Sunday, September 09, 2012

49. Nosy Snoopers

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It’s time we found out a bit more about Alison’s neighbour and his dog: we left them in Alison’s sitting room, both breathing heavily and ready to let some bodily fluids loose on Alison’s sofa (that is, of course, if and only if you know what a bulldog is like, and how easily it is for its saliva to dribble with every breath it takes – yuck!).
I. But first some practice:

Ways of asking for permission
A. The following examples are all ways of asking for permission. In what situation might you hear each one?
1. Is smoking permitted here?
2. Do you mind if I smoke?
3. Would you mind if I smoked?
4. You don't mind if I smoke, do you?.
5. Do you object to me smoking?
6. All right if I smoke?

Which of the examples above suggest that the speaker
a. knows the person very well?
b. expects permission to be given?
c. doesn't know the other person too well?
d. is speaking to an official?
e. is in a formal, business situation (for example, an interview)?

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B Finish the second sentence in each pair without changing the meaning of the first.
Example: May I use your telephone?
Is it all right if I use your telephone?
1. Can I sit here?
Do you…?
2. Could I ask you a few personal questions?
Do you…?
3. Do they allow people to park here?
4. Is it all right with everybody if I close this window?
Would anybody…?
5. Can dogs come in here?
6. Would you mind if I copied these documents?
Do you object…?
7. I'm going to borrow this chair. All right?
You don't…?
8. Do you mind if I come late tomorrow?
Would it…?

C How would you ask for permission in the following situations?
A. You work in a large office. Ask your boss for permission to take tomorrow off in order to see your mother, who is in hospital.
B. You are a guest in a restaurant. Some friends are coming in a minute. You want to put two tables together. Ask the waiter if it is all right.
C. You are in the middle of an examination. You feel very ill. You want to go outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air.
D. You are staying with an English family. You want to invite some other students over to have a small party.
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II. Now let me introduce you to Leonard Platchett, Alison’s neighbour.
First of all, time has come for a disclaimer.
I think I’m not revealing any secrets if I say that – contrary to some recent re-interpretation of human rights amendments – writers have always used the way names sound when pronounced as evocative of image-schemata. Of course, if you say John Smith, or Alicia Pérez, or else François Dupont you readily step into stereotypes, and rightly so: they are very frequent names in the geographical spaces they allude to, so you can get an idea of what kind of knowledge you may infer from the name. But this will be another topic; for the time being, just imagine being named at birth with such weird phonetic combinations as Publius Nigidius Figulus (the name of a scholar living in the late Roman Republic, a friend of Cicero’s, and remembered for his interest in Pythagorean philosophical topics – also a magician, diviner, and occultist): by any standards, and – again – unlike what Shakespeare urged us to consider, is not a name to feel comfortable with.
It happens to be the case that in English Platchett does sound a bit odd, vaguely suggesting through phonology an uncultured person – how unfair, how embarrassing! If you only think of Sir David Terence (Terry) Pratchett, the great English author of fantasy novels, you will see what I mean: I’ll stick to Shakespeare’s wisdom with all my might!

Use of English

[adapted from New Success at First Certificate by Robert O’Neill, Michael Duckworth and Kathy Gude]

Alison’s neighbour is sitting in her living-room. Study this part of the conversation. What is Alison saying? The first sentence is done for you as an example.

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Alison= A; Leonard Platchett = P

A: Excuse me, but (1) I’m afraid I don’t know your name.
P: Oh, it’s Platchett. Leonard Platchett.
A: Oh, well, Mr Platchett, (2) ...
P: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it bothered you. I’ll put it out.
A: (3) ...
P: Well, it’s about the music you play in the evenings.
A: (4) ...
P: Yes, it does, to be frank.
A: (5) ... I’m very careful about that.
P: Well, you may not think it is. But I can still hear it downstairs. The ceiling isn’t very thick, you know. I can hear almost every note. Really! I’m not exaggerating.
A: (7) ...I’m glad you told me.
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P: Good. I wouldn’t complain about it if it were only me. But it disturbs Bruno, too. It really seems to upset him.
A: (8) ...
P: My dog, of course. Who did you think I meant?

After you worked on Alison's replies yourself, listen to their conversation: