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.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.
"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."
"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.)