Sunday, August 7, 2011

Do you really mean what you say?

Do you play with words? Intonation?
When I was in college I was in a class called "Semantics", where we studied the structures and the meaning of words and phrases.
It is really amazing how we can use a word or a phrase in various situations and with various meanings. We can change our intonation and change completely what it means.

A good example is an experiment I once read about many years ago.

We all use the phrase "how are you?" when we meet somebody, it doesnt' matter if we know them well or not. It's just a phrase without particular meaning. We ask "how are you?" and we are expecting to hear "fine" or something like that, without really giving it further thought. So believe it or not we have changed the meaning of the phrase through the years.

There was a linguist once (whose name I do not remember right now) who tried this "experiment" at a party. When she was asked the "stantard" question - how are you - she answered with the phrase "I just killed my husband with an axe and I feel just fine!!". To her surprise, only few people noticed what she was saying!!!

When teaching vocabulary, it is not possible of course to teach every single meaning of a word.
What I try with my students is "act the phrases out" . Try saying a word with different intonation, showing feelings, like happy, angry, sarcastic etc
Another idea, if you have students with artistic talent, is to draw the expressions. Literally depict the words. Most of them will be really funny, so they cannot be forgotten!!

How do you deal with vocabulary and meanings?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, when I ask somebody "How are you?" I really want to know it and take care for the answer.
I guess I would have noticed that what the woman of the experiment answered to the question :-)