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Five and a half years ago, the IDA asked me to write an article about Orton-Gillingham and Structured Word Inquiry. I’m providing it here to show that this “OG or SWI?” is not a new question. Here is my article:

Is This OG? (IDA Dyslexia Connection 2013)

Often, people new to my work assume that I just haven’t met the right OG yet, that if I really understood OG, I’d surely see it as the Godsend it is for dyslexics, rather than as a false understanding masquerading as science. So first, for those arriving in LEXland fresh off the dyslexia boat, let me first articulate that my OG and dyslexia credentials are impeccable. I’m a certified Initial & Advanced OG trainer in a nationally accredited training program, and my certificates are current. I have trained hundreds of teachers in OG and presented to thousands more at state and national conferences; I have supervised the instruction of more than a thousand children with dyslexia.

Second, I’d like to sketch out what I call my OGenealogy, my pedigree in OG. I’m very proud of my heritage in the field. I had remarkable trainers who themselves have had award-winning and prestigious careers in OG, dyslexia, special education, professional development, and higher education. So here’s that family tree, starting with Orton and Gillingham themselves.

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Marcia Henry and David Winters were my two OG trainers: Dave trained me at the Initial Level, and Marcia trained both Dave and me at the Advanced Level. Becoming an Advanced OG Trainer under Marcia Henry was a multi-year process, beginning in 2002 and ending with my certification in 2006. That means that for four years, I worked closely with Dr. Henry, shadowing her in trainings, preparing presentations to deliver under her supervision, co-observing tutors teaching at the Advanced Level, reading academic and historical texts about dyslexia and submitting reports on these books, giving conference presentations to Dr. Henry’s critique, and submitting reams of documentation under her authority.

It’s not the case that I just haven’t met the right OG yet, guys.

Yesterday, Dr. Henry offered the keynote address for the Dyslexia Training Institute’s annual Dyslexia conference, and I watched it. The title of the keynote was “O-G and SWI: Complementary or Incompatible?” In her presentation, Dr. Henry cited my 2012 article, “Is this OG?” shared above, but she mis-titled it as *”Do structured word inquiry and O-G go together?” That was not the title of the article I published, and it was definitely not the point of that article at all.

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Unlike Dr. Henry’s keynote, my article was not a piece of apologia for Orton-Gillingham; rather, it was an urgent call to action to the field, an exhortation that the field must do better, a screaming-my-head-off invitation to honor the  pioneering spirit of Orton and Gillingham, who honored the intellects of the children they worked with, and who were constantly revising their understanding and publications to keep up with new scientific developments. My article was and is an admonition to the field that real science doesn’t stagnate, that it’s not OK to rest on past laurels. As any freethinker knows, “We’ve always done it that way” is the last refuge of the scientific scoundrel. It is not sufficient to say “I’ve been doing this for 50 years.” Making the same set of errors for 50 years or even longer does not magically transform said errors into facts, or into anything noble. They’re just errors. My article implores the Dyslexia Industry to stop relying on past understandings because “that’s OG,” and instead, to remain true to the science-minded, ever-revising, innovative legacy that the founders of the field bequeathed us. It in no way argues that SWI and OG “go” anywhere at all, separately or together.

Dr. Henry’s keynote began with an acknowledgment that there’s been “lots of friction” around this question, and indeed, she came back to this theme with several negative commentaries times throughout her talk, as though disagreeing with the status quo in a scientific field is a bad thing.

Let that sink in.

She then articulated that “One size does not fit all,” a piece of empty rhetoric that I’ve also heard a lot from DTI itself and a lot of others. But you know what? Language is not a size, and facts don’t come in small, medium, and large.

Which children are the right size to be misinformed?

How large do children have to be to get the facts about their writing system?

I do appreciate that Dr. Henry went on to articulate that SWI is more than just morphology, and that OG is more than just phonics. That is an important understanding that often gets lost in the “friction.” Orton-Gillingham and its derivatives absolutely do include some morphology and etymology, but, as I’ve been writing for a decade, they get it really, really wrong. I for one never said that OG doesn’t “do” morphology and etymology; what I have said over and over and over again is that OG gets morphology and etymology wrong. I wish I could say that Dr. Henry’s keynote here was an exception to this sad rule, but as I will demonstrate, it is not.

These initial admonitions about friction and fittings were followed by a long history of the OG field, from its founders through its significant players, including most of the people whose photos you see above. “I was trained by one of the best,” said Marcia, reflecting on her revered trainer Paula Dozier Rome. In my notes, I wrote, “Well, I was trained by two of the best: MKH & DCW.” The thing is, the quality of the person who trained me 20 years ago really has nothing to do with whether what they taught me was accurate. Most of it was, but some critical pieces of it were not. We can play six-degrees-of-OG-separation all day long, bragging about our backgrounds and tracing our lineage back to the big O and G themselves, but that’s not science. None of that has anything to do with accurately understanding the structure of English as it has been researched in the present day. Marcia Henry does indeed have a wonderful professional history. So do I. That doesn’t make either one of us right or wrong in considering the relative merits of OG and SWI.

In comparing OG and SWI, Dr. Henry concedes, “Perhaps OG would put phonology first,” but there’s no perhaps about it. I am not going out on a limb when I critique the field for its wrong-headed Assumption of Phonological Primacy, and I’ve laid out that case over and over again. In fact, I am at the very root of OG: any OG documentation you can find, past or present, including IDA’s new-fangled, thinly-veiled ripoff of “Structured Language,” puts phonology first. Dr. Henry continued, “but in SWI, morphology is first.” Herein lies the problem: it’s not a question of preference of pedagogy, which comes first. The linguistic fact is that morphology is the defining and delimiting framework of the writing system; that’s not even remotely controversial. So really, here, Marcia inadvertently underscores what I’ve been saying all along: as an approach, SWI accurately represents the facts of English, and OG misrepresents those facts. A couple of times, she referred to the “guiding principles” of OG — you know the list, structured, sequential, cumulative, multisensory… But the thing is, SWI isn’t guided by any principles that aren’t linguistic. OG is top-down, super-imposing prescriptive “principles” on the language, false things like the *alphabetic *principle, or those old canards like “i-before-e” and “when two vowels go walking….”

Real linguistic rules don’t rhyme, y’all. SWI prescribes nothing, but instead seeks to discern and describe the actual principles inherent in the written language itself. Those two things cannot “go together.” Not just because I say so and I’m kinda famous, but because they don’t.

Dr. Henry continued by sharing with the audience several charts and other graphics that will be familiar to anyone who has followed her work for any of the last few decades, including Bob Calfee’s etymuddular triangle of “Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Greek” that I’ve written about for years, and her own similar grid from her doctoral studies and subsequent publications. I won’t reproduce them here. Dr. Henry’s grid features a column for “syllables,” a topic she began to discuss with the claim that “Some people think that’s a nasty word.”

Oh, really? Is that right? Some people think that “syllables” is a nasty word? I was not aware of that — I wonder who she means! Certainly Dr. Henry can’t be referring to me, because (a) I teach two well-documented, groundbreaking, game-changing professional development seminars about syllables, one called “Syllables: Fact and Fiction,” and the other called “Stress and the Schwa,” and (b) I have researched, written and self-published a monograph called “Making Sense of Syllables,” both of which take syllables very seriously and treat them with considerable respect. Both of these resources have also helped hundreds of teachers to better understand syllables and to incorporate a more accurate understanding of syllables and their effects on English spelling.

So clearly do not think that “syllables” is a “nasty” word.  Really, no one does. This is just Dr. Henry’s way of trying to take sides in what she referred to as “friction,” without really having to consider any actual linguistic facts, provide any researched evidence about syllables, or fairly represent my objection to OG’s syllabaloney. Unlike my courses and my monograph, Dr. Henry’s keynote did not offer any actual research about syllables. [For the love of God, WHERE are the people CONSTANTLY haranguing me for ‘research’ when it comes to these presentations?] What the keynote did offer was a lot of opinions about syllables:

“There is some logic to syllable division.”

“They do provide some new strategies.”

“We know that there are six syllable types [sic], and that’s useful for kids to know.”

In addition to her unfounded claim that “some people think [syllables] is a nasty word,” Dr. Henry also claimed that some professionals “scoff” at syllable pedagogies and call them “ridiculous.” Again, she can’t have been talking about little old me. I don’t “scoff.” I mean, maybe some people do, but I’m very specific in my critique of syllable-based pedagogies, and I give plenty of linguistic evidence, including nuclear theory of syllables, the stress-timing of English, and human data. I offer the linguistic understanding that there are just two types of syllables: open (ends in a vowel, has no consonant coda), and closed (ends in a consonant coda), and that has little to do with the way a syllable is written. The monosyllables bake, beak, and bike are all closed; bay, boy, and bough are all open, linguistically speaking, and again, that’s not controversial among people who study language structure. But even syllabogogues don’t agree on how many “types” there are, as a quick google search will reveal: there are pedagogical treatments for six types, seven types, five types, and even four types of syllables in English, all of which are top-down, prescriptive, and false, and all of which conflate spoken and written patterns indiscriminately. If, in fact, there were any “logic” to syllable types and division, why would syllable-based pedagogies disagree about the number of syllable types and division patterns that there are? Given these unsettling detailss, Marcia Henry’s claim that “we know that there are six syllable types” [my emphasis] is just plain false. We “know” no such thing. Really, it’s that claim that is ridiculous. Laughable. It’s not scientific. It’s just wrong.

Even wronger, perhaps, is Dr. Henry’s unfounded claim that these supposed syllable types are “useful for kids to know.”  The problem here is three-fold: first, that kids can “know” something that is not factual; second, that doing so is useful; and third, that this claim and others like it are routinely made by leaders in the field with no evidence for them. There is no evidence that syllable typing or division patterns are “useful” for children. None.  In fact, not only is there no research supporting syllable pedagogies in English, but there is actually research that suggests that morphological instruction has superior outcomes. Some of that research is nearly 50 years old, and I learned about it from Marcia Henry years ago. She writes about it in Unlocking Literacy, where she says, “Groff questioned whether teaching syllable division is an important part of reading” (2010:37) The thing is, though, he didn’t just “question” that — he researched it in an actual metanalysis, and found that it wasn’t helpful or important. Unlike Dr. Henry’s keynote, Groff’s research doesn’t offer his opinion; rather, he offers a constellation of what previous research had found. Groff’s100+-page metanalysis is part of the research I outline and update in my monograph, which you can buy as a PDF for $4. Does that sound like the behavior of someone who “scoffs” at syllables or thinks syllables is a “nasty” word?

Dr. Henry’s defense of syllable pedagogy is not a metanalysis, and it does not cite or rely on any actual research. Its structure is three-fold: personal anecdote and opinion, as I’ve already outlined; an insistence that some words require syllable division as they lack morphological complexity; and the belief that teachers and children benefit from having a “big bag with lots and lots of information” in it, regardless of the quality and veracity of that information.

Dr. Henry supports her claim that some words cannot be morphologically analyzed with the examples hobgoblin and mizzenmast, because, you know, it’s really really important for children to be able to read and spell hobgoblin and mizzenmast. More to the point, both of those words are morphologically complex: <hob + goblin>, in which both the <hob> and the <goblin> are free base elements with interesting eponymic histories.  And <mizzen + mast>, again, both free base elements. The Italianate <mizzen> denotes ‘middle’ and is related to mezzo and mezzanine, while the Germanic <mast> is one of English’s very old native words. Anyhow, most of the teachers I work with are working with kids who have never seen a ship and are unlikely to; like yacht, which shows up on pretty much every word-reading test out there, mizzenmast is a word that mostly serves wealthy white people. Regardless of the intended audience, both hobgoblin and mizzenmast are indeed morphologically complex, and neither one stands as proof of the utility of syllable division nonsense. Even her cherry-picked examples fall short.

Finally, Dr. Henry claims that syllable patterns are “useful” because teachers and children all need to have lots of information and lots of strategies: “[K]nowing the alternatives for dividing words into syllables provides students with another strategy for word analysis” (2010:37). She echoed that claim in her presentation: “I think it’s important to provide as many strategies as possible,” she said. So is it just a numbers game, then? Throw a whole lot of information spaghetti at the dyslexic child wall and hope a lot of it sticks? Whether it’s true or false? Really? The thing is, being educated doesn’t mean that you have lots and lots of information; it means that you learn to discern good information from bad information, and you keep the bad information out of your damn bag.

In addition to all I’ve outlined here, Dr. Henry’s presentation was punctuated by additional false claims about language, most notably mis-identifying the etymological origins of more than a third of the words she offered. She repeated the tired, old, false claim that Latin “generally” affixes while Greek “generally” compounds; I’ve written about this before as well. The fact is that all Indo-European languages compound, including Latin. Affixing developed later, but Greek does indeed affix, a lot. The most amusing example I can offer is the Hellenic word dyslexia — a word built from a Greek prefix, a Greek base element, and a classical suffix.  Dr. Henry gave several word lists in her presentation; among them are the following Latinate compounds:

<nave + ig + ate + ion>
<legis + late + ive>
<mult + i + plice + ate + ion>
<rec + i + proc + al>
<percent + age>
<circ + um + fer + ence>
<rect + angle>
<cent + i + meter><dece + i + meter>, <mille + i + meter>  (The meter part is Greek, but the concepts and the compounds were developed in French.)

Unfortunately, none of the live attendees noticed or addressed any of these problems. None of them asked Dr. Henry for “research” to support her “approach,” so I guess Phombies only do that when they’re talking to me. One attendee, also well-known for morphotwaddle and etymuddle in teacher training, praised Marcia as a “class act,” because apparently it’s classy to intimate that a nameless-but-obvious someone “scoffs” at syllables and finds them to be “nasty” and “ridiculous.” I guess that’s classy, huh? Doing things that way? Especially when you follow it up with unfounded opinions and sweeping statements about what’s “useful” for dyslexic children.

Another live attendee asked Dr. Henry to sanction the use of nonsense words, which she happily did. “It depends,” she said, and the conference host echoed that sentiment, offering her audience the pablum of “each student is different.” Dr. Henry again offered tradition and opinion, saying “I think they are useful…” but offering no research support, no evidence. And no one questioned it, because people suffer from an inability to be discerning about what they hear when they hear it from someone they think is an “expert.” Dr. Henry suggested that “older” children (undefined) can benefit from nonsense words. I’ve heard this before, and I’ve written about it before, but really, English has a million words, so if you can’t find any that your “older” child can’t read, then he probably doesn’t need what phonics will offer him. The statements of “it depends” and “for some children” and “each student is different” are empty rhetoric at whose core lives the following claim: some children merit being lied to, if it makes it easier for the teacher. Both Dr. Henry and the host reiterated that “true scholarship” is learning all you can, as though a large quantity of information is the goal regardless of the actual quality of that information. I will stand by my assertion that no child benefits more from lies about his language, from false information, than they do from the facts.

Dr. Henry ended her presentation with the question, “So are O-G and SWI Compatible?” and the answer “Yes!” But again, that’s a matter of opinion easily falsified by facts that the speaker herself raised: OG puts phonology first, and SWI puts phonology where it belongs, which is last. That’s not compatible, even if you an exclamation point after your “Yes!” This continued insistence that OG and SWI are simply different “sizes” to “fit” different children is specious. If that were the case, then really, if each child is different, why would just two sizes of fact be sufficient? I mean, if each child is different, then why not use the whole language and look-say and rote memorization that Dr. Henry denounced in her keynote? Even if children came in different literacy “sizes,” however, the language does not. The facts of the writing system are the same no matter what size you are. 

I’m not saying that Marcia Henry is a bad person. I have always been personally fond of Marcia Henry, and I appreciate the role she has played in my life and career. She was a wonderful trainer, and she’s been a good friend and mentor to me. She has offered me wisdom that extends far beyond word history and structure, detailed and helpful notes on my conference presentations, and advice and experience about things like divorce and dating and doctoral programs. What I am saying here is that Marcia Henry is wrong about OG and SWI, and I’m offering evidence for that assertion. If I kept my mouth shut, then I would not actually be the exacting professional she helped train me to be.   

I’m sure lots of people will read this and think I’m being mean. But you tell me what’s mean: calling out falsehoods in a professional conference, or charging people $150 to hear those falsehoods? Seriously, one of those things is A-OK, and the other is just WTF.

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I posted this yesterday on my Facebook page, and I already have 5 deposits. I expect that 15 participants will be the limit, maybe 20; I’ll know more after January 14th.

Reserve your spot today.

Come to beautiful Prescott, Arizona, home to LEX, and enjoy a five-day word study retreat in a historic downtown hotel plus local sightseeing ventures (Petroglyphs! Log cabins! Whiskey Row! Watson Lake!) for a single, economical price. Double occupancy discount available.

Space is limited. Final cost is contingent on group size. $200 deposit holds a spot and is fully refundable if canceled by March 15, 2019, and partially refundable until May 15, 2019.

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Etymology Seven!

Douglas Harper and I began our joint work in 2013 with our first Etymology! conference in greater Philadelphia. That first weekend was an exhilarating and dynamic study of a modern linguistic understanding and the website that cultivates it, carried out on wooden benches in a Quaker meeting house at a Friends School. I remember Doug writing about it afterwards, and likening my analysis of written words to loading and locking a weapon.

The 2013 beginning was just that — a beginning, an introduction to this greater world of etymology for our growing community of orthographic scholars, plus whatever local Pennsylvania teachers were brave enough to join us. We covered the basics of the history of the English language, the basics of the website, and some hands-on study.

Every year since then, Doug and I have put our heads together to pinpoint a single theme for the weekend — we continue to cover the basics, but we focus our lens on a limited time frame or a specific language origin or a particular aspect of linguistic study. The past six years of community scholarship have looked like this:

2013: Etymology! The Science of Word Stories (Philadelphia)

2014: Etymology Two! Word Origins, Word Meaning, and Word Knowledge (Philadelphia)

2015: Etymology Three! The Dictionary, The Dynamics, and the Stories of Words (Chicago)

2016: Etymology Four! Words and Writing: The History and Prehistory of English (San Francisco)

2017: Etymology Five! Philology, Phonology, and the Phylogeny of Words (Chicago)

2018: Etymology Six! Middle English: From the Battle of Hastings to the Wife of Bath and Beyond (Portland, OR)

This year? Lucky Number Seven? It’s all about Spelling.

2019: Etymology Seven! The History of English Spelling: Letters and the Lexicon

We will take a close look at the history of English Spelling, including the who (from King Alfred to Noah Webster), the what (from the Old English alphabet to modern-day abbreviations), the when (from the Norman Invasion to the Great Vowel Shift), and how (from the Printing Press to the Digital Age). We will study the Dictionary to see how we can understand orthography better from its entries, including bold new graphic timelines that depict the evolution of a written word.

But words aren’t the only thing that evolves: so do communities. Over the years of our joint work, our shared audience has grown (Doug’s own audience is huge; I’m referring to the folks who work with the two of us together, by and large), and we have established a critical mass of participants who are not beginning, but continuing their serious study of Etymology and English Spelling. Each year to this point, we’ve begun our study with Etymology Basics, to introduce or review foundational concept and to ensure a common understanding among the audience members.

Last year, for the first time, it became apparent that our core group of scholars — the weirdos who follow us around the country and spend time studying with us and somehow still manage to like not only Doug, who is immeasurably likable, but also me — had really already internalized the basic understanding of etymology and the dictionary that we were offering for the first several hours of the conference. A couple of said weirdos prevailed upon us last year to please consider separating out the introductory material and offering opportunities for deeper study in 2019.

So that’s what we’re doing.

This year, Doug and I are offering a new, 3-day conference format, with attendance options for people new to this study (Etymology Basics), as well as options to continue pursuing a deeper understanding.

We are back in the Middle West at the Historic Dayton Masonic Center in Dayton (of course), Ohio. On Friday, April 26th, we will offer a five-hour Etymology Basics seminar for beginners and anyone who’d like a refresher on synchronic and diachronic etymology and the structure and flow of the Online Etymology Dictionary. On Saturday and Sunday, we will delve into this year’s specific theme and offer a 10-hour, 2-day seminar on the History of English Spelling. Beginners who have attended Friday’s session are welcome to stay through the weekend! Veteran etymologists — those who have attended past Etymology weekends and/or the Etymonline Online LEXinar, may join us for the weekend only, without attending Friday’s session. In sum, beginners have the option to attend Friday only, or the full 3-day conference. Veterans may also attend all three days, or they may skip Friday and come for only the Saturday-Sunday conference.

Based on evaluations from past seminars, we are streamlining the agenda for this year’s seminar. We will continue to provide lunch on-site, but each day ends by 3pm to allow for processing, local color, rest, and time to travel home. Continuing Education contact hours will also be offered, either 5 for Friday only, 10 for Saturday-Sunday, or 15 for the full 3-day weekend. Local hotel and transit options will also be made available to those who register.

I am currently offering an EarlyBird Special: Pay a refundable $100 deposit on or before December 31st, and lock in the following discounted rates to register later:

$200 : Friday Only     ~     $375 : Saturday & Sunday     ~     $450 : All Three Days

This pricing means that the full, 3-day conference is only $75 more than last year’s (and this year’s) 2-day conference, and that includes lunch! It also means that the price of the 2-day conference has not increased. In fact, this basic cost has decreased since our most costly conference in San Francisco 3 years ago. These rates are much, much lower than the 1, 2, or 3-day conferences by professional organizations where speakers routinely lie to you about your own language.

Sounds like a bargain.

These rates are subject to increase on or after January 31st by $50-75, depending on what pricing information comes in from caterers and the venue, but you can lock them in now  by making a refundable $100 deposit. (Terms and conditions apply.) There’s nothing to lose, and money to be saved. These EarlyBird registrations also really help me with planning the event, so if you know you want to go, please sign up with a deposit today.

I’m not yet sure whether I will be able to offer an online attendance option yet or not, but I will post more as I learn more. I *am* sure that this year’s conference will be of maximum benefit for those who have received their new LEX Grapheme Decks and are fascinated by the new etymological content, as it will be informing what I present.

The understanding is right here for the taking. Understand Etymology! Understand the Online Etymology Dictionary! And understand English Spelling better, for one, two, or three days in Dayton in April 2019.


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I Can Help You Do Grammar!

One of the most misunderstood and misrepresented concepts in the study of PDE (Present-Day English) is verbal constructions, especially auxiliary verbs (“helping” verbs) and their roles. In English, one of the functions of auxiliary verbs is in the construction of interrogatives and negatives. If a declarative sentence has an auxiliary verb in its predicate, that auxiliary can be inverted wth the subject to form a closed interrogative (a yes-or-no question):
She can pick you up at seven.
Can she pick you up at seven?
That adorable baby has been sleeping well.
Has that adorable baby been sleeping well?
The Queen of England’s valet is coming over.
Is the Queen of England’s valet coming over?
The auxiliary also assists in negative constructions; the negator is placed between the first auxiliary and the following verb:
She will pick you up at seven.
She will not pick you up at seven.
That adorable baby has been sleeping well.
That adorable baby has not been sleeping well.
The Queen of England’s valet is coming over.
The Queen of England’s valet is not coming over.
When your declarative sentence has no auxiliary verb, then you need to add one for closed interrogative and negative constructions. But you don’t just add any old verb; you add some form of ‘do.’
She picks you up at seven.
Does she pick you up at seven?
She does not pick you up at seven.
That adorable baby slept well.
Did that adorable baby sleep well?
That adorable baby did not sleep well.
The Queen of England’s valet came over.
Did the Queen of England’s valet come over?
The Queen of England’s valet did not come over.
This auxiliary ‘do‘ is referred to in linguistics as Operator Do, Dummy Do, and Periphrastic Do. These interrogative and negative constructions — as well as other verbal constructions with auxiliaries — arose as Old English (c.500-1100 CE) evolved into Middle English (c.1100-1500 CE) — in fact, the Rise of Periphrastic Do is one of the hallmarks of Middle English grammatical development.
It. DOES. NOT. Have. Anything. To. Do. With. Celtic.
Begosh and begorrah.
See, this is the problem with just pulling graphics off the Internet when you have no real understanding to interrogate them. Some wack-job claims in a graphic on the Interwebs (which I refuse to share / perpetuate here in its entirety) that Celtic is responsible for Periphrastic Do in English (annotated):
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Oh No He Didn’t!

This is just patently false. Here are the facts, from This Language, a River: A History of English (Smith & Kim, 2018), a clear and concise and beautiful textbook by two of my teachers:
The use of do as an auxiliary verb may have its origins as early as the O[ld] E[nglish] period, but by M[iddle] E[nglish], the construction that becomes the present-day pattern emerges more clearly:

Whan Phebus doth his bryghte bemes sprede… (Troilus & Criseyde, 1.54)

See? Nothing to do with Celtic. The Celts who inhabited the British Isles before the Common Era — and for whom Britain and British and also Brittany in France were named — when the Germanic mercenaries arrived in the 5th century CE were conquered by the Romans, and then conquered by the Anglo-Saxons by and large. Conquered people don’t generally contribute syntactic constructions to the conquerors’ language. To wit:
The Anglo-Saxons did absorb some words from the [Celtic] Britons, place names like Thames or Kent, and words for geological features like torr (a high, rocky peak), a common element in place names like Torcross. But the borrowing was quite limited…. In some ways, these patterns of borrowing are not unlike the borrowing that occurred in the American colonies when speakers of English borrowed native names for places ike Waukegan from Native American languages. Patterns of borrowings such as these, being so largely tied to physicality (as opposed to more deeply cultural kinds of borrowing), being chiefly lexical (as opposed to grammatical), and numbering only about a dozen words in total, strongly suggest that Celtic-speaking peoples had little cultural influence among their conquerors.
~Smith & Kim
Features like the <-ing> participle, used in the progressive verbal construction (am running, was eating, will be studying…) — note, it’s a progressive aspect, not a *continuous *tense, the Periphrastic Do, and the loss of case/gender have NOTHING TO DO WITH CELTIC. It’s 100% Germanic. These are grammatical features, not lexical, and they did not really develop until the Middle English period, long after the conquered Celts were relegated to the far corners of the kingdom.

Here’s more from Smith & Kim, in their chapter on Middle English:

In the ME period we begin to witness the expansion of the verb phrase (e.g. the rise in frequency and types of periphrastic verb forms).
This has Nothing. To. Do. With. Celtic. At. All.
So the [Middle English] sound losses that we have been talking about obliterated a number of grammatical meanings…and weakened the entire system of case in the paradigm…
Noun classification according to grammatical gender becomes defunct.
Again, nothing t do with Celtic, for crying our loud.

How about this?

In OE the present participle (PDE: speaking) had the suffix -ende (e.g. sprecende [speaking]. In ME the familiar -ing replaces -ende in most dialects…. In OE and early ME, we find instances of the auxiliary verb be + the present participle both with -ende and -ing….

K. Aaron Smith is a real expert on the <-ing> form and the progressive construction, not some alternative medicine practitioner who only writes under a pseudonym. Isn’t it a shame when teachers don’t know how to differentiate between a reliable academic source and an Interwebs wingnut?

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A colleague recently informed me of his belief that I “the level of content knowledge [I] demand … in grammar instruction” is unreasonable and discouraging to would-be scholars. That’s an interesting reprimand to offer someone who teaches grammar classes to people who understand nothing about grammar — that I hold people to a high standard if they are going to claim to understand grammar.


You know, one of us has personal knowledge of what adults are capable of learning and understanding about English grammar, and one of us is only guessing.

It also strikes me as hypocritical that it’s somehow perfectly acceptable for people in this “scholar community” [sic] that I am so often lectured about to hold me to a very high standard of politeness and deference because it’s their opinion that I should be so held, and also acceptable that I am so often kicked out of Facebook groups, excoriated publicly, name-called, and harassed and threatened, because I don’t meet these totally subjective behavioral and personality-based standards.

See, the standards I want to hold people to are these: If someone is going to teach other people grammar — especially adults — that person should know how to tell the difference between a noun and an adjective. They should know the difference between form and function. They should understand that adverbs don’t always modify verbs. They should know how to interrogate Internet graphics that they want to share to make sure they’re accurate and from a reliable source. Likewise, if someone is going to try to teach people about the growth and structure of the English Language, they should actually have studied it, and they should have an understanding of how PDE grammatical forms developed historically so that they don’t fall for total rotten baloney like this bloody bloggy Celtic sausage-making and so they don’t continue to perpetuate these false understandings.

I am not mean or wrong to hold grammar teachers to such a standard. I’m not holding gas station attendants or certified public accountants or electrical engineers to a high grammar-knowledge standard. But people who make money teaching grammar? Absolutely. And for the love of God, that standard does not make me a bully. In fact, I regularly hear from people who appreciate it, because they can trust my integrity as a scholar and as a teacher.

This high expectation is not the same as people trying to hold me to some kind of standard of patience and politeness and tolerance of abject errors spread by “experts.” I do not owe politeness or patience to anyone who is lying to children and teachers, misrepresenting their expertise, or making excuses for the ignorance they are spreading. The thing is, this colleague doesn’t mind at all when I call out Louisa Moats or Malt Joshi or She Templeton on their spelling and grammar errors; it’s only when I call out someone he considers a friend.

That’s not scientific.

It also strikes me as interesting that a colleague — especially a male colleague — has no problem lecturing me about “offering time” to “deepen understanding” — but no one wants to offer me time to deepen my “patience” and “politeness,” even if I were interested in doing so. Of course it’s fine to take all the time you want to understand something, but maybe don’t try to teach a thing you have not yet had the time to come to understand. I’ve been learning, for example, about hypnosis in the treatment of sleep maintenance disorders, but that doesn’t make me a hypnotherapist, and I’m not offering online classes in hypnotherapy. It’s remarkable to me that some of my colleagues — male and female alike — have no problem expecting me to bear some politeness standard that is not even remotely empirical, and that lies outside of my area of expertise (I’m not a therapist or a sex worker; I don’t get paid to make people feel good), but the same people balk when I expect a teacher teaching other teachers to bear a knowledge standard in the subject area they are teaching.


Seriously, go wash that hog, because it stinks.

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This past week, I was celebrating a family member’s college graduation, and talking with my older brother. My brother’s educational background is in physics and business, and he is a muckety-muck in water management in the southwestern U.S. (He also happens to be an amateur linguist who has a Greek tattoo and a Russian license plate and translate hymns from Old Church Slavonic.) Over lunch, he described to my mother and me a regional meeting he recently attended. Needless to say, water management is contentious, and at times, he said, he has to tell stakeholders, “Let’s not pretend like there are simple solutions here.” I seized upon that let’s not pretend.

“When you tell people ‘Let’s to pretend,’ do they call you mean?” I asked him.

“No. I’m not the mean one,” he said.

“Interesting,” I said, “because in my field, when I say things like ‘Let’s not pretend like you actually know what a phoneme is’ or ‘Let’s not pretend like that never happens in phonics instruction,’ people complain and call me mean.

“That’s because you say it in a mean way,” he teased. Har-de-har-har. What that really means is that I am guilty of facts while female.

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I’m starting a new round of Grammar for Grown-Ups — a class informed by my studies with Dr. Smith — a class that has radically changed and is continuing to change the understanding of grammar in this “scholarly community” — in March of 2019. It will be scheduled according to the needs of the first 10 people registered. Lock in your price now with a deposit before the New Year; prices are subject to change.

This class does not require any pre-requisites or prior grammatical knowledge; in fact, the more you think you know now, the more you’ll have to unlearn over the course of the year.

Do you want to understand English grammar? Does that sound good to you?

don’t doubt it.

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An Explosive Understanding

I grew up in a very fruity family.

One set of maternal great-grandparents (Morris and Ann) met through their fathers (Solomon, a.k.a. Max or Meyer, and Sam), both Polish Jews who had emigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Meyer and Sam were both produce salesmen in California; later, Morris and his brother Pete ran Smith Brothers Produce, a small stand in California. I’m not positive what happened to Smith Brothers, but I think it was one of the small produce operations bought out by eventually giant produce wholesaler Levy-Zentner & Company.

Later still, my maternal grandpa, Ted — son-in-law to Morris and Ann — worked for Levy-Zentner. My mom and my aunt remember their father’s relationships with central Californian farmers and their families, including an Italian immigrant family whose daughter’s wedding they attended as young adults. I mostly remember my grandpa being retired, but I always knew he worked in produce; as a kid, I remember my large family receiving large cardboard crates of fruit from my him: grapefruits and mangos and California pears.  As a young adult, reading William Saroyan and John Steinbeck’s California fictions made me imagine what things might’ve been like in my grandfather’s life as a young husband and father, whom he may have encountered. I wish I had known enough to ask him when he was alive, but I lacked that foresight. For years, I schlepped stacks of yellowish ledger paper marked with their red rooster logo from one home to another around the country. I still have a few sheets, but most of it left my current premises at the urging of my office organizer.

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On my dad’s side, my uncle Tony was the son of one of Delaware, Ohio’s Dinovo Brothers produce wholesalers. An uncle by marriage, he was the third generation of Dinovo Brothers, the produce business having been started by his grandfather, Sam, in 1913. My Uncle Tony sold the business in the 1980s, and then ran a place called Cranberry Resort.

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See? Fruity.

Fruit is the thing I pretty much always feel like eating, and there really aren’t any fruits that I don’t like.

But my favorite? Pomegranates, hands down. They’re really only good for a couple months in the late fall / early winter. They taste better out west because they don’t have to travel quite so far. I remember visiting some of the old Spanish Missions in southern California whose gardens boast pomegranate trees full of unharvested fruit. I really wanted to take some of them home, but I didn’t. Some say that the pomegranate was the fruit of the Tree of Life in the mythical Garden of Eden, rather than the proverbial apple.

For those couple of months, I peel and eat the seeds of one or two pomegranates pretty much every day.

Both the Latinate pome (French pomme) and the Germanic apple have more general historical denotation of ‘fruit’ than their present-day specifics as Granny Smith or Fuji or Red Delicious apples. To wit: pomme de terre (that’s French for ‘potato,’ literally ‘apple of the earth’) and pineapple. A pomegranate is etymologically a grainy (or seedy) apple/fruit, because of its tight matrix of juicy seeds (or grains).

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A grenade is so named because of its resemblance to a pomegranate; indeed, in Modern French, the same word is used for both the explosive and the fruit. Classic grenadine is made from pomegranate juice, and the Spanish city of Granada (and its namesake Grenada) is likely named for the red fruit. The icy Italian dessert granita is named for its snowcone-like grains of flavored ice. And the granite countertops in my kitchen have a slightly grainy appearance, as any granite.

I guess you could say that my love of fruit, like my love of words, is set in stone.

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My shippers are having a baby! Since they are already wonderful parents of a wonderful family, this is the best kind of news.

Their Christmas package arrives December 14th, and I plan to give them some time and space to family without worrying about shipments.

The last set of shipments for 2018 will go out on Friday, December 7th. Any subsequent orders received in 2018 will not ship until shipments resume on January 4th.

While LEXinar costs are holding steady, prices on study materials are subject to change after January 1st, so make your plans and place your year-end orders now.

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Content Enough to Function

I’m pleased to announce a long-overdue new LEXinar: The Content~Function Continuum.

Here’s the flyer:

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If you’ve received your new LEX Grapheme Deck, or an InSight Deck, and you’d like to understand more about “lexical spellings” or “functional spellings,” this is the class for you.

I’m offering this class twice over the northern hemisphere’s winter break: Friday, December 28th at 5pm CENTRAL Standard Time, or Thursday, January 3rd at 9am CENTRAL. When you register, please indicate which one you’d like to take.

The class includes a printable activity handout.

Please join me! Go here to register.

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