Archive for November, 2019

Yeah, No

The woman on the left is the founder of a reading intervention company, and the woman on the right is one of her trainers.

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Yesterday, at the International Dyslexia Association conference, the woman on the right came over to my exhibit table. I did not know her, and I noticed that she was not wearing a name tag in the highly-monitored exhibit hall. There was a small crowd of people at my table, and Catherine began to ask me some very confrontational questions of the “What do you do for a kid who has X problem and can’t Y” nature.
“What do you do for a kid who has a really low vocabulary and can’t understand one of those tables [a word matrix]?”
Or “What do you do for a kid who can’t remember all the sounds in a word?”
Et cetera.
I patiently answered her questions. “A child with a low vocabulary still knows the words do, does, done, doing, undo, redo,” I said. “Or today, tonight, tomorrow, into, onto,” I added.
When she barked her fourth or fifth question at me, which was, “What do you do for a kid who needs phonemic awareness training?”, I did what any good teacher does:
“Well,” I asked her, “how do you handle that now?”
“I DO PHONEMIC AWARENESS ACTIVITIES!!!!” she verily hollered at me. She moved herself closer to the table and pointed her finger my way. “But I’m not here to answer your questions. I’m asking YOU questions. What do YOU do?”
So, although she clearly believed that she was there to impersonate a machine gun, I responded thoughtfully, as I had been responding to people’s questions for two days. “We work with the understanding that English spelling makes sense,” I began to explain.
“Yeah, I know all that,” she interrupted. “I’m asking how you do phonological awareness.”
I continued. “When you start with sense and meaning, then you put phonology in its proper place. See, Orton-Gillingham puts phonology first,” I went on.
“I DON’T DO ORTON-GILLINGHAM!” she responded. She said she does “linguistics.” She said something about teaching kids “mouth cards,” whatever that is. But she also articulated the following abject garbage:
~She claimed that the [j] in onion was a “schwa.” I explained that a schwa is a mid-central vowel and pointed out that [j] is a palatal consonant.
~She claimed that the word action has an <act> base and a *<tion> suffix, but that the two <t>s “overlap.”
My colleague responded, “That is not a thing.” Because, you know, that is not, in fact, a thing.
~She claimed that the words union and onion were not related, even after I showed her that they both derive from the Latin root unio/unionem.

In the meantime, other people were listening, enjoying, and making that little mind-blown signal with their hands.

~She claimed that <ea> only spells [eɪ] in “three words” — but I pointed out that the base element <break> alone surfaces in close to 100 words.
~She claimed that the word <yea> is pronounced [jæ] — but it is, of course [jeɪ ]. She had no idea what ‘yea and nay’ or ‘the yeas have it’ meant. I explained that [jæ] is spelled <yeah> and takes the final <h> because it has a lax vowel. “But yeah is informal, and yea can be formal,” I said. She shook her head at me.

Here’s what the Mactionary (and every other dictionary, really) has to say:
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~She referred to [s] and [dʒ] as *sibilates. Close: they are sibilants. She appealed to the authority of her colleague, trained in the same silliness. Warning: appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.
~She claimed that there are four suffixes which she pronounced [ʃʌn, ʒʌn, ʧʌn, & jʌn]; I patiently explained that there was only one suffix, spelled <ion>, and that an <i> can palatalize a preceding <t>, <s>, <c>, or <x> in Latinate words. She off-gassed some more Phombie gospel about shuns and chuns and chit.
“I’ll tell you what,” I offered. “I teach a class on Latin palatalization,” I said. “I will let you take that class for free.”
“I TOOK LATIN! I know all that.”
At this point, I didn’t even try to explain to her the difference between someone who took a Latin class once, and the deep and coherent study of how Latinate patterns work in English spelling. I just reiterated my offer to take a $140 class for free.
And she just reiterated how she already knew all the Latin things, only louder. In among the word salad, she shredded some grammarese. “I studied Latin and I learned that every word has a case.”
“Well, if you learned that, you were lied to,” I said. “Every Latin noun has a case, but not every Latin word. Verbs don’t have case.”
“Yes they do!” she insisted. “They have cases that show their tense.”
I shook my head in stunned disbelief. “Look, you’re obviously very confident in your understanding, but you’re wrong,” I explained. “Verbs have tense, but case is nominal. Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, articles can have case, but not verbs. I think you mean inflection,” I offered.
Adding several decibels and to her outside voice, she began to continue her tirade, so I said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but you need to leave my table now. Not only are you patently wrong, but you’re yelling at me.”
She huffed one last puff, and as she walked away, she turned back and shrieked my way, “No WONDER they stuck you way over in the corner ALL BY YOURSELF!” Everyone stared at her. The fact is that I had chosen a booth on an aisle near the restrooms and an exit, and had no shortage of visitors.
The small crowd at my table began to assure me that this woman had behaved bizarrely confrontationally, and that I had responded patiently and generously. One New Yorker said, “You’re my new guru. My one talent is being able to tell when someone knows what they’re talking about, and you clearly do.”
A bit later, someone told me that that woman — the shouty one who’s memorized all the phonics on the answer key of life — was actually a fellow IDA exhibitor; she was there running the Wired for Reading booth. Oh, she was Wired all right. WfR is a phonics program that calls itself “linguistics” although the developer is not a linguist and the people who work there have not studied linguistics — that seems to be a trend [cough cough DTI]. The developer of the program, Laura Rogan, admits that she relies on her “intuition” and “creativity,” neither of which are actually linguistics. Anne Phillips, a Phombie who dedicates part of her life to misrepresenting SWI on Twitter, is also a WfR person. I looked up WfR online, found Catherine Thompson’s photo, and realized that she had actually removed her name tag specifically to come over and harangue me at my table in front of a small audience of my gobsmacked clients and colleagues.

Gee, why do you think this gaggle of lady language liars might be threatened by a real linguist? As my colleague who witnessed the whole thing said, “If you’re going to try to take on Gina Cooke about phonology, you better buckle up.”

I’ve offered free classes to dozens of people, but people like Catherine Thompson never take me up on it, because they’re more interested in feeling right than in sharing in an accurate and coherent understanding. So, Catherine Thompson, the Latin Palatals class is still yours to take for free, but the offer expires at the end of this calendar year.

Is the class any good, you wonder? Well, just ask anyone who’s taken it.

The yeas have it.

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