Problems in EFL in the Western Czech Republic

James Kirchner

Note: This appeared on the LINGUIST list recently. James Kirchner, who taught in the Western Czech Republic, wrote of the misconceptions about English held by the English teachers there, and asked for native-English (particularly British English) speakers’ input. I thought that the summary might be of interest to TESL professionals and others.–Kristina

Some weeks ago I posted a request for British speaker judgments of some purportedly “British” forms my former high school students in the Western Czech Republic had been taught by their new non-native, mostly non-proficient English teachers. I should mention one thing now that I didn’t bring up in the original query: These students are not necessarily aiming at a British standard themselves, but simply want to sift out some nonsense they must parrot in class, in order to arrive at some kind of clear, intelligible international English, free of silly-sounding calques and malapropisms.

Correcting the teachers, so as to help them improve is out of the question. A claim to infallibility seems to be what some instructors rely on for their authority, and the label “British” is often the final refuge of such teachers, when defending their own mistakes against correction by students formerly taught by Americans. A quote from one of the students’ letters to me illustrates their predicament: “I’ve stopped arguing with Mrs. S. When I told her that you had taught us the difference between ‘stranger’ and ‘foreigner’, she said, ‘It’s obvious that there are differences between synonyms, but it’s really small.'” (“Mrs. S.” had been teaching that the words “foreigner” and “stranger” are interchangeable. A dictionary would have helped.)

Many respondents also indicated interest in the social and cultural reasons for the prejudice against perceived (though often not real) American usage, and in the Czech Republic, there are definite, identifiable causes for it. It is, however, evidently a global phenomenon, and it was pointed out that Australians take this kind of guff from all sides, i.e., from foreigners revering either a British *or* an American standard. For those interested, I will discuss these matters at the end of the summary, but first my questions and a synopsis of the responses:

Do you ever:

1. say “basic school” for elementary school?

A unanimous “no”. Not surprising, because this is a calque from Czech “zakladni skola”. The preferred term for most respondents was “primary school”, some said “elementary school” is relatively uncommon in Britain (it is common in the U.S.), and some Britons also mentioned the term “junior school”, which in the U.S. would certainly be confused with “junior high school” (ages 11/12 to 13/14). I taught “primary school” as the most internationally intelligible option.

2. say “secondary grammar school” instead of secondary school?

No. Either “secondary school” or “grammar school”, the latter constituting a more academic form of secondary education, which is supposedly dying out due to changes in the British education system. Some Britons even accepted “high school”. These terms were problematic for the Czech students. I stressed both “secondary school” and “high school”, the latter so as to eliminate confusion with its exact Czech cognate “vysoka skola”, which essentially means a university. The term “grammar school” presents difficulty also, because in North America it is an old-fashioned term for “primary school”.

3. say “school servant” for caretaker or janitor?

No. The term “school servant” was almost universally regarded as insulting (as I had told my doubting Czech colleagues), although it is present in the standard Czech-English dictionary, and according to P.K.W. Tan, “…this term is used in the Methodist Girls’ School in Singapore.” Most Britons preferred the term “caretaker”, saying that “janitor” sounded American.

4. pronounce “sweater” as [swi:tr] (i.e., rhyming with “sweeter”)?

A unanimous “NO,” but boy, did one of my Czech colleagues ever insist that it was “what the British say”! It took us Americans from 1991 to 1994 to (mostly) purge it from town. It had been nearly universal prior to that. Real Britons prefer [swet@].

5. pronounce all the vowels in “vegetable”?

By which I meant all but the final /e/. Most usually say [vedZt@bl] (three syllables); four syllables only in slow, careful or stilted speech.

6. negate “used to” as “usedn’t to”? (It’s in a textbook.)

This was the real surprise. Neither I nor my 77-year-old ex-schoolteacher mother had ever seen this, and I believed it impossible on morphological and syntactic grounds. Some Britons have seen it, but they characterized it diversely as “old-fashioned, “quaint,” “possible but clumsy,” “very formal style,” “informal,” “substandard.” They all prefer “didn’t use to,” and in cases, “used not to.” Anglo-American accord here, as usual. Steven Schaufele (an American) provided this insight: “Not since the 18th century, at least in the Standard dialect; in 19th century British literature you begin to get non-Standard speakers ridiculed because they sometimes still use this form.”

7. Do you fall in love *in* someone or *with* someone?

Only “with”, although there were a few erotic quips that the male gender indeed can fall in love “in” someone. The sentence the kids were told to learn by heart was, “Goethe was many times here and fell in love in young Ulrike von Lewetzow.” I know the local tourist brochure this comes from, and the same translator also had many local hotels boasting “reefer in the room” (he meant “refrigerator”).

8. Can something happen *at* about 10.00, *after* about 10.00, *round* about 10.00, etc., or is “by” the only preposition permissible before the word “about” in a time expression?

The overwhelming consensus was that any preposition that is acceptable without “about” is fine with “about”, so all these words and more were okay for almost all respondents. My kids already knew this, but their teacher began insisting that only “by” was acceptable.

9. In questions, do you normally invert main verb “have”, as in “Have you a dog?” If so, do you usually say, “I haven’t a dog.”? If so, with the idiom “have to” (=”must”) do you invert and negate similarly? (E.g., “You hadn’t to do it!” rather than, “You didn’t have to do it!”) (One American colleague who taught “do you have…?”, and “have you got…?” in an elementary school was soundly reprimanded by a Czech colleague for teaching “unacceptable)Americanisms”.)

Most found inverted main verb “have” to be old-fashioned or “very formal,” and preferred sentences like, “Have you got a dog?” or “Do you have a dog?” Likewise, “I haven’t got/don’t have a dog.” Inverted forms do appear to survive for some people in certain fixed contexts (“I haven’t any matches.”) Almost all found the negated “have” in, “You hadn’t to do it,” to be quite strange, but Paul Werth made the following interesting comments: “Similarly, you can say ‘you haven’t to do that’, but not as a synonym for ‘you mustn’t do that’. The latter is a prohibition, the former expresses a lack of compulsion (you don’t need to do that), as of course does the form with ‘do’. Actually, come to think of it, I would use ‘you haven’t to do that’ more as an instruction to someone (‘that’s not in your job description’), so not merely ‘there’s no need for you to do that’, but rather ‘you’re not supposed to do that’ – a case of nature abhorring a synonym, perhaps?”

10. Do you consider the pronunciations “ate” [ejt] and “can’t” [kaent] (/ae/ = low front vowel) to be “incorrect” or stigmatized?

The general consensus was that [ejt] (rhyming with 8) is not standard British, and may have been somewhat stigmatized 30 or 40 years ago, but is now acceptable. In referring to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, Anthea Fraser Gupta reached a conclusion similar to that under which I operated: “[ejt] is fine, alongside [et]. Both are in LPD which indicates that a BrE poll voted almost 50/50 on these two, and further indicates that /et/ is considered non-standard in AmE. So [ejt] would be the better one to teach foreigners, I feel.” There were some opposing impressions of [ejt]. One person would describe it as “rustic”, while another would say it was “stiff”. One respondent considered [ejt] to be both regionally and class stigmatized (i.e., not RP), but another said, “/eit/ would be the RP pronunciation and therefore the “proper” or formal one, which I do use when I want to sound ‘respectable’!” The “can’t” pronunciation [kaent] was generally considered unstigmatized Northern British or American.

All this confusion feeds right into my “stun gun” question that usually stopped Czech colleagues cold: “WHATAYA MEAN BY BRITISH ENGLISH?!” They were generally stuck for an answer, and couldn’t characterize what they meant.


The dilemma of my former students is caused by certain understandable factors. Part of its origins are found in the fact that under communism Czech and Slovak English teachers had only limited contact with native English speakers or authentic anglophone culture. This can be only *part* of the problem, because my colleagues from Russia had very solid comprehension and grammatical knowledge. (One tells a story about a Czech instructor, who on an examination, asked a student to decline an English pronoun into “all seven cases”. The Russian protested that English did not *have* seven cases. Since she was not American, the Czech could only sneer, “Well, you studied in *Russia*!”)

Among the native materials available to Czechs before 1989, there was evidently a certain amount of classic American social consciousness literature. My students’ current teachers cannot read these novels, but I am convinced that their professors’ professors’ professors’ formed their image of American English based on the Okies in “The Grapes of Wrath” or similar characters. And because these teachers were seldom exposed to the cadence of native English, they have trouble understanding any native speaker, and pride or ignorance often leads them to attribute the problem to the speaker’s non-British speech. (In times of unusual frustration, I would switch to RP and diabolically wait for them to complain about my incoherent Yankee accent.)

A second factor is that Czech schools teach a standard literary language that is actually more or less an artificial creation of their 19th century National Revival movement, and diverges greatly from the way people really talk. This form was deliberately a bit archaic even at its inception, and had never been anyone’s native tongue. Even today, almost no one outside of broadcasting or the theater speaks this standard, though many feel a bit guilty about not doing so. However, those who actually speak 100% Literary Czech in ordinary conversation may attract considerable resentment. Just as this concept of literary language must be explained to anglophone students of Czech, the Czechs have trouble conceiving of a multiple-standard language like English that survives without an academy, and changes through its own momentum. For this reason, they are very susceptible to the idea that there must be one “correct” English that emanates from one center.

The third main factor is economics. After 1989 a huge number Czech teachers, who were truly fluent in the foreign languages they taught, were attracted away by private enterprise. Some were burned out on teaching, some needed the additional money. While thousands of young anglophones have descended on Prague hoping to teach English (and a few actually know how!), labor office clerks are frustrated to find that most of these backwards baseball caps and sorority sweaters would rather remain jobless than venture away from the Prague scene. For this reason, primary and secondary schools elsewhere are reduced to searching out nearly any local who professes to speak a little English. In many cases, the teacher is literally only a lesson ahead of the students, and in secondary school, it’s not so unusual for kids, who have brought themselves nearly to Cambridge Advanced English level, to get teachers who have failed (or would fail) PET or First Certificate. Most such teachers cannot understand the tapes, teacher’s notes or methods used in British textbooks, so they rely on faulty Czech-written texts (“dog [dok]”, “The Great Lakes Region shares the United States with Canada.”).

In such a bad situation, the non-proficient teacher has two possible choices: One is to admit to the limits of her knowledge, and discover English along with the kids. This can actually be effective. One primary school teacher, who could barely speak English, sent me the most solid, fluent crop of 14-year-olds I had. When recalling her instruction, the students always gratefully emphasized that she never pretended to know anything she didn’t, thus leaving pupils cognizant of what they needed to find out. The second solution, seemingly very popular, is to insist on infallibility and set the limits of the permissible (aka “British English”) right at the border of one’s own knowledge. This results in order, but also in very suspicious students.

This summary is already too long, but anyone who wants to discuss such issues further (in English, German, French, Czech or maybe Spanish) is welcome to put his or her two cents in. BTW, Achim Stenzel gets an A+ for the best non-native anticipation of native speakers’ judgments.

Thanks to all, all over the world, who helped. Listing their names would add another long paragraph or two, so I’ll refrain from doing so.

James Kirchner


Send e-mail to James Kirchner


Linguistic Funland Main Menu

Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

English Consonant Sounds

There wasn’t time, however, to discuss all of the consonant sounds in that article. So here is a full rundown. I suggest you try making the sounds as you read, so that you get a feel for where and how they are made. We’ll start this time with place of articulation.

The diagram shows the names of the various parts of the mouth involved in the production of English consonants :

A = nasal cavity
B = alveolar ridge
C = hard palate
D = soft palate or velum
E = lips and teeth
F = tongue 1 – tip 2 – blade 3 – body
G = uvula
H = larynx and vocal cords

For each consonant, two parts of the mouth are involved, and the name given to it reflects this. Starting from the front, some consonants are made using both lips – try saying /p/ /b/ /w/ and /m/ – and these are called bilabial consonants (bilabial = two lips)

Now try /f/ and /v/. This time it’s the bottom lip and top teeth which are involved. These are labiodental consonants (labio = lip, dental = teeth).

For nearly all the other consonants, the tongue will interact with another part of the mouth. The name of the consonant doesn’t include a reference to the tongue however, just the point of the mouth which it meets. So for instance, sounds made by an interaction between the tongue and the teeth are just called dental sounds. These are /t/, /d/ and the voiced and unvoiced “th” sounds: / ð/ as in this and /θ/ as in thick .

If you run your tongue back behind your teeth, you come to a bony ridge called the alveolar ridge. Several sounds are made on or just behind the ridge – /s/ /z/ /t/ /d/ /n/ /r/ and /l/

Moving back from the alveolar ridge you come to a similarly hard but smoother zone – the hard palate. /j/ as in yellow is a palatal sound, are as the highlighted consonants in the words sheep, measure, cheap and jeep. There is also a palatal version of the /r/ consonant. If you found it strange that it was classed before as alveolar, you may have been saying the palatal version.

Notice that there is now a difference in the way the tongue is used. For the dental and alveolar sounds, it was the tip of the tongue which was involved. For palatal sounds, however, it’s the blade of the tongue, and as we move further back to the velum (the soft part of the palate, closest to the throat) it’s the back, or body, of the tongue. The velar sounds are /g/ and /k/ and the final consonants in sing and in bottle – often called the “dark” l.

This leaves only the consonant /h/ which is produced by air passing from the windpipe through the vocal cords, or glottis. It’s therefore a glottal sound.

Place of Articulation tells us where the consonants are produced, but we also need to consider Manner of Articulation – how they are produced. The most important categories are :

Plosives : Plosive sounds (also called stop sounds) are formed by the air being completely blocked in the mouth and then suddenly released. For example, /k/ and /g/ are formed when the back of the tongue rises to the velum and momentarily blocks the air. These are therefore velar plosives. The other plosive consonants of English are the bilabial plosives /p/ and /b/ and the alveolar plosives /t/ and /d/. Some varieties of English – London English for example – also include a glottal stop which substitutes for the /t/ consonant between vowels. Imagine a London pronunciation of butter, for example.

Fricatives : Fricatives are formed when the two parts of the mouth approach each other closely, not completely blocking the passage of the air, but forcing it through a confined space. The air molecules start to bump against each other causing audible friction. Try the palatal fricative – the sh sound. You can feel your tongue up close to the alveolar ridge and the air passing through the small space left. The full list of English fricatives is : labiodental fricatives – /f/ and /v/; dental fricatives – the two “th” sounds; alveolar fricatives – /s/ and /z/; palatal fricatives – /ʃ/ as in in sheep and /ʒ/ as in measure; and the glottal fricative /h/.

Affricates : Affricates are really a plosive and a fricative combined. The air is initially blocked, and then released through a narrow passageway like a fricative. English has two affricates, the initial sounds in cheap and jeep – / ʧ / and /ʤ/. These are usually classed as palato-alveolar affricates, as they’re made in a position half way between the alveolar ridge and the hard palate.

Nasals : when a nasal sound is produced, the air is prevented from going out through the mouth and is instead released through the nose. There are three English nasals – the bilabial nasals /m/ and /n/ and the velar nasal /ŋ/ – the final consonant in sing.

Approximant : Approximants are a bit of a hotch-potch category, and contain some of the most problematic sounds in English. We’ll look at them in detail another time, but for now will classify them together as sounds produced when the airstream moves around the tongue and out of the mouth with almost no obstruction. The English approximants are the alveolar approximants /l/ and /r/, the palatal approximant /j/, as in yes, and the dark l – the velar approximant – as in bottle. Keep in mind, however, that this is a simplification.

This leaves the third distinguishing category which we discussed in the last article – voicing. If the vocal cords are vibrated when the sound is made, the sound is voiced. If the are not, it is unvoiced. Several of the English consonants come in pairs. They have the same place and manner of articulation and are distinguished only by voicing (1). For example /t/ and /d/ are both alveolar plosives, but /t/ is unvoiced while /d/ is voiced. In the summarising chart below, where pairs occur the unvoiced sound is always given first.

If you know where and how the sounds are made, you are in a better position to help your students (2). In the next article in this series we’ll look at some teaching techniques to improve students’ command of these sounds.

1. This is another simplification, and again something we’ll look at in detail another time.

2. For diagrams of the exact tongue position for each sound see this chapter from Philip Carr, English Phonetics and Phonology, Blackwell Publishing.

Further Reading

Teaching Pronunciation (M. Celce-Murcia et al, CUP) is one of the most useful books I’ve come across on teaching pronunciation. It manages to combine a thorough analysis of the phonology of English with a wealth of practical activities for use in the classroom. It focuses on the analysis of North American English, so teachers with a British accent need to be on the lookout for differences. But it’s a book I wouldn’t want to be without for its clarity and practical usefulness.

Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

Attention, Memory And Language Links In The Human Brain Mapped By Pioneering Study

A University of Arizona scientist who has specialized in studying how fireflies and other creatures communicate has won a million-dollar grant to conduct a pioneering 5-year study on the roles that attention and memory play when the human brain hears and processes spoken language.

“This is the chance to study the ultimate form of animal communication — language,” said Thomas A. Christensen of UA’s department of speech, language and hearing sciences (SLHS). “Humans have evolved a very sophisticated symbolic form of communication. Language affects how we think, what we believe, how we interact with each other. I’d even go so far as to say that our future as a species depends on understanding how we communicate. But very little is known about what’s going on in the brain when we’re having a simple conversation.”

Until recently, Christensen was a research scientist with the Arizona Research Laboratories’ Division of Neurobiology, studying olfactory communication (the sense of smell) in insects. His research is grounded in the areas of learning and memory, systems physiology and animal communication. Encouraged by Elena Plante, head of the SLHS department, he applied for a $1 million career development award from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The grant was awarded in April.

The grant will take his career — and biomedical science — in new directions. Christensen will use UA’s state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facilities to map the areas and networks within the brain linked to language, attention and memory. The UA’s advanced MRI is a non-invasive imaging tool that is sensitive enough to show exactly what parts of the brain are involved when a person listens to another human voice.

“What you read in the text books is that if you’re right handed, then language is localized to the left hemisphere of your brain,” Christensen said. “I found out right away — that’s just not true. Analyzing a human voice also involves the right hemisphere and even parts of the cerebellum.” The cerebellum is a large part of the brain that serves to coordinate voluntary movements, posture, and balance in humans.

“These MRI images destroy the myth that you’re only using about 10 percent of your brain for any particular task,” Christensen said. “The crux of this grant is to learn more about the language, attention and memory centers in the brain, and also about the complex interactions between them.”

Inside the scanner, volunteer subjects don headphones and perform simple language discrimination tasks in Christensen’s experiments. They’re asked to respond by pressing a button when they hear words that fall into a certain semantic category — the name of an animal, for example. Then, to make the task a bit harder, subjects are asked to respond only when they hear a woman’s voice speak a word in the chosen category. The task taxes attention even more when subjects are asked to respond to a woman’s voice speaking a ‘target’ word in one ear at the same time a man’s voice is speaking words in the other.

Ads by Google

Brain Cancer Treatments – Dr.Prem Pillay, Singapore Expert Neurosurgeon – Brain, Spine & Nerve –

Brain Injury Help – 50% of Patients Report Improvement Learn about Stem Cell Therapy here –

Stem Cell Therapy india – Autism,cerebral palsy,MR,Diabetes Paraplegia,Low cost,+91 9011 111222 –

The MRI scanner records activity throughout the 45-minute sessions, revealing multiple regions and networks, some deep within the brain, that scientists didn’t suspect were involved when the brain listens.

“We’re getting a snapshot of what that activity is across the population. What’s so striking is how clearly we see that certain areas of the brain are strongly engaged in attentional control while other areas are not. As we scan more volunteers, we’re definitely beginning to see a pattern here.”

Christensen’s research on the brain-governing system we called “attention” — how the brain selects only some information from its environment and is able to focus awareness on objects and events relevant to immediate goals — is profoundly relevant to such disorders as schizophrenia, ADHD and many other impairments that affect language abilities.

“ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is probably one of the most over-diagnosed disorders of our time,” Christensen said. “The reason for that, I think, is that we really don’t know very much about the biological basis of this syndrome. There’s a lot of research on it, but there’s still a lot of disagreement about what the root cause is, and about whether drugs like Ritalin that are being prescribed to children as young as 2 years old are doing any good, and if we have any business exposing our children to drugs at such a very early age,” he added.

As Christensen collects more MRI data that show the connections among areas of the brain that are strongly engaged in language tasks, he plans to collaborate with computer modeling experts. “We could develop a mathematical model that would allow us to generate hypotheses about what we expect if we deliver a certain type of stimulus. We’d see what effect it would produce in our model.”

Simulating brain activity in the mathematical model “would take the whole question of language processing beyond ‘blobology’ — where you’re just looking at blobs of activation in the brain. That’s what I hope to do,” Christensen said.

Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release.

Contact: Lori Stiles
University of Arizona

View drug information on Ritalin LA.
Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

Classifying ‘clicks’

Classifying ‘clicks’

New language technology clears up 100-year-old mystery

IMAGE: Researchers use ultrasound imaging of the human tongue.

Click here for more information.

A new way to classify sounds in some human languages may solve a problem that has plagued linguists for nearly 100 years–how to accurately describe click sounds distinct to certain African languages.

Cornell University professor Amanda Miller and her colleagues recently used new high-speed, ultrasound imaging of the human tongue to precisely categorize sounds produced by the N|uu language speakers of southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert. The research potentially could change how linguists describe “click languages” and help speech scientists understand the physics of speech production.

She explains her findings in the online version of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association posted on July 10. The National Science Foundation supports the research.

The African languages studied by Miller use a series of consonants called “clicks” which are unlike most consonants in that they are produced with air going into the mouth rather than out. The N|uu clicks, produced using both the front and back of the tongue, are difficult to characterize.

“When we say ‘k’ or ‘t,’ the sound is produced by air breathing out of our lungs,” said Miller. “But click sounds are produced by breathing in and creating suction within a cavity formed between the front and back parts of the tongue. While linguists knew this, most didn’t want to accept it was something people controlled.” So they loosely classified these click consonants using imprecise groupings.

“For nearly a century, some of these sounds fell into an imprecise catch-all category that included every type of modification ever reported in a click language,” said Miller. “The movements of the tongue at the front of the mouth were quite accurately classified. But tongue movements at the back part of the mouth were not classified properly.”

The reason was that prior tools were either too large to carry to fieldwork situations in Southern Africa, or too unsafe. Ultrasound imaging changed that by allowing Miller’s research team to use safer, faster, non-invasive technology in the field to view the back part of the tongue.

Early ultrasound tools captured images only at about 30 frames per second, and thus are not able to keep up with the tongue’s speed in fast sounds like clicks. The new ultrasound imaging tool is capable of capturing more than 125 frames per second, producing clearer images.

Miller and her colleagues used the high-speed ultrasound imaging to group the clicks more accurately. Her colleagues included Johanna Brugman, Cornell University; Bonny Sands, Northern Arizona University; Levi Namaseb, The University of Namibia; Mats Exter, University of Cologne; and Chris Collins, New York University.

“We wanted to classify clicks in the same way we classify other consonants,” said Miller, who was a visiting faculty member at the University of British Columbia during the 2008-2009 academic year. “We think we’ve been pretty successful in doing that.”

N|uu is severely endangered with fewer than 10 remaining speakers, all of whom are more than 60 years of age. Linguists are working diligently to document the unique aspects of this language before it disappears.


Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

Study suggests grammar is grimmer than Chomsky claims

Research into grammar by academics at Northumbria University suggests that a significant proportion of native English speakers are unable to understand some basic sentences.

Grammar - Chalkboard

The findings – which undermine the assumption that all speakers have a core ability to use grammatical cues – could have significant implications for education, communication and linguistic theory.

The research, conducted by Dr Ewa Dabrowska, showed that basic elements of core English grammar had not been mastered by some native speakers.

The project assumed that every adult native speaker of English would be able to understand the meaning of the sentence:

“The soldier was hit by the sailor.”

Dr Dabrowska and research student James Street then tested a range of adults, some of whom were postgraduate students, and others who had left school at the age of 16. All participants were asked to identify the meaning of a number of simple active and passive sentences, as well as sentences which contained the universal qualifier “every”.

As the test progressed, the two groups performed very differently. A high proportion of those who had left school at 16 began to make mistakes. Some speakers were not able to perform any better than chance, scoring no better than if they had been guessing.

Dr Dabrowska comments: “These findings are ground breaking, because for decades the theoretical and educational consensus has been solid. Regardless of educational attainment or dialect we are all supposed to be equally good at grammar, in the sense of being able to use grammatical cues to understand the meaning of sentences.

“Of course some people are more literate, with a larger vocabulary and greater exposure to highly complex literary constructions. Nevertheless, at a fundamental level, everyone in a linguistic community is supposed to share the same core grammar, in the same way that given normal development we can all walk.”

The supposition that everyone in a linguistic community shares the same grammar is a central tenet of Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar. The theory assumes that all children learn language equally well and that there must therefore be an underlying common structure to all languages that is somehow “hard-wired” into the brain.

Dr Dabrowska has examined other explanations for her findings, such as limitations to working memory, and even so-called “test wiseness”, but she concluded that these non-linguistic factors are irrelevant.

She also stressed that the findings have nothing to do with intelligence. Participants with low levels of educational attainment were given instruction following the tests, and they were able to learn the constructions very quickly. She speculates that this could be because their attention was not drawn to sentence construction by parents or teachers when they were children.

She adds: “Our results show that a proportion of people with low educational attainment make errors with understanding the passive, and it appears that this and other important areas of core grammar may not be fully mastered by some speakers, even by adulthood.

“These findings could have a number of implications. “If a significant proportion of the population does not understand passive sentences, then notices and other forms of written information may have to be rewritten and literacy strategies changed.

“What’s more, the existence of substantial individual differences in native language attainment is highly problematic for one of the most widely accepted arguments for an innate universal grammar: the assumed ‘fact’ that all native speakers of a language converge on essentially the same grammar. Our research shows that they don’t.”

She will present her findings in a keynote lecture at the UK Cognitive Linguistics Association Conference on 6 to 8 July.

Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

* * Mobile Apps on Sale : Android, iPhone, iPad. People learn new information more effectively when brain activity is consistent, research shows

People are more likely to remember specific information such as faces or words if the pattern of activity in their brain is similar each time they study that information, according to new research from a University of Texas at Austin psychologist and his colleagues.

Ads by Google

Nature Insight Glia – Vibrant research in brain science Access selected content free online –


The findings by Russell Poldrack, published online today in the journal Science, challenge psychologists’ long-held belief that people retain information more effectively when they study it several times under different contexts and, thus, give their brains multiple cues to remember it.

“This helps us begin to understand what makes for effective studying,” says Poldrack, director of the Imaging Research Center (IRC) at The University of Texas at Austin. “Sometimes we study and remember things, sometimes we don’t and this helps explain why.”

Until now, scientists have used (fMRI) technology to examine activity in large regions of the when studying . The research represents the first time scientists have analyzed human memory by examining the pattern of activity across many different parts of the image called voxels. The new technique allows them to probe more deeply into the relationship between the mind and the brain.

Poldrack is a professor in the Section of and Department of Psychology. His co-authors include Jeanette Mumford, a statistician at The University of Texas at Austin; Gui Xue of the University of Southern California and Beijing Normal University; Qi Dong of Beijing Normal Uniersity; Zhong-Lin Lu of the University of Southern California (USC); and Chuansheng Chen of the University of California, Irvine.

“The question is how practice makes perfect. If you precisely reactivate the same pattern each time, then you are going to remember better,” says Xue, a research assistant professor of psychology at USC.

The researchers conducted three studies at Beijing Normal University in which subjects were shown different sets of photographs or words multiple times in different orders. The scientists recorded subjects’ while they studied the material. They were asked to recall or recognize those items between 30 minutes and six hours later, in order to test the decades-old “encoding variability theory.”

Ads by Google

Learn Chinese Easily – Visual and practical Lessons make learning Chinese more easily. –


That theory suggests people will remember something more effectively — the name of the third President of the United States, for example — if they study it at different times in different contexts — a dorm room, the library, a coffee shop — than if they review it several times in one sitting. The different sensory experiences will give the brain various reminders of that information and multiple routes to access Thomas Jefferson’s identity.

Based on that theory, Poldrack and his colleagues predicted subjects would retain memories of the photos or words more effectively if their brains were activated in different ways while studying that information multiple times.

Instead, the scientists found the subjects’ memories were better when their pattern of brain activity was more similar across the different study episodes.

Xue cautioned that the study does not disprove the effect of variable contexts during learning in enhancing memory.

It’s unclear what prompts the brain to exhibit these different patterns of activity when studying the same information minutes apart. That activity could be triggered by anything from the previous image the person saw, to sounds or smells around him or even simple daydreaming, Poldrack says.

“These results are very important in providing a challenge to this well established theory,” Poldrack says. “There’s something that’s clearly still right about the theory, but this challenges psychologists to reconsider what we know about it.”

Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory

Abstract: On December 7, 1928, Avram Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Oak Lane Country Day School, and later Central High School. He received both his B.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Pennsylvania. In 1955, at the age of 27, Chomsky was hired as a professor at MIT. His unconventional ideas regarding syntax and grammar put him in the national spotlight. In the early 1960s, he made a gradual shift from grammar research to political activism, although he continued to teach, and wrote several more books on linguistics. He writes and gives lectures to this day.


Avram Noam Chomsky was born on December 7, 1928, in East Oak Lane, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Dr. William Chomsky, was a Hebrew grammarian, and his mother, Elsie Chomsky, was a teacher. The influence that Dr. Chomsky, a linguist, had on his son is fairly obvious. Even at a young age, his son used to read ancient and modern Hebrew texts. In his biography, Noam Chomsky, Robert Barsky remarks that while his father fueled his academic aspirations, his mother was responsible for his political leanings: “Her political sensitivity motivated him, from a very young age, to look far beyond his immediate social context and into the realm of political action and involvement.”

His official schooling began at Oak Lane Country Day School, run by Temple University. According to Barsky, this school emphasized creativity over performance. Each child was encouraged to perform according to his or her abilities, rather than compete against other students. However, Chomsky continued his education outside of the classroom, reading many “realist” authors such as Dostoevsky, Eliot, Hardy, Hugo, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Twain, and Zola. At the age of ten, he wrote an editorial for the school paper, detailing the fall of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, which was taking place at this time. Chomsky began attending Central High School, also in Philadelphia, at the age of twelve. In the following years, his relatives exposed him to many left-leaning political philosophies, such as Leninism, Stalinism, socialism, Marxism, and anarcho-syndicalism. He also began to frequent the office of an anarchist newspaper, which promised to have a profound effect on his political philosophy. Many of his political views were formed at this time.

Chomsky enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. He met several influential professors, such as C. West Churchman and Giorgio Levi Della Vida; however, the teacher who had the greatest influence on him was Zellig Harris, a professor of linguistics. Harris and Chomsky developed a close friendship, and Harris heavily influenced both Chomsky’s view of grammar and his political views. At this time, the linguistics department consisted of a handful of graduate students and a few undergraduates, like Chomsky. They often eschewed the classroom in favor of local restaurants, or Harris’ apartment. Grades were not the main focus of such meetings. Rather, the students gathered to discuss politics, language, and other intellectual topics. Chomsky, quoted by Barsky in Noam Chomsky, said that “‘[Harris] had a coherent understanding of this whole range of issues, which I lacked, and I was immensely attracted by it.’” Chomsky also called him “‘[A] person of unusual brilliance and originality.’”

Chomsky received his B.A., but remained at the University of Pennsylvania as a graduate student. He was 20-years-old. The same year, in 1949, Chomsky married fellow student Carol Schatz, whom he had known since childhood. He continued an unorthodox education with Dr. Harris. In 1951, he was named a Junior Fellow at Harvard. During his research for Harvard, he developed an early draft of the theories he later presented in Syntactic Structures. In 1955, Chomsky completed his doctoral thesis. Almost 1,000 pages long, Chomsky’s thesis was the result of several months of almost complete isolation. Chomsky expresses amazement at his own efforts. “In looking back, I don’t see how it was possible. In just a few months I wrote my book of close to 1,000 pages, and it had in it just about everything that I’ve done since, at least in a rough form.” The University of Pennsylvania approved his Ph.D. after having seen only the first chapter.

After graduating, a friend arranged a job for Chomsky at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Chomsky, now an assistant professor, was assigned to work on a rote translation project; however, he was soon hired as a full-time faculty member. Speaking of the translation project, Chomsky said, “It may have [had] some utility; it could be on par with building a bigger bulldozer, which is a useful thing. It’s nice to have big bulldozers if you have to dig holes.” Chomsky’s new position required him to teach part-time. At first, he taught language classes for graduate students trying to pass Ph.D. reading exams. However, he was also given free reign over an undergraduate course on language. For the first time, he was able to teach his ideas on grammar to students. This, in turn, helped him clarify parts of his work. His lecture notes for this class, with some editing, were published in 1957 under the title Syntactic Structure. Chomsky’s theory directly challenged the basis of contemporary linguistics. Instead of trying to simplify individual languages and dialects to a set of rules, he set out to find a “universal grammar,” that is, a set of rules that all languages have in common. Because this approach was very unorthodox, Chomsky’s work received little attention at first. Barsky states that “Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures diverged so radically from the standard opinion that it was not even mentioned in current reviews of American linguistics.”

The Chomskys’ first child was born in 1957. Carol stayed home to raise the child, while Noam continued his work at MIT. He was hired by the University of Pennsylvania to teach, and he was also appointed visiting professor at Columbia University. MIT also promoted him to the position of associate professor, and Princeton appointed him as a National Science Foundation fellow. Meanwhile, spurred on by two important lectures, his linguistic work began to receive attention. He also criticized parts of noted psychologist B. F. Skinner’s book “Verbal Behavior.” This sparked a decidedly negative response from many psychologists, and proved to be only the first of many times that Chomsky was at the center of a controversy. During this time period, Chomsky was able to help found a graduate program in linguistics at MIT. He was given the position of professor of foreign language and linguistics.

During the early 1960s, Chomsky’s fame continued to soar, and he became the “de facto spokesperson for American linguistics.” However, Chomsky was becoming more and more interested in current events, especially the Cuban Missile Crisis and, later, Vietnam. He began to teach several undergraduate humanities classes about social and political issues. Student protests came into vogue around this time, and Chomsky was popular with these dissatisfied students. However, he often critiqued efforts he thought were “misguided,” which angered some students. A political article entitled “Responsibility of the Intellectuals,” originally written by Chomsky for the student journal Mosaic, was published by the New York Review of Books. This article, and the ones following it, once again brought Chomsky into the public eye, this time as a political dissident. Chomsky had a very successful career as a professor; he didn’t have enough time and energy to keep up an active lifestyle as an academician and a political activist. He chose to scale back his academic research, and focused on bringing attention to what he deemed social injustices. The culprit of most of these perceived social injustices, and therefore the target of criticism, happened to be the U.S. government. Chomsky quickly became an unpopular figure in Washington, D.C.

As Chomsky began gearing up for a confrontation, the Chomskys’ decided that Carol should finish her degree, so that, in the event that Noam was arrested, someone would be able to provide for the family. Meanwhile, Chomsky, having many long-standing friends who were radical liberals, quickly became involved in some of the more aggressive attempts at change. He was involved with a large-scale march to Washington, where the protesters delivered the draft cards of students who refused to serve. After this, they marched to the on Pentagon. However, at the Pentagon, the protesters were barred entrance, and instead milled around, trying to protest through other methods. Chomsky and other organizers were arrested. Chomsky expected to spend some time in prison. However, as he relates in Barsky’s Noam Chomsky, he was spared by two events:

The utter (and rather typical) incompetence of the intelligence services, which could not find the real organizers of resistance though it was transparent, and kept seeking hidden connections to North Korea, Cuba, or wherever we must have been getting our orders from, as well as mistaking people who agreed to appear at public events as “leaders” and “organizers;” and (2) the Tet Offensive, which convinced American business that the game wasn’t worth the candle, and led to the dropping of prosecutions.

During the 1970s, Chomsky continued his work in linguistics. This also marked a transition from direct involvement in political protests to academic involvement. In addition to his career work (notably the book Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar), he gave the Bertrand Russell Memorial Lectures at Harvard, and published the books Problems of Knowledge and Freedom, At War With Asia, and For Reasons of State. These books address problems with American foreign policy, the economy, and, indeed, the entire capitalism/democracy system.

Chomsky continued to be involved with both politics and teaching. As a professor, the number of students he has interacted with is surprising. One estimate puts the number at over 67 Ph.D.s alone. After 9/11, the actions of the government sat poorly with Chomsky, and he unleashed a barrage of criticism on both the foreign and domestic policies, both in print form and in interviews and lectures. He continues to teach, lecture, and write to this day.


  • “Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew.” Master’s thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1951.
  • Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory. MIT Humanities Library. Microfilm. 1955.
  • Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton, 1957.
  • Sound Pattern of English. (with Morris Halle) New York: Harper and Row, 1968.
  • Problems of Knowledge and Freedom: The Russell Lectures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1971.
  • Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar. The Hague: Mouton, 1972. Reprint. Berlin and New York, 1980.
  • Rules and Representations. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.


For More Information:

This biography was prepared by Michael Austin, Fall 2006.

Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

Stanford LINGUISTICS 189/289 – STANFORD UNIVERSITY Linguistics and the Teaching of English as a Second/Foreign Language CALL Mini-Course

Unit 1: Introduction to Computer-Assisted Language Learning.


In general CALL can refer to any language learning or teaching that involves the computer in a significant way. CALL can be

  • one student on one computer with interactive software
  • two or three students on one computer with interactive software
  • students on computers interacting with other students (computer-mediated communication)
  • students on computers working with web-based language content
  • students interacting with one another and a teacher through a computer (online class)
  • a teacher using a single computer and large monitor or data projector for class instruction
  • and other options

CALL environments can be a classroom, a computer lab with the teacher present, a computer lab with students working independently, or students working at a public computer, at home, or elsewhere. The microcomputer has been a central element of this for the past few decades, although notebook computers, PDAs, and even cell phones are beginning to be utilized.

Computers in language teaching: tutor vs. tool. The field of CALL is split more or less into two camps: those who see the computer as a machine for delivering interactive language learning and practice material–the computer as tutor–and those who see it as a means for learners to experience the authentic language and communication opportunities and enhancements afforded by computers–the computer as tool (Levy 1997). It is of course possible, I would say preferable, to recognize these not as opposing philosophies but as end points along the same language teaching continuum that balances teacher-fronted and group work in a classroom. In other words, effective language learning can include elements of both. Consequently, in this introduction to the field I will try to strike a balance between them so that you come out of this able to recognize the potential advantages of using neither, one, or both  for a given teaching situation.

Acronyms and attitudes. This field has gone by a number of different names as groups of practitioners have attempted to impose their own philosophies. CALL remains the generic term

  • CALL: Computer-assisted language learning (the generic term); sometimes Computer-aided language learning
  • CALI: Computer-assisted language instruction (more teaching oriented; less learner focused)
  • CBLT: Computer-based language training (views elements of language learning as “training”)
  • CELL: Computer-enhanced language learning (computer’s  role is less central)
  • TELL: Technology-enhanced language learning (accommodates more than just computers)
  • ICTinLT: Information and Communication Technologies in Language Teaching (focuses more on tool use)
  • NBLT: Network-Based Language Teaching. (focuses on computer-mediated communication and the web


CALL began in the 1960s with mainframe-based drills, especially those based on the University of Illinois’ PLATO system. It remained an insignificant alternative for  language learning until the spread of the microcomputer into educational settings in the early 1980s. Early programs were written by teacher-developers on Apple II, IBM PC, and BBC computers, and were often distributed for free. Commercial programs, when available, were usually quite expensive but were generally more stable and technically sophisticated (though not as innovative). There was some work done with interactive laser disks during this time which provided the foundations for multimedia.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, the Apple Macintosh replace the Apple II in many educational settings and became a favorite among teacher-developers because of the support of HyperCard, a powerful but easy-to-use authoring program. The Mac had built-in sound, making it easier to work with than PCs which had incompatible proprietary boards competing with one another. Early Macs (and HyperCard) did not support color, however, so commercial programs continued to appear for PCs. The PC market was also dominant in most countries outside the US because the machines could be obtained much more cheaply than Macs.

During this period, the use of the computer as a tool increased as teachers developed innovative techniques for using email and word processors became integrated into writing classes. Some teachers helped students develop their own HyperCard projects or ones in similar applications developed for the PC, such as ToolBook. It was noted that building collaborative projects around the computer and using computer mediated communication (CMC) had a strong effect on some students’ motivations and seemed to make it easier for shy students to become involved. Some teachers built assignments around student interactions in multi-user domains (MUDs), the precursors of today’s chat rooms.

Two major changes came starting in the mid-1990s. One was the dramatic increase in commercial multimedia for language learning as CD-ROMs became standard in home computers. The other was the development of the world wide web. Because of the web and increased access to the Internet in general, the past five or six years have seen a major shift toward tool uses, and many newcomers to CALL define the field almost entirely in those terms.


Teachers interested in CALL can get involved in a number of different ways. Here are some possibilities.

  • As researchers: into second language acquisition, human-computer interaction, what works for CALL
  • As consumers of CALL software for class use or building web activities into course work
  • As directors, helping students find and use supplementary CALL materials or web resources
  • As managers of computer-mediated communication among learners in and out of class
  • As software or web developers, either “from scratch” or adding new materials to existing templates
  • As coaches to help students develop software, websites, and general computer literacy
  • As CALL experts for your program, helping other teachers and administrators with CALL implementations
  • As CALL professionals, consulting on external projects, doing software reviews for journals, making conference presentations, writing papers, interpreting and applying CALL research, and/or  providing input to the field at large.

Those who are more serious about making CALL a specialization can look to link their background in language teaching with an MA in Stanford’s Learning, Design, and Technology program in the School of Education or an MA in CALL itself available from institutions like Carnegie-Mellon.  Other CALL courses are listed on Graham Davies website

CALICO Journal (Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium): Archives (1983-2000) online at Also available in Cubberley Library.
CALL Journal (Computer-Assisted Language Learning: An International Journal): I have recent issues–Stanford doesn’t get it.
LLT (Language Learning and Technology Journal): A high quality academic journal: full articles available online free.
CALL-EJ Online (CALL Electronic Journal Online). Full articles available online.
ReCALL Journal of Eurocall. Archives (1996-1999 only) available online at

Boswood, Tim (ed.) (1997). New Ways of Using Computers in Language Teaching. Alexandria: TESOL.
Chambers, Angela & Graham Davies (eds.) (2001) ICT and Language Learning: A European Perspective. Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Egbert, Joy & Elizabeth Hanson-Smith (eds.) (1999). CALL Environments: Research, Practice, and Critical Issues.    Alexandria: TESOL.
Levy, Michael (1997). Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualization. New York: Oxford.
Pennington, Martha (ed.) (1996). The Power of CALL. Houston: Athelstan.
Warschauer, Mark & Richard Kern (eds.) (2000). Network-Based Language Teaching: Concepts and Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


An excellent opportunity to experience learning a new language by computer can be found at Fairfield Language Technologies‘ website.  Their online version of the Rosetta Stone allows you to try sample lessons of any of 26 languages. Select a language you don’t know but have some interest in. Then try out a few lessons. Be sure to read through the tutorial so that you understand all the options you can try.

TESOL CALL Interest Section Annotated Software List (by Deborah Healey & Norm Johnson)
ICT4LT. An excellent set modules giving in-depth coverage the field of CALL.

Links to sites with lots of other links related CALL: try these out if you want to explore. They include extended reference lists of books, articles, and software as well as online CALL resources.
Eurocall Resources
Berkeley Writing Program Links

Neteach-L List of Cool Sites

Back to CALL Mini-Course

Last modified: Friday, January 16, by Phil Hubbard
Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

Reading problems are emotionally difficult for disadvantaged children

Contact: Andrea Browning
Society for Research in Child Development

Chronic reading problems and depression appear to be related, especially among low-income children, and the reading problems precede the depression.

A new study done by researchers at the University of Delaware and West Chester University of Pennsylvania found that low-income children who take part in reading assistance programs in fifth grade are more depressed, anxious, and withdrawn than their peers, especially when they have chronic reading problems. The study is reported in the March-April 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.

Children from low-income families often have difficulties in reading and math achievement in early elementary school, and these problems increase as they rise in grade level. This study sought to determine if and when reading difficulties are associated with emotional distress.

The researchers looked at 105 4- to 12-year-old children who took part in a longitudinal study of the emotional development of disadvantaged children. Mothers and teachers provided information about reading assistance when the children were in the third and fifth grades, achievement scores documented reading difficulty, teachers rated problem behaviors in school that reflect emotional distress, and the children reported about their own recent negative emotional experiences, including sadness, shame, and fear. The study took into consideration children’s verbal abilities and family income.

Researchers found that fifth grade reading problems were associated with increases in emotional distress from third to fifth grade. Children in reading assistance programs in fifth grade showed more distressed behaviors than those in third grade, whether or not they were in reading programs at that time. And children who were in reading programs in both third and fifth grades were the most distressed.

These children also reported especially high levels of negative emotional experiences. The results tie the emotional distress to developmental changes in children’s understanding of academic ability between 9 and 12 years of age.

“Much research documents the common academic difficulties of economically disadvantaged children,” according to Brian P. Ackerman, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware and lead author of the study. “Little is known, however, about the emotional impact of these difficulties and participation in remediation programs, or whether the impact changes with age.

“Our results suggest that such difficulties have special emotional significance for preadolescent children, but perhaps not for younger children, and that attending to the emotional impact could help prevent school disengagement for disadvantaged children.”

Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment

Verbally aggressive mothers direct their children’s behavior

West Lafayette, IN – July 9, 2008 – Researchers led by Steven R. Wilson of Purdue University videotaped forty mothers as they completed a ten minute play period with one of their children between the ages of three and eight years. The mothers then completed a series of questionnaires including the Verbal Aggressiveness Scale.

Mothers who scored higher on the self-reported VA Scale engaged in more frequent directing of their child’s behavior during the play activities. These mothers were more likely to control activity choices as well as the pace and duration of activities. High VA mothers did so repeatedly and in a manner that tended to enforce an activity choice they had made. Low VA mothers were more likely to follow their child’s lead or seek their child’s input about choice of activity.

High VA mothers used physical negative touch (PNT) when trying to change their child’s actions. Examples of parental PNT by high VA mothers included restraining a child by the shoulder or the wrist to prevent him or her from reaching a toy. No instances of PNT occurred for low VA mothers.

In addition, children with low VA mothers displayed virtually no resistance to their mother’s directives. Children with high trait VA mothers occasionally resisted their mothers’ directives, though this resistance tended to be indirect and short-lived.

“Our study has implications for parenting classes and interventions,” the authors conclude. “In addition to talking about why it is important for parents to avoid lots of verbally aggressive behavior to avoid damaging their child’s self-esteem, parents who have this tendency also need to learn how to follow their child’s lead and read their child’s signals, as opposed to just taking over the play period themselves.”


This study is published in the July 2008 issue of Human Communication Research. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact

Steven R. Wilson is affiliated with Purdue University and can be reached for questions at

Human Communication Research is one of the official journals of the prestigious International Communication Association and concentrates on presenting the best empirical work in the area of human communication. It is a top-ranked communication studies journal and one of the top ten journals in the field of human communication. Major topic areas for the journal include language and social interaction, nonverbal communication, interpersonal communication, organizational communication and new technologies, mass communication, health communication, intercultural communication, and developmental issues in communication.

Wiley-Blackwell was formed in February 2007 as a result of the acquisition of Blackwell Publishing Ltd. by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and its merger with Wiley’s Scientific, Technical, and Medical business. Together, the companies have created a global publishing business with deep strength in every major academic and professional field. Wiley-Blackwell publishes approximately 1,400 scholarly peer-reviewed journals and an extensive collection of books with global appeal. For more information on Wiley-Blackwell, please visit or .

Posted in linguistics | Leave a comment