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Review: David Crystal’s Book on Grammar

MAKING SENSE: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, by David Crystal
281 pp. Oxford University, $24.95.
Peter Sokolowski, NY Times: “The indefatigable linguist Crystal’s latest book, “Making Sense,” is a surprisingly entertaining historical and scholarly tour of the mechanics of English.
Grammar can seem as technical and off-putting as math or physics to many people who nevertheless can speak, read and write very well, and while some books on language prey on readers’ insecurity with lists of word-choice peeves and classist language shibboleths, Crystal efficiently punctures such snobbery.
His approach is to explain the points of grammar and their natural acquisition in the order in which a toddler develops language skills, a brilliant strategy that allows him to begin with the most basic concepts and build upon them while simultaneously exemplifying the descriptive nature of his work.
He illustrates the lingering “pernicious” effects of trying to fit the square peg of English into the round hole of Latin grammar, responsible for centuries of confusing information about how English works.
Discussions of semantics (what we are trying to say) and pragmatics (how we are trying to say it) give a more concrete nature to grammar, and are used effectively here to explain away the silly admonition against the passive voice in writing.
A primer on corpus linguistics and a short explanation of how our language evolved from Old English help complete Crystal’s masterly telling of why a living language’s grammar, like its vocabulary, is not only unfinished, it is unfinishable. One could not have a more genial guide for such a tour.”
Reading/Spelling tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021, or email

+ Summer School Tips from

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Here is a Web site — eNotes — for students and teachers:

eNotes offers study guides, discussion rooms and tutoring help.  If you sign up, they will send you useful emails. You can also follow eNotes on Facebook.

A recent email newsletter offers tips for surviving summer school.

  • Attend class — well, obviously.  But it’s especially important in the context of summer school, since classes progress much faster than during the regular school year.  Missing just one lesson can leave you substantially behind.
  • Read a little more each day — since these classes whiz by, the amount you have to learn is condensed into a shorter time frame.  So spend a little extra time studying every day.
  • Think positive — especially if you’re repeating a class, don’t be dejected.  You’re at an advantage, since you’ve got old class notes to review as well.  Info will sink in faster.  If you’re not repeating a class, remind yourself that you’ll be a step ahead when school begins in the fall.
  • Stay energized — summer can sap your energy, as will late nights.  Three hour classes are common.  So it’s very important to keep decent hours, eat right, get some exercise.
  • Don’t suffer in silence — voice your questions to the instructor, confirm information with your peers.  Go to eNotes as well for help.  If you’re writing an essay, eNotes offers an Essay Lab.

Check out eNotes.  Lots of material is freely available.  For a six month or a year’s subscription you will find  a depth of resource material at your fingertips.  Cool benefit —  every month in 2012 eNotes is giving away a Kindle Fire.

Find eNotes on Facebook to enter: .  Just “like” them and then answer this question:  “In the spirit of July 4th, what book embodies the “great American novel” in your opinion, and why?

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email 

+ Linguists Say Girls are Pioneering Vocal Trends

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Douglas Quenqua in the NY Times reports that linguists are far from calling the “Valley Girl” trend called uptalk and the use of “like” in sentences as markers of immaturity and stupidity.

They are now explaining that young women use these embellishments in much more sophisticated ways than people realize.

Says Penny Eckert, professor of linguisitcs at Stanford

A lot of these really flamboyant things you hear are cute, and girls are supposed to be cute.  But they’re not just using them because they’re girls.  They’re using them to achieve some kind of interactional and stylistic end.

In December, researchers from Long Island University published a paper in The Journal of Voice.  From an admittedly very small sample — recorded speech from 34 women ages 18 to 25 — they found evidence of a new trend among female college students: a gutteral fluttering of the vocal cords they have called “vocal fry.”

Vocal fry is best described as a raspy or croaking sound injected (usually) at the end of a stentence.  Says Quenqua, it can be heard when Mae West says “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime;” or when Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live imitates Maya Angelou.

Nassima Abdelli-Beruh, a speech scientist at Long Island University, says we shouldn’t scoff.  “They use this as a tool to convey something.  You quickly realize that for them it is as a cue.”

And another linguist, Carmen Fought, professor at Pitzer College, says “If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional or even stupid.  The truth is this: Young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.”

“It’s generally pretty well known that if you identify a sound change in progress, then young people will be leading old people, and women tend to be maybe half a generation ahead of males on average,” according to Mark Liberman, linguist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Why Women?

Some linguists suggest that women are more sensitive to social interactions and hence more likely to adopt subtle social cues.  Others feel women use language to assert their power in a culture that has asked them — in days gone by — to be sedate and decorous.  A third theory is that young women are simply given more leeway by society to speak flamboyantly.


It is well established that female vocal fads eventually make their way into the general vernacular.  Starting in the 1980s in America (after possibly emigrating from Australia), “uptalk” was common among Valley Girls. 

In the past 20 years, uptalk has traveled up the age range and across the gender boundary, according to David Crystal, a longtime professor of linguistics at Bangor University in Wales.  “I’ve heard grandfathers and grandmothers use it.  I occasionally use it myself.” 

The same can be said for the word “like,” when used in a grammatically superfluous way, or to add cadence to a sentence.  It has found its way into Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, which explains that people use ” like” in a sentence “apparently without meaning or sytactic function, but possibly as emphasis.”

“Like” and uptalk often go hand in hand. There are studies that show uptalk can be used for many purposes, and sometimes to dominate a listener.

Cynthia McLemore, linguist at Penn, found that senior members of a Texas sorority used uptalk to make junior members feel obligated to carry out new tasks. (“We have a rush event this Thursday?  And everyone needs to be there?”)

Vocal fry, also known as “creaky voice,” has some history.  Dr Crystal cited it as far back as 1964, when he noticed it was a way for British men to denote their superior social standing.

In the United States it has been gaining popularity since 2003, when Dr. Fought detected it among the female speakers of a Chicano dialect in California.

Actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon have used creaky voice when portraying contemporary American characters (“Shallow Hal,” “Legally Blonde”). 

What does it denote? Ikuko Patricia Yuasa, lecturer in linguistics at UC Berkeley, calls it a natural result of a woman lowering her voice to sound more authoritative.

But it can also be used to indicate disinterest, which teenage girls are fond of doing.

According to Dr. Liberman,

It’s a mode of vibration that happens when the vocal cords are relatively lax, when subvocal pressure is low.  So maybe some people use it when they’re relaxed and even bored, not especially aroused or invested in what they are saying.

Dr Eckert says that language changes very fast, however.  Most people — particularly adults — will almost surely make mistakes when they try to divine the meaning of new forms of language used by young women.

“What may sound excessively ‘girly’ to me may sound smart, authoritative and strong to my students.”

For Douglas Quenqua’s article:

Note: Every Tuesday the NY Times has a Science Times insert, chock full of great reports from the world of research as well as little known facts to intrigue any student!

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email

+ Generating Ideas “Outside the Box”

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Great article in the Times this morning on creativity:  Suntae Kim, Evan Polman and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks wanted to know if there is any psychological truth to metaphors such as “think outside the box,” and “on the one hand; on the other hand…”

Researchers had already found that someone holding a warm cup of coffee tends to perceive a stranger as having a “warmer” personality.  Other studies have shown that if a person is holding something heavy, they tend to view things as more serious and important… more “weighty.”

But the authors asked 102 undergraduates at NYU to complete a task designed to measure innovative thinking.

The type of task was to (for example) generate a word (“tape”) that related to three clue words: “measure,” “worm,” and “video.”

Some students were randomly assigned to do this while sitting inside a 125-cubic-foot box that we made of plastic pipe and cardboard.  The rest got to sit and think outside (and next to) the box.

…We found that those thinking outside the box were significantly more creative: compared with those thinking inside the box, they came up with over  20 percent more creative solutions.

 In another study students were asked to think of original used for particular objects made of Lego blocks; but they had to do it while walking along a fixed rectangular path indicated by duct tape on the floor — marking out an area of about 48 square feet.  Other students were allowed to walk as freely as they wished.

They found striking differences.  Those who walked freely  were better at generating creative uses for the objects — coming up with over 25 percent more original ideas.

Such creativity was assessed in terms of fluency (the number of ideas generated) flexibility (the number of unique categories that described the generated ideas), and originality (as judged by independent raters).

On the one hand…

The researchers found that something similar happens when thinking about a problem “on one hand and then on the other.”

 Forty undergraduates from the University of Michigan were asked to lift and hold a hand outstretched (“as you might when addressing an audience from a stage”) while generating novel uses for a new university complex.

Some were asked to lift just one hand.  others were asked to switch between hands.

Among students who were allowed to switch hands (literally on the one hand, on the other hand) they found a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of uses generated.

The authors feel they are close to finding some sources of creativity.  

By showing that bodily experiences can help create new knowledge, our results further undermine the strict separation between mind and body — another box that has confined our thinking for a long time.

Additionally, the authors say, even though researchers are only starting to grasp how catch-phrases shape how people think, it may now be possible to prescribe some novel suggestions to enhance creativity.  For instance, perhaps if we’re performing a job that requires some “outside the box” thinking — it may be literally a good idea to avoid working in cubicles.

Suntae Kim is a doctoral candidate and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks is an associate professor, both in management and organizations, at the University of Michigan.  Evan Polman is visiting assistant professor of management and organizations at NYU.

For the entire article, visit,%20Evan%20Polman&st=Search

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email

+ Read and Write Side by Side With Your Child

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Rebecca Alber blogs at the edutopia site, and says students need to know that we also struggle with writing. 

She is writing for teachers.  But parents should model reading and writing as well.

So — as your children work on their own reading or writing, let them see you writing — so they can see that you, too, “get tongue-tied and run out of things to say.” 

Share with them the knowledge that you repeat yourself too.  You  forget words even though we’ve used them in the past.  You change your mind halfway through  a page and want to start over with a new topic.  

Your child needs to know that writing isn’t always easy for you — just as it isn’t easy for them.

And Albers says modeling reading is just as important.  It sends this message:

I like to read.  I don’t just tell you this and [monitor] how much you read.  I read side by side with you.  You see my facial expressions as I struggle to understand something difficult and you see when I feel emotion at a sad or funny part.  I am a reader, too.

This modeling for young people of your love — and struggles — as a reader and writer can help them understand that even for an adult who reads and writes all day, these task continue to be challenging.  

But you can show them that you find reward and delight in the process.  As they will, too. 

For Alber’s post, and much more at the site, visit

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email

+ Abnormal Auditory Processing Underlies Dyslexia

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From Science Daily, a report indicating that people with dyslexia may be impacted by an abnormality in auditory processing.

Experts have long known that the inability to accurately decode and identify what they read is a result of speech processing problems.  But the basis of that disruption and how it interferes with reading comprehension had not been fully explored.

But now, new reasearch published in the December issue of the journal Neuron suggests that a specific abnormality in the processing of auditory signals accounts for the main symptoms of dyslexia.

Senior study authors are Dr. Anne-Lise Giraud and Frank Ramus of the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, France.

According to Giraud, everyone has been in agreement that for a majority of dyslexic children, the main cause is related to a deficit in the processing of speech sounds.  And also well established is that  there are three main symptoms of this deficit:

  • difficulty paying attention to individual speech sounds,
  • a limited ability to repeat a list of pseudo-words or numbers,
  • and a slow performance when asked to name a series of pictures, colors, or numbers as quickly as possible. 

However, the underlying basis of these symptoms had not been elucidated.

Giraud and her colleagues examined whether an abnormality in the early steps of auditory processing in the brain, called “sampling,” is linked with dyslexia.  They focused on the idea that an anomaly in the initial processing of phonemes — the smallest units of sounds that can be used to make a word — might have a direct impact on the processing of speech.

What they found is that typical brain processing of auditory rhythms associated with phonemes was disrupted in the left auditory cortex of dyslexics.  This deficit correlated with measures of speech sound processing.

Further, they found that dyslexics exhibited an enhanced response to high-frequency rhythms that indirectly interfered with verbal memory.

It is possible that this “oversampling” might result in a distortion of the representation of speech sounds.

Girard says

Our results suggest that the left auditory cortex of dyslexic people may be less responsive to modulation at very specific frequencies, which is potentially detrimental to their verbal short-term memory abilities.  Taken together, our data suggest that the auditory cortex of dyslexic individuals is less fine-tuned to the specific needs of speech processing.

Visit the Science Daily article, which is aggregated and has no byline, to locate citations:

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email

+ Two Very Different Classes Read “Of Mice and Men”

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In a state — New Jersey — largely stratified by race and wealth, students in Westfield say they live in a privileged bubble, while Plainfield students are nearly all black and Hispanic, two-thirds being poor enough to qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Winnie Hu, in the NY Times, writes that when the eighth-grade class at Roosevelt Intermediate School in Westfield read Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” they spoke mostly about the loneliness of a minor white character known as Curley’s wife.

A Plainfield eighth grade class opened to the same chapter but spent most of the hour on the sole black character, Crooks.

The classic 75-year-old novel is about two migrant workers desperately seeking their own land.

These two sets of students are engaged in an unusual literary experiment.  They are collaborating in a study of the book with the  intention of learning lessons “between the lines” of Steinbeck’s prose.

Today, the day after Martin Luther King’s birthday, 130 of the eighth graders who have been reading Steinbeck side by side and trading questions Wikispaces, Skype and visits to each others’ schools, students are gathering for a final chapter in this project, which hopes to teach them as much about themselves as about Lennie and George.

Matthew Kalafat, Westfield teacher, tells students “If you become experts in Steinbeck, beautiful, but that’s not my goal.  This is just a tool to get us to understand our world.”

In one Westfield lesson, after students were introduced to the black character Crooks, many were less sympathetic to Curley’s wife after she threatened to lynch Crooks.

Mr. Kalafat asked whether Curley’s wife was being unfairly judged by the migrant workers.  Were the students judging her unfairly?

Westfield and Plainfield are linked by a railroad line but not much more.  In a lesson on November 21, Plainfield students were asked to describe Westfield.  “Snotty,” they said.  “Rich. Clean.  Fantasy.”

Westfield students, asked to describe Plainfield, said “fried chicken; hair salons; ghetto; gangs.” 

 A Plainfield student who had never stepped foot in Westfield said he was struck by the differences between the two school buildings: Roosevelt in Westfield was three floors to the single floor at Plainfield’s  Cedarbrook .  Roosevelt offered more choices in the cafeteria as well. 

He said “I didn’t see any African-Americans there.  I actually haven’t been to a school like that before.”

At that first meeting, over Steinbeck and sandwiches, students found connections.  Winnie Hu, in the article, writes that

They love the same music (hip-hop), though not necessarily the same clothes (Banana Republic in Westfield, Aeropostale in Plainfield).  The strive to have friends and go to good colleges.

“When I went to their school, I thought it was going to be really boring,” said Kennedy Adams, 14, of Plainfield.  “But then they started to actually talk to me, and I understood they were going through the same things I’m going through.

Adams said he’s now linked to 10 Westfield students on Facebook, and he attributes that to “this book.”

Those in Westfield said the project gave them a glimpse into a different world right on their doorstep.  They noted that it taught them more empathy.

As part of the exchange, each student made a “dream board” of goals and aspirations to be shared with the group today. 

One Westfield student dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and living in a big house.  Another wants to go into medicine and make a lot of money. 

Plainfield students wrote about finishing high school.  They want to land college scholarships.

A Westfield student noted that “We were all shooting for the stars, and they just wanted to get out of town.”

Derrick Nelson is the assistant principal at Roosevelt in Westfield.  He grew up in Plainfield, and has taught in that district.  When he moved to Westfield, his former colleagues teased him about sitting in an office, “drinking tea all day.”

Nelson teamed up with a longtime friend and Cedarbrook’s former principal, Frank Assante, to develop the project.

For the entire NY Times article, visit

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021 or email