Category Archives: Essays/Readings

This category describes readings of any kind for either teachers or students.

Hamlet’s Blackberry

About ten years ago, when I still listened to National Public Radio regularly. I heard William Powers interviewed. He was discussing a research endeavor at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy that resulted in report he titled Hamlet’s Blackberry. Over the years, I meant to read it. Then, in 2010, he expanded the original essay and published it as a book.

But the original essay, at 75 pages with the works cited page, is still available at no cost under the link, if you search “Hamlet’s Blackberry PDF,  The Death of Paper.

I have a particular interest in the history of books and book lore, including changes in printing technologies, I had an interest per se in this piece of writing. For educators, I think this is a good read because it says some things we need to know about the reading and reception of texts.

And Mr. Powers is a fine stylist, so this is a quick and breezy read about a subject that is, by any measure I appreciate, quite profound.

Infinitive (n)

“The non-finite verb that has the uninflected form of the verb: be, say, dig, make. The form may be used alone (the BARE INFINITIVES I made him tell the truth). The bare infinitive is commonly used after a modal auxiliary verb (be after the modal may in We may be late) and after the auxiliary verb do (I did answer your letter, They do know the difference). It is also found in the complementation of a small number of main verbs such as have, let, make, see, and hear (I had Tom paint the fence; The soldiers let us pass; They need us to leave). In some instances, either type of infinitive may be used: Steven helped Susan (to) teach the children good manners; What Sidney did was (to) help Justin with his homework. The to- infinitive has a wider distribution as the verb in an infinitive construction: (1) It may be a subject (To meet you was a great pleasure), though a variant with postponed subject is more usual: It was a great pleasure to meet you. (2) It may be the object in various types of verb complementation: I hope to see Judith and Percy soon; I asked John and Joyce to come to my party; Jeffrey and Rosalind want me to be there. (3) It may be introduced by a wh word: Anton and Stella asked me what to advise their elder son. (4) It may function in various semantic classes of adverbial: To set the alarm, press four digits; He grew up to be a fine man; To be frank, the meeting was boring.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Morpheme (n)

“A minimal unit of grammar into which a sentence or a word can be divided. E.g., come inside can be divided into the minimal units come, in- and –side; distasteful into dis-, taste, and –ful.

The term was introduced, originally in French, in the late 19th century, and its use in English reflects in part successive technical definitions from the 1930s and 1940s especially. Thus, in detail: 1. A “morpheme” was at first a unit within a word which has grammatical as opposed to lexical meaning; originally opposed in that sense to a “semanteme.” For Martinet, in the 1960s, it was thus one type of moneme. 2. In Bloomfield’s definition a morpheme is a form with either a grammatical or lexical meaning. It was thus one element in a minimal linguistic sign: e.g. the morphem dis in distasteful as linked to a meaning “not” or “negative.” It is on this use athe “moneme” was later modelled. 3. As defined by Charles F. Hockett and other Post-Bloomfieldians, it was an abstract unit at a grammatical level of representation realized by a form, or two or more alternative terms, at the level of pholology. These are its allomorphs, e.g. the [dis] of distasteful might be seen as one allomorph of a “negative” morpheme, of which another would be the [un] of unpleasant.

Sense 1 is effectively obsolete in English-speaking countries, where sense two tends to be more normal.”

Excerpted from: Matthews, P.H. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Scaffolding (n)

“Coaching or modeling provided by a teacher to increase students’ likelihood of success as they develop new skills or learn new concepts. Scaffolding in education is analogous to scaffolding in construction: just as a building’s scaffolding is a temporary framework that is withdrawn when the structure is is strong enough to stand on its own, so too is scaffolding on the classroom removed when students achieve competence in the targeted area. In any classroom, the teacher’s goal is to enable students to perform tasks on their own, with a minimum of adult aid. Effective scaffolding occurs when the teacher explains an assignment, brings the task to an appropriate level of difficulty, breaks the task into a doable sequence of operations, provides feedback, and helps students gain mastery of new knowledge. Good teachers have always employed scaffolding, even if they never heard of the term.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

A Child of Our Time

“A wartime oratorio by Michael Tippett (1905-98) with a libretto by the composer. The work was written in 1939-41 and first performed in 1944. The ‘child’ of the title is Herschel Grynspan, a Polish-Jewish student whose assassination in Paris of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on 7 November 1938 led to the infamous Kristallnacht, a night of violence against Jews and their property on 9-10 November. Escalating official persecution followed. Tippett uses Negro spirituals at important points in the score, as Back had used the chorales in his passions. The title, stressing the universality of the story, was suggested by that of a novel (1938) by the German-Hungarian writer and diplomat Odon von Horvath (1901-38), Ein Kind unserer Zeit.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Lex and Its Others

[Nota bene that the Latin word root lex means “word, law, reading,” in other words, language and its uses.]

“Lexeme: 1. A word considered as a lexical unit, in abstraction from the specific forms it takes in specific constructions, e.g. the verb ‘sing’ or ‘to sing,’ in abstraction from the varying word forms sing, sings, sang, sung, singing. Compare lemma. 2. Any other unit, e.g. a morpheme, seen has having lexical rather than grammatical meaning.

Lexical: 1. Assigned to, or involving units assigned to, a lexicon. Thus a lexical entry is an entry in the lexicon; a lexical item or lexical unit may be any word, etc. which has such an entry; rules are lexically governed if they apply only to structures including certain lexical units. 2. Specifically of words etc. distinguished as having a lexical as opposed to a grammatical meaning, or to members of a lexical as opposed to a functional category.

Lexicon: An aspect of language, or part of a linguist’s account of language, that is centered on units that have individual meanings. Distinguished as such from grammar or syntax as concerned with structures in the abstract. But structures in grammar themselves reflect the properties of the lexical units that enter into them, which may be very general or very specific. Therefore the precise scope of a lexicon, as a description of the properties of or assigned to individual units, will vary from one theory of language to another. In one account, it has been a simple subcomponent of a generative grammar, in others the basis, in itself, for most if not all specific grammatical patterns; in some an unstructured list, in others an elaborate network of entries related by lexical rules, and so on.

Usually distinguished as a theoretical concept, from a dictionary, as part of a practical description: hence e.g. a posited mental lexicon, not ‘mental dictionary.’”

Excerpted from: Matthews, P.H. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Rene Dubos on Leading a Rational Life

“In most human affairs, the idea is to think globally and act locally.”

The Despairing Optimist,” American Scholar, Spring 1977. The Motto “Think Globally, Act Locally” first appeared as the title of an interview with Dubos in the EPA Journal, Apr. 1978.

Excerpted from: Schapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.