kitchen table math, the sequel: Katharine on awkward student sentences

Friday, April 27, 2012

Katharine on awkward student sentences

Here is Katharine on students using "it" as the subject of their sentences:
In terms of awkward sentences written by students, what I'm seeing is an avoidance of modified nouns as subjects. Instead, the would-be modified-noun subject is "factored out" of the sentence into a modifier, and then replaced by "it":

In Happe’s article it is said that this deficit is due to an autistic children’s inability to infer a communicator’s intentions.

[As opposed to Happe's article says that... Notice, btw, that the final noun phrase, the object of "due to", is heavily modified]


By discovering which parts of communication are more challenging to develop, it can help speech researchers discover where people with other language and communication challenges stumble as well.

[Instead of: Discovering which parts of communication are more challenging can help...]

Actually, only the first example ("Happe's article") is a modified noun; the second one is a sentential subject ("Discovering which parts of communication are more challenging"). So more precisely what I'm seeing is an avoidance of any syntactically complex element in subject position.

Perhaps this goes for speech as well?
in the predicate: an autistic children’s inability to infer a communicator’s intentions

in the subject: it



ChemProf said...

The second one is arguably also avoiding a modified noun: "speech researchers can discover where..."

Catherine Johnson said...

I think "speech researchers" is a modified noun, right?

Biber calls this "Noun Noun."

Noun-noun formulations have been increasing for 3 centuries!

Anonymous said...

Speech researchers is not modified because the two nouns denote specific aspects of the person where speech denotes the field of study and researchers denotes the job performed. Even though they do belong together, they are not modified because a modified noun pair is when one of the nouns is modified and speech researchers has no modified noun unless you count plurals.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Anonymous -

Assuming I'm reading Biber et al correctly, they would say that "speech researchers" is a case of noun modification.

Here are examples of noun modification that appear in "Noun phrase modification" by Biber, Grieve, & Iberri-Shea:

police report
bus strike
message board
convenience store owner
law enforcement communities

I could be wrong, but I believe Biber would classify "speech researchers" as a case of "Noun as pre-modifier."

Katharine Beals said...

This just in from another student:

"For students with autism there are many words that are difficult for them to learn."

Here what's factored out is the object of "difficult for" ("students with autism") and the placeholder is the pronoun "they".

I think in general what's being avoided via these "it"/"they" placeholders are situations where you'd otherwise need to climb out of a complex subject or object while you're still in the middle of a sentence (as opposed to being outside the sentence in a preceding modifier). But that's best explained graphically--hard to do here!

Yes, Catherine, we need to catch up! Hopefully soon?

Catherine Johnson said...

YES! SOON! I had my last class today.

OK, now I'm going to see if I can figure out what you just said (and here I thought I'd made some headway reading linguistics!)

Catherine Johnson said...

OK, number 1: do you remember what the preceding sentence was? I think Kolln's 'known-new contract' is exactly right, and in many paragraphs you can't write simple Subject-Verb sentences if you're trying to have the predicate of Sentence 1 become the subject of Sentence 2.



So far, I'm not understanding "climb out of a complex subject or object" in the middle of a going to mull.

Catherine Johnson said...

In Happe’s article it is said that this deficit is due to an autistic children’s inability to infer a communicator’s intentions.

Actually ---- I **think** I've seen that students have trouble saying that you can put the verb 'say' together with "Happe's article."

In other words, for novice writers who've done practically no academic reading, PEOPLE say something, not BOOKS or ARTICLES.

I **think** that the pronoun 'it' somehow gets around this association (of human subjects with 'saying.')

That's an impression; I could certainly be wrong.

Still having trouble thinking what complex subject they'd have trouble climbing out of in the Happe sentence -- ?

Catherine Johnson said...

Common Core is sure right about one thing: students need to be doing academic reading --- AND they need teachers to be overseeing academic reading & explaining the text.

My students really can't read academic writing; it's very, very tough for them.

The problem, **I** believe, is academic writing per se.

I have my students read out loud quite a bit, and here at the end of the semester I'm amazed at how well they do.

Just about no one reads using proper prosody, BUT basically no one is tripping over pronunciation these days, which a lot of students were at the beginning of the semester.

We read chapters from the King James Bible in class on Monday, and I was amazed at how well they all did.