Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Time for Names

Parents have the right in most countries to name their children as they wish.   Some names are chosen for their popularity while others for their meaning.  Calling a girl Yaffa or Tova, Hebrew names, may place a burden on her because they mean pretty and good, respectively.  Of course, there is little worse than Cher calling her daughter Chastity.
A curious serious of selective names involve the seasons.  Some Israeli parents name their children Stav and Aviv, meaning autumn and spring.  By contrast, kayitz and horef, summer and winter, are unheard of.  By contrast, in English, Summer and Autumn as first names exist, but are rare where as spring and winter are basically ignored.
In terms of months, the spring months are generally preferred as sources of first names, specifically April, May, and June.  Although July and August are named after Julius Caesar and Augustus, they don’t seem to have caught on with the general public unless all those Julies and Julias are actually named after a month, which may be technically true.  The fall and winter are dead as far as names go.
The only names of days that pop in the mind are Wednesday  as a first name in the Adams Family series and Friday as a last name in the Dragnet series. 
It can be safely said in English and Hebrew that there is basically no good time for a name.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Good, the Bad, but not the Ugly

The English language borrows roots from many languages.   Therefore, the same meaning can be expressed in different ways, even in prefixes.  For example, pre and ante both mean before.
If something is good, two possible roots are the Greek eu and the Latin bene.  A eulogy is saying good things about someone who died, even the words are lies while a euphemism is a nice word for an ugly concept – collateral damage for civilian casualties and height-challenged for short.  (By the way, my favorite euphemism is expanded face for describing baldness.).  Similarly, a benefit is a money or privilege that makes life better while a benediction is a blessing, i.e. good words.
By contrast, malady, maladroit and malfunctioning are very bad, as is part of their root, mal.  I don’t know the Greek root for bad or whether it is used in English, but I would be happy to find out from someone.  So, have a euphoric and benevolent week and avoid mal-de-mer, otherwise known as seasickness.

Friday, November 11, 2011

North Americans and Aliya

I am an exception – a former resident of North America (American or Canadian) who came and stayed.  The fact is many come, but few stay.  The interesting issue is the reasons for this tendency.
To clarify, standard of living is generally not an issue.  Most immigrants from North America and Canada come with either capital or financial support.  Being a native speaker and having a degree allows most immigrants to attain respectable jobs.  Very few Anglo-Saxons have ever cleaned streets in Israel.  The level of housing and food is comparable to most of the United States and Canada.  I could not afford my house in the United States.  Instead of living on credit card debt, Israelis live on overdraft.  The name is different, but the interest rate is the same.  Health and educational facilities are superior and less expensive here as compared to many places “back home.”  In short, most Yankees and Canucks do not suffer economically in Israel.
In my opinion, the major factor is cultural.  Israel is a “frontier” country.   The people are hot-tempered and direct; the pace of life is fast; confrontation is common.  For people used to a more “genteel” way of life, coping with Israel requires a change in expectations and thinking.  This is less problematical for singles, who only have to worry about they want.  By contrast, emigrating families struggle to get everybody adjusted to the new life.  Since there is a “home” to return to, some members of the family want to go back where life is psychologically easier.  If the family is split 50/50, it generally returns.
Of course, other reasons may apply.  Age and language difficulty affect integration into society.  Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment.  Distance from family can be difficult to handle.
I would be interested in hearing from other immigrants / former immigrants to other countries and their impression.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Don’t tense up on tenses

Foreign students of English often feel that that the most frightening aspect of it is the sheer number of tenses.  Especially for people whose native language is structurally simple, i.e. three forms – past, present, future,  dealing with such a complex grammar structure is rather daunting.  In fact, despite English’s basic structure of 9 tenses (+ a few odds and ends), the construction of tenses tends to be rather simple and straightforward.
First, the raison d’etre of having many tenses is that writers and speakers can say exactly what they mean without adding words to clarify.  For example, I was winning the game does not mean the same as I won the game or I have won the game. So, while adding formal complexity, the learning process enriches the language and is a finite process. Compare that with Russian whose formal structure is simple, but the process of understanding the difference between perfective and imperfect active in any given situation never ends for a foreign learner.
As for building the verb, it is vital to remember that all languages add markers to the verb, generally the root, to signal its time and, often, person.  For example, the present tense is parle, parles, parle, parlons, parlez, parlent; говорю, говоришь, говорит, говорим, говорите, говорят; and אומר, אורמת, אומרים, אומרות in French, Russian, and Hebrew respectively.
English works in a similarly manner, using helping verbs instead of endings for the most part.  The progressive tenses mark time and person using the verb to be and the ing form of the word.  Therefore, present progressive uses am, are, and is; past progressive uses was or were; and future progressive uses will be.  Similarly, the perfect tenses uses the verb to have with the past participle, ie. have and has in the present, had in the past, and will have in the future.  As they say in Hebrew, dafka [dafka]or to be contrary, the simple is the least simple: in the negative and interrogative forms of the present and past, the helping verb is do, i.e. do and does in the present and did in the past, before the root.  The future marker is will.  In the positive form in the present tense, there are neither helping verbs or endings except for after s/he it, in which case an s is added while in the past, aside from the many and common exceptions, an ed added to the work marks the past.
The point is that students can concentrate on the actual meaning of the verb if they relax and learn how to recognize the form, which is not a stressful activity.