Friday, February 22, 2013


I'd like to open up these questions to a worldwide audience who might have the answers. I became genuinely curious when one of my students showed me a huge alphabet of maybe a couple hundred Japanese emoticons that were easily loaded right onto his phone. An entire novel, Emoji Dick, was written in emojis, and people are presumably stringing together whole sentences with emojis and actually reading them. So here are my questions:

1. Is this just a fad? In other words, will people stop actually making entire sentences with them (or rather, fade back into doing what's easier), or will people move into these emojis as a new language, work it out, and start fresh with a new batch of symbols, that they presumably agree upon?

2. My friends say that emoticons are very common here, at the rate of maybe one per text, especially to prevent having texts seen as sarcastic, and to add or express emotion that would otherwise be hard to discern in a text. But by and large Americans don't seem to be using five, ten, fifteen of them in a row as say Japanese do. OK, so what's the difference really? Is everyone worldwide using them by the bucketful and I just don't know it? Are there common meanings across cultures (aside from smiley face and frowney face, which I presume have about the same meanings everywhere)? Is there something about the Japanese language or culture that encourages more use of emoticons, or, is just more taken by fads?

3. Finally, what are the chances that, worldwide, people could come up with an emoticon language that everyone would understand and be able to use? Interesting idea, huh?

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new media articles

Arana, G. (2013, Jan. 10). Creaky Voice: Yet Another Example of Young Women's Linguistic Ingenuity. Atlantic. Creaky Voice: Yet Another Example of Young Women's Linguistic Ingenuity. Accessed 2-13.

Marcotte, A. (2013, Feb. 19). U R Soooo Going to Tweet Like a Girl Soon :). XX Factor. U R Soooo Going to Tweet Like a Girl Soon :). Accessed 2-13.

Sadovskaya, A. (2013, Feb. 18). Texting indecision mitigated by smileys. Michigan Daily. Accessed 2-13.

Doll, J. (2013, Mar.). Why drag it out? Atlantic. Accessed 2-13.

Hamilton, F. (2013, Feb. 1). New Media destroying the art of writing? Don’t make me LOL. Varsity. Accessed 2-13.

Anker, J. (2013, Jan. 24). Panda, gun, gift: Why emojis are everywhere now. HLN. Accessed 2-13.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lost art of reading

As a teacher of American students now, I am in a different position than I used to be. I used to do any trick I could to get my internationals to actually read; we'd find interesting content, and I'd find interesting articles, and I'd test the articles carefully to ensure that they'd actually read them.

Now, however, my primary obligation is to the content itself. Forcing them to actually read the book is possible, but it's not the easiest option, or even the ideal one. Most of them, I suspect, know how to read, but consider it hard work that they'd rather not do. If my test were based entirely upon the reading, they would knuckle down, do it, then grumble at me, I suspect. In other words, they are veterans at getting their teacher to tell them what they need to know so that they can use their time more effectively, and not read. I feel to some degree like I've been tricked, or taken for a ride.

You wonder why students don't know the difference between you're/your or their/there/they're. Or seize/cease or a million others. I think it's because they don't read enough, but they don't read enough because people like me let them back out of it. So why am I allowing it?

Because, in my present position, my obligation is to the content. I want them to know the stuff. If I had to play games to force them to read it, they would forget it soon after, and we both would lose. Better to just tell it to them, make it interesting, make it stick in their minds.

I find a direct correlation between the stuff I mention, and the stuff they get right on the tests. The more I mention it, the more they get it. If I leave it to reading, maybe one or two out of twenty gets it. That's a pitiful average. And these are high achievers, good students, generally high-ranking. The lower ones are getting even less. It could be that the good ones shoot for a familiarity with the text so that when I mention something, they know where to find it. Thus, they develop selective reading skills, and save themselves a lot of work.

I figure this is going on in some form or another all over campus. I am not unique in this regard. Actual mastering a textbook-like big thing is quite difficult. Very few are actually doing it. Some are buying the book, though. Maybe they have plans for the distant future, when they have time.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

2013 report: Developments in the grammar software world

I've been doing a lot of research in preparation for my upcoming TESOL presentation, Grammar technology: for better or worse, and I have a few informal comments about my conclusions. It's a huge field, and I have half a mind to write a book about it, since nobody else seems to be doing it. But it's developing the world quickly, and changing the language, so there is a lot to say.

First, I've come to like Grammarly, for a number of reasons. At first, like many ESL/EFL teachers, I considered most technological interference to be damaging to our students, based on my observations, and as a grammarian I was critical of their claims that couldn't always be carried out and in fact led people astray quite often. By the way there is no shortage of grammarians who are willing to point out how and where they might have gone wrong in trying to interpret and correct someone's errant grammar, but that's not my point; of course they are imperfect. So is the elephant in the room, Microsoft Word's grammar-check, which is automatically loaded onto word programs and thus is an ubiquitous contributor to all writing products. Word's grammar-check needed some competition, and got it, and now both of them are improving, and thus we approach, slowly but surely, a situation where grammar-correction programs get a lot of things right most of the time. We no longer see non-words in writing; we no longer see subject-verb matching errors. These programs actually teach people some grammar some of the time; we teachers have a hard time admitting that.

The reason I like them is that they were basically a couple of Ukranian guys (I think) who had a good idea, and got a wealthy venture capitalist to back them; they planned and set up this company by themselves, put a huge investment of time and money into it, and jumpstarted it to where it is now. They made one of their headquarters Kiev, presumably so they could keep their families there while they ran this new business. Their other center is on Market Street in San Francisco, but they are very active online (where they make Facebook memes and spend thousands on Google Adwords); their investment is huge but it was timed well and they are now a major force in the grammar-correction business (I read somewhere recently that businesses already pay $3 million a year on grammar correction - don't quote me on that, because I've lost the reference, but it's a huge amount, and it's mainly because businesses care about how things appear. I think their idea to get computers to perfect the grammar-correction process is noble, and it's already being done by Word anyway; it has certain and not necessarily good effects on the language, but that's not their problem; and, I think if someone has a good idea, at some point we should just recognize that and admire them.

So what else is there to report? First, my presentation itself has gotten some interesting reactions, such that I've concluded that it's much like marriage itself, which it's named after. Many people consider that good grammar technology will simply solve all their problems, much like marriage; they say, basically, show me the software and let's get this over with. They're tired of grammar always getting in the way of their students' trying to say what they want, and they have absolutely no problem with simply getting grammar technology to simply solve this problem. The other ones, of course, complain so bitterly that they are ready to teach writing absolutely without technology, without even a computer, without Word grammar-check, or especially without the constant translating of whatever phone/electronic dictionary students happen to be using. These teachers are ready for a divorce (from technology) and aren't in much of a mood to negotiate. They are basically sick of the technology actually impeding the writing and impeding our ability to figure out what our students meant. And they have some justification for their outrage; technology has at the very least made the whole process of teaching writing much more complicated. If technology has taught them to not trust themselves, you have to rebuild that trust. If it has taught them that passives should be ironed out at all costs, you have to explain what that's all about and hope they believe you over their little tech coach/advisor. If they live and breathe with a translator by their side, you have to adjust to that somehow. There is no easy way out.

That's why I say: For better or worse. I see the development of Grammarly and its competition with Word grammar-check as somewhat inevitable. Even if grammar-check developed slowly, it would still develop, and the results of its omnipotence and ubiquity would slowly but surely change the language, as it is doing as I write. I'm not justifying it, or saying it's good; all I'm saying is, it's like climate change. Get used to it! There's no going back.

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

hashtag marketing

Where have I been? I knew a little about hashtags: how, by putting a hashtag on anything, you could instantly go from a little tweeter in a limited corner of the universe, to one who spoke to an entire community of people who used, and read, all tweets with that hashtag. This applied to Twitter, but not Facebook, or here, but sure, Instagram picked it up, and so did Tumblr, though it didn't cross platforms, yet, as far as I could tell. Thus, at Superbowl time I typed #ravens into a search and got, instantly, everything anyone was saying about the game, and, as they won, Newt Gingrich tweeted in his congratulations to the Ravens, right as I was watching. But, my #ravens tag did not get me instagram pictures, or out of twitter in any way, as far as I could tell. But this could change at the drop of a hat.

So then comes this question of people who #put #a #hashtag #on #every #word, which drives other people crazy, because it reads differently; it reads almost as if you've slapped every word. And in fact, on twitter, you have made every word a separate link, and bought into many obscure communities, for example every tweet in which #on is hashtagged. What kind of community is that? I'm not sure, but I did it, and checked, a little. One community is that of #word, which has a lot of pronouncements, where people wanted to end the tweet with a hashtagged #word, as if to say, this be the truth baby, and I'll slap my truth card on the table. I'm interested by these communities, because they have a kind of random feel to them, yet they could be taken over and become something far more intentional, like #ravens.

Tsotsis, A. (2011, July 5). Entenmann's Hashtag Surfing Fails Hard With #NotGuilty Tweet. TechCrunch.

While looking into hashtags and hashtag marketing I ran across this article, which struck me as interesting. What happened was this: naturally businesses were into the idea of tweeting some self-glorifying thing and getting a hashtagged mark in to reach as many people as possible. So then, it's a matter of finding which hashtags are "trending" (#love is doing pretty well at the moment, and so is #nemo and a few others). Superbowl commercials, interestingly, had dozens of hashtags, like #doritos and such, but there's no evidence that people actually take a hashtag off a superbowl commercial and type into that stream to find out what people are saying about doritos. On the contrary, however, if Doritos were to make a tweet like I #love Doritos, millions would read it and that would be effective marketing. So a cottage industry has developed around getting the right tweets out there that advertise your business, and Entenmann's was onto this, and somebody tweeted right into a #notguilty community but, voila, jumped into outrage over Casey Anthony's verdict. And people were offended, because selling donuts on the outrage over the murder of a child seemed to be kind of, well, inappropriate.

And the industry, since then, has been tempered by a little caution. People still try to hashtag into communities. It's a raucous market of free speech, everyone for themselves, and surely there's a system whereby, in the world of free speech, one can get out on the corner and hawk one's wares. I myself have been keying into the #haiku twitstream, because I like putting things into 5-7-5 form and belting it out into the real-world word marketplace (haiku purists, I'm sure, are offended by the pop nature of all-5-7-5, utter lack of attention to nature or the season). It seems kind of on-the-street poetic to me, and I'm attracted to that, but I don't have any other communities I'm inclined to check into, just offhand. I don't really care about #ravens, for example, and the outright raucous ones, like #kyle (argument about that poor sniper/author who was killed), #guncontrol, #obama, etc., no thanks. It's interesting that some people are inclined to jump into the public word marketplace, and some aren't. Or, that some are enjoying so heavily the same process, only through Instagram and the world of pictures. It's interesting that the hashtag has found its way so thoroughly into Facebook, where it's entirely worthless (as an aggregator - maybe it's not so worthless, just purely as a communicator of an attitude or an aside). And mark my words, the day will come soon enough that it works across platforms.

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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Rosen, C. (2013, Jan. 30). Hearts All Atwitter, if Only on Twitter. New America Foundation. Accessed 2-13.

Coniff, K. (2013, Jan. 30). France Bids Adieu to the Word ‘Hashtag’. Time. Accessed 2-13.

UCLB Union. (2013, Jan. 20). Hashtag overload. Accessed 2-13.

Herman, A. (2013, Jan. 28). In defense of the hashtag. Flavorwire.

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