An Academic Sightseeing Day

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As you may or may not know, I’ve been studying for my MRes at the University of Central Lancashire for most of the past 2 years. It’s been a fascinating journey – I’ve climbed mountains  [cue Julie Andrews!], overcome obstacles,  learnt new skills and been to the pits of despair and the heights of elation. However, all this time I have mostly just been focused on my own research topic, the English Dative Alternation* – more specifically between the years of 1410 and 1680. Sometimes it feels as though I eat, sleep and dream it. Sometimes it feels as though there is nobody or nothing else in the world apart from my area of study. Sometimes I wonder if anybody else could give a proverbial.

Today, however, was the undergraduate dissertation conference at UCLan. Being a lofty post-grad student I had vague memories of the terror I went through before I had to present my paper. This time, though, I wasn’t presenting, I didn’t know any of the presenters and I had no real involvement whatsoever. It was bliss! I could just sit and listen from a vantage point of academic interest.

There were some fascinating topics. How sleep is represented in literature, Textual analysis of the New Testament, neologisms in Harry Potter, the rhetoric of Donald Trump and forensic analysis of the language of Brendan Dassey’s interview transcripts**

Nothing was really relevant to my own thesis, and in a way it could have been considered a waste of a day which I could have spent preparing for my exam [or playing with my Lego – much nicer!] However, as I walked away, after the delicious cakes at the closing remarks, I felt strangely refreshed. I realised why – it was as though I’d been on a coach trip of English Linguistics; admiring, enjoying, learning a little bit here and there, but with no obligations whatsoever – a nice little mental holiday in fact. Nice 🙂

*English Dative Alternation: In a nutshell, the difference between I gave flowers to her and I gave her flowers.
**https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80000770

Should you be interested in any of the topics I have mentioned, I would be happy to point you in the direction of the researchers involved.

Feel free to email me: StarfishEnglishServices@gmail.com

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Where Punctuation Fears To Go

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-43146117

This article appeared on the BBC News website a week ago. It’s actually a very hopeful story, but I had to read, read and re-read the headline before I could make sense of it:

Wearable Tech Aids Stroke Patients

WHAT! I thought – when we’re under the weather are our FitBits getting a bit too up close and personal? Am I in danger of being fondled by a pair of headphones? Will those virtual reality headsets start kissing their wearers? Thankfully, [or maybe not, depending on your viewpoint?] no – well not yet it seems. The above headline is a classic example of ambiguity at its best. The wearable tech aids in question have not been stroking people lying in hospital beds – but wearable tech has been aiding patients recovering from a stroke.

Usually, a well-placed punctuation mark can make all the difference between two similarly worded sentences; for instance:

Let’s eat Grandma  –  Let’s eat, Grandma.

In cases such as the over-friendly tech aids, however, there is actually nowhere a comma or other helpful punctuation mark could have been inserted – the whole ambiguity is down to the actual words used. The problem the writer did not realise is that aids can be a noun or a verb – similarly stroke can be a verb or a noun. Were this particular sentence read aloud, the whole misunderstanding would be cleared up by intonation – try it yourself and see. A stress on the word aids gives a very different meaning to a stress on the word stroke.

Later on, I must mention, the headline had been changed to the clearer, but much less amusing:

Wearable tech could help stroke patients with recovery

I couldn’t help wondering who had noticed the problem with the first one and spoiled my fun!