Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coffin, Donohue & North: Exploring English Grammar

Exploring English Grammar by Caroline Coffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's nothing so practical as a good theory, says Michael Fullan and here we have a very practical approach to a very good theory. Coffin, Donohue & North have started with the practical situation that most people interested in grammar are likely to have already experienced formal or communicative descriptions of English grammar. They proceed to take these people - who are more often than not going to be language teachers - and introduce a model of language (Systemic Functional Grammar) which is likely to be of great benefit to them. Throughout, the approach is a very practical one.

This is an unusual book. It is not a grammar resource book - such as Swan's Practical English Usage - or a comprehensive grammar of English - such as Introduction to Functional Grammar. Instead it is a book about grammar - what it is, why we have it and how we can use it. Unusual as this may be, it is very - yes, you guessed it - practical. Most grammar resource books assume that you know what a grammar is for, and you just what answers to specific questions, while comprehensive grammars rarely have time to look at how you night apply a grammatical explanation or category to a real situation. This book admirably bridges these two needs, so being unusual is not a bad thing here.

Coffin & her colleagues from the Open University introduce the concepts behind grammar through example. They take the reader from an understanding that they already know something about formal grammar, through descriptions of how communicative grammars compensate for the impractical nature of formal grammars, to explaining how a functional grammar - in this case systemic functional grammar - can combine the practicality of a communicative grammar with the theoretical rigour and the explanatory demands of a formal grammar. All of this is done through clear text, highly practical examples of grammatical rules (that I fully endorse), plenty of real-life texts to illustrate, entertain and illuminate, and short exercises to drive the message home.

More details are available on the publisher's page, and there is an extensive online "companion page" which links you to extra exercises, further links, corrections and the Routledge English Language & Applied Linguistics resources page.

Another Goodreads.com review.View all my reviews

wave Goodbye

Remember, not so long ago, I thought that Google Wave was a really good idea for a collaborative tool?
Well, apparently I was the only one!
Google announced that they would no longer support the Wave (read only from Jan 2012, fully dead from April 2012)  - not really surprising as the "Google Gears" needed to run it have not been turning for some time. Google claim that everything Gears did is now done in new browsers - especially theirs ("Chrome").
I recently (virtually) attended a seminar by BT's Simon Thompson who suggested that people found the Wave just a bit too complicated to deal with. Apparently, once you get a group of people all joining in a conversation, adding views, responding to what others say, and including extra information in the form of files, pictures etc., when it is written down on paper, it all looks a bit of a mess. Not surprising at all, when you consider the amazing complexity of conversation, and the comparatively impoverished information portrayed in the written versions of language when compared to speech. Google! You should have asked a conversation analyst or a systemic functional linguist first!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Life, the Universe and Everything by Antonio Damasio

Far too often discussions of consciousness are based on speculation and the desire to make presumed facts fit an ideology - yes, I am talking about you Mr. Chomsky. At other times we are fortunate to find people that start with identifiable facts and then attempt to explain them. In this fascinating TED talk Antonio Damasio lets us in on his latest understanding of the human brain, the human mind and the centrality of the self in generating a consciousness. Hold on tight as he covers a very wide range of topics in under 19 minutes, but at the end of the ride I feel much closer to an understanding of what we are.

This talk develops Damasio's earlier theories and is in line with what we know about brains from Edelman, about evolution from Deacon and about language from HallidayThe talk is based loosely on Damasio's latest book "Self Comes to Mind" which is reviewed in Constructivist Foundations 7:1.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Someone Please Explain This To Me

Why do I find this so funny?
Is it the linguist in me?
Probably Not!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


READ Issue 3 (ISSN 2221-3740) has been published, thanks to the hard work and tenacity of Tom Le Seelleur, the persistence, discipline and attention of Gill Knight & a few bits & pieces by me. We also owe a debt to Sudeep of IPP, who always ensures a professional appearance and finish.

READ 3 contains articles by well-known writers such as Charlie Higson, Helena Frith Powell,  Fíodhna Gardiner-Hyland, Peter Viney and Paul Nation as well as practicing teachers such as Louise Ragan, Susan Saafan, Ghassoub Mustafa, Alicia Salaz, Marion Engin and Shaheena Fazaldin.

Issue 3 also focuses on the charitable organisation 'Room to Read' and the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature, which will the main focus of the next issue.

There are a few sample pages below.