Sillyspeak: the Art of Making a Fake Language

VOT-PEL-JIC-RUD. VOT-RUD-JIC-TAM. These aren’t word puzzles or acronym-making gone mad. Though the words are meaningless, they are sentences in a language—one of perhaps hundreds of miniature artificial languages that language scientists have created for their research.
These mini-languages are to real languages what Matchboxes are to real cars. You won’t find them spoken on the street or written online.

They are, however, useful simulations used in laboratories that show how humans learn languages in all their varied forms.
Such research seeks to understand how we learn the linguistic significance of patterns in speech: where do words begin and end? What are the important words in a sentence? Which parts of language are learned first? How do babies and adults learn languages differently?

A very long list of linguistics movies, documentaries, and TV show episodes

Looking for linguistics and language-related films to watch? Mary Ann Walter, a linguist who runs a linguistics film series at Middle East Technical University, Northern Cyprus, has kindly forwarded her very extensive list of linguistically-relevant movies, documentaries, and episodes of TV shows, and given me permission to post it. 
I have only watched some of these movies and have only very lightly edited Mary Ann’s notes, so I cannot vouch for all of them, but I hope this list is helpful to people! If you know of any linguistically-relevant films that we’ve somehow missed, do add them in the comments. Asterisks indicate ones that are available on youtube. 
Arrival, 2016

Star Trek Darmok episode, 1991.

Pontypool. 2008. Horror. In a Canadian town, the English language somehow gets infected and makes them zombies.
The Falls. 1980. Mock documentary about something which killed many and left others with strange symptoms, including suddenly speaking new languages.

*Het Dak van de Walvis (On Top of the Whale) 1982 Raoul Ruiz. Parody of much of western academia. A group of field linguists set out to study an exotic language which consists only of one single word, which therefore means everything. Very strange, not a crowdpleaser.
Being John Malkovich. Also features a single word language.
*Do you speak American (3 episodes, each 1 hour).

*Talking Canadian (43 minutes). Difference between Canadian and US English.

Road Scholar (1993) directed by Roger Weisberg. US Poet and NPR commentator takes a road trip across the US shortly after getting his driver’s license after being a pedestrian for twenty years. Language and region are foregrounded. Also features some American language and culture.
American Tongues, 1987.

*The Story of English (10 episodes, each 1 hour).

*The Adventure of English (2003, BBC, 8 episodes, each 1 hour).

Trainspotting. For Scottish English.
Riff Raff (1991) directed by Ken Loach. UK. This film about a group of construction workers features working class dialects. What was significant about the film is that it had English language subtitles for English speaking audiences.

English Vinglish.

*My Fair Lady. 1964.

*Pygmalion. 1938.

Pygmalion 1983, starring Peter O’Toole.

Singing in the Rain. 1952.

Indigenous and Language Endangerment
*Linguistics and Human Rights. 1 hour. With Michel de Graff.

*Why should we protect endangered languages? Nicholas Ostler. 47 min.

Our spirits don’t speak English. (Native boarding schools in the U.S.)

The Linguists. (Gregory Anderson and K. David Harrison).

Vanishing Voices. PBS documentary.

Language Matters. 2015. Also PBS.

*We still live here. PBS on Wampanoag. 2011.

In languages we live. 2005. Danish and English.

Finding our talk. 2001. Canadian series on their Indigenous languages, experiences and revitalization efforts. 26 half-hour episodes.

Ga-du-gi. 2005. On Cherokee.

*The Hawaiian language shall live. 1997. 28 min.

More than words. 1996. Eyak Alaskan lang. 50 min.

Huchoosedah: traditions of the heart. 1995. 60 min. Lushootseed.

Transitions: destruction of a mother tongue. 1991. Blackfoot, 30 min.

Ultima palabra/last word, 2003. Mexico.

*Son sesler/last voices 1987. On Ubykh, in Turkish, 27 min.

*Rising Voices: Revitalizing the Lakota Language. 1 hour.

*Where the Spirit Lives, 1989. On Canadian residential schools of 1930s.
Ten canoes. 2006. Aboriginal elder tells story on a hunt.
Yolngu boy. 2001. Three Aboriginal adolescents set off for advice on court case from elder.
Rabbitproof fence. 2002. 3 Aboriginal girls taken from home to be maids, try to return.
‘Black and White’, 2002, a ‘based on a true story’ Australian film featuring a storyline where the defence argues that a ‘confession’ presented to the court in Standard Australian English shouldn’t be admitted as it was highly unlikely that this was an accurate representation of what the Aboriginal defendant could have produced. It even features the linguist Strehlow (big name in early Australian linguistics, and anthropology) as an expert witness.
Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa). It has nice illustrations of bilingualism/multilingualism, code-switching, and child L2 acquisition. Jewish family moves to Africa in 1930s.
Nigerian pidgin opera. 1 hour long. Can watch it streaming from the internet, but no subtitles, not possible to follow words.
Windtalkers 2002 John Woo. Navajo code talkers in WW2.
Picture Bride. 1994. Hawaiian Pidgin English.
*Black Robe. 1991. Algonquian language in the 17th/18th century.
The Harder they Come. 1973. director: Perry Henzell. Lots of Jamaican creole. 
*Stepping Razor Red X. 1992. director: Nicholas Campbell. Documentary with Jamaican Creole.
*Life and Debt in Jamaica.
Feral languages, Acquisition

Dogtooth 2009. Greek film about children are kept isolated by their parents, lots of violence and sexual abuse, not appropriate for most audiences.

*The enigma of Kaspar Hauser. Herzog, 1974. (On youtube but only in German, no subtitles).

Nell. 1994. Another feral child movie, starring Jodie Foster.

*The wild child (l’enfant sauvage) Truffaut, 1969.

*Secret of the wild child. Nova 1994.

The human language series, 1995, three episodes.

Mockingbird Don’t Sing. 2001. Also on Genie, just with names changed.

Animal communication
*Project Nim. 2011. On the chimp/language attempt.

The Jennie Project 2001 Gary Nadeau. Two anthropologists adopt a chimp, raise it with their own children, and teach it American Sign Language. Can rent streaming from Amazon but on own laptop ($3)
*A conversation with koko the gorilla. PBS doc. 1 hr. 1999.

Koko: A talking gorilla. 1978. Documentary.

Koko: The gorilla who talks (to people). 2016 BBC/PBS 1 hr.

*Kanzi: An Ape of Genius. 1993. In 4 parts on yt, total 1 hr.

Kanzi: Communicating apes. 13 min clip on yt of Natl Geographic show.

Human Ape. 2008. National Geographic 2 hour program. More general than just language, but includes it, as well as Kanzi. On yt but in 10 parts of 10 min each.

*Sue Savage-Rumbaugh 20 min TED talk on bonobos. (not only language).

*First Signs of Washoe. Nova season 1 ep 10. On yt in 2 parts. Total 1 hr.

Dolphins. 2000 imax movie. 40 min.

*The Girl who talked to dolphins. 2014. BBC, 1 hour. She lived with it and spoke English. Can supplement with something short like those below.

*Dolphins: Even smarter than you thought. 2015 Natl Geo, 16 min only, but shows interactive chat tech.

Inside the animal mind, BBC 2014, secrets of the social world, 20 min segment on dolphins. V. good.

*Nova science now: How smart are dolphins. 2014. 11 min, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Denise Herzing TED talk, could we speak the language of dolphins.

*In the wild with Robin Williams: Dolphins. 1994. 1 hour national geographic episode. Includes Akeakamai, the dolphin who learned to follow gestural syntax.

*BBC wildlife on one, dolphins: deep thinkers, 2003, ½ hour episode.

Deafness and Sign Language
*Sound and Fury, 2000. 80 min. Family debate over cochlear implant.

*Sound and Fury: 6 years later.

*The Heather World, TEDx talk, 13 min, by child from Sound and Fury

*TED talk by Rachel Kolb, 16 min, navigating deafness in a hearing world.

*Keith Nolan, TED, Deaf in the military.

*Life and Deaf, 2016, BBC documentary, one hour.

*For a Deaf Son, 2013 PBS doc, one hour.

*Bridge to Silence, 1989, a woman rejoins theater of the Deaf after an accident and quarrels with her mother.

*Through Deaf Eyes. NEH documentary, 2 hours.

Speechless. 2014. Documentary about aphasia.

*The Miracle Worker. 1962. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Also 1979 and 2000 versions.

*Black (2005) Hindi movie, woman who can’t hear, see or talk. Inspired by Keller. Full 2 hrs. Can be watched online:
Disordered speech
Help me to speak. Stuttering.
The King’s speech. Stuttering too, early speech therapy, Colin Firth.
Still Alice. 2014. Linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer’s, lexical loss. Julianne Moore.

Speechless. 2016. Television show about a cerebral palsy kid (and his family) who can’t speak. Comedy.

The Sullivanish teacher ends up w/Alzheimer’s himself, incl speech probs.

2013 Turkish remake! Benim Dunyam.

Behind the Lines/Regeneration, 1997, about PTSD-related elective mutism. (WWI poets)

Regarding Henry, 1991. Some speech pathology after brain injury (gunshot).

Rocket science, 2007. High school stutterer joins debate team. Coming-of-age, kind of inappropriate.

*Open Door: Aphasia, interviews w/NZ patients, 30 min.

*Inside Aphasia, 3 parts, 20 min. Both kind of boring.

Tom Stoppard’s plays Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth, especially the former, are written in a version of English in which the words are all normal but have completely different meanings.
Ball of Fire, 1941. A group of ivory-tower lexicographers realize they need to hear how real people talk, and end up helping a beautiful singer avoid police and escape from the Mob. Cooper and Stanwyck.
The grammar of happiness. 2012. Dan Everett and Pirahã.

Nu Shu: A hidden language of women in China. 1999. Really about a writing system, not language, but interesting. 59 minutes only.
Camouflage. 1977. Action revolves around a linguistics summer school. Polish.

Whistled languages. 30 min doc on Greek one, Antia village, but a lot about just village life. Also Antia, 22 min.

Silbo, Spanish based, Canaries: 10 min 5 min. good. Class scenes.

5 min on Turkish: (same; use shorter one w/out intro)

Whistles in the Mist; 30 min one on Mexico (chiflidos en la neblina; in English, subbed in Span) (w/out sp) Interesting questions about origin of lg. typology.

25 Must-See Movies Featuring Linguists, Linguistics and Languages

  1. Iceman (1984)
  2. Pontypool (2010)
  3. Ghost Warrior (1984)
  4. Ball of Fire (1941)
  5. Enemy Mine (1985)
  6. My Fair Lady (1964)
  7. Nell (1994)
  8. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
  9. Stargate (1994)
  10. Windtalkers (2002)
  11. Finding Nemo (2016)
  12. Youth without Youth (2008)
  13. The Statue (1971)
  14. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser / Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (1974) 
  15. On Top of the Whale / Het dak van de Walvis (1982) 
  16. The Wild Child / L’enfant sauvage (1969)
  17. Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)
  18. The Miracle Worker (1962)
  19. The Linguists (2008)
  20. The Grammar of Happiness (2012)
  21. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
  22. Apocalypto (2006)
  23. The Interpreter (2005)
  24. Last of the Mohicans (1992)
  25. The Sleeping Dictionary (2003)

BONUS MOVIES: Other movies suggested by readers:

Still Alive (2014) 
Arrival (2016)
The 13th Warrior (1999) (famous for this scene where Antonio Banderas learns Old Icelandic by «listening»): Link to YouTube Video
Spanglish (2004)
Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner learns Lakota)
Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006) (showcases Quebec French)
Babel (2006) (movie with four stories each filmed in a different language)
Oscar (1991) (dialectologist asked to teach proper language) 
Chan is Missing (1982) (includes a lecture on sociolinguistics)
A Thousand Clowns (1965) (features a man who can identify dialects)

El 70 por 100 de los italianos es analfabeto

El 70 por 100 de los italianos es analfabeto. El porcentaje puede impresionar, pero puede pecar por defecto, porque la cifra real se aproxima al 80 por 100. Son personas que leen, discuten, escuchan, resuelven sus asuntos sin aparente dificultad, pero son analfabetos «funcionales», encontrándose en un área que está por debajo del nivel mínimo de comprensión en la lectura o en la escucha de un texto de meda dificultad. El 5 por 100 de la población italiana es todavía hoy analfabeta estructural, «incapaz de descifrar letras o cifras». Así lo afirma un artículo del diario «La Stampa», que asocia a España junto a Italia.

Broca and Wernicke are dead – it’s time to rewrite the neurobiology of language

With the advancement of cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychological research, the field of language neurobiology is at a cross-roads with respect to its framing theories. The central thesis of this article is that the major historical framing model, the Classic “Wernicke-Lichtheim-Geschwind” model, and associated terminology, is no longer adequate for contemporary investigations into the neurobiology of language. We argue that the Classic model (1) is based on an outdated brain anatomy; (2) does not adequately represent the distributed connectivity relevant for language, (3) offers a modular and “language centric” perspective, and (4) focuses on cortical structures, for the most part leaving out subcortical regions and relevant connections.

Fluent Dysphasia

A father in Ireland goes to watch a football match with his buddy while his daughter has to study Irish, or Gaelic – the ancient language of Ireland. After over-celebrating his club’s victory, he awakes in the morning and finds he only speaks Irish, and that he doesn’t even understand English. His buddy is aghast at this situation, believing his friend to have become possessed, but his daughter manages to translate his friend’s assertion that this change may have been caused by a blow to the head during the revelries of the past evening’s celebrations. They decide to hit him again, and use a frying pan for the job. Disastrous results ensue. [Fuente]

Polari, el lenguaje secreto del mundo gay

En los años 90, el profesor Paul Baker empezó a escribir anuncios en la sección de contactos de varias revistas gays. Solo buscaba hablar. Literalmente. Buscaba a los antiguos hablantes del polari, un lenguaje extinto que se popularizó a mediados del siglo pasado en los bares gais de Inglaterra. Después de varias entrevistas y meses de investigación, Baker hizo un libro que recopilaba las palabras más usadas de esta jerga marginal. Un corto basado en este trabajo ha rescatado del olvido el polari y ha puesto el foco en un lenguaje que nació en los bajos fondos de Inglaterra y acabó muriendo de éxito. Esta es su historia.
Paul Baker, profesor de la universidad de Lancaster especializado en lenguaje y temas de género y sexualidad, ha contabilizado más de 500 palabras, aunque asegura que es «improbable que la mayoría de la gente conociera y usara tantas». Al tratarse de una jerga que surgió de forma espontánea y orgánica, el polari tenía unos 20 términos en su génesis, conocidos por todos los hablantes, y a partir de ahí variaba según la zona o los ambientes en los que se diera.
Incluso el propio nombre del lenguaje, polari (proveniente del italiano parlare: hablar) no fue unánime, y muchos lo conocían como ‘palari’, ‘palare’ o ‘parlaree’. Su origen es difuso, pero Baker lo sitúa en torno a los años 30 y habla de influencias como el ya citado italiano, el occitano, el francés, la lengua franca usada por las fuerzas aéreas americanas y el cant, una jerga usada por criminales.
Este mejunje lingüístico dio como resultado una jerga relativamente cohesionada que tenía su epicentro en el casco urbano de Londres. Puede que ahí estuviera su génesis y palabras como ‘Dilly’ (para referirse a la céntrica Plaza de Picadilly, frecuentada entonces por prostitutos) parecen confirmar esta teoría. Sin embargo, el polari se fue extendiendo por la Inglaterra urbana en la primera mitad del siglo XX, cuando la homosexualidad era un pecado que podía llevarte a la cárcel y era mejor camuflar en función del tipo de conversación. Pero, ¿cómo sonaba el polari? Exactamente así.

After 70 years apart, North and South Koreans speak increasingly different languages

SEOUL — On one side of the line that has divided two societies for so long, the words arrive as fast as globalization can bring them — English-based lingo like «shampoo,» «juice» and «self-service.» To South Koreans, they are everyday language. To defectors from the insular North Korea, they mean absolutely nothing.
Turn the tables, and the opposite is true, too: People in Seoul furrow their brows at homegrown North Korean words like «salgyeolmul,» which literally means «skin water.» (That’s «skin lotion» in the South.)
Two countries, mortal enemies, tied together by history, by family — and by language, but only to a point. The Korean Peninsula’s seven-decade split has created a widening linguistic divide that produces misunderstandings, hurt feelings and sometimes even laughter. The gap has grown so wide, scholars say, that about a third of everyday words used in the two countries are different.

North and South Koreans are generally able to understand each other given that the majority of words and grammar are still the same. But the differences show how language can change when one half of the country becomes an international economic powerhouse and the other isolates itself, suspicious of outside influences.
America’s huge cultural influence through its military presence, business ties and Hollywood has flooded the South Korean vernacular with English loan words and «konglish,» which uses English words in non-standard ways, like «handle» for steering wheel, «hand phone» for cellphone and «manicure» for nail polish.
In North Korea’s view, all that is just further evidence that the South is an American cultural colony.
When Pak Mi-ok first arrived in South Korea after her defection in 2002, she was told by a waitress at a restaurant that water was «self-service,» an English phrase she had not heard before. Too shy to admit she didn’t understand, she ended up going without water during her meal.
«I worried the waitress would look down on me,» said Pak. She started out working at restaurants but struggled to understand customers. «I thought they spoke a different language,» she said.
Pak gradually picked up on the new lingo, and in a recent interview she used words like «stress» and «claim» that aren’t heard up in the North.
The North’s isolation and near-worship of the ruling Kim family has also skewed the language. «Suryong» is the revered title for the North’s founding leader and his son, Kim Jong Il, the father of the current ruler, Kim Jong Un. But in the South, it’s used to refer to a faction or local leader from centuries ago.

Pyongyang is so eager to «purify» its language under its guiding philosophy of self-reliance that it vigorously eliminates words with foreign origins and uses homegrown substitutes. Shampoo is called «meorimulbinu,» or «hair water soap,» and juice is «danmul,» or «sweet water.» Such differences fascinate and amuse South Koreans, who love to examine them on quiz and comedy shows.
Misunderstandings can arise to seemingly innocuous Korean phrases like, «Let’s do lunch sometime,» which those in the South frequently use as a friendly ending to conversations, even with casual acquaintances. But newly arrived North Korean defectors take such invitations literally, and are often dismayed or offended when they don’t get a followup phone call.
«If someone uses such empty words in North Korea, they’ll see their relations with others cut off and be branded as a faithless person,» said a defector who asked not to be identified because of worries that doing so would put family members in the North at risk.

Linguists say it takes about two years for North Korean defectors to feel comfortable conversing in South Korea.
The communication gap widens when it comes to technical terms used in medical and technological settings, according to Han Yong-un, a South Korean linguist. About two-thirds of medical terms are different, he said.
«I think that North and South Korean doctors cannot work together in the same operating room,» Han said.
Over the past 10 years, there have been efforts to produce a joint dictionary containing 330,000 words from both countries — a rare example of co-operation.
But as is often the case, political tensions have interfered with progress. The meetings only resumed last July after a more than four-year hiatus following the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship. A new round of meetings, tentatively set for last month, hasn’t been held as North Korea bristled over the annual springtime joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.
Even language experts from the two countries can have trouble understanding each other.
During last year’s meeting in Pyongyang, South Korean linguist Kim Byungmoon said he tried to explain how South Koreans use the English word «glamour» as a noun to refer to a voluptuous woman, but North Korean scholars had difficulty understanding its usage.
Given the completely different political and economic systems between the two countries, it also takes a while to learn the connotations and associations that some emotionally-laden words have.
In South Korea, «spec» refers to qualifications and credentials that college students need to land a good job. While defectors can quickly learn what the word literally means, it takes much longer to understand the immense stress associated with the word for young job-seekers in South Korea’s ultra-competitive society, said Jeon Young-sun, a research professor at Seoul’s Konkuk University.
Those in the South, meanwhile, may struggle to understand the emotional impact of «saenghwal chonghwa,» the regular meetings in the North at which people are required to reflect on their behaviour and criticize each other. The phrase, which literally means «group discussions on daily lives,» isn’t used in South Korea.
«We were sick and tired of it,» Pak said. «I still get goosebumps whenever I hear that word.»
The Associated Press


Alquilar: significa tanto dar algo en uso a cambio de un precio durante un tiempo determinado como tomar algo para usarlo a cambio de un pago. Es decir, el sujeto de la frase «Pedro alquiló un piso» puede ser «tanto quien cede algo en alquiler como quien lo toma”.

Animal: puede usarse en sentido figurado para hablar de una “persona de comportamiento instintivo, ignorante y grosera” y también para referirse a alguien “que destaca extraordinariamente por su saber, inteligencia o esfuerzo”.

Batacazo: es el golpe que nos damos al caer y un “fracaso o caída brusca en un asunto, negocio o posición”. Pero en algunos países de América se usa como “triunfo o suceso afortunado y sorprendente”.

Agustín García Calvo

Se trata de esclarecer lo más posible la lengua misma. Es decir, que la gente aprenda a diferenciar entre esa lengua que está en una subconsciencia a la que podemos llamar pueblo de la escritura y la cultura que el poder puede dominar. Por mucho que el poder intente intervenir en la literatura y en la cultura, en la lengua, que tiene sus propios elementos secretos y sus reglas, no puede mandar nadie. El poder puede usar la lengua para sus propios fines pero no puede alterar ni su aparato ni la diferencia entre los fonemas, ni las reglas sintácticas ni ninguna otra cosa. La función de una gramática honrada y fiel sería descubrir lo que todo el mundo sabe sin darse cuenta de que lo sabe y contraponerlo a todo lo sabido, a todas las opiniones y las ideas establecidas acerca de la lengua. 


Mi relación con la Academia es de odio y de desprecio declarado. No hay por qué ocultarlo. En la Academia se da la falsificación de la lengua en su nivel más alto: la confusión con la escritura. En la escritura se puede mandar y al poder le viene muy bien que haya academias que pretendan hacer falsamente esa labor. Junto a eso, los diccionarios y las gramáticas conservan una serie de pedanterías que en vez de hacer penetrar en la lengua la desvirtúan y la confunden. Hay un cultivo de la literatura como si fuera la autoridad o representante de la lengua, cuando la lengua no es de nadie. Un cultivo de la literatura que viene a hacer que luego en la enseñanza, en las clases de lo que se llama lengua y literatura, se hable de autores y nombres propios en torno a la literatura y, sin embargo, se olvide la práctica de la lengua.

Paywall: The Business of Scholarship

Paywall: The Business of Scholarship is a documentary which focuses on the need for open access to research and science. The film questions the rationale behind the $25.2 billion a year that flows into for-profit academic publishers, examines the 35-40% profit margin associated with the top academic publisher, Elsevier, and looks at how that profit margin is often greater than some of the most profitable tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Research Assessment in the Humanities

Research Assessment in the Humanities. Towards Criteria and Procedures.

This book analyses and discusses the recent developments for assessing research quality in the humanities and related fields in the social sciences. Research assessments in the humanities are highly controversial and the evaluation of humanities research is delicate. While citation-based research performance indicators are widely used in the natural and life sciences, quantitative measures for research performance meet strong opposition in the humanities. This volume combines the presentation of state-of-the-art projects on research assessments in the humanities by humanities scholars themselves with a description of the evaluation of humanities research in practice presented by research funders. Bibliometric issues concerning humanities research complete the exhaustive analysis of humanities research assessment. The selection of authors is well-balanced between humanities scholars, research funders, and researchers on higher education. Hence, the edited volume succeeds in painting a comprehensive picture of research evaluation in the humanities. This book is valuable to university and science policy makers, university administrators, research evaluators, bibliometricians as well as humanities scholars who seek expert knowledge in research evaluation in the humanities.


La meva dèria ha estat gairebé sempre el fet lingüístic documentat, i he fugit de teories lingüístiques que no ofereixen una tal base

Germà Colón. De Ramon Llull al Diccionaride Fabra. Acostament lingüístic a les lletres catalanes

Una vida dedicada a la lingüística

Aquesta suma de perspectives, en aparença tan favorable, va xocar amb una sèrie de problemes. Un d’ells, purament acadèmic i amb repercussions, es va produir quan vaig reprogramar el curs habitual d’Introducció a la Lingüística incorporant-hi l’estructuralisme. Allò va provocar crítiques sobretot de col·legues defensors de l’historicisme habitual —segurament també per la flaire de madrilenyisme que m’atribuïen— fins al punt de fer amb un d’ells una classe de confrontació teòrica de tots dos models. I anys després, en una sessió de l’Associació Internacional de Llengua i Literatura Catalanes (AILLC) a Amsterdam, vaig rebre una xiuladissa per haver proposat Noam Chomsky com a model teòric.

Ramon Cerdà, «Una vida dedicada a la lingüística» (

Cursive Handwriting and Other Education Myths

A recent newcomer at one of the home-education groups my family attends explained that one of the frustrations that led her to take her son out of the school system was that he wasn’t being allowed to write stories. It’s something he loves to do, and it seems strange that a school should obstruct that enthusiasm. But the teachers declared he wasn’t ready because he can’t yet write in cursive.

To me this symbolizes all that is wrong with the strange obsession shared in many countries about how children learn to write. Often we teach them how to form letters based on the ones they see in their earliest reading books. And then we tell them that they must learn this hard-won skill all over again, using “joined-up” script. Yet there is no evidence that cursive has any benefits over other handwriting styles, such as manuscript, where the letters aren’t joined, for the majority of children with normal development.

Philip Ball.

La constante macabra o Cómo se desalienta a generaciones de alumnos

Vista previa en Google Libros:

Antibi hace una reflexión y se pregunta qué motiva a los estudiantes a aborrecer asignaturas como Matemáticas. Él es profesor de ingeniería e investigador de la docencia de las ciencias, y se ha dado cuenta de que en muchas ocasiones, en la gran mayoría, hay una serie de patrones que se repiten de profesor en profesor. Es lo que el llama la “constante macabra”, o cómo un profesor pone siempre las mismas notas, consciente o inconscientemente.
¿Las mismas notas siempre? Sí, siempre un porcentaje similar de suspensos, aprobados, notables y sobresalientes.
Pero esto… ¡Es absurdo! No, lo cierto es que es real. Y ocurre tanto en Educación Secundaria como en la universidad.
Razones por las que puede ocurrir esto:
Por estatus social en la comunidad docente. A menudo un profesor cree que su asignatura tiene más nivel si tiene un mayor número de suspensos. Incluso los alumnos asumen esto. Así, por tanto, es impensable que apruebe sólo un 50% la asignatura Educación Física, mientras que es asequible que esto pase en Física y Química.
Por presión de la comunidad docente. Un profesor de una asignatura afectada por al constante macabra no se permite el lujo de ir contra corriente y, al contrario que sus compañeros, aprobar a un porcentaje inusual de personas.
Por educación: el círculo vicioso. A menudo el docente se comporta con sus alumnos como se comportaron con él sus profesores cuando él mismo era un alumno. Por tanto, entra en un círculo vicioso del que es improbable salir. Sus alumnos algún día serán profesores cuyas referencias serán docentes como éste. Es análogo a lo que pasa con las novatadas (“si a mí me las hicieron, ¿por qué no las voy a hacer yo? ¡Es tradición!”).
Es interesante reflexionar sobre este tema y la repercusión que tiene sobre los alumnos. Antibi propone que prescindamos de la constante macabra. En realidad, una asignatura tiene una única finalidad: aprender. Sin embargo, esto es contradictorio con lo que averigua Antibi: que en una mayoría de casos las notas se reparten.
¿Y si hay una clase con alumnos excepcionales? La constante macabra aparecerá y hará de las suyas. El reparto de notas acabará con la motivación de muchos alumnos potencialmente brillantes. ¿Y si hay una clase con alumnos horribles? ¿Se atreverá el profesor a suspenderlos a todos? Nuevamente, en una mayoría de casos, no. El reparto se mantiene. Por eso se llama constante macabra.
Seguramente, muchos de los que lean esto se sorprendan. Otros se darán cuenta de que han sido víctimas de la constante macabra toda su vida académica. Y no pretendo con esto decir que la solución es aprobar a discreción, sino dedicarnos por completo a enseñar de forma justa. Proponer una serie de pasos para aprobar, conocidos por el alumnado a priori, y actuar en consecuencia. El libro de Antibi ofrece casos demoledores: profesores que, viendo que tienen buenos alumnos, ponen preguntas más difíciles. Otros que plantean problemas irrealizables o extremadamente largos. Profesores que realizan malabarismos para mantener su porcentaje de suspensos invariable. Escalofriante, pero cierto.

Yizeh Castejón.

Un grupo de profesores franceses y españoles, pertenecientes todos a la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, están experimentando con sus alumnos un método para paliar el efecto de la "constante macabra", lo que ellos denominan "sistema de evaluación por contrato de confianza". Con este método, una semana antes del examen, el profesor selecciona una serie de cuestiones que resumen la materia de la asignatura y entrega una lista a los alumnos, con la advertencia de que las preguntas del examen saldrán de esa lista. Podría parecer que con esto se le está regalando el aprobado al alumno y que tendría un efecto negativo sobre su rendimiento. Los resultados del experimento dicen, sin embargo, lo contrario. Los alumnos trabajan más antes del examen para comprender cuestiones que se le plantean en clase --a veces más difíciles que las de la lista--, porque saben que, entre ellas, está el contenido de su prueba.
Esos resultados positivos no quieren decir que con este método vayan a eliminarse los suspensos; en realidad, sigue habiendo alumnos que no llegan al cinco. La diferencia radica en el hecho de que estos suspensos ya no se pueden calificar de artificiales, aparte de que el profesor puede así detectar la causa del fracaso escolar

Miguel Aguilar.

Judging Books by Their Covers

In 1964 the eminent physicist Richard Feynman served on the State of California’s Curriculum Commission and saw how the Commission chose math textbooks for use in California’s public schools. In his acerbic memoir of that experience, titled «Judging Books by Their Covers,» Feynman analyzed the Commission’s idiotic method of evaluating books, and he described some of the tactics employed by schoolbook salesmen who wanted the Commission to adopt their shoddy products. «Judging Books by Their Covers» appeared as a chapter in «Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!» — Feynman’s autobiographical book that was published in 1985 by W.W. Norton & Company. To introduce a series of articles about corruption in schoolbookadoption proceedings, we present here (with permission from W.W. Norton & Company) an extended excerpt from Feynman’s narrative. As our «Annals of Corruption» series unfolds, readers will see that Feynman’s account is as timely now as it was when he wrote it. State adoption proceedings still are pervaded by sham, malfeasance and ludicrous incompetence, and they still reflect cozy connections between state agencies and schoolbook companies.


¿Quién prepara a los futuros maestros?

El otro día un alumno de primero de Magisterio me preguntó cómo podía ser que ninguno de sus profesores de la Facultad hubiera nunca impartido clase en Infantil o Primaria y, en cambio, pudiera formar a esos maestros que, en un futuro, iban a impartir clase en esas etapas educativas. Le supuso un shock entrar en la Universidad, consultar los perfiles de sus profesores y ver cómo no tenían ningún tipo de experiencia real en lo que estaban impartiendo. […]

Realmente es una situación muy compleja la que sucede en determinadas Facultades. No es habitual en Medicina, por ejemplo, encontrarte profesorado universitario que no haya practicado la medicina pero, sí que es habitual encontrarte lo anterior, entre otras porque no es un caso excepcional, en las Facultades de Magisterio. Por tanto, ¿qué es lo que pasa para que, por desgracia, la única visión real del aula la tengan los maestros cuando empiezan a trabajar como tales? ¿Por qué la Facultad se basa en contenidos teóricos y, por desgracia, sin aportaciones reales más allá de algún «invitado» puntual? ¿Por qué se permite que, una profesión tan importante como la de maestro no tenga fundamentalmente maestros que combinen aula de Infantil o Primaria con la docencia universitaria? ¿Por qué, en caso de existir esa figura, son los menos en las plantillas? Sí, hay muchas preguntas que pueden/deben realizarse.

Reconozco que si a mí me pidieran formar a futuros docentes de Secundaria tendría muchas dudas de cómo hacerlo. Reconozco mis limitaciones en poder incorporar una base teórica sólida pero, lo que sería innegable es que, cómo mínimo, se podría aportar la experiencia profesional. No discuto que pueda ser un buen o mal docente, lo que sí tengo claro es que al haber trabajado en el aula, podría aportar algún tipo de cuestiones más prácticas porque, al final, lo que interesa al futuro docente (sea de la etapa que sea) es que la persona que tiene delante le hable de experiencias reales. Y qué mejor que hablar de las propias porque, para hablar de las de terceros, ya tenemos los libros que pueden estudiarse. Lo que un futuro docente quiere saber es qué va a encontrarse y cómo va a poder gestionarlo. Lo demás, debería ser una base necesaria pero no el núcleo de su formación. Porque si planteamos, tal como está actualmente, que el maestro aprenda a trabajar cuando esté en el aula nos estamos equivocando.