Constituent, adverbial, and the prepositional phrase

Consider the following sentence:

(1) He is at the station.

We could ask

(2) Where is he?

and we may also ask:

(3) He is at what?

or

(4) What is he at?

However (3) and (4) are marked in the linguistic sense. (2) seems the more natural question form. Consider (5):

(5) He is there.

We are no longer able to ask (3) or (4). This shows that at the station in (1) is equivalent to there in (5). It is a constituent, an adverbial to be exact, and in (1) a prepositional phrase more precisely.

How to pronounce “Reiwa”?

The first recorded instance of “Reiwa” used was at the announcement of the new era name on April 1st (no joke).

Cabinet minister Suga Yoshihide pronounced it as REI-wa. People working in the television industry have said they also pronounce it as REI-wa because that was the way it was announced, but the pronunciation will probably gradually change to rei-WA as it is used more and more in sentences where the stress with the year number following the era name is more efficient.

The same kind of pronunciation shift was observed with the Showa era (1926-1989) name.

Using Leio app for research

There re many a times when I know I read something somewhere but forget where I had read it. Searching through all the books or articles that I think it might be consumes a lot of time and energy, that is, until I found the app, Leio.

While Leio is not designed for research but reading, the quote function is quite useful for research purposes. For this reason, some of the one has to work around certain things (search for a book once you move onto another one), or ignore certain features (don’t use the reading timer feature). Being able to find related research quotes across several sources has not been easier now that I can do this through Leio.

These are the steps I use Leio:

  1. scan the ISBN barcode
  2. scan the quote
  3. enter page number
  4. search the quotes and notes

Now this means I will have source quotes from books with pages in a kind of database. Searching keywords then means I no longer have to work by notes from a particular book, but from relevant quotes across several sources. No other app can do this without becoming over-bloated with data.

Relevant links twitter; iTunes.

Motivation for learning a language

Did you know that in Japan English is a compulsory subject from Junior high school, from around the age of twelve. And soon this will be lowered to from ten years of age, starting at elementary fifth grade. And they continue until high school. Plus they do two years at university, giving students a total of more than six years of English language education.

Yet, without exaggeration, the majority will finish without being able to speak English with any level of proficiency.

But this problem is not unique to the Japanese. Language learners in other countries or even learners of other languages in Japan face the same conundrum.

For a while now I have been trying to learn Norwegian. The motivation for it comes from online friends from Norway that I have made and the desire to learn about their language and culture.

Yet I have no use for Norwegian apart from this one reason. My daily use of it is low – from no use to a handful of greetings at best. There is no real need for Norwegian for me apart from it being a limited-opportunity social connector. So the motivation to spend time learning it is also low.

In some ways this is also the same for the Japanese and their motivation for learning English. The opportunities to use the language are simply not there. Either learners have to make their own opportunities, or the entire society has to change. And the former seems the (much) more feasible.

As I had said if making connections with people is the only motivation then my drive for learning it will not last very long. One reason is I can just go to a translation service like Google Translate or a good old-fashion dictionary, electronic or paper. But if I was interested in one or more aspects of the culture of the target language then I am forced to study it like an ordinary subject, like mathematics, geography, film studies. No longer does this exclusively require only people of the target language/culture but other sources can be relied upon – places, literature, artefacts.

Coming back to my Norwegian, I have yet to discover something of its culture that will motivate me to want to learn the language more. I have more motivation to learn French and German because of interests in its philosophical tradition (Foucault, Barthes, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Deleuze for French and Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Hegel, Heidegger for German).

So now I must sit and think – what will motivate me to learn Norwegian?

Is not good communication about saying the right things and asking the right questions?

In Sperber and Wilson’s Relevance (ISBN9780631198789) they quote the following in discussing the idea of mutual knowledge:

On Wednesday morning Ann and Bob read the early edition of the newspaper, and they discuss the fact that its says that A Day at the Races is showing that night at the Roxy. When the late edition arrives, Bob reads the movie section, notes that the film has been corrected to Monkey Business, and circles it with his red pen. Later, Ann picks up the late edition, notes the correction, and recognises Bob’s circle around it. She also realises that Bob has no way of knowing that she has seen the late edition. Later that day Ann sees Bob and asks, ‘Have you seen the movie showing at the Roxy tonight?’ (Clark and Marshall 1981: 13)

Here are the facts in the order of action:

  1. they both saw the morning edition of the newspaper
  2. they have discussed the movie showing that night
  3. Bob knows the movie has changed and circled it in the late edition newspaper
  4. Ann saw the circled changed movie name in Bob’s absence
  5. Ann knows Bob does not know she saw the late edition newspaper in which Bob circled the changed title being screened
  6. She asks, ‘Have you seen the movie showing at the Roxy tonight?’

To be honest, if Ann had been a good communicator would she not just have added an extra statement, ‘I saw the movie showing now is Monkey Business. Have you seen it?’

Was there any reason not to say she knows the newspaper listing has been corrected? Is there a reason why Ann decided not to acknowledge her own knowledge of the change with a simple statement?

The idea that sparsity of language equates to efficiency of language is wrong. Perhaps in poetry economy is valued. But in normal everyday communication such checks can be done without much disturbance to efficiency. In fact adding the extra statement may help in avoiding any misunderstanding.

And why would not Bob confirm with her that they are talking about the same movie? Why not just reply, ‘You mean Monkey Business? No, I haven’t’. That would save Ann, Bob, the authors – Sperber and Wilson – and us readers a lot of grief and pain.

Agent

Just remember this: the agent of a sentence is the one doing the action of the verb. Consider the following sentences:

(1) The car struck the fence.
(2) The fence was struck by the car.

In both (1) and (2) it is the car that is doing striking, even though in (2) it is NOT the subject. It is the subject that does the action of the active sentence, and the noun of the prepositional phrase in the passive (if the sentence has a prepositional phrase at all) that is the agent.

The linguistic sign

Saussure pointed to that language is mistakenly thought of as a matching of a thing to a name. To him the link is between a concept (signified) and a sound pattern (signifier). The signified is its meaning and the signifier is the “container”. The two together makes the linguistic sign.

The linguistic sign has two characteristics. One is that the link between signified and signifier is arbitrary. There is no natural link or reason that the concept should connected to its “container”. Secondly, the signifier is linear temporally and physically. It is a thing in its own right.

Furthermore, the value of a sign is summarised thus:

A language is a system in which all elements fit together, and in which the value of any one element depends on the simultaneous coexistence of all the others.

And so, “in the language itself, there are only differences“.

Reference: Course in General Linguistics, Saussure.

The origin of English words

About 85% of words in the English language are from three languages – Germanic, French and Latin. 12% are from Greek and other minor languages like Chinese and Japanese. About 4% are proper names.

Different languages had influence on English at different periods in history. Latin was the language of the Church. French came with the Norman conquest, etc.

Finally, these numbers are counting types (dictionary-like count of entries of words) and not actual usage of words (frequencies of individual words).

Active vs. passive sentence structures

One of the reasons (there are many reason but this is just one) why we would like to change an active sentence into a passive one is because we would like to bring the object of the sentence into focus. Consider these sentences:

  1. My brother was hit by a car.
  2. A car hit my brother.

The focus on my brother is far more important than that of the car. So it would seem logical to put my brother in the subject position of the sentence, as in 1. The subject position should be seen as being reserved for more important information, or be the focus of the sentence. So if the sentence becomes a passive structure let it be so if it is appropriate. But when the choice of active or passive is an equally valid one, choose the active. The active is usually clearer and more efficient.

Actants

In any English sentence there are either zero, one, two or three actants.

Actants are the “participants” of the sentence. They are either people or things. In (1) below the action of “to rain” itself is the “zero” actant.

(1) It is raining.

“It” is the dummy subject.

In (2) and (3) the subjects “Peter” and “Charlene” are the actants respectively.

(2) Peter is swimming.
(3) Charlene is a teacher.

In (2) the act itself is performed by the subject “he”. In (3) “Charlene” and “the teacher” are one and the same person. Only one actant is involved in the description of the situation. In (4) and (5) below there are two actants. In (4) they are “Dave” and “the ball”. In (5) they are “the people” and “Hilary”. Since “Hilary” and “he president” are one and the same person we do not count the president as an actant.

(4) Dave kicked the ball.
(5) The people made Hilary the president.

In (6) we have three actants.

(6) Tony gave Leslie a presnet.

They are “Tony”, “Leslie” and “a present”.

Technically, it is possible to have more actants (and more than likely some languages do) but in English our limit seems to be three. More complex sentences will be simple sentences in disguise.