Petersen explores linguistic differences in workshop

Drexel University Campus Activities Board presented “One Voice: A Linguistics Workshop” on the second floor of Gerri C. Lebow Hall Jan. 19. The event was led by professor Andrew Petersen, a linguistics 101 teacher and a member of Drexel’s English Language Center. Petersen has been with the University for four years and has taught subjects in English all over the world. Fluent in Spanish, French, Turkish and English, Petersen coordinated this workshop hoping participants would realize that language learning is fun, interesting and doable.

The program was organized in an interactive way to engage the audience in a variety of different languages. The event started off in groups with participants introducing themselves without using any words. Many participants had difficulty without using words, ultimately realizing the central power and importance of language. The audience was full of linguistic diversity, with people fluent in different languages such as Arabic, Malaysian, Japanese, German, Danish, French and Chinese.

The program continued with participants in set groups of diverse cultures. Each group had a leader who was an expert in his or her language. The leader proceeded to teach the group three phrases in his or her language. The three phrases were “I love (a capital city),” “May I have a cup of coffee please,” and “It is cold outside.” The phrases were taught in Icelandic, Italian, Arabic and Chinese. Then, members of the groups were able to express the phrases in the taught language. Volunteers then proudly demonstrated to the audience the learned phrases.

Audience members were enthusiastic throughout the entire session.

“The professor had a lot of energy so it makes it easy to participate and we have a nice diverse population so it makes the experience overall engaging and interesting,” Ali Malick, a pre-junior civil engineering major, said.

Petersen continued the workshop by explaining the complexity of English after introducing an excerpt from Richard Lederer’s “Crazy English.” The excerpt pointed out the many abnormalities and paradoxes in English words such as how there is “neither apple nor pine in pineapple,” and how “writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham.”

Next, three Japanese speaking participants spoke Japanese phrases that sounded like English words to the audience. The audience then guessed what the words meant in English. Many phrases such as salary man, key holder, and cup of coffee had a similar sound to English and could be easily guessed. The audience was then given a paper containing Japanese “wasei-eigo terms,” similar sounding English words and asked to guess the English meaning. Japanese words such as “furaidpoteto” (French fries) and “hanbagu” (hamburger) were easy to guess. Others proved more confusing. Many participants guessed the Japanese word “bagen” to mean bagel but the word actually meant bargain. Others guessed “bata” would mean bat but it actually meant butter.

Petersen’s interest in linguistics is fueled by the patterns different languages offer.

“Language is using your mind in a fun way, almost like a logic puzzle,” Petersen said.

He continued, “You get a reward when someone understands you in a foreign language and it makes life much more interesting when you get to meet so many more people.”

Participants were also given a lesson on how British English differentiates from American English. Reading off of a list, the participants were asked to guess what British phrases such as “bloke” (guy), “courgette” (zucchini), and “dummy” (comforter) meant in American English.

To conclude the event, Petersen presented language trivia. Among these were tidbits like “7000-8000 languages in the world exist,” and “a language goes extinct every two weeks.” A particular favorite fact of the audience was that a language exists in Mexico where only two people speak the language, but oddly enough the two individuals dislike each other and, in turn, do not speak to each other.

“If you talk to a man in a language that he understands, it goes to his mind. But if you talk to a man in his own language, it goes to his heart,” Petersen wrapped up the workshop.

Mick Girasco, a fluent French speaker and senior gave her opinion on the workshop, “I learned that many of the languages are similar to other languages. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know and overall it was a very enjoyable experience,” Girasco said.

Petersen plans on leading additional linguistics workshops in the near future. To find information regarding any future events visit the CAB’s official Facebook page.