Friday, December 6, 2013

Milestones in FLA: Modals

Yes, today Little Boy (2;11—22 days shy of his birthday) made a jump. Or at least the first time I heard him use it and made note of it. Today he made use of an English modal: could.

We were picking up Little Girl from school, and I asked him if he wanted to play at the playground. It was blustery and cold, so he said
I wish I could.
They grow up so fast. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer's over

That's right. The fall semester started up this week. I'm taking two classes.

Sociolinguistics is the first one. It's going to be one of those mixed-feelings classes. On the one hand, it's going to be filled with cool stuff about how people use language in (sub)cultures. On the other, it's got a project which is geared toward those of us who are extroverts. I am not. (In case the blog title didn't give it away.)

The other is multiple language acquisition. Due to some academic acrimony from before my arrival at Northeastern, the linguistics department did not have a class in second language acquisition. Well, the prof figured a way around that problem. Second language is verboten? We make it multiple language. Problem solved. This class should tie in nicely with the vocabulary acquisition class I took over the summer.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Semantics don't apply to me

A dialog at home:

Little Girl (to Little Boy): You're a child.
Little Boy: I'm not a child, I'm a <his name>.

I've also heard this which kid substituted for child. There are two interesting things here. One, Little Boy seems to have figured out that kid and child refer to the same set of people—and that set does not include him. I'm not sure if ego-centrism plays into this situation or if it is some odd generalization problem with the word. The other thing I noticed is that he is "a <his name>". I wonder why he's using an indefinite article there.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

eBook preview for Utopia

Since I knew you were dying to see it: here's a preview of the eBook for More's Utopia. Right now I'm charging $1.99 for the PDF, which strikes me as lame and necessary at the same time. Lame because paying for files sucks. Necessary so that I can get a handle on how much interest there is for this idea. All that said, I tried to set a pretty high preview percentage—30%, which is more than Scribd had it set at—so that you can get a pretty solid idea of what it is. And so that if you need it for research purposes or something, it's there for you. You can still get hardcopy at Amazon. But I'll tell you how to get a free copy below the preview.

Ok, so if you're still reading, you want in on some sweet free book action. Here's the deal: first five people who live in a country served by Amazon (North America or Western Europe if memory serves), who e-mail me will get a copy to review. Here's the hitch: you've got to have a blog OR be willing to put your review on Amazon (and I'd really prefer that OR be and AND). You can get in touch with me via my profile which is somewhere on the right-hand side of the blog.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Utopia: shameless self-promotion

I really hate self-promotion in general, which is why I try to avoid it. On the flip side, if I can't self-promote here, where can I?

So why today? Well, I'm working on a cool project that has to do with language, so it sort of pertains to the blog. This particular book has Latin in it, so it double applies.

Anyway. If you head over to Amazon, you can help pay for lights and heat at my place. If you don't you'll have to wait a few days for the free ebook (which I'll link to from here).

What is so awesome about this book? Thomas More's Utopia (though Amazon thinks it's Vtopia—silly them) in Latin and English. Oh, yeah. And it's priced to sell. Even better, I've got some concordance type information at this site. And that's free.

If you're curious about the insides, it looks somewhat like a Loeb, but as a trade paperback. Or a knockoff I Tatti. Your pick. The big reason for doing this is that other Latin-English editions are really expensive (like $60). I'll probably do Erasmus's Praise of Folly next. Got any suggestions for what else?

But whatever you do, buy fifty million copies of it over at Amazon. I want to go to Istanbul.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

New words for me

So I had to learn 100 new English words for the lexical acquisition class I took. Here they are, warts and all.

  1. polysemous – adj – about word that has several meanings (e.g. bank1, bank2)
  2. tumbleblog – n – a multimedia blog that isn't as text heavy as a more prototypical blog, a blog in the style of tumblr.
  3. fameball – n – "a derogatory term for someone who has an unquenchable desire for fame" from
  4. magnetar – n – neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field, the decay of which powers the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays
  5. social steganography – n – the practice of users of social media, often teens, to cloak messages with double meaning. (A status update of "Always look on the bright side of life" seems innocuous, unless you know the context of the song and that the author of the comment is making allusion to it. It allows for outsiders to see one reading and insiders to see another. Example from this paper.)
  6. bibelot – n – tschochke, geegaw, but with the overtones that explicitly French borrowings bring to English
  7. postern – n – a door or gate that isn't the primary door or gate
  8. proddie – n – a protestant, use is derogatory and Irish
  9. saccade – n – the jerking motion of the eye across the field of vision
  10. swag – n (possibly adj too) – style, Urban Dictionary has a lot of interesting info on this word, which in some communities may have positive connotations and negative connotations in others. An are-you-joking origin: an acronym for "Secretly We Are Gay", but UD suggests a much more plausible origin in Scots English. More likely origin: an abbreviation of swagger.
  11. incel – adj (also n) – involuntarily celibate
  12. teknonym – n – a name taken from a child (e.g. Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the PLO, is also known as Abu Mazen, which refers to his first son Mazen)
  13. Einzelgänger – n – the opposite of a doppelgänger, unique
  14. ambilingual – adj – a fully fluent and balanced bilingual, the Platonic ideal of bilingualism
  15. arseward(s) – adj – perverse (obsolete), screwed up; I had assumed that back asswards was some sort of play on ass backwards, but no.
  16. intersubjective – adj – occurring between two minds (e.g. When two people use a word, it is intersubjective because they both know the word and agree on its meaning.)
  17. moil – v – to work hard; often collocated with toil – toil and m.
  18. progymnasmata – n – a curriculum of rhetorical development in antiquity
  19. phatic – adj – words that pertain to social relationships rather than their strict meaning
  20. decolletage – n – a low cut neckline in women's fashion
  21. poorism – n – tourism in poverty stricken areas (rhymes with tourism); probably a journalism word as I heard it on the radio (NPR, Worldview, 4 June 2013)
  22. binge watch – v – watching a whole season or series of movies in a very short time, possibly even one sitting: synonym for marathon, though I'm not sure what the exact difference might be
  23. crepitus – n – medical term for cracking knuckles (or any other joint really)
  24. survivorship – n – the state of being a survivor (thanks Wiktionary, I'd have never guessed that)
  25. stanchion – n – an upright bar or post that provides support to something else; the vertical bar in a a leadlight
  26. leadlight – n – a decorative window made with small panes of glass separated by metal bars (though I'm not sure how this is different from stained glass except maybe there's no color in the glass of a leadlight?)
  27. raceway – n – an electrical conduit that is a decorative element rather than hidden behind a structure
  28. spiv – n – a criminal (specifically a con man or black marketeer) who dresses in a flashy manner; probably obsolete
  29. paresthesia – n – pins and needles feeling in a numbed or "asleep" body part
  30. doodlesack – n – bagpipes; possibly obsolete
  31. ergodic – adj – applies to dynamic systems whose average behavior is the same over time when compared to average phase states; applies to Markov chains and thermodynamics
  32. comedo – n – a blackhead
  33. be spoiled – v – to have spoilers told to you
  34. bogie – n – the wheel unit of a train, typically with two axles
  35. journal – n – the part of the axle that lies on bearings
  36. dinkum – n – hard work (regional to Derbyshire)
  37. dinkum – adj – good, excellent, honest (regionalish to Australia)
  38. ology – n – a science; a backformation, its use probably indicates low social status on the speaker's part
  39. pinion – – gear type either within another gear with cogs on the inside or the gear that meshes with the rack
  40. rack – n – a bar with cogs, as if it were a gear built flat instead of round
  41. threequel – n – a second sequel, probably in distinction to part three of a trilogy 
  42. bargainous – adj – an outstanding deal, opposite of spendy
  43. dee – n – police Detectives
  44. slashdot – v – to overwhelm with messages
  45. half handle – n – one of the two pieces of a knife handle that are not the metal part of the knife
  46. tang – n – the metal part of the knife between the two half handles
  47. bolster – n – the thickened metal part of a knife just past the handle
  48. heel – n – the portion of a knife's blade that extends below the handle
  49. guard – n – the taper on the metal between the blade and bolster
  50. back – n – the edge opposite the cutting edge of the knife
  51. skimmer – n – a kitchen utensil with a handle and a round, perforated dish on the end that is used to take food out of liquid or skim things off the top of soups
  52. slot – n – the space between the tines of a fork
  53. demitasse – n – a small cup for coffee, usually used for espresso
  54. ramekin – n – an oven to table dish that is used for individual portions
  55. cork ball – n – the inner cork portion of a baseball
  56. yarn ball – – the outer wound portion of a baseball
  57. cover – n – the leather outside of a baseball
  58. shrift – n – the act of confession, related to shrive
  59. emulous – adj – ambitious, though possibly without the negative connotations (hard to say what connotations ambitious had when RL Stevenson was writing)
  60. coquetry – n – effort to attract attention, often directed from a woman to a man
  61. risk – v – to take a risk (heard in a live interview on the radio, is this a nonce form caused by the ease of zero derivation in English?)
  62. chuff – v – to make a noisy puffing sound like a steam engine (heard every day thanks to Thomas and Friends, defined thanks to class) Source: oh, the horror,
  63. chuff – v – to deliberately and obviously fail a standardized test
  64. chuffed – adj – pleased
  65. shunt – v – to move a train from one track to another or move cars from one train to another (again courtesy of Thomas and Friends)
  66. head – n – the flared load-bearing part of a railway rail
  67. web – n – the thin(ner) part of a rail between the base and head
  68. fishplate – n – the piece that joins two railway rails together
  69. safety line – n – the textured and colored strip at the edge of a train station platform
  70. trough – n – long, narrow area of low pressure, named because of its shape
  71. cornice – n – portion of roof that overhangs the main structure for rain protection
  72. pilaster – n – rectangular column that sticks out of a wall but is structurally insignificant
  73. fore edge – n – the edge of a book opposite the binding
  74. square – n – part of book board that overhangs the block; a book cornice
  75. action – n – the part of a piano that transfers motion between the key and hammer; possibly generalized to (musical) keyboard function
  76. nacelle – n – /ˈnæsl̩/ at M-W, /nəˈsɛl/ at Wiktionary – the boxy part of a windmill between the hub and the mast (and just what is the difference between a mast and stanchion?)
  77. swart – adj – dark; related to swarthy
  78. percy – adj – personal (of a drug stash), which has led to a meaning of unreal or legit
  79. bpw;dr – initialism – behind pay wall; didn't read
  80. avidity – n – greed, intensity of desire
  81. catholicity – n – universality; appears to relate to catholic and Catholic
  82. cheval-glass – n – a full length mirror on a stand that allows the mirror to pivot
  83. arras – n – tapestry, since Arras (a city in France) was a major source of them
  84. tippet – n – a shoulder covering garment, an animal skin draped on the shoulders is a typical example, a scarf worn loose around the neck is another example
  85. bartizan – n – (also bartisan) a wall with projecting battlements like the Spanish fortifications in Cádiz or San Juan (though the word is Scottish in origin)
  86. retronym – n – a term modified to make the original sense explicit as in acoustic guitar, natural turf or white milk; apparently coined by Frank Mankiewicz
  87. annuitant – n – someone who gets an annuity
  88. absquatulate – v – to run off; a joke coinage from the 19th century
  89. hangry – adj – anger caused by hunger; a joke portmanteau of the 21st century (not the only portmanteau of hungry I've seen, just that this one was new)
  90. nyctophilia – n – a love of the night
  91. cat vacuum – v – to be doing something other than the writing you ought to be doing (like collecting words rather than preparing a book I ought to be)
  92. adiabatic – adj – involving no heat transfer into or out of the working fluid of thermodynamic processes; highly associated with process
  93. hegemony – adj – a notion of a power structure involving domination of one group over another; more narrowly a power structure that is not questioned—how Things Are The Way They Are and why they stay that way
  94. memristor – n – passive electrical element (resistor, capacitor and inductor are the other three) caused by imperfect metal-metal contact; portmanteau of memory resistor
  95. coherer – n – radio detector that predates crystal detector; some are memristors
  96. articulated bus – n – one of the really long busses with two halves
  97. slug – v – to carpool informally but not as informal as hitchhiking;, usually to take advantage of HOV lanes (similar to the expresses on the Kennedy, but for cars with multiple passengers) or lower tolls
  98. slug – n – the person who gets a slugged ride; not the driver
  99. tender – n – another name for coal car
  100. tank engine – n – a steam engine that does not have a tender, but carries all fuel and water on-board

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

L2 tactics on L1 vocabulary learning

Since one of the projects in the vocabulary acquisition class is to learn 100 new English words, I figured I could take a page out of L2 teaching. There are some ways of teaching that include pre-reading vocabulary instruction. Why not do the same for L1? Sure, I've got an adult-sized vocabulary, but why make this harder than necessary?

But where to find the words I don't know? Enter the Simple Concordance Program teamed up with Jekyll and Hyde. One of the SCP's tricks is that it can generate a word list by frequency of the word's use. And Jekyll and Hyde is in the public domain, so its text is already txt. So team them up to make a list showing from least frequent (one use for a whole bunch) to most frequent (1,600 uses for the). Scan the words that occur once for likely targets, and you've now got a list of words to learn. 

Just. Like. That.

(I should add that this doesn't add to vocabulary depth or catch all of the likely targets, but it speeds things up quite a bit.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Themes in learning new words

So we’re most of the way through the vocabulary acquisition class now. It’s over next week in fact. In my reading for the class, some common themes cropped up. The following are some take away points for people looking either to improve their vocabulary in their native language or learn vocabulary in a non-native language. Learning new words:
  • is a social process
  • follows your interests
  • depends on your level of engagement.
Let’s take a look at what I mean by this.

It’s a social process. You are somehow going to get these words and their meanings from other people. Period. (I suppose there might be an exception, but most people don’t coin new words the way Shakespeare did. So, period.) To be sure, some of those people will be face to face with you, but written langauge has a broader use of words. Slight data on this point: Of the words in my vocabulary project, only a handful were in any sort of spoken context. The vast majority were from written sources. (I’ll supply some numbers once I finish that project.) I suspect, though haven’t seen anything saying so in peer-reviewed research that
face-to-face > movies/tv > radio > reading
in terms of what format is likely to stick best.

It follows your interests. The words that I have the most trouble recalling are the words that other people gave me on a request. Ergodic is cool, but I’m not that interested in mathematics or thermodynamics. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure to remember bogey—I love riding on the train. My wife likes Scrabble sorts of games, so ai is likely to stay in her vocabulary while I’ll probably forget it because I don’t play those sorts of games.

It depends on your level of engagement. This is somewhat trickier. You are certainly more likely to be engaged when talking about things you are interested in. But you are also more likely to be engaged when you are talking face to face with a person and ask for an explanation of a new word. Likewise, explicit vocabulary instruction in a non-native language—whether from a teacher, fellow student or other speaker—will increase your level of engagement with the new vocabulary. Another anecdote, though involving grammar. On a trip to Spain, I wanted to know how to say “I’m ready to X”. So indicating to the man running the tapas bar, I told him that I wanted to pay and that I was ready. I then asked but how do I say those at the same time. I now know that you ESTAR list@ para INFINITIVE. Because I got a short explanation from him and engaged him in communication, I remember that information several years later.

Coming up: Points specific to non-native language vocabulary

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The power of extensive reading in L2

One technique of learning a second language is extensive reading. It's been known for some time that it can create gains in language knowledge. And if anecdote is the singular of data, that's been my experience. One of the problems with extensive reading is that researchers didn't have much notion about how effective it was in terms of learning vocabulary. Enter Marlise Horst and her measurement study.

Her aim in 2005 was to find two things. 1. How effective is ER—that's so much shorter than extensive reading—for learning new words? 2. How can we test that learning?

I'm going to assume that you're not interested in the second part. Testing is its own thing, and I'm going to figure that most people are more interested in learning vocabulary anyway. I'm interested in ER for the simple reason that dead languages aren't learned by actual interaction with a speech community they way you can do with Tamil or Dutch. So ER is the way, so to speak.

Well, the answer is good news. Despite some problems in the study, all of which Horst acknowledged, there is good lexical growth going on with ER. However, I should add a caveat: the students in the project were not rank beginners. They had a good, though not perfect, grasp on the 2,000 most frequent words in English. And while she only shows that students picked up about 10 or 11 low-frequency words in her testing, they assuredly learned more.

So in practical terms, if you want to learn more vocabulary, you need to read and read widely. Why? There are claims—and I've got no reason to doubt it—that spoken language is much more heavily reliant on high-frequency words (though I think Nation has suggested that the top 5,000 to 7000 are needed for a broad-use spoken vocabulary but the point stands). The upshot is that the only way you'll get exposed to these less-frequent words is to read.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"I was never good in English.”

So said Andrew Shaw after he let slip with a profanity on live television.
It was a great shot, a great setup … [Bleeping] … It was unbelievable. All the guys, we deserved it.
How could he help himself? He scored the tie-breaking goal in a thriller of a hockey game—triple overtime in the finals. I don't know about you, but I'd be a little emotional and prone to let something slip too. In an interview a little later he was asked about what he said.
Slip of the tongue. I couldn’t think at all, actually. Could barely breathe. I think I made up a word in there, too, actually.
All of that is completely understandable. It happens to us all, but then he said something else.
I was never good in English.
As far as I can tell, Shaw is a native English speaker, so there's no reason he shouldn't be good at English. Nor is there anything particularly unusual about the comment. I've heard similar sentiments often enough. Setting aside written English, I wonder how many people feel that way about themselves? It's no wonder they do. You can find a powerpoint about this topic here (it gets specific to English on page 19 and the meat of the matter on page 28).

My point is this: as a native speaker, your language use is fine. Your tongue may slip on occasion. But on the whole, you're fine. And if it isn't? Then we better let the cardinals in Maine know about how poorly they sing their song. They don't sing it the same as cardinals in Illinois, where cardinals are the state bird and would know the official song.

Edit to add: As a Chicagoan, I feel I should say something like, "Go 'Hawks!" So, here it is. Go 'Hawks!

All of Shaw's quotes are taken from this Yahoo Sports article.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Noun incorporation in English?

No less than F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.

But first some explanation. Just what am I talking about? Consider this word:
It describes a person who walks dogs. The key is that in English we don't care if there are twelve dogs, three dogs or just one. The exact dogs being walked don't matter. You would never say something like this:
This word isn't any good in English. It wants to make a distinction we don't want to make. It's not that you could go for this form optionally. In fact, it would seem to imply that there are specific dogs being walked in both cases, but we don't want that in English. It's good enough to be generic. Now, it turns out that there are some languages that allow for that—Mohawk for one. You can take the verb's object and glom it onto the verb. You keep the same meaning as if you hadn't. It's called noun incorporation since the verb incorporates the noun into itself.

And it's not normally a feature of English, so you cannot imagine how surprised I was to see Fitzgerald say this:
…the electric trains, men-carrying, were plunging home…
Now I don't actually think Fitzgerald was doing this to prove a point. I don't even know that he knew what he was doing, though it must have been on purpose. It's too weird to not be on purpose. He's violating a real rule in English grammar. It leapt off the page for me, so I'd not be surprised to hear it did the same while editors were having their way with the text. Likewise, I'm sure the printers noticed to as they were making plates. It's just weird, but there it is.

Fitzgerald has glommed a plural object (men) onto the verb (carrying). Oh, sure, there's a hyphen there, but it almost serves to underline the weird usage.

In case you don't believe me, here's the page the quote is taken from.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Word frequency lists

One of the things a Latin nerd is up against is poor word frequency lists. In English, there are lots of good lists. The frequency data from COCA is top notch.

If you look at their big list, you'll see that somehow they manage to deal with inflected forms: be, which is English's most inflected word, is in second place. Properly so. But then you go to a pre-cooked Latin frequency list and the various forms of esse are scattered. And to a degree I understand. It's easier to build a frequency list that ignores these sorts of things. Quo could belong to quo or qui/quae/quod or quis/quid. I suppose there are ways around it, but then you start getting into having to program a computer to know the difference. I don't want to think about teaching a computer the difference between cum1 and cum2. But to some degree that's small potatoes.

Perseus has a word frequency tool buried in the results page of the word study tool, and it's pretty cool. But as a frequency analysis for fax shows, it's got an idiosyncratic approach to defining the corpus (i.e. de senectute is its own corpus and so is epistulae ad familiares and so on and so on). So at Perseus you get an idea of frequency, so long as you're not interested in a broader vision of Latinity. Other lists give you an absolute ranking and no more. Some give you the lemma others give you the assorted word forms. And then there's a super list that I love (it's true) from Dickinson College Commentaries.

In any case, I've not found one that's good at tracking down collocations—its own can of worms. Oh, woe to someone whose interest in Latin goes beyond the literary, historical or pedagogical. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

L2 vocab project: Persian

I've settled on Persian for my non-English language for the vocabulary acquisition class. It's a language I'm fascinated by for a host of reasons. It's Indo-European and has a very long history—and I'm a sucker for history like that. And while modern Persian isn't its ancient counterpart, I'm also fascinated with the interplay between Iran and the West, which has been going on for years. And I'd like to go there, because it looks way cool. Alas, money is the biggest obstacle. Though the state based in Washington doesn't think it should be easy for me to go there either (and I'm not entirely sure that the state based in Tehran feels much differently).

So I'll get a little vicarious. As usual, I'll be blogging my way through this mess. In order to keep things from getting off track here, I'm setting up a blog here. To help anchor the words in the culture of Iran, I'm going to pick out proverbs. For one, you can't separate a language from its culture. For another, one of the aspects of a language that has been hinted at in class is set blocks of speech. And I really hope to be able to tell you more about formulaic speech in upcoming entries.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Building a crane to the vocabulary spurt

In the third chapter of Becoming a Word Learner, Linda Smith talks about how children build a crane (her term) to make themselves better word learners.

The notion is that when children learn their first words, they start to notice patterns about those words and create templates for future learning. Her main point is that children seem to fix on shape, rather than some other property, to signal an object's class. For example, chairs—prototypically anyway—have four legs, a seat and a back. This shape cues children in that a CHAIR is a chair. What's interesting is that when researchers cue very young children in on the shape bias by training them, their vocabularies grow faster.

So whatever the exact mechanism may be, children are learning how to learn words by—and this is truly shocking—learning words. Once they get to a certain point, the biases and patterns they've developed seem to take on a life of their own.

How might this relate to learning a second language? I'm not wholly sure, but allow me some speculation. One of the things that foreign language learning materials seem to focus on is inflectional morphology, which makes enough sense. You can't speak the language if you don't know how speakers expect things to be ordered. Latin wants case inflection on nouns. English wants word order. Spanish wants you to be clear about which object you are talking about via definite and indefinite articles. Russian couldn't care. And so on.

But one thing that foreign language materials, so far as I've seen anyway, don't worry too much about is derivational morphology. How do you get from civil to civility? And why can't you go from polite to politity? I'll be reading a paper—and thus blogging about it later—about this subject exactly.  I could be wrong, but I suspect that adult learners are given vocabulary lists that they then create a derivational morphology from. Or at least that's how it felt to me when I was learning Latin all those years ago. Civis became civitas. Aestus became aetstas. Could moralis become mortalitas? And the connection is made, though not without flaws. I think it was then that my grasp on Latin vocabulary started to really firm up from a list of words to memorize to things that behaved in similar way. In other words, I had made a derivational morphology crane for myself. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Talking toys

Well, it's begun again. In the last week, I've been hearing some odd conversations around the house. My little guy has started talking on behalf of his toys. So I bring up all of that index and symbol stuff just in time for him to start having the words that come out of his mouth stand in for the words coming out of the toy's mouth. Ka-boom! So much for what I had written.

Tonight's conversation?
Little Guy (in the tub): I going potty!
Me (to myself): Oh, no you're not!
Little Guy: I going potty!
Me (getting up to see over the sink): *whew*
Little Guy (holding doll over the boat doing duty as a doll potty)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Icon, check. Index, check. Symbol, um.

So we're reading Becoming a Word Learner for class. And so far it's striking me as an extension of First Language Acquisition—everyone's got a different model.

The first chapter is "Word Learning: Icon, Index or Symbol?", which seems like a good place to start the discussion about learning words. After all, you need to show what it is that people are doing when they learn words. The way the authors, Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek, do that is by looking at attempts to teach non-humans human languages. (They say infrahuman, but I don't like the term. It smacks of chain of being, which I detest.) And to get to a human understanding of language, you need to be in possession of what they call symbol. Animals can, for the most part, only manage icon and index. But the part that bothers me is that I can't quite draw the distinction between index and symbol.

An icon of fire
Icon seems pretty straightforward. An icon is a representation of the thing itself. Here's an icon of fire.

See? It's not a fire, but it looks like fire. There seems to be some dispute as to just how much resemblance is necessary, but I'm going to ignore that.

An index of fire
The next remove is index. An index is either something that is correlated with or points to something. So for fire, smoke is an index. Other indexes of fire might be: heat, wood, camping, cooking, matches. So here's a picture of smoke, which is an index of fire.
One symbol for fire
(according to Wiktionary)
The problem comes in with symbol. At this page (a somewhat less in-depth discussion than in G and H-P), symbols are "easily removed from context" and "associated with large sets of other words". Ok, so far so good. I can talk about fire with none being present, as well as knowing that it as an association with other words like smoke, heat, wood, camping, cooking, and matches.
Here's the problem, which strikes me as a father of young children. We talk a lot about the here and now at home, which means that we are talking about things that are not removed from context—particularly with my son (2;5). My daughter has made the leap to things that aren't present, i.e. her upcoming birthday party. So we're kind of defeating the benefit of a symbol. In fact, we're treating words like indexes. We don't say MILK unless there is milk somewhere nearby: or we are trying to get the milk from the fridge into a cup or something very concrete. The other thing is that while we are indexing MILK to milk, we are also indexing it to such things as cups, lunch, cold, cereal, spoons, fridge and the like. So we're somewhat taking advantage of the association with other words, but they too are indexed in the here and now. 

Anyway. What I'm trying to get at is that I'm not seeing a clear line between index and symbol. Maybe at the ends of the index/symbol spectrum of goodness, it's clear. (Oooo, could it be a spectrum relationship?) Maybe as a child's ability to use language apart from the here and now develops, the child develops cognitive ability to make symbols out of indexes.

But there seems to be a lot of messy could-go-this-way or could-go-that-way and begging the question involved with indexes and symbols. If words are symbols, why are they so indexy early on? If words start their mental existence as indexes, then what transforms them into symbols? Do we even need to draw a distinction between index and symbol other than to say that a symbol is an index plus displacement? Or is this just another way that we're trying to separate man from beast without pointing at the actual neurological difference between what humans and, say, language-trained chimps are doing? I don't know. As usual here, more questions than answers. I absolutely promise interesting tools for learning new words in a second language before the end of summer. Cross my heart.

If you're curious, you can browse the book here. Why not? It's pretty interesting so far.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Complementizer development in Latin

As most Latin folks know, oratio obliqua doesn't have a complementizer in classical Latin.
1. Puto    Dalleca a   Doctore     vici.
    I.think Daleks   by the.Doctor
    I think that the Daleks are defeated by the Doctor.
First, because Doctor Who. Second, there's no complementizer, which is to say that there's no word that corresponds to "that" in English. It's not a big deal. We certainly can skip using the complementizer in English.
2. I think the Daleks are defeated by the Doctor.
Completely grammatical. We might even be able to parallel the Latin syntax and switch to an infinitive.
3. I think the Daleks to be defeated by the Doctor.
Though some native English speakers may feel I'm pushing the bounds of acceptable on that one. Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that at some point Latin picks up a complementizer. It presses quod, which is a conjunction meaning because, into service as the complementizer. So our first sentence might become something like this if it were to show up in the Vulgate.

4. Puto   quod  Dalleca a   Doctore     vicuntur.    I.think that    Daleks   by the.Doctor they.are.defeated
    I think that the Daleks are defeated by the Doctor.
And that's no small matter. Aside from adding the complementizer quod, we made two other shifts. One is invisible, because I couldn't resist the notion of the Daleks in Latin. The noun is neuter so we don't see it shift from accusative in 1 to nominative in 4, so you'll just have to trust me that it works that way. The other thing I did was to shift vici from an non-conjugated infinitive to a standard conjugated verb, vicuntur.

The reason I bring it up is because in my preparation of de Senectute for publication as a reader for intermediate students, I've noticed that quod seems to behave oddly. It's like you could interpret it as either because or that. (And if I think of it I'll dig up an example of this, but not today.)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lexical acquisition

I start my first (and hopefully only) summer course tomorrow. Lexical acquisition. One of the projects will be a snap. Learn new words in a second language. I doubt that's all there will be, but it seems pretty easy. Find a clutch of words I don't know. If I'm feeling ambitious, which I haven't been lately, I'll pick Persian. If I'm not, I'll pick Greek.

The problem is that the other side of the project is finding new English words. The problem, so far I can see it from before the class starts is that I don't know what words I hear that I don't know. The context of stuff is usually pretty obvious. In reading, I'll have context, but I'll also have that "hm, I don't think I know that one" sensation. The other problem is that if anyone is using unusual words in my life, it's me.

I hope I can blog a lot about the stuff I learn in this class, because it sounds fascinating to me. Thus it will get inflicted on you, dear readers.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Adjective order in Latin

Warning: speculation follows, hopefully not all baseless

As we all know, you can graduate from college magna cum laude or summa cum laude. Latin students can skip ahead, but for those of you who don't know: here's the story. Both of those expressions are prepositional phrases. We'll skip some of the fine points, but here's the outline
1. magna cum laude    great    with praise
    with great praise
Now, you might notice that the adjective is before the preposition, and that's odd by English standards. In ordinary Latin you might get
2. cum laude magna
Yes, the adjective is prone to coming after its antecedent noun, hence the name antecedent. In previous entries, I've mused as to what is going on here. And I don't know that I've got any stunning new insight about why the preposition should move to where it does. In fact, it probably doesn't move to the spec P position. Oh well. Here's an example
3. Cytoriaco radium de               monte      tenebat (Met, 6.132)
    cytorian    shuttle  down.from mountain she.held
    She held a shuttle from the Cytorian mountain (i.e. boxwood).
The adjective Cytoriaco is separated quite a way from its antecedent noun monte, which is behind the preposition—as it should be. And this made me wonder whether there was some rule in how to separate an adjective from its noun. Latin is famous for this sort of word order play in poetry: noun and adjective bracket a line. It's picked up a name: Latin sandwich. Here it is in the Metamorphoses.
4. et    rupit         pictas      caelestia crimina vestes (Met, 6.131)
    and she.broke decorated celestial  crimes   cloths
And she [Minerva] tore apart the tapestry decorated with the crimes of the gods
Just what I want to show you. In 4, the adjective, pictas, comes well ahead its antecedent, vestes. Once again, I've done some casual looking around. The pattern seems to hold. If a noun and its adjunct adjective are separated, the adjective comes first. 

But so what? It is even real? I don't know I'll have to file this under: things to look into.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

End of semester wrap up and reflection

And spring semester is over. Or, rather, I went to the last night of classes last night. 

As you may know, I've decided to post my homework on Scribd—at least the stuff that might be of interest to someone. Why? If someone is interested in how language works, my homework might be of interest. So as much as I think I can get away with it, I try to write for you instead of the professor. Whether I've succeeded or not is another matter that I leave to you.

One advantage of posting my homework beyond wider circulation is that I can refer back to it, which I did on a recent paper. I saw something in subject agreement marker syncretism that reminded me of some work with pronouns I had done. And a revelation hit me: I couldn't have done this (easily) pre-internet. I made the connection, referenced it in the paper and had a link pointing  back to the previous work. That's really powerful. Building connections between classes, admittedly easier at graduate level, is a major part of education: taking disparate information and synthesizing knowledge.

So what information got poured into my head this semester? Morphology, which may or may not be a thing, and First Language Acquisition. I loved one form the get go and needed some encouragement in the other. Oddly, the classes were taught by husband and wife. They couldn't have been more different for it. 

But now I don't have to tangle with stuff I'm less interested in. Hopefully there will be more time for blogging and crunching through texts. Derivational morphology in Latin anyone?

Friday, April 19, 2013

ho de

My research presentation from today. The professor moderating the symposium wasn't sold on my conclusion, but did like the direction I was taking.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

First language acquisition

The research problems here are massive: you've got to deal with small children as your informants. I can't think of too many areas of research where the child—some just a few months old—have exclusive hold on the answers.

As part of the first language acquisition class I'm finishing up, I did a bit of research involving 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children. There is something very intimidating about realizing that as an adult, you cannot answer the questions. You can ask. You can interpret the responses. But you can't answer. Your subjects may not want to answer, and they're all you've got.

The other wildly difficult thing about first language acquisition research is that a lot of the principles involved are highly intuitive. For example: when applying names to objects, children assume that things have only one name. Researchers call it the Mutual Exclusion principle. Obvious, but you have to put some scientific rigor to it if you're going to use it in your work.

Anyway, what I want to impart is that this area of linguistics is both specialized and accessible for ordinary people.

Here's my final paper for the curious.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Theta roles, animacy and passivity in Latin

If this post seems weird, don't sweat it. I'm putting it up so that I can remember it more easily if I need something to research.

Last night we were talking about the difficulties children face in acquiring passives. One of the problems was reversible theta roles, specifically agent and instrument. As we all know, Latin treats these differently in terms of syntax. Which got me to wondering. Does the Latin passive favor animate subjects to inanimate subjects?

My hunch is yes. But in and of itself it isn't a very interesting question. The interesting question to ask is how does Latin passive use relate to later literature in Romance languages? Does passive favor mentioning agents or instruments? Does passive favor animate subjects? How is this similar/different in daughter languages?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Switch Reference in Ancient Greek?

I'm going to be presenting at the student research symposium again. I think, though some of the data is a problem, that Ancient Greek has a switch reference marker. The data, very much a work in progress, is here:

What I find interesting is that so many things, such an elegant word, flank the particle de. I'm quite aware that Runge says that de is [+development], which is to say indicating new information, but I don't think that's the whole story. About 40% of the time, de has a nominative case something on one side or the other. 40%? This seems much higher than chance alone. Of course it could also be an artifact of being located near the front of a clause, which is where the subject tends to hang out.

Anyway, I've got to pour some work in on this, but my preliminary research will be presented in two (yow!) weeks. I'll put up the presentation slides here then.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Making new Latin words

So I was talking to the kids today. While I use the word singulatim on occasion, I've never given it much thought. I've just used it as one at a time. Then I left it at that. After all: English has once, twice, (a dead) thrice, four times, etc. Latin has semel, bis, ter, quater, etc. So I, naturally enough, figured that there just wasn't an exact overlap. I also know about distributive numbers in Latin—a neat trick. 

Anyway. We were playing with Legos and I needed to get a specific piece two at a time. So instead of asking for partes binae, I asked for them binatim

Oh well. Live and learn?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Amazon recommendations

You buy one Koine Greek anything at, and all of a sudden the whole recommendation list turns into theology. But. But. But. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Student struggles with the passive

I've been tutoring a Latin student lately. His mother informs me that he's got trouble with the passive. It's not a problem of understanding—he gets the passive in English. It's not a problem of recognition—he recognized passive verbs in Latin. The problem is mapping the Latin passive onto the English structure, and I think I've got the problem nailed down.

Here's a passive sentence in Latin:
Fenestra frangitur.
Here is one way to say that in English:
A window is broken.
Except that's not what any actual English speaker, let alone a 14 year-old English speaker, would say. More like:
A window's broken.
Which is exactly one phonological segment off of:
A window's breakin'.
And I think that's the key. Students hear the progressive (is verb-ing) and some, but enough to screw thing up, passives (is verb-en) as the same thing. So to eliminate the ambiguity they hear, the students kill the tense:
A window was broken.
I could be wrong, but this seems to be the student mistake with present tense passives. Anyone have any insights?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why so quiet?

Because life. I'm sure I'll get something going here soonish.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Show of force

In the morphology class the professor dropped the first two lines of the Aeneid on me to analyse for morphology. And I realized a few things in the process.
  1. I don't use a consistent parsing order. Case, number and gender were never ordered the same way twice.
  2. I'm not sure how transparent compounds were to native Latin speakers.
  3. I have absolutely no idea how to analyse qui.
For #1, that's probably just me being put on the spot. I don't think I'd do that in writing. For #2 I suggested a morphological breakdown of profugus as follows.
But would a Latin speaker say that pro- had some specific meaning in the same way that re- or ad- had when prefixed to a verb? I know we're taught about Latin compounds as being this way, so I suspect so. I'll leave it at that. #3 was by far the most interesting. The professor was trying to get me to analyse qui (nom, s, masc). Now, if it had been qui (nom, pl, masc), I'd have had it. Obviously.
But how does the singular version break up? One possible solution.
But it's not very satisfying. After all, how does -i signal nom.s.masc? I'm not thinking of anything off hand. So the solution I took in class was to not analyze it. Qui (nom, s, masc) is qui is qui. The professor pushed a bit, but I couldn't justify it so it stood as unanalyzable. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Spring semester 2013

I'm taking First Language Acquisition and Morphology. Excitement. Well, maybe not, but I've got small children so I'll have informants at hand. In fact, I administered the one and only Wug Test to Little Girl. Even though I explained what she was supposed to do, some items were really vexing. Others were "Daddy, why are you asking such obviously easy questions?" sorts of questions.

So anyway. Get ready for me to blather on about those two fields. I'm still somewhat stumped by the whole v-deletion thing in Latin, so maybe I'll do more with that. I've also got a student project I want to work up for the research symposium in April. Fun times.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An invitation?

Well, I think I've just been invited to write something up for the Dickinson College Commentaries' Blog.
I wonder what he is doing with the list? Perhaps a guest blog post is in order. Peter?
I'll have to think of something. Maybe present my workflow. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dickinson College Commentaries

Ok, if you have a sick love of Latin the way I do, you need to know about the Dickinson College Commentaries. Especially their vocabulary list. Especially that. To that end, I've made a spreadsheet version available for download and thus offline access.

Since discovering it, I've made good use of it in student materials. It also provides a manageable list for (high-school level) students to master over their two years of introductory courses. The DCC blog says this about the list:
The Latin list contains about 1000 of the most common words in Latin. These are the lemmas or dictionary headwords that generate approximately 70% of the word forms in a typical Latin text.
Mind you, 70% is not enough to get fluent reading going on, but it's a good start. I've seen a video that shows that 95% coverage is needed for a student to guess at unknown words. So the DCC list, in conjunction with same page vocabulary support, is a good starting point for students to build their vocabulary.

Given that I've written a three-year curriculum for the younger students at the school I work at, I should probably give a look-see at my vocabulary list and see how it matches up. My gut feeling is that in some ways it matches up pretty well, but in others it doesn't.