Pronouncing English

Tweet If a person is not introduced to a language’s structure as a baby, the language will not be instinctual. The structure of the brain changes as children age, and in babies there is a particular constellation of emotions which attach to certain sounds, and that changes rapidly. After a certain age, language enters through […]


Tweet My linguistics professor once posed the question, “What is an idea?” I must admit that I am still unsure. There is a complex process which occurs between thinking something and speaking or writing it. When we speak, we have not taken the time to figure out exactly what we think beforehand. The American Heritage […]

The Downside of Literacy

Tweet We spend most of our time promoting literacy, but rarely think about its downsides. One is that our memories are weakened. When I lived in Greece in the 1960’s, a waiter could take orders from a dozen people without a pad to write on.  At that time, Greece was more of an oral society, […]

Pidgins and Creoles

Tweet When groups speaking different languages gathered to accomplish something (for example, trading in ports, or running a plantation when slave and owner speak different languages), they had to communicate.  Either they agreed to speak a common language (French, Russian, Chinese, Latin, English and many others have historically been that common language), or they scrambled […]

Freeing the Imagination

Tweet Young students are always auditing themselves, judging their thoughts “right” and “wrong,” “acceptable” and “not acceptable.”  This exercise frees their imaginations to indulge in a bit of wild creativity, which can bleed, in a milder form, into their essays. A story needs characters, a location, and a conflict.  Create three columns representing three characters. […]

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 […]