Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quick Victory with the Englund Gambit

The Englund Gambit is an opening which is seldom seen at the highest levels of chess. It is not considered sound, but I have used it with great success in speed chess. I suspect that many players are unfamiliar with the opening which gives me an advantage. I played a game of speed chess at chess.com against Sonic99 of Indonesia. In the game he played white. Here are the moves of the game along with my commentary:

1. d4 e5

I play the Englund Gambit. The most common replies for black are d5 and Nf6.

2. dxe Nc6
3. Nf3 Qe7
4. Bf4 Qb4+

White attempts to hold onto his extra pawn. He should return the pawn and continue his development with a move such as Nc3 or e6.

5. Bd2 Qxb2

White must block my check with his bishop to avoid losing it.

6. Bc3 Bb4

White cannot take my queen because this leaves him in check.

7. Bxb4 Qxa1
8. Nc3 Qxd1+

White resigns. On his next move, white must play Nxd1 or Kxd1. I then play Nxb4 which leaves me up a rook.

White's decision to protect his extra pawn costs him the game. Though not considered a sound opening, the Englund Gambit can be used successfully against unsuspecting opponents. This game is such an example.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Accents of Portugal

The three Portuguese cities of Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra all have different accents. At the website learningportuguese.co.uk, I listened to three male speakers from those cities. They all read from the following Portuguese text:

Dom Sebastião I era o décimo-sexto Rei de Portugal, e sétimo da Dinastia de Avis. Era neto do rei João III, tornou-se herdeiro do trono depois da morte do seu pai, o príncipe João de Portugal duas semanas antes do seu nascimento, e rei com apenas três anos, em 1557. Em virtude de ser um herdeiro tão esperado para dar continuidade à Dinastia de Avis, ficou conhecido como O Desejado; alternativamente, é também memorado como O Encoberto ou O Adormecido, devido à lenda que se refere ao seu regresso numa manhã de nevoeiro, para salvar a Nação.

Here is my translation of the text:

Sir Sebastian I was the sixteenth king of Portugal, and seventh of the dynasty of Avis. He was the grandson of King John III, became heir to the throne after the death of his father, the prince John of Portugal two weeks after his birth, and king at barely three years, in 1557. By virtue of being such an awaited heir to give continuity to the dynasty of Avis, he became known as the Desired; alternatively, he is also remembered as the Hidden or the Asleep, due to the legend that refers to his return on a foggy morning to save the nation.

The speaker from Porto had a schwa in the word "de" of "de Avis." He had a diphthong in "tornou" and "ficou." He had a mid front unrounded tense nasal vowel in the second syllable of também and a voiceless uvular fricative in words such as "rei."

The speaker from Lisbon had a high front unrounded tense vowel in the word "de" of "de Avis." He pronounced it "di." He had a monophthong in "tornou" and "ficou". He had a mid central unrounded nasal vowel in the second syllable of também and a uvular trill in words such as "rei."

The speaker from Coimbra also had a high front unrounded tense vowel in the word "de" of "de Avis." He pronounced it "di." He had a monophthong in "tornou" and "ficou." He had a mid front unrounded lax nasal vowel in the second syllable of também and an alveolar trill in words such as "rei."

Though Portugal is a relatively small country in both area and population, it has a number of different accents of Portuguese. The three cities of Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra attest to this fact.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Inflectional Affixes of English

English has eight inflectional affixes. They are affixes which have a grammatical function but do not change the class of a word. They always follow derivational affixes.

The word "king" can combine with the derivational affix -dom to create the word "kingdom." Though both words are nouns, they differ in meaning. One refers to a monarch and the other to a territory which a monarch rules over. However, the plural "kings" has an inflectional affix. The words "king" and "kings" only differ in number. Though "king" and "kingdom" are both nouns, many derivational affixes change the class of a word. For example, the word "windy" is composed of the noun "wind" and the affix -y. When the noun combines with the derivational affix -y, the result is the adjective "windy."

The eight inflectional affixes of English are the third person singular present -s, the past tense marker -ed, the continuous marker -ing, the past particle -en, the plural marker -s, the possessive marker -'s, the comparative suffix -er and the superlative suffix -est. Here are examples with the eight affixes:

1. She loves hockey.
2. He waited patiently.
3. They are watching TV.
4. I haven't eaten lunch yet.
5. The children ate all their vegetables.
6. Peter's car is new.
7. Peter's car is newer than mine.
8. Peter has the newest car here.

Modern English does not have many inflectional affixes. Earlier stages of English, Old English and Middle English, had more. In fact, a number of languages such as German and Spanish have more inflectional affixes than English. However, all languages have more derivational affixes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Discovered Checkmate

I recently played a game of speed chess at chess.com with a discovered checkmate. I moved my bishop and exposed it to capture. I will never forget this game because such a mate is rare. My opponent was Lontayao of the Phillipines who played black. Here are the moves of the game along with my commentary:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 d6

Here the most popular reply for black is a6.

4. d4 Bd7
5. h3 Nf6
6. dxe dxe
7. Nc3 Bd6
8. Bg5 0-0
9. Nd5 h6

A better move for black is Be7.

10. Nxf6+ gxf6
11. Bxh6 Re8

I gain a pawn and shatter the pawn shield around the black king.

12. 0-0 f5
13. Bg5 f6

I weaken black's pawn structure.

14. Bh6 Kh7

The black king attacks my bishop but is now more exposed.

15. Bd2 Rg8

Black prepares a counterattack against my king.

16. Nh4 fxe

My move opens a diagonal for my queen.

17. Qh5+ Kg7

Black's move is forced.

18. Bh6+ Kh8

I involve another piece in the attack. Again black's move is forced.

19. Bf8#

I move my bishop to discover a mate with my queen. Though my bishop is subject to capture, it is of no consequence. This is one of the most beautiful checkmates I have ever played.

In this game, material is even. However, I win because my king is well protected, my pieces are well-coordinated and my pawn structure is superior. I convert all of these advantages into victory.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Listening Experiment

Over a period of approximately one year, starting in the spring of 2010 and finishing in the winter of 2011, I conducted a listening experiment. I asked 68 Korean university students to listen to five word pairs and circle the word they heard. I read each word pair five times. To ensure that every student heard the word clearly, I then read the list a second time.

The word pairs which I used were light/right, sad/said, suffer/supper, pull/pool and it/eat. Since I read each word pair five times and collected data from 68 students, I had a total of 340 responses for each word pair.

I analyzed the data and compared the results. The word pair which gave my students the least difficulty was light/right. The one which gave them the most difficulty was sad/said. Here I present the results:

light/right
338/340, 99%

pull/pool
303/340 89%

suffer/supper
292/340, 86%

it/eat
276/340, 81%

sad/said
198/340, 58%

The word pair light/right was distinguished correctly in almost every instance. Though the liquids are pronounced differently in Korean, they nevertheless exist. The alveolar flap occurs syllable-initially and intervocalically and the alveolar lateral occurs syllable-finally. They are allophones rather than phonemes. The presence of the two liquids in Korean may explain the percentage of correct responses with this word pair.

However, the word pair sad/said was difficult for many students to distinguish. The vowel of "sad" does not occur in Korean. It is in fact a marked vowel which does not occur in many languages. Also, many English loan words in Korean with the vowel of "sad" are transcribed with the vowel of "said." As a result, many students may perceive the low front vowel as the mid front instead.

The word pair suffer/supper was more easily distinguished than sad/said and it/eat. The percentage of correct responses was 86%. Korean has the voiceless bilabial plosive but does not have the voiceless bilabial fricative. For this reason, Koreans often substitute the plosive for the fricative in speech.

The word pair pull/pool was better distinguished than any word pair other than light/right. The number of correct responses was 89%. Though Korean lacks the high back lax rounded vowel of "pull," most students distinguished the tense and lax vowels correctly. This may indicate that the qualitative difference between the two vowels is perceptually salient for many Koreans.

The word pair it/eat was not as well distinguished as pull/pool. In fact, it was the most difficult word pair to distinguish after sad/said. Though this word pair exhibits the same tense/lax distinction of pull/pool, the results were far from identical. Korean lacks the lax vowels of both "it" and "pull." However, Korean has a high back unrounded vowel which many Korean students may substitute for the lax vowel of "pull." With the vowel of "it," however, no such substitution occurs. It appears that the distinction between pull/pool is more perceptually salient than that between it/eat. It may also be the case that many Koreans are not aware that it/eat have different vowels unless it is made clear to them.

My listening experiment led to a few surprises. I did not expect that the word pair light/right would be distinguished correctly in 99% of instances. This may indicate that an allophonic difference in one's native language is sufficient for successful discrimination of speech sounds in a second language. Another surprise was the difference in correct responses with respect to it/eat and pull/pool. Though both word pairs have the same tense/lax distinction, the percentages were quite different. With pull/pool, the percentage of correct responses was 89% but with eat/it only 81%. Another surprise was with the word pair sad/said. Though Korean lacks the low front vowel of "sad," I expected a higher percentage of correct responses than 58%. This word pair was much harder for students to distinguish than any other. As a result, this may indicate that the low front vowel is very difficult to distinguish for those speakers who lack the vowel in their own native language.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

English Consonant Voicing

English had a process of voicing stem-final fricatives in noun-verb and singular-plural noun word pairs. This process served to distinguish English from other Germanic languages which did not have this process. Many English word pairs exhibit the voicing alternation.

Here are examples of consonant voicing in noun-verb pairs:

belief-believe
breath-breathe
choice-choose
excuse-excuse
house-house
life-live
loss-lose
proof-prove
thief-thieve
use-use

The noun ends with a voiceless fricative and the verb ends with a voiceless one. The pairs choice-choose and loss-lose also have different vowel sounds.

A voicing alternation also occurs with singular-plural nouns. Here are examples:

half-halves
knife-knives
leaf-leaves
life-lives
mouth-mouths
path-paths
shelf-shelves
wife-wives
wolf-wolves
youth-youths

The singular noun ends with a voiceless consonant and the plural noun ends with a voiced one. The consonant preceding the final one is also voiced. In the case of possessive nouns such as wife's and youth's, consonant voicing does not occur.

Consonant voicing was once very common in English. As a result, a number of words still exhibit a voicing alternation. This is true with two word pairs: nouns and verbs, and singular and plural nouns. This voicing alternation does not occur in other Germanic languages.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Consonant Gradation in Finnish

Consonant gradation refers to a set of consonant alternations. In Finnish, consonant gradation occur with the intervocalic voiceless plosives p, t and k and the corresponding geminates pp, tt, and kk. Finnish has two types of consonant gradation: strong and weak.

The Finnish word for bank is pankki. This is the strong grade. The word for "in the bank" is pankista. This is the weak grade. The strong grade has the geminate "kk" and the weak grade has the consonant "k."

The Finnish word for shop is kauppa. This is the strong grade. The word for "in the shop" is kaupassa. This is the weak grade. The strong grade has the geminate "pp" and the weak grade has the consonant "p."

The Finnish word kaupinki means city. The word for "from the city" is kaupingista. The strong grade has the plosive "k" and the weak grade has the plosive "g."

The Finnish word katu means street. The word for "on the street" is kadulla. Here the strong grade has the plosive "t" and the weak grade has the plosive "d."

The Finnish word ilta means bridge. The word for "on the bridge" is illalla. The strong grade has the consonants "lt" and the weak grade has the consonants "ll."

The Finnish word kampa means comb. The word for "in the comb" is kammassa. The strong grade has the consonants "mp" and the weak grade has "mm."

The Finnish word kylpy means bath. The word for "in the bath" is kylvyssä. Here the strong grade has the plosive "p" and the weak grade has the fricative "v."

Finnish has many examples of consonant gradation. The geminate consonants of the strong grade degeminate in the weak grade. Single consonants of the strong grade exhibit many changes in the weak. Consonant gradation is a special feature of the Finnish language.