August, 2011

Song lyrics as a language form

Tweet The students in my English as a Second Language (ESL) class will be writing an essay about their “immigrant experience.”  I put that in quotation marks because a student is not really an immigrant, but he or she experiences the same culture shocks as an immigrant does, the same homesickness, and the same rebellion […]

Language is the bedfellow of politics

Tweet There has been a debate among linguists about the language used by the rioters who shook up England recently — they are using slang and “bad grammar.” I’m not British, so I’m making some assumptions here, but it seems to me that the very thing that these young people want to do is to […]

English is too easy

Tweet The Hungarian government is suggesting that Hungarians should not study English because it is too easy. As a native speaker of English, I disagree.  Its fluid syntax, muddled history (which continues to influence the language today), weird spelling, and many dialects makes it a tapestry of great complexity.  The Hungarians, however, have a language […]

Happiness and Sadness

Tweet In his book, The Geography of Bliss, author Eric Weiner claims that there are more words in English for states of unhappiness than for states of happiness. I’m not sure this is true, but it would be an interesting claim to test. Exercise: In connection with writing a short in-class essay, have students gather […]

The skeleton sentence expanded

Tweet Language probably began when people gave names to things, people, and actions. It has developed into a sophisticated, flexible instrument since then.  The language in the exercise below is akin to a primitive pidgin, but was probably the way our earliest ancestors spoke when language was first developing. Exercise: Take the skeletal sentence elements […]

What does “have” mean?

Tweet What does have mean?  Consider these sentences: I have seen him                                   I had a baby last week I have the flu                                       I have the answer I have a husband                                 Have fun In the first sentence, “I have seen him,” have is purely grammatical and has no independent meaning (see previous post, Concrete and Grammatical […]

Linguistics Olympiad

Tweet The Linguistics Olympiad is an opportunity for students interested in computational linguistics to compete internationally.  See I took a look at the sample problems.  They were too challenging for me, which is a good sign.  I am not focused on computational linguistics, so I should not have been able to solve them. If I […]


Tweet Dear Readers:  I am vacationing in France, Germany, and Austria until the 12th of August, and will begin my posts again then.  The trip is providing interesting ideas for new posts. Many of you are probably on vacation as well, and I wish you a relaxing time. After the middle of August, we will be […]

Sometimes speed matters

Tweet We should not undervalue phonetics and phonology in the study of language, though most teachers concentrate on reading and writing. Having timed exercises can place knowledge in what an athlete or a dancer would call “muscle memory,” that is, the athlete or dancer doesn’t think before acting — it comes automatically.  The calisthenics of […]

Nouns Verbs and Modifiers

Tweet Nouns, verbs, and modifiers are at the heart of sentence creation. The previous post suggested exercises in which students formed three-word sentences, but without a Direct Object, such as Mary yawned loudly, The cat sat quietly, John ran away, and further suggested that the students change the adverbs (loudly, quietly, and away) to prepositional phrases. […]