Friday, November 26, 2010

The subjunctive from the mouthes of babes?

My six-year-old daughter told us at dinner the other day that her teacher generally allows her class certain privileges "if we be good." The first thing that struck me is that it sounds like the subjunctive. An example would be If we be faithful to Christ, he will certainly be faithful to us from the New American Standard Bible. This seems extremely unlikely since it's an archaic form, although you can see how it would have come about. Other verbs appear in the plain present tense here, which is identical in shape to the subjunctive; both use the base form; only be has a distinct first-person present-tense form. This is probably, then, a performance error stemming from mistaken analogy.

The second was that if we be good gives be a dynamic sense that if we are good simply wouldn't have. It sounds much better than, for example, if we be hungry. Consider that you can say we're being good where you can't say *we're being hungry (unless this is some kind of dramatization of hunger).

After we adults had discussed the grammatical implications for a few minutes, my daughter said, "Oh, I mean if we are good," which I found somehow both wonderful and regrettable.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's up?

A correspondent writes,
"What's up?" and " Not much?" come from African-American hoods... Teaching such phrases to kids is not appropriate, I believe. They will sound "Black". I am 46 years old. When I came up, we, African-Americans, were the only ones using such phrases.
This is a variation of the recency illusion. In fact, the phrase is well over a hundred years old and can be found all over the English speaking world.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TESL programs

Mariola O'Brien, one of my students from a few years back, was written up in the Toronto Star recently. The article doesn't seem to be online, but here's a PDF. It discusses her enviable work situation in Sweden as well as a variety of TESL certification options here in the GTA.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Good Reads

Carol Goar in yesterday's Toronto Star highlights a series of books for adult literacy learners. The series is published by Grass Roots Press and the books are by the following respected Canadian novelists: Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Rabindranath Maharaj, Louise Penny, Maureen Jennings, and Deborah Ellis, and financial writer Gail Vaz-Oxlade. I haven't had a chance to read any, but I look forward to reviewing them and perhaps getting them into our library. The series is set to be expanded by six new books next year.

On the same publisher's website, I also found series designed along similar concepts from British authors (Quick Reads) and Irish authors (Open Door). No doubt there is more to explore.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TESOL Position Statement on the Acquisition of Academic Proficiency in English at the Postsecondary Level

The international language teaching association TESOL has adopted a position which basically says, if you're going to fund an English language learner to go to college or university in English, you'd better be prepared to pay for them to work on their English. Indeed, English studies should not be seen as some kind of remediation, but as an "academic subject on par with other academic classes in an institution."

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Saving savings

In the second half of Jan Freeman's most recent "The word", she takes on the question of whether we will be shifting to daylight saving time or daylight savings time. This is a question I took up three years ago here, concluding that both were perfectly grammatical although the singular version is more likely (and is the official choice).