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15 Weird Sample Dialogues from Old English Textbooks

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For hilarity, no book intended for English learners will ever match English As She Is Spoke, the unintentional viral hit of the 1880s, written by a non-English speaking Portuguese man armed only with a French-English phrasebook and a French-Portuguese dictionary. The examples in the book are so outrageously incorrect, there is no way anyone could possibly learn to speak English from them. (How do you can it to deny? The meat ist not too over do. I am catched cold in the brain. Why you no helps me to? It must never laugh of the unhappies.)

But there were also plenty of useful, competently written books on English that held their own kind of strangeness within. The practice of learning through example dialogues from everyday life was new in the 19th century; before that people generally studied other languages by reading and translating passages from literature. Someone had to decide what situations to represent and come up with these dialogues. Sometimes they didn't quite hit the mark. Here are 15 dialogues from old English textbooks that are not so much ridiculously wrong, as weirdly off.

1. On Declining an Invitation

You shall stay and dine with me.
Though ever so willing, I cannot.
What prevents you?
An engagement on an important business.
Do you say the real truth in speaking to me this?
I give you my word for it.

2. On Skill in English

You have much disposition to learn English very well. As to your cousin, he is not a great proficient in it.
It is but a year since I began.
I wonder at it.

3. On Germans and English

How do you like my pronunciation?
Indifferent, but you will soon learn the language; for I have observed that all Germans are able of learning our language in a short time.
I know the reason of it: because in the English are a great many words and phrases resembling the german, and they originally derive from it.

4. On the Difficulty of French

The French is far more difficult to Englishmen.
I am persuaded of the contrary. I can hardly believe it.
Experience shows it us every day.

5. On Reading

I spend the greater part of my time in reading.
You are then every day pouring upon the books.

6. On News

Well met, Sir, for I can tell you some very interesting news.
Have you read them in the Gazette or got them by private accounts?
By the last, but they are founded upon good authority.
Pray, satisfy my curiosity you have excited.

7. On Validating the News

There is talk of a siege…
That news wants confirmation. Who have you it from?
I have it from good hands. Mister N___ is my author.

8. On Trust and Authority

Do you believe it in good earnest?
Yes; for a credible person has told it me.
I assure you that it is an untruth.

9. On Sightseeing

I should like to see everything remarkable in this town.
Is there a guide-book to the remarkable objects in this town?

10. On Taking Lodging

Madam, have you any rooms to let?
Yes, Sir. Will you be pleased to see them?
I am come on purpose.

11. On Choosing a Room

Madam, you have a good room (any rooms) to let?
Yes, sir, will you have it forwards or backwards? Below or up one pair of stairs?

12. On Attending the Theater

They say there is a new play acted tonight…
Shall we go and see it?
With all my heart.
Shall we get into a box?
I will do what you please, but I had rather go into the pit.
Why?
Because we may pass away the time in talking with the masks, before the curtain is drawn up.

13. On Appreciating the Theater

The part of Macbeth could not have been better acted, as those parts of Lady Macbeth, Banquo and Malcolm were also very well represented.
I wised to have been present, but a vehement head-ake kept me from the pleasure of seeing this my favorite Tragedy represented.
I saw the first time the famous new actress upon the stage, and if I am to speak my mind freely, she has not at all pleased me. Her shape is very enticing, to be sure, and she sings like an angel, but her action is not to be born.

14. On Appreciating the View

What a fine sight to see from the mountain of Rathsberg down in the vale and in a great distance!
Pray, see what a clock it is.
My watch don't go. It is down; I must wind it up again.

15. On Getting Acquainted

His shape is free and easy.
One may call him a handsome man.
He dresses very well.
He is very genteel, he has a good air. He has a fine presence, and a noble gait. He is civil, courteous, and complaisant to every body. He has a great deal of wit, and is very sprightly in conversation. I shall make you acquainted with him.
I shall be obliged to you for it.

Sources: English-Japanese Conversations for Those Who Learn the English Language. K. Ooi, 1886 (1,2,5,8,9); English Dialogues Upon the Most Common Subjects of Life. Dr. Johann Christian Fick, 1813 (3,6,11,13,14); Élémens de la Langue Anglaise. Louis-Pierre Siret, 1815. (4,7,10,12,15)

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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