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I Before E, Except in the UK?

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Something called “Support for Spelling,” described as “official guidance distributed to schools” in this article from the Telegraph, now contains the recommendation that UK schools not teach the familiar rule “I before E, except after C.” The reasoning is that there are just so many exceptions that the rule ceases to be much of a rule anymore, and only causes confusion. Naturally, this has stirred up a hornet’s nest…

I wonder. Honestly, this rule always struck me as a kind of useless rule, anyway, because of how may exceptions have to be memorized (although it’s not so bad if you’re a reader).

Useful, or more trouble than it’s worth?

(EDIT: Here is much more background on the rule, as well as the teaching context, from the excellent World Wide Words.)

Typing IPA


Here’s an easy way to type those International Phonetic Alphabet symbols that aren’t included on a standard keyboard:, which lets you just click to enter the symbols in a text box. You can even format what you type. This is particularly useful if you can’t install an IPA palette/virtual keyboard on a work computer and still need to enter IPA. Hat-tip to EFL Geek!

If you need a more long-term solution, checking Google for your operating system’s name + “typing IPA” should turn up something. In NeoOffice for OS X, I can get to IPA symbols by just going to Insert -> Special Character -> IPA Extensions, and other Mac applications have IPA under Special Characters -> Phonetic Symbols. You don’t need to install anything for this, although it’s not the most efficient way to enter symbols since you need to click for each one.

(While doing that I noticed that I can also go to Insert -> Special Character -> By Radical and see a list of Chinese characters sorted by radical, with English names for the radicals. Uh, awesome! Embroidery! Frog! Flute! Excuse me, I’ll be geeking out over this for the next 15 minutes.)

Redefining the Dictionary (Again)

by holder at morguefile

Dictionary upgrade?

I really want Wordnik, a new web-based “dictionary,” to work. Although I love an old-fashioned, unabridged, doorstop of a dictionary, traditional dictionaries are not that great for my students. Their examples are archaic and stilted, their definitions use words that are just as difficult as the word being looked up, they include too many almost-never-used synonyms, and they don’t include connotations. Learner’s dictionaries are better–for example, they may note that “childish” is insulting while “childlike” is neutral; they use simple definitions; they highlight most frequently used words in red or blue; they often include collocations such as which prepositions are usually used with a verb; and they use easier/shorter sentences. The definitions are more realistic, too. You’ll note that in the example below, several traditional dictionaries link the word “awesome” with the word “awful.” Really? Now, outside of the Bible or Tolkien, when was the last time you heard or wrote “awesome” and immediately thought “awful”? I wonder. I’m aware of the “awe” connection, but we just don’t use it that way on a day-to-day basis anymore. That’s why the Longman Dictionary of American English (the closest learner’s dictionary) says “very impressive, serious, or difficult” and “(spoken) extremely good.” It doesn’t mention “awful.”

Wordnik looks like it might be even better than learner’s dictionaries, someday, although possibly just for advanced learners. On the FAQ page, it says “Wordnik is based on the principle that people learn words best by seeing them in context.” Ah … hmm … sound familiar, teachers? It pulls examples from novels and Twitter, definitions from several dictionaries (no learner dictionary, alas, since there aren’t any free ones online), images from Flickr (since let’s face it, that’s a much better way to define things like food items, colors, items of clothing, types of buildings, etc.), pronunciation files from American Heritage, and the thing I think is the coolest, statistics. The statistics function really fell down on the first word I put in, “awesome.” Check out the cool timeline under statistics–and notice how it says you might expect to see this word once per year. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s right!

Well, things are still under construction, so the statistics feature has the potential to be cool. When English learners are writing an e-mail or essay and are trying to pick the right new word, one thing that often trips them up is that they inadvertently pick a rare or archaic word, and it sounds out of place. (OK, I do this in Japanese and Chinese too–trying to pick the appropriate word out of an electronic dictionary, in particular, is like throwing darts at a dartboard!) Being able to look at a chart and tell that a word was often used in the 1800s but is rarely used now would be pretty nifty, I think. I hope this function gets up to speed soon.

Another nice function mentioned on the About page is collocations and associated vocabulary: “For instance, cheeseburger, milkshake, and doughnut are not synonyms, but they show up in the same kinds of sentences.” That would be really neat, but if you view the entry for “cheeseburger,” it hasn’t been implemented yet (though a LOLcat does currently appear in the Flickr entries).

Wordnik is collaborative and, since it’s brought to you by a group including Erin McKean, the speaker in the the TED talk on lexicography I linked to previously, they’re not picky about what’s considered a “real word.” If you’d like to contribute, sign up! Otherwise, keep an eye on it and we’ll see how it develops. I’m not going to link to it yet on my blog for students (ReadableBlog), but I’m hopeful–especially if someone can develop a CC-licensed learner’s dictionary. (Maybe I can get a grant…I’d actually really love to work on a project like that.)