Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Silent Letters

1. Introduction
There are a lot of silent letters in English. This is because although the pronunciation of
some words has changed over the last two or three hundred years the spelling has
stayed the same.

There aren't many hard and fast rules, it's more a matter of learning which letters are
silent in certain combinations of letters.

2. History
Sadly we are trapped in an archaic system which causes great confusion to all learners, both native and non-native.

Here’s a glance into the history, thanks to Rod Mitchell’s contributions to the discussion:  Hi everyone. Could anybody help with why some English language letters are silent? For example: walk by Bb Spoghmay:

There are two main reasons (among others).
1. spurious letters put into words due to either mistaken association, or a mistaken desire to show etymological origin.

"Island" is an example of the first. In older English it was "iland", "i" meaning "island" (it is the same as the -ey in place names like Orkney, Sheppey, Jersey, Guernsey), and "land" being the word "land".  For "island", earlier "iland", the "s" was put in because someone thought that the origin was actually the Old French word "isle" (now "île" in Modern French).

"Doubt" and "debt" are examples of the second. In older English these were written "doute" and "dette", and were from Old French (in Modern French they are still written "doute" and "dette"). The word "doute" is from Latin "dubita". During the Renaissance, when the realisation that Latin was the ancestor of French, Italian and so on, someone decided it would make English either more elegant - and perhaps easier to read - if the "b" was restored (this happened for a little time in older French as well, "doubte" did appear now and then). "Dette", likewise, was from Latin "debita" (things that are owed).

2. The main reason is language change, and the spelling system not keeping up with that.

English was first written down using the Latin alphabet around 1400 years ago. The alphabet then was "phonetic". Literacy was wide spread, except among the peasantry. In 1066, the Norman Conquest brought Norman French in as the upper class language, and while Old English stayed on a legal par with Norman French until William the Conqueror's death, in reality it lost its place as all the English "public servants", bishops and so on were replaced by Normans.

For a couple of centuries few people read or wrote English, though literacy in English was much more widespread than we assume. When people started to read and write in English, in general it was done using Norman French phonics, with some carry-over from Old English phonics.

The result was a reasonably phonetic spelling system, all be it with lots of variation according to local accent, dialect and a host of other things. We can assume that in 1300-1400, when writing in English spread like wildfire, that words were written as they were pronounced, including the bulk of the silent letters of modern English.

What then happened was that the writing of English became more and more "fixed", in particular between 1500-1600, though with nothing like the rigidity we have nowadays.

In the meantime, English, like all languages, evolved. Most of the changes that happened after the "fixing" of English spelling were not reflected in the spelling. That is to say, the words we write on the whole represent the pronunciation of English of around 700 years ago.

So, final -e in words like "ride" used to be pronounced - as a schwa. "gh" used to be pronounced (and sometimes written) as the "ch" in German "auch". The K- in "kn" (know, knee, etc.) also used to be pronounced, which is why we still pronounce it in "acknowledge". The "e" in words like "liked" also used to be pronounced (as schwa), as it still is in words like "crooked" and "wicked".

In the case of words such as "talk", "walk", "baulk" and "would", a change that has been happening in English (and happened in French, Dutch, Portuguese and many other languages) is the change of syllable final "l" to dark "l" then to a "w" like sound in some dialects of English. For example, "well" is pronounced "weww" in Cockney English. "Brasil" in Portuguese is pronounced "Braziww", and in French the change is so old that even the "w" sound has disappeared (e.g. Old French "batel" "boat" has become modern French "bateau").

In Dutch, English words like "gold" have a "u" instead of the "l" ("gold" in Dutch is "goud").

The one word in English that comes to mind immediately where the "l" has disappeared is "won't" (= "will not"). In the vast majority of cases, even though the "l" has disappeared in pronunciation (as in "walk", "talk", "baulk", "would" and "should"), we keep the "l" in writing. This retention in "should" and "would" has led to the putting of "l" in "could", where it does not belong. In older English this was spelt "coude" (and the "e" was pronounced).

The "w" in "write", "wrong", "wrench" and so on used to be pronounced, like the "k" in "knee" and the rest; however, one class of word initial "silent" letters are to be found in foreign words (from Greek, etc.) which have combinations that are impossible in English phonology. These include "psychology" and "pterodactyl". We don't pronounce the first letter of such Greek words, even though in Greek they are pronounced as written.
3. Silent letters from A to Z (The list is not exhaustive, please)

A - artistically, logically, musically, romantically, stoically
B - comb, climb, debt, plumber, tomb, subtle, dumb, bomb, doubt, , numb, subpoena, thumb,   
C - acquire, acquit, blackguard, connecticut, czar, muscle, scissors, victual
CH - yacht
D - handkerchief, Wednesday (commonly said Wens-day)
E - plaque. vegetable (veg'tab'I), bridge, clothes, Wednesday (commonly said Wens-
      day). When on the end of a word, it changes the pronunciation of the word, but the -e is
F - halfpenny
G - align, alight, champagne, diaphragm, foreign, gnash, gnat, gnaw, high, light, reign,
GH - right, drought, eight, weigh, etc.
H - choir, exhaust, hour, honour, honest, herb, rhyme, rhythm, thyme, Thailand 
I - business, parliament
K - blackguard.
KN -words, the k is silent: know, knot, knee, knife, knight, knock.
L - calm, folk, salmon, talk, walk, could, should, would, folk, half, calf.
M - mnemonic.
N - autumn, chimney, column, damn, damn, government, solemn.
O- colonel, sophomore, opossum
P - corps, coup, cupboard, pneumonia, psalm, raspberry, receipt, coup
Q - (NONE)
R - butter, finger, surprise 
S - aisle, island, debris, isle, patios, viscount.
T - beret, Chevrolet, depot, listen, whistle, wrestle, trestle, mortgage, apostle
      (When talking fast, the ‘t’ is very lightly pronounced in words like Christmas, mountain
        and little)
TH - asthma, isthmus, north, Easter
W - who, whole, write, wrong,  two, sword, wrist, answer
X - faux
Y - (NONE)
Z - rendezvous

Silent letters can be heard depending on a person’s accent.

In the thread referred to in the ‘History’, Katerina Xafis makes this observation:
Apparently, L-vocalisation (ie the replacement of 'l' sound with a vowel sound or semi-vowel sound) in words such as 'walk' has occurred in all Englishes except in Irish English. But strictly speaking, the sound 'l' has been replaced with a semi-vowel or vowel sound (as Rod so well explained), so it is not really 'silent', which is what I think James is referring to. 

Another example is 'calm' with various ways of pronouncing it --- I have heard some Am speakers pronounce the 'l'.

Rod Mitchell recommends reading ‘Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling’ by David Crystal.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Worst Practices

A few months ago, David Deubelbeiss raised a pertinent question in ELT Professionals around the world about worst practices: What do teachers do that can harm student learning then and now and also for future months/years? I'm sure there are even many common practices that some of us might consider as harmful.

1. focussing on the most able learners to the exclusion of the more shy but able learners
2. focussing on the wealthy in class to the exclusion of the poor
3. considering themselves superior and mocking / belittling / humiliating weak learners in
    front of their peers by word and deed
4. having fun at the ignorance of learners
5. reading learners’ gestures wrongly and (without seeking explanation) hurting them
6. calling students names
7. accepting another teacher’s image of certain students and looking at them with prejudiced

    perception and developing a negative attitude

These are some of the things that struck me as worst practices. I’ve seen some of these happen and do irreparable damage. The can wound the students in question, destroy their confidence, initiate a dislike for the subject; they may even pave way for bad blood between such teachers and students, and in all probability, it’s the students who get punished for no fault of theirs.

Friday, 11 March 2016

How can you make students pay attention in the class?

Give them the confidence that you are there FOR them. Let them feel you are there to support their justifiable causes. Let them understand you are there to make their lives smooth for them.

How do you do all these?
By being much more than a subject teacher.

See them as human beings, understand and deal with their shortcomings with empathy (mind you, don’t condescend, they’ll know), applaud their strengths, help them in whatever way you can with the administration and other staff. 

1. Ground Rules
In my first class with students, I'd emphasise this: Remember this every moment you're in class. Two palms are required to clap, two feet are needed to move, mind and heart are necessary to make a human whole, if I'm the one palm you are the other, if I'm one foot  you're the other. If I'm the heart you're the mind. I'll do my best and so should you. 

All the others are secondary. The ground rules come first. Always.

2. Greet them first
Don’t wait for your students, greet them as soon as you see them, wherever you see them. A greeting and a cheerful face go a long way in initiating the rapport.

3. Make enquiries
Enquire after their health, get to know details about any visible health issue. Such a gesture indicates your concern for them.

4. Encourage them
Involve yourself in extracurricular activities; this will lead to their participation. Praise their little or big successes. Admire their talents. Be proud of their achievements.

5. Support their just causes
Let them see you championing their wishes, needs and comforts.

6. Meet parents
Be in frequent touch with parents or relatives. Especially of those ‘difficult’ children. Discuss their physical and mental well-being. Suggest that neatness and discipline at home, respect for time, good habits go a long way in shaping their children’s future.

7. Outdoors
Arrange for picnics, trips to places closeby, meaningful occupation of time—games, singing, dancing, painting, cooking.
Arrange for meaningful social activities—keeping surroundings clean, literacy to elders, getting things done for illiterates.

And so on.     

Be much more than a subject teacher. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Misused words

Here are some highlights:
1.      Adverse means "detrimental." It does not mean "averse" or "disinclined." Correct: "There were adverse effects." / "I'm not averse to doing that."
2.    Appraise means to "ascertain the value of." It does not mean to "apprise" or to "inform." Correct: "I appraised the jewels." / "I apprised him of the situation."
3.    Beg the question means that a statement assumes the truth of what it should be proving; it does not mean to "raise the question." Correct: "When I asked the dealer why I should pay more for the German car, he said I would be getting 'German quality,' but that just begs the question."
4.    Bemused means "bewildered." It does not mean "amused." Correct: "The unnecessarily complex plot left me bemused." / "The silly comedy amused me."
5.     Cliché is a noun, not an adjective. The adjective is clichéd. Correct: "Shakespeare used a lot of clichés." / "The plot was so clichéd."
6.    Data is a plural count noun not, standardly speaking, a mass noun. [Note: "Data is rarely used as a plural today, just as candelabra and agenda long ago ceased to be plurals," Pinker writes. "But I still like it."] Correct: "This datum supports the theory, but many of the other data refute it."
7.     Depreciate means to "decrease in value." It does not mean to "deprecate" or to "disparage." Correct: "My car has depreciated a lot over the years." / "She deprecated his efforts."
8.    Disinterested means "unbiased." It does not mean "uninterested." Correct: "The dispute should be resolved by a disinterested judge." / "Why are you so uninterested in my story?"
9.    Enormity refers to extreme evil. It does not mean "enormousness." [Note: It is acceptable to use it to mean a deplorable enormousness.] Correct: "The enormity of the terrorist bombing brought bystanders to tears." / "The enormousness of the homework assignment required several hours of work."
10.           Hone means to "sharpen." It does not mean to "home in on" or "to converge upon." Correct: "She honed her writing skills." / "We're homing in on a solution."
11.  Hung means "suspended." It does not mean "suspended from the neck until dead." Correct: "I hung the picture on my wall." / "The prisoner was hanged."
12.Ironic means "uncannily incongruent." It does not mean "inconvenient" or "unfortunate." Correct: "It was ironic that I forgot my textbook on human memory." / "It was unfortunate that I forgot my textbook the night before the quiz."
13.Nonplussed means "stunned" or "bewildered." It does not mean "bored" or "unimpressed." Correct: "The market crash left the experts nonplussed." / "His market pitch left the investors unimpressed."
14.Parameter refers to a variable. It not mean "boundary condition" or "limit." Correct: "The forecast is based on parameters like inflation and interest rates." / "We need to work within budgetary limits."
15. Phenomena is a plural count noun — not a mass noun. Correct: "The phenomenon was intriguing, but it was only one of many phenomena gathered by the telescope."
16.Shrunk, sprung, stunk, and sunk are past participles--not words in the past tense. Correct: "I've shrunk my shirt." / "I shrank my shirt."
17. Simplistic means "naively or overly simple." It does not mean "simple" or "pleasingly simple." Correct: "His simplistic answer suggested he wasn't familiar with the material." / "She liked the chair's simple look."
18.Verbal means "in linguistic form." It does not mean "oral" or "spoken." Correct: "Visual memories last longer than verbal ones."
19.Effect means "influence"; to effect means "to put into effect"; to affect means either "to influence" or "to fake." Correct: "They had a big effect on my style." / "The law effected changes at the school." / "They affected my style." / "He affected an air of sophistication to impress her parents."
20.          Lie (intransitive: lies, lay, has lain) means to "recline"; lay (transitive: lays, laid, has laid) means to "set down"; lie (intransitive: lies, lied, has lied) means to "fib." Correct: "He lies on the couch all day." / "He lays a book upon the table." / "He lies about what he does."
It should be noted that while it's always good to polish up your writing, one of the joys of language is that it isn't fixed in time. It evolves. Nor is there a single "correct" style (in English, at least).
You'd neither connect nor impress if you chose your words like an Oxford don at a rap battle (though, actually, someone please make that YouTube video), and you'd be unlikely to get a job at an investment bank today speaking like Shakespeare.
Why is this important? It's easy to get too caught up in being perfectly "correct" and become a tedious language snob. Remember you probably want to come across as intelligent and thoughtful, not uptight and pedantic. So don't get so worked up over the little things that you miss the larger point of good writing — to communicate clearly and engagingly with your chosen audience.
 In a Linked in discussion, I found these:

Sharon Rossignuolo
Very interesting! A common mistake I notice among native speakers in Ireland is the use of the word "specific". Instead of specific, people say "Pacific" (like the ocean)! Not sure if this is prevalent in other countries? 

Katerina Xafis How interesting Sharon. Have not heard it myself. You've reminded of another mistake --- 'specially' to mean 'especially'. (They are toys specially made for young children, especially boys.)

Homonyms, homographs, homophones

(i)   share the same spelling and
(ii)  the same pronunciation but
(iii) have different meanings. For example, bear.

bear (the animal) can bear (tolerate) very cold temperatures.
The driver turned left (opposite of right) and left (departed from) the main road.
Yes, I can (am able to) carry the can (container).
You’ll look better in this suit (dress); if you don’t like it, well, suit yourself (wear whatever you want).
You’ll get a fair (reasonable) price at the fair (exhibition).

Homophones are also known as sound-alike words; they are words that
(i)   are pronounced identically but
(ii)  have different meanings and often
(iii) have different spellings.

These words are a very common source of confusion when writing.
Here are a few examples:
to, too, and two
they're and their
bee and be
sun and son
which and witch
plain and plane.
addition and edition
ascent and assent
desert and dessert

Homographs are words that
(i)   are spelled the same, but
(ii)  have different meanings and
(iii) are often pronounced differently.

Some examples of homographs are:
bass as in fish vs bass as in music
bow as in arrow vs bow as in bending or taking a bow at the end of a performance
close as in next to vs close as in shut the door
desert as in dry climate vs desert as in leaving alone.

Heteronyms or Heterophones have
(i)   same spelling,
(ii)  different pronunciations,
(iii) different meanings.

All heteronyms are homographs, but not all homographs are heteronyms. See why this concept can be so confusing to learn?
I need to wind the alarm clock so I can fly my kite in the early morning gusty wind.
Please record the program when they try to beat the world record for word nerdiness.
Please excuse this poor excuse for art.

Capitonyms are different words spelled the same except for the capitalization. Sometimes they are pronounced the same, sometimes they are not.

I like to visit the country of Turkey and eat that American bird, turkey.
My mobile phone ironically did not work in Mobile, Alabama.
In May, when spring is almost over, I may pack away my winter clothes.
The Polish refugee said nothing but went straight to work putting polish on the silver.
On the Ides of March, we will march in the parade.