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.

Continue reading Signaling tense and aspect

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.

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!

I can read!

My current job is with one branch of a network of literacy centers called “I Can Read”. We teach phonics, reading, spelling, and eventually, grammar, including parts of speech.

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. An adjective describes a noun.

A verb is something you can do. Here’s how you test to see whether something is a verb:

I can… jump.

I can… think.

I can… window?

For some reason, “I can window” struck me as hilarious. What would that even mean, do you think?

English spelling is crazy.

It’s been done to death, but here it is again.

Someone (though probably not the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Pygmalion, which later became a musical named My Fair Lady) joked that the word ‘fish’ can be spelled ‘ghoti’.

  1. Take the ‘gh’ from ‘laugh’
  2. Add the ‘o’ from ‘women’
  3. Add the ‘ti’ from ‘nation’

And you get ‘ghoti’, pronounced ‘fish’.

More details at the wikipedia page for ‘ghoti’.

I is for… igloo?

It always cracks me up to see the picture of the igloo in representations of the alphabet in Singapore. I suppose it must be practically the only noun that starts with a short i sound, because it’s not an obvious vocabulary word at all, especially here. American kids have never seen an igloo in person, but they have typically seen snow, which Singaporean kids may never have done.

‘Insect’ is perhaps a better concrete noun to represent short ‘i’.

What else starts with short ‘i’?

Interview, interesting, intermission, interstate highway (there aren’t any of those in Singapore either), ignorant, illness, id, it, idiom, insecurity, inception, illusion, irritation, irritant, incubator, intermittent, itsy-bitsy, intern, inner, intimate, invalid, incomplete, inadvertent, incapacitate, interpolation, indigo.

There must be dozens with in-/il-/ir- (which are all the same underlying latin prefix). And dozens more with inter- and intra-. Putting latinate words in a kid’s alphabet is maybe not a great idea, but Latin stuff is more authentically English than igloo, for crying out loud.

Meanwhile, ‘j’ is for ‘jack-in-the box’. It’s an old-fashioned toy. I’ve seen some, but I imagine that people younger than me increasingly haven’t.

Hm. What else starts with ‘j’?

Jelly, jam, jail, jig, Jell-o, Japan, junk, jellyfish, jeans, judge, jalopy, jinx.

I don’t think I even knew what a jalopy was until someone tried to teach me the Spanish word for jalopy (‘cacharro’). I suppose whoever it was succeeded, since apparently I still remember.

Now I’m thinking of churrascaria, a Portuguese word for Brazilian barbecue.