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Archive for July, 2008

Rising number of primary pupils unable to speak in sentences

July 8th, 2008 by admin


Polly Curtis, education editor
Tuesday July 8, 2008
The Guardian

The number of children who arrive at primary school unable to speak in full sentences is rising, according to a government review which today reveals that 7% of children now have a serious communication problem.

A rise in “home-related” speech problems, shown by children who are not encouraged by their parents to speak from an early age, is fuelling the increase, according to the Tory MP John Bercow, who has carried out a review for the government.

In some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, up to 50% of children had speech problems, he said.

Bercow’s review calls on schools to monitor speech development from the start. It will request more information for parents on what to do if their toddlers do not start talking.

Children’s problems range from stuttering and a general “impoverishment” of language if not encouraged to speak to autism and speech difficulties among those with hearing loss. “The 7% are those who have big difficulties with speech or language – they are likely to need specialist or targeted intervention,” Bercow told the Guardian. “For others, the home is a factor. If a child is exposed to a relentless diet of TV and computer games and deprived of interaction at home, that is very damaging.”

He said schools had neglected the issue. “Instead of being an optional add-on, communication skills should be at the heart of the primary curriculum … speech and listening have been elbowed out of schools for literacy and numeracy for too long.”

The report describes speech difficulties as the “unrecognised” problem in the education system, much as dyslexia was 20 years ago. It calls for children to be monitored and for better training for teachers, nursery workers and childcare workers.

Ministers are expected to respond to the report tomorrow with a promise of funding for a school programme that will encourage better communication skills and help teachers identify problems.

Bercow, who has a son, aged four, with speech problems associated with autism, said he was told regularly that his child’s issues would “sort themselves out” in time. “It doesn’t get sorted out – people have fewer options through life if they cannot speak,” he said.

Virginia Beardshaw, chief executive of I CAN, a speech charity, said: “Communication is the fundamental life skill for the 21st century.”

Even good writers butcher language with extra words

July 1st, 2008 by admin

By Bill Paccone • June 27, 2008


We easily recognize atrocious sentences such as this one: “How would you react if someone were to repeat and repeat himself repetitiously in the exact same way, over and over and again and again ad infinitum.” We recoil at such superfluity.
Yet redundancy, perhaps the most flagrant of all language solecisms, daily slips unhesitatingly into our language. Having become inured, we seldom notice it. Even professional journalists bombard us with redundancies.

All of the following phrases, recently culled from reputable publications, contain a redundancy. Can you spot them?

* I’ll go get the dinner.
* He lost by one single vote.
* They divided it up.
* It was catapulted forward 100 yards.
* Bronxville is a good place for children to grow up.
* Its history we don’t know about.
* The bombing shattered and cracked its every window.
* She tried to subtract 10 percent off.
* They traveled around for an entire year.
* They heard symphonies by 23 different composers.
* Where did you draw your inspiration from?
* The coalition of religious parties was cobbled together from formerly dissident groups.
* They infiltrated into the enemy’s ranks.
* He extended the time forward for them.
* Others advanced forward.
* They whittled away at the inventory.

Even the following short phrases are redundant: to build up; to filter out; eschewing the street vernacular; rice paddies (though the latter has become acceptable notwithstanding that the word “rice” is unnecessary).

Sometimes more than one word must be removed to negate the redundancy. Consider the following:

* Over half of the petroleum we consume is imported into the United States.
* We take it for granted that a baby, once born, will grow into adulthood.
* Not one more dollar of money should be spent trying to rectify the situation.

And from Bill O’ Reilly we recently read that “Carranza executed three college students in Newark by shooting them to death.”
I’m sure, too, you’ve encountered some of the following ways the word “down” has been redundantly employed: the sun shining down; the rain falling down; narrowing down the possibilities; descending down the tribal route; shrinking the design down; tamping down; dwindling down; winnowing down; whittling down; simplifying things down; condemning it all down.

And so too with the word “away”:

* Obama shifted the conversation away from the subjects of race and gender.
* He marched away from his responsibilities.
* Cheetahs have been isolated away from visitors.
* Attention was diverted away from his misdeeds.
* The goalie deflected the ball away from the net.
* They turned away from their heritage.
* The Indians migrated away from the coastal zones.
* She moved a short distance away from her family.
* She was terrorized at being separated away from her children.
* Don’t shift away from your responsibilities.
* The cargo was diverted away from the harbor and then shipped away to China.
* He deflected the puck away.
* The tide ebbed away.
* Picture them sequestered away from the world.

Now observe what has been redundantly perpetrated with the word “out”:

* We filter out the light and screen out the misfits.
* We map out a strategy and edit out what we don’t like before we sift out the facts.
* Her winsomeness radiates out.
* We rent out a house and transfer out from the army into civilian life.

And then we have statements such as:

* Out of 150 donors examined, 3 out of 10 had to be refused.
* Vapors precipitated out as both rain and snow.
* Chinese rescue workers encouraged many elderly to stay, even as whole towns emptied out.
* Separate out the prisoner’s intentions from his actions.

What about his being toxically obsessed with ferreting out reporters’ preferences; the Republicans contracting out their canvassing operations; or people seeking out, plotting out, and figuring out what they should do?
The notion of “time” can also announce itself with inane redundancies. Consider the following: a lengthy period of time; at some point in the future; at some future time; at any given point in time; at this moment in time; from the same time period.

Additionally we may encounter:

* Stock splits have occurred over time.
* Numerous studies extend back in time.
* It’s something we’ll be able to use in the future.
* It happened several times in the past.
* It is still observed today.
* In three to five years they’ll be in a position to do it by then.

Should I dare ask if there exists any reader who has not encountered such solecisms “in the past?” Of course not!
Finally, the word “back” is probably employed redundantly more often than any other. Can anything excuse phrases such as: His commitment stretches back to his youth; turning one’s thoughts back to earlier times; asking for nothing back in return; a tradition dating back to an early age; ceding ground back to his adversary; relaying the answers back; pointing back to yesteryear; funneling back into the trough; relating back the information; reflecting sunlight back into space; shipping treasures back across the sea; reverting back to childhood; extending back to the 1800′s; shifting the emphasis back to a time before he was born?

These redundant “backs” continue to appear perhaps far more often than you ever thought possible.

Maybe you’ve even become accustomed to such abominations as:

* The illegal immigrants were transported back to Mexico.
* He hoped to return the relationship back to trust.
* His mind drifted back to the Civil War.
* The spacecraft sent back to earth its first observations.
* They vacillated back and forth.
* General Meyers transmitted the data back.
* They arrived back home.
* He had heard back from the company.
* They thought the animal existed back in former times
* They dispersed back into the mountains.

Remember, all of the foregoing statements have appeared recently in reputable newspapers and magazines.
And what about this egregious statement? “The president was firmly convinced in his own mind that every last thing he did was right.” Six words in this abominable sentence call for deracination.
Linguistically, it’s acceptable to throw a person out of the house or down the stairs; or to have him bed down anywhere; to give him the time of day or to look back over your shoulder and away from the sun. The problem is not with the words but with their needless usage.

On a final note, be reminded that in this column we’ve been considering only unnecessary repetitions. Of course, repetition can be employed gloriously and for sundry purposes including balance, emphasis, rhyme, transition, connection, alliteration, consonance, assonance, chiming, and even contrast or comparison.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Thomas Jefferson

Writers’ Rooms: Roald Dahl

July 1st, 2008 by admin

dahl.jpgQuentin Blake
I didn’t go into the shed very often, because the whole point of it as far as Roald was concerned was that it was private, a sanctuary where he could work where no one interrupted him. The whole of the inside was organised as a place for writing: so the old wing-back chair had part of the back burrowed out to make it more comfortable; he had a sleeping bag that he put his legs in when it was cold and a footstool to rest them on; he had a very characteristic Roald arrangement for a writing table with a bar across the arms of the chair and a cardboard tube that altered the angle of the board on which he wrote. As he didn’t want to move from his chair everything was within reach. He wrote on yellow legal paper with his favourite kind of pencils; he started off with a handful of them ready sharpened. He used to smoke and there is an ashtray with cigarette butts preserved to this day.

The table near to his right hand had all kinds of strange memorabilia on it, one of which was part of his own hip bone that had been removed; another was a ball of silver paper that he’d collected from bars of chocolate since he was a young man and it had gradually increased in size. There were various other things that had been sent to him by fans or schoolchildren.

On the wall were letters from schools, and photographs of his family. The three or four strips of paper behind his head were bookmarks, which I had drawn. He kept the curtains closed so that nothing from outside came in to interfere with the story that he was imagining. He went into the shed in the morning and wrote until lunchtime. He didn’t write in the afternoon, but went back later to edit what he’d done after it had been typed out by his secretary.

He wrote in the shed as long as I knew him – we worked together for 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and I illustrated a dozen of his books. I would take my drawings down to Gipsy House for him to look at while sitting on the sofa in the dining room. I don’t think he let anybody in the shed.