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Comment from: Hinermad [Visitor]


One of the advantages of having children is that they provide lots of opportunitites for “those days.” Granted, they don’t often allow for a relaxing day like the one you describe, but at least it’s a change of scenery from the office.

(I’m home with my son today. He’s got a touch of the stomach bug.)

I admire you for taking a stand on helping your cadets get their writing skills tuned up. Some days I want to take somebody by the back of the neck and smash his face into the sign he just erected advertising “Brake’s, Muffler’s, and Shock’s.” (Do you even know how hard it was for me to write that? My guess is that you do.)


09/21/07 @ 10:22
Comment from: [Member]

Yes. :) I know how hard that was. I believe it’s commonly referred to as “the greengrocer’s error,” because they’ll frequently advertise “beet’s” and “carrot’s,” etc.

We began with pronoun agreement. As far as I know, no one in the class scored perfectly. The most common mistake, of course, was ballooning a singular antecedent into a plural pronoun (i.e., “A person should know their stuff."). Most of the students groaned when they learned that their “knowledge” all this time has been misguided; one actually told me he had been taught to do just that in order to avoid the appearance of sexism. I rarely say anything quite as blatant about other members of the profession, but I replied simply, “You were taught incorrectly.”

I plan to start working on sentence clutter Monday, but I see the need for a class on numbers agreement, as well (i.e., “People should wear their coat” kind of errors). Then we have myriad common punctuation errors, and I can’t wait to get into subordinate clauses as a means of linking ideas smoothly and avoiding choppy sentences. My oh my. I’m teaching grade school and middle school stuff here, but the possibilities excite me.

I was just thinking this morning about how I’ve heard several of my colleagues say, “If they don’t have it by now, they won’t get it.” I find the opinion blatantly untrue (not to mention depressing). On the strength of yesterday alone, I saw the proverbial light come on in many students’ eyes. I believe that if they don’t have it by now, they were never taught, or for some reason it didn’t click, or they honestly don’t care enough to learn it. I couldn’t single out a single one of my students who falls into the last group, if only for the sake of making better grades on papers across the curriculum.

I’m having an excellent “day off.” I’ve reworked both of my syllabii (I’m still tweaking them), started laundry, cleaned the kitchen, and gone for a run. It’s a beautiful 75 degrees out. I’m off to the commissary to restock the fridge, then back to read and finish my work.

I swear…when I don’t go to work, I get about three times the work done (at home) in a third of the time it would take me at work, and the quality is better. I think the difference has something to do with lounging around in flannel PJs, but I can’t prove it. :)

Have a great day!


09/21/07 @ 13:00
Comment from: Aunt B'Ann [Visitor]  
Aunt B'Ann

Well, Dear, I can definitely relate to this one! Glad you decided to do something about the problem; my hat is off to you in your desire to actually HELP the students!!! Keep up the good work.

Love you!
Aunt B’Ann

09/21/07 @ 23:06
Comment from: K [Visitor]  

I think I only respond to linguistically-related posts because they’re the only ones I feel qualified to talk about. Also, apologies for my running-at-the-fingers tendencies. A quote comes to mind, which a quick Google search variously attributes to Samuel Clemens, Blaise Pascal, Rudyard Kipling, and most probably others: “My apologies for writing such a long letter; I did not have time to write a short one.”

WORD RAGE: it’s pretty weird! (And possibly uniquely anglophonic!) Though there’s an awesome section of Going Postal (a fairly recent Discworld book) where a greengrocer’s speech has an apostrophe before every letter S – unless the apostrophe would work, by standard English orthography. I completely missed it the first time I read it and I just couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. :)

SINGULAR “THEY": it has a long, storied, and completely natural history. And sorry to say, diana, but if you’ve been taught that “they” or other surface realizations cannot be anaphorically linked (agree) with a singular NP (noun phrase) (alternatively, with a singular DP, or determiner phrase), then… okay, I framed this so I can say “you’ve been taught incorrectly". Though this depends on the context: there are contexts where singular “they” is specifically proscribed, and the dialect of written English that you’re teaching is (obviously) one of these contexts. It tends to be the more intentionally formal dialects that this is the case. Many dialects of spoken English, including my own, have a singular “they” (and I will feel justly desserted if you come back with “no YOU were taught incorrectly!” &#59;) ). There are several logical arguments one can make in favor of singular “they":
1) It’s a completely natural, widespread facet of the language (whereas things I’ve heard of, like “zer", “sie", “ey” are artificial).
2) It doesn’t assume a specific sex when this information is irrelevant, unnecessary, unknown, or unwanted.
3) You can actually say it, unlike (s)he and s/he. That is, there’s a widely-understood common pronunciation /ðeɪ/ (or something close enough to make no difference)… how do you speak “(s)he” or “s/he"? /s.hi/? /ʃ.hi/? Something else entirely?
4) It’s not nearly as cumbersome as “he or she” or the reverse. “If the passenger has let his or her luggage out of his or her sight, he or she must tell security personal about his or her transgressions to receive his or her ritual beatings.” This Very Genuine™ airport announcement doesn’t roll of the tongue like it should.
5) There are a number of instances of singular “they” in well-known bodies of work, including the King James Bible and Shakespeare.

…and that’s all well and good, but it quite honestly isn’t about logic. I use singular “they” for this reason:
1) because I do.
By this, I mean that singular “they” is in my speech. I will avoid it in certain contexts (i.e. for certain audiences), just as I will avoid “ain’t” or “f*ck” or “anisotropic” in certain contexts. None of these four terms is always suitable, though for varying reasons, but they’re all in my language (though I have a funny story about when the word “f*ck", singular “they", and a 20 page paper on tabooed language walk into a bar…). And so I use them. It’s that simple.
I have chosen to self-censor the word /fʌk/ in the preceding paragraph, hopefully based on sound reasoning regarding the audience and context. Though I should probably note that I did use this most heinous of English non-racial dysphemisms in that 20 page paper in my lexicology class only five times, and all in or near the section which traced the word’s history.

Usage determines meaning. That’s why /gʊ.nə/ (often spelled “gonna") has come to mean anything at all in a language that was already able to express the meaning of the term, or how “thou” has dropped out of almost every dialect of English (not sure if or how to count the Quaker “thee"). It’s why language means anything, why it can even HAVE meaning. And as sure as singular “they” is a real phenomenon, you (diana) emphatically do not have singular “they” in your formal written dialect. Nor does the “standard written English” dialect. So after all these words, I must revise my previous statement (viz. reverse) to say that I understand and even agree with you in that singular “they” is incorrect – though only in a specific context. Overall I personally much prefer the approach that is the subject of these three Language Log posts:

On a different-though-tenuously-related note: about a month ago, I attempted to email you with the “Contact the admin” link that resides at the bottom of all the pages on your blog; the (attempted) email including those links there. I sent another one last week; would you email me back about that?

Singular-"they"-wise, though, I have a minor wager for anyone who reads this and doesn’t have singular “they” in their language. Try paying special attention to your choice of pronouns over the next (say) four days whenever you discuss an example that uses unspecified people. I would bet that you actually do use singular “they” in your speech but don’t notice when you use it, and furthermore that you will use singular “they” at least once within the next four days. I don’t know of any studies that measure this, but I do know that self meta-knowledge (what you think about what you do) is very often wrong, which is why I’m even marginally confident in my position on this bet. And if I’m wrong, well, live and learn, hey?

Here are some more URLs!
Singular “they” in the King James Bible: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003572.html
Singular “they” in Shakespeare: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003410.html
A meditation ‘pon the propagation of a native language: http://www.qwantz.com/archive/000640.html
Word rage: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002897.html
Font rage: http://www.achewood.com/index.php?date=07052007

Hopefully the IPA symbols all appeared correctly, which appears to be the case (in the preview comment thing, at least).

p.s. how do I write such ridiculous quantities of text? Feeble apologies, again, to you, Gentle Reader, who has presumably spent a fair bit of time flicking their (:p) eyes ‘cross the screen, e’er downwards. I can but hope that the experience of reading this post has been worth the time spent doing it!

09/22/07 @ 04:38
Comment from: [Member]

Thank you for another outstanding post, Kevin. I have enough to say in response that I’ll just do another blog entry–a fine activity for a fine Saturday morning. :)

(And I don’t say this enough, but thank you for the ongoing encouragement, Aunt B’Ann.)


09/22/07 @ 10:36

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