Working Papers

From Fast Food to Baseball
(Part Two)

Five Verb Forms

        Verbs are at the very heart of a sentence. Every sentence has one, just as every burger has a slab of beef. (No verb?! Where's the beef?) The verb determines which of the Five Basic Sentence patterns a sentence will follow and how noun and adverbial phrases can be attached to that framework. Verb phrases have their own internal structure, including tense, aspect, and participles. In order to simplify grammar explanations and avoid confusing terminology (see discussion of "complement" above), I treat infinitives and gerunds as part of the verb phrase.

        In classes I explain five verb forms and their uses, starting with infinitives (to 動) which can be used to string two (or occasionally three) verbs together--a metaphorical double burger. A gerund/present participle (動-ing) serves the same function (2a), but can also be used with the modal "be" to convey progressive aspect (2b). In any case, the verb slot never starts with a verb in the -ing form--a common mistake among Japanese students. A tensed verb or modal must precede it. On those rare occasions when a student attaches a noun to an infinitive or gerund, it can be explained as a Big Mac (in which the two patties are separated by bread). The progressive form of the verb "go" can also be combined with an infinitive to produce the conversational (periphrastic) future tense (be going to 動).

I illustrate the third form (動 / 動-s) with the present tense and use the past tense (動-ed) to explain negation (did not 動) and yes/no questions (did ... 動).

Finally comes the past participle (動-en) which can be used (a) to convey perfective aspect or (b) to reconfigure the nouns in an SVO sentence into a passive SV framework. These two sub-forms are distinguishable by the difference in modals: perfective "have" versus passive "be". This ignores less common passive constructions (see Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1983, 226), but they hardly ever appear in my students' writing.

        Although I teach students the past participle, I caution them not to use perfective aspect or passive voice unless they have a concrete reason to do so. Attempts at semantic explanations of perfective verb phrases are extremely complicated (see Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1983, 64-66) and virtually impossible for students to internalize. I prefer to alert them to a few lexical collocations--just, already, not ... yet, since ... (a point in time), for ... (a period of time), etc.--that signal their appropriateness. The most valid reason to prefer a passive sentence to its active voice equivalent, I tell them, is to eliminate the active sentence's subject. Then I demonstrate the active/passive transformation.

Transformations Using the McGrammar Slots

        Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1983, 2) laud transformational grammar as the most effective framework for teaching students. The McGrammar slots make grammatical transformations comprehensible, thus easily accessible to students. Two transformations that I find particularly useful are (1) active SVO sentences to passive SV (+A) sentences and (2) statements to wh-questions.

The four-slot system makes movement of noun phrases transparent. The S-phrase, if not completely eliminated, moves to a +A position. There is always room for one more +A-phrase, so nothing gets bumped. The active O-phrase becomes the passive S-phrase, and the O-slot remains empty. Passive sentences never take an object. Students' understanding of this principle is easily detected in dictations. If they leave the O-slot empty, they understand. If they try to fill the slot--with "500 years ago", for example--then they do not understand.

        To make my explanation of wh-question formation as natural as possible and encourage students to question vague statements in their group conversations, I present transformations from vague (or inaudible) statements to questions which are narrowly focused on those information gaps. The details of the transformation vary according to which grammatical slot the information gap is located in.

I introduce a new slot in front of the S-slot.

I liked one of my teachers in high school.
Wh/o m-S V +A: Which teacher did you like in high school?

Usually, in simple examples, the extra Wh-slot is compensated for by the emptying of one of the noun slots--S, O/C, or +A--the one that contains the information gap. I eliminate the empty slot during dictations so that students can still write their answers on papers folded into four columns.


transformational theory and analysis incorporates the rigor of structural grammar and insights of traditional grammar phrase structure rules sentence modifier (SM, perhaps) + sentence nucleus (NUC, John works here) noun phrase (NP, John) + auxiliary (AUX) + verb phrase (VP, works) + n Advl (here) for noun phrases determiner (det, the) + noun (N, boy) complementizer (C) + S for adverbial phrases adverbial clause (Advl Cl), prepositional phrase (PP), or adverbial phrase (Advl P) adverbial subordinator (Adv Sub, before) + sentence (S, their father found them) preposition (P, in) + noun phrase (NP, the city) empty preposition node (__ home) intensifier (intens, very) + adverb (Adv, quickly) intensifier (intens, very) + adjective (Adj, fond) + prepositional phrase (PP, of books) for verb phrases tense (T), modal (M), or imperative (IMPER) + periphrastic modal (PM) + aspect (perf/prog) BE + noun phrase (NP), adjective phrase (AP), or prepositional (PP) or verb (V) + noun phrase (NP) + prepositional phrase (PP) lexical insertion transformational rules four processes 1) movement or permutation subject/auxiliary inversion "not" placement 2) substitution or replacement some --> any substitution 3) deletion "you" deletion for commands 4) addition affix attachment "do" support surface structure syntactic strings case grammar views the verb as the core of the sentence s-noun = agent, theme verb o-noun = theme, experiencer +a-noun = locative, dative, benefactive, goal, means, source, instrumental First I need my students' cooperation. They need to pay attention in class, practice, and ask questions. Our mission is to help them express their thoughts in their own English. We have topics, but no textbook. The students decide what they want to say (and write it down for homework) and how to say it in English. Some of my well-intentioned students are on automatic pilot when they sit in a classroom. As soon as I write something on the board, they immediately copy it down. They seem to feel that memorizing certain sections of their notes will be the best way to study for the final exam. This is the Empty Bucket Theory of Education. Teachers lecture, students listen, take notes, and memorize them. English, however, like baseball, is a skill. While it is important to know the rules (declarative knowledge), in order to become a player, you have to get out onto the field to swing the bat and throw the ball (procedural knowledge). A good coach can point out and maybe even demonstrate to his players better ways to swing and throw. Ninety-minute classes are quite a bit longer than the 50-minute periods high school graduates are used to. And the attention span of the average university student is shorter still. In order to help my students absorb the material as efficiently as possible the lectures are short and in Japanese. That way they can concentrate how to apply grammar to real communicative situations. Dictation practice is integrated into these lectures. When the dictations are finished, I distribute handout with the explanation (in Japanese on one side and English on the other) and the answers to the dictations. simple step explanations with metaphors emphasis on import points and ask questions (students ask T, then T asks students) syllabus like Japanese trains: on time standards: nobody left behind, half of the average guidance: too much detail, no emphasis useful vs interesting: memorize, test, forget Interlanguage and intergrammar _Mechanical direct translations almost (all) nature and wilderness _Translation software I and it want to one's, my, and my own _Needs imagination and communication

       

Baseball conversations

pitch, hit, run to 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and home


Working Papers
http://www.aichi-gakuin.ac.jp/~jeffreyb/research