When a colon replaces a period

Great teaching example I’ll use this fall, from George Gopen’s Expectations: Teaching Writing from the Reader’s Perspective:

The film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV.

versus

The film has been modified from its original version: It has been formatted to fit your TV.

(Gopen capitalizes the independent clause after a colon. I don’t, so I would write this without the second capital.)

In the first version, a number of modifications could have been made: change in length, removal of bad words, elimination of explicit sex scenes.

In the 2nd version, just one change has been made, and we know what it is. The film has been formatted to fit our TV. The end.

Gopen says the colon in such sentences functions as an equals sign, and I like that way of thinking about it, though colon-as-equals-sign is too abstract to help students decide when to use one, obviously.

But as an analogy, it’s interesting and fun.

Why do some autism experts fall for Facilitated Communication?

Watching autism neurologist Margaret Bauman being taken in by Sue Rubin’s facilitated communication in Autism is a World got me thinking about other neurologists who have suffered similar fates. One in particular has long stood out to me: Mike Merzernich. After studying Tito, son of Soma, founder of the Rapid Prompting Method variant of FC, Merzenich has concluded that “Tito is for real,” and “I think there could be thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Titos out there.”

How can people who should know better about the neurology of autism have been so deluded? Doesn’t their own brain research conflict with the underlying assumptions of FC—namely, the assumption that autism is primarily a movement disorder?

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Clever Stella (the Dog of Ms. Hunger)

Since its release early this month, How Stella Learned to Talk has already garnered more 5-star reviews than another book released last month by the same publisher (William Morrow). That other book would be the pro-FC I Have Been Buried Under Years of Dust. Just a few weeks out, Stella has already broken 1000 in its Amazon sales rankings, a milestone that Dust hasn’t come close to.

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Diagnostic Grammar Test

SentenceWeaver’s Diagnostic Grammar Test is ready for beta-testing. The text-input version is here:

http://autism-language-therapies.com/DiagnosticTest/test_login.html

And the speech-input version, which runs only in Chrome and requires you to enable your microphone, is here:

https://autism-language-therapies.com/ORAL_DiagnosticTest/test_login.html

The point of the test is to detect difficulties in those areas of grammar that come naturally to most native English speakers but can pose challenges to individuals with autism and to non-native English speakers.

Still, it’s possible for native speakers to take this test and make mistakes: as you’ll see if you try it out, all it takes is a lapse in concentration!

Unlike SentenceWeaver’s teaching tool, the diagnostic tool doesn’t give you corrective feedback. However, since it needs to elicit particular words, phrases, or structures in order to assess particular grammar and syntax skills, it will sometimes ask you to reword your answer.

You’re welcome to try it out on yourself on your kids, and you can sign in using whatever name you’d like. Feedback appreciated!

How to end a sentence

A sentence from John Brennan on the subject of UFOs:

I think some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life.

How UFO sightings went from joke to national security worry in Washington

I think I’ll use this when we discuss hedging in class next fall.

Sex and the semicolon

George Gopen on his introduction to the semicolon:

To be completely straightforward with you, for a very long time I harbored a suspicion that the semi-colon had something to do with sex. I remember the day – I was 12 years old at the time – when my English teacher reached the section of our textbook that dealt with the semi-colon. With a noticeable amount of emotional discomfort, he told our all-male class, “We won’t go into the semi-colon. You don’t need that now. You’ll need that later.” He was relieved not to have to tell us; we were relieved not to have to face the unveiling of the mystery. We were feeling that way about a number of concerns at that particular stage of life and had seen our fathers undergo the same discomfort and the same escape by avoidance.

My teacher was right, of course. I didn’t need the semi-colon at age 12. Unfortunately, by the time I was grown up enough to need the semi-colon, there was no one around to explain it to time. By then, I was somehow supposed to know all about it. I went around for years thinking I was one of the few people who did not understood (sic) this mystery. I now know that most people are just as insecure about it as I was.

The Sense of Structure: Writing from the Reader’s Perspective by George D. Gopen, p 161

Colonotomy!

I just found out that a copy editor removed a colon from a key sentence in the critique I just published of Jaswal et al’s pro-FC eye-tracking study. The resulting sentence is incoherent:

Indeed, it would be quite strange if there were the ability to answer open-ended questions, or, more generally, to participate in a communicative exchange, is independent of linguistic medium (speaking, writing, typing), and is limited only by one’s ability to function in that medium (to pronounce words, to write letters and spell words, to type and spell words) and by one’s general communicative competence.

I’ll leave it as an exercise to the interested reader to figure out where the colon goes.

Hint: here is the immediately preceding sentence:

There is, in fact, no empirically established or diagnostically categorized language disorder that combines extant oral skills with conversation skills that only emerge during hunt-and-peck typing.

Word to the wise: when reviewing proofs, make sure to look for tiny strike-through marks through punctuation marks whose occasionally crucial function your copy editor may have somehow overlooked.

Guide, side, teach, tell

Barry Garelick’s Out on Good Behavior: Teaching Math While Looking Over Your Shoulder (Katharine reviewed it here) is a terrific book: funny, affecting, and real. One of my favorite passages, from the Introduction and Dedication:

I want to share some advice I received from Ellen, one of my two “parole officers” whom you will meet in this book….

“Students have more faith in something they think they came up with than something the teacher tells them.”

…Some teachers have told me that they are not allowed to answer a student’s question directly. In fact, the quote from Ellen was her response to my question of why it’s acceptable for students to show other students how to do a problem, but it’s not acceptable if a teacher does so….

From time to time, however, most, if not all, teachers will answer a student’s question by telling them what they need to know in order to solve a problem. And most, if not all, teachers (myself included) feel guilty doing this, because we are taught that that’s giving away the answer and we are handing it to the student, or to put it in more educational terminology: “teaching by telling.”

The Hundred Years’ War.