(thank you for bearing with my “Premature Publishing” problem of 2 days ago and returning for the rest of the story…)

panda shoots.jpg

I get confused sometimes. OK, often.

Language is a crazy thing, ain’t it?

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.  

– Panda… Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China.  Eats, shoots and leaves –          

eats-shoots-and-leaves

In 2003, Lynne Truss wrote a non-fiction bestseller titled… you guessed it… Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at how communication can be thrown in the air like pizza dough, becoming a total gooey mess when simple punctuation marks are either omitted or improperly used in writing and reading.

……………………………..

I love languages like I love music.

Languages are music, they have a rhythm, an accent, a pace that distinguishes each in a similar way to how we distinguish folk music from country music from classical music.

When we hear a non-native person speak in English, most of us recognize their accent as Spanish, or Indian, or Russian. The notes and rhythm are different but unique.

It’s music, plain and simple.

I’m tutoring a handsome, oh-so-polite, young Indian man, we’ll call him Ramesh (no, it’s not his real name) who wants to pass his IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test to stay here in Canada (psst… don’t tell the Trump’ster, he might build another wall).

Unbeknownst to him, he’s teaching me as much as I’m hoping to teach him.

Learning can happen anywhere. I like that.

But Ramesh thinks I’m an English-language God… a golden deity of language.

I don’t want that responsibility on my shoulders.

I’m already sweating bullets, worrying that he may not pass his exams – at a cost of $350 – in January. Ramesh has a business administration certification but currently works at a gas station for $10.50 an hour.

I’ll probably have terrible stressed-out diarrhea the day of his test.

He respectfully calls me “Sir” but in a funny twist of formal vs informal language, he injects the filler word like 2 or 3 times in every sentence, so much like my own teenage kids did 10 years ago.

In a 3 minute speech he recited to me a week ago, I, like, stopped counting at 35 likes. It’s like those potty-mouthed F-Bomb guys at my, like gym, that I spoke about, like last year. They, like, can’t help themselves. (ASIDE: this week, Ramesh only used like 4 times in 3 minutes! That’s, like, commitment and progress…)

I’m pretty good with most grammar issues and … spelling? Well.. spelling is my Herculean strength. I possess rippling Arnold Schwarzenegger spelling muscles.

arnold-schwart

Olympians are often gifted with superior athletic abilities and skills. My Olympic genetic gift is a knack for spelling correctly without having to think or try. It’s a minor endowment, but I always appreciate it like a shiny toy from Santa under the tree.

I used to think I was a fair grammarian as well, but a simple query by Ramesh this week brought me tumbling humbly back to earth.

His question?  “when should I use ‘has been‘ vs ‘have been.

The rules of syntax I thought I owned rose like a helium balloon to the sky as I fumbled for a coherent answer. You probably haven’t hesitated a milli-second in wonder over this one, have you?

According to Quora:

Both “Has been” AND “Have been” mean something began in the past and has lasted into the present time.

  • This meaning is known as present perfect continuous.
  • Use “has” when describing specific persons (not yourself) or a non-person (e.g. an animal or an object).
  • Use “have” when describing yourself or a group (both human and non-human).

I know, blah… that’s boring. I’m with you.

My point here is that I take for granted the knowledge that lies within. Some things just … are.

I discovered a whole lot about the rules of language almost 7 years ago in Cusco, Peru while we were studying Spanish alongside shiny, intelligent, young, Dutch, German, Brazilian and American students.

We were learning Spanish, yes. But we were also uncovering the reasons for language usage that apply in English and other languages at the same time. It was like unearthing buried treasure on a beach while innocently making sand castles.

So here I am today, learning once again.

Ramesh is asking the tough questions that make me sit back and think, “Hell yeah, why is it that when two or more adjectives are used before a noun, they must be used in a specific order.”  

This is something we native English speakers do without thinking because we simply knows what “sounds right.”  

“The large purple cotton bag belongs to her,” is fine.
“The cotton purple large bag belongs to her,” is not.

Right?

Who wouldn’t be confused? Who can explain why this is? It just is.

But I can’t tell Ramesh I don’t know.

Actually, I do do just that (what a silly language where we place two do‘s together and it makes sense!). And then I come home and study the reasons why.

I’m having to put in my 1,000 hours of study and dedicated practice so I can understand and help Ramesh join Canadian society.

He’s a charming and amiable young man.

I want him to enjoy a life in Canada and experience ice skating and fluffy snowflakes made into snowmen.

I want him to idle in a Tim Hortons Drive-Thru and order a double-double.

I want him to learn to say “eh” and cheer for my Hamilton Tiger Cats football team.

Ramesh is helping me get past my own confusion, which is a good thing, because I don’t want him to, like, Eat, Shoot, and Leave this country.

a-woman-without-her-man

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