18 Apr 2015

Hope is the thing with feathers on Genius.com

This is a title of  a wonderful Emily Dickinson's poem about Hope, which I have found on a website called Genius. There is nothing special that I found this poem, as there are many websites publishing poetry, as many (some free) publishing the analyses of famous works, too. What makes this website special are annotations, and the motto of the founders 'to annotate the world'. They started with annotating rap songs a few years ago, but nowadays there are not only songs: the website offers annotations to poems, novels and even contemporary articles. And I think that this idea is amazing and highly educational.

Imagine, there is a text, you click on the word or the thought - a box pops up with information on the text, with the meaning of the idea, connotations, pictures, videos and links, and even more. And now imagine that you have, say, a poem and everything inside, needed to understand it, is linked and, therefore, leads you from one thought or source to another and another and another. Like an online dictionary or Wikipedia, but it is you who decide which path to choose, you are an active reader, you may leave a comment or add another annotation. The readers are encouraged to post new texts and annotate them, to contribute to the whole project.

It came to me as an answer to two texts I have read recently; one is a book, 'How to Read a Book' by Charles Van Doren and Mortimer J. Adler, I am still reading it (it is quite long but very powerful) and it concerns the annotations, and the other - an article, 'What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text', by Sam Anderson from 2011, presents the idea about the books not only annotated but also shared with the other readers. So far, the only problem for me is that I cannot see the way to annotate the text only for myself or for my friends. I would not like to publish all my private thoughts to the public, but also when we annotate a text, there are lots of questions to answer in due time, and - what is important - by ourselves, by the readers. So I hope that at some point in the future it would be possible.

And now the poem with the annotations - there is a link to the website.

13 Mar 2015

Grammar can be fun

I have found this picture on Google+, which is the rich resource for learners of English. There are public groups, which help people connect with others with the same interest, short quizzes and the growing conversational community. I have also noticed that more and more people choose Google+ over Facebook and even Skype. Google+ has inbuilt handout: with a chat box for private and group conversation and a voice conference, again private and public. One may add someone choosing from a few categories of the circles, controlling who and what can see on your personal website. Managing a group is easy and enjoyable, as well as sharing the interesting things, discovered on someone else's page. A group can be made public or private, and some of them focus on proper grammar! That is, they ridicule every single grammar mistake found on the Internet. 

I like the idea presents in the picture: grammar can be interesting and creative, as well as funny.
My jokes: 
  1. A noun phrase walks into a bar: 'What I need in this bar is the company of yet another phrase'. 
  2. The meters come: trochee and iamb. (They made an iamb pentameter.)


17 Feb 2015

Tone versus mood

Tone and mood in literature are not the same things. They are often mixed up and at the beginning difficult to grasp.
Tone is the attitude of the author, narrator or speaker towards the characters and actions in a piece of writing. Probably, the best answer for how to find out the tone is to read the piece aloud to understand the emotions of the speaker.

Mood is what the reader feels while reading a book. The very simple example from the non-fiction.

Compare the two sentences:

Keep off the grass!
Please use the pathways, thank you.

These two sentences talk about the same thing but using different tones: first is very authoritarian and the second is friendly. What about the reader's moods?
As for me, the first make me angry for being treated like a child and for ordering me. The second, the friendly tone finds immediately obedient Jola, who looks around to be sure that she is on the pathway.

Well, when to come to the literature it is not always so obvious, as good authors tend to hide their voice behind their characters, and as we cannot hear the 'tone', we only may look at the language, the diction of the book to understand the author's attitude.





14 Feb 2015

Mastering pronouns

Mastering writing in English is not easy. On one hand, we need to employ the variety of sentence structures in our writing, and on the other - be in full control of the pieces which may be differently ordered. Also, it is important to be able to use different pronouns as subjects and objects to avoid repetition, when not wanted.
The English language is rich in pronouns: there are nine categories of them.
  1. Subject Pronouns - I, you, she - always function as subject of a sentence.
  2. Objective Pronouns - me, him, her, us, you, them - they are always the objects of the action: direct, indirect or the object of a preposition.
  3. Indefinite Pronouns - may function as subjects or objects: there are three subcategories of them: singular (someone, anybody, each, one, little, either), plural (many, others, several, few), both (all, any, some, none, more, most).
  4. Relative Pronouns - they introduce relative clauses: that, which, whom, whose 
  5. Demonstrative Pronouns - may function as subjects, objects and adjectives: this, that, these, those.
  6. Possessive Pronouns - function as subjects, objects and adjectives: my/mine, your/yours.
  7. Interrogative Pronouns - can replace subjects: who, what, which, whose
  8. Reflexive Pronouns - myself, yourself, ourselves - show subjects performing actions on themselves.
  9. Intensive Pronouns - myself, yourself, ourselves - modify/emphasize a noun or pronoun
Here in the passage below, I tried to use some indefinite pronouns as subjects/objects as a part of my written assessment, next step is to get rid of all linking verbs: all forms of 'be' and change them into the action verbs.

The elevator trip (1)
It was Sunday, one of those last lazy days of winter when Spring impatiently gave signs of its readiness to show its full beauty. Small, yellow crocuses on my mind that I saw just before on the green grass in the park, I peacefully strode toward the tube station, not really happy that I was leaving daylight for underground. Rather absent-mindedly, I took the step on the elevator, watching the other people that also absent-mindedly let the running monster take them into the mouth of its opening. Few with more energy walked down, passing by the lethargic majority: rushing in the UK is pretty unusual, especially on such a day. Then, the sudden commotion broke into the silent purr of the engines; someone was jumping down the elevator. Those who turned back their heads - and I did it, too - witnessed a young man skipping on the moving steps in a great hurry. Breathlessly, we gaped at his long legs storming down the moving stairs without missing a single step, and when the legs disappeared everyone was relieved - he did it and did not break a leg. Well done!


The elevator trip (2)
It was Sunday; one of those last lazy days of winter when Spring impatiently gives signs of its readiness to show its full beauty. Small, yellow crocuses on my mind that I saw just before on the grass in the park, I peacefully strode toward the tube station, not really happy that I was leaving daylight for underground. Rather absent-mindedly, I took the step into the elevator, glazing over the other people that also absent-mindedly let the running monster slowly swallow them down. Few, with more energy, walked down, passing by the lethargic majority: hurrying in the UK is pretty unusual, especially on such a day. Then, the sudden rush broke into the murmur of the engines; someone was dashing down the elevator. Those, who turned back their heads - and I did it, too - witnessed a young man galloping on the moving steps in a great hurry. Breathlessly, we gaped at his long legs storming down the moving stairs without missing a single step, and when the legs disappeared everyone was relieved - he did it and did not break a leg. Well done!

9 Feb 2015

MOOC

Have you ever heard about MOOC? This stands for Massive Open Online Courses accessible for free for everyone that has the Internet. Absolutely wonderful idea, as for me, and I may only wish to have more time to learn and learn. 
Here is one of them: Exploring English: Language and Culture prepared by the British Council, and here what I have learnt so far from it.

There are a few expression I have barely used: in the sense that, in a geographic sense, in terms of and their usage from the course:

This laptop is much more expensive than that one but in terms of performance and reliability, they’re quite similar.

English spelling can be difficult, in the sense that letters are not always pronounced the same way.

The event was successful in terms of visitor numbers, but we didn’t make a lot of money

Canada is bigger than Brazil in a geographical sense, but Canada’s population is smaller.

My post on technology, learning English and new expressions: 
I started to learn English as an adult, for my own pleasure. I was not very talented in languages, I could read at the intermediate level, but my listening and speaking skill were at the terribly low level. I bought the audio cassettes with the text written down that I could listen to and read many times. I did some English courses but without significant success; it was not until I discovered podcast and skype that my English really soared up. I think that learning English may be difficult in the sense that native speakers speak far too fast for the beginners. On the other hand, learning is much easier nowadays in a geographic sense: the Internet brought English to our home.

8 Feb 2015

Why do we need a colon?

Today I want to discuss one of the punctuation marks, as it happened that I used it incorrectly a few times, and I had thought that I was good at punctuation. Well, we learn the whole lives.

Colon is not often used, and often misused. It has three functions and introduces the list, quotation and idea.

Let's start with the list as it is its main function. There is one trap, and also my problem with this structure. We may use a colon when the clause preceding a colon is an independent clause. There is NO place for a colon between a verb and a noun following. 

There are four ingredients in this meal: sugar, pasta, basil and cheese. 

My best friends are John, Mary and Tom. (No colon)
I have a few best friends: John, Mary and Tom. 

There are my best friends: John, Mary and Tom. 

Before the text which is quoted we may use a colon or a comma, depends on the style.

My dad told me: 'Go and tidy your room!'
or
My dad told me, 'Go and tidy your room!'

The last but not the least function of a colon is to introduce an idea.

All these sentences are from the Bristol University, Faculty of Art, Improve your Writing:

I really can't stand cold rice pudding.
I really can't stand one thing: cold rice pudding.
There is one thing I really cannot stand: cold rice pudding

The one country I would really love to visit is Mexico.
There is one country I would really love to visit: Mexico.

You have no choice but to accept the referee's decision.
You have no choice: accept the referee's decision

The two things the company's success was founded on were service and value for money.
The company's success was founded on two things: service and value for money.

Climate change is the most serious threat to mankind's survival.
Mankind is facing the most serious threat to its survival: climate change.

Notice, how these sentences with colons highlight, strenghten and emphasise the ideas. It is a great tool in writing in English, and surely worth mastering.
Do not use it too often, but just when you want to introduce something important.

I do like writing: it's my life.
Romeo has only one true love in this life: Juliet.
Mankind is able to defeat many enemies but one: Mankind.

There is only one way to improve your writing: writing everyday.


7 Feb 2015

Repetition of phrases and clauses

All the figures of repetition from the previous post - 'Repetition of words' have the same names and meanings when we discuss phrases and clauses though there is a few new, specific to these longer structures, which I am going to present.

Isocolon (Bicolon, tricolon, tetracolon...) is the repetition of similar grammatical form, a kind of parallelism.
'Pity is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the sufferer. Terror is the feeling which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the secret cause...'
(A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce)

The structure, grammar, meter and rhythm of these sentences are parallel; also there is the repetition of the ending with the slight differences in the beginnings of the sentences. 

Harley Davidson’s slogan (Bicolon)
'American by Birth. Rebel by Choice.'

I came. I saw. I bought. (Tricolon)

Symploce (repetition of the same phrases/words at the beginning - anaphora, and the repetition of different but the same words/phrases at the end of lines, sentences - epistrophe. Together they create symploce. 

'Against yourself you are calling him,
against the laws you are calling him,
against the democratic constitution you are calling him'
Aeschines

Chiasmus (Antimetabole) 
These two figures of repetition are not the same, but for me, and some others, I think, it is not so much important to be able to distinguish between them. In this figure, the structures are repeated but in the inverse order. I think that there is beauty in it, therefore, I like the word: chiasmus. :)
  • 'You stood up for America, now America must stand up for you.'
    Barack Obama – December 14, 2011.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.'
    John F. Kennedy
  • 'Eat to live, not live to eat.'
    Socrates
  • 'I go where I please, and I please where I go.'
    Attributed to Duke Nukem
  • 'In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, Party always finds you!'
    Yakov Smirnoff
  • 'If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.'
You may find more information at Literary Devices and at Silvia Retorica - Figures of Repetition.