Friday, August 1, 2014
Sunday, June 29, 2014
|A koala at a wildlife park near Adelaide, Australia|
This dictionary is free, it’s online, and it’s designed specifically for learners of English. That means that we’ve included information that learners really need:
|A kangaroo with a joey in its pouch|
- definitions, written with a limited defining vocabulary (i.e. a set number of words used in the definitions so they are simpler to understand);
- pronunciation, both in the International Phonetic Alphabet and in audio files (which work fine on Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome and will soon work well on Internet Explorer too, we hope);
- grammatical information, giving information on whether a noun is countable for example, or how to make it plural;
- usage notes, so that learners know who usually uses a word (for example, older or younger people) and when they might use it (formally or informally);
- example sentences taken from a corpus (i.e. a collection) of real English sentences;
- photographs of all the words or of situations in which the expressions are used; and
- videos of some words and expressions (there is nothing like seeing a kangaroo hopping to understand how it really moves!).
The words and expressions are all used in Adelaide, and most of them are used throughout Australia. Even if you don’t visit our country, we hope the dictionary will give you an idea of some of the common words and expressions you might encounter here.You can find the dictionary at this website: http://www.culturaldictionary.org/
|Alpacas at the Royal Adelaide Show|
This dictionary was produced by Julia Miller, Deny Kwary and Ardian Setiawan. We'd like to thank the School of Education at the University of Adelaide for giving us some funds to help put the project online. We'd also like to thank the PEP students at the university's English Language Centre for suggesting the words and giving us feedback on the types of definitions that worked best. Thank you also to Adam Kilgarriff for allowing us to access the VOLE corpus. And a big thank you to Athena Kerley and Alex Lovat at the University of Adelaide for lending us their voices for the audio files!
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Eunice doing her mother tongue homework at her workstation
Jessie and Eunice at Legoland
In the learning interactivity, Mandarin was used to talk about the Chinese exercises, as it is the common language between Eunice and her maternal grandparents and parents (her biological mother tongue is Hokkien, spoken in her paternal household).
peaking Mandarin is very different from learning the written Chinese characters and understanding the syntactic constructions. A very young Chinese speaker such as Eunice, who may be fluent in spoken Mandarin, was unable to identify all the corresponding written Mandarin characters in complex phrases. Eunice also had difficulties in construing and producing syntactic segments according to a common Chinese scheme of knowledge, especially when she was already getting used to the logics of English scripts constructed for children in programs like Hi-5, Disney Junior, Okto Channel.
Eunice and her cousin, Jiayi, undoing their mother tongue on stage in their glocal world
One may be interested to know that (Chinese) adults who sing the Mandarin pop songs of Jay Chou and Wang LeeHom may not recognize each Mandarin characters in the lyrics. A cognition with sound symbolic mapping capability and tone-sensitive filter would be sufficient for the musical rendition (cf. Sew 2014a on Mandarin /chun/ or spring being construed as leftover in Hokkien by means of sound symbolism).
The same principle applies when one sings in Hokkien, a southern Chinese dialect, because the target verbal Hokkien words are matched with the corresponding sound symbolic Mandarin characters since there is only one set of Chinese character for all the Chinese dialects.
Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese do not share the same tones. For example, /sui/, or pretty in Hokkien is represented with 水, or water in written Mandarin on the Kara-oke screen. Although the tone of the Hokkien-/sui/ is different from 水, a 'polyglotal' Chinese may easily sort out the dialectal mapping almost instantaneously. Most of the time, however, the dialectal-phonetic-tonal pairing is irrelevant because only singing and performing matter in the verbal repertoire for singing out loud.
The metacommunication of learning interaction in a multilingual society is a form of complex primary speech much more complicated than the monolingual prints on the exercise sheets (see MacCorquodale, 1970, p. 95 for a explanation on primary speech). In fact, the mode of metacommunication reflects the contemporary language use in a global world that involves a mixing of language codes (Hall & Cook, 2012). The complex dialogue structures in the English conversation between a female representative of an international organization with a prominent local figure in a Guyama community is a good example (Bartlett, 2014, p. 23).
Despite the romantic belief that language learning occurs in the guise of the formal language, spoken utterances on the fly either in a formal, or informal (learning) interactivity do not adhere to the standard variety at morphological and syntactic levels. This is due to the fact that other non-linguisitic indexes are required to complete communication tasks (Sew, 2009, Clark, 1996).
One may want to ponder further if dropping out of the primary school has anything to do with the code of metacommunication. The code of instruction that is very different from the code of interaction at home might pose a learning hurdle to a child in acquiring academic knowledge in monolingual and multilingual societies. The notions of elaborated and restricted codes are relevant to understanding the matter (Bernstein, 1964) although this article does not correlate social class with the codes.
Many a times at secondary school level, educators are reminded to speak the language of teenagers in order to connect with the youngsters and secure their attention. Symbolic as it may seem, language as social capital is another factor underpinning language learning (Sew, 2012). The use of slang, for example, is a case in point. Slang is something frowned upon as a bad linguistic behavior despite its familiarity in the spoken and digital discourse of youngsters (see Sew, 2014b for a natural occurence of slang in a language learning situation).
Clark, H. H. (1996). Using language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MacCorquodale, K. (1970). On Chomsky's review of Skinner's 'Verbal Behavior'. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 13(1), 83–99.
____________. (2012). Malay and global literacy. Akademika 82(2), 25-35. http://journalarticle.ukm.my/6118/1/Akademika_82(2)Chap_3-locked.pdf
____________. (2014a). Spring in other dialect. Grammar Gang (January issue).
____________. (2014b). Slang: Beyond a knee-jerk reaction. Grammar Gang (April Issue).http://thegrammargang.blogspot.sg/2014/04/slang-beyond-knee-jerk-reaction.html
Centre for Language Studies, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, National University of Singapore
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Please do not enter lift cart until the illuminated red beam on the doors changes to green.
Am I being unnecessarily pedantic? I don't think so. The UK Guardian newspaper recently published an article about the Idler Academy's Bad Grammar Awards. Stray apostrophes feature there, as well as confusing subjects/objects and inaccurate spelling.
Do these things really matter, though? Surely communication is the main thing? After all, language is all about communication. Yes and no. Spelling mistakes may not matter in the long run, but if communication is impeded by bad grammar or punctuation then there may be serious problems. Think about these sentences from the Cybertext Newsletter blog:
Most of the time travellers worry about their luggage.
Most of the time, travellers worry about their luggage.
Are we talking about ordinary travellers or time travellers?
One of my other favourites is this Australian sign:
Without the punctuation, this could mean that drivers should go more slowly because children could be injured if a car hit them. However it can also mean that children should walk more slowly and not bounce along the road!
Finally, let's look at another sign:
The top line starts, "You would of noticed . . ." When we speak in English we usually say "would've". The writer here obviously didn't realise this sound meant "would have" and not "would of".
Little mistakes like this don't matter in terms of communication, but they make the reader think that the writer is either careless or uneducated, and that is not helpful if someone is trying to sell a product, impress a future employer or write a good academic essay.
What common mistakes have you noticed around you, and have your own writing mistakes ever had a comic or serious effect in your life?
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
The learning episode makes an interesting discussion of slang words in this blog post, not least because many young people incorporate slang in verbal communication when they make reference to a romantic partner. Actually, mata air, the inverse of air mata (tears) is the slang for romantic partner in Malay, which may imply that a boyfriend, or girlfriend has the potential to provoke tears.
Mata air (image taken from http://travellermeds.blogspot.sg/2013/08/pemandian-air-panas-mengeruda-soa-ngada.html
In Standard Malay, the word mata air has a dictionary meaning which is spring, or water source. Reflecting further on the meaning in mata air may suggest that the reason for tears to be co-opted into the slang has to do with (erratic) emotional reactions that may come with maintaining a relationship.
Turning to English, the slang for the same reference is associated with a popular word often uttered in American movies and television programs, namely chicks. From a second speaker viewpoint, the slang chicks may well be referring to small and cuddly qualities, reflecting further a functional aspect of the relationship in the particular speech culture. I welcome alternative explanations as the slangy meanings of chicks in American English.
Image taken from
During my undergraduate years, my peers co-opted the Cantonese word vegetable [choy] as the slang word for a potential boyfriend or girlfriend. Due to the multiple uses of this slang in Hong Kong drama and movies, the Cantonese morpheme remains a robust slang currently cutting across different types of speech situations. The slangy use of vegetable as romantic partner is also true among young speakers of Southeast Asian Mandarin.
Recently, vegetable or 菜 cài has become a slang word in Taiwanese Mandarin. The Mandarin 'vegetable' was used as slang in the interview between a host and a famous Taiwanese actress on television, as she replied to the local host, “You are not my vegetable” [ni bu shi wo de cài...] to reject the tongue in cheek offer from the male host as her boyfriend.
Along the green vein, so to speak, many fruit names such as apple, banana, cucumber, and grapes are part of the descriptions for referring to certain human characteristics in English (Sew, 2014). The derivation of human references based on vegetables and fruits may have started as slangy references before the full acceptance and common use of the meanings in verbal communication.
In claiming that texting occupies an important position among youngsters, Deborah Tannen has noticed that young people prefer a digital text to a phone call, which is considered to be intrusive (McLaughlin, 2010). As a typical semiotic culture in using social media, inserting slangy lingo in electronic text augurs well with texting as an intimate form of communication for young people. For example, Eva Lam (2004) has studied the digital records of two female chat room users and noticed that certain texts contained hybrid phrases combining English and Cantonese. Lam's digital data such as open laugh mei (are you kidding) and hate 4 nei (hate you forever) are slangy digital exchanges.
Ontologically speaking, our mind may be more poetic and capable of making hybrid connections to many abstract, or metaphorical notions derived from the original linguistic meanings when we operate digitally. The medium of communication is a relevant factor contributing to slang production because it is easy to text slangy morphemes via a smart phone, or utter slangy references face-to-face than to spell them out in print for mass distribution (Sew, 2010).
The inclusion of an alternative lingo within the electronic discourse runs parallel to the use of slang as a pragmatic diversion in oral communication. It is logical to assume that young netizens' construction of semiotic codings while interacting with each other, as a form of personal texting in the digital spaces, may be the underlining pragmatic reason for online advertisements to include hybrid Chinese expressions and phrases that are different from the standard grammar (Feng & Wu, 2007).
We may equate mata air in Malay with chicks in American English, 菜 or choy in Cantonese, or cài in Taiwanese and Southeast Asian Mandarin as the slangy lingo of young speakers, although chicks is limited to a female reference. (Perhaps, cock may be the English slang word referring to the male counterpart).
Lam, W.S.E. (2004). Second language socialization in a bilingual chat room: Global and local considerations. Language Learning & Technology 8(3), 44-65. http://llt.msu.edu/vol8num3/lam/default.html
McLaughlin, J. (2010). To text or not to text: Even young people don't know the answer. Inside Fordham. http://www.fordham.edu/campus_resources/enewsroom/inside_fordham/december_6_2010/news/to_text_or_not_to_te_77749.asp
Noriah Mohamed, & Norma Baharom. (2006). Pembentukan kata dalam slanga lelaki gender ketiga. In Paitoon Chaiyanara et al. (Ed.), Bahasa: Memeluk akar menyuluh ke langit (pp. 126-171). Singapura: Universiti Teknologi Nanyang.
Sew, J.W. (2010). Persembahan@Media.com. Kuala Lumpur: Universiti Malaya Press.
Jyh Wee Sew
Centre for Language Studies,
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences,
National University of Singapore
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
|photo by Julia Miller|
|photo by Julia Miller|
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Parents and children collaborating at the pictorial wall
Designing on a T-Shirt is another interesting play form that offers much scope for creativity. Young children were captivated by the task. Some put their hard work to practical use by wearing the shirt immediately after they had put their heart and sweat into the designs.
At the Community Complex, many parents picked up useful tips from experts who shared some of their observations from studying children at play. One panelist shared her findings that all children wanted to be with their parents as indicated in their narratives for the pictures they drew, which always contain a participating parent event though the parents were not made visible in the picture. Another expert noticed that a child might develop a routinized feeling towards extracurricular classes that they are enrolled in if they are not provided with their own play time. Going to a music lesson, for example, is not the same as playing the instrument on their own and recognizing their particular strength in the musical genre.
More importantly, an expert also informed that pre-school children lacking drawing ability may indicate a lack of confidence due to the fear of drawing something incorrectly. The resolution is simply to encourage the child to draw openly according to her own view. Confidence would eventually develop from the drawing task. Another expert reminded parents that it is acceptable to have play-talk with young children as a form of bonding. Conversation need not always be a question-answer formulaic sequence. Questions may lead to more questions as a form of interactivity between parents and children.
Playeum reminds me that, despite a nightmarish experience in primary school, my language development was rescued by means of playful methodology such as mimicking a cartoon's words, or aping the puppet characters' pronunciation through pseudo-personification. The joy of watching and listening to English on television was all the more important because English as a subject was only spoken occasionally during contact time for a total of 4-5 hours a week many decades ago. One might recall the mimicking effort of a three year-old girl learning to sing in formal Mandarin phrases while dancing in front of the television according to the Chinese music video (Sew, 2013).
Readers of this blog entry are welcome to share their experiences of playing or playful activities that have contributed to their language or personal development.
Sew, Jyh Wee. (2013). Sing to read. Grammar Gang. http://thegrammargang.blogspot.sg/2013/08/sing-to-read.html
Jyh Wee Sew
Centre for Language Studies
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
Kent Ridge Campus, National University of Singapore