Saturday, February 26, 2011

Enumerating the semicolon

The semicolon has an interesting history, which is traced rather well by Paul Collins in his 2008 Slate article. I thought I'd go back and have another look at some of the numbers, which can now be calculated with somewhat better reliability. 

This graph demonstrates the rise and fall of the semicolon in English. Its popularity peaked right around 1800 at just shy of 1% of the words. That is to say there were almost 10,000 semicolons per million words. That's a little more common than is is today.

Frequency of semicolon use (Source: Google Books Ngram viewer)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Train your brain to be a memory athlete

The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating article by Joshua Foer on memory training. It documents how he went from a reporter looking for a story to a participant to a the new U.S. record holder in speed cards (a memory event in which you memorize the order of a deck of cards as fast as you can).

The method he uses is the art of memory, roughly the method of loci combined with dramatic images. He mentions Dr. Yip Swee Chooi, an interview with whom you can see here. In the interview, you can see how Chooi makes connections between sounds and images.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Prescriptivist Today

If you are reading this, then you may be interested in Deborah Schaffer's article that appeared in a recent issue of English Today, entitled 'Old whine online: prescriptive grammar blogs on the Internet'. I'll say no more; go ahead and take a look if you haven't: here is a link to the journal article, and here is a direct link to the article itself in PDF.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Semantic Categories and Context in L2 Vocabulary Learning

In one of my earliest posts, I discusses how the fine work of Endel Tulving has been misunderstood by many in ESL, leading to vocabulary lessons that group semantically related words together. This is a problem because, as I wrote at the time, the semantic connections can cause the individual concepts to lose distinctness, leading the learner to confuse which word stood for which concept.

A study just published in Language Learning (online) has looked again at this issue in an interesting way and, while supporting this main conclusion, that semantic connections can lead to confusion, also might have run afoul of the same mistake in reasoning described above. Here's the abstract:

David Paul's blog

David Paul has done, perhaps, more than other single person in the last decade else to support English teachers and English teaching in Japan. Now he's started a new blog. In his first post, he talks about his creative process in writing textbook dialogue.