Saturday, November 10, 2007

Buzz, Pomp and Lexis

Today, my sister and I went to see a movie with a pair of family friends we hadn't seen in around 13 years. Well, maybe 8 years for the older one, but anyway. We saw Bee Movie (starring Jerry Seinfeld and Renee Zwelliger). Lots of random humour, but the one part that really got my attention was a reference to the phrase pomp and circumstance.

Now that is a phrase that I've always heard, but usually in the context of music (i.e. the title of Sir Edward Elgar's musical composition, in the mid-17th century). However, my non-rigorous search online revealed that perhaps it was originally from Shakespeare's Othello, in which the description is about the formalities and glories of war. But in any case, I feel that this is an extremely dated phrase that no longer serves any useful purpose; The etymology is obscured, and the meaning unclear.

Meanwhile, I was browsing around Chapters today, looking for some "classical" children's literature (ie. A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter). After being ignored for a while by two female employees (whose conversation was apparently more important than their work), I found my Beatrix Potter in the age 0-5 section. What was more astounding, aside from the now-antiquated vocabulary in Peter Rabbit's Adventures, is the fact that each little booklet which originally sold for a dollar or two, is now being sold for $10 a book! That's insane! That, and there is no clear order or index in the kids section for books... ...And they wonder why kids have trouble organising their thoughts...

I doubt I'll ever have man-spawn of my own, but in terms of general pedagogy, I find it helpful to introduce children to established stories first. They won't understand the words, but they're learning language for the first time anyway, so it doesn't make that much of a difference. They learn to sense the general meaning of a word based on context and illustration, and they'll recognise certain words later in life when they happen to be reading a 150-yr old manuscript.

These books also set a standard for what constitutes good literature. I think, if it hadn't been for these books growing up, my sense of English wouldn't be half as strong as it is now. Even though the job hasn't existed in my country throughout my entire life, I still knew what a milkman was.

And lastly, my friend sent me a link to a poverty-feeding, vocabular-building site. They basically quiz you on your vocab, and for every answer, they donate 10 grains of rice. (It doesn't matter if your answer is correct or not; sometimes the options are a bit strange.) There's also a vocab level counter, indicating what level you're at. It's out of 50, and I'm guessing an average university student should have be at least lvl 35, based on the words I've been playing around with. (So far, my record high is lv 43. yay.) So, build up your vocab, and feed some hungry people! Highlight words from the quiz so far: camelopard, and prophylactic. (Don't ask why I happen to know the definition for either word... it's been a strange life for me.)

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