Thursday, October 29, 2009

Aspectual properties of the VP

Last night I realized that in my previous post about aspectual properties of verbs, I wrote about "stative verbs" and "dynamic verbs". I suppose it is useful to identify verbs that allow stative and/or dynamic interpretations, but I should also have pointed out that in the final analysis, it is not the verb per se that is stative or dynamic. Rather, it is a property of an entire VP. For example, I'm going to have a shower has the dynamic VP have a shower where I have a shower in my basement has the stative VP have a shower in my basement.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Negating should in questions

Part III of our dissection of the most recent Grammatically Speaking column brings us to the question: "what's wrong with should not they have permission."

Richard Firsten opines, "actually, there is nothing ungrammatical with the question Should not they have permission . . . ?, but it's certainly very uncommon and probably never heard or even written anymore. A very long time ago this construction was sometimes used."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Until he fixes/fixed it

This post is a continuation of this one. In his usual form, Richard Firsten explains,
. . . until he fixes it shows that the speaker is dealing with a real situation. We know this because the speaker is using the verb fix in the simple present in the indicative mood. There really is something broken, and from what we can gather, the repairman has asked for payment in advance. What we have here is the advice that the speaker is giving to the person who needs the repair work done.
. . . until he fixed it shows that the speaker is talking about an unreal situation, a hypothetical case. We know this because the speaker is using fix in the simple present subjunctive mood. Nothing is broken at this time, but the two people are discussing "what-if's," that is, what one or the other would do if such a situation were to develop.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Voice not confused with tense by an economist

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative is an economics blog I read regularly. In his most recent post, Stephen Gordon, an economist accurately diagnoses the shifty use of the passive voice (about two screens down) by a Globe and Mail editorial. It's a small thing, but still encouraging that a non-linguist gets this right at a time when educated people from writers and editors at The Economist to the director of student counselling services at University College Dublin clearly have no idea what the passive voice is.

Friday, October 23, 2009

CLB Online Self Evaluation

A colleague pointed me to the Canadian Language Benchmark's Online self-evaulation site. If you're on a mac, you won't even get past the splash screen, which appears broken, but on windows with Explorer, you should be OK.

I found no stats about reliability, etc. But it appeared to be a reasonably well-designed test of reading and listening skills. I only tried the English version, but I assume there's also a French version. Off the top of my head, I would say the questions range from CEFRL level A1 to B1, or perhaps B2 with most being in the lower part of that range. There is nothing particularly difficult.

It appears that the site is still in Beta. Some problems I noticed:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Grammatically speaking is wrong again (and again, and again)

The newest "Grammatically Speaking" column from TESOL's Essential Teacher magazine is out and, as usual, it's hit and miss with its answers. For past discussions of Richard Firsten's misanalyses, see these posts. As I've said before, I keep coming back to these because it seems to me that it behooves a grammar pundit like Firsten to make sure he's got the right answers. You don't expect perfection, but I think he's only batting slightly above 500. The other reason is that he gets a lot of interesting questions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What do people want to know about language?

The search terms that lead people here are often interesting. Here are some recent gems:
  • plural of t (same as any other letter, I'd think) 
  • how many adverbs are in the sentence: zack jumped incredibly high (this guy thinks Google actually understands his question) 
  • granted as a preposition (it is often) 
  • hair countable (it isn't typically) 
  • is 0 plural or singular (plural when it's like 'zero things are...', but singular in 'one zero is') 
  • what are determinative adjectives in english (I don't know) 
  • three linking verbs (reminds me of a Christmas carol) 
  • free online tests for 10 - 11 year olds (in case you're not sure how old the kids are) 
  • most overused words 2007 (it's still the
  • Is the word rather a preposition (I don't think so; I'd say adverb and coordinator)

Ethical review

We occasionally get students coming to us with wildly unrealistic expectations about where they will be placed in our program. Some of them think they'll be in the English for Academic Purposes program for two months when in fact they're placed in level 2, which means at least 14 months. Of course, they've already put their lives on hold, invested a bunch of money, and flown over here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When the parrot sketch disappears ...

I do understand the importance of data-oriented studies. In fact, I was one of the contributors to the first corpus-based English-Japanese dictionary (the Wisdom EJ from Sanseido).

When I wrote the entry for 'prejudice', for instance, I included the phrase 'pride and prejudice' because there was a significant number of occurrences of the phrase in the corpus we used, and frankly, this famous title should be known to anyone studying English, whether they have read the novel by Jane Austin or not. Yeah, the story's crap, I know, but it is very well known.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

More computer-graded English

Today's Toronto Star has an article about a site called that uses voice recognition software to help students practice their speaking skills. It's the first free online site I've seen doing this, but it surely won't be the last. In an interesting move, they use product placement in their dialogues as a source of income.

I wanted to try it out, but you really need to be able to read Chinese to use it. If anybody has more success than me, please, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Book Launch tonight

If you're free in Toronto tonight between 5:00 and 6:00, come to the launch of Slant Room by Michael Eden Reynolds.


All my life, I've been vaguely aware that there's something about the word duo-tang that I was missing. It seemed like such an odd English word. Then, the other day, my daughter brought one home and the meaning hit me: duo = 2, tang = tongue-like projection (you can see three of them in the photo below).

It seems like I'm not the only one to miss the meaning. Here's a "duo-tang" with not a tang in sight. I suppose, though, that you can forgive the company its expanding use of a brand name.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Had yet to consider this point

As I wrote my last post, I paused upon writing have yet to. "What's that?" I thought.

I feels like the present perfect, but instead of the past participle, it has a to-infinitival. Indeed, it seems equivalent in meaning to have not yet + past participle. But if you take out yet, you get have to, suggesting obligation. Are these related?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Scenic Learning

A recent NewScientist article mentions some research led by Katrin Hille at the Transfer Centre for Neurobiology and Learning.

"Her team recently tested a novel approach to foreign language classes that originated in a school. Teachers at Gymnasium Kirchheim in Kirchheim by Munich, Germany, had found apparent success with a technique called 'scenic learning', which involves choral recitals of vocabulary accompanied by gestures and movements matched to meaning.
In a study of 137 students, Hille found those who had used scenic learning remembered three times as many new words 14 weeks later as those who had been taught using conventional methods, and spoke with better pronunciation and fluency. 'I have never seen such strong effects in a previous study,' says Hille."

The last sentence is pretty startling, but that's the whole thing, and I've been unable to find any mention of it anywhere else. Perhaps it was simply a conference paper that has yet to be published. Anyhow, I've sent off an e-mail, and if I learn anything more, I'll follow up here.