oxymoron67: (Default)
This... no.

The story follows Paul Iverson, a linguistics professor, who returns home one day to find his wife dead in their backyard. Police rule her death an accident, but Paul is not quite sure. The only witness to her death is their dog Lorelei. In Paul’s grief-stricken search for answers, he endeavors to teach Lorelei to talk in the hopes that he can uncover what happened the day his wife died.

The linguist is crazy, yes? If he is truly a linguist, he already KNOWS that dogs lack the anatomical structures necessary for speech. Unless we suddenly end up in Magic Realism land, nothing is going to happen.

Now, I get that some people in shock and grief and mourning do crazy things... but I can't suspend my disbelief for this AT ALL.
oxymoron67: (reading)
Okay, so I've decided to drop the language planning/policy option and instead focus on the language and technology option.


I was doing some linguistic theory reading and remembered one of the prevailing linguistic theories that has leaked into teaching:

On a strictly linguistic level, all dialects of a language are created equal. They all enable communication. Therefore, no one should teach speech or accent reduction, because non-standard varieties of a language are just as valid as the standard.

This, believe it or not, is the reason I have been given, on several occasions, that my college has no speech/public communication requirement. Never mind that 58% of our students are foreign born, and most of the rest are their children. All classes at my college are ESL classes: but the focus is on writing skills.

When I point out that our students need to have speaking skills, if only to do the interviews necessary to get the job, I am met with a repetition of "All dialects are equally valid.".

This fails to take sociolinguistic issues into account. As I tell my students, if they go into a job interview in a big company and they say "axe" instead of "ask" or "liberry" instead of "library", the HR people are going to think that they are stupid. Or criminals.

Many people say that this is true mostly for Ebonics speakers, but it is also the case for speakers of ANY non-standard English. Pittsburghese, with its "yunz" and "dahntahn" instead of "downtown" has the same effect. As does just about any Southern dialect.

So, rather than deal with that problem, I've decided instead to focus on technology and language acquisition. I can mention many things I've done at work, including ePortfolio and digital storytelling.

Now, I have a focus.

Makes sense?
oxymoron67: (Default)
We talked about rhythm in English, that the stressed syllables take the most time, and that English likes every other syllable to be strong.

Last week, we watched American Tongues, a 80's era documentary on dialects in the United States. Regional stereotypes were discussed. You know, that Southerners find Northerners cold and rude and Northerners hear a Southern dialect and think "inbred, redneck hillbilly."

That sort of thing.

Plus, the clothes and the hair! One of the questions I always ask is "This documentary was produced a long time ago. How can you tell?"

Everyone laughs at the fashion choices.

Well, it came up in class when we were talking about how quickly some people speak.

Me: Well, how do Americans feel about people who speak very slowly?
St1: They think they're stupid.
Me: Yes.
St2: So people think we're stupid because we don't speak English this way?
Me: No. You're not native speakers. Different rules apply.
St3: Oh, come on!
Me: Think about it. When you hear an American speak Spanish, they're not going to speak it as quickly as you do, right?
St3: Yes, that;s right. You're not used to it.
Me: Exactly. You don't look at that person and think "Estupido gringo"
(Class bursts into laughter.)
Me:... BECAUSE he's not a native speaker.
(Everyone nods.)
Me: Well, the same thing normally applies with Americans. If we hear a non-native accent, we make allowances.
St4: Yeah, but...
Me: NORMALLY. Some people won't. But some people are just horses' asees.
(Puzzled looks.)
Me: Something my grandmother used to say: There are more horses' asses in this world than there are horses.
(general laughter)

I have to say that I really like this class. It's small enough that everyone can get some individualized attention, but it's large enough that they have a variety of opinions.

Plus, they laugh at my jokes.
oxymoron67: (Default)
A post on a friend's blog reminded me of my misadventures in syntax.
Sweet memories of a misspent time in grad school under the cut. )
oxymoron67: (Default)
Understand, I'm from Pittsburgh, we're not supposed to like Philadelphia and vice-versa (Which is odd, because, in my two brief visits to Philadelphia, I've found it a nice place.)

Anyway... We have a new slogan for the Philadelphia Phillies!

Alas, the new slogan is "Why can't us?"

The lack of grammar burns. It buuuuuuuuuuuurns.
oxymoron67: (Default)
We were covering the back vowels tonight: the vowels in the words boat, book and boot.

It led to some vocabulary discussions.

St1: So.... what's a "woodchuck"?
St2: It's a bird that...
Me: No, that's a woodpecker. (Pause) No one? You all have computers in front of you. Look it up.
St3: It's a marmot.
Me: Does that help anyone?
(Blank stares)
Me: So what's a marmot?
St4: It's a groundhog.
St5: A hog? So it's a pig? It doesn't look like a pig.
Me: No, no... it has a lot of fur...
St6: A furry pig? Do you eat it?
Me: No, it's a rodent...
St7: So it's a great big rat?
Me: ... Like a rabbit.
St3: It doesn't have rabbit ears...
Me: Okay... it's kind of like a beaver.... only without the big flat tail.
St7: What's a beaver?
Me: Look it up.
(after a minute)
St8: Oh. It makes sense now.

Me: Okay... so what is a "doe"?
(Blank stares)
Me: I promise you all know this one.
(Blank, disbelieving stares)
Me: You know the movie "The Sound of Music"? You know the song with the kids....
St1: Do re mi?
Me: Yes (I start singing) "Doe a deer, a female deer".
Students giggle, with an undertone of "He just used an example from a musical. He's so very gay."
Me: Well, a doe is a deer, a female deer.
St3: I've never had a professor sing to me before.
St2: What's the word for a make deer?
Me: A buck.
St2: It makes sense now. My husband and I were at a restaurant and I had to go to the restroom. They were "bucks" and "does". I had no idea which one to use.
Me: What did you do?
St2: I just left. I couldn't ask someone. We stopped on the way home.
Me: Well, now you know. And knowing's half the battle.
oxymoron67: (Default)
Why Esperanto is made of fail under the cut. )
oxymoron67: (Default)
This week was "work on consonants week", so we went over the 24 consonant sounds of Standard American English. It led to some interesting discussions.

We talked about how words change pronunciation over time. It started with the pronunciation of the word "handkerchief". In particular, the fact that we don't pronounce the "d", and that the third syllable isn't always pronounced with a long e sound.

I pointed out that when this word was created, it was a compound noun: two words slammed together: hand" and "kerchief". The /d/ sound was dropped. I gave another example: I asked my students to spell the word "cupboard". One did, but the rest spelled "cubbard" or some variation. Again, I said, this was originally a compound: it was a board where you stored dishes, therefore "cupboard."

After that, we talked about how words change in meaning. I used the example "friend". When I was a child (back in the Stone Age, when computers were the size of rooms and you entered data on them with punchcards), "friend" was a noun and a noun only. Now, of course, its a verb, too. That's a meaning shift.

Then, one of my students pointed out that he "fedexes" things all the time.

So, I wrote FedEx, Xerox, Kleenex, and Clorox on the board, and we talked about how these brand names have now become nouns representing the product: lots of people use "kleenex" in place of tissues, for example, and FedEx and Xerox have become verbs.

Then we went back to sound discrimination work.
oxymoron67: (Default)
British Professor Says Misspelling Words is Okay...

as long as the misspelling is "phonectically close" to the actual spelling.

Where to begin.. there is so much stupid in that idea that it boggles my mind....

1) Accuracy in spelling (and grammar, for that matter) is an essential part of comprehensibility. Without a standard set of rules, understanding the written word becomes much more difficult. I know this from my studies of Old French, where each of the major dialects had their own orthography. Some were much harder to understand than others, and many words, especially the irregular verbs, had absurd numbers or variations.

Now, Im not just talking pronunciation differences either. For instance, in Anglo-Norman French, the word for son wasn't "fils", as it is in Modern French, but rather "Fitz". It makes sense that the Anglo-Norman authors would spell it that way.

Until I started studying Old French, I never really appreciated the work of the Academie Francaise.

2) Spellcheck.
While not perfect, spellcheck is a good start. (Of course, many teachers think that students' spelling skills have declined because of spellcheck.)

3) Standards
At some point, standards come into play. I don't want my students to be "just okay", I want them to strive for excellence in mastery of the language.
oxymoron67: (Default)
... I'm still going to use the word "peacockly" in a sentence.

I'm going with the idea that it is the adverbial form of the word "peacock".

So, here goes...

Wearing his amazing technicolor dreamcoat, Joseph strutted peacockly down the road.
oxymoron67: (Default)
Look... work is extraordinarily dull today.

So, how many words does the English language have really?

Some claim one million words. Others a more conservative 600,000.

Part of the "one million words" assertion is that we are creating new words in English all the time and at an increasing rate. Perhaps... but not all of those new words and phrases stick around. In fact, most don't.

One linguist has theorized that most of the new words are made by those on society's fringe *BUT* those new words only become accepted when everyone else adopts them.

At any rate, my favorite part of the article is this:

The OED records 1,248 other English words first appearing in 1425 – an average of one new word every 7 hours. These include keepers like accusation, donation, macaroon, peacemaker, and upset, as well as words that quickly fell by the wayside (c. 1400) like dissemblation, mortificative, peacockly, plet, stitling, and wontsomeness.

Damn. Now that I know the word "peacockly" is out there, I can't wait to use it in a sentence.
oxymoron67: (Default)
... and some thoughts on education.

Hard Times at Douglass High: a No Child Left Behind Report Card was on a few nights ago and I finally got a chance to watch the whole thing.

Here is its official website.

I remembered some things my mom said about teaching in high school as I was watching this:

1) No Child Left Behind doesn't work. It only provides for sanctions; it doesn;t do much of anything to aid schools.

2) If the parents aren't involved, the children won't be.

3) On parent-teacher night, mom never saw the parents of the children in trouble. (O, as she put it "The ones she needed to see.")

And this was in a working class suburban school district.

Unlike the documentary which is about a high school in inner-city Baltimore. Here the problems are worse:

1) Families have disintegrated. Most of these kids are either in one-parent households or are living with grandparents or guardians. And some of them are parents themselves.

2) Lack of resources: for example, in a geometry class, there is a sum total of 16 books. Which means that there aren't enough books for each student to have one of their own AND, since there are only 16 of them, the students can't take them home to work on them.

3) Lack of teachers. There is a huge teacher shortage in Baltimore. And, frankly, from what I've seen of it, teaching high school has a high burnout rate to it, regardless.

4) The kids frequently don't want to learn, and the school lacks the wherewithall to force them to. In fact many students hang out in the hallways.

5) Or, if they want to learn, the lack the skills necessary.

It's an ugly situation. No Child Left Behind isn't helping. And frankly, I'm not sure what would help. Part of it is a matter of funding, but it has to be specifically directed funding. We may have to overhaul education in general.

The students' attitudes didn't surprise me because they mirror what I've seen here at my urban community college. Most of our problem students tend to be the ones who just came from high school because they lack the maturity to take responsibility for what they do or don't do (as in attend classes).

And the basic skills are lacking: reading, writing, public speaking: all problematic. Now granted, part of that comes from the number of immigrants we have as students, but the issues are not all linguistic in nature. Argumentation, for example, differs from culture to culture. What we in the West consider plagiarism isn't necessarily the case for some. While Americans prefer direct discourse, many cultures prefer to use more indirect discourse strategies.

But the attitude of some of our students -- the "What do you mean I don't pass? Just because I didn't go to class and turn in assignments?" -- matches some of those in the documentary.

An interesting documentary. If you get a chance to watch it, do.

Meantime, my brother and I were talking about bilingual education.

My brother pointed out that the main proponents of bilingual education in America are those who already speak Spanish and the politicians who pander to them.

I actually think bilingual education would be a good idea, in theory, anyway. Having said that, Spanish isn't going to be the language for everyone. Some places, other languages make more sense. French in Louisiana and New England, for example. In Pittsburgh, it would probably be Russian. Or maybe Polish.

I'm not sure what it would be in NYC.
oxymoron67: (Default)
"Oh my god! There's an axe in my head,"
in various languages

I would point out that your attacker isn't very good at his job if you're still conscious after he stuck an axe in your head.

Now, when I was an undergrad, several of my friends and I took language classes... not just your standard Spanish and French, but also German, Russian, Irish Gaelic, Portuguese and Sanskrit (among others) and we started compiling a list of useless phrases in several languages.

I forget them (in translation) now, but the sentences we used were things like:

"Help! My postilion has been struck by lightning!"


"My hovercraft is full of eels."


"I am not cabbage soup, I am a giant duck."

It amused us.
oxymoron67: (Default)

The things you find on the internet.

Presented for your approval: The racial slur database.

I could swear I've seen something like this before. (I own a dictionary of curse words in four languages.)

I don't know how common some/most of these are*, but it's interesting to read.

*"Bjork" as a slur against Icelanders, for instance. Who is prejudiced against Icelanders? And why use Bjork? Unless you're implying that all Icelanders are crazy and overhyped like Bjork? (I don't get her appeal. At all.)


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