Archive for January, 2012

LYRICAL METHODOLOGY: IN PRAISE OF READING

January 27, 2012

In my time, those who chose to study English as their profession usually acquired quite a decent command of it. British teachers I spoke to in those days used to say, “What you are doing with foreign languages without going ‘through the curtain’ is fantastic.”  Generally, that was true, and I could write about it at great length, but I’ll mention only one aspect: Reading.
As students, we had several kinds of Reading: Analytical Reading (a few passages of a text read daily with detailed analysis of its phonetic, vocabulary and grammatical structure), Home Reading (about 30-50 pages every week from British/American classical literature – the assignment went with a worksheet covering several conceptual items from the literary piece plus the vocabulary for discussion), and Outside Reading. In the last case each student read a different book of some 200-300 pages and made a public report on it after finishing the book. As a rule, book reports were made twice a year. The size of the book was not strictly limited but, normally, that was a novel or a set of stories by a classical author. Besides, you could read, on your own, some interesting piece of information from a British/American newspaper and speak up about it in class – that was also added to the total amount of the “pages read”. It goes without saying that the newspapers were ideologically “trustworthy” – the communist papers The Morning Star and The Daily World. In sum, that amounted to the average of 100-120 pages read every week. Moreover: not merely read, but also discussed, disputed, proved, rejected, learned by heart, forgotten and learned again…
However, there would hardly have been much use of those pages if it hadn’t  been for the “human factor” – our great wish to “look through the curtain.” Behind it there seemed to be quite a different life of quite different people. The life was unusual, the people were beautiful and their characters were strong. Maybe, not everything what is unconventional, attractive, or strong in us, who are now in our sixties, was borrowed from that life and from those people, but, quite definitely, it was intensified and strengthened by what we were reading.

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GRAMMAR NOTES-18

January 25, 2012

THE GERUND. There’s a tendency for the gerund to become more widely used in speech at the expense of the verbal noun.  According to the statistics, words and phrases of the type insurance of property, settlement of disputes, payment of bills are more spread in British English, while their gerundial equivalents insuring property, settling disputes, paying bills are more characteristic of American English. Cf. a sentence from President George W. Bush’s inaugural address in 2001:

Our national courage has been clear in times of depression and war, when defending common dangers defined our common good.

Just the same way we speak of the “split infinitive” we may speak of the “split gerund”: I’m tired of perpetually being in the middle of family squabbles, OR: I remember your once saying to my mother , how’s Tommy?

There appear new forms of the gerund which emphasize an action at a given point of time, as we may observe it with Participle I : Our guests are due to being arriving tomorrow, OR: I’ve missed endless buses through not being standing at the bus stop when they arrived.

IN A BROADER CONTEXT

January 24, 2012

To continue with the snow, which is a red-hot 🙂 topic these days. I took a picture of a skier because I don’t remember having seen any person on skis for the last fifteen years or so. I thought skiers had become extinct in Kyiv and could be watched only on television during Winter Olympics. But… they’re tenacious of life and in fine whack, as you may see.
Today I came to work, as usual, by metro and on time. There weren’t so many cars at the company’s main office: our managers arrive by cars and quite a few might have stuck down the congested snowed-up streets. However, the head of the commercial department was already at work. “Your car must be really good,” I said. “Deutschland!” he answered. I liked the reply. My colleague didn’t say a sentence of the kind “My Volkswagen is super.” He put the situation in a broader context and generalized on it. That’s what poetry is about: you mention a piece of glass shining in the moonlight on the road – and there will immediately appear something global: the starry sky and the quietness of the night. Even if you didn’t mention them directly. The first snow wakes up hearts for global things.
The global approach came with Britannica Online info (I’m a subscriber to Britannica): 164 years ago, on January 24, 1848 carpenter James Wilson Marshall found nuggets of gold in California’s American River near the site of a sawmill he was building for John Sutter. Though the two were going to keep it quiet first, the news leaked, and the next year about 300,000 gold- seekers had flocked to California. The gold rush was ushered.
Some twenty years ago my daughter used to play “Oh My Darling, Clementine” on the piano and both of us were singing the song together. It’s about a bereaved lover and his darling, the daughter of a forty-niner. He loses her in a drowning accident, though he consoles himself towards the end of the song with Clementine’s “little sister”. The melody is attributed to an old Spanish ballad, and it was made popular by Mexican miners during the Gold Rush.
I even recorded our duet performance then. Today the audio cassette must be somewhere in the box with “old treasures.” So, remembering the story of a “miner, forty-niner” and prompted by Britannica, I logged on to search engines. Different variants of the song were the most interesting read. One opening reveals that Clementine’s father was partial to drinks, which is not the case in the canonical text:

In a tavern, in the canyon,
Drinking beer and lots of wine,
Sat a miner forty-niner,
Grieving over Clementine


In one of the versions the father surfaces again by the end of the song: Then the miner forty-niner/He began to weep and pine/… Some other additions have too much naturalism in them:
In a corner of the churchyard,
Where the myrtle boughs entwine,
Grow the roses in their poses,
Fertilized by Clementine.
The song had a lot of adaptations, like in a variant for Boy Scouts:
Now you Boy Scouts, there’s a moral
To this little tale of mine.
Artificial respiration,
Would have saved my Clementine…
(Incidentally, on January 24 (!),1908 the first Boy Scout troop was organized by Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell in England).
Much as we may like or dislike it, the “gold rush” mentality seems to be built in the American national character. And when we read about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn taking shovels and starting digging for gold, we must also put the event in a broader context of the gold rushes in California, Klondike, Nevada, British Columbia, Idaho, etc.
When I was listening to “Oh My Darling, Clementine” through speakers on YouTube today, my wife entered the room. “Oh, I thought it was you who was singing the song,” she said. “You are flattering me,” I answered. “The last time I sang it was with Yaroslava about twenty years ago.”
Anyway, here’s the song:

WHAT ARE WE MADE OF?

January 22, 2012

Another “white” Sunday in Kyiv. It has been snowing all night, and it’s snowing now when I’m writing this blog. I took a few snapshots this morning. An old lady beating her carpet. The best time to do the job is either during the snowfall, like it is today (then one can also clean the carpet with fresh snow), or in mid-summer, near the river. In the latter case one can alternate between beating the carpet, washing it and periodically plunging into the river – just to wash the carpet dust off :-). However, the pastime loses its popularity with more and more powerful vacuum cleaners being purchased.
For some inexplicable reason I love cars covered with thick snow. They look to me like living beings – huge and kind –who find it very snug and very warm huddling like that.
I didn’t miss the chance of taking a picture of a nimble bulldozer which was zigzagging among the cars scooping the snow away. Unexpectedly the driver jumped out and asked me in a wary manner if anything had happened and why I was taking pictures. I smiled at the driver and said that it was a beautiful morning with beautiful snow falling and I just liked “an agile bee of a bulldozer.” The driver looked at me for a few moments and tried to smile too.

When I told my acquaintance about the talk with the driver, she said, “Only men can photograph a bulldozer on a Sunday morning like that.” I agreed. What are men made of? Right, they’re made of bulldozers and blogs. Women are made of beautiful scenery and diaries. “Dear Diary” this, “Dear Diary” that…

“ON THE PAD” WITH THE RED PAD

January 21, 2012

In the 1960s Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book was the most printed book in the world. It was the size of a notepad. The book was mass-published and distributed among the citizens. In the photos of those days you could see crowds of hongweibings waiving their red-covered booklets with Mao’s quotations.  Fifty years later a “hongweibing” – a queer exotic word standing for a “red defence soldier, red guard” became archaic, many of the “citizens” are now known as “netizens” and the word “pad” acquired  a modern meaning: a “hand-held computer with a touch-screen, a tablet.” Of late, a device called the Red Pad was developed in China. The Red Pad features swipe control of apps, an A9 dual-core processor, 16GB of flash storage, Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity. But unlike more proletariat tablets the Red Pad comes loaded with pre-installed apps that tap into the latest in “party thought” – websites with information for party functionaries.
The distribution method will also undergo changes as compared to how Mao’s books were spread. The Chinese tablet won’t be sold in stores, it will be given to party cadres for free. Lesser mortals will hardly be able to own it – especially when you consider the price of the Red Pad: $1,584, twice as much as the most expensive Apple iPad. With the Chinese New Year in, there’s sure to be lots of the “red-pad gift-giving” on the upper ladders of the party hierarchy. Alluding to the steep price as well as the perception of widespread use of public funds for gift-giving within Chinese officialdom, one online comment quipped, “Red Pad No.1? Corruption No.1!”

Much has changed in the vocabulary and in the conceptual picture of the modern world since the beginning of the digital revolution.  What hasn’t changed, is the hypocrisy of communists. In the ex-USSR they were trumpeting for social “liberty, equality, fraternity” at the same time having their own cafeterias, dachas, rest-homes, reserved places for their kids at universities, even reserved places at cemeteries after their timely or untimely demise. In present-day China they reserve the Red Pads, leaving the paperback “red pads” for the “broad run.”

GRAMMAR NOTES – 17

January 19, 2012

THE INFINITIVE. The construction of the type “There is/was nothing to do but (to) wait/look/go away”, etc ceases to have the particle TO before the final verb. The usage with TO (to wait, to look, to go away, etc. ) is more characteristic of the bookish style.
Very often the particle TO is dropped in the subordinate clauses of the type: If I knew how (TO), As long as I’m able (TO).
However, TO is preserved after NOT, OUGHT and NEED (I wondered if I should tell her about it, but I decided not to)
In the above example the usage of TO or dropping it doesn’t particularly influence the meaning of the utterance. Things are different if TO combines with “like”:
1)    Do it if you like to (the meaning: … if you like to do it)
2)    Do it if you like (the meaning: …if you choose so)
In the colloquial style the conjunction AND is used instead of the particle TO in phrases of the type:
I don’t want to try and/to influence him, Go and/to fetch some tea.
In certain cases both the particle TO and the conjunction AND may be dropped:
Go see him.
There’s no semantic distinction between the Passive Infinitive and the Active Infinitive in the sentences: “There’s a lot of work to do” and “There’s a lot of work to be done”. However, the distinction is seen in phrases with “nothing”: There’s nothing to do” (we are free/bored, etc) versus “There’s nothing to be done” (no other way)

REJECTION PHENOMENON

January 18, 2012

Politicians’ portraits are a special genre in Ukraine –going  back to the time when the country was a part of the Soviet Union. As a kid I saw portraits of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin at every street corner. They were in school classrooms, in textbooks, in books for children, in offices, on windshields of trucks, etc, etc. When a competition for the Best Picture was announced in primary school I went to, I (being overwhelmed with love for the leaders of the “world proletariat”) drew a picture of Lenin according to the best of my skill and understanding and committed it to the consideration of the panel. I was praised for my effort but, for obvious reasons, the picture was not exhibited.
I thought of this when I was returning to Kyiv after the New Year spent in Kirovohrad. Practically, after every 10-15 km of the 300 km I travelled there was a billboard with the President’s portrait and his New Year wishes to the Ukrainian people.  On approach to Kyiv the billboards started being even more frequent: the familiar face of the President, who “will hear everybody”, came as often as two or three times for every kilometer of the highway.
Last summer State Forest Resources Agency made all 300 forestry divisions in Ukraine buy 15 million hryvnya worth of presidential portraits and state emblems.  One forest warden complained that he had to buy 70 Yanukovych portraits for 12,000 hryvnya. “What am I supposed to do with 70 portraits of the president, when we only have 20 rooms? Hang them in the toilet?” he complained.
Unsurprisingly, “tissue rejection” followed. In early January there were reports that  Yanukovych billboards had been defaced with splotches of paint in several parts of Ukraine. The authorities threaten to imprison the culprits, who, so far, remain unknown.  I ask myself: which of the public figures could have been so popular that s/he wouldn’t have to be afraid their billboard images all over the country might be smeared with paint or otherwise? I know only one: Yuri Gagarin. Do our political leaders think they are enjoying the Gagarin popularity?

SECOND AND FIRST

January 17, 2012

One hundred years ago today Robert Scott and four other members of the British team – Edward  Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates, and Edgar Evans – reached the South Pole. They were greeted by a tent flying the Norwegian flag. They realized they’d been beaten in the race by Roald Amundsen’s team. Inside the tent was a note for Scott from Amundsen:
Dear Captain Scott — As you probably are the first to reach this area after us, I will ask you to kindly forward this letter to [Norwegian] King Haakon VII. If you can use any of the articles left in the tent please do not hesitate to do so. The sledge left outside may be of use to you. With kind regards I wish you a safe return. Yours truly, Roald Amundsen.

The first picture opening this blog post (taken by Scott himself) shows the British crew when they stayed at the “already discovered” South Pole for some time.

Formally friendly and polite, Amundsen’s note seems to have been written in mock. Scott and his men’s return wasn’t “safe” either. The first one to die was Evans. The frost-bitten Oats stumbled on his gangrenous legs out of the tent into the blizzard not to be a burden for the rest. Wilson, Bowers and Scott died in the last days of March.  The three were only 20 km from a depot that contained the food and fuel they so desperately needed to survive. Their bodies were found in November 1912 alongside their letters and diaries. It was felt that the best thing to do would be to leave them there in the Antarctic wilderness. And they’re still there today, in the ice, slowly floating towards the sea.
A centenary exhibition which has opened in London these days displays, among other things, their journal and the farewell letters they wrote to their families. Until this date the journal has lain open at the British Library at Scott’s description of Captain Oates leaving the tent. Robert Scott wrote further in the journal: “But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honour of our country, I appeal to our country to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for. Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishmen. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.” And then these final words: “We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far…It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott.”
Captain Scott was the last to die. Today, on 17 January, the British Library sent a curator to the exhibition to turn the pages to this last entry made on Friday, March 29, 1912.
P.S. Information monitors that are put up in metro carriages in Kyiv periodically flash memorable events on current dates. One of the events I read today was: “January 17: Robert Scott and his men were the first explorers to reach the South Pole in 1912.” “First” was a mistake, of course. But I also thought that there might have been something in the enterprise that gave Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his friends the right to be called “first”.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

January 16, 2012

In its language blog Johnson, named so after the British writer, lexicographer and politician Samuel Johnson, The Economist addresses its readers with the following request:
ENGLISH TEACHING
A Friday request
Jan 6th 2012, 15:43 by R.L.G. | NEW YORK
MANY English teachers around the world use The Economist to help teach English as a foreign language.  We (the newspaper as a whole, and this blog) would like to help them out, but so far, ideas are hazy for how to do so.  Are there any English teachers, or anyone else, among our readers who have good ideas about how we might use Economist.com and this blog to teach English?  Please jump in in the comments if so.

The internet address of the blog post and the comments:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2012/01/english-teaching#comments
Those who are interested are welcome to visit the site.

HOLIDAYS OUT, WINTER IN

January 15, 2012

A few days ago we saw our daughter off at Boryspil Airport. She’ll come back to Ukraine only in May. This is the parents’ lot: to see our children in and off. Until the month of May we’ll be relying on Skype, Facebook and text messages to contact them. Incidentally, our daughter arrived in Georgia just in time to attend a fancy-dress party at her school which was dedicated to the “Old New year” (January 14). She uploaded quite a number of pictures of the masquerade on Facebook. I’ve copied and pasted one into this blog.

It’s funny that just when the winter holidays came to an end, the real winter set in. It had been snowing all through the night. In the morning I left my flat to do some chores, but then returned almost immediately to take my camera with me. I was afraid that if I didn’t “capture the moment “ in the morning, it might be too late to do it in the afternoon. With global warming you aren’t sure whether the “first snow” will survive for some longer time.

“Sunday footballers” were kicking the ball on the neighboring playground, dog-owners were initiating their pets into the beauty of the wintry landscape, and the cars lay asleep under the white fluffy blanket. I would suggest that names of colors should be entered in weather reports as it is done with characteristics of temperature, wind, etc. For example: “The day will be cool, windy, white” – the last parameter with variations: black ( i.e. without snow), black-and-white, more-black- than-white, more-white-than-black (depending on how much snow has fallen), green, spring-green, yellow (according to the season), etc. Life would become brighter, wouldn’t it?


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