Signaling tense and aspect

Chinese does not have ‘grammar’ the way European languages do because words are not inflected. There are no plurals, noun cases or past tense. All the memorization of declensions you have to do when you study, say, Germanic, Slavic and Romance languages—that kind of stuff is absent from Chinese entirely (though you would of course be foolish to conclude that Chinese is therefore easy). So how are the relationships between words indicated? Context, adverbs and particles.

Let’s look at verb tense (specifically past tense) and aspect (specifically completed aspect) in Singlish as influenced by Chinese.

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Why Johnny Can’t Read

Why Johnny Can’t Read is a rant, but the rant is justified if the ‘whole-word’ method was as dominant as the author, Rudolf Flesch, claims.

How infuriating that someone assumed, and led a whole country to assume, that because adult readers take in whole words in a glimpse when reading that that was how reading should be taught to children, rather than by sounding out the letters and letter combinations.

Flesch proposes that parents teach their kids at home using a phonetic system very much like the one I’m teaching now.

What’s a ‘yard’?

Why? Because in Singapore, there are no yards.*

There aren’t any sticks measuring 36″, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about that area around your house where there’s grass and plants and trees. Maybe you have a fence, a driveway, a mailbox at the end of the driveway, and a doghouse or a swing set or a vegetable garden in the back behind the patio where you keep your grill.

Nope. Not in Singapore you don’t. Nobody has a yard here.

Nobody grills on his own grill in his own backyard; nobody owns a swing set; nobody’s dog has half an acre to run around in; nobody rakes leaves from the yard in the autumn; nobody’s mailbox sits on a stick among some rocks and plants; nobody’s teenage son gets paid to mow the grass with the lawnmower in the garage.

There’s no autumn, and the mailboxes are all little metal bins built into the wall in sets of ten or twenty in the lobby, and you park your cars— where else?—in the car park (assuming you can afford a car in the first place). In Singapore, you have to bid to buy the right to buy a car because the island has quotas on how many of each size vehicle there are.

Edit: On the other hand, maybe not having a yard is a good thing!

*This is an exaggeration. But to understand how rare ‘landed properties’ are, read about good-class bungalows.

Spell all the words!

My six-year-old students must think I’m omniscient. One of them asked me whether I could “spell all the words”. He wasn’t asking about all the words in the wordlist for chapter three, or something like that; he was asking about all the words in the English language. I think I said that I can spell a lot of words but not all of them because English has so many. Imagine believing that a language has a particular number of words and no more!

Short i

Two of my reading classes did the ‘i’ lesson today. I had to explain ‘chill’, ‘cliff’, ‘knit’, and ‘vanish’. At least a couple of kids in the noon class knew what a ‘vest’ was. (No, ‘vest’ doesn’t have a short ‘i’, but it is one of the words in the short ‘i’ lesson.)

I continue to be surprised by gaps in vocabulary. Plus, half the time, the gaps are gaps they don’t even know are there: when I ask what ‘knit’ was, they think it’s ‘neat’ or ‘need’. Today, they thought ‘vanish’ was ‘Spanish’ or ‘spinach’. Fake homophones abound.