Category Archives: Ute’s language lounge

In this section I discuss about characteristics of the German, Italian, French, English and Dutch languages and about bilingualism (including multilingualism), raising bilingual children and everything that has to do with linguistics.

Why aren’t I instead of amn’t I?

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Why don’t we say “amn’t I” instead of “aren’t I”? If we say “am I” why don’t we say “amn’t I”? Isn’t “aren’t I” grammatically incorrect? – I recently had a long discussion with my son about the fact that using aren’t I doesn’t seem right, at least not if we learn that the correct form for the first person is “am”.
Why don’t we use amn’t I instead? This made me curious to look up if this form was ever used and why aren’t I is the current, accepted form instead.

The contraction of I am not in questions is not a logic form for English learners – and teachers: the form I’m not should be Amn’t I ? (with postposition of “I”) in a question.

Why don’t we say “amn’t I” as the the negative form? If in declarative sentences we use the standard form I am not and in questions am I not, and in declarative case, the standard contraction is I’m not, so why don’t we apply this in questions where speakers feel the need for a negative contraction like in “isn’t it” or “aren’t they”?

The contraction ain’t seems to stand for am not and is attested since 1618 (Merriam-Webster). As the combination of two nasal consonants “m-n” is disfavoured by English speakers, the “m” of amn’t was elided, i.e. one of the nasal sounds was dropped to simplify the pronunciation: this reflected in writing with the form an’t. An’t first appears  in the work of English Restoration playwrights (cfr. Merriam-Webster) and in 1695 an’t was used as a contraction of am not in William Congreve’s play Love for Love: “I can hear you farther off, I an’t deaf”, but an’t also appears as a contraction of “are not” in Sir John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse (1676): “Hart thee shoemaker! These shoes an’t ugly, but they don’t fit me”.
Interestingly, the contracted form aren’t for are not appeared in 1675. – In non-rhotic dialects, aren’t lost its “r” sound, and began to be pronounced as an’t.

Apparently, during that period, the form an’t was used for the 1rst singular and 1rst plural form: I am not/ I amn’t = I an’t and We aren’tWe an’t.

An’t for is not

An’t for is not may have developed independently from its use for am not and are not.

Just to complicate it a bit more: isn’t was sometimes written as in’t or en’t, which could have changed into an’t.  “An’t for is not may have filled a gap as an extension of the already-used conjugations for to be not: Jonathan Swift used an’t to mean is not in Letter 19 of his Journal to Stella (1710–13): It an’t my fault, ’tis Patrick’s fault; pray now don’t blame Presto.”

From an’t to  ain’t

The “a” in an’t must have been a long “a” and was written as ain’t since 1749– with the epenthetic “i”.

Interestingly, when ain’t appeared, an’t was already used for am not, are not, and is not.

Therefore, an’t and ain’t coexisted as written forms well into the nineteenth century:

Charles Dickens used the terms interchangeably, as in Chapter 13, Book the Second of Little Dorrit (1857): “‘I guessed it was you, Mr Pancks,” said she, ‘for it’s quite your regular night; ain’t it? … An’t it gratifying, Mr Pancks, though; really?'”.

In the English lawyer William Hickey‘s memoirs (1808–1810), ain’t appears as a contraction of aren’t; “thank God we’re all alive, ain’t we…”

We can find the contraction ain’t for “am not”

In dialects or regional variants…

I was positively surprised when I heared a Scottish friend use amn’t once in a question and found out that it was quite common. In fact:

The contraction amn’t is a standard contraction of am not in some dialects of mainly Hiberno-English (Irish English) and Scottish English. In Hiberno-English the question form (amn’t I?) is used more frequently than the declarative I amn’t. (The standard I’m not is available as an alternative to I amn’t in both Scottish English and Hiberno-English.) An example appears in Oliver St. John Gogarty‘s impious poem The Ballad of Japing Jesus: “If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine, / He gets no free drinks when I’m making the wine”. These lines are quoted in James Joyce‘s Ulysses, which also contains other examples: “Amn’t I with you? Amn’t I your girl?” (spoken by Cissy Caffrey to Leopold Bloom in Chapter 15).

 

The more standardized contraction aren’t seems to fill in the “amn’t gap” in questions: Aren’t I lucky to have you around? Although this form is universally used by Standard English speakers today, it was considered “illiterate” by some twentieth-century writers.

But how could amn’t become aren’t?

The form am not contracted into amn’t which, to simplify the pronunciation, became an’t. All happened because in non-rhotic* dialects, aren’t and the pronunciation of an’t are homophones, i.e. both are pronounced without the “r”. So it might be the case of a hypercorrection from non-rhotic dialect speakers that the form aren’t is used instead of an’t: thinking that where there isn’t a “r” we should insert one, people may have started to insert a “r” into an’t which lead to arn’t and by simplifying the pronunciation with an epenthetic e: aren’t, which, besides, already exists as form of the 2nd singular and plural forms of the verb to be and doesn’t sound “wrong”.

The spelling of “aren’t I” started to replace “an’t I” in the early 20th century, and some first examples of aren’t I for am I not appear already in the first half of the 19th century in St Martin’s Day from Holland-tide by Gerald Griffin in 1827: “aren’t I listening; and isn’t it only the breeze that’s blowing the sheets and halliards about?”

Today, the grammatical am I not? sounds stilted, ain’t I? is considered substandard and aren’t I ? is the standard solution adopted in practice by most speakers and taught in school.

*In non-rhotic dialects, the historical /r/ has been lost except before vowels; they include all the dialects of England—except the South West, the southern West Midlands, and parts of West Lancashire—as well as the English dialects of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some parts of the southern and eastern coastal United States.

More posts about historical linguistics will follow soon – also about Italian, French, German…

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Bilingual teens and young adults (#IMLD 2015)

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We can find many suggestions about how to support our children to become bilinguals* when they are toddlers, in preschool or primary school. But what happens when they are teenagers and young adults? Can we still support them with their family languages or other languages they’re learning along the way?

If culture was a house,

then language was the key to the front door,

to all the rooms inside

(Khaled Housseini)

Being bilingual and a teenager can be challenging, for both parents and children. Adolescence is a very intense period of physical and mental change, and all seems to revolve around finding an identity and fitting in with a group of friends.

How do teenagers juggle speaking two (or more) languages and belonging to two nationalities or cultures?

In my personal experience, talking two or more languages is not a problem per se during those years. Discovering literature in all the other languages I learned during my childhood and being able to really immerse into the cultures and the mindset of these cultures during holidays was (and still is!) very fascinating and enriching.

If we want our teenagers to stay  bilingual,

they need to know about the cultures

(U.E.L.)

What I found more challenging was the expectation locals would have. People would expect me to know what peers in that other culture and country would rave about.

My parents made sure that we would visit Germany once or twice per year for an extended period. They wanted to make sure that we could meet peers. Even if only for a few days we had the great opportunity to get to know the culture through peers’ eyes.

I recall that despite very easy beginnings – after all, we all spoke the same language! – we would soon discover that we have different expectations. Locals would expect us to understand their slang, jokes and to know what they were talking about (TV shows, what is “in” etc.).

I quickly realised that I didn’t share the same taste in food, music, literature. I wouldn’t know about the latest movies, spots, sport idols. I wouldn’t know the newest gossips and soon feel alienated and “different”. Knowing that I didn’t have to stay for a long time, made me yet enjoy those moments and appreciate the short but intense friendships.

Nowadays, thanks to internet etc., being in touch with cultures around the world is much easier. – We can all access informations in no time and get a virtual impression of the “other” culture.

Today, I encourage my children to watch news from the different countries we want them to be more familiar with. They know about the idols, they understand the (most of the) jokes and, up to now, do not feel alienated when they spend some days with peers in Germany or Switzerland twice per year. Even if my children are not teenagers yet, I know that peer pressure is very high and being the one who talks German (and Italian) to them, who explains the other culture to them is not going to suffice.

 

 

Some tips for parents who want to support their teens bilingualism and biculturalism:

  • bear in mind that teenagers rate peers higher than parents!
  • foster social networking: chatting via webcams is a great way to keep the other language alive. It is a great alternative to Saturday schools or parents teaching these languages at home!
  • be open minded when it comes to slang (and swearwords!). While growing up abroad, bilinguals will use the language in an “artificial context”. Allowing your child to use the slang their monolingual peers use, will help them fit in easier once you visit the country.
  • help them find resources to have access to the local slang.
  • make sure they know about the habits and values of peers in the other culture.
  • travel as often as you can to different places of your family languages and offer them opportunities to meet peers (by enrolling them in some local activities they like).
  • if you can’t travel that often and provide full language immersion, look out to other families that speak the same language where you live.
  • find panpals for your children – using social media may also be an option, but if you would like your children to improve their written skills in the other language(s), writing in the “old fashioned way” is advisable.

I wrote this post for our International Mother Language Day Campain on Facebook (cfr. #IMLD), where we published links about several topics related to raising the awareness of “mother (and father) languages” since January the 21rst.

 

(* I use the term of bilingual also for multilinguals.)

Bilingualism and homework (part 1)

I recently discussed this topic with linguists and parents who are raising their children bilingually and I noticed that people generally tend to jump onto general conclusions way too quickly.

Parents who send their children to an international school where lessons are held in another language often struggle when it comes to doing homeworks.

The question I often hear from parents and that induces me to write this post is: “Do I need to do homework with my child in his/her mothertongue or is it enough if she/he does the homework in the school language?”

There is not an overall answer, because there are differenct appraisal factors to consider.

First of all, if using the mother language helps to understand the topic of the homework, it would surely be important to switch to it.

Especially with literacy homework it is very helpful to discuss the topic of a text or book in the first language so that the child really gets the meaning of the text in the school language.

Parents often assume that their children fully understand a text because they are able to “perfectly” read it phonetically. We can’t be ” perfectly bilingual” after 2 weeks or a few months at school.

Fact is that children first of all learn the phonetics. They simply repeat the soundchains. So, for example, they would be able to say “Good morning”, “Thank you”, “May I have… please” very quickly. But only when they use a broader spectrum of sentences with similar words they will be able to understand that for example, “good” can be combined with “morning” , “evening”, “job”, “girl”, “boy” etc. Very slowly they will divide those sound chains into actual words and morphemes.

It takes children from 5 to 9/10 years to catch up on monolingual peers language-wise.

Therefore, when we send our children to a school where they’ll be immersed into another language the whole day, we’ll need to support them process what they’ve learned at home by using our family languages.

When our children come home with a book to read aloud, our task is to question them about the text. Asking them to paraphrase the text is a great way to understand whether they understand the plot or not.

We can ask them to find other words, synonyms for words that may be more difficult. – Obviously, in order to do this we should have a great proficiency in the school language too! – But what if this is not the case?

Many parents struggle with this and I know that some take extra language lessons in order to be able to help their children at school.

But if one doesn’t have the time to do so, or finds it really hard to catch up with the language, my advice is to try to find other words in the family language and if the child asks for more synonyms in the school language, don’t hesitate to use the dictionary. I know many parents who improved their languages by learning alongside their children.

What seems very logical and relatively easy for literacy, becomes more complex for other disciplines. (see part 2 soon)

 

Finding British Schools For Your Expat Children, by Luke Rees

A few weeks ago I found a very useful map about British Schools Abroad and shared it on social media. I’m now glad to publish Luke Rees’ very insightful post about it here.

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Parents who are planning to move abroad face a number of initial challenges. To start with there are the stresses that go along with finding a house, setting up a bank account, buying a car and sorting out healthcare. However there is perhaps nothing quite as tricky as setting your children up in a new foreign school.

Emigrating with children often stirs up a variety of feelings within the family. On the one hand there is the excitement of a new climate, a new culture and a whole new land of opportunities, but on the other there is the fear of change – the stresses of which can wreak havoc on a family. It therefore always pays to be prepared, and to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Taking your kids away from their friends and teachers whilst they are still at primary and secondary school is a delicate process. It is well know that young children need stability, and to wrench everything away from under their feet is no doubt going to be traumatic. If the new country speaks a foreign language or uses their own national curriculum then this can make the transition even harder on your child, who has to learn to negotiate an entirely new educational system.

For British parents there is the option to keep their child at a British school no matter where they are in the world. The British curriculum, from the key stages up to the GCSE exams, are taught in over 1,000 schools around the world. Cambridge IGCSEs are also taught in many schools, which are the international equivalent of GCSEs and accepted by all higher institutions in the UK.

In order to help parents locate British schools an interactive map was created by Expat & Offshore – an online information resource for expats. The map has over 1,000 primary, secondary and through schools to choose from all over the world. In order to find a school in your host country, click on a star and you will find information on the school’s address, website, phone number, and student population. You can view the map here:

British Schools Abroad

British Schools Abroad

Setting your children up in a school where they feel at ease and have the same educational opportunities as back home is everything a parent could hope for, however there are a number of extra strategies to ensure your child’s move is as tear-free as possible.

If your child is particularly sensitive then you must give them lots of time to get used to the idea of moving. Reading books and researching the new country with your children can help them to build an impression before they arrive so that it doesn’t seem so foreign on arrival. Also getting friends and family to put together something to remember them by before you leave – something like a signed T-shirt or a photo album – gives your child time to let go of their home whilst also allowing them to still feel connected to friends after the move.

Some tips to help your child settle into school even quicker include speaking to their new teachers and informing them of your child’s likes and dislikes, as well as giving them the names of important people in their life. Teachers can then reference these people and make your child feel like they’re still at home.

Children with United Kingdom, Guinean, United States and Chinese flags painted on faces

Moving country is one of the biggest steps a family with young children can take and so it always pays to extensively research your country of destination before the move. There are British schools in almost every country in the world (barring a few in Africa), so parents are likely to find an appropriate school no matter where they are.

Luke Rees

Luke Rees

Luke Rees is a travel writer from London who currently writes on behalf of Expat & Offshore.