Linguistical Lies ~ Part 3

This is a blog that briefly covers chapter three of Linguistics: A Complete Introduction.

A Swiss Saussure sours my sureness.  Saussure is a famous erudite who helped push linguistics into a science.

Here is my interpretation of the events that transpired.

In the beginning, humans are alone in the womb.  The only sound is the moving liquid.  Our eyes are closed even if there is a twin next to us.  Later, a child sits in a classroom and receives attention.  The child goes from being one of one to one of thirty.  Still later, the child walks on the human wheel to be one of seven and a half billion.

In the beginning of history, writers knew only their own language.  They stumbled out of the crib to meet foreigners. Language was in a class only in Europe for a time.  It was a class of similar differences. Now, languages are a dime a dozen. Each claiming uniqueness like countries claiming  to have produced the inventor of the first radio.

The third chapter describes first the rise of the Structuralists and secondly the weak Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The language chairs went from arguing about words to arguing about the importance of structure. Secondly, Sapir-Whorf argued that thoughts are controlled by the language that we speak.

Am I smart because I know the word, erudite? Am I polite if my language is polite?  If my words come from an arbitrary place, then am I arbitrary?

Safely and wisely, most linguists agree with a weak form of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.




Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.


Snow Falling Up~Thought of the Day #9

I am into my first third of my career as an educator.  There have been thousands of bad classes, false starts, and ton of miscommunication.  Some of it is due to having my career in Asia.  Most of it is because of my failures.

Today I was sitting in a bus on the way home.  All of the signals were in a foreign language I barely understand. Snow was slowing falling.  I was wondering if my students understood my lessons.  I pondered if they understood my plans for them.

There in the distance was an old woman with a bent back digging through the trash.

The moment made me mad. Do I understand my lessons? Do I understand my students?

The snow has stopped falling.

Linguistical Lies ~ Part 2

There is nothing but the abyss…

What was the first language?  Why did language start? Who spoke it? Did multiple people start speaking in different places?  Did they speak different languages?

It is painful for some to admit that there are no answers.  Yet, an honest look at language leads to conclusion that something is amiss. Does this paucity of answers tell us something?

In the second chapter of “Linguistics: A Complete Introduction”, there is no clear answer to these questions. People who claim to know the first language have vested interest in maintaining power through language.

This disappointment is followed by another.  Where does language come from? Does it come from the nature or the gods? Does it come from our own minds?

First, Plato argues that nature comes from the gods in our own head.  This linguistic naturalism stated that words come from us intrinsically and rationally. Then this rationality was juxtaposed with empiricism that language with its arbitrariness came from the senses. Thirdly, Chomsky strikes back with the idea the humans are innately equipped to learn languages.

It is only a disappointment if you like answers.  Who doesn’t mind waiting 10,000 years to learn that the number 42 is the ultimate answer to the question of life, universe, and everything?

Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.

Preparing to fail by a Preview ~ Thought of the Day #8

Since I teach in Korea, I looked up common mistakes made by Korean EFL speakers.

This is a good list.

One that was missing was “Borrow/Lend”.  In Korean, they are the same word with a different ending.

Borrow is 빌려요.

Lend is 빌려주세요.

The root is the same.  My students always say, “Please borrow me a pencil?”

There are many more common mistakes.  This is why it is important to teach collocations with new vocabulary words.

I am sure that there is a book with a more definitive list of mistakes.  When teaching any language, teachers should be aware of these common mistakes.


Preparing to Fail again~Thought of the Day #7

My blog yesterday was about predicting mistakes made by nonnative speakers.  I went back today to one of my favorite books by Dr. Brown. Students of a second language make mistakes because of their first language.  This is called interference.  According to Brown (2014, pp. 72-73), this is much more pronounced in adult learners. I feel fortunate teaching children. I like reading Brown because of his simple and clear explanation of difficult topics.

I apologize that this blog rambles.


Brown, H. D. (2014). Principles of language learning and teaching: a course in second language acquisition. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education.

Prepare to Fail in order to Succeed ~Thought of the Day #6

While I was teaching possessive nouns, it was amazing how many different kinds of mistakes that a student can make.

  1. The mans’ tie is too big.
  2. The mens’ tie is too big.
  3. The creatures’ tail is long.
  4. The creature’s is long.

Mistake number 3 was my favorite.  It could be right.  There could be many different monsters that all share the same tall.

While it is obviously, I should prepare for common mistakes that students in my lesson plans.


Linguistical Lies ~ Part 1


I just read the first chapter to Linguistics: A Complete Introduction.

Originally, I planned that this blog would not be political.  It is best to avoid conflict in the classroom.  However, linguistics, the objective study of language, is by its very nature political.

People condemn other languages and over value writing.  Admittedly, I had an intro course to linguistics during grad school, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

Nietzsche once said, “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

This applies to linguistics. According to one cynic, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.  The arguments between what is a dialect and what is a language is so confusing that most linguistics just use the term language varieties.

Additionally, all grammar rules are arbitrary. This stings.  As an English teacher, I want things to make sense or to at least have a justification.  Nothing seems as boring as just saying it is because it is. This book points out that the rule against double negatives in sentences applies in English but not in Russian.  There is a history behind why English doesn’t allow double negatives but not an objective reason.

Another idea in the first chapter that made my jaw drop is how spelling works. For languages with graphemes writing systems, where symbols correspond with sounds, do not work because pronunciation changes faster than the writing can keep up.

There is so much to learn, unlearn, or at least not to unlearn. Please forgive my poor joke.


Hornsby, D. (2014). Linguistics: a complete introduction. London: Teach Yourself.