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Showing posts from March, 2013

UKIP have made me break a resolution

Up to now I have done relatively well with my New Year resolutions.  I have been swearing less (although must still admit to resorting to to occasional 'damn', albeit mainly because it is 'jollyphonic', or 'fun to say').  My feelings towards Mr. Gove (notice that? I called him 'Mr.') have been reigned in to be manifested only in the occasional classroom analogy and occasionally re-tweeting the ever-increasing evidence of his narcissistic and unilaterally retrograde approach to educational policy.

And as for getting angry about politics?

Well, UKIP have just won some local elections in my area.  By a considerable margin.  In one sense this is no real surprise, given that the area I live in dances predominantly on the right wing of most elections - but it is a blow nonetheless.  What makes me particularly irate about this is that the UKIP campaign did not even try to work strategically on tapping into the sentiments of disaffected Conservative or Liberal…

Using image maps to create attractive course menus in Moodle

Since I had a very good response to my previous post about creating dynamic reading lists in a VLE course page, I thought it might be worth following up with another little thing which I have just been working on: Image-mapped menus.  An image map, in case you don't know, is a picture in which there are certain areas which act as 'hotspots', and can take you to different links.  It can be a rather neat way of just making your own course stand out a little, and of making it perhaps even a little more fun to use for students who may well be getting bored of standardised and often rather dull templates.

There are some specialist tools, which do this job very well - but they are not always the easiest to work out.  More recently, I have starting using a free online resource called - which frankly makes the whole thing as simple as it can get.

Creating dynamic reading lists in your VLE using Zotero

This, then is my experiment with reading lists this semester.  It has been driven in part by the extent to which referencing management tool Zotero has become so deeply embedded in my own way of working, and in part by the tentative initial evidence which suggests that the quality of referencing and consistency of criticality in students work can tangibly benefit by using it.

To begin with, I have created a group in Zotero called Newham University Centre.  I could, of course, create a separate group for each module I am teaching, but since this is a first-time experiment it seemed simpler to try a generic approach to begin with:

This group will now appear in my folder structure online, in my standalone version, or in my browser extension.  From here, I can now drag accross my folders with reading lists - or create my reading lists directly into the group library folders:

To manage the group members, I need to go to the Zotero website.  Clicking on the 'Groups' tab, there is an…

Plato's cave, reality, and stuff

Today was my first day back in the classroom (hooray!), and despite feeling about as unprepared and disorganised as I ever have on a first week, it is certainly good to be doing 'real work' again.  Today, I was introducing a module on the philosphy of language.  This tends to be rather a fun module, because it focuses more on the ideas of a few key philosophers (Socrates, Locke, Humboldt, Russell, Davidson, Austin), and the classroom experience of thrashing ideas about is much more at the heart of both the learning and assessment process.

The assessment itself for this module takes the form of a learning journal, in which students are required to effectively 'blog' each week about what they have learned.  This will hopefully mean that their work will demonstrate on-going reading, thinking and (perhaps more importantly than all) observing language at work.

Since I am demanding that my students write each week about the experience, I would feel a little guilty if I did n…

1) What is 'language'?

Loading... Language is frequently defined as being simply a form of communication – and this is true to an extent, because language is certainly a means of communication. But then there are many ways in which both humans and animals communicate. A Chimpanzee might wave its hand in such a way as to communicate irritation, or anger. A husband might leave a rose with his wife’s breakfast in order to communicate love. There are even forms of communication which humans and animals make without any conscious effort at all.
As two cats approach each other, they pick up from scents, sounds and body posture whether the other cat is friendly or unfriendly. A women meeting a man for the first time might unconsciously flutter their eyelids, part her lips and fidget with her hair in a way which indicates attraction. Or a man being questioned by the police might blink rapidly and look up towards the right in a way which might suggest they are lying.

In both these examples, we can see a means o…

2) Introduction to morphemes

So does language begin with words?

No. Language begins with sounds. It is important to understand this first and foremost. We have already raised this point, but it is worth raising again – language begins with sounds!

If I appear to be emphasizing this with a rather bizarre desperation, it is because it would be easy to think that since we are beginning our exploration of language and linguistics with words that this is where language begins. When you think about it logically though, all words are composed of various sounds grouped together. The word ‘cat’ is composed of three distinct sounds - /c/, /a/ and /t/.

So why aren’t we starting with looking at how sounds create language?

Well, in the not-too-distant past, when European football used to be free on the telly, Manchester United or Arsenal would jet off to Spain for a titanic contest with Barcelona. When the commentators referred to Barcelona, they would pronounce it ‘Bar-se-low-nah’ (bɑ:sɜ:ləʊnæ). After a few years th…

3) Lexical and Grammatical Word Classes

Compound Words
We know, that lexical morphemes carry the main meaning (or significance) of the word it belongs to. The morpheme ‘ready’ in ‘readiness’ carries the meaning of the word, as does ‘bound’ in ‘unbound’, or ‘cran’ in ‘cranberry’. These morphemes, because they carry the lexical meaning, are lexical morphemes.

Grammatical morphemes can become attached to lexical morphemes. The ‘ing’ in ‘singing’ carries no lexical meaning, but it does provide a grammatical context for the lexical morpheme. It tells us that the ‘sing’ is ‘ing’ (as in ‘on-going’). In the same way, the morpheme ‘ely’ in ‘timely’ carries no meaning, but it does turn the noun ‘time’ into a word more frequently used as an adverb. Time the thing becomes the description of an action – as in ‘his intervention was timely’.

4) Phrases in Sentences

The Story so far...
In the beginning there was the Word…

Actually, as we have already seen in previous articles, in terms of written language it would be more appropriate to say ‘in the beginning there was the morpheme’, because words are composed of different morphemes joined together in a variety of ways in order to generate the complexities of written language.

Morphemes fit into distinct classes: whether they are bound or unbound, lexical or grammatical.

The words created by these morphemes themselves fit into distinct classes – whether they be nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, adjectives etc.. Again, words can have a grammatical or lexical function.

In this final look at the structures of written language, we will be considering how the words themselves follows a series of rules and patterns when they are combined to form phrases, which themselves are combined to form clauses, which themselves are combined to form sentences.

This is a lot to cover, and as a consequence we will o…

5) Introduction to Phonology: Making Words out of Sounds

Loading... Language which is spoken is, to some extent, both free and bound. It is free because it is not tied to a page. A word which is spoken has vanished into mere memory the moment it has been said. In contrast, a word which is written has an air of permanence.

6) Places and Manners of Articulation

Place of Articulation
The place of articulation refers to “the point in the vocal tract where the speech organs restrict the passage of air in some way so pro¬ducing distinctive speech sounds” (Finch, 1999). As with manner of articulation, places of articulation are more frequently used to describe consonants than vowels. The following are the principal terms used in linguistics to describe these:

Bilabial.Sounds formed by both lips coming together” (Finch, 1999).Examples include /b/, /p/ and /m/.