Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Technical Difficulties

I had some issues with blog posts over the past week. I wrote one that ended up in the wrong place on the website, and then wrote another that self-deleted when I tried to move the first. I’m pretty tech savvy, but it’s not my natural habitat, so I’m confident that it was my fault and not some technical glitch. I’m still not sure what I did. Usually I draft in a word processor and then transfer the document to the blog, but this past week I didn’t, and it cost me. So if you saw a blog post appear and then disappear, it wasn’t me playing games; it was me trying to move something and losing it altogether. Too bad, because it was a quality post.

To repeat the cliché, Technology is great when it works.

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Sometimes, the trouble we encounter in word analysis is technical. My LEXinars often delve into seemingly esoteric technical points. It’s not because I’m a pedant; it’s because if you want to have a coherent, working system, you need to deal with technical difficulties. That’s true whether you’re operating a roller coaster or a writing system.

A couple weeks ago, I received this inquiry from an earnest and intelligent teacher who’s somehow wrangled her district into paying for her to take *all* of my LEXinars. She’s been studying with me for about a year, and is developing a beautifully consistent and clear understanding.

Gina, she writes. I’m working on a series of matrices to help me work better with my kids. I’m look at <habe/hibe> right now. I came across the word “habitat.” It appears to be a technical term that literally means “it inhabits.” So that would make it part of the word family, but how would you put that in a matrix? Would it go in the circle outside of the box? Have its own box? Something else entirely?

Because I didn’t see this email when it came in nearly a month ago, this teacher nudged me at the end of a LEXinar today. She reframed her question orally, and I said, “I can help you.” It’s not the case that I can help her because I’m morally superior to others; I can help her because I understand grammar and because I’ve studied this very word before. So I found the buried email and offered a response:

“This is a great question!

For starters, I want you to differentiate between inflectional and derivational suffixes. [We had just discussed this in class, so I knew she’d understand, which is not necessarily the case for most teachers.]

Inflectional categories in English are as follows (noun, verb, adjective):
1. plural
2. possessive
3. singular 3rd person present tense
4. past tense
5. present participle
6. past participle
7. comparative
8. superlative

Now I want you to differentiate between productive and non-productive suffixes. All inflectional suffixes are productive. If we get a new noun or a new verb or a new adjective in our lexicon, we will still inflect it the same way: (There were three cyborgs; He googled the answer; That is the phattest blunt evah…)

SOME derivational suffixes are productive, like <-ish>:  My voice sounds so cyborgish on that tape. Or <-able>: The answer to that question is googlable.

SOME derivational suffixes are non-productive, like <-ule> or <-ion>. You can’t just add <-ion> to google and get a noun: *googlion. You can’t just add a <-ule> (node~nodule) to cyborg and get a diminutive: *cyborgule.  No matter how much we might wish we could.

Now, some of our derivational suffixes in English were actually inflectional in Latin. For example, the common, non-productive derivational suffixes <-ent> and <-ant> were actually present participle suffixes in Latin (and/or French). This is exactly what you have with habitat — in LATIN, the marks a 3rd person, present tense verb, like the <-s> inflection in English inhabits. You can’t analyze it as a Latin inflection, because the word habitat in English is a noun, not a verb, and anyhow, it’s ENGLISH, not Latin.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t analyze it, just because it’s in a Latin loanword and has a Latin inflection on the end. We still analyze pleasant as having an <-ant> suffix even though it’s not participial in English like it is in French. In order for us to analyze the <-at> from habitat, it suffices to find another word that has the SAME suffix in it. And here it is (drumroll, please):

< magn + i + fic + at >

The present-day English (proper) noun Magnificat is a Christian (largely Catholic) canticle that is derived from the 3rd person, singular, present-tense Latin verb, magnificat, meaning ‘it magnifies.’ It refers to the Blessed Mary singing ‘My soul magnifies the Lord…’

So you have evidence to show that LATIN 3rd person singular present-tense INFLECTION is functioning as a NON-PRODUCTIVE nominal derivation in ENGLISH words of Latin origin. Both habitat and magnificat bear this pattern. [After sending this I also found requiescat, a funereal prayer (thus, a noun) derived from the 3rd person present-tense verb, roughly translated as ‘may s/he rest…’]

There is also a DIFFERENT non-productive Latinate <-at> suffix in the words format and concordat, which derives from the same Latin stem suffix that gives us <-ate>. In the case of these two words, that stem suffix was used in the Latin past participles formatus and concordatum. We have this same <-at> suffix in words like hemostat or thermostat.

In sum, you totally can analyze the <-at> in habitat, but you don’t have to.

I hope this rehabilitates your understanding and makes you better able to work with this family with your kiddos.”

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It’s a joy to see a teacher even willing to grapple with this level of technical difficulty in the writing system. I knew I could help her — and you — understand what’s up with this word. But in order to do so, it’s not sufficient to just understand spelling; you have to get a REAL grip on grammar too. No fakey-cutesy “Great” parts of speech or lie-binders or silly circle diagrams that don’t make sense. Rather, teachers AND kids need and deserve a real, scientific, elegant understanding of how grammar works.

Recently, I asked a friend and colleague why anyone in our “scholarly community” would accept the repackaged dreck of cruddy old grammar pedagogies as a good thing simply because they have warm feels for the person who produced it. It drives me nuts when someone who studies spelling a little starts offering shoddy classes and hawking erroneous materials as though they are experts, and everyone just lines up and praises the effort because, hey, we’re a community and we have to always be nice and complimentary or else someone might not like us because that’s what (mostly) women worry about.

“Why should I call this my ‘scholarly community’ when being a member of it requires me to check my critical understanding of grammar at the door?” I asked. “Why am I supposed to show scholarly respect toward someone who tries to pass off any and few as demonstrative pronouns [sic]?” I lamented. “Why do people who consider themselves my friends and colleagues expect me to politely smile and nod when I see grammar garbage passed off as expertise?”

“Because they don’t recognize it as garbage unless they’ve studied grammar with you,” she responded. “People don’t understand grammar so when they see that garbage they don’t know it’s garbage.” Ohhhhh, right. She helped me see that just because our broader spelling community understands spelling doesn’t mean that grammar has a good foothold. It doesn’t. People don’t recognize grammar dreck as grammar dreck because they don’t know how grammar works. But, as evidenced in the habitat example, understanding grammar — real, Grown-Up Grammar and not some flaccid 5th-grade facsimile — is a required part of understanding technical difficulties in the writing system. Again, you don’t have to analyze habitat, but technically you can if you know how.

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The teachers who take my classes do not do so out of an abundance of free time. They don’t take my classes because they don’t work or aren’t busy. It’s not the case that there’s a body of scholars who understand this but just choose to “do it” differently. There’s no book I can recommend where you can read up on everything I understand. There is my blog and there is my webstore. People often ask me “where’d you learn this?” or “where can I find that?” as though there is some Secret Compendium for Real-Life Linguists where I go look things up that I then bestow on an intellectually hungry audience of non-linguists.

It’s not like that.

The understanding I offer is my life’s work. I can’t inject it into someone else or refer someone to a Book Where They Can Look It All Up. I can’t make some craptastic video about *irregular verbs [sic] or some putrid *layers of language [sic] graphic smell like a rose. Please. If you want to understand what I’m offering, you have to study with me. You won’t find it in someone else’s materials or someone else’s classes or someone else’s brains. I’m not saying I invented the understanding — it’s all out there, so if you also want to spend 35 years studying language, maybe you’ll arrive here at the end of it. Or you could study with me (unless you’ve overstepped your boundaries with me, in which case, technically,  you can’t).

I’m about to start my 3rd round of Grammar for Grown-Ups at the end of this month. It’s so lovely to see this understanding start to blossom. People in my community now talk about form and function, participles, auxiliary verbs, and constituency, in ways that make sense. Someone emailed me this morning to ask if there’s still room. Yes. There’s still room. You can still sign up. We will be meeting 1-2 Friday evenings per month, from 6-8pm Central US time, starting September 28th.

So come get technical: no grammar facsimiles, no fake answers, no false understandings. Just word nerds in our natural habitat.

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Storing Up

After a brief hiatus for maintenance and upgrades, the LEX Store is back online and better than ever.

The new LEX Grapheme Deck goes to the printer this week and ships in September.

Scheduling information for LEXinars is clearer — I hope these efforts will streamline your LEX experience!


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Connecting the Dots

One of the biggest linguistic offenses by Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, Barton, etc., is the recycling of false information about classical connecting vowel letters. Connecting vowel letters are a thing in language. They are there in Latin and in Greek and in many of the languages that inherited words from them.

Do you know what’s not a thing? *Connectives, that made-up name that the systematic phonics world bestows upon their massacre of accuracy. Below, I’ll take a look at the MYTHS perpetuated in a false, prescriptive, multisensory “Morphology” training handout passed along to me by a colleague, compared to the FACTS supported by actual descriptive evidence from the actual language.

“Flagging accents in many Latin words are four connectives [sic], i, u, ul, and ol. At no time are they accented [stressed], and usually the accent [stress] falls on the vowel directly ahead of them.”

Examples given:
radiation, companion, vocabulary, continual / evaluate, redolent

Connectors are single vowels, period. Their proper linguistic term is connecting vowel letter, not *connective. As the term indicates, it’s a Vowel Letter, period.

While the <i> in radiation is a connecting vowel letter, note that the stress doesn’t fall on the preceding vowel, but on the following one. Phonics can’t even cherry-pick decent examples to support its lies. The <i> in companion is not a connector, but part of the <ion> suffix. Vocabulary has a <ule> suffix — the same <ule> suffix that we see in nodule or ridicule. Just because it’s not word final in vocabulary — and its <e> is replaced by the <ary> that follows it — doesn’t mean it’s not a suffix.

It’s inelegant to invent a *<ul> connector when you already have a <ule> suffix that can be followed by another suffix. Once, this OG person — an acolyte of the late Diana Hanbury King, who spread these “connective” lies as much as anyone — tried to mansplain to me where Diana got her information. I stopped him. “She didn’t get it from the language itself, and that’s all that matters. I don’t care how famous the person she’s quoting is; that person is also wrong.”

You can teach lies on the shoulders of giants. They’re still lies. They’re just giant lies.

Another time, an OG woman wrote me to ask whether the <i> in likelihood or in beautiful was a connector, and how to know. I told her to do word sums and figure it out.

If the <u> in continual is a connector — which it is, etymologically speaking — then how do you explain the stem continue? How do you explain the virtue that’s in virtuous, or the value in evaluate, O Phonics?

Yeah, I thought so. You can’t.

Here’s the best one: redolent has the structure < red + ol + ent >, in which the <red> is a pre-vocalic allomorph of <re->; we also see it in redundant and redact. The <ent> is obviously a suffix. That leaves ONLY the <ol> to be the base element. You can’t have a word constructed as *prefix + connector + suffix. A connector vowel must follow a base; it cannot follow a prefix. That <ol> base denotes ‘smell.’ It also makes an appearance in the compound olfactory, and it is cousin to odor.

Hydrangeas are always redolent of Portugal for me.

What is the purpose of lying when the truth is this beautiful?

Connecting vowel letters from Latin are <i>, <e>, and <u>, which are Latin’s three highest vowels. The fact that they are high vowels matters, because it is the vowel height that causes co-articulatory palatization in so many words, like actual and sensuous and graduate, or special and anxious and righteous. That last one is a hybrid, by the way. A native English word with Latiny aspirations.

A connecting vowel letter in Latin may connect a base to a base (cornucopia), a base to a suffix (facial), or a suffix to a suffix: (malicious). All connectors may be syllabic — <u> and <e> reliably are — (actual, ambiguous, sacrifice, museum). The <i> may also be  nonsyllabic (partial, spacious), but it can have a palatizing effect on the preceding consonant.

The Greek connecting vowel letter is <o>, and it’s always syllabic. It may be stressed, as in photography, or it may be unstressed, as in photograph. We don’t use the <o> connector when the second base element starts with a vowel letter: <pseud + onym>, <ped + iatr + ic + ian>.

A connector vowel behaves like a vowel suffix in that it can replace a replaceable <e>:

< line + e + ar → linear >
< phote + o + graph + y → photography > (compare antiphote)
< face + i + al → facial >
< grade + u + ate → graduate >
< phone + o + loge + y →  phonologist >

But it does not cause doubling of a previous consonant:

< gas + o + meter → gasometer >
< gram + o + phone → gramophone >

Phonics  builds upon its crumbling foundation by offering syllables like <tion>, <ture>, <cial>, <cious>, and calling them *suffixes, or by taking pieces out of the middle of base elements, like the <du> in educate.

Do the word sums yourself. and you’ll see.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand: why does Phonics put all this effort into screeching about how much word structure matters, only to then spread lies about how words are structured?

If you have handouts in your file cabinet that talk about *<ul> and *<ol> and *<ci> and *<du> and the like, go feed your shredder.

Systematic phonics’ treatment of connector vowels is always redolent of lies and misapprehensions.



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Etymology VII!

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I received an inquiry online from a follower in China — I’ll call him Earl — that’s a fairly common question about morphology. I was impressed with how closely Earl has worked to read and understand my work and the understanding it offers; that’s no mean feat even for a native English speaker.

Earl’s English is excellent, and his drive to understand a writing system so different from that of his mother tongue is admirable. His question was about the suffix addition patterns — specifically consonant doubling, when it does and doesn’t happen, and why. Here’s what he asked:

I have some questions about this rule for a long time, because I find some cases don’t follow that rule. For example, “write+ing–>writing” is ok, but does “write+en–>written” still follow the rule? According to the rule it should be rewritten to “write+en–>writen”, because there is a silent “e” in word write, namely, non-syllabic vowel, so, why is not that case? Another counter-example is ladle, the word ladle sum is “lad+le–>ladle”, well, lad is a base accorded with the condition of base part of the rule of consonant doubling, because suffix “le” in word ladle is syllabic equivalent to vowel suffix, so the word ladle should be laddle in accordance with that rule, but in fact, laddle as the written form of ladle is wrong. Wow, I’m still confused with this so far. Could you explain it to me for this exception? I’m looking forward to your response. Thanks a bunch. Best regards!

Clearly, Earl already has a pretty deep understanding of how this suffix addition pattern ought to be working, and he did a great job of articulating that understanding. Of course, I don’t traffic in confusion or exceptions, so it was my hope to re-frame the question in a way that makes more sense, not just provide an answer.

So here’s my explanation:

Hello, Earl,

A word sum — or lexical algorithm — is a self-checking mechanism. You are correct that you cannot synthesize an <-en> suffix to the base <write> and get <written>:

< write + en → *writen >

Therefore, < write + en > cannot be the deep structure of that word. We can also use the lexical algorithm analytically, in the other direction, to determine the deep structure of a written word:

< written → writ + en >

That’s a coherent word sum. The final <t> in the base element, <writ>, doubles when we add the vowel suffix, <-en>.

In an orthographic word sum, we’re not adding a suffix to a “word,” but to a base element, which may be free (able to stand on its own as a word), or bound. Both <write> and <writ> are free forms; they can be realized on their own as words. They can also each take a set of prefixes and suffixes and other bases for compounding, like in < type + writ + en > or < writ + s > or < hand + write + ing >.

It is clear that the two base elements, <write> and <writ> are related, but they are etymologically related — like word first cousins — not morphologically related. Words like writing and writes share the <write> base, and are like siblings. But <write> and <writ> both have their own morphological families.

The same thing is true with wise & wisdom: you cannot add <dom> to <wise> and replace the final <e>; rather, both <wise> and <wis> are base elements. One is free and the other is bound. They share a common ancestor, but the final <e> marks them as distinct written forms.

The same thing is also true with do & did — you cannot add a suffix to <do> and realize <did>. Clearly they are related, but they are word cousins rather than word siblings. Likewise foot and feet, or mouse and mice.

The reasons for having distinct but related forms in the same paradigm are historical: plural nouns like men, feet, mice are the result of a historical process called i-umlaut, while past-tense and past-participle verbs marked with a vowel change (like write~wrote~written or wear~wore~worn) are strong verbs, a kind of verbal paradigm common in Germanic languages.

Now, on to <ladle>: Again, the word sum is a self-checking mechanism, and you are correct that

< lad + le → *laddle >

Likewise, < lad + en → *ladden >, and < lad + ing → *ladding >.

But remember, we can use word sums analytically to reveal the real base element:

< ladle → lade + le >

The <lade> can be considered a free base element, but it’s archaic, so for present-day, current English, one might consider it a bound base. It is cousin to <load>, and that relationship explains the <oa> spelling in load. A “bill of lading” is like a packing slip for a large freight or commercial shipment. It the document that lists what is in the load.

Your assessment of the syllabic <l> in the <le> suffix as being vocalic and thus replacing a final <e> is accurate. We see that in < sidle → side + le > as well.

Your English is excellent, and you’ve clearly done a lot of study of my understanding! Keep up the great work!

Earl was really grateful for that response, and he articulated that his gratitude was motivated by his ability to understand:

Thanks a billion! I think I got it, wow, your excellent explanations make me so comfortable that I am touched so much. Self-checking mechanism is a kind of hint of morphological boundary. Thanks again for your work and works.

I really appreciate Earl allowing me to share his question and his understanding with everyone. I wouldn’t trade this kind of dialogue for all the tea in China.


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She’s a Maniac

Want to see something spectacular?

English has an <-ac> suffix.

It’s the clearest thing under the sun. Let me shine a little light on it:

< helium → heli + um >
< heliac → heli + ac >

Here’s another one, if you have the heart to continue:

< cardiologist → cardi + o + log(e) + ist >
< cardiac → cardi + ac >

Here’s one for those who have the guts:

< ileum → il(e) + e + um >
< ileus → il(e) + e + us >
< ileal → il(e) + e + al >
< ileitis → il(e) + e + itis >
< ileac → il(e) + e + ac >

Of course, anyone can look and see that suffixes don’t have to be word final, so we also have such wonders as

< spectacular → spect + ac + ule + ar >
< spectator → spect + ate + or >
< specter → spect + (e)r >
< spectrum → spect + (e)r + um >

And another, for the love of words!

< logophile → log(e) + o + phile >
< logophilia → log(e) + o + phile + ia >
< logophiliac → log(e) + o + phile + i + ac >

We all know by now that <tion> is not a suffix, no matter who may think so. Whether or not something is a suffix is not a matter of opinion or how someone feels; it’s a matter of structure. Often, when people say, “That’s not a suffix” after seeing proof that it is, what they really mean is, “Hey, it’s news to me that that is a suffix, and I am destabilized by it, even though you’ve laid out evidence.” It’s a really stodgy kind of argument, and it’s not at all scientific. I can’t dance around it: the 80s called and wants its understanding back.

Often, people are thrown because what they are looking at is not a productive suffix in English, meaning that we don’t use it for new words. For example, <-ing> and <-ish> are productive suffixes, because we can invent words like Googling  or cyborgish and people will know what we mean. But kids these days aren’t exactly neologizing words like Googlac, and if they did, it’s unlikely that the meaning would be immediately evident.

However, present-day productivity is not a requirement for an affix to be an affix. If someone wants to argue that <-ac> is not a suffix because it’s not productive, then they’d have to also find that the following suffixes are, well, not suffixes, by the same logic: <-ible>, <-ion>, <-or>, <-ar>, <-ant>, <-ence>, and on and on and on.

And, well, that’s just crazy.

< manic → man(e) + ic >
< mania → man(e) + ia >
< maniac → man(e) + i + ac>

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I often give a shout-out to the self-employed.
But today I want to give a shout out to the employees of the Children’s Dyslexia Centers, past and present, the directors and tutors and office staffers who have worked with me for nearly 20 years. Many have moved on — some got treated poorly first — and many are still there, still training and tutoring and rescuing kids and families, all free of charge or at a very low cost. Still hosting walkathons and spaghetti dinners and raffles to raise the funds to keep serving.
On my first trip to study spelling in France in 2009, I was accompanied by 8 Dyslexia Center colleagues. When I first encountered the orthographic truth, it was with and because of two people: Marcia Henry, one of my CDC trainers, and another dear friend also trained through the CDC, whom I’d known since 2000 or 2001. Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 10.05.33 AMThose are the people who introduced me to Peter Bowers, and who introduced Peter Bowers to the CDC and the IDA. Of the 16 of us who traveled to France last year, half were trained by and/or worked for at least one Children’s Dyslexia Center. Eight of my orders in the past two weeks have been from people with CDC ties. At any given time, any one of my LEXinars is likely to have CDC people in it, including my year-long offerings. The bulk of my international clientele is from the international work of Pete Bowers, whom I also met through my near and dear CDC contacts.
If there is any single affiliation that has brought me a good, solid portion of my present day work, it’s the Children’s Dyslexia Centers. Period.
I remain grateful for the CDC and its employees, past and present, for affording me the opportunity in countless ways to be of good service to others, perhaps especially people with dyslexia. You never tell me how to be, or how to do what I do. You know me, and you keep folding me in to your circles. You know who you are. I thank you for raising me up in so many ways.
          *          *          *          *           *
The words imply and employ are historically the same word, having diverged in French. They both derive from the Latin implicare, also the root of implicate. The Latin verb plicare is ancestor to a host of Present-Day English base elements. Go have a look.
Once in a while, I find that folks within the Dyslexia Industry, but outside of Children’s Dyslexia Center circles, try to imply that they are responsible for giving me access to a Dyslexia Industry audience, that some considerable portion of my work comes from their selfless referral, and that they have the ability to put a stop to that if I say the wrong thing or otherwise misbehave.
I’ve worked in literacy since 1993, started attending national IDA conferences in 1999, and started offering workshops and presenting for IDA in 2001, nearly two decades ago, long before I encountered Real Spelling or Structured Word Inquiry. I trained in an IMSLEC-accredited program under two AOGPE fellows, maintain my certification in good standing, and have offered accredited professional development hours through ALTA for years.
Allow me to be explicit: No one is in any position to imply that they are my ticket to Dyslexialand. Dyslexia didn’t bring me anywhere; rather, people with dyslexia, their families, and those who participated in the same charitable endeavors as I have, through the CDCs — they have brought me not only work around the world, but understanding, companionship, and joy, and that’s why I continued my charitable work with the CDC long past my employment with them.
          *          *          *          *          *
The CDCs are still open, and still in need of funds to continue their good work. They train hundreds of teachers and serve more than 1000 children each year. If you’d like to be trained in Orton-Gillingham, see if there’s a Center in your area. Their free or low-cost training program is fully accredited by both IMSLEC and IDA. If you know a child who needs help, apply and get on a wait list. If you’d like to just make a donation, to keep this critical, charitable work alive, you can do so at this link. Make sure to specify the CDC or a specific CDC as the beneficiary of any donation.
It’s not complicated.


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1,000 Words

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what are 1,000 words worth?

What if some of them are nonsense?

What if some of them are lies?

The Wilson Reading System is coming out with the 4th edition of its lucrative 12-level scripted product.


Here are some pictures of what Wilson has made publicly available, annotated.


Because I have no more words.

We can do better than this.

We must.

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Book ‘Em!

I love getting excited messages from people as their copies of the 2nd volume of the Matrix Study Sheets arrive. I still need to do international orders, which will go out this coming weekend, but all U.S. orders placed prior to April 2, 2018, have been shipped.

“I got my book! Started looking through it. Beautiful! So excited to dig deep! ”

“I just got the matrix study sheets!!! can’t wait to use them with my kids!! Thanks so much!!”

“I actually received the sheets today! They are absolutely incredible and I am so excited to study up!”

“The Matrix Study Sheets came! Thank you!”

“Hurrah! I got my two copies!!”

Not every linguist gets greeted with cheers and a surfeit of exclamation points.

I’m a pretty lucky linguist.

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LEX in pleased to announce two new products from our partners:



Truer Words

Emily O’Connor of Advantage Math Clinic has hand-selected 10 words for study.  Each card in this deck explores a single, complete lexical item — a single written English word — as both a big-picture tapestry of a word family, and through the Four Questions of Structured Word Inquiry.

They are beautiful and useful for personal study, teaching, investigation, and just plain marveling at.


Etymology Study Sheets

Scott Mills of LIV(E), my co-author on the 2nd volume of Matrix Study Sheets, offers this superb resource for individuals, classrooms, and clinics that allows for engagement with Etymology without an online connection. This book, created in conjunction with LEX and the Online Etymology Dictionary, is a collection of timelines and entries from the Etymology Dictionary. Entries feature broad etymological word families, and where applicable, a cross-reference with LEX’s Matrix Study Sheets.

Both items, along with the 2nd Volume of Matrix Study Sheets, are available in Portland this weekend at our Etymology Weekend Book Reception, and online in the LEX store for a limited time.

Order yours today.

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