10 In Linguistics

Knife – Knives – Knifes??

Languages are so amazing.

Prior to learning Korean, I didn’t have any interest in language itself. Language was simply thought of as a ‘tool’ to get my point across. ‘Yeah I know English and Chinese – the end.’ It didn’t occur to me how powerful and profound languages are.


Currently, I am reading ‘Understanding Language’ by Elizabeth Grace Winkler. It’s a great introduction to linguistics and I learnt more about English than I did for the past 19 years.

Has it ever crossed your mind why the plural of Knife is spelled Knives instead of Knifes?

In old English, f was pronounced as ‘f’ when it occured in front of at the back of the word, it is pronounced as ‘v’. However, the French spoken by the Normans who invaded England also had exactly the same sound but it was scribed as v instead. Hence, to better reflect its pronounciation in spelling, knifes was scribed as knives from then on.

Interesting right?

In Singapore, classes are taught in English (British English) and we learn our respective mother tongue in a separate class. However, we don’t have a language that is distinctly ours. I don’t feel intensely proud that I can speak English or Chinese and perhaps that’s the reason why I have never bothered to learn more about its history. Most of the teenagers from English educated families can’t even conduct a fluent conversation in Chinese!

I feel so ignorant! Up till now, the only difference I know of between British and American English is: colour/color; organisation/organization. Being exposed to both American and British English through books and media content, I hadn’t realised that sofa and couch are simply different varieties of English meaning the same object! I have always thought of them as synonyms that everyone who speaks English knows ><

Perhaps in our Singapore Variety of English, they are both interchangeble and understood by all.

I feel inspired to keep on digging and learning more about languages.

English is a funny language; that explains why we park our car on the driveway and drive our car on the parkway. 

Author Unknown

Source:  Quote Garden

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  • Reply
    Brian Barker
    3 February, 2009 at 6:45 AM

    I notice that Barack Obama wants everyone to learn another language, but which one should it be? The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese, and the Americans prefer Spanish.

    Why not decide on a non-national neutral common language, taught worldwide, in all nations?

    An interesting video can be seen at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670. A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  • Reply
    4 February, 2009 at 5:58 AM

    Wow..that’s really cool! No wonder us Canadians spell colour with a ‘u’…I should go borrow that book. hehehe!~

    I’m trying to study Korean and lately, reading about languages gets me really excited! Maybe I should get a job related to it.. That would be soo fun!

    • Reply
      30 January, 2011 at 7:24 PM

      I also got my interest in languages when i started learning Korean. ^^

  • Reply
    4 February, 2009 at 9:03 PM

    Hello (:

    yeah the book is really worth reading. I didn’t know how little I knew about English until I read that book.

    I love languages too 😀 It’s really an amazing gift that we have.

  • Reply
    Knight Brewster
    7 February, 2009 at 3:47 AM

    This book sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out.

    @Brian Barker I’ve never heard of Esperanto but it looks cool. I’m really interested now. I found a book on learning Esperanto on Librovox and I will be going through it to learn more about the language.

  • Reply
    7 February, 2009 at 7:54 AM

    Hi Knight!

    The book is really informative and yet very readable at the same time. I learnt so much about the history of English.

    Esperanto is perhaps the most famous of auxiliary languages. Imagine a world if everyone can speak the same language! Although English is fast filling the position as a ‘global tongue’, it would be useful if we know Esperanto too.

    Anw I’m linking your site 😀

  • Reply
    30 January, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    I’m so happy finding this book in our school library. Will borrow it tomorrow! ^^

  • Reply
    Avoidance Strategy – Guilty! « My Korean Corner
    8 February, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    […] Language” by Elizabeth Grace Winkler. I’ve read about it from Shanna’s blog Hangukdrama and Korean. And I’m loving it. I dove into Linguistics last semester a bit unprepared and was […]

  • Reply
    8 February, 2011 at 10:49 PM

    I’m reading this a little late ^^;
    This book seems so interesting. I wish I could read it. (If Spanish bookshops had more books in English (ーー;)
    By the way, I’m curious, what does Singaporean English sound like? It’s more like British English or like american? (I guess it’s different, but which is the closest?)

  • Reply
    8 February, 2011 at 10:52 PM

    Ah, it’s British, made a mistake reading ^^;;;;
    sorry ^^; but I guess you can tell the diference between a British and a Singaporean’s English don’t you? Or they are the same?

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