Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Modern Family and Marian Keyes: Pioneers in Verbing Names?

We recently bought the first season of Modern Family on DVD, and as we're watching (and in some cases re-watching) the episodes, I am once again reminded why I labeled it a "treasure trove of linguistic anomalies."

In the episode "Moon Landing," Phil (one of the primary characters, who is a real estate agent) is driving by a bench that has a billboard for his realtor services; the billboard, quite naturally, has a large picture of his face. Someone had defaced his picture by giving him a mustache with a black marker, which prompted Phil to say:

I take it seriously when someone Tom Sellecks my bus bench.
I've written posts about our ability to use people's names in English to signify so much more than that person ("my Ludlums", "to pull a X"); this usage is different because it not only signifies a physical quality of Tom Selleck (his mustache) but also is coerced into being a verb meaning, in this case, "to draw a fake mustache on a picture."

The usage of a person's name as a verb reminded me of one of my favorite examples of a quoting verb, which I found in Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes:

"Siddown," she Don Corleoned. (page 321)
In this case, the name Don Corleone represents characteristics associated with Don Corleone (specifically how he speaks and takes command of a situation) and is coerced into a verbal meaning of "to say in a manner worthy of Don Corleone."

Off the top of my head, these are the only examples I could come up with of a person's name being used as a verb. Can you think of any others?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ling Websites: Phonetics and IPA

This week, my Structures class will be moving into phonetics and learning the International Phonetics Alphabet (IPA). Every semester, I tend to share the same websites, so I'm putting them all into one post for my students--and others--to peruse.

1. Ladefoged's IPA Chart

Screenshot of Ladefoged's IPA Chart

UCLA offers a website that has an interactive IPA chart; you can click on sections of the chart to bring them into focus and then click on individual sounds to hear recordings. This is especially helpful for learning sounds not found in English.

2. University of Iowa's 'The Sounds of Spoken Language'

Screenshot of the University of Iowa's articulatory phonetics website

The University of Iowa offers an interactive phonetics experience, in which you can choose whether you want to focus on the sounds of English, German, or Spanish. Once you've selected a language, it shows you animated sagittal sections to demonstrate what is physiologically happening when you make a selected sound. This website is incredibly helpful for anyone trying to learn and remember all the columns/rows of both the consonantal and vocalic IPA charts.

3. Cambridge's Phonetics Focus

Screenshot of Cambridge's phonetics focus website

Cambridge English Online offers a website full of phonetics fun--it has games to help you learn the IPA and the connection between phones and phonemes. It also has games to help you learn to hear the differences between the sounds of English. The only drawback for American students is that it uses British pronunciation; some of the vowels for example words are pronounced differently from what most Americans would use. However, the games are fun, and it is a good website to explore.

4. English Phonetic Transcription

Screenshot of the English Phonetic Transcription website

I don't normally recommend sites like these, but students find them all on their own... You can type any English text into the white box, and this website will turn it into IPA for you (or upside down if you want to see your text from a different angle). Are the IPA transcriptions always accurate? No. Will using it help you learn the concepts behind the IPA, which will in turn allow you to better learn phonology? No. But can it help you check the work you've already done on your transcriptions? Yes. I'd recommend anyone to use this site (or sites like this) sparingly and only as a check-my-work tool.

If you know of any other websites that are helpful for students learning phonetics and IPA, please send them along.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spotlight on Linguistic Tools: TreeForm

Last week I looked at an online program for drawing syntactic trees; this week I’m pointing the spotlight on a free downloadable software program called TreeForm. If you click on the link provided, you’ll see a short demo video, and you will see a link to its site on SourceForge for your free download of the program.

The best aspects about this program are that it is user-friendly and more intuitive for many students than the bracket notations. The only drawback is that you have to be able to download it onto your computer to use it (i.e., students using school computers may not be able to work with this program).

When you download it, be sure to install the entire TreeForm folder onto your computer. If you don’t install all the components in the folder, the program will be missing some of its images, which makes it a bit difficult to work with at times. Once you have the folder downloaded and installed on your computer, you are ready to use the program. It has three different icons for you to click on, depending on your operating system: .app for Mac, .bat for Windows, and .jar for Linux. If you try to open the wrong one for your computer, it simply won’t open. If that happens to you, try another.

After you open TreeForm, you will see a screen that looks like this:

TreeForm screenshot

The large white area is your drawing board, and down the left-hand side of the screen you will find your “tray” of options:

TreeForm tray of options

Each button on the tray presents an option for you to choose. For example, click on the ‘Node down’ button on the tray and hold down your mouse as you drag the cursor into the white area. You can’t see the cursor in the following screenshot, but here is a picture of the ‘Node down’ being dragged into the drawing area:

Dragging 'node down' to the drawing board in TreeForm

When you let go, an ‘X’ will appear on the screen. Double-click on that X to change it to any label you’d like. To build onto that node, you can either build up by selection ‘Node up’ from the tray and dragging it into the white area until the node you want to build on is highlighted. When you let go, a node will appear above the one you already had. Or you can build down by selecting ‘Node down’ and dragging that over to the screen. For instance, if you labeled the first node you put onto the screen ‘S’ (for the sentence level), then you could drag ‘Node down’ over until the S was highlighted and then release the mouse button. You would end up with a node below the S. To change the X that appears in the node, you simply need to double-click it and change the label. Let’s say you’ve labeled the first node ‘S’ and the node below it ‘NP’, and you want to add a sister node for the NP. To do that, you need to once again drag ‘Node down’ from the tray until the S is highlighted; this time when you release it, though, you will have two options for where you want to put the node:

Two options for node placement in TreeForm

If you want the second node to the right, you need to move your mouse over until the right-hand dot is illuminated green (as it is in the picture above) and click on it. If you wanted to add a third node at that same level, you do the same process you just did; only this time, you’ll have three options for placement (to the left of, in between, or to the right of the other two nodes).

Three options for node placement in TreeForm

Using that same process, you can easily build entire trees, putting in any labels you’d like by double-clicking the Xs. When you’ve reached what will be the terminal node (generally, the terminal node is the one where a word is inserted instead of a label), you can use the ‘Text’ button in the tray.

Syntactic tree using TreeForm

When your tree looks like what you want, you can go to ‘Edit’ and then ‘Copy tree’. Doing that puts the tree into your computer’s clipboard, which allows you to go to any document you’re working on and hit ‘Paste’ where you want the tree to go. Your tree will then appear in a typed document.

If you need to erase something, you can either hit ‘undo’ (or control-Z) if it is something you just did that needs to be undone or use the ‘Eraser’ button in the tray. To use the eraser button, click and hold down on it, dragging it over to the drawing board area. Move it over the tree until the highest node you want erased is highlighted.

Dragging the eraser and highlighting the VP node in TreeForm

When you release the eraser, that node and everything below it will be erased.

Tree from above with its VP erased in TreeForm

Using those four buttons (node down, node up, text, and eraser), you can create basic tree structures. The other buttons in the tray are for more advanced tree structures. If you play around with the features, you’ll find that you have a lot of leeway with the program and the look of your trees. You can change the font, the colors of individual nodes, the colors of branches, and more. On top of all that, you can easily use TreeForm to create any type of hierarchical tree you need: Instead of putting syntactic labels in the nodes, put anything you’d like:

Non-syntax hierarchical structure created using TreeForm

Just like with phpSyntaxTree, the best way to figure out what the program is capable of is to play with it. Go have some fun with TreeForm!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Potential Topics Course for the Spring

Chris sent out this announcement via mySFA today. If you are (or anyone you know is) interested in seeing this course offered in the spring, please e-mail him at samsc@sfasu.edu.

I hope that your semesters are going well. Next semester (Spring 2011) I am tentatively offering a course that may interest you: Comparative Romance Linguistics. It will be listed under ENG 442: Topics in Linguistics. If you are interested in taking the course, please e-mail me by Friday, September 17th at samsc@sfasu.edu Offering this course is contingent upon the interest of students, and we need at least 10 students for the class to make. Here is the course description:
In this course we will begin with a look at the Latin language (no prior knowledge of Latin assumed) and its transformation into the Romance languages from a socio-historical perspective. We will then concentrate on selected linguistic phenomena of some of the Romance languages (mainly French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish) from a comparative standpoint. For example, how do French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish pluralize nouns? How does determiner, noun, and adjective agreement work? What options are available for past tense formation (e.g., simple (preterite), compound, or both)? How is negation accomplished? What are the sound correspondences between languages (e.g., the Latin ct in NOCTEM ‘night’ became tt  in Italian notte, ch in Spanish noche, and it in French ‘nuit < nueit’ and Portuguese noite)? How did the T/V (politeness) pronouns come about? One of the course assignments will deal with independently researching a less commonly researched Romance language (e.g., Romanian, Catalan, Occitan, Gascon, Corsican, or one of the so called “dialects” of Italian). Course materials will be provided by the instructor. There is no official prerequisite; however, intermediate to advanced reading knowledge of Latin or a modern Romance language is necessary. Please contact me if you are interested but have lower-level proficiency. The class will be taught in English.
For many of you, this course would count as an upper-division elective, and for English majors, this could count as your linguistics course. Please contact me if you would like more information about the course.
We hope to announce our Spring 2011 schedule in the near future, so keep checking in for more information!