Sunday, October 28, 2012


Leverett, T. (2012). Review of Motivation and Second Language Acquisition: The Socio-Educational Model, by R. C. Gardner, TESL-EJ (TESL Electronic Journal), 16, 2, Sept.

This is an interesting review because this researcher is clearly tired of the general public's misuse or misunderstanding of what he calls "motivation". Motivation to him is not a reason to do things, but rather, only the juice you can successfully convert that reason into. So that, if have a good reason to study English for example, but you don't enjoy your classes, you cannot truly be called motivated, since you haven't converted your reason to a useful kind of energy.

Now this language of "converting" is entirely mine, but Gardner's point remains: motivation has to be measurable, and measurable in terms of what you do and feel in the activities that you are "motivated" to do, and just having a reason isn't worth much, since everyone has a reason. For example, everyone has a good reason to exercise, but only a few of us actually do it. So the reason isn't a "motivation." The "motivation" is measurable in that if I really want it, I will do it, report getting something out of it, and enjoy it.

Ah but you can't change the words people use, or what they mean by them, unless you have an extensive campaign or unless, by chance, thousands of people read your book and act according to your wishes. Well, this is a good start, maybe.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 26, 2012


You may notice a few changes in this weblog; ok, I admit it. I look at it, and look at it again, and, yes, I haven't changed its look since, what, maybe never. That's right: I started it in 2004, I took any old wrap, and then I kind of liked the pink-and-gray, and then, I just didn't do anything about it. For eight years, I've simply used this as a place to talk about what I've learned while teaching, or elsewhere. I've learned a lot; I've never had a shortage of things to say. It's a kind of record of what I've been interested in over the years.

These days I get requests for guest posts, or things that people make and write that they'd like seen by a wider audience. I'm not sure how wide my audience is; you can check by pressing that little green button below, but, since I've never done much to cultivate my audience, it's never really grown all that much. I decided at one point not to encourage traffic or make it any more commercial. For that reason, I'm sure, it's unusual in the world of blogs. There probably aren't many of these pink-and-gray template blogs around any more, for example, but I'm not even sure if people recognize it as simply ancient, unadorned. I welcome visitors and guest posters; I'm a little slower at creating my own content, in any case.

I'm redoing the links, the look, a few things about it, but I'm doing it slowly. For one thing, I had to admit finally that I've moved to Lubbock. OK, and let's get rid of some of these dead links. See if I can keep it at least current. Thanks for sticking with me!

Labels: ,

report from lubbock

I'm enjoying my new job in some ways; two out of the three things I do are entirely new. One of those, teaching Anthropological Linguistics to American students, is my dream come true. I review all the old masters, Saussure, Boas, Sapir, etc., and hit the more recent ones too, like Chomsky, and even a few I've never heard of, like Lucy & Silverstein.

This is important to me because basically I've been trying to write a book about Linguistics for years. I have a rather unorthodox view, but I'm not alone in it, and I want to put it in larger perspective. One of my problems is that I have very little training in Anthropology itself, and this class is helping me by forcing me to read textbooks and backup material. I know about Chomsky; I know Linguistics itself; I am having fun decoding languages like Cherokee and Mandarin Chinese. I have plenty of interesting stories to share from my experience with many cultures and many languages. In short, this part of the job is working out well.

An odd thing happened, though; my textbook had a tiny chapter on Enactionism, and when I looked it up, google switched me immediately to Enactivism, which is a biologically-based theory of cognition, so they say. Odd, both that the book (Foley, Anthropological Linguistics, 1997) would spell it wrong (and keep it that way), and that it remained, fifteen years later, for me to find and muse over. I'm using this site these days to muse about such matters; I'm not sure if I'll ever finish my book, or if I'll get sidetracked into a world of investigation of the human perception (which I need, actually). I may have found a new place to dig, but then, it may be late in the game to become an enactivist. I am, after all, retired. More on this later.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More from

Engineering The Internet

This infographic provided by

Friday, October 05, 2012

annals of y'all, continued

There is no question that we northerners hear singular "y'all" often down here in West Texas. A couple of examples will help. First, and this one is common: I'm standing alone at the schoolhouse entrance waiting for my children and a school official says to me, "How are y'all?" The answer is clear: We're fine, because she was clearly referring to me and mine, all of us, even though only I was present. OK, I have no problem with that. Second, I'm in a restaurant with a 7-year-old, and the waitress says, "Do y'all want some coffee," and I say yes, I do in order to emphasize that it's just me that wants the coffee, no thanks for the seven-year-old. I'm ok with this too: I'm still a stranger, she doesn't know if I have family, she'd rather assume lots of possibilities than assume I'm alone in this world. But the second time around, she says "Do y'all want cream with that?" and now, I feel like I've already told her I'm alone, she knows the seven-year-old doesn't want cream, etc.

In the lab yesterday morning I found the quote where there's nothing more likely to start another Civil War than a notherner telling a southerner that they use y'all singular. When I found that I pressed "print" and should have known that 37 pages would print out before it was over. The passage was interesting though, not least for its comments, in which people weighed in on other you plurals (my favorite "you'ns" as well as "youse") and their distributions. But it gave several interesting reasons worth chewing over that we hear so much of this. One is that since "y'all" is a mark of southerness, a northerner is more likely to hear it in any context as if to say, I'm southern, and we're in the south, and this is how we reach out to you. Another is that it's a mark of familiarity; one of its functions is to reach out and be friendly and polite; in that context it could be said that politeness and hospitality are clearly more pressing than details like singular/plural (this alone being a concept somewhat alien to northerners). So, it's not that y'all is singular, it's not, it's more that politeness trumps grammatical accuracy in some or many circumstances.

A fair swath of my class, maybe a third of about thirty people, said they only use "y'all" to mean plural. The article bears out that educated southerners generally say this, believe it, and for all we know follow it (one point made was that they argue passionately about it, generally opposed to the possibility of singular y'all, yet the facts don't bear them out; apparently there are plenty of people using singular y'all, for whatever reason, and these are very likely the same people). I have not heard these particular students use singular y'all, in opposition to their expressly stated rule, though I've challenged them to listen carefully. I have found some who admit to using it freely singular and plural, who interpreted it as singular/polite and used it for everybody, and some who aren't really sure.

Surprisingly, wait staff is a definite subculture for everyone. Waitresses and waiters have their own rules, because they deal with hundreds of people, have to be polite, and don't have time to worry about details of customers' personal lives. They talk about the "rhythm of working" and admit to using "y'all" much the same way as the waitress used it with me.

The author of the article pointed out other more serious problems with finding and tracking singular y'all, though: half the time we (even linguists who care passionately) don't really keep track of what we really say, and, the other half, we are in the role of hearer, or receiver, and don't really know what the speaker meant; presumably, even if we could ask, they might not know whether they were primarily motivated by grammatical accuracy, politeness, intimacy, southern pride, or whatever. I suspect, and this is the bottom line, really, that this is a case of rules that are in opposition: one says y'all is plural, the other says, when in doubt, be polite, and allow for other unseen people in the picture where you might not be familiar with them (the unseen spouse, for example). When asked about the rule (y'all is plural), there's no question: y'all is plural. If asked in another way, the answer might be different.

I have to relate a good story; four rough northern men are in a North Carolina diner. The waitress says to one, "Y'all want cream in your coffee?" to which he says, "how do I know if you mean just me, or all of us, since you said 'y'all'?" To which she replies, "If I'd a meant 'all-of-y'all, I would have said 'all-of-y'all'. Now, do y'all want cream or not?"

Back to our point: if y'all were so clearly plural, what would the point be of even having all-of-y'all?

On the national scene, I'd like to point out that you guys of my home dialect is doomed, a victim of literalism that no longer allows referring to any mixed group of males/females with a male pronoun of any kind. Youse and you'ns are clearly marked as "hick" (or "working-class" which is a kind of bizarre euphemism for "lower class" or as my student called it, "white trash". She was intimating that it wasn't the geographical association of "youse" that bothered her so much though as a waitress herself she didn't really care that much for Jersey manners or food snobbery. She was saying, she wouldn't or couldn't use "youse" because of that class marking alone, but, to her relief, living here offered her the opportunity to use "y'all" which can be done much more freely among all classes and at all levels of society. Sure, we know it's not formal English. But, our phones seem to know we are in Texas, and, if we leave out the apostrophe, my phone at least will supply it, and even put it in the right place.

Liberman, M. (2009). Singular y'all: a "devious Yankee rumor"? Language Log. Available 10-12.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

singular y'all

My class and I go back and forth a little about language; they're pretty much all from Texas, although I have one from Australia, and another from Italy, and a third from Albany NY which thank God lends me some credibility about Northernisms like "you guys." I ask them honestly what they mean by certain things and they usually tell me their true feelings.

So I said to them, I'm trying to figure out "y'all," and I really want to know how you feel and how you use it. I had introduced the topic once earlier when I said that when I typed "yall" into my phone my phone actually added the apostrophe as if it was a standard word and everyone should know how to spell it right.

But today I had read something by Mencken, of all people, who said something to the effect that out of 100 times you might hear it to refer to someone who is alone (it's common, for example, for people to say, 'how are y'all?' to people who are alone), it can be interpreted as a polite, you and yours, as in, 'how are you and yours?' (now this interpretation is very much in fitting with our Latin, Spanish/French roots where referring to you in the plural is always more polite than referring to you in the singular). But the 100th time, Mencken says, it's just plain singular, no two ways about it. There's no possible "you and yours" interpretation that could go with it. So I said to my class, what's up with that? Can it really be truly singular? I'm well aware of "all of y'all" which is a definitive plural, emphasizes the inclusiveness of a group. And locals are quick to point out that, although y'all easily moves from singular to plural (same way 'you' does), all-a-y'all is always plural.

No, says one, a student who I trust to think carefully and give a good answer. It's used in the singular, but it's polite, and it refers to the plural; its meaning is plural.

So it occurred to me that one reason to account for the other 1%, is that some people interpret the singular y'all is simply something you use for everyone, as a gesture of politeness; it's marked as polite, but not necessarily marked as plural. So there are a number of people around who go around calling everyone "y'all," not realizing that someone who didn't have a family might actually get offended.

And sure enough one woman said, after class, that she was a waitress, and was in the habit of calling everyone "y'all," when one day someone got offended; that person was overweight, and clearly alone in the world, or at least in the booth. And that customer assumed that "y'all" was a reference to his/her obesity, since there wasn't any other plural around.

Students were interested in what I had to say about "you'ns," "youse" and "you lot," other you plurals that are out there. In fact I have read a bit about them, but when it came to "y'all," I never quite understood the singular/plural controversy. Now, I'm surrounded by it (that, and "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" which I've reinterpreted as "polite"). I always tend toward polite and non-confrontational, as I explained to my students, so it's only a matter of time before I start in with some of this "y'all" and "all-a-y'all" as long as I can feel like I've figured it out well enough. We talked about other language changes: Ms., everyone and "their" book, etc. Some of my serious thinking about language and language change I'll put here as I'm trying to corral my thinking about linguistics in general and put it in one place. But, at the same time, I'm learning another language. Fixin' to learn it, anyway!

Labels: , , , , ,