The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Monday, January 18, 2010

ella minnow pea

I've just finished the most wonderfully lexico-nerdy novel - ella minnow pea by Mark Dunn. It's about an island nation where people gradually lose the right to use letters of the alphabet and, of course, those same letters gradually disappear from the novel itself. It's a fascinating concept but one which could lead to a rather pretentious bit of clever-clever literature. I love writers who play with language - I was totally captured by David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas - but I'm also wary of writing that tries to be too clever - I hated Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller and gave up on Will Self's Book of Dave. But ella minnow pea has a totally compelling story, with wonderful characters which sweeps you along towards a gripping ending. It's a great little novel, that I'd recommend to anyone - language geek or otherwise!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tackling the tricky bits

At the moment, I'm researching learner errors using the Cambridge Learner Corpus, to feed into a couple of new books. It's work that I always enjoy, but inevitably, like everything, there are the good bits and the not-so-good bits. Anyone who's undertaken any kind of language research (and probably any other kind of research too) will know there's the stuff that jumps out immediately and is nice and clear-cut, then there are all the annoying bits and pieces which are much messier and much more difficult to analyse and that it's very tempting just to ignore!

When it comes to learner errors, there are certain language areas that are pleasingly productive, producing lovely patterns on the screen that then translate into nice simple notes to pass on to authors to incorporate in their writing. For example, collocations - I can bring up screens of do a mistake instead of make a mistake, make a photo instead of take a photo and pass time instead of spend time. They're all nice clear-cut errors which are simple to identify and easy to warn students about. What I dread are the trickier areas of grammar; tenses, passives etc. where errors tend to be messy, compound affairs, where it's often difficult to see exactly what the student intended to say, let alone figure out quite where they've gone wrong.

One of the good things about working for myself though is that I can organise work how I want. So presented with a list of areas to research, I can pick and choose what I do when. Yesterday morning, for example, I started off with the awkward area of modals in the morning (I swear students just use modal verbs randomly!), but then gave myself the afternoon working away merrily on gerunds and infinitives - coming up with a really juicy list of incorrect verb patterns (interested to do instead of interested in doing, decide do instead of decide to do, etc). Next on my list this morning are used to and would, both of which I know are going to be messy, which is perhaps why I'm writing this instead!

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lots of snow

A Facebook post by a friend this week piqued my lexicographic interest. She was feeling the lack of a verb to describe that fact that it was snowing a lot. We have plenty of rainy verbs as I've discussed before: pouring, tipping down, etc., but nothing very descriptive when it comes to snow. There are a few alternate nouns: a blizzard has to involve wind, flurries of snow are brief, a white-out sounds good and weathermen seem to keep talking about dumps of snow, although that errs towards the result rather than the process. But we don't seem to have a good verb: It's really ****ing out there. Perhaps if this weather continues much longer, we'll have to come up with one. Any suggestions from any Canadians out there?

Bristol harbour frozen over

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