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HD: Lincoln’s Language
Posted: 13 August 2013 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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The Concise Scots Dictionary gives [aɪ] (more or less “eye") for the ‘yes’ meaning and [əi] (sort of “uh-ee” mashed together) for the ‘always’ meaning.

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Posted: 13 August 2013 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Eliza, I am familiar with Yorkshire people using ‘aye’ for yes, but wasn’t aware that the other meaning - always - was also current there?

I’m talking north of Yorkshire, blackgrey, ie Durham/Northumberland/Cumbria, so not a million miles from lowland Scotland.  “Forever and aye” is uncommon but not totally unheard of.  I don’t think “aye” is used to mean “always” in Yorkshire or Lancashire, for that matter, but I may be mistaken.

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Posted: 15 August 2013 08:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Apropos this topic, a link that will annoy a few of you, nevertheless; quite interesting. 

http://www.hoover.org/news/daily-report/25413

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Posted: 16 August 2013 03:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Those reading level tests aren’t taken seriously by linguists. They aren’t good measures of difficulty levels—there’s a lot more that goes into what makes a text difficult than vocabulary. (I like Diane Ravitch, but here she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.)

Plus, I seriously doubt the tests are valid for comparing texts from different eras. I would bet the reason that Lincoln and Douglas score high is because they use a lot of words that are archaic nowadays. Yes, their orations may rate high now, but that was the language that everybody was familiar with then. Similarly, if you could take one of George W. Bush’s speeches back 150 years, university professors would find it difficult to follow due to the vocabulary and phrasing that had yet to be invented.

Also, attitudes toward oratory have changed. High-sounding rhetoric was the fashion in the nineteenth century. In the twenty-first century the fashion is for plain speech. It’s has nothing to do with “dumbing down,” and everything about speaking to the audience in the voice and style that they find to be convincing and authentic.

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Posted: 16 August 2013 10:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Dave Wilton - 16 August 2013 03:22 AM

Those reading level tests aren’t taken seriously by linguists. They aren’t good measures of difficulty levels—there’s a lot more that goes into what makes a text difficult than vocabulary. (I like Diane Ravitch, but here she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.)

Plus, I seriously doubt the tests are valid for comparing texts from different eras. I would bet the reason that Lincoln and Douglas score high is because they use a lot of words that are archaic nowadays. Yes, their orations may rate high now, but that was the language that everybody was familiar with then. Similarly, if you could take one of George W. Bush’s speeches back 150 years, university professors would find it difficult to follow due to the vocabulary and phrasing that had yet to be invented.

Also, attitudes toward oratory have changed. High-sounding rhetoric was the fashion in the nineteenth century. In the twenty-first century the fashion is for plain speech. It’s has nothing to do with “dumbing down,” and everything about speaking to the audience in the voice and style that they find to be convincing and authentic.

But not everyone is a linguist and linguistics cannot settle questions of usage. The article concerned vocabulary and the limited vocabulary of today’s public. I ardently disagree that professors of 150 year ago would find George W. Bush’s vocabulary too difficult to follow. His vocabulary was at a sixth-grade level.

Define archaic?  We then go back to my old argument that certain polysyllabic, (challenging) words are no longer in use and our vocabularies have simplified, a euphemism for “dumbed down.”

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Posted: 16 August 2013 01:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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a democratic society pays a price for widespread ignorance.

Why should we expect a lot from our educational institutions, when we reward so meanly the people operating them? Teachers are (in most of the countries I’ve seen) at all levels, the worst paid of all professional categories.

Juggling numbers in financial institutions is what we reward handsomely. If done without regard for ethics or integrity, the rewards are even greater. Wealth, not enlightenment, is what Western society encourages us to aspire to.

The sentence quoted should read: “A society motivated by rampant capitalism pays a price for widespread ignorance”. Democracy doesn’t come into it.

Sorry about the rant. I know it’s not about word origins. It’s just that I’ve heard “education is going to the dogs” a few times too often. I shan’t be surprised or wounded if Dave erases this post.

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Posted: 18 August 2013 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Providing some data points here. I’m not sure what reading level test was used in the study Ravitch refers to, but the first chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses scores a sixth-grade reading level on the Flesch-Kincaid test, which is the most widely used test of this type. Hamlet comes in at an eighth-grade level. Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise rates a ninth-grade level. An article on Chris Christies election prospects from today’s NY Times scores at the eleventh grade level.

I hope this points out the absurdity of using such tests for things like this.

The Flesch-Kincaid test uses word and sentence length as inputs, nothing else. It’s not a bad quick and dirty test for quickly checking readability, but it’s not suitable for detailed comparisons between texts. For example, speeches will tend to use shorter sentences than written prose. Technical writing will tend to use longer words.

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Posted: 18 August 2013 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Dave Wilton - 18 August 2013 05:59 AM

Providing some data points here. I’m not sure what reading level test was used in the study Ravitch refers to, but the first chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses scores a sixth-grade reading level on the Flesch-Kincaid test, which is the most widely used test of this type. Hamlet comes in at an eighth-grade level. Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise rates a ninth-grade level. An article on Chris Christies election prospects from today’s NY Times scores at the eleventh grade level.

I hope this points out the absurdity of using such tests for things like this.

The Flesch-Kincaid test uses word and sentence length as inputs, nothing else. It’s not a bad quick and dirty test for quickly checking readability, but it’s not suitable for detailed comparisons between texts. For example, speeches will tend to use shorter sentences than written prose. Technical writing will tend to use longer words.

I’m not in disagreement, however, it seems that you’re indirectly implying that Joyce’s vocabulary should have been rated much higher; I agree. By the way, I am inclined to redesignate my denotation of “disintegration” to “simplification” of language.

Reading Joyce is an arduous task for everyone, regardless of one’s education, but we’re dealing with creative narrative writing, not expositional. I’ve read some of Joyce’s letters; they were written in a more expository fashion and they are easily readable.

My argument, which was initiated on an earlier thread, is that vocabulary has unequivocally simplified,(declined). That seems to be Ravitch’s position. Every grammar book advises readers to avoid fancy words. “Don’t be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.” From yours truly, Strunk jr and E.B.White.

I’m ardently opposed to this thinking. When do we utilize these twenty-dollar words and for whom?  For this reason classics by Shakespeare, Dickens, Melville, are no longer assigned to 9-12 graders for reading and in those novels are where the challenging words lie. According to a recent story, over the past century the books being assigned to 9-12 graders have decreased in difficulty.  From 9th and 10th grade reading levels closer to 6th grade.

I would think that this forum, which encourages an interest in our English lexicon, would also try to preserve and revitalize words that have a more etymological significance with a more meaningful representation, rather than categorizing them as being “archaic”.

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Posted: 19 August 2013 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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I’m not in disagreement, however, it seems that you’re indirectly implying that Joyce’s vocabulary should have been rated much higher

I’m not implying that. It’s a mathematical formula and his vocabulary is what it is. (On the other hand, the final “yes” passage of Ulysses which is one sentence that goes on for pages, breaks the F-K test, scoring a grade level in the thousands.)

What I’m saying is that these tests are very crude and not terribly reliable estimates of difficulty. Joyce is very challenging reading, but not necessarily because he uses big words and long sentences. The problem is that the test uses proxies—length of words and length of sentences—to measure difficulty. What makes vocabulary challenging is unfamiliarity, not length. The test works to a point because to some extent the two sets (unfamiliar words and long words) overlap. Ditto for sentence length and grammatical complexity. Plus there are other factors that make texts difficult that have nothing to do with unfamiliar vocabulary or grammatical complexity (e.g., subject matter; philosophical texts are often composed of simple words and sentences, but incredibly dense and difficult).

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