Verb it!

I’ve been struggling for ideas for posts, so I turned to the online discussions I had with my classmates during my masters study in 2010-12, which we were able to save as text files.

One involved the use of technology-related nouns and verbs. The discussion thread was Google it! As the name of a website, Google is a noun (and upper case), but people soon began using it as a verb and writing it in lower case. Many people decry the verbing of nouns and/or using registered company or product names as generics (see generic trademark) but both are common procedures in English. I can remember people faxing (though fax was never a proper noun, and was an abbreviation of facsimile (another common procedure in English – I don’t think anyone ever facsimilied (btw when was the last time you sent a fax?))), and references to people telexing (which was originally an upper-case proper noun). Before that, people telephoned, then ’phoned then phoned. All of these are transitive verbs: Google it, fax the document to me, fax it to me, fax me the document, ?/*fax me it, phone me, ?telephone me. (See also telegram, telegraph (including its metaphoric use) and wire.) (I can also remember an advertisement (?for a graphic designer) informing us that we could ‘fax or modem’ our requirements to them.)

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PROPER reading material

One of my frustrations in learning Korean has been (not) finding real or realistic material which takes me beyond textbooks. So I was excited to find ‘Korean Short Stories for Beginners’, promising ‘PROPER reading material’, ‘interesting reading material’ and ‘easy-to-read, compelling and fun stories’. For beginners.

After ordering and receiving the book and its Intermediate companion, I found that their idea of PROPER reading material for beginners is three pages of text per story, albeit at a readable size and divided into paragraphs. My wife (a native Korean speaker with a qualification in teaching Korean to speakers of other languages) gasped with astonishment when I showed her. A member of my church choir said “There a no pictures!”. My idea of PROPER reading material for beginners is three paragraphs of text per story, with at least one picture.

The book also contains vocabulary lists for each chapter, English translations paragraph-by-paragraph, a one-paragraph summary of each story and a comprehension quiz. But three pages of text! With no pictures! I can understand the occasional sentence in its entirety, and get the gist of about half the sentences. 

I wish I could recommend the books, but I can’t, which is why I haven’t identified the publisher (but search and probably find). Maybe if they marketed the first one as intermediate and the second as upper-intermediate and included pictures, I might.

On Sunday I caught a bus to the city centre and a train home. I took this book to fill in time. Just after I got on the train, two women sat behind me and started talking Korean. I quickly hid the book; I didn’t want them to start speaking to me in Korean.

Most advice for second language learners includes something like “Take every opportunity to practice actually using the language.” But I rarely do, which partly explains why my level remains so low. And I would be terrified if people started speaking to me in Korean.

Some years ago I was reading a Korean textbook on a train when a woman sat next to me speaking Korean on her phone. She finished the call and looked straight at my textbook, so I had to say something. It quickly became apparent that her English was better than my Korean, so we talked in Korean until she got off.

PS A few days later I took and read the intermediate book, and found the language much easier (except the stories are longer and there’s no complete English translation).

The horse is good

Between my first and second trips to Korea I gained a masters degree by online study. One of my subjects was Asian Languages, and the textbook was The Languages of East and South-East Asia by Cliff Goddard. The cover has words in three or four scripts, and the presence of the Korean word 말 (mal, word or language) in the bottom left-hand corner made me suspect that all of them had something to do with words or languages. 

One day the manager of the language college I was working at noticed the book on my desk and asked me if I knew what the first row of Chinese said. I said I didn’t. He explained that it was a four-character phrase (which I think I’d vaguely heard or read about) and said that it means something like “Few words, many actions” (more about which later). 

Soon after, my class had their weekly test and I took the book into the classroom to read or at least browse while I was supervising them. One young Chinese student took a long time to settle down to doing the test, so I held up the book and pointed to those words. That shocked her into doing her test. 

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Coming home

There are multiple songs titled “Coming home” or “Going home”. Wikipedia lists 61 songs titled “(I’m) Comin(g) home” and 31 titled “(I’m) Goin(g) home”, as well as albums, books and movies.

I mixed up two of them. The song I remembered clearly (“I’m coming home”) was written and sung by Australian duo Beeb Birtles and Graeham Goble. The name I remembered was English singer David Essex (who sang, and probably wrote, “Coming home”). Either one (and many others with the same title) illustrate an interesting point about English grammar. Usually, we go from ‘here’ to ‘there’, or come from ‘there’ to ‘here’. In each song, the singer is somewhere other than ‘home’, so would usually sing about going ‘home’; that is, from ‘here’ to ‘there’. But each sings about coming ‘there’. The Birtles and Goble song begins:

Ma
I’m coming home
So take my picture off the wall
I’ve had enough of being alone

The Essex song includes:

There’s no question in my mind that I’m coming home tonight

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correct but problematic

While I was typing yesterday’s post, I thought of another student’s answer to a similar activity some years ago. The sentence was “His friends are always asking him ____ he’s going to make another movie”. The expected answer is when, and most students wrote that. A few students wrote where. Possible. One student wrote why, which I just had to mark as correct, even while explaining why it was a problematic choice.

Yesterday, I mentioned that it was difficult to make a ‘choice’ question without making one or more of the choices obviously wrong. At the moment I’m supervising the students doing the end-of-textbook test. Looking over the test, I can see choices like must/mustn’t, the best/better, most/more expensive and too many/too much. Most of these are common choices. Some choices are possible in very formal or very informal styles, or in a particular context. Must and mustn’t are equally grammatical in any sentence. Too many and too much depend on plural countable and uncountable nouns. The better is possible in some (mainly formal) contexts. Most expensive is not grammatical in any context.

Spot the difference

The class activity divided the students into pairs, with each student getting a slightly different version of the same drawing, and having to describe it to their partner (no looking!) to find the differences. The instructions said that there were 10 differences.

My students found 11. The last one they found was so small that I first thought it was a simple mistake, but it was significant, and listed in the answer book. It was another definite difference which was not listed.

“choose crime huts of supplements”

The chapter in the textbook was about the media, and one activity was a reading about two famous tv interviews, David Frost’s of Richard Nixon and Martin Bashir’s of Princess Diana. I found videos of both on Youtube and played them to the students. The one I found of Princess Diana is bizarre, for reasons unconnected with her. It is subtitled in Japanese, and the autosubtitling in English is way off the mark. (I can make no comment about the quality of the Japanese.) The first question on this video (which picks up in the middle of the interview) is “What effect did the depression have on your marriage?”. Her answer is autosubtitled, “Well again everybody a wonderfully new label this time as unstable and donna’s m bank in balance enforcing that seems to stop on our thirty s”.

Other excerpts are “you have so much pain inside yourself then choose crime huts of supplements” and “I want to get better analgesic enforce and continue my teaching my romance wife mother kansas last”. All within the first minute and a quarter. Ponder a while.

She actually said:

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‘Wilt thou leave me so dissatisfied?’

This week’s chapter of the textbook contained a lot about changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa using suffixes, and modifying adjectives using prefixes, including making negative adjectives. English has rather too many ways of making negative adjectives, including a-, dis-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, –less, non– and un-. Of these, a– is the most restricted and the textbook didn’t even mention it. il-, im-, in– and ir– are fairly restricted (compare illegal and unlawful), and –less can only be added to a noun. The three most general are dis-, non– and un-, probably in that order of restriction: we can say ‘uncool’ and ‘non-cool’, but we can’t say ‘discool’. (There are restrictions on the root adjective as well: we can say ‘unhappy’, but probably not ‘unsad’ and certainly not ‘unmiserable’.)

We have sets of words like comfort (verb), comfort (noun) and comfortable, but discomfort and uncomfortable. uncomfort and discomfortable exist, but are vanishing rare. Sometimes two adjectives sit side by side. Some combination of dissatisfying, unsatisfying, dissatisfied, unsatisfied, dissatisfactory and unsatisfactory cropped up in one lesson. dissatisfying and unsatisfying seem to be more subjective and dissatisfactory and unsatisfactory seem to be more objective: a movie might be unsatisfactory because of the picture or sound quality, but unsatisfying because of the story or acting.

Dictionary.com lists unsatisfactory, dissatisfactory, unsatisfying and dissatisfied, but dissatisfying redirects to dissatisfy, and unsatisfied to satisfied. On the other hand, unsatisfy and unsatisfaction don’t exist; the verb and noun are dissatisfy and dissatisfaction. Google Ngrams shows unsatisfactory and dissatisfied considerably ahead of unsatisfied and unsatisfying, slightly ahead of dissatisfying and dissatisfactory. So unsatisfactory and unsatisfying are clear choices, while dissatisfied is the better choice, but unsatisfied is not ‘wrong’. But there are two differences. The first is grammatical: Google Ngrams shows that dissatisfied is standardly followed by a function word (dissatisfied with, and, that, in, as, at, because, than, by and to) (and is therefore standardly used predicatively), while unsatisfied is followed by a noun more often than not (unsatisfied with, and, demand, desire, in, by, desires, longing, longings and curiosity) (and is therefore used attributively and predicatively). The second is semantic: people and demands, desires, longings, and curiosity can be unsatisfied, but only people (and maybe larger animals) can be dissatisfied.

Shakespeare has Romeo ask ‘Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’, but we can hardly draw any conclusions from on random example from more than 400 years ago.

knee is to kneel as ear is to hear

I can’t decide whether it’s more interesting to find out that two words are actually related, or actually not. Every textbook has a section on parts of the body, in increasing amounts of detail. One previous time, I got to wondering whether the words knee and kneel are related. Sure, the concepts are, but are the words? Yes, they are. You may have known that, but I had never consciously thought about it.

This week the topic came round again, and I suddenly thought about whether ear and hear are related. No, they’re not. Dictionary.com gives the history of ear as ‘Middle English ere, Old English ēar, æhher; cognate with German Ahre, Old Norse ax, Gothic ahs ear, Latin acus husk’ (the Latin word for ear is auris cf aural), and that of hear as ‘Middle English heren, Old English hēran, hīeran; cognate with Dutch horen, German hören, Old Norse heyra, Gothic hausjan; perhaps akin to Greek akoúein [cf acoustic]’ (the Latin word for hear is audite cf audience – those who are hearing). For most of linguistic history, the words ear and hear have not rhymed or been spelled similarly.

What’s in the box?

In an idle moment I looked in a box on the shelf above my desk at work. It was full of a miscellany of small slips of paper for classroom activities taken mainly from the teacher’s resource books of the textbook series (plural) we use, but also from the internet. I don’t know who they belong to (certainly not me) or how long they have been there (many of the elastic bands were brittle or had fallen apart completely) . They were a complete mess. The easiest thing would be to toss them all out, but there could be useful material there, and in some cases someone had gone to the trouble of laminating and exactly cutting the slips (I hate imprecisely cut slips of paper!) so I started sorting them out. An hour’s sorting produced slightly less of a mess. Some activities are self-explanatory, but others are baffling. My aim is to sort them all out, then find the instructions in the teacher’s book, then use them sometime to make it all worthwhile. I don’t know how long that is going to take. I put the more-sorted material at the bottom of the box and the less-sorted material at the top, which I realised later was the wrong strategy.

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