Category Archives: Artic/Phonology

Why Scarves are important to Speech Pathologists

In a recent poll of Speech and Language Pathologists  (The #SLPeeps Top 10 SLP Gifts) held by the folks at LessonPix, the number one object of infinite desire was… the scarf! Talk about stereotypes fulfilled. Tragically, this Dude was one of those who voted for the scarf, and readily admits to having a small collection of the things (you have to match with your coats and jackets – duh!) so perhaps it’s not necessarily surprising.

University of Lancaster UK Fylde College scarf

My new scarf

Of course, the other factor that may be biasing the results is that the poll is taking place just as the weather is becoming peppered with snow and the temperatures are falling faster than Mitt Romney’s post-election popularity [1]. So the stores are currently filled with more scarves than Santa has elves.

And so speaking of scarves and elves

One of the standard areas of concern for SLPs is teaching plurals. To be more accurate, teaching the phonological realizations of a morphological process that creates plural forms from a singular morpheme base. I toss that in because some folks seem to think that the Dudes are trivial, unprofessional, and simply out for a good time. That may have some veracity about it, but we are very aware that not everyone who reads this blog is, in fact, an SLP. So our role is to entertain and educate a broad church, and to promote the idea that SLPs are more than middle-class gentile ladies who wear scarves with twin-sets and pearls. Well, OK, so we do wear scarves…

Therapeutically speaking, we can use the scarf as a way of teaching a rather limited set of weird plural forms, namely those nouns that end in an /f/ sound when singular but turn into a /vz/ when plural. Here’s the list;

calf – calves
life – lives
thief – thieves
elf – elves
loaf – loaves
wife – wives
half – halves
self – selves
wolf – wolves
leaf – leaves
shelf – shelves

There are ongoing discussions about dwarfdwarfs/dwarves, with linguists typically coming down on the side of dwarves but Disney still insisting on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – and you don’t mess with the Mouse unless you want a law suit in the mail [2].

Historically, these “irregular” plurals come from a “regular” source – Old English. You see, one of the common plurals in OE was the ending “-as,” and so you would talk about one wulf or wif (wolf and wife [3]) but two or more wulfas or wifas. But there was also a rule in existence that said that all fricatives (such as /f/ or /s/) would become voiced (change to /v/ or /z/) when they were stuffed between two other voiced sounds, which includes vowels. So seeing as the /f/ in wulfas and wifas sat between vowels, they were pronounced as /’wulvæz/ and /’waɪvæz/. Finally, over time, the final unstressed vowel was dropped leaving /’wulvz/ and /’waɪvz/.


But the fun doesn’t stop here, oh no! Just to keep the excitement going, the word scarf doesn’t come from the Old English and wasn’t around with the wolves, wives, elves, leaves, or sheaves, and didn’t make an appearance in the English lexicon until the middle of the 16th century. It’s not absolutely certain, but odds are that scarf comes from Old Northern French escarpe meaning “a sash” or “a sling for a wounded arm.” At that time, folks did talk about wearing scarfs but in the 18th century, it became mor fashionable to wear scarves, the plural swap being influenced by those old Old English “irregulars.”

Using my old friend, the Corpus of Historical American, I was able to produce the following graphs that show how scarfs declined as scarves ascended.

Use of the word scarf over time

“Scarfs” over time

Use of the word scarves over time

“Scarves” over time

As a confirmatory check, I also did a Google N-gram search:

The words scarfs and scarves over time

“Scarfs” and “scarves” over time

We could stop here and say “so that’s why you should teach scarves and not scarfs” and be done with it, but there’s just one more wonderful little quirk of English I’d like to point out.

“My dog is a hungry wee beastie. Whenever I give him some food, he scarfs it down as if he’d never eaten before.” So why doesn’t he *scarve it down?

Well, when the word scarf appears as a verb, it comes from a completely different place. It is, in fact, a variation of the word scoff, which is in turn a slang word for “to eat voraciously” or “to devour hungrily.” This word made its appearance at the beginning of the 19th century and so it’s subject to the rules of Modern English grammar, not Old English. When you add the third-person verb ending of “s” to scoff, it becomes plain old scoffs, and in Modern English, the final sound takes on the voicing of the preceding sound, hence /’skɒfs/.

So there you have it! SLPs love scarves because they remind us about phonological processes that change words over time, processes that changed the pronunciation of plural and verb morphology, and even about the history of the English language.

Or maybe we just like the colors…

[1] I’m not given to engaging in political discussions but yesterday I drove past a gas station here in Ohio where the price of a gallon was $2.98, and less than a month ago I was listening to Republican pundits prophesying how gas prices would rocket if Obama were elected. They were so sure, certain, positive, and adamant about the truth of the assertion that there are only two conclusions to draw from their pontificating; either there were wrong (in which case they are no smarter than anyone who can scrawl an “X” on a ballot so not worth listening to) or they were lying (in which case they are lying bastards and will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.) If there’s a third alternative, let me know.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, a linguistics scholar, argued for the use of dwarves, and all his works use that. But the venerable Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges the words dwarfs as a plural, thus queering the pitch even further. Way back in 1862, Ernest Adams wrote The Elements of the English Language and noted that the forms dwarf/dwarves seemed to be in free variation, but that “in modern English the form in f is preferred” (p.39).

[3] Before someone smacks me over the head with very heavy copies of Beowulf or Caedmon’s Hymn, I am aware that since Old English was first spoken, there has been a Great Vowel Shift that changed the pronunciation of many words. So in my example of /’waɪf/ should really have had the long “eee” vowel, /i/ and been /’wif/ if we’re going to be more accurate. However, whether the vowel is /aɪ/ or /i/, the rule that changed /f/ and /s/ to /v/ and /z/ would still have applied.

Talk Like a Pirate and Be More Efficient

Ahoy, mateys! In case ye not be knowing, the 19th day of September be Talk Like A Pirate day, and ye be encouraged to bedazzle yer sentences with “avast ye” and “yo ho ho.”

From the linguistic point of view – and I am, of course, a Speech Pathologist so these things matter – talking like a pirate is a really good example of how we could make English easier by one simple change; remove all the morphological variants from the verb, to be, in a single stoke – or a single slash of the cutlass – we can consign these linguistic fossils to the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the conjugation table below for English versus Pirate English (PE):

Table of "to be" phrases

By replacing am/are/is with the single word be, we’ve both made the lexicon smaller and helped everyone learning the English language by removing all the complexities surrounding which form of to to use with which pronoun. [1]

For the negative forms, you have two choices – and both of them are equally simple!

1. NOT-insertion: PRON + “be” -> PRON + “not” + “be”

Example: He is drinking -> He not be drinking
You are not helping -> You not be helping

 2. AIN’T insertion: PRON + “be” -> PRON + “aint” + (“be”)

Example: He is leaving -> He ain’t be leaving

The question forms of the AIN’T insertion are also spectacularly easy:

Example: Ain’t we be needing to leave?
I ain’t be hungry now.

You’ll notice that I have marked the word be as optional in the AIN’T insertion rule because I think there are times that a pirate can get away with omitting it altogether – I may have to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies a few more times and take more notes for some “field data.” So if Captain Jack Sparrow were to say, “You ain’t stealing my ship, ye scury knave,” that’d be perfectly OK.

Pirate ship aflame

“No more Disney cruises for me!”

Another construction popular with pirates is the future. English, as we know, doesn’t actually have a future tense as such but marks future events by using the verb will, the phrase “be going to,” or conditional verbs (shall, could, would, might etc.) But in Pirate English, it’s standard to use the contacted form of will, as in “You’ll be wanting to come aboard, will ye?” or “Ah, he’ll be swabbing the deck now.”

Note that the general form is as follows:

PRON + ‘ll + “be” + VERB+ing

The negative simply requires the insertion of not before the be; “You’ll not be coming aboard” or “We’ll not be dropping anchor here, me hearties.”

These basic syntactic forms – and there be others [2] – can be augmented by learning a simple phonological rules:

Final /ŋ/ -> /n/: Velar fronting

OK, so this can happen in other forms of English but it appears to be particularly marked in PE. The sentence “He’ll be drowning” would be pronounced;

/ˌhil bɪ ˈdɹɑʊnɪn/

Or “They’ll be swimming with the sharks” would be /ˌðeɪl bɪ ˈswɪmɪn wɪ ðə ˈʃaɹks/, which is typically written in pirate literature as “They’ll be swimmin’ wi’ the sharks.” Notice how “with” also undergoes a final consonant deletion to /wɪ/.

But enough of the theory; how about some mindless practice 😉 For all of us with a Facebook account, here’s how to change your Facebook page to use Pirate English:

1. Click on the drop-down arrow at the top right of your page next to Home and find “Account Settings.”
Facebook Account Settings

2. Click on the Edit button for the Language settings.
Facebook Language Settings

3. From the drop-down button select English (Pirate).
Facebook language English (Pirate)

4. Choose the Save Changes  button.
Facebook Save Changes

Ye now be sailin’ as a pirate!

There are some “useful” resources to help you become more linguistically proficient on Talk Like a Pirate Day, and here’s a selection.

(a) Post Like a Pirate
Lets you type in text and have it coverted to Pirate English. Not 100% accurate but a good start!

(b) Website PE Converter
Turn any website into its Pirate English equivalent. Funny stuff indeed!

(c) The Five A’s of Piratese
Th’ Pirate Guys offer a video on Piratese.

(d) A Pirate Dictionary
What it says… a list of piratey words.

(e) Teaching With Pirates
UK resources for pirate-based teaching activities.

[1] This phenomenon is the basis for “The Case for Ain’t” or “Why Using ‘Ain’t’ Ain’t So Bad.” When someone use ain’t instead of “am not,” “are not,” or “is not,” they are not being lazy but efficient! Just as using be instead of am/are/is simplifies the system, so does using ain’t. This view ain’t going to score me any points with the grammatical prescriptivists but that doesn’t stop my point from being accurate.

[2] One obvious example is that the first person singular possessive determiner, my, and the first person singular object pronoun, me, become one morphological form, /mɪ/. That’s apparent in sentences such as, “Avast ye, me hearties” or “Pass me me grog.” In the case of “you” becoming “ye” (/ji/) that’s just a phonetic change of the /u/ sound to an /i/.

Is “Foreign Accent Syndrome” a Cinnamon Bun?

On October 15th, 1996, bakers at the Bongo Java Roasting Company were surprised to find that nestled among a tray full of fresh cinnamon buns was one pastry that looked uncannily like Mother Teresa. In fact, it was so uncanny that for some, it became miraculous; evidence that The Great Baker in the Sky was sending us messages to prove His existence.

Bun like Mother Teresa

Nun or bun?

Or was it?

What we can see going on here is the confluence of two effects: Patternicity, [1] a cognitive bias based on the tendency to see patterns when none exists, and the Law of Truly Large Numbers, which states that given really large samples sizes, weird things will happen.

The TLN thing can be dealt with pretty easily in this case. How many cinnamon buns do you think are baked on a single day at the Bongo Java House? Let’s assume 100, which is probably very conservative. What’re the odds that one of those might look a little like Mother Teresa? Probably unlikely.

But the Bongo Java House had been open since 1993, six days a week for 50 weeks a year, which gives us a bun total of 90,000 over a three-year period. So what are the odds that one of those might resemble Mother Teresa? Now it’s seeming a little more possible.

Now think about how many bakeries there are in the entire USA, churning out cinnamon buns by the bucketload for three years. The 2009 US Census said there are over 38,000 retail bakeries, and on that basis, we can  estimate that some 3,420,000,000 buns were made between 1993 and 1996. So, one more time – how likely do you think it is that one of those looked similar to Mother Teresa? Or Barack Obama? Or even yourself?

Given such huge numbers, it is almost inevitable that a Nun Bun will appear, and it only takes ONE person to spot one to make the miracle. Only it’s not really a miracle but a natural consequence of the law of Truly Large Numbers. [2]

Let’s go one step further with this. Suppose the media got a hold of this miraculous appearance of Mother Teresa (which they did) and suddenly told millions of people about it. Up until this point, no-one was expecting a Nun to pop up in their daily box of high-calorie pastries so no-one was really looking. But once you’ve heard about one Nun, folks will start looking for another. And given that there are millions of buns made every day, the odds of finding one are good.

Out of 3 billion buns over three years, do you think it likely that we could find, say, 10 such Nun Buns? Easily. Bear in mind that there’s also some flexibility built in to the notion of “resembling” or “looking like” Mother Teresa; the bun doesn’t have to be the spitting image but enough to garner consensus from a large group of observers that it’s a reasonable apporximation. So you’re not just looking for a single example of a bun that looks exactly like Mother Teresa but clusters of buns that have common features. Put another way, it’s not that we have one bun in 100 that looks just like Mother T, but 3 or 4 that “sort of” look like her. This increases the odds of finding miraculous munchies.

So here’s the big question: Given that we find 10 ersatz nuns out of our multi-million sample, can we now talk about a special “Mother Teresa effect?” Is there a mysterious force that creates Mother Teresa buns? Is this proof that the Great Baker in the Sky really exists?

Sadly, no. We’ve stacked the odds of finding the “Mother Teresa effect” by setting up what we want to find in advance. By defining what we’re looking for – a bun that looks like a specific nun – given an large enough pool of buns from which to draw our examples, we’ll find her. [3]

All of which brings us to the topic of Foreign Accent Syndrome. This is a rather dramatic pathology that has been defined as “a motor speech disorder in which patients develop a speech accent which is notably different from their premorbid habitual accent. [4]” Other researchers have suggested that there may be cases of FAS that are psychogenic in origin [5], may be a prosodic disorder [6], [7], or developmental in nature [8].

According to Akhlaghi, Jahangiri, Azarpazhooh, Elyasi, and Ghale (2011), “Most FAS cases reported so far have been due to a stroke involving lesions in different cortical and subcortical areas of the language dominant hemisphere (mainly left hemisphere). [9]”

Linguistically, a wide range of features have been reported as being significant in creating the “foreign sounding” nature of the speech. These include the reduction or simplification of consonant clusters, consonant or vowel deletion, consonantal changes of articulation, vowel changes of articulation, epenthesis or metathesis, and vowel diphthongization.

Such variability suggests that there is less of  syndrome going on here than we might want to believe. Rosenbek (1999) suggested that because many of the features of FAS are similar to those of a more general apraxia of speech (AoS), we should treat is as a subtype of this. Marien, Verhoeven, Engelborghs, Rooker, Pickut, and De Deyn (2006) note that, “research has neither been able to identify a coherent system in the speech errors nor to separate it unambiguously from AoS [10]. What seems more likely is that this is more of a cinnamon bun than a specific disorder. Back in 1996, Kurowski and Blumstein said of FAS:

Why then do we persist in seeking to characterize the phonetic characteristics of this disorder, its potential neuropathology, and its underlying mechanism, instead of concluding that the foreign accent syndrome is an epiphenomenon existing only in the “ears” of the beholder. [11]

In contrast, the same authors change their minds in a 2006 paper where they say that:

On the basis of consideration of the various case study reports in the literature and our own work, we have proposed that the foreign accent syndrome is properly considered a syndrome and that it is distinct in both its characteristics and underlying mechanism from an apraxia of speech, a dysarthria or an aphasic speech output disorder. We also proposed that the foreign accent syndrome is primarily a disorder of linguistic prosody. [12]

But this doesn’t convince me. Like the Nun Bun, the condition is predefined; it’s “any example of a general motor problem that sounds like a foreign accent.” Given the many, many ways an apraxia could present, a small cluster will indeed sound similar to some other language. And studies suggest that when you ask naive listeners to identify a specific language, they tend to be less than accurate; they can, at best, simply say, “it sounds foreign as opposed to just unintelligible.”

And statistically, like the Nun Bun, we are talking about some 60 cases in refereed journals since 1947 [7] among many other cases of AoS where the client has NOT been described as having a foreign accent. Patternicity and Truly Large Numbers can explain the phenomenon without the need to propose some special etiology or feature set. In terms of therapy, it’s unlikely that one would take a fundamentally different approach to intervening with a client who “has” FAS as opposed to someone identified as having apraxic symptoms.

Foreign accent syndrome may make for good TV and catch the ears of the media at large, but there’s still limited evidence that it deserves, or needs, to be a special syndrome.


[1] I talked about this in an earlier post with a review of Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain. Other words to describe this phenomenon of finding patterns when none exists are apophenia and the clustering illusion.

[2] “Miracles” frequently turn out to examples of the human tendency to count the hits and ignore the misses i.e. to ignore the fact that when very, very large numbers are involved, weird things can occur. A 2010 plane crash in Libya killed 103 people but one child survived. Although the media was quick to call him the “miracle” child, the other 103 people clearly didn’t get to partake of the same luck. And those people who claimed to have dreamed about the crash the night before it happened weren’t compared with all the people in the world who have ever dreamed about a crash that didn’t happen.

[3] Some of you may be reminded of the story that if you have an infinite number of monkeys typing letters at random, you’ll eventually end up with a copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Law of Truly Large Numbers says that you don’t have to have an infinite number of monkeys but just lots of them and a large amount of time.

[4] Verhoeven, J. and Marien, P. (2006). Neurogenic foreign accent syndrome: Articulatory setting, segments and prosody in a Dutch speaker. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 23, 599-614.

[5] Verhoeven, J., Mariën, P., Engelborghs, S., D’Haenen, H. and De Deyn, P. P. (2005). A foreign speech accent in a case of conversion disorder. Behavioural Neurology, 16, 225-232.

[6] Haley, K.L., Roth, H.L., Helm-Estabrooks, N. and Thiessen, A. (2010). Foreign accent syndrome due to conversion disorder: Phonetic analyses and clinical course.  Journal of Neurolinguistics, 23, 28-43.

[7] Haley, K.L. (2009). Dysprosody and Foreign Accent Syndrome. Perspectives on Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders, 19, 3, 90-96.

[8] Mariën, P., Verhoeven, J., Wackenier, P., Engelborghs, S. and De Deyn, P. P. (2009). Foreign accent syndrome as a developmental motor speech disorder. Cortex, 45, 870-878.

[9] Akhlaghi, A.,  Jahangiri, N., Azarpazhooh, M.R., Elyasi, M. and Ghale, M. (2011). Foreign Accent Syndrome: Neurolinguistic Description of a New Case. In Proceedings of 2011 International Conference on language, literature and linguistics. Dubai, UAE.

[10] Mariën, P., Verhoeven, J., Engelborghs, S., Rooker, S., Pickut, B.A. and De Deyn, P. P. (2006). A role for the cerebellum in motor speech planning: Evidence from foreign accent syndrome. Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, 108, 518-522.

[11] Kurowski, K.M. and Blumstein, S.E. (1996). Foreign Accent Syndrome: A Reconsideration. Brain and Language, 54, 1-25.

[12] Blumstein, S.E. and Kurowski, K. (2006). The foreign accent syndrome: A perspective. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 19, 346-355.

Indiana Jones and the Search for the Pot of Ink

I am a firm believer in always maintaining a low-tech backup system for those times when such basic necessities as electricity and WiFi are not available. It may be hard to believe but there are places in the world where iPhones, Droids, and laptops won’t work! I know, crazy, yes?

Which is why I carry two pieces of technology that operate in such extreme conditions. One is called a notepad and made of pieces of paper bound together inside two hard covers. The second is critical for the success of the notepad and it’s called a pen. This is a small, hand-held tube containing ink, a colored liquid that you can use to mark the paper.

Moleskine Notebook

Moleskine Notebook

I’m mentioning these in detail because it is possible that some people in the not-to-distant future may not have any direct experience with these items. They may also be unfamiliar with the process of scratching marks on paper, which we call writing. Unbelievable? Maybe not.

From Fall 2011, the State of Indiana will no longer require students to learn cursive script as part of the school curriculum. It will become “optional” – which is as good as saying “ignored.” Hawaii has jumped on the bandwagon by adopting a similar stance, along with Illinois, Ohio, and apparently a good number of others. Doubtless kids will be required to take a stab at hitting keys on a keyboard or iPad, provided it doesn’t eat into their “Angry Birds” time; and of course, it will be essential to learn to spell in order to send text messages and tweets. Well, sort of spell. But the actual skill of using a pen on paper could be on the way out. Once credit card technology can handle fingerprints, we won’t even have to sign receipts.

All of this has been steadily creeping up on us as can be evidenced by the fact that trying to get ink for refilling a fountain pen is becoming a tougher task than tracking down a crystal skull – or the scrolls in the Ark of the Covenent. Hell, it would be easier to find the scrolls than to write them if you needed to use a bottle of ink!

Fountain pen

Cross Torero Pen

My low-tech backup system currently consists of a Moleskine reporter’s notepad and a Cross Torero Diamondback fountain pen. In truth, I’ve been a Moleskine notebook scribbler for a few years now and the pen can vary, but essentially, armed with these two pieces of equipment, I can keep track of ideas, save contact details, draw maps for people, and use the International Phonetic Alphabet to knock out a phonological analysis. My first draft was “ knock up a phonological analysis” but I am aware that “knock up” in the US means something different from the UK meaning of “knock up” that I am referring to!

Phonological analysis

At this point in evolution, it is still possible to refill these pens using ink-filled plastic cartridges but as we become more eco-conscious, using a refillable cartridge makes more sense. And after all, this is precisely how you could do it less than 30 years ago. Now I’m not talking going back to the quill and dipping into an inkwell, just being able to suck ink from a bottle into a pen. Hardly rocket science.

But how easy is it to find bottles of ink? Amazingly enough, these are now “specialist items.” In fact, if you type the work “ink replacement” or “ink cartridge” into a search engine, you find printer inks. Go to Staples and you’ll even find fountain pens as “fine writing instruments” and not “pens.” Trying to get hold of a fountain pen is like taking a trip to Diagon Alley and finding Ollivanders (“The pen chooses the writer, Speech Dude. It’s not always clear why.”)

Notebook AAC

AAC device

In the absence of Hogwortian powers, I’m afraid that the quest for ink meant having to go to a variety of stores, which included Staples (one bottle of black ink), Wal-Mart (no ink), a local craft store (lots of calligraphy equipment but no bottled ink), and a book store (no ink, no books – it was the local Borders and tragically its last day. Now there’s a sign of the times.)

It’s somewhat ironic that in order to maintain this quaint, old-fashioned art of writing on paper with a fountain pen I ended up having to use the internet, the very thing that is hastening us toward a new phase of literacy, or even illiteracy. After all, if I can talk to a computer and have it speak back, why do I even need to write anything?

Perhaps Robert Graves was more prophetic than he knew when he wrote the words of the final lines of his classic story, I, Claudius; “Write no more now,  Tiberius Claudius, God of the Britons, write no more.”

Musings on “this” and “that”

There is a beautiful symmetry about the four determiner this, that, these, and those. Phonetically, they are obviously close but did you realize that the phonetic closeness mirrors their syntactic closeness?

Let’s start by looking at that obviousness.

  • this = /ðɪs/
  • that = /ðæt/
  • these = /ðiz /
  • those = /ðəʊz/

They all begin with the a voiced dental fricative, /ð/; they all end with a dental, /s/, /t/, and /z/; and they all have the same phonotactic structure, CVC.

At the syntactic level, this and that are singular, and these and those are plural. We can also pair this and these as the “near” determiners, referring to things close to the speakers point of reference, and that and those are the “far” determiners, indicating things that are distant from the speaker.

demonstrative determiners with near and far

Near-far Determiners

This syntactic elegance goes along with the phonetic elegance of the singular words having short vowels and plurals having long one. There might be an argument to say that the diphthong in /ðəʊz/ could be /ɔ:/ but even that’s a long vowel sound.

The distinction of this versus that for near/far is historically recent – and “recent” means “developed in Middle English and not Old English. [1] And in the personal history of the child, both these words appear in the lexicon around 2 years and are high frequency. In fact, the word that is one of the highest frequency words in the English language – hence the need to make sure your kids can use it as early as possible.

Using the definition “demonstrative determiners” for this little group is actually a useful indicator of how best to think of them in terms of teaching: you need to “demonstrate” them. The simplest method is just to use objects and/or images that you can present singly or as a group, and that you can simultaneously have close to your client and distant.

Because the determiners are not concrete things, like “trucks” and “teddies” and “balls” and “sheep,” you have, or necessity, to teach them in a context along with other words. You can use your truck, teddy, ball, and sheep as long as you have them (a) close to the client and (b) referred to as “this truck” or “this teddy.”

You can also leverage the near/far distinction by teaching the determiners as pairs; so have “this truck” close to the kid and “that truck” on another table. Similarly, you can have a single toy sheep on one side of the client as “this sheep” but a mini flock of them on the other side of the client as “these sheep.”

When modeling the words, make sure you point. Pointing is crucial because this mirrors in space what is cognitively part of the concept behind the words; that they are used for  “demonstrating” or “showing” where something is. It’s also fine to use your Harry Potter wand (or your Hermione Granger for the girls!) to point with, or a light pointer. Rebels may want to use colored laser pointers, but don’t blame the Speech Dudes if the nannies at the FDA come screaming about how dangerous that is.

If you have any cool ways of teaching this magical cluster, let us know by commenting or sending an email.

That‘s it for this post!

1. Lass, R. (1992). Phonology and Morphology. In Norman Blake (Ed.) The Cambridge History of the English Language: Volume 2, 1066 – 1476. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

“The Annotated Alice” – An Essential Book for Speechies

Don’t try this without a safety net or three mojitos. Parse the following sentence:

Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

If you’ve given up and decided to drink another mojito instead, you’re in good company. Even linguist Geoff Pullum, co-author of the phenomenal Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has said that he can’t decide whether it’s grammatical or not. On the other hand, if you’ve sobered up and actually created a tree diagram that looks more complex than the map of the London Underground, congratulations and please send us a copy.

This magnificent sentence comes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book that somehow never seems to make it onto the recommended reading list for Speechies but that deserves to be made obligatory. And the particular version to get hold of is The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, edited and annotated by Martin Gardner, and containing the original artwork prints of the Victorian artists, John Tenniel.

The Annotated Alice book

Annotated Alice

Combining both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this book cannot fail to appeal to Speech Therapists, teachers, and linguists, or in fact, anyone with any interest in language. Carroll plays with words the way kittens play with string. He bends them, stretches them, chops them up, and puts them back together in entertaining ways. Just one chapter of the Alice books could form the basis for a semester of study.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe

Sheer brilliance. He start out by a pronoun-verb contraction to hit us with twas and without skipping a heartbeat trots out a new word, brillig. You may never have heard the word before but somehow we feel it means something akin to bright or brilliant. We at least know it’s an adjective despite the fact you won’t find it in a dictionary.

The Jabberwock

Beware the Jabberwock

And how about slithy? That, surprisingly enough, does get a mention in the Oxofrd English Dictionary as an adjective from 1662, itself a variation of the word sleathy, originating from the Old Norse slœða meaning “to drag or trail behind.” But Carroll used it to mean “smooth and active” (Carroll, 1855), which is very different from the previous use. In fact, it comes from a mix of slimy and lithe, which is called a “portmanteau word” – a phrase also coined by Carroll himself!

According to Humpty Dumpty,  toves are “something like badgers, they’re something like lizards, and they’re something like corkscrews. Also they make their nests under sun-dials, also they live on cheese.” The fact that the word toves appears immediately following the definitive article alerts us to the interpretation that a tove is a noun; the final “s” also signals nouniness.

As you can see, we are just at the end of the first line and we’re talking about phonology and morphology (the /s/ at the end of tove); syntax (an article precedes a noun); contractions (twas); and blends (slithy). So tell me again why you wouldn’t want this book on the undergraduate reading list. Why, you could write a 5,000 word essay on The Derivational and Inflexional Morphological Structures Inherent in Jabberwocky and their Relevence to English Language Development! Well, at least I could 😉

But it’s not just the fact that you can lose yourself in Carroll’s text alone that makes this book so fascinating; it’s the comments and scholarship of Martin Gardner, whose knowledge of all things Alice is encyclopedic. His commentary covers not only language but philosophy, physics, history, mythology, and mathematics. The list of references takes up several pages and the budding Alice scholar could do no better than to ouse this book as their primary reference.

Pedagogy aside, there’s another reason to read this book. It’s fun! It’s easy to pop in the Disney Alice in Wonderland DVD and think you know the story, but if you’ve never picked up the books before, you are in for a rare treat. So pop down to your local Borders before it closes completely and splash out on a copy, or help your local bookstore go out of business by ordering from Amazon. Whatever way you choose to do it, as long as you get the real, physical book rather than some awful electronic format, you’ll have something to take with you on your vacation.

Oh, and college lecturers… Get this on the reading list for your students. They WILL thank you for it.

Lewis Carroll’s diaries:the private journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1993): The Lewis Carroll Society.