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 against a new culture.
As part of the reading for the essay, I will introduce two songs, Danny Boy, and Deportee.
Danny Boy is the story of an Irish mother/father saying good-bye to a son she/he may never see again. In the days when the Irish were flooding to America, many people were illiterate, and there was no internet, and not even a post office in many of the places were those immigrants ended up. Good-bye might be forever.
Song lyrics: (http://www.ireland-information.com/irishmusic/dannyboy.shtml)
YouTube performance (this is my favorite of many): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=852gverKRPo
Deportee , on the other hand, is a protest song about the callousness with which we treat some immigrants, especially illegal immigrants. Woody Guthrie was an important cultural figure in America who wrote protest songs celebrating ordinary workers. His songs are a staple of the American Songbook.
Song lyrics: (http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Deportee.htm/
My favorite YouTube performance by Arlo Guthrie, the son of the composer, Woody Guthrie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN3HTdndZec
This is an opportunity to focus on the difference between song lyrics and other kinds of poetry. Read the lyrics aloud, then listen to the song. Do the lyrics read as well as they sing? There are often repetitions in songs which do not occur in other kinds of writing, for example.
Exercise: After reviewing the lyrics and listening to the song, have the students write a short (or long) essay comparing their own viewpoints about immigrants to the viewpoints expressed in the songs.
Exercise: For native speakers of a language other than English, a good exercise is to play a performance of the song, perhaps repeating it once or twice, and asking the students to write down the lyrics as they hear them.
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 overthrow a corrupt and worn out system. Why wouldn’t their rebellion extend to their language use? Language sleeps nightly with politics, and this is one of their children. Reacting to crises like wars or political breakdowns is one of the ways in which language changes quickly, otherwise it usually changes gradually.
The young rioters’ lives have been degraded by a powerful cadre of people who have ignored their needs and wishes and become rich beyond imagining in doing so. Why would they want to talk like them?
Language shock is one way of revolting without destruction, while at the same time annoying the heck out of the people they want to throw out of office and out of influence.
See link: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23978523-ghetto-grammar-robs-the-young-of-a-proper-voice.do
Exercise: This article would be a good base for an essay. Perhaps the focus could be the purpose of slang.
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 which uses many noun declensions, so it looks difficult to us, though English speakers have merely replaced declensions which prepositions which perform the same purpose.
See what you think; here is the link: http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/08/20/hungarians-perplex-world-with-weird-language-policy/
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 in small groups and list the words for each state, and then share their findings. They can use nouns and adjectives. Is Weiner right?
If this is true, so what? Do linguistic phenomena indicate something about the human condition? After writing a reflective in-class paragraph based on the class’s findings, have them share their opinions.
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 below and ask your students to flesh them out into a full story.
girl fruit pick look bear see
girl run tree reach climb bear tree shake
girl yell yell yell father come scare bear
bear run girl father hug
Review their versions of the story, and note how prepositional phrases, conjunctions, “which/when/where/who” phrases and other tools can make (or have made, in their versions of the story) the story clearer, with a better flow.
* The story above is adapted from the book The Unfolding of Language, an evolutionary tour of man’s greatest invention (2005), p. 210, by Guy Deutscher.
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 Language from April 7th), so we can discount that instance. In all the other sentences, though, is there any word that can be used to substitute for have? It has a vaguely possessive feel to it, though I certainly do not possess my husband, and did not possess a baby last week, or fun.
There are many linguistics mainstays which we use so frequently that we don’t stop to think what they mean. They are simply tools to link elements of the sentence.
Many languages do not use the verb have. The following examples come from the book, The Unfolding of Language, an evolutionary tour of mankind’s greatest invention, (p. 130) by Guy Deutscher.
Turkish: Ben-de bir kitap var (me-on a book is) ‘the book is at me’ (=I have a book)
Russian: U menja kniga (at me book) ‘the book (is) at me’ (= I have a book)
Irish: tá leabhar agam (is book at.me) ‘the book is at me’ (=I have a book)
Quechua: waska tiya-pu-wa-n (rope exist-for-me-it) ‘a rope is for me’ (=I have a rope)
Conclusion: There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Exercise: Do any students speak a language which has no have in it? Give similar examples if they do.
Can the class think of other sentences like the first examples above in which have has yet another meaning?
The Linguistics Olympiad is an opportunity for students interested in computational linguistics to compete internationally. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Linguistics_Olympiad
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 had done it easily, it would mean the level of problems was not sophisticated enough. For teachers interested in the mathematical, computational, philosophical aspects of linguistics, this could be an interesting addition to a class.
On the more practical side, Computational Linguistics is a field where interested students might find jobs when they graduate.
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 working on class plans for the fall, right? I will serve up some more thoughts for an interesting school year after I get back.
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 common tongue-twisters, which can be given both in English and in some other language, are fun and challenging, especially for students of English as a Second Language (ESL). They isolate and delineate each vowel sound, and can increase awareness of the various consonant groupings as well.
English (Say each one three times):
The bootblack bought the black boot back.
Can you imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie?
Fred fed Ted bread, and Ted fed Fred bread.
The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
She sells seashells on the seashore.
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure.
Les Chaussettes de l’archiduchesses sont-elles sèches?
Gros gras grand grain d’orge, tout gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgerisé, quand te dé-gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgeriseras-tu? Je me dé-gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgeriserai quand tous les gros gras grands grains d’orge se seront dé-gros-gras-grand-grain-d’orgerisés.
Il était une fois, un homme de foi qui vendait du foie dans la ville de Foix. Il dit ma foi, c’est la dernière fois que je vends du foie dans la ville de Foix.
And one I learned in Greece, presented here in the English alphabet:
Say over and over, quickly, “dekatostritos siderodromos, dekatostritos siderodromos, dekatostritos siderodromos,” which means “Thirteenth railroad.”
Another speed exercise: Divide the class into two or three teams. Give them a word for which they need to find synonyms, and see which team can write down the most in 30 seconds. Some suggestions: friend, person under 13 years of age.
Another speed exercise: Divide the class into teams. Name a country and ask one team to give the name of the corresponding nationality. How many can they give in 10 seconds? France-French, Albania-Albanian, China-Chinese, Brazil-Brazilian.
Then ask another team the questions, using a different set of countries and nationalities. Who wins?
You might have fun devising the prize that the winning team receives. I usually tell them they will receive the respect and admiration of the rest of the class, for today only.
Some of these would be more suitable for ESL students, but even native speakers can have fun with it, and you may be able to devise other speed challenges.
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. This gives students a good idea of how adverbs work, and how adverbs can be either single words, often -ly words, or prepositional phrases.
As I suggested in my last post, students of writing, or general language students, should be encouraged to view language as a jungle gym, not an operating table. There are explanations and comparisons for each of these phenomena, but the goal is to have the students notice. You may want to make the additional point that so many of these phenomena are arbitrary. When it comes to syntax, very little is “right” or “wrong,” across all languages, only within a single language.
Exercise: Have the students take the same sentences they created in the last class and try to add prepositional phrases describing the nouns occurring at the head of the sentence, which, since this is English, will be the Subject of the sentence. They will discover that prepositional phrases don’t work with proper names — John of the forest ran away, Mary in the red dress yawned loudly — but they work beautifully with other nouns — The cat with long whiskers sat quietly. Replace Mary with The woman, and it works — The woman in the red dress yawned loudly.