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 It's not paid, it's not peer reviewed, but it's very much appreciated.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?