Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

04 March 2018

Prepositional Delivery

When teaching English to non-native speakers, it's the little words that are the most difficult.  In particular, prepositions can be really pesky:  They don't translate exactly, if at all, from one language to another.  I still don't know how to explain why someone lives in Queens but on Long Island.

Likewise, why do postal carriers deliver on bicycles, but whatever they bring arrives by bicycle?

Well...at least we know they're not delivering in a bicycle--though the letters, cards, bills and such might be in a bike when they arrive.  At least, in a bike like this:


  1. One time I had the task of teaching "advanced" English to a group of students from Thailand. Specifically, seeing as how the Tai language has only simple present, future and past tenses, I had to explain how the perfect and pluperfect tenses work, like "have gone", "will have gone", "had gone", etc. I used a time line drawn on the blackboard and constructed a set of arrows that looped back and forth across time intervals. Languages can be so different. Finnish has no prepositions and the entire concept is alien. Finnish nouns can take suffixes that indicate spacial and temporal relationships, about 24 of them.

  2. Leo--Finnish has no prepositions. That is so interesting. It reminds me, in a way, of how, in the Turkish language "to be" is not a stand-alone verb: Rather, it takes the form of a suffix. Imagine if we didn't have "to be" as a stand-alone verb in English, but we still had "he's", "she's", "they're" and all of those other contractions with forms of the verb "to be."

    What you say about the Thai language is also interesting. American Black English, there really is only one form of every verb: what we would call the simple present, third-person. So, instead of "She goes to the store every day" or "She went to the store last night", "She go" would be used in both cases. This is also done in some Caribbean dialects.

  3. You might be interested in the fact that Finnish has no future tense. The present is used and context indicates tense. The last time I was in the US one of my friends politely told me he wondered why I never used the future in English. These days, without thinking about it. I say "I go to the store tomorrow". The shadow of Finnish.

    Finnish also has no gender at all. The same word means "he" and "she". Besides getting the vote at an early point, women appear in the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, as sorcerer warriors and most often get the best of the men.

    Also: Finnish has a complete set of possesive suffixes and you can, and most often do. omit pronouns. The technical term is that Finnish is a highly aglutinative language, so just about everything is taken care of with suffixes. You can have three or four attached to a word. Add to that that the vocabulary is almost entirely non-indo-european. On the plus side, it is extremely regular, like a computer language almost. NO exceptions to gramatical rules.

    All of the above can be said about Korean, Mongolian and all Turkic languages.

    Oh yes: they say that if you survive a Finnish fall and winter, you understand why the language has no future tense.

  4. Leo--I gave myself a crash course in the language before I went to Turkey. I now recall what you say about Finnish--about aglutination, suffixes, the consistency of grammar and non-gendered nouns--applies to Turkish.

    The Kalevala is something I must read some time.

  5. Well... having read The Kalevala in the original, I would strongly advise looking up a copy of the translation by Francis Magoun (Harvard University Press, 1975). It is an exact, line by line translation, very literal but very readable, and he does not, like many others, try to imitate the meter, which is impossible in English. The meter, four beat illiterate, is close to Beowulf meter. Actually Magoun came linked the two poems in his studies, and was the man who demonstrated that Beowulf is oral-formulaic, like The Kalevala. He learned Finnish for the purpose of translating The Kalevala.

    I have, btw, also read Beowulf in the original. These were two projects that took maybe a decade of spare time. Well worth it.

  6. Hi Leo--Do you mean four-beat alliteration? I know that's the Beowulf meter--which, essentially, is the meter of Anglo-Saxon.

  7. Yes, alliteration. Auto-correct is the invention of the devil.

    Also: as much free time as I could squeeze out of a decade, not a decade of free time.