Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Base and Strong Adjectives

Languages have different kinds of adjectives. Among these are number adjectives, possessive adjectives and demonstrative adjectives. Many adjectives fall into one of two categories- base and strong. Base adjectives often have a strong counterpart. The strong counterpart cannot be modified with the adverb "very" because this is an inherent quality of the adjective. On the other hand, base adjectives cannot be modified with the adverb "absolutely." The adverb "really," however, can modify both. Also, base adjectives always have comparative and superlative forms but many strong adjectives do not.

The adjective "delicious" is strong. The base counterpart is "tasty." The adjective "tasty" can be modified with "very." Thus "very tasty" is the equivalent of "delicious." The adjective "huge" is another strong adjective. The equivalent is "very big." Notice that it is possible to say absolutely huge but not possible to use "absolutely" with "big." Likewise it is possible to say "absolutely delicious" but not possible to combine "absolutely" with "tasty."

The strong counterparty of "dirty" is "filthy." We can say "very dirty" and "absolutely filthy." The strong counterpart of "good" is "perfect." We can say "very good" and "absolutely perfect." The strong counterpart of "beautiful" is "gorgeous." We can say "very beautiful" and "absolutely gorgeous." The strong counterparts of "hot" and "cold" are "boiling" and "freezing." We can say "very hot" and "very cold" with the base adjectives and "absolutely boiling" and "absolutely freezing" with the strong adjectives. Notice that we can say "A is hotter than B" and "C is colder than D" but we can not use comparatives with "boiling" and "freezing." This is a clue that "freezing" and "boiling" must be strong adjectives.

Strong and base adjectives belong to a large class of adjectives. It is often the case that a base adjective has a strong counterpart such as "surprising" and "astonishing." By remembering that only base adjectives can be modified by "very" and only strong adjectives can be modified by "absolutely," it is easy to determine whether an adjective is a base adjective or strong adjective.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Romeo and Juliet

The balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet" provides the most famous dialogue of the play. The language expresses Juliet's feelings beautifully and makes it clear that she and Romeo are destined to be together. Here are the popular lines:


O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.


(aside) Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?


'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Juliet asks why Romeo is Romeo. She wants to know why he is her family's enemy. She asks him to go against his father and refuse his name. If he does not, she asks that he swear to be her love and she'll refuse her own name.

Juliet is unaware that Romeo is listening. Romeo wonders if he should continue to listen or speak out. He chooses to keep quiet. Juliet says that only Romeo's name is a barrier to their love. It is not a part of him in the same way that the hand or the foot is a part of the body. She wishes he had another name and exclaims that names are not important. A rose would smell just as sweet if it had another name. Likewise, Romeo would be just as perfect if he had another name. She asks Romeo to remove his name which is no part of him and take all of her.

This scene clearly indicates that Juliet is prepared to go against her family's wishes and give herself to an enemy. For her, the historic rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues is of no importance. She chooses her heart over her mind. It is this decision which leads to the play's tragic ending.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


As summer approaches, I thought it would be appropriate to include one of my poems titled "Summer." I hope you enjoy it.


In full bloom flowers stretch to capture sun.
Summer reveals green meadows and clear skies.
Joyous about summer, temperatures rise.
Birds rejoicing in song unite as one.
Captivating summer colours arise,
Reflected in all flora and fauna.
Temperatures of noon become a sauna,
Occasionally cooled by drops of rain's cries.
Lush green forests replenish summer air.
Aided by wind, fires cause great destruction
But many trees of the forest they spare.
Summer creates life and jubilation
Evident in the joy all creatures share
And witnessed by abundant creation.

My poem has 14 verses. The rhyme scheme is a, b, b, a, b, c, c, b, d, e, d, e, d, e. Each verse consists of ten syllables. Though this is a short poem, it is one of my favourites.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Allophones of English

Allophones are predictable phonetic variants of phonemes. Phonemes are units of sound which serve to distinguish one utterance from another. For example, the words "no" and "so" only differ by one unit of sound. This unit of sound can also be called a segment. In English /n/ and /s/ are phonemes. Many speakers of English are not aware of the great number of allophones in their language.

Compare the words "see" and "seed." The vowel sounds are not identical. The vowel sound of "see" is longer than that of "seed." Word-final vowels have a longer duration than those which come before word-final consonants. Compare "seed" and "seat." The vowel sounds of these two words are also different. The vowel sound of "seed" is longer than that of "seat." Vowels are longer before word-final voiced consonants than word-final voiceless ones. Thus, the longest vowel is in "see" followed by "seed" and then "seat." In fact, the vowel of "see" can be classified as long and the vowel of "seed" as half-long.

Compare the nasal of "my" with that of "emphasis." The two are not the same. In the word "my" both lips are involved in the articulation. This is a bilabial nasal. In the word "emphasis," however, a labiodental fricative follows. This is represented by the "ph" of "emphasis." In the production of "emphasis," the nasal is not bilabial. It is a labiodental nasal because the upper lip and teeth are involved in the articulation.

The vowels of "sad" and "sand" are not the same. In the former the vowel is oral. In the latter, however, the vowel is nasalized because it is followed by a nasal in the same syllable. In such environments, English has a rule which nasalizes the vowel. The two vowels are therefore allophones of one another. The nasalized vowel must occur before a tautosyllabic nasal.

Now compare the words "stone" and "tone." The alveolar plosives are not identical. In the word "stone," the alveolar plosive is unaspirated. In "tone," however, it is aspirated. This is entirely predictable. English has a rule which states that plosives are unaspirated when they are preceded by a syllable-initial alveolar fricative. Stated another way, plosives are aspirated when they are syllable-initial and followed by a stressed vowel. A liquid or glide may precede the stressed vowel as in "please," "pride" and "tune." It should be noted, however, that a number of English speakers do not pronounce "tune" with a glide.

All languages have allophones which are predictable phonetic variants of phonemes. Though all languages have many allophones, native speakers do not need to be taught to produce the allophones of their language. They do so automatically. For this reason, many are not familiar with the allophones of their language.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Hyphen in English

The use of the hyphen in English varies from individual to individual. The words "ice-cream" and "co-operation" are often spelt "ice cream" and "cooperation." In fact, the use of the hyphen has become rarer than it used to be. Nevertheless, the hyphen can be used in a number of instances to clarify the intended meaning.

The word "recreation," meaning "entertainment," can be distinguished from "re-creation," the art of creating again, simply by the use of hyphenation. However, the meaning is usually clear from context alone. As a result, many writers do not make this distinction.

The phrases " a man eating whale" and "a man-eating whale" are distinct. The first phrase refers to a man who is eating whale. The second, however, refers to a whale that eats humans. The hyphen clarifies the meaning.

The phrases "two-hundred-year-old churches," "two hundred-year-old churches," and two hundred year-old churches" have different meanings. The first phrase means an indefinite number of churches that are two hundred years old. The second phrase means two churches that are one hundred years old. The final phrase means two hundred churches that are one year old. However, if the word "two-hundred" were replaced by the number "200," this three-way distinction would no longer be possible. Only the phrases "200-year-old churches" and "200 year-old churches" would be possible. The first phrase refers to churches that are 200 years old and the second to 200 churches that are one year old. With the use of the number "200," it is not possible to express the idea of two churches that are 100 years old. To express this, the number "200" must be spelt or the phrase must be paraphrased.

The use of the hyphen in English is less common than it used to be. However, the hyphen is still an important mark of punctuation. In certain cases, it can help to clarify the meaning of a phrase.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

King Lear

"King Lear," one of William Shakespeare's darkest plays, is also one of his most famous. Though the play is dark, it also has moments of humour. The main character, King Lear, is mad. Unfortunately for him, he no longer has a wife to take care of him. He decides to divide his estate equally among his three daughters, Regan, Goneril and Cordelia.

The division of the estate should be a simple matter. However, King Lear decides to ask his daughters to tell him how much they love him before giving them their share. Though he should give each one-third, he encourages each daughter to praise him more in order to draw a bigger share of the estate.

His daughters Regan and Goneril both flatter him greatly but their words are not true. His youngest daughter Cordelia speaks honestly but fails to please her father. He does not understand that she is the only one who speaks the truth. In his anger, he disinherits her and gives her none of his estate. The following is a famous excerpt of this popular play.

King Lear:

To thee and thine hereditary ever
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom;
No less in space, validity and pleasure,
Than that conferr'd on Goneril. Now, our joy,
Although the last, not least; to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interess'd; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.


Nothing, my lord.

King Lear:




King Lear:

Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.

The king of France and duke of Burgundy are both interested in marrying Cordelia. For this reason, King Lear mentions the vines of France and milk of Burgundy. When King Lear asks Cordelia what she can say to receive a greater third than her sisters, the humour is evident. If each sister receives one-third of the estate, each receives an equal share. However, King Lear suggests that Cordelia can receive a greater third if she praises him more than her sisters. It is clear that her share is equal to that of her sisters, though. He simply wants her to flatter him as much as possible.

Cordelia, however, is a very honest daughter and tells her father that she cannot speak greater words than the false words of her sisters. To her father, these words are completely unwelcome. He becomes very angry.

He makes it clear to her that if she does not change her words, she will receive none of the estate. This is a big turn of events. Suddenly Cordelia risks the entire loss of her share of the estate. She is so honest, however, that she cannot change her words even though this incurs her father's wrath.

"King Lear" is a tragedy which nevertheless provides moments of humour. King Lear's vanity convinces Regan and Goneril to offer him false praise. Cordelia, his most loyal daughter, does not do so and suffers greatly. The irony is that King Lear realizes his mistake near the end of the play when Cordelia comes to his rescue. Sadly, though, by this time it is too late to reverse their fortunes.

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