Every year, Doug Harper and I put our heads together to figure out what we’re going to study for and with the folks who show up to our annual Etymology! weekend, and this year is no different.

Thanks to some recent questions about phonesthemes, assimilation, and to the constant, steady drip-drip-drip of Phombie sheeple who keep bleating praise to their gods of phalse phonology (really — it’s been a crazy few weeks), this year we’re taking a look at pronunciation, sound, phonology, and phonetics, over time.

Read the Registration Flyer. Look up the word phylogeny. Or just go and register now. And then look up phylogeny.

Hope to see you in March!

The reaction to my claims about nonsense words being, you know, nonsense, has been ongoing and wide — including four continents, pro-phonics people and anti-phonics people (I am neither), accolades and insults. I have heard about what people feel and believe and even think, but I have not seen any actual evidence to falsify my assertions. I’ve had my name dragged through the mud on Facebook, had people call me mean (uh-gain), and had my credentials maligned because a mom in Australia can’t find me on Google Scholar.

It has been incredibly stressful.

So I was really looking forward to my study session tonight with a 2nd grader I call Cupcake. We almost didn’t make it, because scheduling stinks. But she came tonight at the end of a long and busy day, even with a bad cold, eager to look at word sums and matrices and the stories of silent letters. I haven’t even told her yet that making a matrix in a circle isn’t a “game.”

Her mom had texted me a picture of her spelling list this week: words with <wr> and <kn> and <gn> — some of my favorites! Phonics says those digraphs have “silent letters” (which is not helpful) and rarely offers much more of an explanation; I told Cupcake we were going to study not only how these spelling words were spelled, but also why they’re spelled that way.

She chose <sign> off her list to study first. Of course she did! I have met many a true scholar whose journey started with a question about the <g> in <sign>. We talked about traffic signs and traffic signals, did a word sum for <signal>, and then we talked about signatures and the significance of whatever it is that signs and signals can signify. We talked about how the <g> in <sign> is a zero, but the <g> in <gnat> is just part of a <gn> digraph (a distinction no phonics phan ever understood, but this 2nd grader did). We saved the <kn> stories for last, but my favorite part of the lesson came while we were studying <wr>.


Edit: I realized after I posted and shared this photo that the title should be TRUE, not REAL: look in the upper right corner. But that doesn’t change the story at all.

While we looked at the <wr> words on her spelling list (including writing, even though she hasn’t learned about replacing a final <e> in school), I explained that bases with an initial <wr> pertain to twisting or turning. We picked a word from her list, <wrist>. I asked her what it means. She said, “It’s like an ankle, only it’s on your arm.” I thought that was a perfect definition. I asked her to show me how her wrist moves, and we compared it to her elbow. One twists; the other doesn’t. We talked about the word <wrong> and how when your sock is on wrong, it’s twisted, and how when you write, there are some twists and turns and you use your wrist.

As we thought of examples, Cupcake looked at me with a grin-crinkled nose and interrupted delightedly: “Wait—” she asked me, “is this stuff REAL?”

I thought this was a fantastic question, and I said so just as soon as I got done cracking up. I understood exactly what she meant. “Yes,” I said. “it’s real. I am not making this up.” I pulled out the <wr> card, the <kn> card, and the <gn> card out of my LEX Grapheme Deck and we began to look at them. “This is not a magic trick or some silly thing I invented,” I said. “It’s the real story and structure of the language.” I pointed to the Four Questions. She and her mom were so smiley and so amazed. Poor Cupcake had a runny nose and was yawning, but she stuck with me, because she was getting something real and she knew it.

Sense and meaning are the whole point of language, and written language is no exception. There is no need for nonsense. It’s not controversial or fruitless to study real things. It’s not even hard.

It’s all in the wrist.

OK, Phombies, let’s consider phonics from the perspective of professional development. Phonics requires participants to memorize arbitrary sets of made-up things, like these:

~phonograms, which may be single graphemes, clusters, markers, syllables, parts of syllables affixes, rimes, or combinations thereof.

~syllable types, which are an unspecified mix of spoken and written patterns. Are there 6? 7? 8? I’ve heard it all.

~syllable division patterns, which are noncontrovserially artificial. Are there 4 patterns? 5? 6? 8? Where do you divide royal? How about roil? Or father? Is it fa.ther or fath.er? How do you know? What’s the evidence? If you divide de.ter.min.a.tion or ques.tion, you are totally missing everything about those words.

~phonemes for a grapheme, which may or may not actually be phonemes (like grouping <a> in with ‘short u’) or graphemes (like *<eigh> or *<ti>)

~copious, endless lies about etymology (I’ve documented this widely — go look — cry is not Anglo-Saxon and television is not Latin. The Romans HAD no televisions and they were so jealous of the Greeks about that).

~”guided questioning” which teachers are supposed to be able to pull out of their mental hat, and which are based on the rest of the false understanding: “what type of syllable is it?” “what is the vowel sound in a closed syllable?” “How many phonograms are there in nation?” “What spells */shun/?” Infinite questions, finite discoveries.

~red words or whatever you call this abomination. Words are not red or tricky or demons unless human beings make them that way. That is a fact. Give me any word you think is an exception and I will make your brain grow.

~symbols for pronunciation, which differ from one program to another, beyond the short and long vowels. If you represent medial consonant in ‘father’ as */th/, then how do you represent the medial consonant in ‘panther’ (also */th/?) or in ‘hothouse’ (also /th/?). Some programs use /TH/ or they underline it or bold it or whatever — as I said, not consistent.

Phonics makes you good at . . . phonics. It may improve your literacy performance, but it won’t make you good at other things.

And then there’s real language study, in which you get to gather the following things, organized in an elegant framework with finite set of scientific tools to understand and infinite discoveries to make:

~morphemes, which may be free (bases) or bound (bases, affixes)

~graphemes, which are actually visible and have been researched, analyzed, and published in my LEX deck, which my “peers” are welcome to “review” at any time. Graphemes reveal and pinpoint the messiness of the phonemes that are in our heads, about whose pronunciation phonics people are arguing ad nauseum. (How do you pronounce <wh>? Or the <a> in bang or bank? Is <ar> spelling one phoneme or two?)

~syllable types: there are only two: closed, which have a consonant coda, and open, which have no coda. We also get to understand that the nucleus of a syllable is not always a vowel, and under what circumstances. Linguists don’t disagree about this, at all.

~IPA: a comprehensive, real-world symbol system that works not only for English, but for any language, and that is used not only by linguists, but by lexicographers (proper dictionaries), musicians, speech pathologists, dialect coaches, actors, singers, computer programmers, communications researchers, university professors, language teachers and students, translators and interpreters, and more.

~word sums: these work the same way for any word, including checking the joins for suffixing patterns, and they are an established tool in linguistic science.

~matrices: infinite possibilities, finite guidelines, scientific tool.

~questions: Four. The same four, always. Nothing arbitary. Finite questions, infinite discoveries.

~attested roots and reconstructed roots: etymology is a linguistic science, not a triangle with false examples.

~explanations, not exceptions.

~InSights, not sight words

~Tools to form, test, and falsify hypotheses based on physical evidence

I am not interested in developing phonics professionals. I’m interested in developing professionals. Actually, I’m just interested in developing people and being developed by them.

If you want to cheerlead for phonics here, please do so with evidence, not with citations about some article you read or what some government is doing with its schools.

I’m saying goodbye to 2016 in appropriate fashion: spending time with my family, eating a lot, fighting a cold, and studying word things.

Over the years that I’ve been at this word study and teaching and training thing, I’ve encountered references to a 1966 study known as The Stanford Spelling Survey, by Hanna, Hanna, Hodges, and Rudorf, four professors of education who analyzed 17,310 English words and wrote up their research in an article that’s cited over and over and over.  From this analysis of less than 2% of English words and a lot of number crunching, Hanna et al. concluded that English is 67% “regular.” That study has been used as the foundation of so much of modern phonics, including pedagogical decisions based on what patterns are considered “regular,” “common,” and “exceptions.”

This 50-year-old phonocentric study was brought to my attention again while I was working on my dissertation this past week, and also by a comment on my last post which I did not publish out of deference to the writer, who, like me, is a business owner with a public profile; unlike me, she runs a phonics center that trains people in Wilson and LETRs and other shopkeeping packages that I’ve countered with linguistic evidence many times before.  She wrote a comment to argue that the “frequency of occurrence with regard to nonsense words” matters, and cited a table from a 2010 book (which I have) that was copied from a 1976 book (which I also have), which itself was citing an article from 1966 (which I also have), that was in turn built on one author’s question from 1949 (yes, I have that too).

Paul Hanna’s 1949 question was “regarding the correspondences [of graphemes and phonemes] and their consistency in spelling,” as explained in the 1966 article. Twice I was directed to that 1966 article in my studies this week; there are no coincidences. As I said, I run into citations of that study frequently. It’s common. But this week’s two encounters were louder in my head than usual.  My email response to the LETRs Lady was clear and direct: I explained clearly that the “frequency of occurrence” of nonsense words is zero, and the “frequency of occurrence” of actual phonemes and graphemes in nonsense words is zero. The only evidence she had given me at all was a citation of a book citing another book citing an article, right? So I decided to trace it back to its source.

That table (which can be googled) was first published by Elsie D. Smelt in 1972 and has been cited widely since; her figures are taken from the 1966 Stanford Study. Smelt’s table says that “the most common way of writing each vowel sound is with one letter,” and this claim is attributed to the Stanford study as well. But what exactly do we mean by “common” or “frequent,” and how does that knowledge help readers and spellers? While single-letter vowel spellings may be the default grapheme for “long” and “short” vowel phonemes, spelling and reading strategies are not based on statistical calculations by proficient readers. Moreover, while we have only 6 single-letter vowel graphemes, we have more than 30 vowel digraphs and trigraphs, a ratio that troubles the notion of single letters being the “most common” spelling.  Let’s see what Hanna et al. actually say.

Here’s the basic framework they offer:

“These structural components of oral language include: (A) the phonetic reservoir from which a phonemic code is selected, (B) the phonemic base, (C) the morphological base, that is, the arrangement of phonemes into speech units which minimally express meaning, (D) the syntactic and grammatical base, that is, the arrangement of morphemes into syntactic patterns, and (E) the semantic base, which conveys meanings in terms of the conceptual system of a language community.” [I’m substituting his numbers with letters to make this post easier to write.]

Two things struck me right away: first, that these educators at least acknowledge a distinction between phonetic and phonemic concerns, which is more than I can say for many present-day phonics resources; and second, that they — and everyone who has followed in their formidable footsteps — have the way a language works totally backwards. Now, they’re talking about oral language rather than written, but the point is the same: you don’t start with phonetics and end up in meaning; rather, you start with meaning and from there, can analyze words (lexemes) into their sublexical (smaller-than-word) structures, including morphemes, phonemes, and the graphemes that pinpoint and reveal them.

In the word study I’m engaged in, we ask four questions:
(1) What does it mean?
(2) How is it built?
(3) What are its relatives?
(4) What segments and features of pronunciation matter to meaning? These segments are the only ones that are  revealed in the spelling.

Question 1 has to be first — there’s no point in knowing how to write a word whose meaning you don’t know.  And Question 4 has to be last — you can’t figure out the orthographic phonology until you have evidence for the other pieces. But Questions 2 and 3 can and do toggle considerably in any investigation. So you start with meaning, and you stay rooted in meaning all the way through. What does it mean?  And even Question 4, which deals with pronunciation, only concerns itself with aspects of pronunciation that matter to the meaning. So it’s the Stanford Study’s fifth and final concern — semantics, “the conceptual system of a language community” — which is where we actually need to start.

Our second question, How is it built?, is captured more or less in the Study’s third and fourth concerns, in which “the morphological base” and “the arrangement of morphemes” is considered. They define morphology as “the arrangement of phonemes into speech units which minimally express meaning.”

Oh if only there were some way to make those “speech units” that we use to “express meaning” visible!

Working backwards still, the Study’s second concern is phonology, the “phonemic base.” The reason there’s any fifth piece is because they’re talking about oral language, so phonetics is a thing because it’s actually spoken, and because although they differentiate phonetics from phonemics, they don’t seem to have any idea in the article that phonetics has nothing to do with orthography.

Of course, the Stanford Spelling Study doesn’t even mention etymological relatives, because it has no idea about the etymological governance of graphemes. It can tell you that 10% of the 17,000 words  that have /i:/ are spelled with <ee>, and 10% are spelled with <ea>, but it can’t tell you why <beech> and <beach> make sense. This study knows nothing about etymological markers or why words have a single, final, non-syllabic <e>. We know better now, so why is 21st-century so-called reading research still so married to a half-century-old, roundly debunked understanding of graphemes?

Seriously, professionals need to stop embarrassing themselves by clinging to these relics.

I also took a look at the numbers and at the phonemic and graphemic inventories used by this seminal study. It’s a bloodbath. I am not exaggerating. The phonemic inventory is lifted directly from the Merriam Webster Dictionary, which is important, because even if dictionaries were actually right about everything (they’re not), we’re still talking about a dictionary that has been updated and changed multiple times, including with regards to its pronunciation key, over the past 50 years. So the “research” that people want me to consider is based on a 50-year-old dictionary, interpreted by 50-year-old research, cited 40 years ago, and then re-cited in very recent years, none of which is evidence of anything at all about the language other than what cruddy research practices we have in literacy education.

The authors themselves “readily admit[] that this pronunciation key [from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary] has several critical weaknesses.”  They also acknowledge that linguists don’t always agree about everything, and that their graphemic inventory (which was all about how easily a computer could process 17,310 words) was also flawed.: “Unfortunately, complete consistency with this criterion could not be maintained, and so some exceptions to this general rule will be found among the list.” So we’re in exception-land, which is really not science. They do ask questions like “Is <I> a part of the graphemic option <TI> or <IO> in nation? In conscience, is <I> a part of the graphemic option <SCI> or <IE>?”, and they conclude that “Again linguists disagree upon this point.”

Well, folks, linguists may have disagreed on that point a half century ago, but orthographic linguists don’t disagree about it now. I already laid out proof in another post that there’s no <ie> in conscience — no matter that Louisa Moats says there is as though she proved it (she didn’t). Linguistics is a science, and we know more now about these kinds of questions — we have better tools now than we had 50 years ago, like the lexical word matrix, the orthographic word sum, the mini matrix maker, and the Online Etymology Dictionary, and better, faster ways of disseminating and discussing investigations and new information (in real time online classes, on editable websites and social media. We don’t have to carry around some dusty old misunderstanding like it’s our last keepsake from our long lost Pappy.

For reals, why are professionals — researchers and educators, of all people — clinging to 50-year-old research that didn’t even conceive of today’s scientific tools? Can you imagine if a surgeon or a rocket scientist did that? Mayhem. Can you imagine if we elected someone who ignored and denied modern climate science as President? Oh, wait… Sigh.

Science matters. Understanding the difference between factual, physical evidence, scientific consensus, and the repeated sub-letting of citations from, uh, wherever, something sciency-sounding, is just so critical to everything.

Among the lettery circus freaks that the Stanford Study offers in its admittedly troubled graphemic inventory are a *<bt> in debt, a *<ua> in guard and a *<cc> in occur. In real life, the <b> in debt is an etymological marker (debit); the <u> in guard, guaranteeguerillaguest, etc., is part of <gu> digraph that can mark an etymological relationship to cognates with a <w>: guard~warden, guarantee~warrantee, guerilla~war, guide~guise~guywire~wit~witness (‘to see’), guile~wily.  And as any regular reader already knows, the two <c>s in <occur> are each in separate morphemes. That’s like saying that there’s an <ea> in react or a <th> in hothouse. Big fat can of graphemic nope.

I could go on and on and on and on, but I’m gonna go hang out with my kid and watch a ball drop on this crazy calendar year. I’m not much for resolutions, but I’d welcome resolve to move into 2017 not clinging to antiquated phonics research like it’s a bible or a gun and something evil is after you.

I’m sorry that modern phonics is built on a rickety, outdated, dismantled, misguided, misquoted old study. I’m not sorry for pointing it out, and I’m not sorry for yelling a little. If you were clinging to a life raft of the same age and quality and I had a new speedboat, I’d be yelling just as loudly to save your life as I am now.

For the last couple of days, I’ve been running into a lot of online phonics apologia about the use of nonwords, nonsense words, pseudowords, word-attack words, phonemic decoding items, and/or so-called “detached syllables,” in instruction, intervention, and assessment. For starters, the fact that these things have so many different names should cue us in that they are not an actual thing, not a scientific thing, anyhow (just like so-called “sight words”). They are not an actual category, if for no other reason than that many of the examples I’ve encountered over the years are actually real words in use in English, like cam, pate, lander, din, rayed, oft, knap, sedge, bi, [P]og, ta, lat, lum, barchan, and a lot more. Some people collect stamps; I collect linguistic scat from literacy educators and I study it.

People like to argue that nonwords are an effective means of teaching or assessing a student’s knowledge of what they call “grapheme-phoneme correspondences,” or GPC. But every single one of these nonword materials and studies misapprehends both a G and a P, as evidenced by such fabricated baloney as the “quadgraphs” [sic] like *<ough> and *<eigh>, and by the failure to even consider the difference between phones and phonemes. The fact of the matter in our writing system is that no G has a C to a P outside of an M, and M stands for morpheme. Once you remove phonemes and graphemes from a meaningful context, they’re no longer phonemes or graphemes.

To a resource, they all erroneously assume phonological primacy; that is, they remove orthographic phonology from its meaningful context because they wrongly assume that it’s primary to the meaningful constraints and influences of morphology and etymology. That very practice effectively means it’s no longer phonology, because phonology — including phonemes and the graphemes that spell them — is distinctive for meaning and it’s language-specific; nonwords are neither. It is noncontroversial that English orthographic phonology is delimited and constrained by meaning, structure, and history, regardless of how that fact makes people feel.

More than one person has suggested that nonwords were the only way to “break” a student of the habit of guessing at words, often in isolation. Well, you can break an overeating habit by taking up smoking, too, and you can kick a heroin habit by taking up methodone, but that doesn’t mean that the new habits have no harmful consequences. I’d rather focus my scholarship on what I can build than on what I can break.

I’ve also heard from a number of people working with “older” children who are called “treatment resisters” or “treatment fatigued” — kids who spend YEARS in Barton or Wilson and never get past so-called closed and open syllables [sic]. They may begin to “read” better (depending on what you think “read” means), but they continue to spell and write years behind their eulexic peers, largely spelling everything based on the way they pronounce it, because that’s exactly what they’ve been taught to do. I’ve heard from teachers and parents of children who read years ahead of their peers too, kindergarteners who read 3rd grade chapter books with ease, but have no idea how to spell or how to “decode” unfamiliar words, so they’re subjected to nonword drills in order to “measure” their “knowledge” of “alphabetics” or of GPCs.


So here is my analysis of all of the nonwords featured on a publicly available assessment called The Nonword Reading Test. The test instructions say “Either a regular or an irregular pronunciation is acceptable,” but no definition of “regular” or “irregular” is offered beyond that for <soser>, “soaser” would be “regular and rhyming with “loser” would be irregular.

First of all, there is NO ENGLISH WORD spelled with the sequence <oaser>, or even with an <oase> to which we could add an <er>. So how on God’s Grapheme Earth is that “regular”? Moreover, they do NOT specify how the <oa> or the medial <s> in “soaser” would be pronounced. Is the <oa> pronounced as in boat or as in broad or as in oasis? Is the <s> pronounced as in wiser, eraser, or pleasure? And how is the child or the teacher supposed to know or understand that?

You know why <loser> is spelled with an <o>? Because <looser> is a different word, and <lose> is cognate to <loss> and <lost>. What’s “irregular” about that? Just because teachers and researchers and psychometricians are generally ignorant to that breathtaking fact makes it no less a breathtaking fact. Context matters to so-called GPCs. Otherwise they’re neither Gs nor Ps, and any Cs you think are there are not real.


While we’re talking about <soser>, we may as well take a closer look at, um, <closer>: in“this street is closer than that street, the medial consonant is [s]. In he’s the best sales closer of the month” it’s a [z] — those two examples have two different suffixes that happen to spelled and pronounced the same, but don’t share a meaning! The ONLY way you know how to pronounce that word is if you know what it means. And that’s not even considering the pronunciation of the <s> in <closure>.

My analysis provides incontrovertible evidence against the motivating characteristics of all nonword resources: That dusty old crooked Assumption of Phonological Primacy.

The CrAPP.

Here’s the list from this test, along with English words I provide that share (some of) the same sequences of letters. If it feels like some kind of shameful hell for you to read through these, just imagine you’re a 12-year-old dyslexic with an IQ of 138. Or really, anyone.

One Syllable
1. plood: food, good, blood

2. aund: auberge, auto, Auschwitz — and <aunt> can rhyme with pant [ænt], haunt [ɔnt], or font [ɑnt], depending on your dialect.

3. wolt: colt, but also wolf, wolverine, woman, word, work, worm

4. jint: pint, lint — in many dialects lint and lent rhyme.

5. hign: sign, malign, benign, but signal, malignant; also hour, honor, and herb.

6. pove: shove, move, stove

7. wamp: ramp, swamp, swam

8. cread: bread, bead — for crying out loud, <read> is both [riːd] and [rɛd] — and how about create, or triad?

9. slove: glove, stove, prove — haven’t we been here before?

10. fongue: tongue, fondue, wrong, humongous, segue

11. nowl: bowl, fowl, snow, now, lowly, bowlegged

12. swad: swan, swam, swamp (is there an echo in here?)

13. chove: choir, cholera, chop, chef, and see pove and slove

14. duede: suede, due, clued, cued, swede, educate

15. sworf: sword, swollen, sworn, swore, word, work

16. jase: base, phase — vase, for crying out even louder, can be [veɪs], [veɪz], or [vɑz]

17. freath: breath, wreath, great, smooth

18: warg: war, warm, forward, wary, argue (there is no English word that ends in <arg> — if it’s a detached syllable, then what about larger?)

19. choiy: the graphemes <oi> and <y> are never, ever in sequence. Even <iy> is tightly constrained: that sequence is either across a morpheme boundary (as in multiyear) or in a non-English word, like teriyaki or aliyah. Consider joy and soy and bok choy.

Two Syllable (so much for that ‘detached syllable’ rationale)
1. louble: double, rouble, boucle, tousle, loud

2. hausage: sausage, usage, garage, stage, courageous, also hour and honor and herb again.

3. soser: loser, poser

4. pettuce: lettuce, induce; petty has a double <t>; petting has a doubled <t>; flattop has neither.

5. kolice: police, policy (some people say POlice), malice, preslice. And why does this have a <k> before an <o>?

6. skeady: steady, beady, skean

7. dever: clever, fever — hell, lever can be both [‘lɛvɚ] and [liːvɚ]!

8. biter: This is not a nonword. It’s a word: “My new puppy is a biter.” Nonetheless, if it were, say, <piter> instead, notice writer, whiter (note the different <er> suffixes), liter, arbiter

9. islank: island, mislay, Islam, mankiller, and anyhow, vowel pronunciation is often disputed before [ŋ], but the orthographic phonology is revealed by the graphemes.

10. polonel: colonel, colony, colon, polish, police, Polish — what in the hell can *polonel tell you about anything at all? Someone please make it stop.

11. narine: This is actually a word; it means “pertaining to the nostrils” or the same as “narial.” Criminy, is your google broken? But also, marine, margarine, alkaline, urine, line, incline…

12. kiscuit: biscuit, intuit, circuit, circuitous, recruit, and how about Jesuit? The Jesuits have always valued knowledge and evidence.

Why 19 monosyllables? Why 12 disyllables? Why 31 total? Only the <shade + ow> <know + s>.

This “test” features the following rough distribution of graphemes, depending, for example, on whether the <s> in <islank> and the <g> in <hign> are supposed to be graphemes or markers, or on whether the <<ui> in <kiscuit> is one grapheme (bruise) or two (intuit). Those are just a few examples of the ascientific foolishness embedded in here that makes a real scientific analysis challenging:

b (3)
c (4, including both [k] and [s])
d (5)
f (3)
g (2-3, [g] and [ʤ] and [∅])
h (0-2, initial only, which could be French markers)
j (2, initial only)
k (4, including the unconventional *kolice)
l (9-10, including *polonel. Honestly.)
m (1)
n (9)
p (4, initial only)
r (2, initial only)
s (8-9, most of which have multiple possible pronunciations)
t (5, including <tt>)
v (4, of which 3 are in an <ove> rime)
w (3-4, initial or following <s>)
ch (1, initial only)
th (1, final only)
gue (1, or maybe it’s a <g> followed by a <ue>, as in argue, or a <g> followed by a <u> and an <e>, as in segue. Who knows?)
That’s 17 of 20 single-letter consonant graphemes (x, y, and z didn’t rank), two digraphs (out of more than two dozen), and whatever the heck <gue> is supposed to be. Why are <n> and <l> — which have a single phonemic association — as important as <s>, or more important than <c> or <ch>, which all have multiple pronunciations?
I so want to cuss right now. FFS: the middle F stands for Fonics, though.
a     (4-5)
e     (3)
i      (8)
o     (8-9, including whatever the hell is up with *polonel)
u     (0-2, depending on whether the <u> in *duede or in *fongue is a grapheme or not)
y     (2)
ar   (2)
or   (1)
er   (3)
au   (2)
ea   (3)
oi    (1)
oo   (1)
ou   (1)
ow   (1)
ue    (0-1)
ui    (0-1)
Final non-syllabic <e> (10, of which 3 are in an <ove> rime)
This includes 5 or all 6 of the single-letter vowel graphemes, but <i> and <o> are featured 2-3 times as much as <a> and <e>. It also includes three of many rhotic vowel spellings (why <or> but not <oar>, <ore>, <oor>, or <our>, which can all spell [ɔɹ]?) It also includes 6-8 vowel digraphs (out of around 30) and zero vowel trigraphs (we have two). This doesn’t even include half of the orthography’s vowel graphemes, the vast majority of which are digraphs. You know why <feat> has an <ea> and <feet> has a <ee>? I can give you at least two good reasons for each word. And they make total sense.

How is this nonword GPC inventory in any way representative of any kind of coherent “knowledge” about graphemes, phonemes, or their alleged correspondences? It’s just not. Whoever slapped it together — as with every single nonword resource I’ve ever seen, used, or recently investigated — has no idea that <w> can mark the phonology of a subsequent <a> or <o>, or that an <ove> rime has multiple possible pronunciations. I can think of at least three good reasons why <move> is spelled with an <o>; nonwords can’t think of a single one.

As my good and wise friend and colleague says, if a child writes *<dun> instead of <done>, you have all the information you need that he already owns the CrAPP concept of GPCs, and that it’s already doing its damage.

Can anyone offer any explanation that makes this kind of nonsense anything other than a sadistic but nonlethal method of collecting meaningless data about meaningless “knowledge” about meaningless “patterns”? I welcome any and all nonsense word measures. I guarantee you I can find you massive problems with any one of them.
Ighm aul ierse. Doar’z oapon.

I’ve had the immense pleasure recently of working with two different second graders. One’s journey I’ve been documenting in a Facebook group (complete with pictures and narratives about our sessions); I call her Cupcake, because that’s the word she wanted to investigate with me first. The other, whom I call River, I just began with after working with other family members for the past couple of years.

River lives a little ways away from me, so she and I met online. Her mom prepared the physical materials for our session from files I emailed her, and I prepared the electronic version so River and I could work together.

I had met River only once in the past, and that was brief. Our first session together was yesterday, and our second, today. Yesterday, we established some basics: a base element (<heal>), its immediate family — the relatives built on <heal>, and its more distant family — the relatives that share a root but not a base.

I gave her a lot of words. I read some. She read some. If she hadn’t heard of a word, I made a decision — I either told her what it meant and used it in a sentence, or I put it aside. She identified those that had an <heal> and added them to the square that will become our matrix. Words River thought might be related went in or near the circle. Words deemed unlikely to be related went in the lower right. Over the course of our 45 minutes or so, River read several words and gave examples of those words in sentences. We discussed bases, suffixes, digraphs, pronunciation, word relatives (and people relatives).

Here’s how our screen looked at the end of our first session:





Today, we picked up where we left off, and I was smart enough to record some of our time together to share with curious folks, thanks to River’s mom.

We’ll continue with this study next week, and I’ll update this post then.

Etymology! V

Because we all need a little something to look forward to: Mark your calendars for the fifth annual live Etymology! weekend with Douglas Harper and me.

Hold your place with a refundable deposit and start making plans. The weekend will be in Greater Chicago and will cost somewhere under $350 — depending on catering and facility costs yet to be determined. Anyone making a refundable deposit by 12/31/16 will receive a discount on the final registration fee and will be entered into a drawing for a free $50 LEX Gift Card at the conference.


The $75 will be applied to registration costs. It is fully refundable if requested in writing by January 31, 2017, and 50% refundable if quested in writing by February 25, 2017. Full registration will be refundable, less $75, for requests made after February 25th.

We hope to see you there!

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