Why syntax over morphology

Over the years of teaching and writing I have noticed how much more emphasis had been given to words (morphology) over sentences (syntax). Perhaps it is because sentences are mistakenly thought of as so much harder to pin down. When people see a sentence of twenty words they think of twenty things. Rarely do they think of the sentence as one thing. In my opinion, a sentence is a unit of complete communication. It is not the only unit to be considered complete. Words, of course, are considered (and taught as) complete units. Fair enough. We can use words out of sentence-context and still get some kind of meaning across, but just not very well. But because of the inaccuracy, it seems logical to work with the unit which best gives a “complete” meaning, instead of working with units which do not make a unit of communication. It is for this reason that I believe that syntax should be given priority in teaching and learning.

Beyond dialogue

With post-Periscope here we now have what can be considered not dialogue but what I shall call plura-logue

Conversations no longer static or deferred but dynamic and immediate. It is also dialogue with one and many simultaneously. 

How to set up and use iPhone VoiceOver for Periscope

Do you want to drive and Periscope at the same time but feel it is unsafe (let alone it being illegal in some places)? Well, there is a solution. It is called VoiceOver.


1. Set up VoiceOver
Firstly, go to
Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut
and check VoiceOver


2. Start a broadcast
Now start a Periscope broadcast as you normally do. Once you have set the orientation triple-click the Home Button. Tap once where the comments usually appear on the screen. All comments should now be read aloud as they appear.


3. To stop a broadcast
When you want a broadcast, stop VoiceOver by triple-clicking the Home Button. Then exit as you normally do.


Bonus – To tweak VoiceOver
You can change the voice and speed of the VoiceOver in
Settings > General > Accessibility > VoiceOver

Ben Crystal lectures in Japan

I heard Shakespearean actor, Ben Crystal, talk today. My interest in Shakespeare – which had wained with my miscomprehension or un-comprehension of it in my youth – had returned with the revelation that what I had been watching until now had been inauthentic. Ben had pointed out that modern performances had tended towards Received Pronunciation (RP) even though most of The United Kingdom (98% in fact) do not speak like the Queen. English is not the English of Lawrence Olivier. It is the English of ordinary folk. So watching Shakespeare done in RP is like watching it in another language altogether.

Modelled performances by Ben during the talk in the more natural pronunciation of English in Shakespeare’s time according to Ben meant a return to rhyme (lost in modern pronunciation of words), in a more natural tempo and rhythm (sounding more like the vernacular we recognise as native speakers), and engagement (actors spoke directly to the audience).

Some recent productions I have seen online have tried to return to these values (probably due to Ben and the Globe’s performances from 2005 onwards). These values, though, have always been there. You can still see it in the ordinary non-Shakespearean theatre of English. But the values were taken away (stolen as it were) by a small group some time in the history of the English stage performance. This revision and return is absolutely necessary if we are to appreciate Shakespeare on this day of all appropriate days – Shakespeare Day (23rd April) – once more. Bravo and thank you, Ben.

Published international research low by Japanese

Compared to the world growth in publishing at eighty-percent Japan is falling behind at just 14%. 

Figures given this morning showed exchange to America has fallen from the peak of over 47,000 students to under 19,000. Furthermore, money put into research has dropped dramatically. 

If Japan is to compete academically it will need to increase spending in exchange and research

A glossary of corpus types

There are many types of corpus depending on their use. Below is a list some of the main types.


diachronic – a corpus which looks at changes across a timeframe.

learner – a corpus of L2 learner writing of speech.

monitor – a type of diachronic corpus which may continue to grow with new texts added over time.

monolingual – includes only one language.

multilingual – a corpus with two or more languages.

parallel – a corpus with both a target language (L2) and first language (L1).

reference – a corpus to which other corpora are used to compare with, usually through statistical data analysis.

synchronic – a corpus that has been constructed at a certain time (like a snapshot) to represent a language.

raw – a corpus with no annotation.

tagged – a corpus with annotation (for example, Parts-Of-Speech tags).

target – a corpus that is compared to a reference corpus.

Dealing with long difficult to understand sentences

I have talked about the seven sentence patterns here. Those are all simple sentences. A simple sentence contains a single verb, that is, one clause. Complex sentences contain more than one verb, or two or more clauses.

An SVO sentence theoretically can have three clauses, having one each for the subject, verb and object. It is possible to have more clauses (and/or phrases) by adding optional elements like adjectives and adverbs. But the more clauses you add the more complex and difficult it becomes to understand what-is-what within a sentence.

It is advisable not to make add too many clauses to a sentence. If you do find you have created a long and difficult to understand sentence on your hands break it down to two or more shorter simpler sentences.

What is morphosyntax?

Morphosyntax is another word for grammar.

Grammar can be divided into morphology and syntax. Morphology is the study of words and their rules of formation. And syntax is the study of sentences and their rules of formation. Essentially, morphology and syntax are studies of the same thing – formation rules of a language – but at differing “levels”.

By calling it by the transparent term morphosyntax we are highlighting this dualism.

When we talk about word-formation (morphology) we use terms like

  • Noun
  • Verb
  • Adjective
  • Adverb
  • Pronoun
  • Determiner
  • Preposition
  • Conjunction

And when we talk about sentence-formation (syntax) we use terms like

  • Subject
  • Verb
  • Object
  • Complement
  • Adverbial

The term verb unfortunately has “double duty” for word-forming and sentence-forming. So when using the term be careful and clear to your reader/listener as to which meaning of the verb you are trying to convey.

Note also that the sentence-formation terms do not appear in dictionary definitions, indicating most clearly the idea that dictionaries are about words, and not sentences.

Philip Roth’s advice to (academic) writers

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” (1979)

Should it have been called ‘Brexit’?

As someone who works with words and like words I am always scrutinising it wherever I look. So I was curious as to why the referendum in the United Kingdom for whether to stay in the European Union or not was christened as Brexit, a portmanteau for ‘British Exit’ even before the vote had gone ahead. Does not the name assume that the outcome will be an exit?

Think half empty/half full.

Would the outcome have been to stay if the name bandied around was Bremain instead of Brexit?

Names, whether official or not, are important. They can change the perception of the object for not only individuals but entire societies as well. After all, language is a shared event. We used it to communicate firstly, and secondly, to consolidate our thoughts. So a term like Brexit with its posit-ive (as opposed to negat-ion) connotations will likely influence how one leans and then ultimately how one votes.