When people die, what should you do? One of the first things to do is to read for basic information about the deceased in an obituary. Here we give details about the information that is contained in an American obituary and what they mean.
Knowing your neighbors is a good idea in the United States. There are practical, social reasons for this. There are also language reasons.
I can always tell when someone is new to the Great Lake State. In the first few minutes of conversation, it usually comes out how they just moved to “Mitch-igan.” As a good ambassador of the mitten-shaped peninsula, I then have to correct them. “It’s pronounced Mish-igan,” I say, sometimes adding that the spelling came from the early French trappers and explorers who beat the British to the upper Midwest. (It’s hard to stop a good teacher-ambassador once he gets started.)
It comes as no surprise to students of English that the spelling system of this language is a nightmare. Almost half of our words are Germanic, coming from Anglo-Saxon; nearly another half come from Latin via Old French. Add to that a sprinkling of Arabic, Spanish, Greek, and other languages, and it is clear that our vocabulary—and the system used to spell it—is one huge mish-mash of letters, letter clusters, and even silent letters.
The good news is that there is a basic rule here. Most of the time, the “ch” cluster in English is pronounced /t∫/ as in child or lunch. Here are some common place names or people names which English speakers know:Chelsea, Massachusetts, Charleston, Chattanooga, Richmond…I’ll give you more examples on our website. And if your native language is Spanish, you will already know the correct pronunciation of those words.
Exception #1: At question today is the spelling cluster “ch” as we see in Michigan. Students who have studied French or Portuguese know that these two letters represent the linguistic symbol /∫/ or the English cluster “sh” as in she.
Here are some common “ch” place names or people names with the /∫/ pronunciation:Chicago, Michigan, Cheyenne, Charlotte, Michelle, Cheryl, Michelin, Chevron, Chanel, Chevrolet, and Cher. Maybe you can find more examples.
Exception #2: Another way to pronounce “ch” is with the /k/ sound. These words often come into English from Greek or Italian: chronicle, chemistry, stomach, echo, Christmas, headache, Chrysler, and chrome. Ask your American friends for more examples.
Exception #3: The last group of exceptions to the “ch” rule are words which come from Hebrew. These words have the sound /X/ with friction coming from the back of the mouth (similar to the “ch” in Bach). Because most English speakers can’t pronounce /X/, they just substitute a /h/ sound in these Hebrew words. Here are a few well-known examples: chutzpah, challah, Chanukah.
For newcomers to my state, here is a tip for you: Michigan sounds like fish-again or wish-again.
So, repeat after me: “Oh, how I wish-again I were in Michigan learning to fish-again.”
Happy practicing, everybody!
Making Small Talk with Americans
Americans are used to making small talk and will frequently strike up a conversation, even with strangers, for example, waiting in a check-out line. For newcomers to the U.S., it is in your best interest to learn the skill of having brief social exchanges with co-workers, neighbors, and people at parties.
Below is a list of possible conversation topics with American acquaintances. Which ones do you think are appropriate to bring up? Let’s take a look at the first one. In your culture, is it appropriate to ask someone his/her marital status?
Actually, it is not an appropriate question. The question has a normative bias to it. That is, it assumes that getting married is “normal” in society, and this is not true. For starters, some people are quite happy by themselves and choose not to marry. Others may be divorced or widowed and uncomfortable talking about it. Still others may wish to be married but have never been asked. And finally, it is still not legal in many U.S. states for gay and lesbian adults to marry, so again, this would make some people sad to have to answer “no.”
The other answers to these potential topics can be found in the list below. Check them out before striking up a conversation with a stranger at a party.
TOPIC: APPROPRIATE OR NOT?
marital status No, as discussed above.
age No, Americans don't talk about their age (unless they're students with you).
occupation Yes, great topic. "So, what do you do?" Or: "What are you studying?"
salary No, Americans are uncomfortable talking about money.
education Maybe. No: "Did you go to college?" Yes: "Where did you go to school?"
length of time in this area Yes, great conversation topic!
weight No, this is too personal.
travel interests Yes, this is a wonderful conversation topic.
family Depends. No: "Do you have children?" Yes: "Do you have brothers/sisters?"
hobbies and pastimes Yes, this is not only acceptable but also interesting.
political party membership No, avoid politics with Americans you don't know well.
height No, this is too personal.
cost of person’s watch No. Remember: no topics related to money.
religion No, this is considered too personal.
who person voted for Nope. Remember: no politics.
person’s ethnic origin Maybe. Yes: "That's an interesting last name. Where is it from?"
hometown Yes. You can learn a lot by asking about their hometown.
If you’ve lived or worked around Americans, you know their English is full of shortened ways to say things. You might believe this is because Americans are consumed with saving time. But in fact, all languages have shorter, more efficient ways of saying things when they want to. Because human minds work more quickly than their tongues, speakers are always looking for ways to get out more information with fewer syllables.
Three ways of doing this in English are abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms. Because these three types are often confused, let’s do a quick review.
Abbreviations are a shortened form of the entire expression.
• TV – television
• op-ed – opinion-editorial
• Cal Tech – California Technological University
Initialisms are pronounced one letter at a time. Note that the names of the letters tend to link together as they’re pronounced, with stress falling on the last letter.
• USA – United States of America
• TGIF – Thank God It’s Friday
• m.p.h. – miles per hour
Acronyms are said as one word.
• NATO – North Atlantic Treaty Organization
• scuba – self-contained underwater breathing apparatus
• NASA – National Space & Aeronautics Administration
For my international friends, you should know that many Americans don’t recognize the distinction. They often call all three “abbreviations” when the expressions may be acronyms or initialisms. If that happens, don’t worry; just consider yourself smarter now than most of your American friends and co-workers.
Every citizen knows the President—along with state Governors—have the right to grant pardons to citizens who have committed a crime. With one stroke of a pen, they can overturn convictions of people they think deserve a second chance. And those convicted persons can go free.
This pardon procedure apparently applies to dinner birds as well. Ever since George H.W. Bush in 1989, the U.S. President has given pardons to large turkeys just days before Thanksgiving, the holiday where Americans consume 45 million turkeys.
The story goes that this turkey pardoning actually started in the Lincoln administration when the President’s son begged his dad to let the holiday bird go, claiming it had as much right to live as anyone else. The kind Mr. Lincoln gave in, and the bird was spared.
However, do you know what happens to the birds whose lives are “spared” by the Leader of the Free World? You can read more about last year’s Presidential turkey pardon here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/20/presidential-turkey-pardon_n_2160129.html. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t turn out so well for the turkeys.
Have a good holiday, everyone. And remember not to gobble down your food at the Thanksgiving table!