April, 2011

Principles of Good Writing:

Tweet This post is not specifically linguistic, but an aid to teaching writing.  This short list remains open, maybe you, or I, will think of another principle: Principles of Good Writing: 1.  Read the assignment, and adhere to the given format. 2.  Tell the reader what you’re going to tell her, tell it to her, […]

Challenging Languages’ Universality

Tweet One of the controversial claims that Noam Chomsky presented in his original research was that language is universal and innate.   In David Crystal’s A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics” (4th ed. 1990), this concept is defined this way:  “…universals provide a theory of the human language faculty — those properties of language which […]

Simple sentence exercise

Tweet Make two kinds of basic English sentences.  This exercise is deceptively simple.  There are inevitably many stumbles, but students gain a bit of mastery.  There is much more to be said about the form of English sentences, but the exercise should be kept simple.  Elaboration on sentence forms comes another day. Subject-Verb-Object is the […]

An Awkward Sentence

Tweet Linguistic principles come into play most effectively in the space between drafts.  The sentence in bold below is part of an essay in which the student discusses school funding. “What else would this money be used for? New textbooks for classes, having new and better school utilities, and making school buildings look better. These […]

Useful Sayings About Language

Tweet Like everything metaphysical, the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of language. Ludwig Wittgenstein Writing is refined thinking. Stephen King I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal The difference between the right word and almost the […]

All Language Began in Africa, probably

Tweet Research by Quentin D. Atkinson, a New Zealand biologist, has concluded that human language began in Southern Africa, and all existing languages have developed from it.  His theory is based on analysis of the phonemes of languages along the route of emigration from Africa.  Phonemes are the sounds of a language, from the guttural […]

Talking to Grandma

Tweet We use different language forms when speaking with different people, or in different groups.  You don’t usually ask Grandma, “Yo, whassup?”   Over the Thanksgiving holiday, various family members might watch a football game, get together over dinner, and go to church.  While watching the football game, the decibel level is likely to spike […]

Concrete and Grammatical Language

Tweet Looked at one way, there are two kinds of language, concrete and grammatical.  Concrete language consists of words that represent real objects or concepts — nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.  Grammatical language is definable by its function, not by its meaning; it links words, marks tense, and performs other supporting functions. In the sentence […]

“Why do they use such big words?”

Tweet When faced with the word unapologetically, one student asked, “Why do they have to use such big words?  I suggested that it was not such a big word, and we took it apart. un = not the root = “apology” etical = a suffix which changes a noun to an adjective, a variation would […]

Colorless Green Ideas

Tweet Grammatical correctness and meaning are two separate functions, which don’t always coexist.  Here is a sentence, devised by Noam Chomsky, which illustrates a perfectly grammatical sentence, but has no meaning: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. Here is a sentence which has meaning (though the reader has to construct it), but is grammatically incorrect: Another […]