Archive for Reading

Nonword literacy

Upon first hearing, the very idea sounded preposterous, but when I searched the internet, I found it all over the place as "nonword reading / repetition", "nonsense words", "non word phonics / fluency", "non-word decoding", "pseudowords", etc.  In other words (!), it's a real thing, and lots of people take the concept seriously as a supposedly useful device in reading theory and practice, justifying it thus:

"as a tool to assess phonetic decoding ability" (here)

"contribute to children's ability to learn new words"  (here)

"a true indicator of the alphabetic principle and basic phonics" (here)

etc., etc., etc.

I would not have taken the topic of nonwords seriously and posted on it, had not AntC pointed out that it is actually being applied in the classroom in New Zealand.

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Garden paths galore

In two successive comments on different posts (here and here), Jarek Weckwerth asserts that this garden path post is "a timely follow-up" to the exuberant discussion on the parsing of a Classical Chinese / Literary Sinitic (CC/LS) book title that took place in this post and the plethora of readers' remarks that followed it.  This is an interesting proposition, and it makes me wonder if CC/LS is prone to this sort of ambiguity because of the inexplicitness of its grammar.

During the more than half a century that I have been studying and teaching CC/LS, it has always seemed to me that checking out different possible "garden paths" is a sine qua non for responsible reading of such texts.

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The Cat in the Tricorne Hat

In "Trends in book titles" (8/5/2022) I discussed the title-page complexity's of P. Sproson's 1740 work "THE ART of READING: OR, THE ENGLISH TONGUE MADE Familiar and easy to the meanest Capacity", and observed that "There's also more to say about Mr. Sproson's reader".

One thing to start with: Sproson provides a series of  reading lessons featuring sequences of words of increasing length and complexity. And some of them achieve a sort of accidental Seuss-ish poetry, e.g. this section of  a lesson "consisting of words not exceeding two letters in each":

is my ox to go
my ox is to go
of us or to us
of me or to me
to us or of us
to me or of me
is it to be so
it is to be so
to be so it is
is it so to be
it is so to be
is it so to me
is it so to us

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Summer linguistics

From Barbara Phillips Long:

In the last week, I have read several "summer reading" columns. It occurs to me it might be interesting to know if there are books with linguists as major characters. Are there?

Are there works of fiction that revolve around characters who do related work, such as compiling dictionaries or working as translators in ways that make languages and linguistics essential to the plot structure?
I ran "fiction" through the LL search, and I did not see any posts on this particular angle.

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Educated (and not so educated) guesses about how to read Sinographs

Here is a painting that is being exhibited in Taipei now:

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"Crete 1941": How to read a modern epic

[This is a guest post by Bernard Cadogan]

Epic comes from a Greek word for a word or spoken language, epos. Logos is another word like that which we know. The first emphasises articulation, the latter organisation.
Epic features in many cultures and comes in different varieties. China and the Sinitic civilisations lack it, as do the nomadic Semitic and Amazigh peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt had no epic. The hero form involving journeying –  Gilgamesh and the Odyssey and Beowulf – is one form. The most stringent form resembles the Iliad, which is the most perfect epic composed. It consists of multiple actors involved in a single action within the context of a wider struggle. This is what Crete 1941 resembles. There is no single hero. There is no single baddie. The complexity of war is fully invoked as well as the necessity to fight it.

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Excepted for publication

I wrote to a colleague who helped me edit a paper that it had been accepted for publication.  She wrote back, "I’m glad it is excepted".

Some may look upon such a typo as "garden variety", but I believe that it tells us something profoundly significant about the primacy of sound over shape, an issue that we have often debated on Language Log, including how to regard typographical errors in general, but also how to read old Chinese texts (e.g., copyists' mistakes, deterioration of texts over centuries of editorial transmission, etc.).

Often, when you read a Chinese text and parts of it just don't make any sense, if you ignore the superficial semantic signification of the characters with which it is written, but focus more on the sound, suddenly the meaning of the text will become crystal clear.  In point of fact, much of the commentarial tradition throughout Chinese history consists of this kind of detective work — sorting out which morphemes were really intended by a given string of characters.

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Sanskrit and comprehensible input

[The following is a guest post by Amara Hasa]

We are longtime fans of Language Log and wanted to share a project we've been working on that we believe might be right up your alley. We believe as much because it combines two subjects you've written about in the past: teaching languages through comprehensible input and compelling stories ("How to learn Mandarin"), and spoken and communicative Sanskrit ("Spoken Sanskrit").

Our project is a free online library of Sanskrit stories for learners. What makes these stories special is that they follow the current best practices from second language acquisition research.

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Ping-pong bing-bang

Xi Jinping commits another pronunciation gaffe.  Even if you don't know Mandarin, you can hear it clearly here because it is repeated over and over again.  Instead of saying "pīngpāng wàijiāo 乒乓外交" ("ping-pong diplomacy"), he says "bīngbāng wàijiāo 冰邦外交" ("ice states diplomacy"), which some wits are further distorting as "bīngbàng wàijiāo 冰棒外交" ("popsicle diplomacy"):

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Phonetic annotations as a welcome aid for learning how to read and write Sinographs

In several recent posts, we've been discussing the most efficient, least painful way to acquire facility with hanzi / kanji / hanja 漢字 ("Sinographs; Chinese characters").  Lord knows there are endless numbers of them and they are so intricately constructed that it is an arduous task to master the two thousand or so that are necessary for basic literacy.

It would be so much easier to learn the Sinographs if language pedagogues would provide phonetic annotations for each character.  Better yet, the phonetic annotations should be divided into words with spaces between them according to the official orthographic rules.

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Pinyin for the Prez

Watch what happens at the tail end of the 24 second video clip in this Twitter post:

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Skim reading, speed reading, and close, critical reading

When I was in high school and college, I read massive amounts of fiction (e.g., Don Quixote, The Magic Mountain), history (e.g., The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich), current events (e.g., Time from cover to cover for about twenty years), and so forth.  But almost everything I read — if I considered it worth reading at all — I read very carefully, sometimes taking several minutes per page, and rereading particularly difficult passages until I assured myself that I understood what they were really about.

I had heard about Evelyn Wood's speed reading — it was hard to miss because it was so widely advertised — but was always skeptical of the extravagant claims made for it (e.g., finishing Gone with the Wind — nearly seven hundred pages — in less than an hour).  I could, if I wished, read very quickly by focusing on key elements of texts, but then I never felt that I completely comprehended them and that my retention was limited.

Because of my reading habits, it was always very important for me to have quiet surroundings when I was working my way through books, articles, essays, and so forth.  I was particularly deliberate when reading poetry, because I felt then, and still feel to this day, that to fully appreciate a good poem, one needs to go over it again and again to ruminate and savor not only its meaning, but also its sounds and rhythms.  That is the approach I use in my Chinese Poetry and Prose class, which I offer every third year, and whose current iteration began today.  We spend more than two weeks on a single poem by the Tang poet, Wang Wei, called "Deer Park / Enclosure", which consists of twenty syllables.  I may ask my students to keep a journal of their growing awareness of what the poem is actually telling us (in my forty years of teaching, I've never asked students to keep a journal about anything, but it might be worth doing in this class).

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Julie Washington on Dialects and Literacy

Read here now: the fine profile of my friend and research collaborator Julie Washington in the April issue of the Atlantic magazine. It’s been out for a while but you might not have seen it if, as in Madison WI where I live, it’s still February (we had the biggest snowstorm of the season this week). Julie is a professor at Georgia State University and the head of their program in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She’s an expert on the structure, acquisition, and use of African American English (AAE), and her research focuses on how use of the dialect affects reading achievement and educational progress, the assessment of children’s language and reading, and the identification of developmental language and reading disorders. The article describes her view that children who speak AAE in the home and community will make better progress in learning to read, and in school, if they can code switch between AAE and the mainstream dialect, often termed (though not by her) "standard" American English.

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