There are two ways of telling something to somebody. A long one and a short one. You can easily measure the size of it by the pause that one takes after they say to you: 'I must tell you something...'. If it's going to be a good or neutral thing - they will tell you this immediately and the pause will be short. 'I must tell you something, I watched a great movie last night'. No pause at all. If it's something bad - the pause will be long. 'I must tell you something...' A few seconds go by and you ask 'Yeah? What's that?'. 'Well, it's not easy...' - the longer it takes them to get it out, the worse it's going to be. A cat doesn't go up to a mouse and say 'I must tell you something, I'm going to eat you alive now'. That's quite bad even without a pause and this is how humans' language differs from animals'.

Now think, how do we, as language-users, interpret what other language-users try to express? This is what pragmatics is concerned about but if we ask further and try to work out why we can also make sense of what we read in texts, understand what the authors mean, often despite what they literally say, and then eventually correspond with them and take part in a conversation, that is in fact when we realise that communication is a truly complex activity. Or, even on a simple level of every day communication - why do we presume one's a pessimist if they see a glass as half empty rather than half full?

We are very special creatures that can not only differentiate between correct and incorrect form/structure/spelling/pronunciation (most of us can anyway) but also we can cope with items such as headlines in magazines. 'Plane crash, 76 die' - we automatically know that there is a relation between the two phrases without elaborating. Furthermore, even if the text we see is grammatically incorrect we still often make sense out of it so our brain does not reject the messages with mistakes in it. To see what I mean, try talking to a foreigner who doesn't speak fluent English, or read their texts, and see how even despite their mistakes you will still, most of the time, understand perfectly what they mean.

Are you ready for some more fascinating facts? We instinctively know that a sentence must have a certain structure - and now don't worry about your spelling or grammar. Even though some of you would probably write: 'Your beautiful' rather than 'You're beautiful' I highly doubt any of you would say 'Are beautiful you'. Now, we also know that some rules about the structure are surrounding texts that are consisted of sentences. These depend on quite different factors that are describes in terms of cohesion (the ties and connections in text). For example: 'My boyfriend once gave me a beautiful ring. He did it because he loved me. That gift was very special to me. We sometimes argue. However, we love each other so we always make up' - There are connections present in the use of pronouns, which maintain reference to the same people or items throughout: boyfriend-he, ring - it, my-me etc, lexical connections: beautiful ring - that gift, and finally there is also a connector 'however' which marks the relationship of what follows to what went before. Additionally we see that first sentences are in the past and create connections with those events whereas two last sentences indicate a different time. Can you see now how fast your brain works and simply sucks all this information in? So this is exactly how analysis of these cohesive links gives us slight insight into how writers form what they want to express and, what's more important, gives us crucial factors in our judgment whether something is well written or not. (Imagine that in the given text we used different connections between the sentences but ones that are difficult to interpret, for example: 'My boyfriend once gave me a ring. The bike is yellow. However, we love each other so we always make up. He did it because he loved me').

Phones, phonemes and allophones.

The terminology we will be dealing with today may strike you as really complicated. This is always the case with abstract units that you cannot see or touch. I've made every effort for the text to be simple so don't give up before you even try understanding it.

To get down to basics: A phonological analysis involve two levels of representation - a concrete/phonetic representation (on the concrete level we describe what speech sounds there are) and an abstract/underlying one (on the abstract level we recognise the differences between elements - the contrastive function).

Phone is a speech sound as it is without taking into consideration it's function in a given language. It's a representation on the phonetic level and is a phonetic unit.

Phoneme, however, is a representation of a speech sound and it's an abstractive unit. It is the smallest contrastive linguistic unit that is capable of bringing about a change of meaning. In a word ''rat'' - we have 3 phonemes (remember: representations of speech sounds): /r/, /a/, /t/. In a word ''sat' we also have 3 phonemes: /s/, /a/, /t/. There is only one phoneme difference in the words above (/r/ - /s/). This phoneme brings about the change of meaning because surely the meaning changes depending on whether we pronounce /r/ or /s/ as the first speech sound of the given word. Pairs such as 'rat' - 'sat', 'pot' - 'tot', 'car' - 'far' and many others are pairs differing in terms of only one phoneme are called 'minimal pairs' and the contrast between the two words in each pair is called 'minimal contrast'. I'm sure you can think of many examples of minimal pairs and the process of finding them is refered to as 'commutation process'.

Sometimes we find various realisations of the same phoneme and these are called allophones. For example there are two types of /l/ in English. One is the dark 'l' and the other is the light /l/. The light /l/ always occurs at the begining of a word and the dark /l/ can be found in the middle or at the end of the word. They differ slightly in terms the way we pronounce them so we are surely dealing here with the different values of consonants but they are not different phonemes because they do never bring a change of meaning. In the word 'lull' for instance we have both - the light /l/ is first and the dark /l/ is second. If we pronounce them the other way round, the word may sound odd to a native English speaker, but will be still understood as 'lull' - no change of meaning takes place. Allophones occur consistently in different words or in different positions in a word. They are in 'complementary distribution' - they don't contrast with each other. In the case of phonemes we are dealing with 'parallel distribution' - they may contrast in one place in a word.

To sum up: If we concentrate on the underlying representation of a speech sound - it is a phoneme, but on the phonetic level - a phone. When a speech sound has been classified as realisation of a given phoneme we refer to it as an allophone of this phoneme.

Politically correct language

For the last couple of years we have been becoming more and more sensitive so as not to offend women, poor people and various minority groups. Nowadays we feel so easily insulted that we speak cautiously in a politically correct manner.

You wouldn't say 'poor' but 'financially underprivileged', not 'drug addict' but 'substance abuser', not 'unemployed' but 'non wage-earner', not 'foreign tourist' but 'overseas visitor', not 'prison convict' but 'guest of the correctional system'. My personal favourites (meaning the ones that made me giggle): not 'short person' but 'vertically challenged', analogically not 'fat person' but 'horizontally challenged' and not 'bald' but 'follically challenged'. Feminists seemed to have picked up on the idea and made things even more complicated (or shall I say ridiculous) making up words such as: 'shero' for 'hero' and 'personkind' for 'mankind'.

Although the idiocy of the situation occurs far less frequently in Polish there are some words which have only recently appeared in the language. We still aren't afraid to call somebody fat if they truly are fat, however, due to pressure from Western countries, there are certain words, usually of a racial or sexual nature, which are provided as substitutes for the ones that we have successfully used until recently. Example: Poles should no longer call people gay but we say they are 'loving differently'.

Time for personal reflection and a few tips:

If you're white and you're a male too, you are pretty much doomed. You just must feel guilty. Your ancestors are responsible for practically every injustice in this world... slavery, war, genocide, killing of animals... It's time to redress the balance. It's simple - you must be careful what you say, what you think and what you do. Since it's all too easy to insult somebody these days - I recommend you keep your mouth shut on most occasions. Being offensive is destructive and will not make the world a complete harmony of utopia, as in the John Lennon song "Imagine". Pay attention to the cosmetics you use - they can't be tested on animals. Try to find at least sixty different ways of using water - while you are taking a shower try brushing your teeth at the same time, don't let the water just flow away but use it afterwards for irrigating the lawn. An even better solution is to replace the lawn with a vegetable garden because from now on you will be forbidden to eat meat. Cows are animals and humans are animals. This means they both have certain rights - you eat meat - you eat humans. Analogically humans are cows. Subscribe to National Geographic and after reading, use the paper as an alternative source of fuel (or as toilet paper so that you don't have to buy any)

How baby words are made.

Modern English vocabulary is the result of the mixture of five major linguistic influences: 

1. Old English (Anglo-Saxon)

2. French (after 1066)

3. Norse (Vikings)

4. Latin and Greek (mostly from the late Middle Ages onwards)

5. Miscellaneous words borrowed from over 350 languages around the world

Additionally, nobody knows for sure how many new words appear in English each year. The only concrete figures are the words that dictionary makers add to the new editions of their dictionaries. (For example the 2007 edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary added about 2,500 new words to the edition published five years previously). However, we must remember that there are words not recorded anywhere or those invented on the spur of the moment, never used again and simply forgotten. Some areas of human activity such as computing are rich sources of new words. Here I would like to share with you a rather witty term, one of my favourites in this field, 'cobwebsite' which describes a website that hasn't been updated for a long time. Other ones include 'data smog' - the overwhelming amount and excess of the information on the Internet and 'linkrot' - situation when links on a given website don't work or lead you nowhere. One of the least common processes of word formation in English is coinage.

These days we are all stressed and we often go into a rage over anything. While driving we are irritated by other motorists who deliberately slow us down, triggering road rage. Don't feel bad about yourself though - if you think motorists are bad this means you never walk anywhere - pavement rage is probably worse... We all hate trolley rage when we just can't get through to the shelf we need in a supermarket because everybody else seems to need exactly what we need too. Not to mention spam rage, phone rage or tube rage. The movie 'Falling down' springs to mind.

Contrastingly, borrowing is probably one of the most common sources of new words in English, that is the adoption of words from other languages - 'piano' is Italian, 'robot' is Czech and ''yoghurt' is Turkish. Me and my fellow Poles talk about 'sport', 'klub', 'pub' and many others. A special type of borrowing is calque - direct translation of the elements of a word. Here, the English word 'superman' is a loan translation of the German 'Uebermensch' - I hope you speak German and if you do please compare words 'Woklenkratzer' or 'Lehnwort' with their English versions...

The most common word - formation process is derivation. Affixes such as '-ful', '-less', '-ish', 'un-'. 'in-', 'mis-' etc are added to the end (suffixes) or beggining of words (prefixes) and change their meaning. Infixes are not normally to be found in English and as a name suggests it's an affix likely to be located in the middle of the word. The witty but rather vulgar 'Absofuckinglutely' might ring a bell. 'Fucking' in that case isn't strictly speaking an affix, I only just gave this example because I thought it was funny.

If you are to take only the beginning of one word and the ending of the other, then connect them and use as a word with a new meaning - this is called blending. Motor + Hotel = Motel. Breakfast + Lunch = Brunch. (By the way, not many of you might know that word brekfast means to break the fast... again - word formation. Crazy, isn't it?) If you feel like shortening a word and instead of saying 'advertisement' you go for 'ad' this means you are clipping words. This is exactly why we talk about 'bra', 'cab', 'flu', 'gym' and many others, not to mention names such as Sam, Al, Liz etc.

Now, 'donate' comes from 'donation' and is an effect of backformation, the slightly different type of reduction process. Other examples include: 'babysit' from 'babysitter' and 'opt' from 'option'.

Hypocorisms are those words with '-y' or '-ie' in the end such as 'barbie' for 'barbeque' and 'telly' for 'television' (I dislike that one as it sounds rather pretentious). This is especially typical for British and Australian English.

Some words are known as acronyms and consist of the initial letters from a sequence of words. CD is a 'compact disc'. We also have VCR, NASA, NATO, FBI, CIA and many others. I'm ashamed to admit but I tend to follow the crowd and overuse the word 'LOL'. If a noun comes to be used as a verb we talk about conversion.

'Paper', 'butter', 'bottle' and many others are nouns which can be used as verbs. "Have you buttered your toast yet?'.