Friday, April 11, 2014

Looking to the futurate

The verb look has been used to talk about the future for a long time. Perhaps the most common use is in the expression look forward to (something). This use may be based on the metaphor that time is a landscape we move through. As such, our future should be visible to us. This is probably the same metaphor that underlies the use of go for the future in expressions like we're going to get to that in a moment.

Despite its venerable history, futurate look began a significant upsurge in about 1980, particularly, in the looking + to infinitive construction.
I noticed that this seems to be particularly common with are. Especially, you are. And even more specifically if you are. By this time we are looking at a small minority of the cases. But I wondered if it might tell us something about the meaning of the looking futurate as opposed to the going futurate. When I started looking at various corpus genres, though things got a little to complex. Maybe you have some thought to add.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The opacity of etymology

The word disseminate is a familiar one. It appears hundreds of times on my hard drive and in well over 20 email messages I've read or written in the last five years. But until today, I had never seen the seeds in the word.

We often use a plant metaphor to talk about words. Morphology is a branch of linguistics just as plant morphology is a branch of biology. Both sciences talk of roots and stems, but in linguistics, seeds aren't part of the metaphor.

The root of disseminate though is semin or semen, from the Latin word meaning seed. Dissemination is the spreading of seeds. Semin is also the root of the word seminary, literally a seed plot, but now metaphorically used to mean a place to train priests. This is also where seminar comes from. I hadn't connected up these words either.

Disseminate appears in a passage that my level-8 class is studying. It's a passage that I've been over many times with other classes, and I have had to explain the word before. But never before have I made this connection.

How could this be?

On the flip side of this are cases of people seeing connections where there are none. Consider the regular flare ups about the word niggardly based on a mistaken perception that it's based on a racial slur. There are so many opportunities for false positives. The string semen, for instance shows up in a variety of words such as basement and horsemen, and nobody would ever think it referred to seeds.

How does this noticing thing work?

Friday, June 28, 2013

New issue of Contact available

The newest issue of TESL Ontario's Contact magazine is now available. This is the research symposium issue, based on talks given each fall at TESL Ontario's conference. The issue is edited by Hedy McGarrell and David Wood. The authors are: Dianne Larsen-Freeman, Antonella Valeo, Farahnaz Faez, Douglas Fleming, Alister Cumming, Robert Kohls, Hedy McGarrell, David Wood, and Randy Appel.

Please, check it out.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Then: the meaning changes

A student wrote to me asking about the meaning and placement of then in this sentence.
The product is then designed with this target price in mind.
As I was explaining that then could be resultative (meaning something like "so that" or "in that case") or simply temporal (meaning roughly "next" or "after that"). I also pointed out that it could occur initially, medially (in a number of places), or finally:
1 The product is 2 designed with this target price in mind 3.
Then, it occurred to me that position 1 could only be interpreted as being the temporal meaning, position 2 was ambiguous, and position 3 strongly suggests the resultative meaning.

Is it just me?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

New issues of Contact available

I'm now into my second year as editor of TESL Ontario's Contact magazine. You can download issues for free as far back as 2000. I've been the editor for just over a year now (volumes 38 & 39). We just put out the conference issue today, as we do every spring. I hope you enjoy it. Please, leave me a comment to let me know what you thought.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Education First's English Proficiency Index

Last year, I blogged about the first English Proficiency Index here. Education First has now released their second index, and they're getting some good publicity out of it (I'm linking to them). The same problems as last year occur: self selection of participants, and need for a computer with internet access to do the test. There's also no data on test reliability and no validity arguments. Still, with 1.7 million participants over three years in more than 50 countries, you wouldn't want to completely dismiss the results either.