Friday, 10 February 2017

Phrasal verbs and intonation

The British National Corpus reports 666 instances ...
(just click on that link and watch while the search unfolds)
... of run in – a (suitably) devilish number – and devilish it is, for students of ESOL at least.

I've written before (here) about phrasal verbs:
...I hadn't realized, until I started to  teach ESOL, what a big hurdle phrasal verbs were. Try Googling English Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. You get (or at least I get – Heaven alone knows what customized search algorithms are at play) over 500,000 hits. That's a world of pain for ESOL students; who have to remember not only apparently-paradoxical meanings but a range of syntactic oddities. And to make things worse, we English-speakers keep inventing new ones....

(If you're new to this blog, you might want to have a read [and on the subject of problems for ESOL students, what about "have a read"?]
Phrasal verbs are a huge problem, even if you consider only the ones that are listed in the thousands of  dictionaries and web-pages and other lists of all kinds, but as I said in that excerpt we English-speakers keep inventing new ones. And a mis-reading on the news just now alerted me to a new one.

Intonation was the tell-tale slip (as it often is). The newsreader said [of a rugby player,  voicing over a bit of VT] "Here he is, running in a try". But run in, except in the context of internal combustion engines isn't usually a phrasal verb. It is very commonly (in most if not all of those BNC hits I mentioned earlier – here's one of the first of those 666: "...if we allow it to run in the way the government have in mind...") a prepositional usage; the verb run and the preposition in just happen to fall together.

So the voice said (or, to give him his due, he bailed out as soon as realized that the words in a try were not a meaning-bearing unit [or semanteme, as I regret some linguists feel it necessary to say]):

 ... as he would have said if the words had been

Here he is, running in his Nth race.

He didn't know that in the world of rugby (I only have experience of Rugby Union, being a feeble effete Southerner, but I don't see why it shouldn't also be used in the world of Rugby League) run in is a transitive phrasal verb – referring to an easy, almost unopposed try (which, for our American readers, is not unlike a touch-down  – with the possibly counter-intuitive difference that it involves TOUCHING THE BALL DOWN).

The correct intonation would be one introductory phrase of three words, and then running in his Nth try in a separate and continuous rising and falling curve:

In a phrasal verb, both the main verb and the preposition (often, for clarity, called a particle in this context) usually (if not always – though I'll have to think about that) belong in the same intonational curve; by starting a new intonational curve at the onset of the preposition the speaker disrupts the meaning of the phrasal verb. But you can't get the intonation  right  if you don't understand the context. And phrasal verbs are readily created in specific contexts.
<autobiographical_note date_range="early 1971">
This puts me in mind of my days down and out in Barcelona. I didn't speak Spanish and hadn't done it at school; I had an O-level grammar book (not aimed at self-study), and was reading it. My daily budget extended to a copy of La Vanguardia (so not that down and out), which I scanned diligently. Articles in the sections dealing with international affairs, current events, politics and so on were not too difficult to make sense of: the vocabulary – with, on the face of it, "harder" vocabulary – was often guessable on the basis of cognates in other modern languages and/or Greek or Latin-based etymology.

Not so the sports pages  – and not just in sports I knew nothing about, such as handball, pelota, or (though the word sport is questionable in this case) bull-fighting. Even, say, reports about football (aka soccer) were a closed book to me. The words and the syntax associated with them was just not the same as you get from books.
Anyway, the point is this: phrasal verbs are, in the case I have looked at, just the prompt for the recognition of a problem with intonation. (Or vice versa. Often, in language teaching, a problem in one sphere points to a problem in another. So there's a lesson for teachers here: if you hear a problem, don't be satisfied with just "fixing" it – when you think about it, you might find that it's a symptom of another problem.)

Enough for now...


PS: A crossword clue:

  • Weight of the Holocaust – he doesn't believe it. (6)

Update: 2017.02.11.14:15  Added PPS

PPS And another:
  • Leaders of other teams interrupt scrum – for keeping balls in? (7)

Update: 2017.02.13.15:15  Added PPPS


Added a clarification, in the main text, in blue, and yet another clue:
  • Average quantity? Much more important than that! (9)

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