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Monday, 21 July 2014

What is the origin of the word feminist?

The feminists (excuse this neologism) say .... all the evil rises from the fact that we will not allow that woman is the equal of man.  Alexandre Dumas (fils) 1873

The author of The Three Musketeers is credited with coining the word in French, with a translation of his work by G Vandenhoff introducing the English version. Interestingly, Dumas was not a sympathiser with the emerging campaign for women's rights. Even by the standards of his time he had a particularly patrician view of life "as a battle between the woman and the man."  

He was very censorius about prostitution, for example, blaming the prevalence of prostitutes in Paris for the fall of the city to the Prussians in 1870. This did not prevent him from calling on their services from time to time - presumably in the interests of research

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

How did The Beatles help teach the world English?

The Beatles were very influential in the spread of English as the world's lingua franca.

They also helped 'democratise' the English language - see here. In the UK they cheerfully challenged the dominance of a clipped, upper-class approach to English known as received pronunciation (RP). Unapologetic about their Liverpool (Scouse) accents and use of slang, they immediately struck a chord with restless young people. 

The effect was even more dramatic in the USA, where Americans delighted in mysterious British words and pop culture references. 

The Beatles opened up English, breaking down the idea that there was one 'correct' form of the language - spoken by the Queen and guarded by the BBC.

But how did they help teach English?

The Beatles did not set out to teach English - but their lyrics are a a valuable resource for ESOL teachers. Abbey Road, for example, contains over 90% of the 2000 words 'considered to be of the greatest 'general service' to learners of English'. 

Why were The Beatles so effective in communicating the language?

Their early experience of teaching in a foreign language environment (Hamburg) may have played a role. But I think that age and cultural attitude were the crucial elements. The Beatles spoke to and for the younger generation. And for the first time that younger generation was shaping popular culture.

How The Beatles changed the English language
The Beatles Teaching Teaching Pack
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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What will the English of the future look like??

English is currently the world's dominant language - the lingua franca of science, medicine, technology and many other areas. A present there are here is no obvious threat to English on the near horizon. 

But a recent article in The Economist suggests that while English may remain dominant, it is likely to evolve along Globish lines to suit the majority of none-native (L2) speakers

Interestingly, about two-thirds of English-speakers are not first-language speakers of English .... Shaped by the mouths of billions of non-native speakers, what will the English of the future look like?
A look into the past can give us an idea. English is of course not the first language learned by lots of non-natives. When languages spread, they also change. And it turns out, they do so in specific directions.
For example, a 2010 study by Gary Lupyan and Rick Dale found that bigger languages are simpler. In more precise terms, languages with many speakers and many neighbours have simpler systems of inflectional morphology, the grammatical prefixes and suffixes (and sometimes “infixes”) that make languages like Latin, Russian and Ancient Greek hard for the foreign learner. 
Contrary to educated people’s stereotypes, the tiny languages spoken by “stone-age” or isolated tribes tend to be the world’s most complicated, while big ones are less so, by this metric. 

From Simpler and More Foreign by RLG Berlin Source

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

What are phrasal verbs? Why are they difficult to learn?

What is a phrasal verb?

A phrasal verb is a verb with two parts; the verb and a preposition. The preposition changes the meaning of the verb - to turn on a light is different from to turn a corner.

Why are they difficult to learn?

Phrasal verbs can cause problems for English language learners because there are no universal rules. There are, however, a few guidelines that can help - see here

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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Do the languages we speak shape the way we think?

The Tower of Babel' by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1563
Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?

Stanford psychology professor  Lera Boroditsky makes has some surprising observations about the relationship between language and thought.
How do we come to be the way we are? Why do we think the way we do? An important part of the answer, it turns out, is in the languages we speak. 
Full text here

English Language 100 FAQ Teaching Pack  only £1.99 using discount code CQDWKF0

Friday, 27 June 2014

Why are we “the giraffes of altruism.”?

According to the neuro-scientist, Jonathan Haidt, humans are instinctively unselfish in some key respects. He sees altruism - acting for others rather than out of self-interest - as an evolutionary development. 

What's the evidence, Mr Haidt?

There are signs that some forms of altruism are instinctive rather than learned. Even a very young child will come to you aid if you are struggling to open a door, for example. 

This suggests that an inclination to help others - is at least partially heritable. 

But isn't evolutionary theory based on the idea of the 'survival of the fittest'?

Co-operation gives humans a competitive advantage over other species

But what's with the giraffe reference?

The giraffe's long neck gives it an advantage over other species. Being nice - some of the time, anyway - is our equivalent of having a neck that gives you that extra bit of stretch when it comes to nabbing that fruit! 

BTW: giraffes & humans share the same number of neck vertebrae

More fascinating insights into some new ideas in psychology here
 The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

Monday, 23 June 2014

What exactly is a nerd? Where does the word come from?

  1. a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.
    "I was a serious nerd until I discovered girls and cars"
    synonyms:bore, dull person; More
    • a single-minded expert in a particular technical field.
      "a computer nerd"

      'Contemptible' seems a little harsh - not that Mr Zuckerberg will be crying himself to sleep over it.

      Where does the word come from? 

      For the origin we are indebted (again) to the magnificent Dr Seuss

      The first documented appearance of the word "nerd" is as the name of a creature in Dr. Seuss's book If I Ran the Zoo (1950), in which the narrator Gerald McGrew claims that he would collect "a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too" for his imaginary zoo.[3][5][6] The slang meaning of the term dates back to 1951, when Newsweek magazine reported on its popular use as a synonym for "drip" or "square" in DetroitMichigan.[7] By the early 1960s, usage of the term had spread throughout the United States, and even as far as Scotland.[8][9

      Usage increased steadily throughout the 60s - with Sci-Fi writer - and uber-nerd - Phillip K Dick, even claiming to invent a new spelling ('nurd'). But nerd entered the mainstream by frequent appearances in the popular comedy series about 1950s family life, Happy Days. It's doubtful that this was historically accurate but nor were there too many forty-something leather clad bikers in the average suburban household either...

 What is the difference between a nerd and a geek?

And a hipster?

A hipster might happily endorse the 'contemptible' label for nerds. But an aspiring hipster can look pretty nerdish to the untrained eye .....

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