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13 responses to “Contact me

  1. J.James

    Can you help to define the difference between an ‘aspirate’ and an ‘aspirant’?

    • As a starting point, ‘aspirant’ (i.e. one who aspires to something’) is not a linguistic term. The word ‘aspirate’, however, is subject specific terminology: it can be used as a noun (i.e. the audible puff of air accompanying the articulation of some sounds e.g. the release of a plosive consonant, or the sound of ‘h’ blended with other letters) or as a verb (i.e. the act of producing an audible puff of breath). It would be marked on a transcript with a small raised ‘h’ after the relevant sound – unfortunately, I can’t show an example in this reply format. Here are some examples of usage:

      The noun ‘pin’ has an aspirated voiceless plosive /p/. [verb]
      In English, the plosive aspirates become voiceless after /l/ and /r/ – try saying ‘bin’ and ‘black’. [noun]

      Hope this helps!

  2. asdfsd

    Hi Sara,

    How does the syntax in a sentence like ‘they are fortunate who get a theatre where the audience their best’ (Middlemarch) work?

    Thank you 🙂

    • The structure is easier to recognise if you first ignore the relative clause:

      (subject) (predicator) (subject complement)
      They are fortunate …”

      The relative clause (” … who get a theatre where the audience demands their best.”) post-modifies the subject pronoun They. It is part of the subject, but has been separated from it and placed at the end of the main clause in order to bring the adjective (“fortunate“) into a more emphatic position. As a result, the sentence starts with a sequence of three stresses and is therefore more forceful.

      The structure is complicated by the fact that the relative clause itself contains a second relative clause post-modifying the noun theatre. It is introduced by the relative adverb where (i.e. ‘in which’). Writers will often place a long subordinate clause at the end of a sentence to ensure that the meaning remains clear – it is easier for a reader if the weight comes at the end rather than the beginning of a sentence.

      I’m afraid the formatting is limited here and I can’t line up the clause analysis properly. Nevertheless, hope this is helpful – do ask if anything isn’t clear …

  3. anon

    Hello Sara,

    May I ask how the grammar in the last 2 lines of Robert Graves’ poem ‘To Bring the Dead to Life’ (available for view here works to emphasise the complete consumption of the biographer in unhealthy pursuit of his subject?

    Thank you very muhc!

  4. Hello Sara,

    May I ask how the grammar in the last 2 lines of the Robert Graves poem ‘To Bring the Dead to Life’ (available for view here works to emphasise the complete consumption of the biographer in unhealthy pursuit of his subject?

    Thanks very much! 🙂

    • I think the grammar of the last lines can be tied quite neatly to your explanation – the consumption of the biographer in his unhealthy pursuit of his subject is mirrored in the grammatical disruption of the lines.

      If we were to consider this as a grammatically unmarked sentence, it would be structured as follows:

      You yourself (subject – noun phrase) shall lie (predicator – verb phrase) wrapped in his spotted garments (adverbial – non-finite clause).

      It is then interesting to look at the actual positions of each syntactical unit in the poem and the effects created.

      (You) (in his spotted garments) / (Shall) (yourself) (lie) (wrapped)

      The prepositional phrase ‘in his spotted garments’ is brought forward. This throws greater emphasis onto the figurative shroud, perhaps symbolising the biographer’s distance from real life and his closeness to death as he is subsumed by the life he is studying. Adverbials are one of the most flexible elements of a sentence and writers often move them around to create particular effects. Here, its marked position before the predicator creates a closer physical presence between the subject pronoun ‘You’ (the biographer) and the possessive determiner ‘his’ (the focus of the biography). The proximity of the second and third person references mirrors grammatically the intermingling of biographer and subject. In this way, the poet moves from his opening premise (bringing the dead to life) to the climax of his poem: the biographer’s devotion to the dead is indeed an unhealthy pursuit.

      Separating the subject pronoun (‘You’) from its reflexive (‘yourself’) reinforces our sense that the biographer is inextricably linked to his subject. Reflexive pronouns have an emphatic function and in the final line here it acts as a warning alongside the modal verb of intention in the initial position. While the modal verb ‘May’ in the previous line implies possibility, the certainty of ‘Shall’ suggests there is no escape from this fate. The poet uses the division between subject and verb (‘You … /Shall …’), between modal auxiliary and base form verb (‘Shall … lie’), to create a dramatic mood. The effect is visual – before the poet provides us with grammatical closure, we see the poet in his ‘spotted’ shroud and are reminded that the biographer’s body has now symbolically filled the empty grave.

      The end of line position of the past participle ‘wrapped’ is also emphatic – a final stressed syllable in an incomplete metrical foot. Its connotations are bound up with the lexical references to death in the noun phrase ‘the grave which housed him’ and the emotive predicative adjective ‘empty’. Having started with life the poem ends unequivocally with death.

      The fragmentation of the grammatical units is central to the poet’s theme. It marks the way in which a life can be distorted by immersion in the past and warns the biographer, the historian and the novelist to be wary of bringing the dead to life.

      Hope that is useful and gives you something to think about. If anything is unclear, please ask!

      P.S. I must apologise for the layout – there’s no functionality in the reply programme so I can’t set out the clause analysis or the paragraphs properly …

  5. Ryan Brigham

    Hi Sarah,

    What’s the difference between domain and semantic/lexical field? thanks.

    • They are very similar! Many people use ‘lexical set’ and ‘semantic field’ interchangeably, but other linguists define them in the following way. A lexical set is a group of words with a common word class that are connected semantically in some way (e.g. present tense verbs in a sports commentary: ‘kicks’, ‘belts’, slips’; nouns in a report on education:’teachers’,’assessments’, Ofqual’. A semantic field is a set of words linked by the association of a common area of meaning (e.g. in a political speech: ‘manifesto’, ‘voted’, ‘justice’, ‘unlawful’; in a description of a summer’s morning: ‘brightly’, ‘cloudless’, ‘sky’, radiates’). The examples will not necessarily be from the same word class.A domain describes the area or topic covered by the words in a particular semantic field (e.g. the examples above would represent ‘legal terms’ and ‘weather terms’ respectively).
      Does that help?

      • Ryan Brigham

        Yes that helped a lot! Thank you very much. So does the domain sort of classify the topic of a set of words present in a semantic field?

        And in an analytical commentary what difference would a question asking to ‘explain the semantic field of the text’ and ‘explain the domain of the text’ impact your response? Thanks.

        Kind regards,

      • Hi Ryan,
        Your summarising of domain as the TOPIC is sensible. It is also a parallel term to ‘field’ in the study of register, and so covers broad areas such as journalism, advertising, law, religion etc. It is very helpful to think about the domain in order to understand the kind of linguistic features we may see in a text.
        A question on semantic fields would appear to be directing you very specifically to consider associated groups of words – perhaps quite a narrow focus. I don’t know if you’re considering this hypothetically, or whether you are talking about questions that have been set. It would be important to assess in context whether a question was asking you to limit your discussion to words (which is, nonetheless, a very rich area to discuss).
        A question on domain may require a wider focus, considering the kind of lexical and grammatical structures associated with an area of language e.g. explaining the domain of a transcript of a science lesson would require you to discuss semantic fields (subject specific language, dynamic verbs, interactional language), but perhaps also the use of subordinate clauses (reflecting the complexity of the subject and the formality of the tenor), word order (rearrangements which emphasise key information), and spoken features (techniques to engage the target audience).
        Without knowing the exact context, I can only make suggestions about what each question may require. I wouldn’t like to mislead you, and there may be wider expectations depending on who is setting the question.

      • Ryan Brigham

        Thank you so much. This helped heaps!

        Kind regards,



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