Saturday, 30 January 2010

Uncourteous To His Verbs



We went to see the Sherlock Holmes movie on Tuesday (and about time too, considering it was released on Boxing Day!). I realised as we came out of the cinema that I've never read the books, and decided I really ought to put that right, so off I went to Project Gutenberg to download myself a copy. I started with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which comprises a dozen short adventures.

Allow me to quote for you a very short section from near the beginning of A Scandal In Bohemia (the first story in the book), wherein Holmes and Watson are discussing a mysterious note:
"The paper was made in Bohemia," I said.

"Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note the peculiar construction of the sentence--'This account of you we have from all quarters received.' A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It only remains, therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German who writes upon Bohemian paper and prefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts."
Ah! Imagine my delight to find that the esteemed Holmes shares my fascination with language - and not only language, but the errors made by learners of language, which is one of my all-time favourite topics in linguistics, and the area in which I conducted my first original research.

"But is he right?" my husband asked me.

Considering the way German word order works, it seemed quite reasonable to me that a German might make such a mistake. I turned to my standard reference for such matters (Swan & Smith's Learner English, in case you're ever in need of such a thing), just to check, and indeed under 'Word Order' there are several similar examples.

Of more interest to me, it also seems to be true that French- and Russian-speakers would be unlikely to make this particular error.

So I like Sherlock Holmes already... and am now imagining myself as a detective (Forensic linguistics is a real field, which I loved as an undergraduate, so it's not quite as unlikely as it sounds.)

Magnifying glass


36 comments:

Mommyof2girlz said...

Thanks for stopping by it is nice to meet you as well! Following :)

lakeviewer said...

Interesting! Captivating! You must catch all kinds of mistakes I make. (as a second language learner)

JDaniel4's Mom said...

Aren't you glad a stopped by?! Is suppose to rhyme with orange.

Lauren said...

Forensic linguistics sounds interesting. I'm surprised a show hasn't been made of it already! Lol.

Emily said...

I love the Sherlock Holmes series and your linguistics slant adds a whole new twist. Apparently, you have a bright future as a detective!

Melissa B. said...

I, too, am an amateur linguist. We received an e-mail from our priest yesterday. He used the wrong form of the pronoun "there." I wanted to run down to church and offer to be his editor!

liliannattel said...

Ah. Did Sir Arthur speak German?

xoxoKrysten said...

Hello and happy SITS sharefest day! Hope you're having a fantastic Saturday!

Jen said...

That is very interesting. I have noticed that people learning English as a second language don't use contractions. They say do not, I am, and you are instead of don't, I'm, or you're. I'm learning Spanish. I wonder what they will notice about my speech?

mom2three said...

Hi thanks for the visit to my blog! I have not seen the movie yet, but I so want too!
Always thought being a detective would be fabulous, I think I have the instincts...maybe someday!

blueviolet said...

My daughter considered forensic linguistics as a career option. Now she's focusing more on computational linguistics. She's a senior but already starting on her master's.

Midday Escapades said...

I haven't seen the Sherlock Holmes movies yet and I don't remember reading any. Wow, a detective, huh? Sounds very exciting!

Elizabeth Braun said...

As someone whose learned French and German and is married to a German, I can also confirm that Holmes is right. Putting a verb at the end, as well as messing around with time phrases etc, is a very German mistake.=)

We decided against the Holmes film as it seemed full of occult and violence which, as you'll see from reading the books, the originals aren't.=)

Ocean Girl said...

I liked Sherlock Holmes the books. And loved the movie but mostly because of Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law.

Thank you for your visit. Someday you must tell about your boat and life on it:)

Kimberly said...

Sounds interesting! I love Sherlock Holmes.

I think I will someday go see the movie. Once I have time.

Charlene said...

It's funny. I always thought about becoming a detective... and I love language and learning. Maybe Sherlock Holmes was an influence on me as well? All the best to you!
Charlene
www.beamingbalance.com

beingkeri said...

Hooray for reading Sherlock Holmes! I was slightly obsessed with Holmes books when i was young, and revisiting them as an adult has opened a whole new understanding! I hope you read and enjoy them all again and again as i have!
Popping by from SITS, thanks for visiting me over at Spirit of Power!

mel said...

oh i want to see the film so badly.
it doesn't get released in france until this weekend. i'm curious now about forensic linguistics... how would one spend the day at that job?

JoeyRes said...

Since I had to read your quote twice before even remotely getting it, I am not much competition for a language detective. Sounds like a cool career though.

American in Norway said...

OOo..makes me nervous even posting. & English is my first language... LOL...well at least it USED to be. Ha. Hope you have a great Monday!

American in Norway said...

Hmmm? Did my comment post? - man it is early.

Sandra said...

We are a by-lingue family ( husband French,me swiss-german) So you can imagine the mixtures we have around here! This is a very interesting topic for me as I love the diversity of languages.
I`m glad i found you through SITS!

Jess @ Frugal with a Flourish said...

I think that sounds fascinating!! Forensic linguistics ... you know that is another Scarpetta or Bones waiting to happen.

Anything Fits a Naked Man said...

I have yet to see the movie as well, which is tragic, since I am such a huge Robert Downey, Jr. fan! Your post reminds me I must get busy!!

Thanks for visiting my site! I'll stop by yours periodically too!

Lilly said...

I haven't seen the movie yet but I did hear it was fantastic. I think you would make a great detective and who knows what is around the corner for you. You may have discovered a new career lol! Hope you enjoy catching up on Sherlock Holmes. Fantastic reading!!!!

Audrey said...

You asked how someone couldn't like snow? Ever been to Manitoba? In the winter? Actually the snow isn't to bad, it's the cold that comes along with it that I just can't stand :)
Have a great week!

Stephanie V said...

I discovered linguistics too late in my uni career to make it a major. But I always wished I could have had more. And if I had known about forensic linguistics. Well, that just would have made it perfect: solving mysteries with language. I couldn't ask for more.

Thanks for the follow...it's nice to meet you. Noting so many similar interests/experiences on your profile.

Jeanne said...

I read Doyle as a kid, and then relived it when my daughter read it. He is a pleasure, isn't he?

The Blonde Duck said...

How wonderful to discover old classics!

Harms Freebies and Reviews said...

Wow I really need to check out this movie I'm a late Friday Follow
Love your blog and hope you can stop by http://thecookinglady.com

tattytiara said...

It is interesting! A friend of mine, who is Japanese, and I have a theory that Engrish might as often as not deliberately fail to use English grammar. Slogans are meant to be read and understood in a heartbeat, and while the average person in Japan with English familiarity might be able to recognize English words quickly enough, if they had to stop and sort out the grammar it would take too long and too much of the intended effect would be lost.

Just a theory, as I say, but we felt very clever thinking it up!

Juliana said...

Oh boy---you are going to have to help me with my blog lol! People say that I have a way with words...but my English teacher wanted to strangle me for how they came out on paper.

I am a new follower from FF. I am sorry it took me so long. Better late than never I suppose. Please come by and follow me back. I am doing some fun giveaways! Hope you are having a good start to your week and I look forward to getting to know you better. Juliana from A Blonde Walks Into A Blog!

houndini said...

OOOH - a definite detective in the making! ;-) or should that be - ..I think you we feel that you make good detective be...

emma.rose.wilhelm said...

Very interesting!

Christine said...

I think you'll find the original Sherlock Holmes better than the movie -which wasn't bad in itself, it just wasn't "Sherlock Holmes," just a modern remake on an established character.

danhartland said...

Ha, lovely. No doubt, though, that you discovered as you read more stories that Conan Doyle isn't always so spot on with his depiction of 'foreigners'!

Will be trying to find your response the 'language' of the Dancing Men...

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