Author: knittingwords

PhD student. University of Málaga. History of English, language variation, corpus linguistics, English varieties.

The SWOT analysis task

Dear all, as I brought up the SWOT analysis issue, I think this worksheet could help us to organize our ideas regarding our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats related to English. SWOT_worksheetSWOT-analysis

 This analysis is nowadays commonly applied to business or marketing studies, and it serves to audit the present situation of a company or business, recognizing the internal factors (Strengths and weaknesses) and the external ones (Opportunities and threats). Here you can find more information about SWOT analysis. Hope it helps!

“Change fear for curiosity” MF

This is just to praise Michelle’s extraordinary sentence. It brought to my mind something thfear-for-curiousityat was said in Madrid’s parade last 5th January, called precisely “Ode to the Curiosity”. One of the wise men ended his speech asking children to keep their curiosity alive. Sometimes I feel that the amount of information that bombarded us every day makes it difficult to remain curious, mainly curious about little but revealing things. I’m worried about children growing in a screened-world, where everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) can be seen with just a click. How they couimages.jpgld be curious after hours and hours watching and listening in front of a screen? So, fear for curiosity is a fantastic option. Let’s do it. Thanks Michelle!

Useful language to end(ing) OPs


Dear All,

This is the compilation, or at least the one OPs_cartoon.gifthat I made, about the “brainstorming” exercise we did on Monday 28th in class, do you remember? The issue was that ending the OPs seemed to be a tough task for more of us, so we were thinking together useful sentences or tips for ending the OPs, in order to give a “decourous” closing to our talks. Please, feel free to add or comment on anything I would have missed or got wrongly. (Note to the teacher, I’m not sure if the ellipsis can include the auxiliary (have), i.e. I would have missed or (have) got wrongly, thanks)

Here it is what I wrote:

  1. Thank you for listening (to me). If you have any questions I’ll be glad to answer them/don’t hesitate to ask.
  2. That’s all. Would you like to pose a question? Would you like to ask something  anything? (polite)
  3. To sum up (after this you have to summarize what you have said, i.e. to give the audience a summary)
  4. To conclude/finish/to end my presentation I’d like to mention/add/share with you  my personal opinion
  5. All things considered, I’d say that [home-schooling] is a very interesting topic.
  6. I’m running out of time, so just let me say this final words….
  7. My thoughts on this topic are…..
  8. I think that’s just about it.
  9. That’s all I have in mind about this topic/issue.
  10. I’m sorry I’m not an expert on this topic (I think this is very honest, but I don’t like it very much because it makes you feel less confident).
  11. I hope you have enjoyed my presentation/talk, please do not hesitate to ask any question or doubt you have
  12. With this story/thought/quote I finish my presentation

Literary descriptions

This post is about descriptions, literary descriptions in particular. I’ve chosen two examples, one is a painting description from Tracy Chevaliers’ novel The Girl with a pearl earring, while the other describes a room, Maudie’s room, from The Diaries of Jane Somers by Doris Lessing. I hope you enjoy them.

From Chevaliers’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring, describing a painting

A woman stood in front of a table, turned towards a mirror on the wall so that she was in profile. She wore a mantle of rich yellow satin trimmed with white ermine, and a fashionable five-pointed red ribbon in her hair. A window lit her from the left, falling across her face and tracing the delicate curve of her forehead and nose. She was tying a string of pearls around her neck, holding the ribbons up, her hands suspended in the air. Entranced with herself in the mirror, she did not seem to be aware that anyone was looking at her. Behind her on a bright white wall was an old map, in the dark foreground the table with the letter on it, the powder-brush and the other things I had dusted around. (p. 36).


If you are curious about the painting, visit Vermeer’s website

 The Diaries of Jane Somers by Doris Lessing

We walked along it to the ‘kitchen’. I have never seen anything like it outside our Distress File, condemned houses and that sort Of things. It was an extension of the passage , with an old gas cooker, greasy and black, and old white china sink, cracked and yellow with grease, a cold-water tap wrapped around with old rags and dripping steadily.  A rather nice old wood table that had crockery standing on it, all ‘washed’ but grimy. The walls stained and damp. The whole place smelled, it smelled awful… She did not look at me while she set down bread , biscuits and cat food.  The clean lively colours of the grocery packages and the tins in that awful place. She was ashamed, but wasn’t going to apologize. She said in an offhand but appealing way , ‘You go into my room, and find yourself a seat’. (p. 12)


If you are interested in this author, please check her site.


Why Iceland is the best place in the world to be a woman

This news popped up last week in my mobile Play Newsstand app, rart_iceland-hot-pool-420x0eally I don’t know much about Iceland, apart from some “lively” volcano(e)s. So the news surprises me. I don’t think I would move to Iceland for this reason, I rather prefer our lovely Mediterranean climate, but perhaps we can learn something from them, click here if you want to know more, The Guardian’s article.


Women need to be seen and heard at conferences

In line with this week debate, I’ve found an interesting and very “scientific” editorial about women’s (in)visibility in science. It was published in the prestigious journal Nature on October 19th. You can read it by clicking  here –> nature_look_harder.

(Nature 538, 290 (20 October 2016) doi:10.1038/538290b)

Have a nice weekend!!

Language awareness: How to form negative words, from past to present (edited by teacher)


This post is aimed at expanding a bit what we discussed the other day about the origin of negative prefixes. / This post intends to clarify a bit what we were discussing the other day in class about… Well, let’s start by revising how we form (indirect question) words in English. The English language (and probably most languages in the world) has three main* ways of creating (coining is the technical term, really posh) new words:

  1. By adding an affix to a root or base, see:

e.g. unhappyly

The particle that goes before the base happy, is a prefix, and the one that goes after is a suffix. The former changes the meaning of the base (in this case the opposite meaning), the latter changes the category of the word, from an adjective to an adverb.

So far so good?

  1. By changing the word-class of the base, without modifying the word, see:

a happy person (adjective)        The happy is dancing (noun)

  1. By combining two bases, i.e. forming compound words:

the happy-hour

Now, we will focus on the first possibility, which is one of the commonest mechanisms to create new words, and particularly we will refer to the case of negative prefixes. To do this, I have necessarily to tell you something about the history of English. So, let’s travel back in time.

The English that we know and use today is like a salad with three main ingredients: An Anglo-Saxon syntactic core, plus the addition of few but very frequent Norse (Viking) words, all this dressed with an avalanche of Latin and French words introduced after the Norman conquest in 1066 (this is another story). So, if you think for a moment about ten or twenty English words, you will discover that many of them sound really familiar, really close to Spanish. Bingo, they come from Latin or French which are Romance languages too. So, those words (or part of words, like prefixes), coming from Anglo-Saxon and Norse, are considered native of English, while those coming from other languages, e.g. Latin, French, German, are considered non-natives of English. Going back to negative prefixes, there are five possibilities to “reverse”  the meaning of a particular word  in Present-day English:

a-, as in asymmetrical. It comes from Greek, used mostly in technical words.

dis-, as in dislike, it comes from French (also de-, as in debone)

in-, as in incompetent. It also comes from French (it also could appear as il-, ir-, im-, as in illiterate, irregular, impossible)

non-, as in non-sense, guess what? yes, you are right, French/Latin origin.

un-, as in uncountable, the only negative prefix authentically English.

Normally, but not always, the non-native prefixes, i.e. a-, dis-, in-, and non-, occur attached to non-native words (those that were “imported” from other languages). On the other hand, the native prefix un- can be combined with native and non-native bases. Why? Well, there is not a straightforward answer, but basically this is because non-native prefixes entered in English as part of foreign words, e.g. incomplete (from French incomplete), and therefore speakers generally associated that prefix to a non-native word. Once the word was made so common in English, speakers started to use the same prefix in combination with other bases, but normally from the same origin. On the contrary, the native prefix un- was always in the mind of English speakers, they knew its negative meaning, hence they used ­un- to form negative words or to express the opposite action of a verb (reversative meaning), i.e. do vs. undo. So, for native speakers this form was freely re-usable with native and non-native words.

The problem is that there is not a rule** to know whether a base combines with a native or a non-native prefix, just like what happened the other day with unpolite* and impolite. As I said before, generally non-native prefixes occur with non-native bases, but there are exceptions as in dislike, or distrust, among others. So, if the word sounds similar to Spanish you could guess that it can be combined with a non-native negative prefix, but this is not always true, because un- can be attached to non-native bases too. Then, we have no option but to look the word up in the dictionary. To make things worse, occasionally some bases combine with two different prefixes, e.g. undigested (adj.) and indigestion (noun). This occurs because at some point in the history of English the same base was used with both prefixes, they competed, and eventually both forms remained in the language though with different use and/or meaning.  Last but not least, it is necessary to bear in mind that some of these prefixes have other meanings too, for instance in- is also used with the sense of ‘in, within, internal’, as in inside; and dis- occurs with verbs “having already a sense of division” as in disjoint (information obtained from the Oxford English Dictionary online, OED,

The following table shows some of the most common words in news published online for each case (source: The NOW corpus (News on the Web) contains 3.3 billion words of data from web-based newspapers and magazines from 2010 to the present time,

I hope you enjoyed the post, and find it useful!♥

Un- Dis- in- Non a-
Unfortunately Discovered Inappropriate Non-profit Atypical
Unlike/ly Disclosure Inevitable/bly Non-governmental Apolitical
Unable Disorder inequality Non-existent Asymmetrical
Unusual Disable inadequate Non-stop Ahistorical
unknown Disagree independently Non-fiction Abiological
Unemployment Disappeared inaccuracy Non-exclusive
Unveiled Disability inconvenience Non-violent
Unprecedented Displaced Incorrect Non-compliance
Unfair Disadvantage inconsistent Non-resident
Unexpected disregard Indirectly Non-traditional
Unclear discharge Insane Non-commercial
Uncertainty Dissatisfied insufficient Non-native
Unnecessary Discomfort intolerance
Uncomfortable Disproportionate ineffective
Unhappy Disqualified
Unlimited Disconnect
Unaware Dislike
Uncovered Discontent
Unrest Dishonest
Unlawful Dismantle
Unbelievable disrespectful

* There are more ways to create words – see my workshop on Lexical Creativity)
** Well, many languages don’t have Royal Academies establishing rules, and this happens in English-speaking countries, and this is not a problem. Linguists (people who study the language scientifically) create dictionaries, and that is why English dictionaries are so good: they include the words people use, and the spellings that are being used, and the meanings that are being used, in contrast to what prescriptivists like those in Spanish-speaking Royal Academies do — an anachronism in the world of Modern Linguistics. The problem is not that there are no rules, the “problem” if we should call it so, is that human languages are a wonder of creativity, and that languages change all the times depending on use, not on rules. Life is full of “irregular” processes! Do you see what I mean? Let me know or post comments here, on this too, if you like! 🙂 So — the most truthful, accurate, useful approach in language learning is knowing there are tendencies and also lots of exceptions! 😀

Last, I deleted “the” in the title (from the past to the present) not because it’s wrong, it isn’t, but because it’s a post title and we tend to leave out “small words” to make that shorter.