Category Archives: Language

All I Needed to Know About Adjectives I Learned at Starbucks

Language is an example of a moving target par excellence. Only today, I received a tweet that outlined a number of reasons why you should instantly wife your girlfriend. Wife her, I thought? Since when did wife switch teams and become a verb? Well, truth be told, it turns out that it became a verb in 1387, as evidenced by a quote from that popular 14th century pot-boiler Prolicionycion wrtten by Ranulf Higden:

Þey..kepeþ besiliche here children, and suffreth hem nouȝt to wyfe wiþ ynne foure and twenty ȝere.

But for reasons unknown – as is often the case in etymology – the use of wife as a verb disappeared sometime during the early 18th century, leaving only the noun usage in common use [1]. After a brief dalliance with verbiness, the word settled back into its original home.

Let’s now go back to just last week during the 2014 Closing the Gap conference in Minneapolis. After standing in line for almost 15 minutes to get a Starbucks latte from the hotel’s coffee bar, I asked for a “tall skinny” and was then quizzed with, “Is that the short tall?”

A “short tall?” Dear Lord, how much more torture do we want to subject the English language to? Prescriptivists everywhere would be wailing in anguish and putting red pens to paper – or maybe tweeting their disgust in 140 characters or less!

However, it’s pretty clear what’s happening here. Just like wife in the 14th century, the word tall is getting bored with being a simple adjective and deciding that being a rambunctious noun is much better; “Noun Envy” as the psychoanalinguists might say [2].

Starbucks, for purposes of marketing and not linguistics, decided to ignore the more semantically accurate method of labeling coffee sizes by “small,” “medium,” “large,” and “freakin’ huge,” in favor of “tall,” “grande,” “venti” and “trenta.” But they created an element of cognitive dissonance in consumers’ minds by linking a word like tall, which is semantically typically opposed to short, with the word small, which is more likely to be balanced against large. So using a word like tall to describe something that is cognitively small just doesn’t jibe.

What our consciously unaware but unconsciously linguistic barista has done here is to overcome that dissonance by treating the word tall as a noun and using short as an attributive adjective. Pretty damn cool, eh? [3] I can easily imagine that at some point, various baristas [4] have uttered not only “Is that the small tall?” but also “Do you mean a medium grande?” or “Is that a large venti?”

So while I’m hanging out here with you all in our virtual Starbucks, something else you might be curious about is the whole “How do I order my coffee?” issue. Does one ask for “a skinny grande cappuccino” or “a grande skinny cappuccino?” And when you start adding caramel or extra shots, where on earth do  you hang them?

Well, having castigated my good friends at Starbucks in relation to their idiosyncratic naming of drink sizes, I’ll offer them points for actually providing a “syntax” for budding baristas in order to make ordering easier. In a 2003 manual distributed to employees, the following generic ordering structure was recommended:

1. CUP: That’s hot, cold, iced, or “for here.”
2. SHOT and SIZE: No stipulation for which should be first.
3. SYRUP: For your caramel, raspberry, cinnamon etc.
4. MILK: Skimmed, 2%, soy, or whatever.
5. DRINK: Coffee, tea, mocha, or any other name.

My personal common order is for a “grande, non-fat latte,” which fits the rules of 2>4>5. During summer, I might order an “iced, grande, non-fat latte,” which again conforms with 1>2>4>5. My wife has a “grande non-fat, caramel macchiato” that follows the rules, and sometimes goes for the “iced, grande non-fat caramel macchiato,” which illustrates the full-blown 1>2>3>4>5 ordering.

Budding researchers [5] might want to spend an afternoon at their local Starbies armed with a pen and a notebook, jotting down as many orders as they can overhear – what researchers like to call “taking a sample.” After an hour of sampling both orders and coffee, they should be able to do some analysis to see how many people actually conform to the ordering paradigm. Remember, this is what research is all about; setting up a hypothesis about how we think folks will order coffee, and then testing it against observations of how they really order it!

Outside the world of Starbucks, adjective ordering in English also has some rules. One of the most common ordering paradigms is as follows:

Order of adjectives

If we compare this with the Starbucks recommendations, we can see that the sequence CUP-SHOT/SIZE-SYRUP-MILK-DRINK corresponds to the generic OPINION-SIZE-MATERIAL-QUALIFIER-NOUN. So they’re pretty much on the syntactic ball here!

Doubtless our hundreds of “proxy Dudes” collecting real data at coffee bars across the world will find exceptions to the ordering rules, but language performance has always been variable. On the other hand, we’re unlikely to hear “macchiato iced grande caramel” or “caramel latte venti soy.”

Or are we?

Notes
[1] I suppose as a proponent of using evidence and data to support propositions, I did take a look at the Corpus of Contemporary American and found no instances of wife as a verb in the 450 million word sample. Same for the British National Corpus (100 million word sample) and the Canadian Strathy Corpus (50 million words). Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but I think I’m pretty confident in asserting that using wife as a verb is extremely rare and unlikely.

[2] Don’t rush out to your dictionary – even if YOUR dictionary is the Urban Dictionary – to find the word psychoanalinguist. It doesn’t exist. It’s only a “real word” in the sense that (a) I have just used it and (b) it can be understood within the context of this article.

[3] I suppose I need to appreciate that not everyone gets as excited about language change as I do. But this type of living example of how new meanings come about helps us all understand how important it is to be aware of the simple fact that languages are not, and never have been, static. I’m not suggesting that we allow some form of lexical anarchy where you can simply stick any old word anywhere but knowing that words can, and do, change meaning and category can, I believe, make us more aware clinicians.

[4] The word barista is, as you might know, Italian, so you might be tempted to point out to me that I should really be using the word baristi to mark the plural. However, the word baristas is perfectly acceptable because it’s an example of a word that’s been Anglicized i.e. taken into the English language, and the normal rule for making a plural word is simply to add an “s.” Hence baristas. I think I’ve talked about this before in relation to octopuses as being a wonderful plural, with octopi being fake Latin (octopus comes from Greek, not Latin, and if you wanted a Greek plural, it would really be octopodes!)

[5] It strikes me that a generous supervisor might be totally OK with letting a grad student work on a study such as, “Syntactic adjectival variability in coffee ordering.” And should that student be the recipient of a grant from Starbucks itself, it seems a bit of a no-brainer, don’t yah think?

ColorBrewer: Utilizing cartography software for color coding

It seems that I am getting a reputation for being a teensy-weensy bit doryphoric [1] and that may have some truth in it insofar as I hate – with a passion – the tendency for people to use the word “utilize” rather than “use” simply because the former sounds more erudite. It’s not, in fact, erudite; it’s just plain wrong. As I’ve said in previous posts, “utilize” means “to use something in a manner for which it was not intended.” So I can “use” a paper clip to hold a set of pages together; but I can “utilize” it to scoop wax out of my ears or stab a cocktail olive in my vodka martini (shaken, not stirred).

Colorado beetle

Doryphoric

So when I titled this post with “utilizing cartography software” I really do mean that and I’m not trying to sound clever by using a four-syllable word (utilizing) over the simpler two-syllable using. No siree, I say what I mean and I mean what I say: utilize. The software in question is online at ColorBrewer: Color Advice for Cartography and its original purpose was to help map makers choose colors that provide maximum contrast. Let’s create an example. Suppose you have a map of the US and you want to use colors to show the average temperatures as three data sets; below 50F, 51F-65F, and above 65F. You can use three colors in one of three different ways:

  • (a) Sequential: Three shades of a chosen color from light to dark to indicate low to high values. e.g. Sequential color
  • (b) Diverging: Three colors that split the data equally in terms of the difference between the colors, but with the mid-range being related to a degree of difference between the extremes. Divergent color coding
  • (c) Qualitative: Three colors that split the data into three distinct groups, such as apples/oranges/bananas or trains/boats/planes – or for the statisticians out there, any nominal level data. Color coding qualitative

For a map of temperature averages, you’d choose the sequential coding so as to show the degree of change. Here’s what such a map might look like:

Three data point colors

Three data point colors

Compare this with a version whereby we chose to have six data points rather than three i.e. less that 45F; 46F-50F; 51F-55F; 56F-60F; 60F-65F; above 65F.

Six data points colors

Six data points colors

What the software does that is interesting is that it automatically generates the colors such that they are split into “chromatic chunks” that are equally different. The lowest and highest color values for each map are the same but the shades of the intermediate colors are changed. If you were to choose a set of 10 data points, the software would split those up equally.

Of course, as the number of data points increases, the perceptual difference between them decreases i.e. it becomes harder to see a difference. This is one of the limitations of any color-coding system; the more data differentials you want to show, the less useful colors become. You then have to introduce another way of differentiating – such as shapes. So if you had 20 shades of gray, it’s hard to see difference, but with 20 shades of gray and squares, triangles, rectangles and circles, you now have only 5 color points for each shape.

One of the areas where color coding is used in Speech and Language Pathology is AAC and symbols. In the system of which I am an author [2] color coding is used to mark parts of speech. But suppose you were going to invent a new AAC system and wanted to work out a color coding scheme, how might you utilize the ColorBrewer website?

If you’re going to design your system using a syntactic approach (and I highly recommend you do that because that’s how language works!) you could first identify a color set for the traditional parts of speech; VERB, NOUN, ADJECTIVE, ADVERB, PRONOUN, CONJUNCTION, PREPOSITION, and INTERJECTION [3]. This looks suspiciously like a nominal data set, which corresponds to the Qualitative coding method mentioned at (c) above. So you go to the ColorBrewer site and take a look at the panel in the top left:

ColorBrewer Panel

ColorBrewer Panel

You can set the Number of data classes to 8, the Nature of your data to qualitative, and then pick yourself a color scheme. If you chose the one in the graphic above, you see the following set recommended:

Eight color data setFor the sake of completeness, here are all the other options:

ColorDataQualSet2You can now choose one of these sets knowing that the individual colors have been generated to optimize chromatic differences.

So let’s assume we go for that very first one that starts with the green with the HTML color code #7FC97F [4]. I’m going to suggest that we then use this for the VERB group and that any graphics related to verbs will be green. Now I can move to step 2 in the process.

Verbs can actually be graded in relation to morphological inflection. There are a limited number of endings; -s, -ing, -ed, and -en. Knowing this, I can go back to the ColorBrewer site and use the sequential setting to get a selection of possible greens. This time I changed the Number of data classes to 5 and the Nature of your data to Sequential. Here’s what then see as a suggested set of equally chromatically spaced greens:


ColorDataQualPanel2

This now gives me the option to code not just verbs but verb inflections, while chromatically signaling “verbiness” by green. Here’s a symbol set for walk and write that uses the sequential – or graded – color coding:

Color-coded symbols

Color-coded symbols

If you want an exercise in AAC system design, knowing that ADJECTIVES also inflect like verbs using two inflectional suffixes, -er and -est, you can try using the ColorBrewer to create color codes [5].

There are probably many other ways to utilize the site for generating color codes. For example, you might want to create colors for Place of Articulation when using pictures for artic/phonology work, and seeing as there are a discrete number of places, it should be easy enough. Why not grab yourself a coffee and hop on over the ColorBrewer now and play. But only use it if you’re creating a map. Please!

Notes
[1] A doryphore is defined by the OED as “A person who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, esp. in a pestering manner; a pedantic gadfly.” It comes from the Greek δορυϕόρος, which means “spear carrier,” and it was originally used in the US as a name for the Colorado beetle – a notable pest. This beetle was known as “the ten-striped spearman,” hence the allusion to a spear carrier.  To then take the noun and turn it into an adjective by adding the -ic suffix meaning “to have the nature of” was a piece of cake – and a great example of using affixation to change a word’s part of speech. As always, you leave a Speech Dudes’ post far smarter than you entered it!

[2] Way back in 1993 I was invited to join the Prentke Romich Company’s R&D department as one of a team of six who were tasked with developing what became the Unity language program. The same basic program is still used in PRC devices and the language structure has been maintained such that anyone who used it in 1996 could still use it in 2014 on the latest, greatest hardware. The vocabulary also uses color coding to mark out Parts-of-Speech but not exactly like I have suggested in this article. Maybe next time…?

[3] The notion of 8 Parts-of-Speech (POS) is common in language teaching but as with many aspects of English, it’s not 100% perfect. For example, words like the, a, and an can be categorized under Adjectives or added to a class of their own called Articles or – by adding a few more – Determiners. So you might see some sources talking about 9 Parts-of-Speech, and I like to treat these as separate from adjectives if only because they seem to behave significantly differently from a “typical” adjective. Another confounding factor is that some words can skip happily between the POS and create minor havoc; light is a great example of this. The take-away from this is that sometimes, words don’t always fit into neat little slots and you need to think about where best to put them and how best to teach them.

[4] In the world of web sites, colors are handled in code by giving them a value in hexadecimal numbers – that’s numbers using base 16 rather than the familiar base 10 of regular numbers. Black is #000000 and white is #FFFFFF. When you’re working on designing web pages, it’s sometimes useful to be able to tell a programmer that you want a specific color, and if you can give them the precise hex code – such as #FF0000 for red and #0000FF for blue – then it makes their job easier and you get exactly what you need. You can also something called RGB codes to described colors, based on the way in which the colors (R)ed, (G)reen and (B)lue are mixed on a screen. Purple, for example, is (128,0,128) and yellow is (255, 255, 0). Take a look at this Color Codes page for more details and the chance to play with a color picker.

[5] I suppose I should toss in a disclaimer here that I’m not suggesting that creating an AAC system is “simply” a matter of collecting a lot of pictures with colored outlines and then dropping them into a piece of technology. There is much more to it than that (ask me about navigation next time you see me at a conference) so consider this article just one slice of a huge pie.

Countdown to Christmas – Question 24: Christmas Eve!

OK folks, that’s it – there is no more! Our virtual advent calendar ends today, leaving you all to open that magical 25th door tomorrow, where – when I was a kid – you’d find a piece of Cadbury chocolate and a picture of the baby Jesus in a straw-lined trough.

So as we come to the end of our super-fabulous coffee-giveaway extravaganza, our last question is also about last things. Coming up right after this video of Steely Dan’s “The Last Mall” from their Everything Must Go album.

A syllable is usually defined a having three distinct segments; the ONSET, the NUCLEUS, and the… what?

ANSWER: Coda!

A few folks offered RIME (or RHYME) as the solution, and in fairness, we should acknowledge that this might be OK. However, when one talks about the three segments that have ONSET and NUCLEUS as the first two, the third is CODA. In the two-part description, one does indeed see ONSET and RIME, but the rime is defined as consisting of the NUCLEUS + CODA, or, in an open syllable, the CODE is absent. So, coda is what we wanted, which also fits in with the idea that this is the “end” of the contest – and coda means “end.”

Syllable structureLinks

The Syllable and the Foot from Macquarie University: nice overview.

Explore syllable structures across languages at the World Atlas of Language Structures online.

 

Countdown to Christmas – Question 22: Sunday 22nd December

What was the name of the Speech Therapist who worked with the Aflac duck during 2013, as part of the rehab team nursing him back to health after a tragic accident?

(a) Angela Webster

(b) Allison Weber

(c) Andrea Westinghouse

(d) Amanda West

ANSWER: Allison Weber.

Played by Atlanta actress Jammie Patton, Allison Weber is part of a multi-disciplinary rehabilitation team dedicated to bringing the Aflac duck back to full health.

Links

Actress Jammie Patton talks about working with “duck royalty.”

Countdown to Christmas – Question 21: Saturday 21st December

You are asked to evaluate a client who has had a stroke. Which one of the following tests is most appropriate?

(a) BDAE-3

(b) BDI-2

(c) BLT-2

(d) BTAIS-2

Therapy interview

ANSWER: BDAE-3: The Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination – Third Edition.

The BDAE has been around for some time now – one of the Dudes was using it in the 1980’s! – and it’s now in its third edition. It’s designed to determine and distinguish disorders of language function and neurologically recognized aphasic syndromes.  The test contains a short form for rapid access to diagnostic classification and quantitative assessment.

The BDI-2 is the Batelle Development Inventory and screens, diagnoses, and evaluates children from infancy to age 8. Domains include personal-social, adaptive, motor, communication, and cognitive.

The BLT is the Bankson Language Test for kids aged 3:00 to 7:00. It aims to measure children’s psycholinguistic skills in the three general categories of semantic knowledge, morphological/syntactical rules, and pragmatics. Not to be confused with the sandwich of the same name!

The BTAIS-2 is the Birth to Three Assessment and Intervention System, which screens language comprehension and expression, nonverbal thinking, and motor development.

Links

The Directory of Speech-Language Pathology Assessments collated by ASHA.

The BDAE from PsychCorp, a part of Pearson Education, Inc.

Countdown to Christmas – Question 16: Monday 16th December

What type of verb is “have” in the sentence “Have you the time?”

(a) Auxiliary verb

(b) Lexical verb

(c) Subjunctive verb

(d) Copular verb

wrist watchANSWER: Lexical verb!

In this example, the word have is being used as a near-synonym for “to own” or “to possess.” This contrasts with its other function as an auxiliary, or helping, verb.

Links

About lexical verbs at The Tongue Untied

About auxiliary verbs at The Tongue Untied

 

 

Countdown to Christmas – Question 15: Sunday 15th December

It’s Sunday and a day of rest for many folks. For some, it’s also a religious occasion. And for Pentacostals, it may be an opportunity to indulge in “Speaking with Tongues,” a phenomenon where individuals are moved by an alleged supernatural force to articulate in an inspired – and unknown – language. But what is the scientific name for this?

Speaking in tongues

(a) Glossolalia
(b) Linguaphilia
(c) Lexiosynthesis
(d) Grammatologosia

ANSWER: glossolalia

From the Greek glossa meaning “tongue” or “language” and lalein meaning “to talk or prattle,” glossolalia is a type of fluent speech that is devoid of meaning. It sounds like language but turns out not to be. People tend to use their native phonology to create glossolalic utterances – so if you’re a native English speaker you are unlikely to use /ps/, /ts/, or /ks/ at the beginning of a syllable boundary, but if you are a native Greek speak, you will. In a classic study fron the 1970′s, William Samarin concluded that glossolalia is “unintelligible babbling speech that exhibits superficial phonological similarity to language, without having consistent syntagmatic structure and that is not systematically derived from or related to known language.” [1]

Links

Interesting article from a religious perspective. Holm, R., Wolf, M. and Smith, J.K.A. (2011). New Frontiers in Tongue Research: A Symposium. Journal of Pentacostal Theology, 20, 122-154.

Short video of an example of glossolalia – unfortunately titled [2]:

Notes

[1] Samarin, W.J. (1972). Variation and Variables in Religious Glossolalia:  Language in Society, ed. Dell Haymes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pgs. 121-130.

[2] The example here is used because it’s brief and illustrates the point. The title of the video, “Crazy hat lady” is unfortunate because it’s linguistically ambiguous; does it means a lady wearing a crazy hat, or a hat-lady who is crazy? It also shows why hyphens are needed so we can work out if it’s a “crazy-hat lady” or a “crazy hat-lady.” It’s also wrong to insinuate she is crazy because many people of faith are quite sane and sincere people – just misguided in their belief in a non-existent supernatural being.

Countdown to Christmas Quiz: Question 4 – Wednesday 4th December

Take a look at the brain below. What’s the name of the lobe in green with the big red question mark?

What lobe is marked by the question mark?
ANSWER: Temporal lobe!

Except for people who believe in Big Foot, ghosts, and that George Bush planned and executed 9/11, living without a brain is impossible. Living with a damaged brain is possible but there can be many, many problems. The left temporal lobe is the home of Wernicke’s area, a region associated with language comprehension problems if damaged. Also on the left-hand side of the brain is Broca’s area, associated with expressive speech problems.  Left-sided injuries to the brain are often the reason for calling in a Speech and Language therapist.

Areas of the brainLinks

The Science of Aphasia: Infographic

Aphasia and treatment from ASHA

Countdown to Christmas Quiz: Question 2 – Monday 2nd December

Certain words are used very frequently, across populations, and across situations. In the augmentative and alternative communication articles, you’ll find these words in the vocabulary of 3-year-olds, 23-year-olds, 83-year-olds, and in schools, workplaces, stores, and out on the street. What word do we use to refer to these important words that lie at the heart of everyone’s lexicons?

ANSWER: Core!

The words core and fringe are used often in the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). In general, a core word is one that has a high frequency of use value that is statistically expected when compared to a large reference corpus.

In contrast, a fringe word is one that has a low frequency of use value that is statistically expected when compared to a large reference corpus.

Apple coreCore words are fairly foreseeable whereas fringe words are much harder to predict. We can guarantee you’ll say the words that, want, stop, and, to, what, and you many times today; we can’t predict if you’ll say anchovy, aardvark, pretzel, Santa, fox, boom-box, frighten, or sock – even though these are all perfectly useful and valuable words. So if you are going to teach vocabulary, you get much more bang for buck from this, that, and how than do from burger, elephant, and sing.

Links

Teaching Core Vocabulary: From the PrAACtical AAC website.

A Few Good Words: Using Core Vocabulary to Support Nonverbal Students by Barbara Cannon and Grace Edward, published in the ASHA Leader.

Countdown to Christmas Quiz: Question 1 – Sunday 1st December

Speech therapists – while not necessarily known for their knowledge of chemistry and geometric structures – use these on a regular basis.  They have a ” zero mean curvature,”  are highly susceptibility to pressure changes, don’t last very long, and usually spherical. They have iridescent qualities and can be seen in the art work of Jean Siméon Chardin and Sir John Everett Millais.  In the 1920’s patents began to emerge supporting the production of these in its most widely know physical structure.   What are they?

ANSWER: Bubbles!

bubble blowing

In nearly every therapist’s bags of tricks, the proverbial bottle of bubbles can be found.  Bubbles are so widely used in speech language therapy that the Dudes have even considered developing a one-hour course to teach proper bubble production, use of plastic wands and pipettes, custom bubble recipes, spill management, and of course Bubble Blowing Etiquette.  Having observed many students (and professionals) using bubbles it’s clear that ASHA’s stance on not including this as part of the standard curriculum for all SLP’s and Aud’s is clearly a travesty of  our current educational paradigm.  We cannot wait to see if ASHA will actually CEU this, but until they do, our most highly regarded suggestion is to test your bubbles in advance to using them in therapy.  If the liquid appears thin, does not maintain elasticity while inserted into your wand, or has SBFS (Sudden Bubble Failure Syndrome), then you need to find some new bubbles.

You might be an “A” student with a 4.0 GPA; you might be the star clinician of your university clinic with you picture on the wall; and you may even be the President of NSSHLA. But if you cannot blow a bubble or you experience SBFS on a regular basis, you have failed in our eyes. Remember, these are not bottles of Bud Light that have “born on dates,” or the milk that has been sitting in your fridge since the beginning of the semester. Bubbles are known for being used well past their shelf life and there is no indication of when SBFS can occur.  SBFS is sudden, random, and preventable. So get some fresh bubbles.  Stop splattering in little kids’ faces.  Show us your best bubble blowing skills.

At one time, bubble blowing was recommended as a non-speech motor exercise to facilitate the development of speech sounds. However, research now suggests that learning to blow bubbles doesn’t make /p/ or /b/ sounds easier – it just improves your bubble blowing skills. Still, there are many other reasons to use bubble blowing in therapy!

Links

Using bubbles for language therapy
http://www.speechtherapyideas.com/2009/06/13/bubbles-as-a-therapy-tool

NOT using bubbles for articulation therapy: NSOME
http://clinicallinguistics.wordpress.com/tag/nonspeech-oral-motor-exercises/