A Year of Core Words With Unity® 2.0

If I haven’t mentioned it before, the reason I left the UK and moved to the US some 22 years ago was to take over the lead in the long-term development of the Unity® vocabulary program that is available on all Prentke Romich Company (PRC) devices. We actually started working on the Unity system in 1993, and at that time I would visit the US every two months for a one-week period. When the offer to take over the running of the project came up in 1995, my wife and I decided to sell up, ship out, and join the ranks of the “Ex-Pat” communities of English folks scattered across the world.

22 years later, after several iterations of devices and software, PRC have now released what’s called Unity 2.0, a newer version of the original that beefs up on the number of vocabulary items that are pre-stored and adds a slew of new icons, which should appeal to those folks who think that “more is better” when it comes to pictures. I’m not actually of that school, and at some point I’ll put together a few blog posts to explain why. As I’m no longer the head of the Unity project (I have other fascinating projects to work on) and so my role in the current iteration has been more consultative than directive. But what I can do in my spare time is create materials to support the teaching of the system.

Unity 2.0 vocabulary system

In my previous post, I mentioned the recently released Unidad® Spanish bilingual program and provided a link to a set of free resources for using it along with Carole Zangari’s popular A Year of Core Vocabulary Words program. I’m now adding the same resources for the 60-, 84-, and 144-key versions of Unity 2.0. They are stored as zip files at the Speech Dudes’ Box account and here’s what each packet contains:

  • A Year of Core Words Unity 60/84/144: A PDF manual with each page containing a different month and the icon sequences used for the words to be taught.
  • Cheat Sheets folder: A set of 12 documents that simply list alphabetically the words and icons on a month-by-month basis.
  • Word Lists folder: A set of 12 text files that can be imported into a PRC device for use with the Vocabulary Builder feature. Once you’ve imported the lists, just (a) choose list of the month and (b) turn ON the Vocabulary Builder and all you’ll see are your target words.
  • Read Me First: A single-page document with information about the packet.

For those of you familiar with the PRC device feature called embellished icons [1], the resources have been created to be used with embellished icons turned OFF. The biggest advantage of this is that there are fewer actual icons to learn than you would with the feature turned ON, and as a “less is better” proponent, I’d recommend you teach the core vocabulary in that way. Should anyone be inclined to create a set where embellished icons are turned on, let me know and I’ll add those to our Box account.

Click below to download the materials.

DOWNLOAD: Unity 60

DOWNLOAD: Unity 84

DOWNLOAD: Unity 144

Feel free to share these materials with other folks using Unity and as before, all we ask is that you occasionally mention the Dudes 😉

[1] This is a feature unique to PRC devices where you can choose to have two different sets of icons available to you. Turning embellished icons off gives you a smaller icons set than having embellished icons on. If you want some numbers, you have to learn 87 different pictures to be able to use the 144 words in A Year of Core Vocabulary if embellished icons are off; if  you turn them on, you have 178 different pictures to learn. Your choice.

A Year of Core Words with Unidad® 36- and 84-locations

Way back on the 8th January, 2013 – a date I remember because it’s my birthday, along with Stephen Hawking and Kim Jong-un, and the late David Bowie and Elvis – Carole Zangari from the College of Health Care Sciences at Nova Southeastern University in Florida posted her influential and very prAACtical “A Year of Core Vocabulary Words.” Clipped directly from the site itself;

…we created 12 grids of core vocabulary words – one for each month of the year. Each grid has 12 cells labeled with core words. Plug in the AAC symbols that your client uses (e.g., PCS, SymbolStix, Unity, Pixons, etc), print, laminate, and keep them handy.

One of the great things about the “Year for Core” is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving! You can start using it at anytime you like and over a span of 12 months you can teach 144 really useful words regardless of the medium you use. As the author of Unity® 84, I wanted to make sure people who were using Carole’s vocabulary had some supports available, so I created a set of Cheat Sheets, text files that could be imported in a PRC device to use with Vocabulary Builder, and a single document in the “page-per-month” style Carole had original developed with all the symbols, as she suggested, already “plugged in.”

Printed sheets for teaching a year of core words

Now here we are in April 2017 and PRC has launched a new Spanish bilingual program called Unidad® in both 36- and 84-key versions. For folks who want to follow the “Year of Core Words” approach, I’ve put together a new set of support materials that you can download and print out. Here’s what the pack includes:

  • A Year of Core Words Unidad English 36/84: A PDF manual with each page containing a different month and the icon sequences used for the words to be taught.
  • Smart Charts folder: A set of 12 documents that simply list alphabetically the words and icons on a month-by-month basis.
  • Word Lists folder: A set of 12 text files that can be imported into a PRC device for use with the Vocabulary Builder feature. Once you’ve imported the lists, just (a) choose list of the month and (b) turn ON the Vocabulary Builder and all you’ll see are your target words.

The 36-location version might seem simpler/easier (36 is less that 48, yes?) but I recommend that unless there are physical or visual reasons against it, always go for the 84. In fact, always go for the most keys you can in general.It might seem counter-intuitive but more keys can be easier than less. It’s just basic mathematics. If I have a vocabulary of 500 words and a keyboard of 8 buttons, then I can only have 7 single-hit words represented before having to use the 8th key to go to another page, and that means the next set of words are 2-hits. To encode 500 words you’re going to have to use sequences of up to 4 buttons, and as the vocabulary increases, so will the sequences. With 84 buttons, you can get over 700 words without having to press more than 2-keys per word. Hence, more keys is more efficient.

Anyways, click below to download the materials.

DOWNLOAD: Unidad English 84

DOWNLOAD: Unidad English 36

Feel free to share these materials with other folks using Unidad. All we ask is that you occasionally mention the Dudes 😉

Articles and Abstracts: Free Stuff from the Dudes

Articles and Abstracts

It’s not unusual for me to get an email from someone asking things like, “Do you have any references that support the idea that using AAC will stop a child from talking?” or “Can you point me to some articles that provide information on Core vocabulary?” As a member of the “Not Dead Yet” club of AAC practitioners [1], over the years I’ve collected a few useful papers that I can refer to, and continue to collect new ones whenever I can force myself to do some journal reading.

So to make life easier, I’ve created a suite of PDF files is a series I call “Articles and Abstracts,” with each file providing a selection of articles along with the abstracts. I can’t provide the actual articles without having to get lots and lots of permissions, and frankly I don’t have the time for that, but given the citations and the abstracts, folks can at least decide if they want to go track them down – and sometimes a starting point is really useful.

I’ve broken the series down into the following topic areas:

There’s no magic formula to explain why I chose this grouping, just that they are areas of research that impinge on the field of AAC and language. And I don’t claim to have anything close to a comprehensive listing of articles, just some key ones that are, in my opinion, useful and relevant. If anyone has any suggestions for additional papers, just let me know – I can’t read every journal that’s out there!

I update on an irregular basis, by which I mean that if a new article that I find interesting comes my way, I’ll update the particular file there and then. So I already some 2017 papers cited – and you can have the excitement of finding out which they are when you download the series 🙂

From our blog home page, select the FREEBIES menu and then down to Article and Abstracts for the list. Or just use the bulleted list above. Feel free to share the information – it’s all publicly available in peer-reviewed journals – but we’d be grateful if you’d mention the Speech Dudes as your source now and again.

[1] In a field where the turnover of practitioners is relatively high, one of the easiest ways to become known is simply to avoid dying. If you can also add “getting around a bit,” then your stock can rise without you having to do much more than that! Of course, if you want to reach the level of AAC Superstar or AAC Luminary, you do, in truth, have to put a little more work into it than I have, and the Superstars and Luminaries deserve their status. All I’m sharing is that even if you don’t aspire to professional sainthood, staying alive is a really, really good idea 😉 And as Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to be immortal through my work; I want to be immortal through not dying.”

Peppa Pig: Go Ahead and Let Your Kids Watch!

One of the special things about having grandchildren is that when you’ve had enough of them, you can give ’em back to their parents. There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude to be reveled in with this, particularly if you had some challenges bringing up your kids in the first place. Although I don’t actually gloat, I can’t but help feel a frisson of pleasure when my darling daughter tells me she’s had a sleepless night because her 3-year-old got up a 3:00 AM and began running round the house, and her 7-year-old had a tantrum before going to school. I simply nod sagely and say, “Yes, it’s rough, isn’t it.” Bad Daddy!

So while she and her husband get all the pain and anguish of living and working with two young kids (and we all know it doesn’t get any easier as they age!) I get to have fun time with them because (a) they only get me in small doses and (b) I can spoil them rotten [1].

Of course, this doesn’t give you free rein to allow total anarchy and hedonistic behavior so you have to at least rationalize your choices when it comes to letting your offspring decide what they want to do. Which brings me to Peppa Pig.

For those unfamiliar with this delightful British cartoon character, Peppa lives with her mummy and daddy and little brother George, who apparently has an expressive language disorder that no-one is in the least bit worried about. His only two utterances appear to be “dinosaur” and “Rrraarrrgggghhhh!” neither of which is core vocabulary and represent only two grammatical classes; noun and interjection. Sure he’s only a toddler pig but come on, his motor skills suggest he’s at least 24 to 30 months, so I’d expect him to have a much larger lexicon!

Language disorder aside, Peppa has an extended family in the form of Grandpa and Granny pig, who appear to be pretty well off considering they have a boat, which is not as common in the UK as in the US [2]. Then she has an extensive network of imaginatively named friends such as Suzy Sheep, Rebecca Rabbit, Zoe Zebra, Emily Elephant, and Delphine Donkey. It seems that initial consonant alliteration is a critical feature of animal nomenclature! But it’s actually a very good way to develop phonological awareness skills. According to Reese, Robertson, Divers, and Schaughency (2015):

…parents who play rhyming or alliteration games with their children, who sing rhyming songs more often with their children, or who engage in other types of wordplay (e.g., tongue twisters), may be fostering their children’s phonological awareness. (p.57).

Wittingly or unwittingly, the writers for Peppa Pig have built in so cute, subtle ways of providing viewers with phonemic cues that can help in speech sound development. And as Reese et al. also point out, “Children’s phonological awareness develops rapidly in the preschool years and is an important contributor to later reading skill. (p.54)” Clinicians and educators are usually much more aware of this. Thatcher (2010) points out that:

Children gain important information about rhyme and alliteration from learning poems and rhymes in which the prosodic features of the poem stress the shared sounds in the word. The profession of speech pathology must take possession of this area of early intervention… (p.476).

But wait, wait – there’s more! The didactic properties of Peppa Pig don’t just end with phonology. For the purpose of analyzing the vocabulary content of the show, I obtained a written set of transcripts from the complete first season [4] and ran the data through WordSmith 7, my trusty corpus linguistics software tool of choice. With this, I’m able to compare the frequency of use of words from the Peppa Pig sample with any other list that I choose. What I wanted to do was get an idea of how “core” the vocabulary in Peppa Pig is, and by “core” I mean how much of the entire vocabulary used is made up of high frequency words used by many people of many ages across different situations [5].

Being the author of Unity 84, a language program available in Prentke Romich devices, I choose the vocabulary associated with that as my core comparison. This is simply because it’s a set based on data from a number of core vocabulary studies and includes hundreds of low frequency nouns, which offer a little balance to a pure core list that would be weak in such words. But so long as I use the same core to make comparisons against other samples, the resulting “Core Scores” will be comparable [6].

So here’s how Peppa Pig fares in the “Core Score” arena.


Core Score for Peppa Pig

What this means is that I counted ALL the instances of where core words were used in Season One, then counted all the instances of fringe words, and generated a simple percentage. So if someone is watching Peppa Pig, almost 83% of all the words they hear will be core words. I therefore give Peppa Pig a “Core Score” rating of 83.

It’s great to be able to toss out a number and say “Hey, this TV show is an 83” but that’s not tremendously useful unless there are comparisons. So I found a transcript for an episode of another of my favorite cartoons shows; SpongeBob SquarePants. And here’s how he did:


SpongeBob SquarePants Core Score

As you can see, SpongeBob gets a “Core Score” of 75, which tells me that my clients would be better off watching Peppa than SpongeBob if I want them to hear more core words. And in general, I would. After all, if I want to encourage clients to use more core words, putting them in situations where they hear lots of models of how those words are used is a solid goal.

Just out of curiosity, I applied the same analysis to three common, popular children’s books; Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Here’s what I found:


Books Core Scores

All of the preceding is not peer-reviewed research. It’s not even close. In fact, I’d even be hesitant to call it a “pilot study.” In the world of Business, it’s what we call a “Proof of Concept” – where you test out a few ideas so as to demonstrate that what you’re thinking about is something on which someone would be prepared to spend money [7]. But if you were to use it to argue the merits of suggesting that watching Peppa Pig is not a bad thing, then I think the data supports your decision!


Reese, E., Robertson, S.-J., Divers, S., & Schaughency, E. (2015). Does the brown banana have a beak? Preschool children’s phonological awareness as a function of parents’ talk about speech sounds. First Language, 35(1), 54-67.

Thatcher, K. L. (2010). The development of phonological awareness with specific language-impaired and typical children. Psychology in the Schools, 47(5), 467-480.

[1] It’s right there as number one in the Grandparent Commandments; “Thou shalt bestow upon thy grand offspring anything and everything they desire, and in the event that this is not possible, thou shalt feel perfectly OK with saying, ‘Oh sweetheart, that’s something to ask mommy and daddy.'”

[2] My older daughter and her husband have a boat on which my wife and I have spent some happy hours letting them do all the work of dragging it to a lake, dropping it in the water, steering it to the nearest lakeside bar, and paying the cost of repairs, maintenance, and storage required so that we can enjoy those 5 days in summer when the nautical life is the thing to embrace. Like having grandkids, having another family member own a boat means you can have all the pleasure but none of the responsibility.

[3] As further evidence that Peppa’s younger brother has a problem, note that he is one of the only character who does NOT have an alliterative name – he is “George Pig” as opposed to, say, Peter Pig or Paul Pig, or even Patrick Pig. So not only has he a more complex name structure to deal with than all the other animals, but he also has that initial “djuh” sound /d͡ʒ/ to struggle against. Poor George!

[4] My source is at “Glamour and Discourse”: Peppa Pig transcripts Season One. In the spirit of transparency, you’re free to use the same data and run your own analyses to see if they match with mine. I think they will but in a world driven by President Donald Trump’s “alternative facts” who’s to know?

[5] New visitors to this blog who are unfamiliar with the notion of what we refer to as a “core” vocabulary set in the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) might like to check out the following posts:
Of Puck and Patois
Of Corpora and Concordances
The Monteverde Invincia Stylus Fountain Pen – and Keyword Vocabulary

[6] At a more technical level, the Unity core list is an unlemmatized list that consists “words” that are defined as “a string of letter terminating in a space or punctuation mark.” So the words eat, eats, and eating are counted as three distinct words, even though they are really just variations of the one lemma, <EAT>. A critical question in deciding on what constitutes a “core” list is whether it should include only root words such as eat and drink but not eating and drinking, or whether it should have all forms of a word in there. If you use a core that has eat but not eats, then any TV show or book that uses the word eats would not have that token counted towards a “core score” – but shouldn’t it? I’m open to suggestions, folks!

[7] I intend to test out a few more core lists in order play with the Core Score idea a little more.

The Contronymic Properties of Shit

Some years ago I posted a piece called Shitosophy: A Philosophy for the Existentially Lost, which relied heavily on the use of the word shit and its synonyms to make a point. This time around, I’m using shit again to introduced – 0r reacquaint – readers to the concept of the contronym. You may not have heard the word contronym before but you will have come across examples of it.


A contronym is a word that can be used in two ways to mean exactly the opposite of the other. The classic example is cleave. On the one hand, it’s used to mean “to join or stick together” as in “I was so dry my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth,” and on the other it’s used to mean “to split apart” as in “The hatchet cleaved his head in two.” [1]

Other contronyms include sanction (meaning both “to permit” and “to ban”), strike (meaning both “to hit” and, in particularly in baseball, “to miss”), fast (meaning “moving quickly” and “stuck immovably”), and peruse (both “to look over quickly” and “to look at in great detail”).

So where does shit come into this? Well, below is an image shared with me last week from Facebook that is ostensibly one of those “kids, look at what they come up with” pieces:


To be fair to the kid, it’s not wrong! And what’s more interesting is that there are two meanings to the sentence that can only be disambiguated by changing which word is being stressed.

If the stress comes down on the verb have, as in “We HAVE shit,” then that means “we have something.” In this case, shit is used as a mass noun meaning “stuff” or “something.” However, if the stress comes down on the noun for “We have SHIT,” this means “we have nothing” or even “we ain’t got diddly squat.” Here the word shit means “nothing” or an absence of something.

What we’re seeing here is the word shit being used contronymically as it can mean both something and nothing. Of course, shit has many other meanings and so isn’t solely a contronym but the example above demonstrates its contronymic aspect. The Oxford English Dictionary has multiple entries for shit as a noun, adjective, verb, and interjection, along with a list of phrases that includes shit as an essential component. It’s clearly a very flexible word (as is the case with a number of profanities) and very, very old.

There’s another contronymic example of shit that depends on whether it is used along with the indefinite or definite article [2]. Consider the sentences below:

  1. You are the shit.
  2. You are a shit.

In the first instance, shit means something that is good and desirable but in the second it means something bad and undesirable. You’d be happy if you were THE shit but not if you were A shit.

Both cases serve to illustrate how a word’s meaning can be changed dramatically by minimal effort. In the first, it’s stress that determines meaning, and in the second it’s the definite/indefinite article that does it.

So now you know some new shit!

[1] Fans of the tremendously entertaining Game of Thrones on HBO can now go back and re-watch the series to count the number of examples of cleaving that take place on a regular basis. From the cleaving of Cersei and Jaime Lannister in an incestuous rendition of “the beast with two backs” to the cleaving of Gregor Clegane’s horse’s head from its body. And as a final piece of cleaving trivia, when Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, did her naked “Walk of Shame,” she actually used a body double actress by the name of Rebecca Van Cleave, which involved the photo-shopped cleaving of Lena’s head onto Rebecca’s body. And who said linguistics was boring!

[2] In the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) words like the, a, and an are often lumped together with words such as at, in, be, and is and called “Little Words.” As I’ve whined about before (Stop with the Little Words Grab-bag) this category is non-linguistic and based purely on the number of letters used in a word. But in the case of “the shit” versus “a shit,” we can clearly see that teaching a versus the is essential because the wrong choice can significantly change the intended meaning of a phrase or sentence. So the a/an/the distinction has to be treated as much more that just “little words.”

We Interrupt Our Scheduled Broadcast With Breaking News…

This just in from our Northeast Ohio correspondent: The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team has become the 2016 NBA World Champions for the first time in the history of the franchise. Perhaps the enormity of this can only really be appreciated if you are geographically, socially, and culturally linked to the city of Cleveland and its surrounding towns and cities within a 100-mile radius. Or if you are a Cleveland “ex-pat” living somewhere else.

Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 Championship cap

I’ve never really considered myself in any sense a “sports fan” in the same way that an overweight balding guy who paints himself in sickly orange and brown will stand in the snow at the Cleveland Browns stadium singing “Who Let the Dogs Out” while watching a bunch of overpaid amateurs lose on a regular basis, and will do the same thing week after week, year after year, yet continue paying ridiculous prices to be beaten by the same stick over and over and over again. No sir, that’s not me.

Nor do I have a small shrine in a room of my house that’s bedazzled with trophies of my high school sporting achievements from many years ago, interspersed with memorabilia and posters of half-remembered super-humans and demigods who performed some near Odyssean feats of wonder with a ball, a stick, or just their bare hands. No, my friends, that’s not me.

But last night as the buzzer went and the ball continued to fly, I found myself standing up and cheering in my living room. Yes, my own damned living room! Not even a sports bar or a stadium but the room where I usually spend time watching too much TV, too many movies, or writing too many free blog posts. My traditionally British stiff upper lip flopped around like a fish on a deck and there was a visceral and palpable surge of emotion that took over.

I’ve had several experiences over the past 20-something years that have reinforced the notion that at some level I have – as the English might say – “gone native.”[1] Last night was a new one. I was only 7-years-old when England won the soccer World Cup in 1966, and too young and disinterested to grasp what it must have felt like to people at the time [2]. It’s taken 50 years and another country to work it out. For a short time last night, “Ich war ein Clevelander.” For a brief period I felt part of a much larger community on an emotional level that I don’t often feel. Somehow the actions of a group of five guys tossing a ball into a hoop was about me and not them. Rationally, it really IS just five guys tossing a ball into a hoop, and I’m just an inert and passive spectator to the success of someone else. Yet emotionally, it’s very, very different.

Putting our hopes, dreams, faith, and trust in other people isn’t a new thing. In a few days time, they’ll be taking down the famous banner of LeBron James that’s hanging on a building directly opposite the basketball stadium to prepare for the coming of the RNC – the Republican National Convention. In less than a month, triumph will give way to Trump as politicians, pundits, and pressure groups will flood the city for front-row seats to the next gladiatorial spectacle in Cleveland. Simultaneously, around the country, millions of Trump supporters will be putting their hopes, dreams, faith, and trust in a man who makes them feel like I did last night.

Lebron James banner in Cleveland

Yesterday afternoon, I was out with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren on their boat, cruising a local lake and quaffing cold beer in the heat of the Ohio sun. As we snacked on spicy wings and thick cheesy pizza – the perfect companions to ale – Ben told me he was thinking of buying an AR-15 semi-automatic simply because recent calls for banning such weapons is “against his right to bear arms” and “unconstitutional,” and that owning one is his right as an army Vet and American [3].

I have a different view. But after last night’s brief and powerful surge of emotion about something as trivial as a basketball game, I guess I can comprehend what he might feel. He’s simply a reflection of a viewpoint that is special to America – the Gun Culture. And amongst my “going native” moments is the one from maybe ten years or so ago when I decided that I wasn’t against gun ownership and that the way to tackle the issue at a pragmatic level was stricter gun control. Me. The kid from Lancashire. Pro-gun?

Actually, I’m no more “pro-gun” than I am “pro-abortion.” Labels such as “pro-” and “anti-” are often used to falsely polarize arguments into tidy “black-or-white” or “right-or-wrong” dichotomies that simply don’t exist. Anyone who uses phrases such as “you’re either for X or against X” is merely demonstrating that their level of political discourse is so shallow that you couldn’t even float an argument let alone push it. But then again, the folks using such rhetoric are frequently not appealing to any notion of Reason but firmly attached to Emotion.

Which brings me back to the thrilling finale to the 2016 basketball season and my new-found but probably temporary feeling of civic pride. I’m glad the Cavaliers won. I’m happy Cleveland has its first major league sports championship since 1964. I’m excited that Northeast Ohioan’s can celebrate a social singularity for at least a week. I’m thrilled to be wearing my brand new championship hat. And on this first day of what might be a long, hot summer, I’m just a little disheartened that I’ve been reminded how easy it is for rationality to be overcome by emotion. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos, fixa et mutari nescia – Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable.

[1] The phrase “go native” is first noted in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, where we find the sentence “Kim did not sweep the board with his reminiscences; for St. Xavier’s looks down on boys who ‘go native altogether.'” A remnant of Britain’s colonial days, “going native” was seen as a bad thing and part of a slide to becoming “un-English.” The peril of “going native” was such a problem that British Foreign Office diplomats were rarely allowed to spend more than five years in a post. Its early pejorative sense is less so nowadays and tends simply to refer to the way on which ex-pats take up the habits of their new country of residence without thinking about it.

[2] Oddly what I do remember is that I was into stamp collecting, and when the Royal Mail issued a special commemorative 4d (four pennies) stamp, my mum took me to the Post Office to buy one, which I proudly added to my album. Sadly I have no recollection of what I did with my old stamp albums and no longer have it. So much of our lives disappears as if it had never happened. Sigh!

[3] My son-in-law Ben is a great guy and perfect for my somewhat “spirited” older daughter. She (and we) had a somewhat troubled teenage period but he’s been able to calm her down to the point where she’s not the girl she was – and that’s good. He’s a hard-workin’, family-lovin’, country music singin’ kind o’ redneck who brings me pieces of dead deer and slaughtered ducks when hunting season in on. When we spent many hours putting together a wooden train-set for his son one Christmas, he was the one who went out and bought a growler of beer so “the men” could get the job done. Coincidentally, two years later he got his current job with CSX Transportation, a railroad company that presumably deemed our night of construction as perfect experience for the post! His politics lean ever-so-heavily to the right and the only reason he hasn’t got a Donald Trump sticker on his truck is because he’d have to take his “2nd amendment” gun sticker off. But here’s the thing; at the family level, we all still muddle along despite our differences. In fact, his attitude towards gays has softened since he married my daughter and then realized that he now had a lesbian sister-in-law in the form of my younger child! It’s comforting to know that once he was actually able to spend time with her and realize she had one head, two legs, and didn’t eat babies, his tolerance has improved. Now I admit, he’s unlikely to be taking part in the next Cleveland Gay Pride march nor add a rainbow sticker to the back of his Ford F-150 but it’s a start!

The devil is indeed in the linguistic details: The story of “have”

Be warned! If you’re not interested in language – and I suppose that’s possible – then this article will strike you as something of a “train spotter” post. By that, I mean that like train spotting, it focuses on some incredibly fine details about just one thing, but if you’re not curious about that one thing, you’ll feel like you’re talking to a train spotter, complete with notebook and anorak [1].



Anorak: Inuit

This all came about with a seemingly simple question regarding how to represent simple phrases in an augmentative and alternative communication device [2]. More specifically, it was about phrases using  pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) and the verb to have. And the specific example was about whether the question form of “you have” is “have you?” or “do you have?” It seems a simple enough question but there’s a grammatical demon lurking in the wings, waiting to stab someone with a pitchfork!


Suppose you’re out without a watch or a smart phone and you want to know the time. What would you say to someone?

(a) Excuse me, do you have the time?
(b) Excuse me, have you the time?

Pragmatically, either would work, and one suggestion I heard was that the former is more typical of American English and the latter of British English. Well, intuition is a marvelous thing but a poor substitute for empirical data! This sounded like a job for corpus linguistics – the science of huge language samples.

Using my favorite free online resource, the BYU Corpora site, I checked the incidence of the phrase “do you have the time?” against “have you the time?” in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Here’s what I found:

“Do you have the time?”: 10 occurrences
“Have you the time?” : 0 occurrences

So in American English, the “do you have” construction seems to be the clear winner. But then I needed to look at the same phrases using the British National Corpus, and here’s how that looked:

“Do you have the time?”: 1 example
“Have you the time?”: 3 examples

Well, hardly conclusive, but you could probably make a case that the “have you” construction is three times more likely to be used than the “do you have” and so the hypothesis that it’s a US versus UK difference isn’t necessarily wrong. So maybe it would be OK to have the question form “do you have” stored on American English communication aids but “have you” on British English – a sort of “separated by a common language” sort of thing.

So the general rule here would be as follows:

A. Statement form = PRONOUN + <to have>
B. Question form = <to have> + PRONOUN

There’s a beautiful symmetry and simplicity to this. “You have” becomes “have you,” “he has” becomes “has he,” “we have” becomes “have we” and so on.

But wait, wait… there’s more!

Have a cupcakeThe verb to have has two roles it can play in language. The first is demonstrated by the example just given where it is used as a lexical verb synonymously with to own or to possess. The sentences”Do you have a pen I could borrow?” or “Have you a pen I could borrow?” are both OK, and that inserted do is a standard feature of both American and British English. In fact, it’s pretty much obligatory for all lexical verbs [2]. I can say, “You like monkeys” but have to ask “Do you like monkeys?” because “*Like you monkeys” just sounds so wrong.

The second, and more common, use of to have is as an auxiliary or helping verb. That means it is found alongside another verb and “helps” it in some way. For example, I can say “You have finished” where the have “helps” the verb to finish, but if I want to use the question form, I have to say “Have you finished?” Notice that “*Do you have finished?” makes no sense, and when used as an auxiliary, you don’t use the do. So you would find things like “Have you finished your soup?” and not “*Do you have finished your soup?” or “Have you washed the car?” and not “*Do you have washed the car?”

The difference in use between the lexical and auxiliary aspects of to have is why if you are going to store the question form of the [PRONOUN + <to have>] phrase as a single unit, you are better to have [<to have> + PRONOUN] with [<do>] as a separate lexical item. You then don’t have to have TWO question forms that depend on which aspect of the verb you are using [3].

Now you can take you anorak off.

[1] The word anorak is noted in the Oxford English Dictionary as one of the few words to come into English from Inuit. The Inuit language has a number of variations, from which we get other words such as igloo, kayak, and inukshuk (a stack of stones designed to look like a human figure, more familiar to our Canadian readers and Rush fans who have copies of the 1996 album “Test for Echo”).

[2] It’s called “do-insertion” or “do-support” and bizarrely makes absolutely no contribution to the sentence! If you miss it out, it might sound weird but it doesn’t change the meaning of the utterance. German manages to get along quite well without it and “Magst du Affen?” translates as “Like you monkeys?” and in French “Vous aimez les singes” becomes the questions “Aimez-vous les singes?” with ne’er a do or a faire in sight! There are a number of theories out there about why (and when) this funky do appeared but that’s best left for another time.

[3] For those of you familiar with Prentke Romich devices and the Unity® language software, we pre-store phrases using sequences of picture, such as PICTURE A + PICTURE B = “you have” and then PICTURE B + PICTURE A = “have you.” Because we have the same pictures used in two directions, it’s actually easy to teach that if you want to make a statement, use A + B, but if you want the question form, just reverse it for B + A. That regular rule then works all through the system and it automatically handles that tricky little do-insertion for lexical verbs. If you’re not familiar, click on the link below to see a short video:



Shrove Tuesday and the Perils of Being Male

It’s Shrove Tuesday – or “Pancake Day” as we used to call it back in Lancashire – and as people across the country skip their diets in favor of eating fat flat crepes overflowing with carbohydrates and lipids, I thought I’d offer some non-fattening intellectual sustenance regarding the origins of the phrase itself.

Blueberry pancakes Shrove Tuesday

As you might guess, the reason there’s a specified day is because it’s just one of three days that make up something called Shrovetide, a period running from Quinquagesima Sunday [1] through Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday up until Ash Wednesday.

The word shrove comes from the Old English scrifan meaning “to impose penance upon” or “to hear a confession.” It includes the notion of “making things right” as a result of self-examination and recognizing one’s sins. Shrovetide is the beginning of the period known to Christians as Lent, which includes the requirement to undertake some sort of fast or privation [2] as a run up to the celebration of Easter Sunday. Hence the relationship to a penance during this time. This in turn is thought to derive from the Latin scribere meaning “to write.”

The practice of making pancakes seems to have originated in the need to use up all the rich foods such as milk, butter, cream etc. prior to observance of  weeks of fasting for Lent. Hence the other name of “Fat Tuesday” and “Mardi Gras” [3].

Another old custom was the gift of the “Shrovetide hen,” which is mentioned in Bishop Hall’s 16th century work Virgidemiarum where he says, “A Shroftide Hen, Which bought to giue, he takes to sell agen.” Sadly most of these hens ended up on a table and not as a re-gift!

But consider the male of the species and the fate of the “Shrovetide Cock.” This hapless clucker was taken out on Shrove Tuesday and beaten with sticks or hit with stones until it was dead. The “winner” was the person who actually killed it. Sure, both males and females ultimately provided supper but the manner of the cock’s demise seems a little harsh.

So enjoy your Mardi Gras celebrations. Eat, drink, and be merry. And offer at least one toast to the poor Shrovetide Cock.

[1] Quinquagesima is Latin for “fiftieth day” and marks the Sunday that’s 50 days before Easter Sunday, and derives from quinquaginta meaning “fifty.” Breaking this down just a little more, quinque means “five” and the suffix ginta is used to mark cardinal numbers between thirty and ninety. Cunning folks these Latins.

[2] My wife is a theist and attends a local Episcopalian church where the vicar has asked her parishioners to consider giving up plastic for Lent. My wife is OK with the idea of avoiding  packing all her shopping at the supermarket into free plastics bags but is undergoing a severe moral dilemma as regards her daily Starbucks, which has a plastic lid! I suppose she can ask for her drive-through drink to be served without the lid but that’s a potential law suit I’m guessing Howard Schultz is keen to avoid.

[3] For those of us who remember our schoolboy French, Mardi is the French word for “Tuesday” and gras is the word for “fat.” And yes, the French gras and the English grease both come from the same source; the Latin crassus.

Cause Without a Rebel

men in speech language pathology
Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to think hard about the issue of men in the field of Speech-Language Pathology. My biggest hurdle has always been whether or not this is, in fact, an “issue” at all. It may well be an observable and measurable phenomenon but that doesn’t necessarily qualify as an “issue.” By that, I mean does it really matter that the balance of men to women in the field is significantly skewed?

At the 2015 ASHA Convention in Denver, I attended a session entitled “SLTs in Europe – ‘United in Diversity’ – the Challenge of Promoting the Profession” presented by Michele Kaufmann-Meyer and Baiba Trinite [1] of the Comité Permanent de Liaison des Orthophonistes-Logopèdes de l’UE or CPLOL. At the beginning of the session, they brought up a slide highlighting the following three points:

  • Diversity is challenging
  • Diversity is welcome
  • Diversity makes us grow

But the definition of “diversity” was one that focused on cultural, educational, linguistic, and ethnic differences and not gender. At the end of the presentation, I pointed out that when I qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist in the UK back in 1983, the data suggested that about 2% of the professions was male, and that 32 years later, the figures say that at best it’s close to 5%, which is as close to “no change” as makes no difference. So I asked the question that if “diversity” is challenging, welcome, and makes us grow, what was CPLOL actively doing to encourage gender diversity, the answer of “nothing” was oddly unsurprising. If it’s not seen as an “issue,” or so low on the “issue” totem pole that no-one cares, then why would we expect any change?

In fairness to CPLOL, they have two working groups on Education and Clinical Practice that are tasked with the following list of topics:

CPLOL Working Groups

CPLOL Working Groups

All of these are virtuous and worthy, and given that CPLOL is funded by subscriptions from its member organization, and any donations, the organization is not exactly awash with money, so one can understand the need to create priorities. Gender imbalance is clearly not a priority, although I should in all fairness add that Michèle gave me her business card and an open invitation to engage in some dialog, so that proverbial ball is now in my court.

Everyone talks about the weather…

To paraphrase a quote attributed to Mark Twain, “Everyone talks about men in the profession but nobody does anything about it.” That may be a little unfair because there have been sporadic events to try to increase the number of guys becoming SLP/SLTs but if the outcome over 30 years has been at best a 3% increase, whatever has been done has been minimally effective. This isn’t a criticism of individuals or organizations but a simple statement of an observable fact. My guess is that there’s been a bigger percentage increase of male strippers in the past 30 years – another field of endeavor that’s noticeably female.

Social media has offered opportunities for men to promote themselves via such things as the #speechguys hashtag and @speechguys Twitter handle, or the “League of Extraordinary Speech Gentlemen” on Facebook but these are all marked by low numbers. @speechguys currently has 328 followers and the “League” – admittedly a closed group – has 236. Compared with @Sockamillion the cat, a feline with 1.2 million followers, there’s a way to go before men in Speech Pathology make a splash on the internet.

So what’s to be done? Anything? Nothing?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a polemic as “a strong verbal or written attack on a person, opinion,” which is what this article is about to become. Let’s assume that there IS a need to have more men in the profession, and that there ARE benefits to this. If that’s the case, then I’m no longer interested in re-hashing the numbers; I’m not interested in interminable and repetitive discussion about why men don’t become SLPs; and I don’t want special treatment for men just because they are men. What I want is for some commitment from the Profession as a whole to do something that has the following THREE critical components:

  1. A written Plan of Action with measurable results. There’s a time for “raising awareness” and a time for “making a change” and after 30 years I suggest that awareness raising has had its chance. What we need is a list of goals that are defined in ways that can be measured so we can determine success or failure. Saying “we want more men in the profession” is not a goal; it’s an aspiration. Saying “we want to see the global proportion of males in the profession to be 7% by 2018, based on figures collected by at least six national SLP organizations all using the same metrics” is a goal [2]. And on December 31st, 2018, we can actually see whether we’ve achieved it or failed.
  2. Resources. Informal clusters of men trying to co-ordinate “stuff” on the internet in their spare time are not “resources.” They are simply informal clusters of men. Like all of us, they have clients to see, families to care for, homes to maintain, and the usual list of “things to do” that get in the way of fighting for a cause. Resources are time, people, and money – and the latter is the key. Unless a fixed amount of money is allocated to a project, there’s no way to budget for the time and people. The international professional organizations already allocate money to other projects and there’s no reason why “getting more men into the profession” cannot be one of those.
  3. Rebel with a Cause. Over the past ten years of so, the term “champion” has become part of the business vernacular to describe a person who is identified as the prime mover of a project, cause, or product. If we are to have our own “Rebel with a Cause,” this champion has to have a budget, the power to hire and fire, and a position within the administrative structure of a national organization. This person needs to be passionate, articulate, engaging, and unfazed by the prospect of being in the limelight. And he needs to be comfortable with being a role model for other men.

Unless the Profession can commit to these three elements, I’m predicting that in another 30 years, just before I reach my 90th birthday, we’ll still be looking at the numbers and wondering why we’re only up to 7% of SLPs being men.

For what it’s worth, I am not that Rebel. I’m too old, too short, and have all the  “media appeal” of Jabba the Hutt without his make-up. I want to see a media-savvy champion who can be in Washington DC in the morning and attending a meeting in San Diego that same evening. I want to see someone who can deliver a Skype conference at 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time and do it again at 9:00 AM Australian Eastern Standard Time. I want to see someone who can churn out press releases and articles on why men should be SLPs. In short, someone who treats this as a job and not a spare-time exercise.

It’s time to “put up or shut up.” I’m up for taking part but this isn’t a one-man show. It’s not even a 328 men show. It’s a challenge to the profession as a whole to find a Rebel with a Cause as opposed to our current Cause without a Rebel.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2010, Highlights and Trends: ASHA Counts for Year End 2010 (available at: http://www.asha.org uploadedFiles/2010-Member-Counts.pdf).

Litosseliti, L., & Leadbeater, C. (2013). Speech and language therapy/pathology: perspectives on a gendered profession. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 48(1), 90-101

McKinson, F. (2007). Why do men become speech and language therapists? RCSLT Bulletin, April, 12–14.

Mosheim, J. (2005). Men in Speech-Language Pathology. Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologist, 15 (30), 6. Available online from http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/Article/Men-in-Speech-Language-Pathology.aspx

Rowden-Racette, K. (2013). Where the Boys Aren’t. ASHA Leader, August 2013, 18, 46-51. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.18082013.46. Available online at http://leader.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=1785887&resultClick=3

Sheridan, J., 1999, A career in speech and language therapy: for white women only? RCSLT Bulletin, February, 9.

Speech Pathology Australia, 2012, Real Men Do Speech Pathology
(available at: http://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/

[1] Michèle Kaufmann-Meyer is the current President of CPLOL and has been representing Switzerland since 2004. She has also been working as a general secretary of the French-speaking Swiss organization for 12 years. Baiba Trinite is Assistant Professor in the Department of Education and Social Work at Liepaja University and President of Speech Therapists’ Association of Latvia.

[2] I’m sure each of the international organizations has ways of measuring the male/female ratio of their membership already in place. What I don’t know is whether they are all using similar methodologies and how reliable the metrics are. Clearly one of the first tasks to be included in the Plan of Action is to reviewing current measurement systems and make sure they are as accurate as possible.

Dudes’ Eye View: Review of 2015

This is now the FIFTH in this series of videos. My oh my, how time flies! Condensing a year of news from across the world into 24 stories is something of a challenge and inevitably misses out the majority of things that have happened. Nevertheless, take it as a snapshot of 2015 and perhaps in five more years when we hit our 10th review it’ll be enough to bring back memories.


As always, you can also download the soundtrack as an MP3 to add to your music player of choice, and there’s also the six-minutes extended “Funked Up Dude” mix available. You can simply click below for the downloads:

Dudes Eye View 2015 Soundtrack (4:12)

Dudes Eye View 2015 “Funked Up Dude” Mix (6:04)

Welcome to the New Year!