Monday, November 25, 2013

My Essay Rules!

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There is plenty of good advice around on essay writing, and our own Grammar Gang blog has some great posts. You can find them by typing ‘essay writing’ in the box in the top left hand corner of the page.

Today, for a bit of fun, I’m going to include some text from a video called My Essay Rules, which features the famous grammar detective Ms Parrot attempting to ‘bake’ an essay. There are twelve stages, like the hands on a clock moving round in five minute blocks.

1. First consider your topic or title, to give you an idea of what your finished product should be like. Look at this well before the due date and give yourself plenty of time to work on the essay.

2. Then brainstorm all the things that might be associated with your topic.

3. After that, look for the right ingredients. This is like doing research.

4. Now you need to plan. You may have to put those things aside that you don’t need. Just because you spent a long time finding something, that doesn’t always mean it’s going to be useful. You need to weigh everything and make sure there’s a good balance. Then put the ingredients in order, ready to use.

5. Now draft your conclusion. How will everything finish? What are you aiming for? What final impression do you want your reader to have? It might seem strange to start by writing a conclusion, but unless you know where you’re going you can easily lose direction.

6. The next thing is to write the body of your essay. This is a bit like mixing your ingredients, getting the balance right. Each paragraph should make one main point.

7. Now draft your introduction. What do you want your reader to know about your topic? How will you lead them in to the rest of your essay? The final sentence is usually the thesis statement, where you explain what your essay will cover.

8. Remember to include references every time you refer to another person’s ideas. References should appear in the text and in a reference list at the end of the essay.

9. Read your draft essay and change things if you need to. Make sure everything is linked to your title.

10.Edit your essay. Is there anything you need to add or take out? Should you change the order of any paragraphs?

11.Proof read your essay. Are there any little mistakes you need to correct?

12.If your essay’s ready, it’s time to submit it. And if you get a good mark, that’s the icing on the cake!

If you’re still stuck at the planning stage, though, try Massey University’s assignment planning calculator for some excellent time management tips, as well as advice on all aspects of essay writing.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Saying 'No'

Learning to say 'no' has been the advice to many. Indeed, negating words are important linguistic forms to teach in a foreign language curriculum. These forms enable the students to either make a refusal, or denial when they are dealing with an uncomfortable invitation or proposition. A verbal negation is also relevant to prohibit an ongoing action that disturbs the tranquility of a place. 

Furthermore, the intelligence to negate provides the power to keep risky offers arising from verbal communication at bay. In terms of shopping, negating words are relevant for bargaining. Saying 'no' generates a capacity for the speaker to negotiate for a simple agreement. In a typical foreign language classroom, Malay students would learn the following three Malay words to perform a simple negation in daily interaction.

Negating Words
English gloss
Not or No
1.       Kuih ini bukan pisang goreng.
                  This kuih[1] is not fried fritters.
2.       Rumah saya bukan di Jurong.
                   My house is not in Jurong.
Don’t or No
3.       Saya tidak tidur lewat.
                   I do not sleep late.
4.       Abang saya tidak kurus.
                   My elder brother is not thin.
Do not
5.       Jangan makan di dalam perpustakaan
                   Do not eat inside the library.
                                                        Table 1: Basic Malay Negative Words

Table 1 contains three negating  words in Malay that are commonly used in verbal communication.[2]  Even though the examples in Table 1 are quite straightforward, a  student of Elementary Malay may pose interesting questions including the possibility of using 'ini kuih' (kuih this) instead of 'kuih ini' (this kuih) in example 1. The basis of such a query is understandable if students have the experience of learning the instantiated Malay syntactic form, 'ini’ +  ‘kuih’ in deictic expressions by looking at the pictures while reading out the nouns in view.
 "Ini kuih pisang goreng" (This is a fried fretter)

More explanations are required to satisfy an inquisitive mind that examines and generates a particular syntactic pattern across varying types of expression. As a foreground to our understanding of Malay grammar, it is explained that a Malay noun comes before a demonstrative in a typical Malay construction, as follows:

6. Rumah ini rumah saya.
    This house is my house 
I call this linguistic rule ‘the more important thing comes first’ syntactic principle. A Malay deictic expression that begins with a demonstrative 'ini' is, hence, irregular Malay syntax because the ini-headed phrase inverts the syntactic principle.  Hence, the student's query of *'Ini kuih bukan pisang goreng' is actually an ill-formed negative expression in Malay because it goes against 'the most important thing comes first' principle.
We may test the negation further for more information.
7. Kuih ini bukan pisang goreng    [this kuih is not fried fritter]
8. *Ini kuih bukan pisang goreng  [*kuih this is not fried fritter]

That only 'kuih ini bukan pisang goreng' is a grammatical negation in Standard Malay grammar but not *'ini kuih bukan pisang goreng' suggests to us that negating a Malay sentence with an inverted noun phrase (NP) runs into a conflict of meaning, not least basic negative expressions entail a specific reference but not its presupposition.[3]   In other words, a specific NP is required to provide a scopal dependence for processing the negated information [4].  A similar contrast of English examples illustrating ill-formed negations with non-dependent specification includes the following examples.

9.   Today is not Monday.                            vs.       9a. *Monday is not today.
10. This rice is not chicken rice.                 vs.     10a. *Chicken rice is not this rice.

In conclusion, recognising and understanding the different negative expressions between languages, especially in the case of English first language speakers learning Malay, is useful for teaching Malay negative words. Interlanguage contrast provides a space of contemplation by invoking a familiar path into the terrain of negation in another language.  Informing Malay learners that negating certain Malay phrases works well with a specific noun reference, but not with its deictic counterpart, is a relevant start towards acquiring Malay negation.
Jyh Wee Sew,
Centre for Language Studies, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, National University of Singapore

[1] Kuih, a Malay delicacy, is more complicated than a snack in terms of preparation but less elaborate than a cake in terms of size and appearance.
[2] Interested readers may refer to Asmah Haji Omar, Nahu Melayu Mutakhir (5th ed., Kuala Lumpur, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2009) for more examples of Malay negative words; and also Asmah Haji Omar, Rekonstruksi kata dalam bahasa Melayu induk (Kuala Lumpur, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1995) for the origins of a Malay negative word.
[3] See Jyh Wee Sew, Reduplicating nouns and verbs in Malay: A conceptual analysis, Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 2007.
[4] See discussions in Jyh Wee Sew, Review of Liu F., Scope and Specifity, Australian Journal of Linguistics 19(2) (1999), 262-264; as well as Jyh Wee Sew, Evolusi kata nafi bahasa Melayu dan kesejagatan bahasa, Jurnal Dewan Bahasa 43(12) (1999), 1136-1151. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I literally love language!

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I was interested to read the following CNN post recently, saying how dictionaries are defining the word literally with its most current meaning rather than its traditional meaning. Thus literally is now used as an intensifier, meaning very or really, rather than meaning, well, literally. That means that you can now say, There were literally hundreds of choices on the menu, when in fact there were about forty choices. All you are doing is implying that there was a lot of choice. Usage changes, and dictionaries reflect current usage, though larger dictionaries always include original uses too. Of course, dictionaries always try to show the latest uses of words, though purists often object.

Many words are not used literally, though. I loved the CNN comment that "next thing they'll be telling us that there's no ham in hamburger, no egg in eggplant, a boxing ring isn't round and tennis shoes aren't just for tennis". This reminds me of Ogden Nash's poem on the hamburger (also known as a beefburger, particularly in the UK):

In mortal combat I am joined
With monstrous words wherever coined.
"Beefburger" is a term worth hating,
Both fraudulent and infuriating,
Contrived to foster the belief
That only beefburgers are made of beef,
Implying with shoddy flim and flam
That hamburgers are made of ham.

We have so many words in English that are not literally what they claim to be, or which have changed from their original spelling. Did you know that a newt, for example, used to be an ewte, but assimilated the n from the indefinite article? The same is true of an apron, which was originally a napron, and an umpire, which used to be a numpire. This process is called ‘metanalysis’, and you can read more about it in Stephen Ullmann’s fascinating book Semantics: An introduction to the science of meaning.
Other words may be ambiguous, depending on the variety of English you are using. For example, the verb to flog is used colloquially to mean to sell in the UK, but both to sell and to steal in Australia. Likewise, to barrack a team in the UK means to shout abuse, while in Australia to barrack for means to shout encouragement. As with ‘literally’, the word has come to change its meaning. There is obviously potential for confusion there!

When you think you are using a word to say one thing, but you are actually saying something else, that word is called a ‘false friend’. This was brought home to me when I lived in Portugal, where the word marmelada refers to a kind of quince jam. For me, as an English person, marmalade was always made from citrus fruit, and often had a bitter taste. Our local supermarket didn’t know this, though, and they ordered several boxes of what turned out to be English orange marmalade. No one bought it except for my family, so the price went down and down and we ate marmalade for months. Paddington would have been happy!
All this goes to show that language develops constantly, from one country to another, from one variety to another, and from one year to another. Online dictionaries try to reflect these changes and are a great place for learners of a language to check current usage. However, there are always new things that we can watch out for, and it's fascinating to see how words change their meaning. 

That’s why I literally love language!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sing to read

Is the prerequisite of singing reading? Adults normally read the lyrics first before they upgrade the words into a song by adding melodious intonation. Or if the opposite is true, one would then claim that one sings first before checking out the lyrics. Normally, we listen to songs before deciding if we would like to be part of the fandom as a (singing) listener.

For Jia Yi, a three-year old, she sings first. The songs she sings contain 30 to 40 Chinese words. She does not understand the lyrics but she likes Chinese New Year songs very much, as the songs are sung by her peers in colorful costumes. Jia Yi sings and dances along for hours while watching her peers singing joyously. Below is a sample of Jia Yi having fun while watching a video in her parents’ bedroom:

Jia Yi singing to her favourite tune in her parents' bedroom
In case you think Jia Yi is a monolingual Chinese girl, she is also a true blue fan of Hi-5 and she watches Disney Junior Channel, which is part of a paid telebroadcast delivered by ASTRO, a company offering a private telebroacast service. Disney Junior shows English cartoons and musical programmes especially tailored for children below 12.

Arguably, singing has a captivating effect on young and adult minds. In Jia Yi’s case, the CD-Rom of Chinese New Year songs is a launch pad to pronounce Mandarin words in a melodious manner. We may regard the singing as an enhancement of linguistic and rhythmic intelligences in Jia Yi’s cognitive development.

                                                      The CD cover of Jia Yi's favourite Chinese New Year songs

The magical effect of singing on reading seems to garner a steady following. In an alumni sharing session, it was mentioned that Thai songs were used to teach secondary school students Thai before their actual volunteer work in Thailand. My Thai teacher Achaan Sudha included a lot of songs in her Thai lessons as part of our learning extension. My Thai learning became quite a memorable experience with the use of songs.

Beyond reading development via rhythmic intelligence, cultural strengthening is another plus point when Chinese New Year songs are used in early childhood. The songs in Jia Yi's CD-Rom are concerned with the celebration of spring in the lunar calendar. There are plenty of Mandarin references to red packets, good wishes, auspicious terms, as well as communal semiotics such as the color red, mandarin oranges, gold coins, the God of Fortune, peach blossoms and willow tree.
Jia Yi requesting a snap shot

The time spent listening to the songs is a blessing in disguise, not least because it is a positive distraction that prevents Jia Yi from playing digital games too often, like Scarecrow and Candy Crush, which are readily available on the family's iPad. That means Jia Yi's digital exposure to terms such as divine, life, saga and sugar is lessened. The risk of developing a distorted or engineered English comprehension by means of gaming lexicon also decreases. While Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings make some interesting alternatives in her collection of CDs, it is appropriate for Jia Yi to sing about some of the cultural references that are closely associated with her cultural heritage before her next trip to LEGOLAND.

Jyh Wee Sew
Centre for Language Studies
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
National University of Singapore

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reading at three in a multilingual society

Jia Yi Chee is a three year-old girl born in January, 2010. She is the youngest growing up with three elder brothers. Literally speaking, she comes from a working class as both her parents are working full time, although her mother drives Jia Yi to school before work every morning. After the domestic helper left the family, Sheena, Jia Yi’s mother chose to put her daughter on a full day child care system. Currently, Jia Yi attends a multilingual childcare facility six days per week in the multilingual Pekan Nenas, a town in the state of Johor, south of the Peninsular Malaysia.

                                                                 Jia Yi (posing for iPhone)

Among other things, Jia Yi has received books and a few sets of mono-word card after six months attending the childcare facility. In between dinner and breakfast, Jia Yi watches a lot of English and Mandarin cartoons on television. Television, once-called the idiot-box, is a surrogate baby-sitter.  Despite her ritual television viewing, Jia Yi enjoys reading. Her reading stimulations are the word cards, which display words in English, Malay and Mandarin that are arranged in random order. The following are her progressive reading outcomes based on selected word cards as her mental stimulants:

Reading stimulants
Jia Yi’s reading output
bantal (pillow in Malay)
*tóng > xué (learn in Mandarin)
scissor [sic]
(female in Mandarin)
luka (scar in Malay)
eyes [sic]
*mouth > I don’t know (in Mandarin) > towel (upon correction)
saya, wo, I (upon correction)
Seluar (pants)
*selamat > *beautiful (with a smile) > seluar (upon correction)
kasut (shoes in Malay)
Kawan (friend)
*friend, *pen yu > kawan (upon correction)
baju (shirt in Malay)

ba ba (wrong tone in Standard Mandarin; correct colloquially)
*Fail > *fail (with a smile) > feel (upon correction)
kai (open in Mandarin)
xin (heart in Mandarin)
Perempuan (women in Malay)
saya (I in Malay)

Table 1: A three year-old’s reading output in a multilingual society

                                                Jia Yi's favourite reading area (in front of the TV)

Initially, prior to the outcomes in Table 1, Jia Yi used to read in phrases: “I love you” for the word love, “good morning” for the word morning, for the mono-syllable word mother in Mandarin. Jia Yi has eventually corrected her reading output by tailoring it to a word-by-word reading pattern. This seems more like a reading detour if we believe that language development is not a word-based transformation.  Depending on one’s preference, one may look at formulaic language as part of psycholinguistic development (Alison Wray), emergentism (William O'Grady), nonlineal parallel processing as a state of mind (cf. Naomi Goldblum, among others), form-function construction as the cognitive process for language (Adele Goldberg), or core syntactic properties shared by human languages (Noam Chomsky) as our reference point(s).
The reading outputs contained in Table 1 were observed and recorded by the blogger who held the word card to Jia Yi’s face. The blogger said yes/good if Jia Yi has read correctly, nope if she has read wrongly, and offered the ‘accurate’ pronunciation if she has read the word on the card wrong for twice.
                                               Jia Yi before watching a movie on a Friday evening
What is interesting is that Jia Yi has recurrent difficulties with verb-to-be such as /are/ in a different observation and personal pronoun /I/ compared to nouns such as /scissors/. She uses any of the three languages as a basis of her reading knowledge and attempts to correct herself in two other languages. Jia Yi mimics the pronunciation of a word in a third language when she receives a correction in a third language.
Based on the simple reading interaction with Jia Yi, there are four questions that this blog post would like to raise as its concluding remarks. Firstly, is word-for-word the right way to adopt in teaching reading to preschools? Secondly, do the children growing up reading in a multilingual setting require different sets of learning materials compared to the children growing up reading and learning in monolingual setting? Thirdly, should language learning begin with one language per each contact time in a multilingual setting, if not across all the learning settings? Lastly, do the language educators and policy planners understand the difference between children coordinating multilingual stimulations and children receiving monolingual stimulations well enough when they manage language acquisition in general and plan reading practice in particular?

Jyh Wee Sew

Centre for Language Studies

Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences

National University of Singapore