Archive for the ‘Literacy’ Category

Whispering Pine Press celebrates GetLit!

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This week is the 13th annual Get Lit! literary festival sponsored by Eastern Washington University. Events run from April 13-17, and include poetry slams, book readings, panel discussions, writing contests, and workshops. For a full calendar of this year’s events, click here. Over 40 nationally acclaimed and local authors will be in Spokane for Get Lit!; past guests have included such luminaries as Kurt Vonnegut, Salman Rushdie, and David Sedaris. Prominent authors for GetLit! 2011 are Tim O’Brien, Sena Jeter Naslund, Maude Barlow, Sam Kean, Matthew Dickman, Louise Borden, Michael Harmon, Suzanne Morgan Williams, and Ani DiFranco. For a full list of authors attending this year’s festival, click here.

The Big Read is an event created by the National Endowment for the Arts with the goal of restoring reading to the center of a community’s culture by “[drawing] communities together around a single book through a month long series of related literary events.” For Spokane County’s third Big Read event, the book chosen is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, a collection of stories about soldiers who served in the Vietnam War. The Things They Carried was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Award. The Big Read will culminate on April 16 at the Bing Crosby Theater, when Tim O’Brien and veteran/poet Brian Turner will discuss their experiences in war and their resulting creative works. This event is also part of GetLit!.

To celebrate GetLit!, Whispering Pine Press is offering a 10% discount on all books from April 13-17. Please visit our website to see our list of children’s and adult fiction, cookbooks, poetry collections, and more. If you have any difficulty getting the 10% discount on our website, feel free to call us at (509) 928-8700.

In honor of GetLit!, we are also giving away one free copy of Frost of Spring Green, Karen Hood’s widely-acclaimed first poetry collection. Click here to read a review of the book, then leave a comment on this post to be entered into the giveaway. Don’t forget to include your e-mail address so that we can contact you if you win! Entries will be accepted through April 23 to give everyone time to participate.


Another Incentive to Stay in School: Let’s go America!

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Many English Speakers Cannot Understand Basic Grammar

ScienceDaily (July 6, 2010) — Research into grammar by academics at Northumbria University suggests that a significant proportion of native English speakers are unable to understand some basic sentences.

The findings — which undermine the assumption that all speakers have a core ability to use grammatical cues — could have significant implications for education, communication and linguistic theory.

The research, conducted by Dr Ewa Dabrowska, showed that basic elements of core English grammar had not been mastered by some native speakers.

The project assumed that every adult native speaker of English would be able to understand the meaning of the sentence:

The soldier was hit by the sailor.”

Dr Dabrowska and research student James Street then tested a range of adults, some of whom were postgraduate students, and others who had left school at the age of 16. All participants were asked to identify the meaning of a number of simple active and passive sentences, as well as sentences which contained the universal qualifier “every.”

As the test progressed, the two groups performed very differently. A high proportion of those who had left school at 16 began to make mistakes. Some speakers were not able to perform any better than chance, scoring no better than if they had been guessing.

Dr Dabrowska comments: “These findings are ground breaking, because for decades the theoretical and educational consensus has been solid. Regardless of educational attainment or dialect we are all supposed to be equally good at grammar, in the sense of being able to use grammatical cues to understand the meaning of sentences.

“Of course some people are more literate, with a larger vocabulary and greater exposure to highly complex literary constructions. Nevertheless, at a fundamental level, everyone in a linguistic community is supposed to share the same core grammar, in the same way that given normal development we can all walk.”

The supposition that everyone in a linguistic community shares the same grammar is a central tenet of Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar. The theory assumes that all children learn language equally well and that there must therefore be an underlying common structure to all languages that is somehow “hard-wired” into the brain.

Dr Dabrowska has examined other explanations for her findings, such as limitations to working memory, and even so-called “test wiseness,” but she concluded that these non-linguistic factors are irrelevant.

She also stressed that the findings have nothing to do with intelligence. Participants with low levels of educational attainment were given instruction following the tests, and they were able to learn the constructions very quickly. She speculates that this could be because their attention was not drawn to sentence construction by parents or teachers when they were children.

She adds: “Our results show that a proportion of people with low educational attainment make errors with understanding the passive, and it appears that this and other important areas of core grammar may not be fully mastered by some speakers, even by adulthood.

“These findings could have a number of implications. “If a significant proportion of the population does not understand passive sentences, then notices and other forms of written information may have to be rewritten and literacy strategies changed.

“What’s more, the existence of substantial individual differences in native language attainment is highly problematic for one of the most widely accepted arguments for an innate universal grammar: the assumed ‘fact’ that all native speakers of a language converge on essentially the same grammar. Our research shows that they don’t.”

Dr Dabrowska presented her findings in a keynote lecture at the UK Cognitive Linguistics Association Conference on July 7.

Article courtesy of