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Reason for word order in English phrases like 'chalk and cheese', 'black and white', etc.
Thread poster: Surtees
Surtees
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 8, 2006

I've just been speaking with a client. I'd sent him a translation earlier this afternoon in which one of the central concepts they were talking about was 'aprende y jugar' (it's a kind of interactive exhibition for kids). I translated this as 'play and learn' and he called me to ask why I'd inverted the order of the words and would it be possible to use the same order in English as in Spanish, as they wanted to stress the idea of learning.

I told him the reason was simply because it sounds better, more 'natural' to me. I said phrases like this in English often have a fixed word order, i.e. 'black and white' not 'white and black', etc. I also said it has something to do with the vowel sounds (I vaguely remember this from when studying linguistics), with the 'low' vowel sound always coming first.

Then, I started thinking of some more examples, and one of the first ones I came up with was 'spick and span', which, if my theory is correct, kind of contradicts the rule - i.e. the 'high' vowel sound comes before the 'low' one.

Anyone know what the rule really is?


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:05
Italian to English
A question of focus? Feb 8, 2006

Hi there,

"Aprende y jugar" in Spanish emphasises learning because front-focus is stronger than end-focus in this context in your source language. In English, "play and learn" has the same impact because end-focus tends to be stronger.

You could point out that in English "plug and play" computer peripherals stress the fact that you can actually use them, not that you can plug them into your system.

HTH

Giles (who has had similar problems with one or two thoughtful Italian-speaking customers)


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bohy  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:05
English to French
+ ...
consequence Feb 8, 2006

Giles Watson wrote:


"Aprende y jugar" in Spanish emphasises learning because front-focus is stronger than end-focus in this context in your source language. In English, "play and learn" has the same impact because end-focus tends to be stronger.

You could point out that in English "plug and play" computer peripherals stress the fact that you can actually use them, not that you can plug them into your system.



I have also the impression that "and", in these two cases, introduces the idea of a consequence. And hence the important thing is at the end. In French, we would say "apprendre en s'amusant" (learn while playing).
This is just a suggestion, I'm not a native English speaker !


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:05
Spanish to English
+ ...
VERY interesting! Feb 8, 2006

Surtees wrote:

I've just been speaking with a client. I'd sent him a translation earlier this afternoon in which one of the central concepts they were talking about was 'aprende y jugar' (it's a kind of interactive exhibition for kids). I translated this as 'play and learn' and he called me to ask why I'd inverted the order of the words and would it be possible to use the same order in English as in Spanish, as they wanted to stress the idea of learning.

I told him the reason was simply because it sounds better, more 'natural' to me. I said phrases like this in English often have a fixed word order, i.e. 'black and white' not 'white and black', etc. I also said it has something to do with the vowel sounds (I vaguely remember this from when studying linguistics), with the 'low' vowel sound always coming first.

Then, I started thinking of some more examples, and one of the first ones I came up with was 'spick and span', which, if my theory is correct, kind of contradicts the rule - i.e. the 'high' vowel sound comes before the 'low' one.

Anyone know what the rule really is?


As also Giles explanation... for years I've been seeing what I thought was illogical order in Spanish...now someone has provided an explanation!

My logic is that in a game like this, the order is crucial, one must play before one can learn, to say the reverse in English sounds ridiculous... a child doesn't learn before they start playing...in EN then, the order implies a chronology...whereas in ES, obviously not...it seesm that something else is implied.

Maybe it just can be attributed to what I call 'inherent ambiguities' of languages, one such example is the way Spanish uses 'or' where English would certainly use 'and'. Or the double negative in ES is negative, whereas in EN, it's positive....

Maybe you should ask in the ES forum?


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:05
Spanish to English
+ ...
Questions Feb 8, 2006

Giles Watson wrote:

Hi there,

"Aprende y jugar" in Spanish emphasises learning because front-focus is stronger than end-focus in this context in your source language. In English, "play and learn" has the same impact because end-focus tends to be stronger.

You could point out that in English "plug and play" computer peripherals stress the fact that you can actually use them, not that you can plug them into your system.

HTH

Giles (who has had similar problems with one or two thoughtful Italian-speaking customers)


Hi Giles

What d'ya mean front and end focus exactly, in other words, what are the consequences, and why is it logical in ES. In my answer above I referred to EN maybe focusing more on chronology...what does the ES focus on?

As for 'plug and play', even if we don't literally plug then play, lingusitically this is a logical construction, becuase the visual image is one of first plugging a device in before being able to use it. I can't imagine 'play and plug', it simply wouldn't be lingusitically congruent, and even if we don't know what something is or is for, we DO detect incoherence.


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:05
French to English
+ ...
English Phrasal Couplets Feb 8, 2006

There are a number of terms in English that are customarily combined in a set order, and an inversion of this sounds strange to the native ear. I agree with you that "play and learn" is one such couplet. There are other "learn"-related imperatives in which "learn" always comes last, e.g. "listen and learn," "sit down and learn." Other examples that come to mind are:

1. Ladies and gentlemen
2. Boys and girls (note the different sex orders in 1 and 2)
3. Silver and gold
4. Fame and fortune
5. Bread and butter
6. Plants and animals

and many more.


[Edited at 2006-02-08 23:00]


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 01:05
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Docere et delectare Feb 9, 2006

I think there are various factors at work here.

One is standard English word order.

"It's a black, expensive, big, car".....Not.
"It's a big, black, expensive car"

Another certainly is focus, in the sense that the "important" word in Spanish comes first, hence "the Rollings" "un smoking" "el living" etc....while the opposite applies in English, "the (Rolling) Stones" "a (smoking) jacket" "the (living) room". For obvious reasons. Although I don't hold with Giles' explanation.

The infinitive (or infinitive/gerund) is the Latin(ate) mode:
"Docere et delectare" Horace (?)
"Enseñar deleitándo", Lope, el Fénix. "El arte nuevo de hacer comedia"

The point is, if in instead of the infinitive we used the gerund?
I agree that in English we would find "learn and play" somewhat forced.

But, by analogy with "Painting by numbers", why not
"Learning through play/games"?

Andy


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
Maybe no set rule Feb 9, 2006

These are the kinds of things we learn through usage, one by one. The only rule in language is to say it like it is said, and that comes from knowing the language.

Live and learn.


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Cilian O'Tuama
Local time: 01:05
German to English
+ ...
big, black, expensive... Feb 9, 2006

Andy Watkinson wrote:
One is standard English word order.

"It's a black, expensive, big, car".....Not.
"It's a big, black, expensive car"


I'd say the latter, FWIW.

Interesting Q. I can't really contribute.
in and out
up and down
better or worse
down-and-out

and lots of other are all "irreversible".


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Graciela Guzman  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 21:05
English to Spanish
+ ...
No rules Feb 9, 2006

There are no rules. This arrangement or juxtaposition of words is called collocation. There are examples in every language. It's just what it is, kind of "Take it or leave it".

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JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 20:05
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
That's just the way we say it, see? Feb 9, 2006

"Have your cake and eat it, too."

Makes no sense. Logically, it should be "Eat your cake and (yet, still, even so) have it, too."

But if you say or write it that way, you brand yourself as a non-native speaker of English.

Giles's "front- and end-focus" makes sense to me, but no rule is absolute. Not in English, anyway! ("I before E except after C, or when sounded as A, as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'"...)


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:05
Italian to English
Let me try to explain... Feb 9, 2006

Lia Fail wrote:


What d'ya mean front and end focus exactly, in other words, what are the consequences, and why is it logical in ES. In my answer above I referred to EN maybe focusing more on chronology...what does the ES focus on?



As other people have pointed out, these collocations are established by usage.

In spoken English, the second element is usually focused, that is to say the primary tonic accent in the phrase tends to fall on it, so if you are inventing a new such combination for advertising purposes, the main idea will go into the second part: "plug and PLAY" emphasises the attractive notion of "play"; "wash 'n' GO" foregrounds the implicit freedom in "go", and so on.

The distinction is felt less clearly in some languages, like Italian, which use tonic accents differently.

Logical sequence (not really "chronology") may be important, as in "wash 'n' go", but not in the example "aprende y jugar", where the whole point is that the two processes are simultaneous.

Neither are these inherent ambiguities, as native speakers have no difficulty in understanding the relative significance of the elements in the pair. It would be fairer to call them language-specific expectations, including but not restricted to collocations.

HTH

Giles


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Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:05
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
An addition to Richard's list... Feb 9, 2006

"live and learn"

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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 01:05
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
So would I Feb 9, 2006

[quote]Cilian O'Tuama wrote:

Andy Watkinson wrote:
One is standard English word order.

"It's a black, expensive, big, car".....Not.
"It's a big, black, expensive car"


I'd say the latter, FWIW.

So would I, Cilian.

The "Not" refers back to the very unENglish "black, expensive, big...."


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John Bowden  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:05
German to English
Sequence... Feb 9, 2006

In the collocation "play and learn", the sequence is that you play first, and as a result learn something - rather like "you live and learn", i.e. you learn as a result of living, which is the "prior action".
If your client wants to have the "learn" element first, you could perhaps try "learning through playing" or something like that.


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