Tuesday, July 28, 2009

UWO French program adopts CEFRL

In the past I've pointed out the failings of the Canadian Language Benchmarks, and suggested the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages as a more useful document, especially for colleges. It seems that the French Studies department at the University of Western Ontario agrees.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New OED Historical Thesaurus

A while back the BBC posted a story about The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, which will be published in two volumes on 8 October 2009. I expected this to be all over the lingua blogs, but didn't see much mention of it. Unfortunately, it won't be online anytime soon and will cost about $500 in paper (though Amazon.ca is advertising it for $330).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Slippery Parts of Speech

I am sure you have seen newspaper columns and TV programmes where people casually talk about stuff like adjectives and adverbs - and they are absolutely clueless. People grow up reading and watching those, and start doing it themselves. Vicious cycle.

Well, I am here to make you feel better. Much better. Just don't listen to those clueless people. Consider the following:

all the ten fine old stone houses

Poutsma, Kruisinga and Zandvoort say that only 'fine' and 'old' are adjectives. Jespersen says 'the', 'fine' and 'old' are adjectives. Sweet, Curme, and Onions say that all the words preceding 'houses' are adjectives.

They are - OK, were - all prominent grammarians, whose views are often lumped together under the label 'traditional grammar' - which is unfortunate, because they don't even agree on what adjectives are. My point is, why should we.

Wait, it gets better: grammarians don't even agree on what they should categorise words into. Some grammars recognise eight parts of speech; some nine; some six; some four; some three. So you see, there is no point in being dogmatic about what to call what.

Given all that, it is almost funny the way some people feel strongly about what they think is their own view; when it is even slightly attacked, emotional reactions can follow. Gosh, some people have a lot of growing up left to do.

You know, there are no adjectives to talk about in the whole universe - unless we agree on what they are. To reach that agreement, we discuss - which is the whole point (as well as joy, by the way) of grammar.

Grammars worth reading do just that: they tell you why they recognise such and such categories, how these categories function, and so on. In this sense, grammar is like philosophy: it is a dynamic intellectual process to get involved in, rather than a set of terminologies to accept (or reject).

So, whenever there is a question about what is the 'right' part of speech a given word belongs to, take it easy. We can discuss it, but there is no need to worry about it. If you are not sure, hey, maybe not even professional grammarians are. There is no need to bluff.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Discussions in other fora

Things have been busy around home and I haven't been blogging much lately though I've been part of a number of interesting discussions:

Over on the English Wiktionary, there's the perennial problem of how to categorize words, which becomes even worse when you start including entries like a great deal. You can follow the discussion here. On a similar note, we've also been talking about most of all.

Still working on categorization, but from a different angle, the issue of where to put Irish (as in the Irish) came up. The explanation I gave (based mostly on the CGEL) seemed to settle it: it's an adjective. You can read follow along here.

Meanwhile, on ETJ, a long thread has been going on that started with a question of how to categorize here and grew from there. If you go down to the bottom of the messages, others in the thread should be listed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Subjects and predicates for eight-year olds

My eight-year old son goes to Japanese school every Saturday morning during the school year, and over the summer, he has some homework to do. The other day he showed me a question that he didn't understand:
「次の文の主語とじゅつ語をかきましょう。」(i.e., Write the subject and the predicate of the following sentence.)

This gave us an opportunity to talk about how to identify a subject in English and in Japanese, during which, he told me they'd been learning about verbs and adverbs at "English school" (the local elementary school).

I wasn't sure how far to go with these topics, so I kept them fairly basic, telling him that the subject usually comes before the verb, and it's usually the person or thing doing the action: pretty traditional, but good enough for now. Notice the hedges in there. I was even less sure with predicate, because I wasn't really sure how close the Japanese notion of じゅつ語 is to the English notion of predicate, and I also wasn't sure what his teacher had told him. Luckily, the sentence was 多くの花が咲いている。(i.e., Many flowers are blooming.), so the predicate was obviously just 咲いている (i.e., are blooming).

I'm glad to see these topics coming up in school, and also glad to have a chance to talk about them with my kids. I wonder when subjects and predicates will come up in "English school".