Thursday, June 11, 2009

The language of curling

Although I was never good at English when I was at school, later in my life I've become very interested in words and language. It certainly helped to have that interest as the Scottish Curler editor! I have a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, and spent three years as a member of the Department of Foreign Languages at Mahidol University in Thailand. This was a very enjoyable time, and it made me realise just how difficult the English language is for students to master.

I taught on the MA Applied Linguistics course, and helped supervise a number of students who had to carry out research and write a thesis. Some of the areas were of particular interest. I was delighted when one of my students (Kornwipa) had her thesis on Vocabulary input in English for Science courses: a corpus analysis of intensive and extensive course materials accepted, and she went on to graduate. It is always good to see one's students do well, and progress on to greater things, as she has.

The corpus of words that makes up our vocabulary is wide and varied. But of course it is not constant. I was reminded of this when I heard an item on today's news that the millionth word or phrase in the English language was coined this morning. It was Web 2.0, which beat Jai Ho! into second place! It is all nonsense of course. It was a successful publicity ploy by Global Language Monitor, a Texas-based internet company that makes money by monitoring new media to see how often its clients are mentioned. Still, the company's website is an interesting read.

The English language, because of its economic, political and cultural connections, has produced more words than any other language. A well educated speaker of English uses some 75,000 different words.

As curlers, we have our own special vocabulary. I write regularly, for example, about 'bonspiels', the 'tee', the 'hack', and the 'hogline'. I understand about the 'hammer' and 'pebble'. 'In-turns', 'out-turns', 'draws', 'guards' and 'freezes' are words used without a thought. I also know what a 'loofie', a 'dolly' and a 'crampit' are, because I'm interested in the sport's history. I've seen word use changing. Take 'rink' for example. It can mean the building in which the sport is played, or a lane of ice, or the four players. This last usage seems to be falling into disfavour in preference to 'team'.

New terms have entered my vocabulary in recent years. I know now what a 'run-back' is, and a 'tick shot', and watch closely to see if players observe the 'courtesy line'.

I'm quite happy to watch the North Americans playing with their 'rocks'!

There are some lovely terms which have been lost to the game. No-one these days calls for the next stone to 'break an egg' (touch another stone lightly), or draw a stone to the 'cock' (the tee). Nor is 'chap and lie' used often these days.

Perhaps I need another corpus linguistics student to study 'The language of curling'! Kornwipa, where are you?

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