Who knows English? Aye!

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Earlier this week, it was reported that colleagues in the University of Glasgow have found that the Scots have 421 words for snow. 421!? That does seem somewhat excessive, doesn’t it? My initial reaction was to try to think of as many words as I could for some inextricable part of my life that I had to put up with. I soon realised that Viz’s profanisaurus had beaten me to this exercise years ago.
While having this many words for snow appears to have come as a surprise to the academics involved in the compilation of the Historical Thesaurus of Scots, it has come as a source of deep distress for learners of English who thought that they were going to cope well with their Hogmanay trip to Edinburgh this year.
Local: “Don’t worry about this findrikin, it won’t last two minutes after the unbrak!”
Learner: “Yes.”
What about the implications for teaching? How can we set our learners at ease with the thought of another potential opportunity to practise ending in a confused ‘Yes’? Well, I suppose the best we can do until the full thesaurus is published online and committed to heart is to ask our learner to look at the context and assess the situation. Think about the part of speech based on its position in a sentence and make an educated guess. We really do talk about the capricious weather that we have to endure on this cloudy rock, so jump in. The answer is still probably going to be ‘yes’ but let’s encourage our learners to say it with confidence the next time they’re stuck in a snaw-pouther.