Saturday, October 25, 2014

How's your "grammar?"

I took this "grammar quiz" yesterday, more curious about what sorts of questions they would ask than whatever my "score" might be. As it turned out, I got them all "right."

(1) Of the 12, only 3 were really about "grammar." And one of those asked for a form (whom) that is essentially obsolete, what one writer calls "nostalgia as repression." Another asked for the past tense of "lie" (as in "lie down"); which is "lay" but that's also somewhat archaic at this point. The one legitimate grammar question had to do with subject/verb agreement (is v. are).

(2) Perhaps one (lose v. loose) was about lexicon, although this spills over into...

(3) ... spelling, which is what the rest were about, and which is not "grammar."  One of the more egregious examples of this is the distinction in spelling between the two forms pronounced [ɪts], written its and it's.  The first is possessive, 'belonging to it'; the second is the contraction of it and is.  This is not a confusion that anyone would or could make in speaking, because they're homophones!  It's only in spelling that they get separate treatment, and this is not where the grammar is.  Another frequently cited "confusion" is that of there - they're - their.  No English speaker would actually "confuse" these while using English, because they're different things: an adverb, a subject-verb contraction, and a possessive determiner.  They might confuse the spellings, but not the grammatical functions.

It would be nice if the people who make up these things would actually learn what "grammar" is.  A linguistics course might help...

Friday, September 26, 2014

I never expected this...

This happened yesterday:  I had finished the lecture part of my large intro class and was starting to tell them about their Test, which would be online through the weekend. Things like what topics to expect, the window the test would be available, how much time they have once they launch the test, and so on...  And as I was doing so, about a third of the class got up, gathered their stuff, and headed for the door.  While I was talking. This is the first I recall something like this happening, believe it or not, in about 30 years of teaching.  I have until next Tuesday to prepare a way to shame them into never doing this again, although I suspect, given that this is the United States of America, it would be pointless.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11?

In my opinion, the best way to remember 9/11 would be to issue arrest warrants for George W Bush and all the members of his admin who either failed to protect us from what happened, even though they had intel that it might, and/or who lied the country into the ongoing wars that followed and in the process killed more Americans than the actual 9/11 terrorists did. That is all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tim White on "theory" versus "fact"

This is epic:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It's August 6th, again

I have some pressing things to attend to today and I'll have to forego my usual rant about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  However, you can read my previous posts on this:

2009: An almost unmentioned anniversary
2010: The most destructive use ever of weapons of mass destruction
2011: Another August 6th
2012: Yet another August 6th
2013: August 6, 1945

This year I'll let Noam Chomsky guide us through the Nuclear Weapons Era.

Spoiler alert: It's not pretty.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

George Takei on The Daily Show

Last night on The Daily Show, George Takei talked very movingly with Jon Stewart about his childhood experience as a detainee in a US concentration camp detention facility.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The word is: "Jeopardy"

Last night (Monday July 21) on "Jeopardy" there was a clue that went something like "a single unit of language."  The response they wanted was "what is a word." That may be the most problematic answer they could have thought of, given that besides words all the following can be considered "single units of language":
  • Distinctive features (units of articulation, e.g. Labial, Voiced, etc.)
  • Segments (consonants & vowels, each of which is a unit composed of distinctive features: [b])
  • Phonemes (psychologically salient units that signal contrast: /b/)
  • Syllables (units of pronunciation, most commonly a consonant + a vowel but there are shapes, depending on the language: [ba], [bo], [bla], blab], and so on)
  • Morphemes (units that refer in some way: {kæt})

When we get to morphemes we can begin to slide into "words," but it's tricky. The "word" (we use the <_> to enclose an orthographic representation) is composed of one morpheme, but what about ?  It's composed of two morphemes. Still, it's a "single unit" when considered within a larger structure, say a Noun Phrase (NP).  In the word is a single unit under what we call an N' ("N-bar"), a constituent paired with , which is a Determiner (Det).  If we expand to we get also living under a single N', still paired with that Det and still a "single unit" of language.

In other words, it's more complicated than most people realize. And, I humbly submit, *this* is what "language arts" teachers should be showing our children!

Aruskipasipxañanakasakipunirakispäwa!  A "single word" in Aymara meaning 'I know from personal knowledge that it's good if we all make the effort to communicate with one another.'