Friday, 30 May 2014

Local author makes g... tolerable



Guest blogger today is me – the first draft of a local mailshot; comments welcome.

‘How do I pronounce that?’ asks a learner of English meeting a new word. Let’s say the word is staunch; is that like the ‘-au- in caution or the one in mauve? Or in pilau, because, beauty, restaurant, aunt, or gauge?

The more advanced learner finds the going easier than the beginner. The wider a student’s vocabulary is, the fewer the exceptions they will meet. Besides, it is the more commonly used words that tend to preserve exceptions in the ‘life’ of a word. So those exceptional words may well form the basic vocabulary that a student learns by heart in the early stages of their exposure to English (the ones that the Macmillan English Dictionary calls ‘red words’, the most frequently-occurring 7,500 words in English). On the other hand, words with the sound of staunch’s ‘-au-’ are three times more numerous than words with the other seven possibilities put together.

English spelling is a puzzle, and pairs of vowels can cause special trouble for learners. Possible pronunciations for single vowels tend to be in the mid-single figures: patter, pastry, path, parent, paltry, and the unstressed vowel in pacific. Whereas pairs of vowels can produce a bewildering range of possibilities, averaging more than 12 for each pair. (In fact, if you exclude identical pairs such as ‘AA’, the average is just under 15.)

This unique dictionary shows how vowels map to sounds When Vowels Get Together.
_________________________________________________________________

Local writer Bob Knowles (@BobK99) studied languages and linguistics at the University of Cambridge, and after a number of editorial positions began a 20-year career as a Technical Writer.

In 2004/5 he studied for a PGCE, and afterwards a CELTA (an English Language Teaching certificate). Since then he has been a self-employed teacher and creator of teaching materials, and a contributor to the TESconnect Resource bank. Since late November 2006 he has moderated the UsingEnglish forums at UsingEnglish.com.

In 2012 he was nominated for the Macmillan Education Award for Innovative Writing in the 2012 ELTons, with a 'Dictionary of Vowels and Their Sounds'. 'When Vowels Get Together' takes that as a starting point.

b
PS – Obviously it needs a headline

Update 2014.06.01.17:40 – And this is going on the back of the sheet:




A guess becomes educated ...It will be invaluable to non-native teachers of EFL/ESOL as well as their learners…. I wish that this resource had been available before I retired from life as a teacher trainer. I would have recommended it without hesitation.'

 ‘Worth buying if for the introduction alone'.

 ‘Complete and accurate. A very useful book.'

 ‘I will be able to be more comprehensive in answering questions on the topic here. I liked the thoroughness of this guide.’
 
‘From my personal teaching experience, I can only confirm the practical value of this book.'



 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs ov vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 41,800 views  and over 5,800 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,150 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.
















Thursday, 29 May 2014

If hot all meet in the fridge

See a bigger picture here


The sign in the subject line is from a butcher's window – and is possibly apocryphal (though quite credible).
But earlier this week I came across a delightful instance (detailed in theLanguage  Log) of machine translation run amok. It's quite a short piece, and well worth a read. But here's the gist: Erbil International Hotel in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, served a buffet. One dish in the buffet was meatballs. And this, for reasons explained in that Language Log article, was the sign adorning the dish:



It seems that the word 'meatballs' was first helpfully transliterated; this accounts for the /bɔ:l/ versus /pɔ:l/ confusion (as Arabic has no /p/ phoneme). Then some machine translation software got to work taking no account of the fact that (as Language Log reports):

...Arabic text usually dispenses with the diacritics for short vowels known as ḥarakāt, leaving only long vowels represented. So "ميت" is a fine transliteration for English meat /mi:t/, but it could also represent the Arabic word mayyit 'dead' (derived from the verb māta مات 'die'). 
<etymological_note>
This caught my eye because English sports two words related to this māta:
  1. The word 'matador', borrowed from the Spanish matador  – itself based on the verb matar. The matador is 'the killer'.
  2. The expression 'check mate'. {Think of sheik.} When a chess player says 'check mate', they are saying 'The king is dead' {or, by one account noted in Etymonline, 'The king is stumped'.
</etymological_note>
The Language Log piece adds
...I suspect that Google's statistical approach to automatic translation is being misled by the frequency of the phrase "Paul is dead" in texts involving the persistent urban legend that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966.
On a first reading I dismissed this as fanciful, but now I'm not so sure. Google reports 324,000 hits for "Paul is dead" (and those of you who resist the insidious Wikipedeaization of Internet links may prefer this account of the myth.) So "Paul is dead" is a strong collocation. It even gets into the Corpus of Contemporary American (though not in huge numbers, and not at all in the rather more staid BNC.)

That's all for now. I must start writing my flyer for When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

b
Update: 2017.07.10.11:30 – Tweaked format and removed old footer.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Pinochet to transfer to Whitehart Lane?

If that crossword clue is too easy, how about this: What do Augusto  Pinochet and Louis Armstrong have in common? (This post might give you a clue.)

<thinking_time background_music="Hello Dolly">
Look, if you haven't got it yet listen to that music (the cover by Louis Armstrong):
Hello Dolly
This is Louis (/lu:wɪs/) Dolly ...
</thinking_time>

Their names are frequently subjected to hypercorrection. English commentators often give Pinochet's name as /'pɪnɒʃeɪ/, presumably assuming that there is some French background to the name (as if it should rhyme with piquet) [mistreating ,the while, the vowels and stress as only the British can]. For all I know there was considerable influence on Chile from France. While in Valparaíso {and you can make an old man very happy by giving that place-name five syllables} he studied at the French Fathers' School, and he was the son of a Breton immigrant (from Lamballe, according to Wikipedia) with a Basque mother.

But his family and countrymen pronounce the name fully hispanized: [pino'ʧɛt]

In Argentina, meanwhile, many of the influences are Italian (although France obviously figured in its history – the Falkland Islands owing their Argentine name to the French town of St Malo). So I was hoist with my own petard when Mauricio Pochettino appeared in the news earlier this week. The double T in the name marks it out as of Italian descent; double Ts are vanishingly rare  in Spanish (I'm inclined to say 'non-existent', but there may be the odd borrowed exception.)

Which led me to assume that he was Italian and should be pronounced with a [k]. But, not being a denizen of the sports pages, I didn't know he was from Argentina. And, like Pinochet adopting a Spanish [t] in spite of its absence in French, Pochettino adopted a Spanish [ʧ] in spite of the Italian [k].

This confirms what I have long been aware of: the [mis]pronunciation of borrowed names is one of the hardest things to learn about foreign languages.

<autobiographical_note date_range=1971>
In my youth I spent a few months selling magazine subscriptions, as mentioned in a previous post. The publishers bolstered the advertising sales of lesser-known titles by bundling them with big names. So Caza y Pesca and Blanco y Negro were thrown in when you bought a subscription to Newsweek.

One of the English titles that I had for sale was Motor Sport. So  into my fairly competent spiel (I had learned the necessary Spanish off pat) I dropped these three totally unrecognizable syllables: /məʊtəspɔ:t/. The Spanish for 'Motor Sport' included an /r/ sounded before the epenthetic vowel that precedes the outlandish consonant cluster /sp/.
<PPS>
At the 2012 Language Show I came across an interesting confirmation of this point, but from the other point-of-view. I was at a Czech taster session. It will not be news to everyone that the word robot is borrowed from Czech, specifically Karel Čapek's play RUR. It may be news, though, that – predictably – Czech nationals pronounce it wrong! I noticed this particularly because the teacher's pronunciation made it sound like my name: /'rɒbət/.
</PPS>
</autobiographical_note>

But, unseasonally late (after the late-Spring Bank Holiday, or 'Whitsun' as it's known to right-thinking God-fearers) I must go and chop wood.

b
PS Did I say the subject line's a crossword clue?


Update 2014.05.28.18:25 – Added these notes:


An obvious candidate is falsetto. I'd have to look that up; I know the little high twiddly notes characteristic of flamenco guitar music are called falsetas (with a single T).
Outlandish, that is, at the beginning of a word. 

Update 2015.01.28.14:55 – Added (embedded) PPS.


Sunday, 25 May 2014

Pebbles, oyster shells, and blackballs

The word psephologist is younger than I am – just – and it rears its ugly head (well I think it's ugly) every now and then, when there is an election in the offing. A few weeks ago a tweet appeared, pointing to this page :


Far be it from me to question this most august of authorities, but I think there's room for a quibble here.

Etymonline's derivation is from ψєφɩζεɩν, the Greek verb vote. And as the election in question involved pebbles (ψєφοɩ) the ultimate reference is to pebbles. But when Professor R. B. McCallum coined the word in 1952 I imagine he was thinking about the verb. Elections in recent memory haven't provided much scope for pebbles.

A new word is like a new toy, initially very popular and then often dwindling in use. A toy that was new to me when I first came across it (and mentioned it here) was Collins English Dictionary's Usage Trends graph. This is the picture for the entire life of psephology:


In the '50s and early '60s it was the best thing since ... errm, laminated farinaceous comestibles. Since then it has experienced a steady-ish decline, with a spike in the late '80s. I don't know whether Collins records just disappear in the last few years; but it's interesting to compare this picture with the one for pollster (not an exact synonym, I know... :
<digression>
but I've never been a great believer in the exactitude of synonyms. I've mentioned before (several times – check in the cloud of keywords in the left-right=and column) my old French master Cedric Baring-Gould, who was fond of quoting Grévisse: 'Les mots n'existent pas'. I haven't been able to trace the quote, which is pretty gnomic; but I think it means that words don't have an independent existence, that has no regard for context. In any case where there can be said to be synonyms, one of them will – in that context – be le mot juste.
<meta_digression>
Besides, it's a person rather than a discipline. So here's the picture for psephologist:


The decline is even more extreme and continuous.
</meta_digression>
But...[back to pollster]):
</digression>


Slow and steady wins the race. Starting a decade or two earlier (1939, says Etymonline) it has been steadily increasing in frequency of use, providing a counterexample to my new toy observation.

Anyway, the thing about those pebbles is that each one represents a person (or faction). And if an object can represent a person, what better way of ostracizing someone than scratching their name on an object and casting it outside the town walls. That object (and some of you are probably already there, but...) was an oyster shell, or in Greek οστρακον.

In gentlemen's clubs the tradition of having an object to represent a voter extended to the idea of voting for or against candidates for membership. But a colour was added, so that white was Yea and black Nay. If you blackballed someone, you voted against membership. (Or is this folk etymology? The necessary research will have to wait for an update.)

Tales from the wordface


The paperback is submitted, and I hope I can get through the final proof stage tomorrow.

Time to go.

b

Update 2014.05.26.12:15 – Added this PS:

PS
This entry appears in Dickens's Dictionary of London, by Charles Dickens, Jr., 1879:
Travellers’ Club,  106, Pall Mall. — The following is the form of recommendation of candidates for this club:... The members elect by ballot. When 12 and under 18 members ballot, one black ball, if repeated, shall exclude; if 18 and upwards ballot, two black balls exclude, and the ballot cannot be repeated. The presence of 12 members is necessary for a ballot. Each member on admission is required to pay £42, which sum includes his subscription for the current year. Each subsequent annual subscription is £10 10s. 
This confirms my belief in the derivation of 'blackball' – which I feared might be a victim of folk etymology. It also introduces a link between the words ball and ballot (which I meant to touch on yesterday; I wonder whether those hexagonal drums you see on bottle stalls in church fêtes  could be called 'ballot boxes' )

Update 2014.05.27.11:30 – Added bits in brown

Update 2016.03.26.12:50 –  A few typo fixes, and removed old footer.


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Eppur si muove

or, as Galileo said, 'It's alive, it's alive'. Oops – make that Boris Karloff ...

Tale from the word face

The point is, the paperback is no longer sleeping. Just when I thought it was safely put to bed, I made the mistake of finding a pretty gross error (no, really, I am not talking trivial typo here: it said that eight was a representative of words spelt with the letters '-ie-': check in any earlier version [after whichever version it was that included IE, of course]).

Anyway, by good fortune, nobody had bought the durned thing (not even the people  whose response to the Kindle version had been 'Great. When's the paperback coming out?'). So I fixed the problem (and of course the process introduced several more). So my Createspace entry now says 'Attention needed' and is bespattered with No Entry signs where once there were ticks:



So, for a day or two, the paperback has disappeared. But, as you may have noticed, this will not interfere with any developments on the Digraphs and Diphthongs front; that has been very quiet for the last few days while I work out what to do next. (In fact this 'tiny tweak' to the paperback was originally a displacement activity... which "jes' growed". )

b

PS I'm leaving the link to the paperback in the footer though, as it will work soon.




 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs ov vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 41.300 views  and over 5,700 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,100 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.






Friday, 16 May 2014

When Kant can

More than a year ago (March 2013 is the date on the draft), I made a note about an Italian interpreter on a news programme – no more specific reference, but probably The World at One or the Nine O'clock News:
/hæz tʊ bi:/ - sounded negative - not vowel, but voicing indicates polarity: /hæs tə/ vs /hæzn tə/
I wonder what this meant... Aha – got it. It follows from a point that I became aware of a while ago.
<autobiographical_note date_range="1979" theme="assimilation">
<digression theme="assimilation">
A few days ago this appeared in the twittersphere:
I suspect (the results aren't out yet, but here comes a spoiler) the process whereby /gri:n/ and /kəʊm/ combine to form /gri:ŋ kəʊm/ is assimilation (well, I know it is, but I don't know whether this will be a good enough answer; they might want me to say whether it's progressive or regressive, and I must have nodded off at that part of the lecture...). Assimilation happens when some feature of a speech item (typically voicing or place of articulation) changes to match that of an adjacent item. Anyway, where was I...?
</digression>
The first proper book that I worked on after moving on from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations  (when I was just temping to see me through my first winter as a freelance polymath) was Geoffrey Sampson's Liberty and Language. It was either here, or in his next book or in editorial discussions in connection with it (unlikely, as they were pretty one-sided ), that he made the observation that it was almost as if there was a new modal, /tə hæftə/ [to haffto], because the voicing of /hæv/ assimilates to the unvoiced /t/ of the 'to' that always follows it (in this modal use). He had even heard a politician saying 'it's a question of haffing to'.
</autobiographical_note>
When a person is involved in a conversation, many things are going on. Apart from the social and physical things (eye contact and so on) and contextual information surrounding the actual event, the participant's brain is having to process a bewildering amount of information [stay with me here, I'm coming back to that Italian interpreter eventually]. Somewhere – I'm pretty sure it was in Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language – I saw an account of a conference that set out to analyse a few hours of recorded language. The proceedings of the conference, in the event, were published under the name The First Five Minutes – which contained a book's worth of analysis; the publisher had decided that analysis of all the data would make the book unpublishably big.

In a live speech event, the hearer has a vast amount to do. Which brings us to the Italian interpreter that started all this. The brain of the hearer starts perceiving speech sounds, and then parsing them, as soon as possible. Making guesses about where a speech event is going is the only way of participating in a conversation. If you wait until all the inputs are in, and then work out what you want to say in response, and then work out how to say it, you'll have missed your turn (experto crede  [that's Latin for 'trust me, I know what I'm talking about'].)

So what the listener does is take in clues and cues about what's going to happen††. In the pair "/hæstə/ ['has to'] versus  /hæznʔtə/ [hasn't to]" the first clue to the negativeness is the voicing of the /z/; the hearer, in the press of efforts to understand what's coming, thinks 'here comes a negative'.

Now, when that interpeter said /hæz tʊ bi:/ I heard the voicing of the /z/ and thought 'Here comes a negative'.
<digression>
The assimilation of the /z/ to the /t/ in the positive involves  voicing rather than place of articulation  – as in the case of /gri:ŋ kəʊm/  (from that #Phonetics quiz) or perhaps (in tribute to my alma mater) I should say /gri:ŋ kɪŋ/ [that's a 'Greene King' reference; if you don't speak fluent IPA don't worry {And I don't mean Greene King IPA, of course}].
</digression>
The inappropriately enunciated /tʊ/ isn't just wrong in an understandable way, it is plain misleading. This (distant, now) speech event underlines something I have often noticed, both as a student of foreign languages and as a teacher of English: one of the features of connected, live, language use is knowing when not to over-pronounce; getting everything right, at the word level, is going to result in getting it wrong at the sentence level.

More recently, the problem of distinguishing between positive and negative arose in the UsingEnglish forum devoted to Pronunciation and Phonetics, but there are things I need to be getting on with; so that will have to wait for an update.

b

Update 2014.05.17.19:00 – Added PS:

PS
That UsingEnglish discussion started with the question What is different between "can" and "can't" when say them.. The question reminded me of my unfinished blog (which, now I think of it, has a title that has made no sense at all until this Update ). The questioner asked:
I am just wondering how English-speekers distinguish these two phases (or words). It seams the only different is the hard-to-heard "t". Then why the language choose this way to indicate total opposite meaning?
As I (eventually) answered, the problem is specific to American English:
Of course, the problem doesn't arise in Br English (though I'm sure many others do ): /kæn/ versus /kɑ:nt/ - and whatever happens to the /t/ the vowel is still distinct..
So I left it to an American contributor to answer before I stuck my oar in.

After correcting 'different', he (I assume he's a he) said
The answer is that to those who know the phonemes of English, the "t" is not at all difficult to hear. When you try to learn a new language, you are forced to begin with the phonemes you are used to, since those are all the phonemes you know. They are all the phonemes that have been relevant to discriminating meaning in the languages you know. But if the foreign language uses other phonemes, your ear is not programmed to hear those other phonemes, because they have never been relevant in your past experience.
I felt this was a bit over-dismissive of the questioner's 'hard to hear[d]', so I leapt to the questioner's defence:
I wouldn't question Newbie's 'hard-to-hear'. I remember in the late '50s being very confused by Perry Como, in 'Magic Moments', singing 'Time can't erase the memory...'. [T]he context (particularly the phrase 'erase the memory') makes it clear this is 'can't'; but I had never met the expression at the time. I suppose this just reinforces the point about  phonemes; I didn't know the phonemes of Am Eng.
But another American English speaker has now added weight to my defence:
It's not uncommon to have to say "I'm sorry - did you say 'can' or 'can't'?" 
I'm not sure what to make of this. Until I read that latest response I thought native speakers could always tell, and that the first answer's 'phonemes of English' just meant 'the phonemes of American English' . Now I'm not so sure.

Update 2014.05.19.11:30 – Added this note:

I can feel the eyebrows jerking up here, particular among readers of an age to remember the old Parse and explain exercise in schools (which makes those readers older even than ME – their English teachers would have insisted on 'older than I'). 
 <autobiographical_note date_range="1963-1968" theme="schoolbooks">
I was just on the cusp, with a mixture of prescriptive and more permissive schoolbooks. As our Latin master was Father Provincial [="Big Cheese"] of the Salvatorians (Society of the Divine Saviour), the school had fingers (tentacles?) in many ...erm...pumice stones?; so we tended to get young besuited trainees among the cassocks, flown in for a term or two here and there. These preferred the more permissive/expressive books and parts of the syllabus.
</autobiographical_note>
But by 'parsing' I don't mean 'third person singular of the pluperfect' sort of parsing; I mean simply taking bits of linguistic input and trying to imagine syntactic structures that they might fit in: 'Who's doing the <verb>-ing?, rather than 'Is that the subject of the main clause?  – which, when you think about it, amounts to more or less the same thing.

Update 2015.10.20.12:40 – Added this note, and a few afterthoughts in maroon:

On re-reading 18 months after the fact, I realize that I was using a semi-technical term here  – semi because although it doesn't really look like one, I was using it to refer to something with technical connotations. I think it was Grice who introduced the notion of a turn in a conversation, although I wouldn't be surprised if it was an idea that he'd been knocking around for many years before Grice propounded his Maxims. (But don't take this as Gospel: my linguistics studies just pre-dated Grices's popularity in linguistics circles [although he was publishing "in my time", and I'm sure I'd have come across him if I'd been a more diligent student]. My acquaintance with Grice [understanding of him would be a bit of an overstatement] is derived from some mugging-up I had to do before teaching an AS set [as described here].)

Update 2015.10.22.09:40 – Added this footnote

††The idea of reacting (as a listener) ahead of hearing the whole message was underlined on the TV news last night. The interview asked something like 'Is there any risk to British security in China's involvement in ...<whatever>?' the Chinese spokesman, speaking in English, said 'Absolutely not.'

But the normal intonation for 'Absolutely not' is one rise and fall: ↷. But he said
'↘ Absolutely... ↘ ...not'
and for a split second I thought he was making a most undiplomatic admission. (One would think that a speaker of a tone-language might have been aware of this  – but I suppose there's no reason to think that skill with his sort of intonation (where tones affect meanings of single words) implies sensitivity to mine (where intonation patterns affect overall meanings of utterances).

Update 2015.10.22.12:55 – Added this PPS

PPS On reflection (as frequently happens after a Tai Chi lesson)  this expectation (of 'intonational sensitivity') was unreasonable. As an  ESOL student this Chinese-speaker would have met (and possibly drilled) the use of  'Absolutely' as a standalone response. In this case, the intonation is ↷. So he might have thought of this as the canonical intonation pattern for 'Absolutely',  and this might well have been reinforced by the fact that this intonation pattern is a close match to the Chinese rising-and-falling pattern  – 'L1-interference' as we say in the trade, when a feature of a learner's mother-tongue influences their learning of another.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  over 46,200 views  and over 6,225 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,300 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.






Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Great Caffè Nero debate

I have been out of touch for the last few days, and so missed the controversy mentioned in Dumbing Up (the latest in the very readable and enlightening series of blogposts by David Crystal). The media kerfuffle in question was exemplified there by a Mail† article (and note: that article isn't compulsory reading [I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy] The readers' comments to that article are if anything more depressing). The article is complaining about a
...new [OCR] qualification - a combined A-level in English language and literature - aimed to expose teenagers to a broad range of styles and genres
The Mail continues, aghast:

The syllabus also features an interview with Dizzee Rascal on BBC2’s Newsnight, when Jeremy Paxman referred to the rapper as ‘Mr Rascal’.
OCR said candidates would be asked to comment on ‘mode, purpose and audience’.
I doubt if many Mail readers would be able to comment on mode. (Here's a clue: "Mr Rascal".)
<autobiographical_note date_range="1972-'74, 2004-'05" theme="The things they teach nowadays">
Forty-odd years ago I studied Linguistics. In May 2001974 I said goodbye to all that, for what I thought was the rest of my life (with occasional, and not always reliable, contributions to University Challenge).

When my nearly 20 years' career in IT came to a final halt (after more than ten years stuttering), I began training as a teacher – two fairly specific short courses in teaching modern languages and English for Speakers of Other Languages, flanking a year-long PGCE. During that. I did most of my teaching practice in a Further Education College. The College offered a range of qualifications, mostly vocational (I eventually got used to seeing 'Lecturer in Bricklaying' among the job ads), and offered evening classes as well. But by day they taught GCSEs (mostly retakes for students who had missed out on a Sixth Form) and A-Levels for students with no Sixth Form in their school (or who wanted to get away from the perceived horrors of skool). Some of the teachers used PGCE students as cannon-fodder, or rather GCSE retakes fodder. But before my particular dragon [oh yes, she was one of those teachers, for whom the word mentor would be a gross misnomer] sorted out her timetable I got to take a few AS classes.

And I was amazed by the sort of thing they studied (and I must take this opportunity to apologize to that class for my peroration on the 'I have a dream' speech: 'How long oh Lord, how long?) But for the iniquity of student fees, I'd  love to go back and do that course. And the OCR's new one sounds even better.
</autobiographical_note >

(Oh, and that 'Caffè Nero' reference in my subject line refers to a web-page review that is part of the proposed syllabus)

b

PS
Nearly forgot that crossword clue:
Obvious pot to invert. (8)
Update 2014.06.06.13:40 – Fixed date of end of linguistics studies.

Oh, and it's overturn


 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs ov vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 41.050 views  and 5,700 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,100 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.





Tuesday, 6 May 2014

But that was in another country ...

And besides, the wench was foreign.
Researchers from the University of Chicago and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona presented [a] moral dilemma to 725 participants, most of whom were native speakers of Spanish with English as a foreign language, or native speakers of English with Spanish as a foreign language. They discovered that when participants were presented with the dilemma in their native tongue, they were far less likely to opt for pushing the fat man than those who read the description in their second language.

Read more here.
Hmm. Interesting. The dilemma was this:
You’re on a railway bridge. Below you, a train is heading full speed towards five unsuspecting people working on the track. There is a fat man standing on the bridge with you. If you shoved him off, his impact would stop the train, and you would save the five workers. Would you push him?

I wish the methodology was clearer: were there 700 native-Spanish English speakers and 25 native-English speakers of Spanish? Maybe the fault is the Independent's. I need to see the original research.

But this has resonance in my own experience selling magazines in Spain. I found it much easier to be deceitful (not lying but painting a rosy picture of the future – I was selling subscriptions). My initial belief was that this was a feature of the language; this belief fitted in with vocabulary that related to my own position, back in England.
<autobiographical_note blush_factor="10">
I was a boy-friend to someone who thought I was a fiancé; the one word novio blurred the distinction. Did I love her?  I doubt it; but I was happy to say Te quiero, because – past-master as I was in the field of casuistry [fruit of an RC education] – I did want her, and querer can mean 'want' (cf. Kant's 'murderer at the door' dilemma, and this [specifically 'All men are false']).
</autobiographical_note>
But maybe it's to do with speaking in foreign languages generally; maybe it works for any L1/L2 combination. But the experiment as described doesn't show that.  Still less does it justify this possible application, suggested by one of the researchers:
Boaz Keysar, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago... suggests, for example, that immigrants may be better equipped to act as jury members, as they are likely to respond less emotionally to the evidence presented in the local language.

Who said anything about emotion? The experiment didn't suggest anything of the kind. In the Professor's defence, he was responding to the sort of pressure that is increasingly, and lamentably, asking scientists 'How will this affect the bottom line?'  Immigrants might make better jurors. That's one of the things that might be shown by a range of experiments in this area. And the relationship of language to morality is well worth investigating.

b
Update 2014.05.06.19:20  – Added this note:

† Oops. I was reading too carelessly, and the researchers did make what seems to me an unjustified link between emotions and second-language-use:
The authors of the study attribute this to the fact that foreign language appears to trigger a less emotional response, leaving people more able to make a pragmatic decision.
Besides there's a difference between a link between second-language-use and making 'a pragmatic decision' (about a course of action), and between second-language-use and making a decision about who did what. And also I see no reason to assume that a foreign-language speaker will necessarily do what they say they would.

PS Also added a link to the Jew of Malta quote in the first line.

Update 2017.08.18.19:30  – Added this note:

I think this  will confirm what I was saying more than three  years ago (EurekAlert!   schmurekAlert)¬   – but I‘ll have to read it properly.

And deleted old footer.