Tag Archives: core vocabulary

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.

corescorepeppapig

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:

corescorespongebob

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:

corescorebooks

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!

References

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.

Notes
[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.

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28 Words to Boost Your Client’s Vocabulary – Maximum Bang for Buck

When developing a vocabulary set for an augmented and alternative communication (AAC) system – or indeed when deciding on what vocabulary to teach anyone – one of the most fundamental of measures you can use is frequency count; how often is a word used in a language? No-one can predict with 100% accuracy which words will be “best” for an individual, but if you’re going to take bets, you’re pretty safe to assume that words such as that, want, stop, and what are going to be used by everyone from ages 2 to 200. By the same token, you’d not be missing much if you didn’t spend too much time on words like ambidextrous, decalogue, and postilion [1].

In the field of AAC, this type of high frequency vocabulary that is used (a) across populations and (b) across situations is referred to as core vocabulary and it’s often contrasted with the phrase fringe vocabulary, which refers to words that are typically (a) low in frequency and (b) specific to isolated activities or situations. For a refresher on core and fringe – and an introduction to keyword vocabulary – check out my article entitled Small Object of Desire: The Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen – and Keyword Vocabulary from two years ago.

The core/fringe distinction is now so embedded in the world of augmentative communication that it is rare to see any new app appear on the market that doesn’t use the phrase “core vocabulary” somewhere in its marketing blurb – even if it isn’t actually making good use of the core! And as core vocabulary is, by definition, common across ages, activities, situations, and pathologies, it’s not surprising that many AAC software offerings look the same, particularly with regard to the words being encoded [2].

But it’s worth taking a look at another level of frequency measurement, and that’s at the phrase level. Specifically, one area of research that seems to me to offer some value to Speech and Language pathologists and Educators working in vocabulary development is in the study of how phrasal verbs (PVs) are distributed.

PV 3

So what’s a phrasal verb? Well, simply put, it’s a phrase of two to three words that are yoked together, which include a verb and a preposition and/or adverb. Examples include, “I ran into Gretchen at the ATIA conference,” “I backed up my hard drive,” and “I came across an interesting article on phrasal verbs.” The English language is stuffed to the gills with these type of verbs, and a feature of them is that they tend to have multiple meanings.

To find out how polysemous a phrase can be, you can use the excellent WordNet online tool, a huge database of words and phrases that let you check out noun, verb, adjective, and adverb meanings. For example, would you believe that the simple phrase “give up” has 12 different meanings? Or that “put down” has 8 variations? It’s not surprising that learners of English find phrasal verbs quite challenging.

The other fascinating feature of phrasal verbs is summarized in a 2007 paper by Gardner and Davies, who point out that of you look at the 100 million word British National Corpus you find that;

…a small subset of 20 lexical verbs combines with eight adverbial particles (160 combinations) to account for more than one half of the 518,923 phrasal verb occurrences identified in the megacorpus. A more specific analysis indicates that only 25 phrasal verbs account for nearly one-third of all phrasal-verb occurrences in the British National Corpus, and 100 phrasal verbs account for more than one half of all such items. Subsequent semantic analyses show that these 100 high-frequency phrasal verb forms have potentially 559 variant meaning senses.

Read that again and see if you get the same tingle I did seeing those numbers. Over half the entire phrasal verbs found in the corpus can be accounted for by combining 20 verbs with 8 particles. In short, if you learn just 28 words, you’ve learned 50% of all the phrasal verbs you’ll need to use.

Let’s take a look at those Top 2o verbs first:

20 most frequent verbs in phrasal verbs

Table 1: Top 20 Verbs in PVs

And now the Top 8 particles:

Eight most frequently used particles in phrasal verbs

Table 2: Top 8 particles in PVs

All the verbs and prepositions as individual items are already high frequency, with the exception of perhaps the verbs point and set, which wouldn’t be on my list of “first words to teach.” However, the real bonus here is that not only do you get the benefit of teaching your client 28 high frequency words in isolation but if you then use them as phrasal verbs, your “bang for buck” is significant!

Here’s a link to a PDF of those 28 words: https://app.box.com/s/vng5hr2tctp87ufdjoyjvyv2ln8300yb

This frequency analysis of phrasal verbs by Gardner and Davies has recently been supported by and extended upon by Dilin Liu (2011) and by Mélodie Garnier and Norbert Schmitt [3] (2014). In their paper, The PHaVE List: A pedagogical list of phrasal verbs and their most frequent meaning senses, they point out that a limitation in Gardner and Davies’ analysis is that they failed to take into account the polysemy inherent in the phrases – like the 12 meanings of “give up.” In fairness to Gardner and Davies, they did, in fact, talk about the polysemous nature of PVs but didn’t offer any measure of the different frequencies with which the various meanings are used. They wrote that:

For instance, the list-high 19 senses of the PV break up … could be arranged from highest to lowest semantic frequency, thus prioritizing them for language learning. We acknowledge, however, that corpora of this nature are much easier talked about than constructed. (p.353).

Garnier and Schmitt are interested not just in identifying the frequency with which a phrasal verb occurs but also the most common senses of those PVs. They say that;

…our main purpose for creating the PHaVE List, which is to reduce the total number of meaning senses to be acquired to a manageable number based on frequency criteria.

On a pragmatic level, they want a learner not to have to learn every meaning of each PV but just focus on the most frequent, and therefore most useful meanings. Using the original list from Gardner and Davies, along with additions by Liu (2011), and including data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (Davies, 2008), the duo created the PHaVE List; a list of the 150 most frequently used phrasal verbs, and 280 of the most frequently used meanings. So on the 12 potential meanings for “give up,” they use the following:

16. GIVE UP
Stop doing or having something; abandon (activity, belief, possession) (80.5%)
Example: She had to give up smoking when she got pregnant.

The general entry starts with a rank (in this case, 16th out of 150); the basic phrasal verb; a definition; a percentage frequency; and a specific example use. The complete list is made available as a download from the Sage journals website [4]. If you can get access to it, it is well worth the read and the download. And all the articles referenced in this article are good examples of how we can use corpus linguistics to help guide our practice of developing the vocabulary of our clients with language challenges.

References
Davies, M. (2008-). The Corpus of Contemporary American English: 425 million words, 1990-present. Available from Brigham Young University The Corpus of Contemporary America English, from Brigham Young University http://corpus.byu.edu/coca

Gardner, D., & Davies, M. (2007). Pointing Out Frequent Phrasal Verbs: A Corpus-Based Analysis. TESOL Quarterly, 41(2), 339-359.

Garnier, M., & Schmitt, N. (2014). The PHaVE List: A pedagogical list of phrasal verbs and their most frequent meaning senses. Language Teaching Research, 1-22.Published online before print http://ltr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/12/08/1362168814559798.abstract

Liu, D. (2011). The Most Frequently Used English Phrasal Verbs in American and British English: A Multicorpus Examination. TESOL Quarterly, 45(4), 661-688.

Notes
[1] A postilion is the driver of a horse-drawn carriage, who sits posterior to the horses. The sentence “The postilion has been struck by lightning” is the basis of a wonderful little paper by the linguist David Crystal, published in 1995 in the journal Child Language Teaching & Therapy. Simply titled “Postilion Sentences,” Crystal defines a postilion sentence as “one which has little or no chance of ever being useful in real life. It could be used, obviously, because it is grammatically well-formed; but the contexts in which it would be natural to use it are either so restricted or so adult that the chances of a child encountering it, or finding it necessary to use it, are remote.” In the design of AAC systems, using pre-stored sentences may have some limited value but many “pragmatic utterances” turn out to be nothing more than postilions; unlikely to be used. This is why teaching sentences is neither language nor therapy.

Download Postilion sentences article

Enter a caption

[2] The now-common practice of using core vocabulary also makes it much harder to prove plagiarism – or as we Lancastrians would say, “nicking someone else’s ideas.” People, of course, don’t “steal” ideas – they are “inspired” by the work of others. But such inspiration inevitably leads to systems appearing almost clone-like in their structure. It’s only when you get to the fine details of how words are organized and encoded that you can separate the wheat from the chaff. And there’s a lot of chaff out there.

[3] If I haven’t mentioned it before, Norbert is the author of an excellent book on vocabulary research methods. Here’s the full reference: Schmitt, N. (2010). Researching vocabulary : a vocabulary research manual. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. It’s full of useful information and lots of web links worth exploring, and worth the $30 you’ll spend on Amazon US – or the £20.99 in the UK.

[4] Just a reminder to all members of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists that you membership benefits includes access to a number of Sage journals online, and Language Teaching Research is one of those. In fact, you have access to over 700 (yes, count ’em!) titles, including my personal favorites Child Language Teaching and Therapy, Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, English Today, and the riveting Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy. OK, so I lied about the last one being a “favorite” 🙂

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.

The Dudes Dissect “Closing the Gap” 2013: Day 1 – Of Words and Workshops

Regular readers of the Speech Dudes will know that when the “Dudes Do…” a conference, Day 1 is typically all about the travel experience, usually including some unfavorable comments about taxi cabs and hotel coffee, but this time I’m feeling charitable and, although not yet ready to “Hug a Cabbie,” I’ve decided to provide an overview of the preconference sessions, which I didn’t attend.
Now, you may think that not having attended a workshop might put me at a bit of a disadvantage with regard to reporting on content and offering a critique – and you would be right. On the other hand, what I can comment on is the contents of the preconference brochure that everyone can have access to prior to the actual event and which they use to decide the workshops and sessions they want to attend.

So what you’re going to see is an example of corpus linguistics in action, dissecting the very words used to influence YOUR choices. In short, you’re about to learn about what words presenters and marketers use to make up your mind for you. Grab your coffee, hold on to your hats, and prepare to be amazed at what you didn’t know!

Methodology

The Dudes are big believers in the scientific method and the application of evidence-based practice. We strive for some objectivity where possible, although we acknowledge that our occasional rants may be just a tad subjective. We don’t expect our readers to take everything we say as gospel sharing the methodology of how we analyzed our data seems fair.

The raw data came straight from the official conference brochure, available for any to check at http://www.closingthegap.com/media/pdfs/conference_brochure.pdf. From that I extracted all the text in the following categories:

  • Preconference Workshop Titles
  • Preconference Workshop Course Descriptions
  • Conference Session Titles
  • Conference Session Descriptions
  • Exhibitor Descriptions

Technically, I simply did cut-and-paste from the PDF and then converted everything to TXT format because that’s the format preferred by the analysis software I use.

WordSmith 6 is a wonderful piece of software that lets you chop up large collections of text and make comparisons against other pieces of text. These comparisons can then show you interesting and fascinating details about how those words are being used. I’ve talked in more detail about WordSmith in our post, The Dudes Do ISAAC 2012 – Of Corpora and Concordances, so take a look at that if you want more details.

Once I have the TXT files, I can create a Word List that gives me frequency data, but I also use a Stop List to filter out common words. If you simply take any large sample of text and count how often words are used, you’ll find that the top 200 end up being the same – that’s what we call Core Vocabulary. And when you’re looking for “interesting” words, you really want to get rid of core because its… well… uninteresting! Hence a Stop List to “stop” those words appearing.[1]

Preconference Workshop Titles

The first opportunity you have to encourage folks to come to your session is to have a title that makes a reader want to find out more about what you have to offer. The title is, in fact, the door to your following content description. Of course, you have to find some balance between “catchy” and “accurate.” For example, a paper I presented at a RESNA (Rehabilitation and Engineering Society of America) conference entitled Semantic Compaction in the Dynamic Environment: Iconic Algebra as an Explanatory Model for the Underlying Process was, in all fairness, technically accurate, but from a marketing perspective it had all the appeal of a dog turd on crepe. [2]

Let’s therefore take a look at what seem to be the best words to use if you want to attract a crowd.

Pre-conference Sessions: Keyword in Titles

High frequency words in Pre-conference titles

High frequency words in preconference titles

The Word Cloud here counts only words that appeared twice or more, and the size of the words is directly proportional to frequency, so it’s clear that students is a critical word to use, followed closely by iPad, technology, learning, and communication. On that basis, if you’re planning to submit a paper for 2014, here’s your best “10-word-title” bet for getting (a) accepted and (b) a crowd:

The implementation of iPad technology for learning and communication

In the event that the CTG review committee find themselves looking at multiple courses submitted with the same title, you’re going to have to consider how you describe your actual course contents – and luckily, we can help there, too!

Preconference Sessions: Keywords in Course Content

The actual highest frequency words were workshop and participants, which is something of an artificial construct because most people include phrases such as “in this workshop, participants will…” and so I removed these from my keyword analysis.

Frequent words in preconference sessions content

Frequent words in preconference sessions content

So to further enhance the pulling power of your course, you need to be talking a lot about students, how they use iPads and communication, along with using apps to learn, enhance learning, and any strategies that help meet needs. In fact, you need to include any of these Top Ten words:

Top Ten keywords in Pre-conference session content

Top Ten keywords in preconference session content

But wait, wait… there’s more

I’ve been using the word keywords to refer to those words that appear within a piece of text more frequently than you would expect based on comparing them to a large normative sample. If you perform  a keyword analysis on the preconference contents sample, you find that the top five keywords that appear are iPad, iPads, AAC, apps, and students. This suggests that we do an awful lot of talking about one, very specific brand name device – which is good news for the marketing department at Apple!

Top 15 words by Keyness score

Top 15 words by Keyness score

The relevant score is the keyness value. The higher the keyness, the more “key” the word is i.e. its frequency in the sample is significantly higher than you would expect to see in the normal population. So when you look at the table above, you’re not just seeing frequency scores but how significantly important words are. [3] As an example, the word iPads is used less frequently than the word communication (10 times as against score 16) but iPads is almost twice as “key” as communication i.e. it is significantly more important.

Now, as a final thought for folks who are working in the field of AAC (augmentative and alternative communication), I suggest that if you are developing vocabulary sets for client groups, using frequency studies is certainly a good start (and more scientific than the tragically common practice of picking the words “someone” thinks are needed) but if you then introduce a keyness analysis, you can improve the effectiveness of your vocabulary selection.

Coming next… The Dudes Dissect Closing The Gap 2013: Day 2 – Of Speech and Session. In which the Dudes present an analysis of the words used to describe conference session titles and contents. Find out how to improve your chances of getting paper presented!

Notes
[1] In truth, there is more I could say about the methodology, and were this intended to be a peer-reviewed article for a prestigious journal, rest assured I’d go into much more detail about some of the finer points. However, this is simply a blog post designed to educate and entertain, so I ask you to allow me some leeway with regard to precision. I’m happy to share the raw data with folks who want to see it but all I ask is you don’t toss it around willy-nilly.

[2] Not only did it have a title that included the word “algebra” but it was scheduled for 8:00 am on the final day (a Saturday, no less) of the conference. Surprisingly, people showed up – which says more about the sort of folks who attend RESNA conferences rather than anything about my “pulling power” as a presenter.

[3] There is a mathematical formula for the calculation of keyness values. One way is to use the Chi-Square statistic; the other is to use a Log-likelihood score, which is something like a Chi-Square on steroids. As I’ve often said, I didn’t become an SLP because of my ability to handle math and statistics, so I admit to finding these things a strain on my brain. However, for the non-statistically inclined among us, the point is that both these measures simply compare the frequency value of a word from an experimental sample against the frequency value it has in a very large comparative sample (such as the British National Corpus or the Corpus of Contemporary American), and then shows you how similar or dissimilar they are. If their frequencies are very, very dissimilar, the word from the experimental sample is a keyword – like iPad and AAC in the examples above. Now feel free to pour yourself a drink and let your brain relax.

Small Object of Desire: The Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen – and Keyword Vocabulary

Those who follow the Speech Dudes on Twitter (@speechdudes) may recall a mysterious tweet from December 28th, 2012, that referred to something called the Monteverde Invincia fountain pen.

Tweet from DecemberAnd those who are regular readers of this blog may vaguely recall that one of the Dudes has a passion for pens that marks him out as being either very old-fashioned, slightly quirky, or perhaps requiring of medication. But the Invincia is a pen of such style, charm, and delicious darkness that I’m guessing at least one of you out there will be ponying up the $75 just to get one of these wonderful objects of desire in your hand. Literally.

Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen

Monteverde Invincia Stylus

But first, because this is, after all, a blog written by SLP’s for other SLP’s, educators, language lovers, and all moms and dads with a curious bent, let’s talk a little bit about vocabulary.

In the field of augmentative and alternative communication, where the Dudes earn their daily crusts, it’s common to talk about words as being either core or fringe. Actually, up until five years ago, it wasn’t always that common but the proliferation of apps for tablets has seen the words core and fringe become almost essential to the marketing blurb of any of these apps – whether or not it’s true. Just tossing the words out doesn’t make an app a good communication tool, nor does copying what other folks have done and dropping it into a few pages make it any better. No, app creators need to learn what the words really mean before using them as sales jargon [1].

But if you are serious about creating a word-based solution, you can use the following definitions to help you in your quest:

Core Word: A word with a high frequency-of-use value that is also what you might expect to see statistically when you compare it to a large reference corpus.

Fringe Word: A word with a low frequency-of-use value that is also what you might expect to see statistically when you compare it to a large reference corpus.

Keyword: A word that has a higher frequency-of-use than what you might statistically expect when you compare it to a large reference corpus.

You’ll notice that I have purposely defined these as statistical phenomena and not as actual words that may be referred to as “useful,” “necessary,” “essential,” “uncommon,” or any other such subjectively nuanced adjectives. You’ve hopefully also picked up on the notion that there needs to be a “reference corpus” of some sort. The best reference corpus I suggest is one I like to call “the English language” because that is the thing that we all need to use in order to communicate with one another. So using the Corpus of Contemporary American or the British National Corpus is fair game. And when it comes to core vocabulary, you’ll find that even if you look at the small vocabulary lists that have been collected in the AAC field from different age group across different situations, you’ll find the same words are common to all [2].

If you’re already working in AAC, you may not be familiar with the use of the term keyword but it’s taken from the world of Corpus Linguistics and I find it a very useful concept to apply. For example, in the world of education, when folks talk about “core words” in relation to Core Communication Standards, they are really talking about keywords; the word vertex is a “core word” in math but is a keyword from an AAC perspective.

Keywords are words which are significantly more frequent in a sample of text than would be expected, given their frequency in a large general reference corpus. (Stubbs, 2010) [3]

So, let’s go back to my encomium [4] on the Monteverde Invicia Stylus pen and see what we can learn about core words, fringe words, and keywords.

The first thing is that the world of pens and paper has specialized vocabulary – or more specifically uses some words in specialized ways. This would be keyword vocabulary within the domain of “Fine Writing.” Thus, the word nib is statistically a fringe word when compared to a general vocabulary but becomes a keyword within the context of discussing fountain pens. In essence, keywords are typically domain-specific items and a sub-set of fringe.

To give you a feel for what keywords you might find, I did a quick(ish) analysis based on a 10,000 word corpus created from a popular blog about fountain pens and their use. Using WordSmith 6 software, I created a word list based on the text from the blog, then used the KeyWord facility to determine the top 2o keywords in the sample i.e. those words that were being used statistically more than you might expect when compared with a standard reference (and in this case, my standard reference is the British National Corpus).

The following “league table” illustrated keyword vocabulary in the domain of Fine Writing.

Keywords "Fine Writing"

Keywords “Fine Writing”

The words fountain and pen appear separately but when you look at the concordance data, the two actually appear typically as fountain pen, so I wouldn’t regard fountain itself a keyword – the keyword is the compound noun, fountain pen.  If I’d taken a few more minutes, I could have put the singular and plural forms together so we wouldn’t see separate entries for pen(s), ink(s), cartridge(s), converter(s), and color(s).

Knowing about such keyword vocabulary is, in fact, very useful. My enthusiasm for my new pen can be explained to you much more succinctly if I can use the keywords. For example, I recommend that if you want one of these pens, you are better off with the medium-sized nib because that will spread the ink out to facilitate clearly writing. Furthermore, since one of the great features of the pen is that it includes both a cartridge and a converter, knowing the words cartridge and converter is helpful! If I then explain that a converter is a small barrel that you can use to suck up ink from an ink bottle, you now know that by buying different inks you can choose which ink colors you’d like to have.

Vocabulary lesson aside, the pen is indeed a stylish addition to anyone’s fashion accessories. Its brushed metal, matt-black finish and fine ribbing give it a distinctive appearance with a hi-tech accent. Its darkness is reinforced by having a shiny black stainless-steel nib, which makes it look like the sort of pen Darth Vader might have used to sign the order authorizing the construction of the Death Star (“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side!”) or that Batman has somewhere on his utility belt (“Quick Robin, use the BatPen!”)

Pen showing internal converter

Pen showing internal converter

It writes smoothly and has the merest hint of a squeak as it glides across paper, which is not a bad thing in the world of fountain pens. It’s classed as a heavy pen (1.4 oz. or 4.0 grams) and so has a much more solid feel than some cheap, plastic ballpoint.

Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen nib

Even the nib is black!

To boost its hi-tech credentials even more, the cap is tipped with conductive rubber so it can be used with a capacitive touchscreen; in short, you can write on your favorite tablet device! I’ve tested it with the Galaxy Tab 7″ display, the 10″ display model (my favorite), the iPad 3 ,  a Motorola Droid 3, Microsoft Surface, and all have worked just fine.

Conductive rubber tip

Conductive rubber tip

There is a white version of the pen available but that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s the blackness that makes it sharp! And with a retail price of $95, it may sound steep to those who are new to the world of fountain pens. But you can get it from Amazon for $75, and other Internet sources are quoting $65, so there are deals to be had.

Long term, there are lots of different inks to choose from. Monteverde offer a range of inks but you should check out Glenn’s Pens where there is a good article on Fountain Pen Ink along with a dizzying array of brands and color options [5]. Another great resource is The Goulet Pen Company, where you’ll also find videos related to pens and paper.

Oh, and it you do buy the pen, drop us a note – then we know who we won’t be able to impress by whipping out our Invicia’s!

Notes
[1] And while we’re at it, there is a special place in the nine circles of Hell (possibly the 8th) reserved for anyone who claims their app is “intuitive,” “ground-breaking,” or, heaven forbid, “game changing.” If it takes me fifteen minutes and four or five keystrokes to find a word like already, and if there is no way for me to actually find it other than hitting key after key after key until  I stumble across it, you have NO right to talk about “intuitive,” “ground breaking,” or “game changing” – unless the “change” in question is to set AAC back 10 years by providing sub-par sops that do nothing more than provide a 10-minute solution that then requires hours and hours of fiddling to add all the stuff that was missing in the first place.

Just sayin’…

[2] If you want a list of a many vocabulary sources, there’s one available via this Dude Link! Link to list of vocabulary articles

[3] Stubbs, M. (2010). Three concepts of keywords. In M. Bondi and M. Scott (Eds.) Keyness in Texts: Studies in Corpus Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing: Philadelphia. Available via this Dude Link Link to article on keywords

[4] Here’s one of those wonderful words that deserves to be taken out of the box now and again, dusted down, polished up, and tossed into a sentence just to brighten up an otherwise lexically turgid day. The OED defines encomium as “a high-flown expression of praise.” It come, via Latin, from the Greek enkomion (ἐγκώμιον) and ultimately eulogia (εὐλογία) or “eulogy,” which means “praise.” And yes, the logia element does mean “speaking” and is the same root as logos meaning “word.” Only the Dudes would bring you Classical Greek and make it interesting!

[5] My favorite ink at the moment is made by Diamine and called “Syrah,” a splendid dark-red that looks particularly fetching against the ivory paper of my Quo Vadis Havana journal. I use it in my Cross Torero Bourdeaux Croc, which is a broad-nibbed red colored pen that lives in my travel bag.

Cross Torero Croc red fountain pen

The Dudes Do ISAAC 2012: Day 1. Of Puck and Patois

Shame on you, Wolfgang Puck. Shame, shame, shame! Were you drunk when you allowed the company that supplies coffee to the William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh to use you name on their product? Did you even taste this piss-poor slop before you signed the check? Like most of us, I’ve seen enough TV cooking shows to know that there’s no surer way to get booted out of Hell’s Kitchen than to admit to Chef Ramsey that you didn’t taste your food before serving it to the customer. I suppose this rule only applies to amateurs and hopefuls. Once you become a celebrity chef, you’re allowed to serve a dog turd so long as it has a fancy garnish, a clever name, and warm vomit drizzled around the edges of the plate. [1]

Wolfgang Puck coffee

Puck’s Signatue Swill

The Wolfgang Puck “Signature Blend” has about as much in common with coffee as King Herod had with childcare. The only reason I could come up with for brewing a cup of this brown, acrid sludge was to use as a dye to cover up minor scuffs on my shoes – although I’d still worry a little about what it might do to the leather.

I can accept that hotel coffee is not there to provide satisfaction but merely to offer a quick, although weak, shot of caffeine to tide you over until you can find some real stuff. However, there’s a point at which is is so bad that you can provide more customer satisfaction by not providing it all all.

The Puck coffee has the laughingly ironic tagline of “live, love, eat,” which I suggest, in the interest of truth in advertising, should be amended to “live, love, eat, then hunt down Wolfgang and force him to drink a bucket of his signature blend.” It really is that bad.

So it was fortunate indeed that the hotel had laid on a few pots of Starbucks coffee for the preconference session I was part of [2]. After a couple of cups and some orange juice, I was hopped up and ready to go by 8:00 a.m., not my choice of starting time for a Saturday morning session but I can’t always have my way.

The title was How Core Vocabulary Works In Five Languages, the specific languages being English, French, German, Spanish, and Mandarin. We slipped in a mention of Japanese but seeing as this is a work-in-progress, there wasn’t much to talk about other than that it’s a project.

Core vocabulary is made up of words that can be used across ages, clinical categories, topics, and situations. For example, that, want, mine, and in pop in a number of research studies that include data collected from toddlers [3] and pre-schoolers [4] to elderly women [5] and Australian fast-food diners [6]. From the non-AAC world, large scale corpora studies also show a high frequency predominance of a relatively small number of common words [7, 8, 9]. More interesting is the fact that the same words are represented with relatively similar frequency across all languages.

The main thrust of the day was to say that given we can identify core, high-frequency words in a language, these are the ones we need to focus upon as a major component of an AAC system: in short, teaching you and want is better than teaching hamster and umbrella. As I’ve said before – and will probably keep saying – this doesn’t mean hamster and umbrella are not important but that based solely on the objective data about word frequencies, there is more “bang for buck” to be had from you and want than hamster and umbrella. Words such as the latter two are not core words but fringe – words which are low in general frequency, appear in limited situations, and in specific populations. In a couple of days I’ll be posting a report on my next presentation which suggests we need a three-way classification; core words, key words, and fringe words.

Anyway, the take-away for the day was that focusing on teaching a high-frequency core of around 350 words is a much more productive intervention that a random set of 350 words that include a lot of low-frequency nouns.

Tomorrow is Sunday and a day of rest for the Dudes.

Perhaps…

Notes
[1] Essence du Chien with a remoulade d’emesis.

[2] Yes, I have ended a sentence in a preposition but this less formal than “…the preconference session of which I was a part.” Like splitting infinitives or starting sentences with prepositions, sometimes breaking style rules is fine, especially in the colloquial world of blogging. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Dudes won’t take a swipe at other folks who continue to consistently flout the rules.

[3] Banajee, M., DiCarlo, C. and Stricklin, C. (2003). Core Vocabulary Determination for Toddlers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19, 2, 67-73.

[4] Marvin, C.A., Beukelman, D.R. and Bilyeu, D. (1994). Vocabulary use patterns in preschool children: effects of context and time sampling. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 10, 224-236.

[5] Stuart, S., Vanderhoof, D. and Beukelman, D.R. (1993). Topics and vocabulary use patterns of elderly women. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 9, 95-110.

[6] Balandin, S., & Iacono, T. (1999). Crews, Wusses, and Whoppas: Core and Fringe Vocabulary in Australian Meal-Break Conversations in the Workplace. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 15, 95-109.

[7] The Lancaster-Oslo-Bergen Corpus (LOB): Hofland, S. and Johannson, K. (1984). Word frequencies in British and American English. The Norwegian Computer Centre for the Humanities: Longman.

[8] The British National Corpus (BNC): Leech, G., Rayson, P. and Wilson, A. (2001). Word Frequencies in Written and Spoken English: based on the British National Corpus. Longman: London.

[9] The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA): Davies, M. (2008-) The Corpus of Contemporary American English: 425 million words, 1990-present. Available online at http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/.

“Baby Happy, Baby Sad.” Words, phrases and clauses

I was fully intending to follow up the previous article on Guitarists called Steve with Captain Jack Sparrow and the Anchoring Bias but some recent Amazon shopping has resulted in my putting the pirates on hold. When I got back from the CSUN 2012 conference in San Diego last weekend,  my new set of board books written by Leslie Patricelli had arrived. For those unfamiliar with her work, she has a great web site at http://www.lesliepatricelli.com and I heartily recommend taking a peek. The site includes some cute little games, one of which, called Feed the Baby, allows you to try to test out “yummy” versus “yucky” things. Unsurprisingly, trying to feed a toilet roll to the baby is not “yummy,” but rest assured my grandson thought this was funny and worth getting wrong! iPad folks will have to be disappointed because the games are flash-based but if you are using an Android device, or a Windows-based tablet [1], you’re good to go.

The set I bought includes Baby Happy Baby Sad, Yummy Yucky, Quiet Loud, Big Little, and No No Yes Yes. Apart from the latter, they’re clearly focused on contrastive adjectives. Physically, they’re big enough and chunky enough for toddlers to pick up and open, with clear, simply, and whimsical images of a baby doings “things.”

Leslie Patricelli books

Leslie Patricelli books

So let’s take a look at one of these excellent offerings; Baby Happy, Baby Sad. Each facing page has a picture of the baby in a state of happiness or sadness with the text “Baby happy” or “Baby sad” with the image.

Pictures of sad and happy baby

Baby SAD baby HAPPY

What’s interesting about the vocabulary of the book is that it consists of three words; baby, happy, and sad. All are relatively high frequency items for young kids [2] and so good for teaching to youngsters with AAC needs. And with just these three words you can work at both phrase level and clause level language.

As Patricelli presents the words in written form, the two-word utterence is a likely representative for the sentence “The baby is happy” with a Subject + Complement clause and an assumed Verb missing.

Tree diagram for the baby is happy

The baby is happy

On the other hand, if you use the words “happy baby,” you’re now talking about a single Noun Phrase that’s a single clause element.

Tree diagram for the happy baby

The happy baby

It may seem like a small difference but you are able to use three words in two sequences to teach two different syntactic structures.

Another nice design feature of the books is that there is plenty of space to add picture prompts for clients using AAC devices. Here’s an example below where I added Pixon™ symbols [3] to the pages so that a kiddo could read along.

Using pixons with the Baby Happy Baby Sad book

Pixon-supported reading

You could, of course, use any symbol set you wanted, but it’s always best to focus on prompting for high frequency core words. As a bonus, the last two pages of the book add an extra words to the set: more. This is a very high frequency word – almost as core as it gets. It’s one of the 25 first words used by toddlers as found in the 2003 paper by Banajee, DiCarlo, and Strickland [4] and appears in all word lists [5].

If you’re working with folks who have some motor issues, there’s a cheap and easy way to adapt a board book for easier page turning; binder clips.

Binder clips

Binder clips

Depending on the size of the board book and your client’s hand, you can choose the clip size that best suits. Here’s an example of different-sized clips on my Baby Happy Baby Sad book:

Binder clips as page turners

Binder clip page turners

The wire handles on the clip can be removed if you only want to use one of them as the actual turning lever. The page below shows a clip with one of the handles removed.

Binder clip with handle removed

Clip wire removed

 
The clips, even without the wire handles, can keep the pages apart, leaving enough space for little fingers to be able to flip the page. You can also attach the clips at the top, side, or bottom of pages, so there’s some flexibility in how you adapt the book.

So, by printing out a few symbols and sticking them in the book, along with using binder clips if a client needs an adaptation, this one book can be used to teach core vocabulary, Adj+Noun phrases, and Subject-Complement clause structure. And that’s without adding the obvious word turn to the mix, incredibly useful if you want your client to direct others to do the physical page turning.

Notes
[1] I can’t resist mentioning that I’m currently playing with a special edition Samsung 12″ tablet running Windows 8 that delegates to the Windows 8 Developers Conference in August 2010 were given by those nice people at Microsoft. The accessibility features of Windows 8 were also highlighted at last week’s CSUN 2012 conference in San Diego, and you can check these out at this link: http://www.deaftechnews.com/2012/02/15/microsoft-introduces-new-accessibility-features-on-windows-8-video/

[2] They all appear in Raban, B. (1987). The spoken vocabulary of five-year old children.Reading,England: The Reading and Language Information Centre, and in Moe, A., Hopkins, C., & Rush, T. (1982). The vocabulary of first-grade children. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas. Happy and sad are also a good pair of opposites that can be taught together. Sadly the Raban book is out of print but if you contact Bridie Raban directly at the University of Melbourne, she may be able to send you electronic information. If enough people ask, maybe she’ll publish it again as an eBook… 😉

[3] The Pixon™ Project Kit is available from the AAC Institute at http://www.aacinstitute.org/Resources/ProductsandServices/Pixons/index.html

[4] Banajee, M., DiCarlo, C. and Stricklin, C. (2003). Core Vocabulary Determination for Toddlers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19, 2, 67-73.

[5] I’m taking a risk by making such a sweeping statement but all the lists I have to hand have more in them, so if anyone can cite a list that doesn’t include it as a “common word,” I’d love the reference.