeak" as the Most Creative runner-up to the winner, "Googleganger". If you're over four feet tall, you may not know that lolspeak is more or less English as spoken by your cat. That is assuming your cat had a callous disregard for niceties like grammar, punctuation and spelling. This ersatz language sprang from chat rooms where 12-year-olds demonstrated their lack of achievement in school through deliberate near-gibberish words and spellings that instantly turned the dumbest message hysterically funny – if you happen to be 12 years old. On the other hand, funny cat pictures on greeting cards with misspelled messages have made millionaires out of a lot of semi-literates. is a translator, should you care to try out lolspeak. Type in something preposterous and press the "translate" button to see how your cat would say it. This is just a side note: if your cat does start talking to you, with or without errors in grammar, it could be time to reassess your pharmacological options. If you think something like talking cats could only happen on the internet, think again. Everything old is new again, or is it the other way around? 150 years ago British photographer, Harry Pointer, created an international sensation with a portrait series of cats in amusing poses. He added humorous zingers as if the cats were talking. But even more curious was the decade between 1830 and 1840 when Boston newspapers tried to outdo each other in comical abbreviations, very similar to today's lolspeak. Journalists would take a phrase, throw out spelling rules, recraft it phonetically and then compound the confusion by abbreviating it, leaving the reader to puzzle it out. LOL. One of these frazzled phrases found its way into the future to become one of the most common and versatile words we use today. "Okay", in two syllables or two letters, can express agreement, doubt, hesitation, sincerity, and a host of other inflections and innuendos. The word was coined by an 1830's Boston editor/hipster who took the words "all correct" and corrupted it into "oll korrect" and then abbreviated it to OK. At the same time, "ok" and its phonetic alternate, "okay", were stamped deeper into local lexicon by our eighth president, Martin Van Buren. He was known colloquially as "Old Kinderhook" after his native town of Kinderhook, New York. Van Buren was endorsed by Tammany Hall, an underground political group that used violence and force to get politicians elected and see they stayed that way. "OK" was their battle cry as they assaulted and beat up Van Buren's foes and rivals. And we call Trump a bully. "OK" gained still more popularity as Van Buren's enemies retaliated, crafting their own flyers that screamed "OK is Out of Kash" and "OK is out of Kredit", decrying the fiscal mess and corruption of Van Buren's administration. So if ever you think you've latched onto the newest fad, turn to the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1 verse 9 and read: "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."