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Saturday, March 29, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
"Something that I think you have overlooked is the fact that this peculiar pattern (For us teachers / For you nurses) only occurs in the 1st and 2nd person plural. Odd, I know, but that's English. When we want to create a similar idea for 3rd person plural, we go to use a different pattern, and I think that's why the need for a determiner like those, or a phrase like people who are (For those teachers / For people who are nurses). In fact, saying For those teachers I would venture, is an ellipted phrase (For those [who are] teachers). That point could easily be another interpretation of what's going on in those 1st and 2nd person plural phrases."I will provide two lists and leave it to the reader to decide whose analysis best fits the facts:
List 1 (pronoun + appositive)
It's for us, the teachers.
It's for me, the teacher.
It's for you, the teacher.
It's for her, the teacher.
It's for them, the teachers.
List 2 (determinative + noun)
It's for which teacher?
It's for no teacher.
It's for another teacher.
It's for either teacher.
It's for any teacher.
It's for every teacher.
It's for those teachers.
It's for both teachers.
It's for all teachers.
It's for most teachers.
It's for a few teachers.
It's for whichever teachers.
It's for us teachers.
It's for you teachers.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
David Tobin of Houston writes: "You'd expect someone whose business card reads Communications Faculty, Jones Graduate School of Management, Rice University, to know the answer to my question.
But for the life of me, I cannot find a principle that clarifies when the word 'communication,' either as noun or as adjective, properly takes an apostrophe 's'. I eagerly await your judgment."
Dear David: When it's a field, profession, system or technology, it's "communications." When it's an activity, it's "communication."
And if you can't decide which of those you're talking about, go with "communications," which is the more common word by a wide margin.
Unfortunately, Wallraff got both the question and the answer wrong. When I asked Tobin about his question, he said that there was no apostrophe in it. In other words he was asking about the singular/plural distinction. Wallraff then makes up some fake answer, and gives a rule of thumb based on a false premise. Google counts give a slight edge to the plural, but I wouldn't trust Google to make that kind of distinction reliably.
When we go to the BYU Corpus of American English, we find instead that the singular is about 28% more common overall. Beyond that, there's not much to say. Contrary to Wallraff's bold assertion, I see no pattern at all in the data. To me it looks like a plain case of dialectal variation/jargon. If you actually want to get into the data, here's some to start off with:
The following data all pertains to "communication" functioning as a noun modifier (or as an adjective, as you put it).
1 COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION 592
2 COMMUNICATION SKILLS 575
3 COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR 417
4 COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS 158
5 COMMUNICATIONS CORP 141
6 COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY 140
7 COMMUNICATIONS EQUIPMENT 137
8 COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS 135
9 COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM 132
10 COMMUNICATION SYSTEM 121
11 COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK 110
12 COMMUNICATIONS NETWORKS 105
13 COMMUNICATIONS CENTER 96
14 COMMUNICATION 95
15 COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS 92
16 COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY 91
17 COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES 83
18 COMMUNICATIONS SERVICES 83
19 COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES 80
20 COMMUNICATIONS GROUP 76
21 COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS 67
22 COMMUNICATIONS 66
23 COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY 64
24 COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITE 64
25 COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITES 64
26 COMMUNICATIONS INDUSTRY 59
27 COMMUNICATION PATTERNS 56
28 COMMUNICATION PROCESS 54
29 COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER 54
30 COMMUNICATION NETWORKS 52
31 COMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES 51
32 COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY 50
33 COMMUNICATIONS PROFESSOR 50
34 COMMUNICATION LINES 49
35 COMMUNICATION CHANNELS 49
36 COMMUNICATIONS GEAR 48
37 COMMUNICATION SERVICES 47
38 COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES 47
39 COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS 47
40 COMMUNICATION STYLE 46
41 COMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTION 43
42 COMMUNICATION BOARDS 42
43 COMMUNICATIONS DEVICES 42
44 COMMUNICATIONS MEDIA 42
45 COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER 42
46 COMMUNICATIONS SOFTWARE 42
47 COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST 41
48 COMMUNICATION NETWORK 40
49 COMMUNICATION EFFECTIVENESS 40
50 COMMUNICATION COURSE 40
51 COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT 40
52 COMMUNICATION DEVICES 37
53 COMMUNICATION GAP 36
54 COMMUNICATION COMPETENCE 34
55 COMMUNICATION APPREHENSION 33
56 COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE 33
57 COMMUNICATION BEHAVIOR 32
58 COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT 32
59 COMMUNICATION PROBLEM 31
60 COMMUNICATION STYLES 31
61 COMMUNICATION CENTER 30
If we limit the query to pairs that occur at least 30 times, we find that "communicationS" is much more common in this pattern, occurring in 34 pairs with a total of 3335 hits vs. 26 pair and 1961 hits for singular "communication".
When you look at different genres of English, it's interesting to note that the singular noun functioning as a modifier is strikingly more common in academic English (35.2 times per million words) compared to SPOKEN (3.7 PMW) FICTION (1.8 PMW) MAGAZINE (7.0 PMW) & NEWSPAPER (5.7 PMW). In contrast, the plural form is much more common in the print media SPOKEN (9.6 PMW) FICTION (5.2 PMW) MAGAZINE (17.4 PMW) NEWSPAPER (27.6 PMW) ACADEMIC (11.2 PMW). Also, the singular version has been pretty constant since 1990 at about 10 WPM throughout the whole corpus, whereas the plural version seems to be losing favour, having gone from 15.9 PMW in 1990-1994 to 15.2, 14.7 and finally to 9.2 in the period starting in 2005.
"Would someone be kind enough to give a reasonable explanation as to why we say, for example, "I was on TV", but not "I was on radio."? Why is it necessary to put the article "the" before radio ("I was on the radio."), and not before TV?"
we can make up all the just-so stories we like to "explain" this kind of thing, but the fact is that there is no principled reason for the difference. a nice story, however, would go something like this:
once upon a time, o my best beloved, there was a new technol'gy and it was called radio. But it was also called wireless (you must not forget the wireless, best beloved). when people learned of this radio (are you remembering that it is also called wireless) a great feeling of desire welled up in their hearts and they brought these large, elegant, wooden pieces of furniture with shining knobs, elegant cabinetry and mysterious dials (having, you will remember, best beloved, no wires) into their domiciles.
back at this time when the world was new, few people had infinite-resource-and-sagacity, and the technol'gy by which this large, elegant, wooden piece of furniture with shining knobs, elegant cabinetry and mysterious dials that they had brought into their domiciles (and which you absolutely must not forget was also called a wireless) was dim to them.
it was unlike the other new technol'gy called the "tele-phone", which had a wire (now, you know why you were not to forget the wireless!) connecting it to a physical network. now, best beloved, when the people without infinite-resource-and-sagacity could see the phys'cal network with its wires connecting it to everyone else, they could understand that such was indeed a technol'gy in the very rarified sense of the term, but the wireless (or radio) was merely a box to them. they could see no connection to the other boxes and so, best beloved, they thought that the marvelous voices and sounds they heard coming from this large, elegant, wooden piece of furniture with shining knobs, elegant cabinetry and mysterious dials that they had brought into their domiciles were ONLY on their own large, elegant, wooden piece of furniture with shining knobs, elegant cabinetry and mysterious dials that they had brought into their domiciles. and for this reason they said that the sounds were on 'the' radio: the particular one in their own home. do you see?
but, best beloved, this large, elegant, wooden piece of furniture with shining knobs, elegant cabinetry and mysterious dials that they had brought into their domiciles did not just entertain these people; it educated them so that years later when an even newer technol'gy called the tee vee came into their lives, they had gained infinite-resource-and-sagacity and understood that this new thing was indeed an interconnected rarified technol'gy. and they thought it small and self-centred to imagine that the wonderful pictures it showed them were unique to their personal tee vee set alone.
and this is why, you see, we say merely that things are on tee vee rather than on "the tee vee". and that is the end of that tale.
by the way, people do say "on radio" and "on the tv". here are the counts from the byu corpus of american english for "on tv/radio":
on 18-mar-08, at 8:04 pm, vincent torley wrote:
"If we do not agree to observe basic conventions relating to spelling and punctuation, our posts could easily degenerate to the kind of the mindless, unintelligible drivel that passes for English on some blogs - opinionated, over-emotive, rich in invective, uninformed and uninforming."
vincent seems to have been right: getting rid of majuscules, does lead to a complete degeneration into nonsense. how remarkable!
Sunday, March 16, 2008
These almost all stem from the fact that there are very few thesauri written with a language learner audience in mind. In fact, I have been able to identify only two: The Longman Language Activator & The American Heritage Thesaurus for Learners of English. The difference between these and your run-of-the-mill thesauri is that in a learner thesaurus, the words are explained and exemplified.
As the article points out, thesauri are really best used to jog loose an already known word that has become stuck somewhere in its journey from brain to hand. The typical pattern is to look up a common word (common words typically being easily brought to mind) to free a relatively rare one. For language learners, however, the lookup is most commonly from unknown (or poorly known) word to other unknown--and relatively rare--words. This is obviously not a particularly valuable process. A far better approach is to focus becoming familiar with more common words.
I'm not blaming Roget or the thesauri for this state of affairs. If students are going to use such books, it is up to teachers to help them see how to use them. Even with proper training, though, I'm not very confident that students will actually follow through. I'd prefer that they focus on using a dictionary well, ably, accurately, adeptly, adequately, attentively, capably, carefully, competently, correctly, effectively, efficiently, excellently, expertly, irreproachably, proficiently, properly, rightly, satisfactorily, skillfully, smoothly, soundly, splendidly, strongly, successfully, suitably, thoroughly, and with skill.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
It is certainly good to have a large number of examples from a spoken cor pus, and the Spoken Language set of chapters provide a useful account of features that are characteristic of speech rather than writing.
Having dealt with that, he moves on to considering the problems with the grammatical description and analysis, beginning thus:
"I have never seen a large-scale work on English grammar with anything remotely comparable to the amount of inconsistency and confusion to be found in the present work."
"Consider, as an initial example, the first two sentences of the section on tags (p. 547):
- Tags are a type of clause without a lexical verb but which relate to the verb in the main clause of a sentence.
Tags consist of auxiliary be, do, have, lexical verb be or a modal verb and a subject (most typically a pronoun).
The first sentence says a tag has no lexical verb while the second says that it may contain the lexical verb be; six of the ten illustrations contain this be and hence are counterexamples to the first statement in (1)."
Well, that's rather awkward, but I'm sure it's a one time... er...
"In the ‘Modality’ chapter they analyse the came of I’d rather she came on Tuesday than Monday as a ‘past subjunctive form’ (p. 669). This is of course traditional grammar’s analysis, but C&M must have forgotten that the accounts of verb inflection they present elsewhere differ radically from that of traditional grammar and in particular do not recognise a past subjunctive form (or ‘function’): the analysis is thus inconsistent with the rest of the book, where traditional past subjunctives, other than were (and modals), are treated as ordinary (indicative) past tense forms."
"C&M say repeatedly that modals don’t inflect for tense (e.g. pp. 303, 398, 405, 896, 928), but having said on p. 398 that might break has no tense they go on, on the very next page, to cite They may get here by six o’clock as an example containing a tensed verb phrase – and to say that ‘core’ modals do not occur in non-tensed verb phrases!"
OK, surely that's it all. No?
"C&M say on p. 502 that all elements in basic clauses which are not S, V, O, or C are A, but this is inconsistent with their recognition of other types of complement (in the broad sense) than O and C, namely prepositional complements and locative complements (e.g. pp. 497, 526). Both of these are involved in further inconsistencies. In examples like She gave it to me (p. 784) the PP to me is called a prepositional complement and in the ‘Verb complementation’ chapter such clauses are classified as ditransitive (with the PP now called ‘oblique complement’); in the glossary, however, a ditransitive verb is defined as one with two objects, indirect and direct."
So, how much of this is there?
Huddleston goes on for 18 pages and mentions that he's only discussing the major problems.
Wow, that's pretty embarrassing! But Huddleston is a theoretical linguist. It would be natural for a more practical-minded ESL-focussed book to take a different approach.
"I would emphasise, however, that the criticisms I have made here have not been made from a theoretically oriented position. This would not have been the place, for example, to argue for some of the more radical departures from traditional grammar that H&P adopt, and in fact some of the main criticisms I have made of C&M’s grammatical analysis concern issues where traditional grammar’s account is superior to theirs: modal auxiliaries as tensed verbs, dependent interrogatives, the part of speech classification of possessives like my, your, etc.... And of course the bulk of my criticisms have been concerned with the extraordinary amount of inconsistency in C&M’s account of the grammar, a failure to meet elementary standards that apply to any grammar,"
I see. So is there any redeeming quality? Say, a nice binding or a well-compiled index?
"One final complaint concerns the index, which is nothing short of a disaster."
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I can't figure out whether I should say for we teachers or for us teachers. My inclination is that us is the correct form of that pronoun to use, but we doesn't sound bad to me. Can you please explain which is right and why?
Thanks in advance for your help.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Your inclination is correct. After a preposition, we need to use the object form of a pronoun, so we need to say for us. The reason you might have been thrown is that this is being followed by an appositive, teachers, which refers to the pronoun. If that phrase is the subject of a sentence, you'll use we: We teachers need to express our concerns to the administrators. But your phrase is not the subject; rather, it's the object of the preposition, so for us teachers is the way to go.
I hope that clears this up, Ackmal.
My own sense of things, as well as the corpus searches that I've done seems to bear out Firsten's assertion that [preposition + us + (people)] is standard and [preposition + we + (people)] is not. And I further agree with him that it's a matter of case.
Where I disagree is with his analysis of we/us as a pronoun with an appositive. If that were the case, then you would expect to also find for them teachers and for him teacher. Clearly, these are not standard English. The first one is a dialectal variant (perhaps of those rather than of they suggests Geoff Pullum), and the second is simply ungrammatical.
Moreover, the appositive construction is implausible with any noun that I can think of. At least, you would need a determiner before the appositive noun (e.g., for the Packers, the underdogs). And then there's the issue of the comma.
Rather, I think we, us and you, apart from being pronouns, are also determinatives. In our example, determinative us is functioning, as determinatives typically do, as a determiner in a noun phrase. Under this analysis, the head of the noun phrase is teachers, where Firsten has us as the head.
Note that the other personal pronouns do not have equivalent determinatives, which is why you don't find for them teachers or for him teacher. It is, however, interesting to note that determinatives do not typically decline for case. You is the other one that might except that you does not have distinct forms for subject and object.
[See the follow up here]
Saturday, March 08, 2008
"Looking at other countries, such as Sweden that already has free post-secondary education for its students, it would be a good idea for Canada, as a nation, to do the same."
There are two ways to look at this problem, but either way, we need a comma after Sweden. Now, if we take the error to be one of number, all we need to do is to change the has to have to agree with countries and we're done. This is most likely what she meant. But there is another option: change the that to a which and suddenly has now agrees with Sweden.
The reason for this is that countries can be more clearly identified with more information whereas Sweden, being one of a kind, can't. Consequently, when we come to that, we automatically resolve it such that it applies to countries, as that is used only with integrated relative clauses. Which, on the other hand, works with supplementary relatives, making it entirely plausible that the information about free education pertains to Sweden making the relationship Sweden has rather than countries have.