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OLD MOOC 2013 – Why Activity Theory needs to be seen, not itemised, to have any chance of being understood

Fig. 1. Durer’s Rhino.

I dutifully followed an OLD MOOC 2013 link to an article that pertained to offer a checklist for a would-be e-learning designer to get their head around the ‘context of learning.’ The article takes the model and theory of an Activity System and implies they will then offer this as a check list – I literally expected a set of questions and a check box set against the key concepts/issues of an Activity System:

  • Tools
  • Subject
  • Object
  • Rules
  • Community
  • Division of Labour

Though by doing so forgets crucial hidden issues such as the ‘action’ or activity between these points, the historicity of an activity system in a chronology of change, the interaction of more than one activity system to generate an alternative object  … and so on.

It has to be a matter of choice and working practice, but for me an Activity System drawn up as a triangle with interacting nodes on a large sheet of paper is a far better way to visualise and share the components involved. The very process of explaining what each node represents becomes a point of discussion, disagreement and compromise that forces ideas into the open.

Fig. 2. Engestrom’s Activity System in practice – addressing accessible e-learning

I have even gone so far as to take out chess pieces and put them at these nodes to represent ‘community’ for example … and have pieces of string to denote the activity and interactions.

Fig.3. Getting an Activity System visualised and closer to the real world – as interaction between people.

Then if people aren’t flummoxed to add a second activity system to represent separate communities or system with a common goal that through interaction will produce a valid, for different, new and unexpected outcome (or Object 3 if you follow Engeström closely). In this respect sharing how Activity Systems can help explain the context becomes a creative problem solving exercise and a crucial part of early learning design analysis.

Fig. 4. How Engeström takes Activity Theory to the next step and conceptualises the interactions between two systems. A meeting of minds or a meeting of institutions?

I found reading about Activity Theory without the classic equilateral triangle rather like trying to describe a rhinoceros without a picture.

Fig. 5. From ‘Methods & Tools’ (1999) Not a checklist so much as a table.

The above strikes me as rather like itemisizing the parts of a jelly-fish in an Excel Spreadsheet. This works for some people – a unique a tiny minority. The entire purpose of laying out an Activity System as a diagram is to help make the complex seem less so – Kaptelinin et al have done the exact opposite.

WHAT NEXT ?

Fig. 8. Third generation Activity Theory expressed using Lewis Chess pieces

I’ve used chess pieces on a front door sized board drawn up as a third generation set of two activity systems to visualise the interplay between systems.

Fig. 9. Twister Max

What I’d like to do is work with 20+ people with a set of Twister Max discs to walk through some ‘live’ activity system scenarios … like a piece of improvised theatre ala Mike Lee, with people role playing personas or ‘insurgents’ in the system.

Fig. 10. Career Guidance for Year 11

To create a Year 11 careers guidance video I did something like this with some 30 students from a local youth theatre. The dots were placed out on the floor in various configurations and the players invited to say what they were doing x years away from their current age i.e. at key life stages in training, employment, at college, or school … beyond at university and so on. So bringing personas to life. This was then translated into identifying and interviewing people at these life stages on the street.

REFERENCE

Engeström, Y (1999) ‘Activity theory and individual and social transformation’, in Y. Engeström, R, Miettinen and R.-L. Punamaki (eds) Perspectives on Activity Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kaptelinin, V.; Nardi, B. A. & Macaulay, C. (1999), ‘Methods & tools: The activity checklist: a tool for representing the “space” of context’, interactions 6 (4) , 27–39 .

 

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Communities of practice: Learning and identity

Learning and identity

The concepts of learning and identity are closely interwoven and seen as a social process of making meaning, primly inspired by the situated learning. (Wenger 1998)

Identity is not only about our self image or other people’s image of ourselves, it is our way of living our everyday life, it is the layers of experiences and interpretations that we have made by participating in social practices (Wenger 1998) the nature of participation, power, enterprise, mutual engagement and sociality, shared repertoire, and identity

‘Legitimate peripheral participation is not itself an educational form, much less a pedagogical strategy or a teaching technique. It is an analytical viewpoint on learning, a way of understanding learning. We hope to make clear as we proceed that learning through legitimate peripheral participation takes place no matter which educational form provides a context for learning, or whether there is any intentional educational form at all’.
 (Lave and Wenger 1991, page 40).

Communities of Practice was developed by considering a wide range of apprenticeship learning situations, from traditional tailors through to participation in communities such as alcoholics anonymous.

Learning is thus characterised as a process of changing participation, from initial peripheral participation of the apprentice or, more generally, newcomer to the practices to the fuller participation available to a ‘master’ or old timer in the practices.

Wenger (1998) identifies three essential features:

  • mutual engagement
  • a joint enterprise
  • a shared repertoire.

Engaging in practice over a period of time develops a shared repertoire of practices,
understandings, routines, actions, and artefacts (Wenger 1998).

Participation in communities of practice is not only about learning to do, but as a part of doing, it is about learning to be (Lave and Wenger 1991)

Firstly, it shifts the focus from teaching to learning and the practices the learner engages in (Adler 1998).

Secondly, it recharacterises the role of the teacher as not primarily being a holder of knowledge but an expert in the practices of a subject based community. The teacher exemplifies for the learner how to legitimately participate in these practices.

Thirdly, as a situated theory of learning it helps to explains the issue of a lack of ‘transfer’ of knowledge from school to non-school contexts (see Evans 2000; Lave 1988; Lerman 1999, for a discussion of this issue).

Fourthly, it recognises the intimate connection between the ‘subject’ practices and the pedagogical practices and therefore helps us to understand why different pedagogies not only influence the amount that is learned but also what is learned. The acquisition (Lave 1988) or representational model (Seely Brown and Duguid 1989) of learning in school contexts distinguishes between what the students are to learn or to ‘acquire’, and the means by which this learning occurs. A division is made between subject and pedagogy.

Fifthly, it highlights the extent to which educators are not imparting knowledge nor even only helping their students to engage in particular social practices but rather to become particular types of human beings. Thus it opens avenues of inquiry to understand learners’ patterns of identification and non-identification with schools mathematics (see for example, Boaler 2000)

The community of practice model, based on the metaphor or actuality of apprenticeship learning identifies three basic positions that participants take up.

These can be referred to in the following way:

  • master/old-timer/expert,
  • journeyman/established-member/adept,
  • apprentice/newcomer/novice.

 

However, it is clear that the basic positions in a classroom are not like this, there is generally a single teacher and a relatively large number of pupils. Moreover, the trajectory of participation of the student is not to become a teacher (Adler 1998; Lemke 1997; Lerman 1998).

One way of reconceptualising or extending Communities of Practice is to consider learning as taking place in ‘ecologies of practices’ (Boylan 2004)

REFERENCE

Adler, J. (1998) “Lights and limits: Recontextualising Lave and Wenger to theorise knowledge ofteaching and of learning school mathematics.” In Situated Cognition and the Learning of Mathematics, ed. Anne Watson, 161-177. Oxford: Centre for Mathematics Education, University of Oxford Department of Educational Studies.

Boaler, J. (2000) “Mathematics from another world: Traditional communities and the alienation of learners.” Journal of Mathematical Behaviour 18, no. 3: 379-397.

Boylan, M (2004) Questioning (in) school mathematics: Lifeworlds and ecologies of practice PhD Thesis. Sheffield Hallam University

Herting, K (2006) Balancing on a thin line – Thoughts from a study of Swedish voluntary leaders in children’s football. AARE’s 36th Annual International Education Research Conference Adelaide Australia November 27 -30 2006

Lave, J, and Wenger.E (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lemke, J. (1997) “Cognition, context, and learning: A social semiotic perspective.” In Situated Cognition: Social, Semiotic, and Psychological Perspectives, ed. David Kirshner and JamesWhitson, 37-56. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lerman, S. (1998) “Learning as social practice: An appreciative critique.” In Situated
Cognition and the Learning of Mathematics, ed. Anne Watson, 33-42. Oxford: Centre for
Mathematics Education, University of Oxford Department of Educational Studies.

Seely Brown, J, and P. Duguid. (1991) Organisational learning and communities of practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning and innovation. Accessed November 2000. Available from http://www.parc.xerox.com/ops/members/brown/papers/orglearning.htm.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Balancing on a thin line – Thoughts from a study of Swedish voluntary leaders in children’s football.

English: Situated Cognition Diagram

English: Situated Cognition Diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Learning and identity

The concepts of learning and identity are closely interwoven and seen as a social process of making meaning, primly inspired by the situated learning. (Wenger 1998)

Identity is not only about our self image or other people’s image of ourselves, it is our way of living our everyday life, it is the layers of experiences and interpretations that we have made by participating in social practices (Wenger 1998) the nature of participation, power, enterprise, mutual engagement and sociality, shared repertoire, and identity

Legitimate peripheral participation is not itself an educational form, much less a pedagogical strategy or a teaching technique. It is an analytical viewpoint on learning, a way of understanding learning. We hope to make clear as we proceed that learning through legitimate peripheral participation takes place no matter which educational form provides a context for learning, or whether there is any intentional educational form at all’.
(Lave and Wenger 1991, page 40).

Communities of Practice was developed by considering a wide range of apprenticeship learning situations, from traditional tailors through to participation in communities such as alcoholics anonymous.

Learning is thus characterised as a process of changing participation, from initial peripheral participation of the apprentice or, more generally, newcomer to the practices to the fuller participation available to a ‘master’ or old timer in the practices.

Wenger (1998) identifies three essential features:

  • mutual engagement
  • a joint enterprise
  • a shared repertoire.

Engaging in practice over a period of time develops a shared repertoire of practices,
understandings, routines, actions, and artefacts (Wenger 1998).

Participation in communities of practice is not only about learning to do, but as a part of doing, it is about learning to be (Lave and Wenger 1991)

Firstly, it shifts the focus from teaching to learning and the practices the learner engages in (Adler 1998).

Secondly, it recharacterises the role of the teacher as not primarily being a holder of knowledge but an expert in the practices of a subject based community. The teacher exemplifies for the learner how to legitimately participate in these practices.

Thirdly, as a situated theory of learning it helps to explains the issue of a lack of ‘transfer’ of knowledge from school to non-school contexts (see Evans 2000; Lave 1988; Lerman 1999, for a discussion of this issue).

Fourthly, it recognises the intimate connection between the ‘subject’ practices and the pedagogical practices and therefore helps us to understand why different pedagogies not only influence the amount that is learned but also what is learned. The acquisition (Lave 1988) or representational model (Seely Brown and Duguid 1989) of learning in school contexts distinguishes between what the students are to learn or to ‘acquire’, and the means by which this learning occurs. A division is made between subject and pedagogy.

Fifthly, it highlights the extent to which educators are not imparting knowledge nor even only helping their students to engage in particular social practices but rather to become particular types of human beings. Thus it opens avenues of inquiry to understand learners’ patterns of identification and non-identification with schools mathematics (see for example, Boaler 2000)

The community of practice model, based on the metaphor or actuality of apprenticeship learning identifies three basic positions that participants take up.

These can be referred to in the following way:

  • master/old-timer/expert,
  • journeyman/established-member/adept,
  • apprentice/newcomer/novice.

However, it is clear that the basic positions in a classroom are not like this, there is generally a single teacher and a relatively large number of pupils. Moreover, the trajectory of participation of the student is not to become a teacher (Adler 1998; Lemke 1997; Lerman 1998).

One way of reconceptualising or extending Communities of Practice is to consider learning as taking place in ‘ecologies of practices’ (Boylan 2004)

REFERENCE

Adler, J. (1998) “Lights and limits: Recontextualising Lave and Wenger to theorise knowledge ofteaching and of learning school mathematics.” In Situated Cognition and the Learning of Mathematics, ed. Anne Watson, 161-177. Oxford: Centre for Mathematics Education, University of Oxford Department of Educational Studies.

Boaler, J. (2000) “Mathematics from another world: Traditional communities and the alienation of learners.” Journal of Mathematical Behaviour 18, no. 3: 379-397.

Boylan, M (2004) Questioning (in) school mathematics: Lifeworlds and ecologies of practice PhD Thesis. Sheffield Hallam University

Herting, K (2006) Balancing on a thin line – Thoughts from a study of Swedish voluntary leaders in children’s football. AARE’s 36th Annual International Education Research Conference Adelaide Australia November 27 -30 2006

Lave, J, and Wenger.E (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lemke, J. (1997) “Cognition, context, and learning: A social semiotic perspective.” In Situated Cognition: Social, Semiotic, and Psychological Perspectives, ed. David Kirshner and JamesWhitson, 37-56. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lerman, S. (1998) “Learning as social practice: An appreciative critique.” In Situated
Cognition and the Learning of Mathematics, ed. Anne Watson, 33-42. Oxford: Centre for
Mathematics Education, University of Oxford Department of Educational Studies.

Seely Brown, J, and P. Duguid. (1991) Organisational learning and communities of practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning and innovation. Accessed November 2000. Available from http://www.parc.xerox.com/ops/members/brown/papers/orglearning.htm.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

How people learn and the implications for design

Had this been the title of a post-graduate diploma in e–learning it would have been precisely what I was looking for a decade ago – the application of theory, based on research and case studies, to the design and production of interactive learning – whether DVD or online.

A few excellent, practical guides did this, but as a statement of fact, like a recipe in a cook book: do this and it’ll work, rather than suggesting actions based on research, evidence-based understanding and case studies.

Mayes and de Frietas (2004) are featured in detail in Appendix 1 of Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age (2007) Beetham and Sharpe.

Four types of learning are featured:

  • 1. associative
  • 2. constructive (individual)
  • 3. constructive (social)
  • 4. and situative.

Of these I see associative used in corporate training online – with some constructive (individual), while constructive (social) is surely the OU’s approach?

Situative learning may be the most powerful – through application in a collaborative, working environment I can see that this is perhaps describes what goes on in any case, with the wiser and experienced passing on knowledge and know how to juniors, formally as trainees or apprentices, or informally by ‘being there’ and taking part.

Each if these approaches have their champions:

Associative – Skinner, Gagné (1985).

Constructive (individual) – Piaget (1970), Papert (1993), Kolb (1984), Biggs (1999).

Constructive (social) – Vygotsky (1978).

Situative – Wenger (1998), Cole (1993), Wertsch. (Also Cox, Seely Brown). Wertsch (1981), Engestrom (), Cole and Engeström (1993)

Beetham and Sharpe (2007:L5987) – the ‘L’ refers to the location in a Kindle Edition. I can’t figure out how to translate this into a page reference.

How people learn and the implications for design

Associative – Skinner, Gagné (1985) (in Mayes and de Frietas, 2004)

Building concepts or competences step by step.

The Theory

People learn by association through:

  • basic stimulus–response conditioning,
  • later association concepts in a chain of reasoning,
  • or associating steps in a chain of activity to build a composite skill.

Associativity leads to accuracy of reproduction. (Mnemonics are associative devices).

  • Routines of organized activity.
  • Progression through component concepts or skills.
  • Clear goals and feedback.
  • Individualized pathways matched to performance.
  • Analysis into component units.
  • Progressive sequences of component–to–composite skills or concepts.
  • Clear instructional approach for each unit.
  • Highly focused objectives.

For Assessment

  • Accurate reproduction of knowledge.
  • Component performance.
  • Clear criteria: rapid, reliable feedback.
  • Guided instruction.
  • Drill and practice.
  • Instructional design.
  • Socratic dialogue.

FURTHER READING (and viewing)

Brown, J.S. (2002) The Social Life of Information

Brown, J.S. (2007) October 2007 webcast: http://stadium.open.ac.uk/stadia/preview.php?whichevent=1063&s=31

+My notes on this:

http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/viewpost.php?post=60469

+The transcript of that session:

http://learn.open.ac.uk/file.php/7325/block1/H800_B1_Week2a_JSBrown_Transcript.rtf

REFERENCE

Biggs, J (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Buckingham: The Society for Research in Higher Education and Open University Press.  (Constructive alignment)

Cole, M. and Engestrom, Y. (1993) ‘A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition’, in G. Salomon (ed.) Distributed Cognitions: Psychological and Educational Considerations, New Work: Cambridge University Press.

Conole, G. (2004) Report on the Effectiveness of Tools for e-Learning, Bristol: JISC (Research Study on the Effectiveness of Resources, Tools and Support Services used by Practitioners in Designing and Delivering E-Learning Activities)

Cox, R. (2006) Vicarious Learning and Case-based Teaching of Clinical Reasoning Skills (2004–2006) [online], http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ esrcinfocentre/ viewawardpage.aspx?awardnumber=RES-139-25-0127 [(last accessed 10 March 2011).

Cox, R. (2006) Vicarious Learning and Case-based Teaching of Clinical Reasoning Skills (2004–2006) [online], http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ esrcinfocentre/ viewawardpage.aspx?awardnumber=RES-139-25-0127 [(last accessed 10 March 2011).

Engeström, Y (1999) ‘Activity theory and individual and social transformation’, in Y. Engeström, R, Miettinen and R.-L. Punamaki (eds) Perspectives on Activity Theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eraut, M (2000) ‘Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work’, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70:113-36

Gagné, R. (1985) The Conditions of Learning, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Gagné, R.M., Briggs, L.J. and Wagner, W.W. (1992) Principles of Instructional Design, New Work: Hoplt, Reihhart & Winston Inc.

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning and Development, (Kolb’s Learning Cycle) Englewoods Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.

Littlejohn, A. and McGill, L. (2004) Effective Resources for E-learning, Bristol: JISC (Research Study on the Effectiveness of Resources, Tools and Support Services used by Practitioners in Designing and Delivering E-learning Activities).

Mayes, T. and de Frietas, S. (2004) ‘Review of e–learning theories, frameworks and models. Stage 2 of the e–learning models disk study’, Bristol. JISC. Online.

Piaget, J. (1970) Science of Education and the Psychology of the Child (Constructivist Theory of Knowledge), New Work: Orion Press.

Papert, S. (1993) Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, New Work: Perseus.

Piaget, J. (2001) The Language and Thought of the Child, London: Routledge Modern Classics.

Seely-Brown, J.S and Duguid, P. (1991) ‘Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: toward a unified view of working, learning and innovation’, Organizational Science, 2 (1): 40-57

Schon, D (1983) The Reflective Practioner: How Professional Think in Action, New York: Basic Books.

Sharpe, R (2004) ‘How do professionals learn and develop? In D.Baume and P.Kahn (eds) Enhancing Staff and Educational Development, London: Routledge-Flamer, pp. 132-53.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1986) Thought and Languages, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wertsch, J.V. (1981) (ed.) The Concept of Activity in Soviet Psychology, Armonk, N

Appendix and references largely from Beetham, H, and Sharpe, R (2007) Rethinking Pedagogy in a digital age.

See also Appendix 4: Learning activity design: a checklist

H810: Seale Chapter 13 : issues identified in relation to creating accessible e-learning for students with disabilities

Fig.1 Groundhog Day staring Bill Murray

At what point does the protagonist in the film ‘Groundhog Day’ –  TV weatherman Phil Connors played by Bill Murray – unite the Punxsutawney community? How does he do it? And what does this tell you about communities of practice? (Wenger 1998)

Fig. 2. Chick Peas – a metaphor for the potential congealing effect of ‘reificaiton’

Issues related to creating accessible e-learning

Pour some dry chickpeas into a tall container such as a measuring jug add water and leave to soak overnight. The result is that the chickpeas swell so tightly together that they are immovable unless you prize them out with a knife – sometimes the communities of practice are embedded and immovable and the only answer could be a bulldozer – literally to tear down the buildings and start again.

‘Congealing experiences into thingness’. Seale (2006:179) or derived from Wenger (1998)

This is what happens when ‘reification causes inertia’ Wenger in Seale (2006:189).

‘Reification’ is the treatment of something abstract as a material or concrete thing. Britannica, 2012.

To ‘reify’ it to thingify’. Chandler (2000) , ‘it’s a linguistic categorization, its the conceptualization of spheres of influence, such as ‘social’,’educational’ or ‘technological’.’ (ibid)

‘Reification creates points of focus around which the negotiation of meaning becomes organized’. Seale (2006)

It has taken over a century for a car to be tested that can take a blind person from a to b – the huge data processing requirements used to scan the road ahead could surely be harnessed to ‘scan the road ahead’ to make learning  materials that have already been digitised more accessible.

Participating and reification – by doing you give abstract concepts form.

1) Institutional and individual factors need to be considered simultaneously.
2) Inclusivity (and equity), rather than disability and impairments, should be the perspective i.e. the fix is with society rather than the individual.
3) Evidence based.
4) Multifaceted approach.
5) Cultural and systemic change at both policy and practice levels.
6) Social mobility and lifelong learning were ambitions of Peter Mandelson (2009).
7) Nothing should be put or left in isolation – workshops with children from the British Dyslexia Association included self-esteem, literacy, numeracy, study skills and best use of technology.
8) Encouraging diversity, equity of access and student access.
9) Methods should be adapted to suit the circumstances under which they are being applied.
10) Technical and non-technical people need to work together to tackle the problems.
11) A shared repertoire of community practices …
12) Design for participation not use …. so you let the late arrivals to the party in even if they don’t drink or smoke (how would you integrated mermaids?)
13) Brokering by those who have multiple memberships of groups – though the greater the number of groups to which they belong the more likely this is all to be tangential.
14) Might I read constellation and even think collegiate?
15) If we think of a solar system rather than a constellation what if most are lifeless and inaccessible?
16) Brokers with legitimacy may cross the boundaries between communities of practice. Wenger (1998)
17) Boundary practices Seale (2003)

Fig. 3. John Niell, CBE, CEO and Group Chairman of UGC

Increasingly I find that corporate and institutional examples of where a huge change has occured are the product of the extraordinary vision and leadership of one person, who advocates putting the individual at the centre of things. Paying lip service to this isn’t enough, John Neil CBE, CEO and now Chairman of the Unipart Group of Companies (UGC) called it ‘The Unipart Way’.

REFERENCE

Britannica (2012) Definition of reification. (Last accessed 22 Dec 2012 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/496484/reification)

Chandler, D (2000) Definition of Reify. (Last accessed 22 Dec 2012 http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/tecdet/tdet05.html)

Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routledge; also available online at http://learn2.open.ac.uk/ mod/ subpage/ view.php?id=153062 (last accessed 23 Dec 2012).

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

How English became English. E-words

what are word for?

what are word for? (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

 

‘The language has a strange power of alchemy, the capacity to transform whatever it touches.’ Hitchings (2008 p.4)

 

Is ‘e-tivity’ – a ‘loan word’ or invention? And what about ‘e-lapsed’ time. The proof of a word brought into the English language could be how it performs as a verb or adjective. Try this then, ‘e-tivitate’ or ‘e-tivical’ or ‘e-type.’ Problematic, or a form of the language that defies what has gone before, yet follows the pattern of invention.

 

KEY

 

‘A new word is a solution to a problem. It answers a need – intellectual, experiential. Often the need is obvious, but sometimes it is unseen and badly felt, and then it is only in finding something to plug the gap that we actually realise the gap was there in the first place.’ Hitchings (2008. p.5)

 

‘Very few words are fresh coinages.’ Hitchings (2008 p. 5)

 

KEY

 

‘We relish playing with words: making them up, acquiring them, tending them to new purposes.’ Hitchings (2008 p. 6)

 

  • Pandemonium
  • Diplomacy
  • Shchekotik ‘half-tingle, half-tickle.’

 

‘One culture chaffing against another.’ Hitchings (2008 p.7)

 

Why?

 

“As an ‘analytic’ language – that is, one in which meaning is mainly shaped by word order and the use of particles such as prepositions and conjunctions – it has been able to absorb words without any concern for how to fit them into its grammar.’ Hitchings (2008 p.9)

 

KEY

 

‘A newly adopted noun can easily be turned into an adjective.’

 

e.g.
chimera
chimerical

 

KEY

 

And just about anything can be made into a verb

 

e.g. ‘Let’s sashimi the tuna.’

 

So e-tivity to e-tivical? E-learning to e-learnable?

 

‘There’s a way to e-learn everything?’

 

‘I e-learnt French through Open Learn.’

 

I feel not.

 

Wherein lies the unlikely longevity of these ‘e-terms.’

 

WORDS

 

“Words – or lexemes, as linguists call them – are ‘the means by which we make direct reference to extralinguistic reality, converting our basic perception of the world around us into language.’

 

and

 

they ‘serve as labels for segments of … reality which a speech community finds name worthy.’ Katsovsky (2006)

 

REFERENCE

Hitchings, Henry (2008), The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English, London: John Murray, ISBN 978-0-7195-6454-3.

 

Dieter Katsovsky ‘Vocabulary’, in Richard Hogg and David Denison eds) ‘A History of the English Language. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2006, 199.

 

  • new ideas and products are names
  • we can talk about something before it exists
  • the limits of our language mark the limits of our world (paraphrasing Wittgenstein).

 

 

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