Friday, December 30, 2011

Grammar and Beyond, a review

Cambridge has a new grammar series called Grammar and Beyond out/in the works. I got a review copy of the level 2 book by Randi Reppen. I first noticed it at the TESL Ontario conference in October and was interested in it because it's the first grammar series for English language learners I've noticed that employs the concept of determiner (please tell me in the comments if you know of others).

Unfortunately, they make a hash of it.

Let's start with the shocking mismatch between the level of grammar and vocabulary knowledge needed to read and understand the text and the level of knowledge that is being conveyed. Anybody who can understand "singular count nouns always have a determiner before them" (p. 82) already knows as much. There is no point in telling them that they should "not use a or an with plural nouns." The people who need to know this won't even be able to read the chapter with its introductory reading which begins, "identity theft is the act of using someone's personal information without permission." I mean, come on! Permission is ranked as lemma #3,254 in Mark Davies' new Word and Phrase Info corpus interface. The indefinite article is #5. For most language learners, that represents a gap of over a year between when they figured out what a means and what permission means. This problem of explaining English grammar in English to people who don't speak much English is a difficult one, but there is no excuse for completely ignoring the issue.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Simple English Wiktionary

About five and a half years ago, I started contributing to the Simple English Wiktionary project. I wanted a good collection of definitions and examples for use in EAP classes, and I didn't want to be tiptoeing around copyright issues.

Why would I do this? There are already some great dictionaries for English language learners (ELLs). My favourite is the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, but it's covered by copyright. English Wiktionary is also very good, and it's copyright free, but it's generally not appropriate for ELLs. I could have just put together my own materials, but I thought I might as well make my work widely available, since the government pays much of my salary, and I hoped that by doing so I would be able to draw in like minded people and benefit from their contributions.

Monday, December 26, 2011


I won't be out fighting the boxing day crowds today. I saw my family off at the airport. They're already somewhere over Manitoba as I write this and well on their way to Japan. So, now that I'm here at home, I'll sit and do some reading and some blogging, and maybe go in to the gym.

But one this day of sales, I was thinking about vending. I noticed that although the verb vend lives on through its present participle, its other forms are dying. Here's what I mean:

No doubt, vending has been kept on artificial life support by vending machine, which is recorded from 1895, but its other forms are essentially dead. I don't think I've even encountered the word vended; it doesn't show up at all in either the BNC or the COCA. And yet no dictionary I've checked sees fit to point out this morphological lacuna. The blithely list the various forms without comment. Anybody who looks up this word and tries to use, say, the past tense, has been sold a bill of goods by the dictionary. They certainly haven't been vended one.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Number transparency and determiner choice

A noun is said to be number transparent when the verb doesn't agree with it even when it functions as the subject in constructions like, A number of people were there. In this case, the head of the subject is singular number, but nevertheless, were agrees with plural people. What I just realized recently is that there's a big difference between a number and the number. In the COCA, [a number of * are/is] turns up 353 instances of are and only 19 of is, for a ratio of 18.6:1. In contrast, [the number of * are/is] results in only 16 instances of are and  291 of is, for a ratio of 1:18.2, almost exactly inverse.

Other determiners have other patterns. The are to is ratios are:
  • any number:  7:2
  • this number: 0:2
  • that number: 1:4
  • some number: 1:0
  • etc.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

So, this bothers you, does it?

I thought I was reasonably aware of common linguistic peeves. I generally don't like them because I don't like to dislike things, but I do understand them. Some people don't like 'free gift' as well as 'for free' - I understand. Some detest 'literally' used non-literally - all right, I get it.

But starting a sentence with 'so'? We all do, don't we? Who among us has never uttered 'So how are you?'?

Well, apparently, it is worse than I thought. Or at least it appears to be trendy to detest it - here is an interesting clip from BBC Today. There is also a New York Times article on the subject, reflecting the rise of the usage.

For now my biggest question is, will I now be able to enjoy listening to the immortal piece 'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd (which starts with a double 'so': 'So, so you think you can tell ...') like I have done so many times -  or will this stupid peeve thing somehow ruin the tune?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Complex determinatives

[Somewhat edited after Ran's comment]
A colleague asked if the structure of the following phrases was the same:
  1. a group of the students
  2. the groups of students
  3. one of the students
I told her, much to her relief, that I thought [1] and [2] were basically the same, but that [3] was different. She had been discussing this with some PhDs in linguistics who had been arguing that all three were partitive constructions and that what preceded student(s) was a (complex) determiner.

This brought to mind a section from a paper I've been working on, which is reproduced below. Here, I'm discussing the category of determinatives as presented in The Grammar Book 2nd edition by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman.

Questions are treated in chapter 13, which implies at least the following additions: whose, which, what (p. 249)Quantifiers are covered in chapter 17. "Quantifiers can be determiners or when the referent is clear, pronouns" (p. 330). The following list is given: Positivesome, a few, several, a couple of, a little, quite a few, quite a little, (a greatmany, a (good) number of, a lot of, a great deal of, a good deal of, almost all, most, and allNegativenone, no, not any, few, hardly any, scarcely any, little, just a few, only a few, just a little, only a little, not many, not much, not all, many… not, and most… not. Other quantifiers are listed in TGB on pages 277, and 334-335.
Clearly, this list represents a significant expansion on what is considered a determiner by the dictionaries. The inclusion of adverbs such as hardly, just, and not suggest those expressions including them are determiner phrases rather than determiners per se, but it is harder to account for the complex items such as a good deal of and a lot of. [7] Far from being determiners, these items are not even constituents. Rather they are sequences of the form (adj) N of, differing from other combinations like a box of, or a carload of chiefly in that they do not typically dictate subject verb agreement in cases like A lot of students understand the value of a university degree (not *A lot of students understands).
The main reason to believe that they are not constituents is that unlike the core members such as many, every, and this, you cannot remove the following noun and have them stand on their own. Compare:
I ate too much sushi.      à        I ate too much.
I ate a lot of sushi          à        *I ate a lot of.
Moreover, in relative constructions, the of is placed at the front, before the relative pronoun:
a lot of the damage remains unseen      à
the damage, of which a lot remains unseen
It is clear that of is part of the preposition phrase of which, in which case it cannot be part of a complex determiner a lot of. Add to this the fact that these exist in both singular and plural versions (e.g., a lot/lots of), and that they may be internally modified (e.g., very great deal of), and it becomes clear the constructions with couple, number, lot, and deal are simply the structure a (adj) N of.
            Beckner and Bybee (2009) argue that these kinds of chunks often become constituents over time. One could hardly question this claim, given such words as everyone, breakfast, and nonetheless. They further claim that changes are gradual rather than abrupt, which also seems undeniable if we're dealing with language across populations. But the simple observation that some strings become constituents is not evidence for any particular string having done so. In building their case, they take the example of in spite of, which bears some similarity to a lot of, and argue that it has become a compound preposition. In particular, they point out how commonly spite appears in this string: in spite is followed by of in 99.50% of its occurrences in the Corpus of Current American English (Davies, 2008-). It is possible that strings like a lot of, are on their way to lexicalization, but currently a lot is followed by of only 72.12% of the time (Davies, 2008-). They further argue that the meaning of in spite of is far from the original meaning of spite. The same cannot be said of a lot of and lot, in particular the meaning of the plural lots. So, while these are certainly collocations worth bringing students' attention to, they are not yet constituents, and thus, not determiners. In this respect, the dictionaries had it right.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lesson Plan Competition

The TESL Toronto blog has just posted a link to the IATEFL BESIG & Cambridge University Press Lesson plan competition. If you've never commercially published teaching materials and you teach business English, this might be an interesting opportunity to get some recognition.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Different of the people

A number of years ago, when I was still struggling to understand, even at a fairly basic level, what a determinative was, I suspected that different might be one. Not always of course.  Clearly different is usually an adjective. But I had a feeling that it also had a secret life as a determinative. Try as I might, though, I couldn't find any evidence that it was. Until now.

At dinner tonight, my mother was telling an anecdote, and she said "different of the people commented that Marg could be unpleasant." I'm not surprised about Marg--most of us can be unpleasant at times--but I was elated to hear different used that way, and from my own mother nonetheless.

You see, adjectives just can't do that. You can't say happy of the people or good of the shirts. You can't even say brown of the crayons or interesting of the movies. But you can say different of the people. Or, at least, my mom can.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Even you surrender

New Grammarology 2.0 post up at the TESL Toronto site. This time I look at the common misuse of even by English language learners and some interesting properties of focussing adverbs.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The evening/that evening

We just finished reading Salman Rushdie's Luka and the Fire of Life, and the kids and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But just as we were wrapping up, I stumbled in my reading, and that cool evening came out as the cool evening. Those of you who have read the book will know that a small stumble can take you out of one world and into another. In this case, it briefly took me into the world of syntax.

You see, even though, decontextualized, most of us don't see much difference between the evening and that evening, my slip actually made the entire sentence ungrammatical. I'll let you think about what context that might be true in and then explain after the jump.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Feedback on English Accent Coach

A few days ago, I posted about a site called English Accent Coach. I've had a bit of feedback, which I passed on to Ron Thomson. He's given me permission to post it here.

This is very useful info for me. Thanks so much. It will help me build an FAQ page for the site. It also confirms that the best way to make this effective is to really train teachers or better help them to understand the science behind the site as some of these comments reflect common misconceptions about how pronunciation develops – and I wouldn’t expect any teacher to know this. I’ll try answering some of these in turn if it might be of help to teachers/learners.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Kids have trouble with language too

A recent research paper from StatsCan by Miles Corak shines an interesting light on the general assumption that, although immigrant adults from a non-English/French background will struggle with language when the arrive in Canada, their children will just soak it up like sponges. The abstract says,
"The education outcomes of a cohort of immigrants who arrived in Canada as children were examined using the 2006 Census, and it was found that there may be a distinct pattern in the risk of immigrant children graduating from high school according to age at arrival. The risks of not completing high school do not vary according to age at arrival up to about the age of 9, with children arriving after that age appearing to face a distinct and growing increase in the risk that they will not graduate. Children who migrate may face different challenges in attaining high school credentials, according to their age at immigration, as a result of sensitive periods in the acquisition of a second language or the structure of the education system."

Friday, November 04, 2011

English Accent Coach

Ron Thomson at Brock U has put together a  website to help students learn to distinguish between English vowels and consonants. It's currently in Beta, and will be changing a bit in the next few weeks, but it looks quite useful. It's also likely good for TESL students learning about phonology and pronunciation.

It's a game-like interface that plays syllables or words containing target phonemes that have to then be identified. The sound quality is high and the the pronunciations are varied but natural. I would strongly recommend using earphones rather than speakers.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

"Third-person singular voice"

My students have an assignment to summarize a chapter from an introductory textbook in their field, and I recommend that they vet the chapter with me before proceeding. One student brought me Civil Law and Litigation for Paralegals by Neal R. Bevans (McGraw-Hill, 2008), which had the following blurb in the front matter:
"The author has adopted the convention of employing 'he or she' whenever the text demands the use of the third-person singular voice." (p. ix) 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Almost vs most

I have a new "Grammarology 2.0" column up here on the TESL Toronto blog.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Love among the participles

Geoff Pullum now blogs at the Chronicle of Higher Education. One of his recent postings brings morphology and romance together. Usually, I endeavour to make English, Jack a value added blog, but I'll let this piece speak for itself.
"I have a true story for you, about a rare participle that brought two hearts together and sparked a romance. You may find a tear welling up as you read this, despite the material about inflectional morphology that you have to wade through first." (Read more)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More English invasion?

Earlier this month, I spent about a week in France. It was a very pleasant stay, even with my rather limited French. Because - well, I’ll show you. This is what I saw in Paris (photo taken from Google Search, because I didn't have a camera):

L'OpenTour - 2 day Pass 2 jours. I don't know about you, but I burst into laughter upon seeing this. It's a linguistic Janus. Supreme siamese compromise. The Strait of Dover finally swum through.

Well, this is just one instance; I have seen and heard more English than I had expected in less touristy towns as well.

I was going to jot down a few serious paragraphs about language contact and how all this is related to English education in Japan and so on - but no. The plain fact is, I like it when English simultaneously recoils from and embraces French, just as I like it when French recoils from and embraces English. So I thought I might share the joy with you. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Now editor at TESL Ontario

I've just been given the editorship at TESL Ontario's Contact Magazine. So now the grovelling begins: send me your articles, please. It's not paid, it's not peer reviewed, but it's very much appreciated. I'll also be at the TESL Ontario Conference Thursday and Friday, where I'll be attending the AGM, presenting, and checking out some presentations. I hope to see some of you there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Direct comprehensive corrective feedback

Although there is a good deal of debate surrounding how teachers should respond to student writing, my sense of the orthodox position is that indirect feedback on only selected points is the preferred type of correction. That is: most writing teachers appear to believe we should focus marking on only certain points, and we should give only hints such as vt for verb tense rather than providing the target forms to the students.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Happy dictionary day!

October 16th is dictionary day in celebration of the birthday of Noah Webster, he of the famous American English dictionary. But you can celebrate any dictionary you want.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Government of Canada to change language test

In a bulletin posted yesterday, the Canadian Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration gave "notice requesting comments on a proposal to require applicants to furnish upfront evidence of language ability showing achievement of at least Canadian Language Benchmark level 4 in speaking and listening with their citizenship application." The intention seems reasonable: to change from a multiple choice print test to a test more directly assessing speaking and listening. The devil will, of course, be in the details.

They are considering as system in which "administrative guidelines would provide a list of preferred language tests which are correlated with the Canadian Language Benchmarks." The problem with this is that “the benchmarks (levels) have not been empirically validated to ensure the fit of each descriptor with its level” (Vandergrift, 2006). It's hard to find tests, then, that correlate with something that doesn't itself correlate well with different language levels. At least, though, the purpose of the CLBs was specifically to address the language needs of newcomers to Canada.

There have, however, been some recent changes to the CLBs, which are being presented at next week's TESL Ontario conference. I'm planning to attend those sessions, so maybe I'll have some good news.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

'Who' and 'do' insertion

I've got a new "Grammarology 2.0" column up over at the TESL Toronto blog. This time, I try to help out a correspondent after someone told her that we can’t use do, does, did after who.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Seasonal deixis

Yesterday, I mentioned on Google+ that my grade-five son has a piece about horsehair worms coming out in the spring issue of Kiddo Magazine. Peter van der Woude commented, "Great" and then went on to wonder, "why do Americans always seem to insist on using the seasons to inform about schedules & releases?" continuing, "I've never heard anyone in Australia announce something as `released this Autumn' or `the Summer edition' unless it's related to sports - where the season is obvious."

Friday, October 07, 2011

A word for the problem

Over at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Stephen Gordon has been bemoaning the fact that current economics students don't know much about Bayesian methods. He suggests that this is a case of hysteresis, a new word for me. According to the current Wikipedia entry,

 Hysteresis is the dependence of a system not just on its current environment but also on its past.

Stephen observes, "Students who aren't taught Bayesian methods almost never make the effort to learn enough to teach it when they go on to become professors." This is exactly the situation we see with English grammar: Students who aren't taught modern grammatical theory almost never make the effort to learn enough to teach it when they go on to become teachers.

Having a name for something doesn't really change much, but it's fun to know nonetheless.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Defunctionalizing nouns and verbs

The NYT's blog `The Learning Network' is looking at words that are both noun and verb.
Overview | In this lesson, students play with words that can function either as nouns or verbs, depending on context.
The idea here is good, but the wording is unfortunate. Words don't `function as' nouns or verbs; that would be like saying I function as a male or a particular animal functions as a dog. Rather, the words are both nouns and verbs. You could also say they belong to both categories.

When we start to talk about function, now we're into the territory of subjects, objects, modifiers, complements, etc. If you want to dig deeper, have a look at these tree diagrams with a complete list of categories and a complete list of functions.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Demise of google labs

I was watching a presentation last night, part of which was musing about the feeling that no new music genre had appeared for quite some time and, well, I kind of lost the plot after that because I started thinking about how I could check out the rise and fall of different genres using language. I started thinking that I would use Google sets to generate a list of genres and then I'd look at the frequency with which they appear in the Google books corpus over time.

But this morning, when I went to Google sets, it was gone. Not only that, but it seems that the entire Google Labs enterprise is not long for this world. This was announced about two months ago, but nobody told me about it. Anyhow, anybody know a replacement for Google sets?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grammarology 2.0: Linking verbs

My first real Grammarology 2.0 column is up on TESL Toronto's website. As promised in the introduction, it's another look at what constitutes a "linking verb".

Previous English, Jack posts related to linking verbs:
The categorization of so 
The state of linking verbs

Monday, September 26, 2011

Grammarology 2.0

I've started a new column for TESL Toronto which will run roughly twice a month. In it, I’ll tackle grammar questions from two viewpoints: traditional school grammar, and a more modern analysis following The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL). The introduction is now online.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Google ngrams and TED

You've seen my TED talk using the Google ngram viewer, and now here's another, this time by the authors of the culturomics paper, Jean-Baptiste Michel and Erez Lieberman Aiden. It keeps things pretty light, but the suppression of Chagall's name in the German corpus during the Nazi period was interesting.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

`I' vs `the'

In the Sept 3-9th edition of New Scientist, James Pennebaker discusses the individual variations in frequency with which we use pronouns and other small words, and he considers what this metric might say about our personalities and relationships. The paper version (p. 45) has a graph entitled "The real word count" with the caption "The 20 most frequently used words in the English language, across both spoken and written texts." The graph shows that I is the most common word, followed closely by the.

This prompted the following query by Mike Scott to the Corpora mailing list:
"I wrote to the author, James Pennemaker of the U of Texas, about this, expressing my surprise at the pronoun I having greater frequency than THE, as even in the spoken-only section of the BNC (10m words) we find I occurring only just over half as often as THE. His data contains a mix of spoken and written with a large amount of blog data. He reports that with all his studies in the USA and Mexico, "people always use more I more than THE. It's never close." Can anyone help here, clearing up the position? Someone with access to a really top quality corpus, more up to date and representative than the BNC? "

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"World's first" English language learning chatbot

This video is actually posted on the website of the company hawking this "service". Incredibly, they're charging people to put themselves through this kind of torture.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Language Learner Literature Award Winners

The first extensive reading world congress that wrapped up last weekend in Kyoto was, from all reports, a great success despite the typhoon. The ER Foundation has been posting videos of many of the talks on their YouTube channel.

The winners of the 2011 Language Learner Literature Awards were also announced, and the results are now up on their website. I've reproduced them below:

Monday, September 05, 2011

Self control and Google Ngram Viewer

In the New York Times Sunday book review, Steven Pinker reviews Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, a book that was already on my to-read list after the recent summary. In doing so, Pinker writes,
"Nonetheless, the very idea of self-­control has acquired a musty Victorian odor. The Google Books Ngram Viewer shows that the phrase rose in popularity through the 19th century but began to free fall around 1920 and cratered in the 1960s, the era of doing your own thing, letting it all hang out and taking a walk on the wild side."
Being the anal fact-checking type I am, I went straight to the Google Books Ngram Viewer and searched for self-control. Nothing. Not a single hit, which is rather strange since the hyphenated version is not so uncommon. But after playing around a bit, I found that the Ngram viewer seems to have some problems with hyphens. So here's the graph of the frequency of self control sans hyphen.

From this graph, it seems Pinker is about a decade early in diagnosing free-fall, and getting on 20 years late in placing the crater. In fact, by the late sixties, self control had gained back a good deal of its losses, and Pinker doesn't mention that by 2000 we were back near historical highs. 

Maybe he's looking at a different graph. Perhaps he had more success with the hyphenated version, or he might be looking at one of the sub-corpora, say American English, or the English One Million. But none of the other graphs seem to match his description either. In fact, the British English graph tells a completely different story:

As I pointed out in my TEDx talk in June, even if we date the changes accurately, it's really not clear what fluctuations in the frequency of a particular phrase would mean. It would depend on many things including the change in popularity of synonyms (e.g., self restraint, willpower, etc.). It could indicate a shift in the frequency of the hyphenated and non-hyphenated spellings. And people can use self control both approvingly and dis-.  

Despite the trouble with interpreting changes in word frequency over time, though, I predict that there will be a rise in the frequency of this trope in the media.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

New Grammar App from Bas Aarts and Survey of English Usage

Here's the press release:
The Survey of English Usage at UCL is very pleased to announce the publication of a new App for Apple hand-held devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The interactive Grammar of English (iGE) is a complete course in English grammar written for first year undergraduates, students at high schools and teachers of the English language. For more information see the iGE website

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Determinative `numerous' not so new

Via Geoff Pullum

A few days ago, we were discussing numerous as a determinative. Peter Reed has found a example from 1766.
Mortification of Sin implies these Things 1 Abstinence from the Practice of Evil. Lust is very fertile in Conception, and its Aim is to bring forth every monstrous Fœtus with which it is pregnant: Grace is a Check upon it, and stifles numerous of its Productions as soon as they are formed they never see the Light, nor become visible to any Eye, but that of the Soul itself, and unto the all penetrating Eye of God, who knows us far better than we know ourselves.

Lingua Franca (the blog)

The Chronicle of Higher Education is hosting a new blog called "Lingua Franca" on language and writing in academe. The contributors are: Lucy Ferriss, Alan Metcalf, Geoff Pullum, Carrol Fischer Saller, and Ben Yagoda.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My TEDxHumber talk

Back in June, I gave a talk at the TEDxHumber event. I've been waiting for an edited video, but in the meantime, I recently found that the "live stream" of the event is still available. The video is very jumpy but it's better than nothing. My talk starts about five and a half minutes into this clip.

I posted the text of the talk earlier.

Extensive Reading Foundation YouTube channel

The Extensive Reading Foundation has set up its own YouTube Channel of ER/EL videos. These are links to existing videos on YouTube.

The ERF is looking for volunteers to maintain and update the site. This will include accepting new videos and uploading them, searching for videos, presentations, powerpoint slideshows, interviews and so on on other sites and soliciting new materials. If anyone is interested please contact Rob Waring.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What there's no accounting for

A few days ago, I wrote,
"Here I am back trying to place a word in the right box, or boxes as it may be. I'm not really sure why I find this kind of work so engaging, but I suppose there's no accounting for taste."
My aunt, an editor by trade and vocation, queried the singularity of taste.

Word Dynamo has just released their updated vocabulary learning site Word Dynamo. It looks to be geared mostly to native speakers of English rather than English language learners, but there is a level setting, so it might turn out to be useful to ELLs too.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Most passive verbs in English

According to Michael Rundell and Adam Kilgarriff, there are only 23 verbs in English that are passive more than half the time.

Figure 4: The ‘most passive’ verbs in the BNC, for which a ‘usually passive’ label might be proposed.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Multiple of the people

In his post on numerous, yesterday, Geoff Pullum noted that philosopher James Dreier had sent him some examples of multiple as a determinative but didn't provide any examples. I couldn't find any in the COCA or BNC, but here are some from the web:
  • about a certain item, a book, that very likely implies that multiple of the people who visit your site are all set to make a purchase.
  • Right, except in the videos, multiple of the people putting them up are actually doing the objective
  • Multiple of the people I met were also in love with the spirituality in India, while others were enamored with the Architecture in India.
  • ...recommended it include multiple of the people responsible for the Solaris Certification exams.
  • Multiple of the people have considered this acne skin care step as one of the most essential acne skin care pointers
  • The food is amazing, this is largely in part to the fact that multiple of the people crashing at the house are fabulous cooks
  • We were certainly approached and had discussions with multiple of the people who were awarded money, about whether or not we wanted to lock ...
  • You can also select multiple of the same object.
  • We analyzed a panel of viruses derived from HIV-1 NL43, which carry point mutations at single or multiple of the cleavage sites in Gag [24], [27], ...
As you can see in the last example, we also have a hint that single might head down that same path.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

English too easy

“It is fortunate if the first foreign language learned is not English. The initial, very quick and spectacular successes of English learning may evoke the false image in students that learning any foreign language is that simple,” reads a draft bill obtained by news website that would amend Hungary’s education laws.

More here.

The Hungarian students I've taught didn't exhibit this problem, but then again, I haven't taught many Hungarians, so perhaps it's a selection problem. Or not.

Numerous as a determinative

Rodney Huddleston sends an interesting example from yesterday's Australian:
Many countries treat illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers far more harshly than Australia, and numerous impose mandatory detention, a provision explicitly provided for in the refugee convention.
Dictionaries treat numerous as an adjective, and I think that's right. The Australian is using it as a determinative such as many, which doesn't strike me as grammatical, and I can't find any similar examples. I do, however, find these, in which numerous is being used in the partitive construction, which typically requires a determinative.

  1. 2000 ACAD Monist: later additions to the first published versions of the preponderance of the earlier essays. Numerous of the former do advocate a discipline, the cultivation of a form of ability
  2. 1996 NEWS CSMonitor: Japan, Scotland, Australia, and Kenya. # LOS ANGELES # As numerous of the more thoughtful teens interviewed observed, a lot of L.A. slang comes from
They don't really work for me either though.

The categorization of `close'

Here I am back trying to place a word in the right box, or boxes as it may be. I'm not really sure why I find this kind of work so engaging, but I suppose there's no accounting for taste.

My most recent target has been close. Of course, there is the verb as in close the door, and the noun meaning `the end' (e.g., the close of the day); these are clear cut. But then there are examples like these:
  1. Closer to the end, I'll come and get you.
  2. The bank is close to the store.
  3. I walk to my university because it is very close by.
  4. Put it close to the door.
  5. She followed very close behind the taxi.
Traditionally, these would be classified as adjectives, and that would be that. But if you accept the idea of intransitive prepositions (those that don't require objects), as set out in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, and put forward by Jespersen (1924) and Jackendoff (1973), among others, then number 1, in particular might pique your curiosity.

Friday, August 05, 2011


Further to my previous post, it turns out that the 1932 printing of Advanced English Syntax by C.T. Onions has the same passage, but the list of "conjunctions" does NOT include yet or only. The new edition that I have is a 1985 printing, but the copyright date is 1971, which is after the 1951 mention found by Karl Hagan.

Thanks to Geoff Pullum for tracking this down!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The annals of FANBOYS

For some time, I've been on the trail of the origin of the FANBOYS mnemonic for what traditional grammar calls "coordinating conjunctions". I recently got a copy of C.T. Onions's 1971 Modern English Syntax: New edition of An Advanced English Syntax prepared from the author's materials by B.D.H. Miller.

Section 23, (p. 14) says,
"Two or more sentences, clauses, phrases, or single words, linked together by one of the conjunctions
and, but, or, nor, for, yet, only
are called co-ordinate, i.e. of the same rank; and the conjunctions which link them together are called co-ordinating conjunctions."
This is FANBOY with an extra o for only, FANBOYO, if you will.

What I'm wondering is whether this is the same as Onions's original list in the 1904 edition of An Advanced English Syntax. Might any of you have access to this?

By the way, unlike many later authors, Onions [thanks to Ian Carmichael for the link] does notice that, "in modern English prose, for (unlike the other co-ordinating conjunctions) can link together sentences only."

[See the update]