Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TEDxHumber talk

I'll be giving a TED talk at the independent TED event being organized by a bunch of Humber folks. My topic is "Words as a measure of hope". Details follow:

Engineering interaction

Here's a quick idea:

Sometimes my students are more focussed on their textbooks and handouts than on interacting with each other. Let's say we're working on something like this:

Friday, May 20, 2011


There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about the past participle of prove. I regularly notice the NY Times waffling between has proven and has proved, sometimes even from one paragraph to the next, as in this article:
Ryan’s medical update on Sanchez seemed to carry an underlying message. Sanchez has proved to be a much better quarterback this season than he was as a rookie, when Ryan made a point of not relying on Sanchez to win games on his own, especially in the playoffs.
Now that Sanchez has proven he is more capable of playing his position."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Some teaching activities

Though I conceived English, Jack as "second thoughts on English and how she's taught," it seems I do a lot more thinking and writing about English than I do about how it's taught. I'm not really sure why that is, but the bias is quite obvious to anyone who reads a few posts. Anyhow, recently a number of ideas have come together and I've tweaked a few activities that I use, so I plan to explain a few of them over the next few days.

One almost-universal characteristic of reading or listening texts is that they come with a set of comprehension questions. This presentation suggest two obvious options: do them for homework and take them up in class or spend some quiet time in class answering them and then take them up in class.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The exact opposite

"It's all a matter of keeping my eyes open. Nature is like one of those line drawings of a tree that are puzzles for children: Can you find hidden in the leaves a duck, a house, a boy, a bucket, a zebra, and a boot? Specialists can find the most incredibly well-hidden things. A book I read when I was young recommended an easy way to find caterpillars to rear: you simply find some fresh caterpillar droppings, look up, and there's your caterpillar. More recently an author advised me to set my mind at ease about those piles of cut stems on the ground in grassy fields. Field mice make them; they cut the grass down by degrees to reach the seeds at the head... Meanwhile the mouse is positively littering the field with its little piles of cut stems into which, presumably, the author of the book is constantly stumbling.
"If I can't see these minutiae, I still try to keep my eyes open. I'm always on the lookout for antlion traps in sandy soil, monarch pupae near milkweed, skipper larvae in locust leaves. These things are utterly common, and I've not seen one."
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Well, today I saw one. It was in an essay by So Hyun Park, one of my students. She wrote, "soon I faced the exactly same situation as Barry Schwartz."

"Of course that's what she wrote!" I thought. "Why wouldn't she?" Adverbs modify adjectives, and same is an adjective, so you would naturally expect *the exactly same. The correct form, though, is the exact opposite.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Google Books Corpus with BYU interface

Mark Davies has now provided a new way to search the Google Books corpus. That would be the 155 BILLION word Google Books Corpus. His interface allows you to search not just for simple strings, the way the NGram viewer does, but to search by part of speech (e.g., you can search for hit the + NOUN). You can also get all the inflected forms of a word. For example, instead of searching separately for hit the fan, hitting the fan and hits the fan, you can just search for [hit] the fan. You can also discover collocates. For example, if you want to know what words typically come within two words after vicious, Bob's your uncle.

There's lots more fun to be had here if you explore. I think my afternoon just got all booked up.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Applied linguists just aren't serious about statistics

I'm not a statistician myself, and I've never published a quantitative study, so I'm not claiming any higher moral ground here, but it's sad to see just how lax our field is when it comes to statistical reporting. In the most recent issue of Language Learning, Plonsky and Gass consider 174 studies investigating the result of students interacting with others in the target language.
"Reliability estimates are one area that, although not perfect, have been reported very well (compared to other areas of SLA research; see Norris & Ortega, 2000; Plonsky, in press). Most other statistics have been reported either insufficiently or unevenly across the sample of studies. Although almost all of the studies reported using statistical tests (see Table 5), only 25% reported setting a pre- determined level of statistical significance, 2% reported the results of a power analysis, and only 3% (five studies, three by the same author, McDonough) reported checking the assumptions of their statistical tests. A somewhat larger portion of studies reported statistical significance as an exact p-value (44%) as opposed to greater or less than a particular p-value such as .05 (61%). However, these figures appear low, again, in light of the very high percentage of studies in the sample that employed statistical tests. Furthermore, reports in this area are not only inconsistent in the aggregate; 46 studies (26%) reported both exact and relative (i.e., < or > ) p-values. Means and standard deviations were presented in 64% and 52% of the studies, respectively. These figures are also somewhat low considering the frequency of studies employing mean-based statistical tests. Moreover, those data also indicate that 12% of the studies reporting means did so without reporting the standard deviations of those means. Along these same lines, we also see that the percentage of studies reporting t values and f values was only 26% and 32% (compared to 40% of studies reporting t tests and 39% reporting ANOVAs, ANCOVAs, and/or MAN[C]OVAs). Other statistics coded for were confidence intervals, reported in only five studies (3%), effect sizes (including d values and η2 for mean differences, phi coefficients for χ2, r2 and Cramer’s V for correlations; 18%), and whether an effect size (Cohen’s d) could be calculated from data in the report (41%). Finally and perhaps most surprisingly, 5% of the studies in the sample did not report sample size."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The prevalence of first-person pronouns in books

There has been a good deal of discussion recently about C. Nathan DeWall et al., "Tuning in to psychological change: Linguistic markers of psychological traits and emotions over time in popular U.S. song lyrics", Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3/21/2011. Mark Liberman (here) and Cosma Shalizi (here) have done a good job of explaining what's wrong with the paper and with the media's uptake.