Category Archives: Uncategorized

It’s all in the names


Do we have lots of DNA junk or not? Many scientists believe that up to 90% of the DNA in our genome has no biological function and is therefore not vital to life. Recent research by the Encode project has challenged this. And now a dispute has broken out.


Were the people who carried out the research ‘scientists‘? Or were they ‘badly trained technicians‘, as claimed by a critical paper published in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal.

Naming is a powerful thing … and there’s a linguistic attack on three levels here …

1. the denotation (dictionary meaning)

SCIENTIST: a person who studies or practises any science

TECHNICIAN: a person skilled in a practical or mechanical art; a person who does the practical work in a laboratory

2. the connotations (associations)

SCIENTIST: associated with intelligence, logic, and the capacity for original thought

TECHNICIAN: practical and skilled, but not necessarily associated with academic learning or breaking new ground with life-changing discoveries

3. the confrontational pre-modification (badly trained)

the past participle trained functions as an adjective pre-modified by the negative adverb of manner badly

We are meant to respond to scientists as a positive label, and to badly trained technicians as a negative label.  The names are designed to undermine the new findings and to reinforce the prestige of previous research.  

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Interim – the power of a word

Rafael Benitez is unhappy with his title. In a speech after Chelsea had beaten13455754401401239785Manager Between Chair and Middlesbrough 2-0 in the fifth round of the FA Cup, Benitez objected to being called “interim manager”. So why is “interim manager” linguistically and semantically so different from “manager”?

In structure, both are noun phrases, but the pre-modifying adjective “interim” alters our response to the head noun.  This is the power of pre-modification – it affects the way we interpret the noun that follows.

The meaning of the adjective appears to undermine the authoritative connotations of “manager” in this context.  For Benitez, it makes his role seem less important because it suggests that he is only transitional, temporary – a stand-in until someone else (someone better or more suitable?) can be appointed.


Filed under Adjectives, Connotations, Phrases, Uncategorized

The key to open and closed class words

key 2

This is where we start … you  first need to be able to RECOGNISE and then DESCRIBE words according to their class.

The first two sections are short and straightforward. They introduce you to open class words and closed class words. These are two very broad categories and all words fit into one group or the other.

Follow the links to read about word classes. Then use the exercises to test your knowledge. Can you spot which words belong to the open class and which to the closed?

Open class words

Closed class words

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The Death of Cromarty

How many people noticed the end of Cromarty, a fisherfolk dialect? 12065731951765855270johnny_automatic_New_England_fisherman.svg.medFortunately, a researcher collected examples of Cromarty dialect words and recordings were made of the language before the death of its last native speaker in October 2012.

Follow this link:

Should we make concerted efforts to ensure the survival of minority languages? Or should they be left as charming relics of a by-gone age in a world where language is increasingly homogenised by our use of electronic media?

Follow this link:

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Hello language-lovers!

This is going to be a ‘work-in-progress’. It will take time, but the aim is to create  a comprehensive set of language study materials. The focus will be on knowledge of key concepts and practical reinforcement.

I’m going to start with the basics because a secure foundation makes the transition to higher levels of grammar more manageable. I want to make you feel confident about analysis at phrase, clause and sentence level. It’s not as difficult as you think and, for those of you following examination courses, examiners love to see discussion that moves beyond word classes!

I hope this site will be useful to teachers and students who study language formally, but also to anyone who has a general interest in language, or a desire to know more about the ways in which language works. I welcome comments and questions so get in touch and let me know what you would like to see appearing on these pages …

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