Zen Bastard (jimbojones) wrote,
Zen Bastard

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linguistic oddities

When I speak to non-native English speakers, it makes me wonder what sort of little linguistic tics my own English-native-ness makes me inflict on other languages when I try to speak them. And how people ever get the brass balls to impersonate native speakers of another language, with how obvious the giveaways are on even extremely fluent speakers.

For instance, every Chinese and Indian ESL'er I know avoids the gender-neutral pronoun - it - like the fucking plague. "It" may wind up being "him" or "her" occasionally, but more frequently "it" becomes a never ending stream of "this one" or "that one."

But here's the weird thing - in Japanese, "this one" and "that one" are exactly what you say - "kore, sore, are"; "this one near me, that one near you, that one over there." And yet I have never heard a single Japanese ESL'er use that construction in English. They all seem to do fine with pronouns, even though in Japanese you hardly ever use the equivalent of a pronoun at all (you don't say "how is your health?" in Japanese, for example, you literally say "good health?" and the listener is expected to infer that you are asking his or her health instead of declaring your own).

So why do Japanese people seem to get pronouns so easily, while Indian and Chinese folks remain uncomfortable with 'em?


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