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Swan speaks, Widdowson waffles
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
Posts: 3012
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2005 3:03 am    Post subject: Swan speaks, Widdowson waffles Reply with quote

Quote:
NOTED SCHOLARS SPEAK AT ENGLISH SEMINARS

(Widdowson: blah blah di blah)

Even grammar gurus make mistakes (Swan)

.....For these reasons he wrote Practical English Usage, which was published in 1980.

To reflect developments in the language, a second edition was published in 1995 and earlier this year a third edition was published.

The third edition includes some new usages Swan has become aware of even if he personally would never choose to use them. For example, the author said that he uses the expression "something may have happened" to mean that there is a chance something has happened.

But the author pointed out that younger people are increasingly using this expression in the following way: "You were stupid to go climbing there. You may have killed yourself," while he himself would say "you might have killed yourself."


What would you yourself say? Me, 'could have'. Cool

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/language/20051129TDY18001.htm
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Metamorfose



Joined: 21 Jul 2003
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2005 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Indeed I like Widdowson's talk; ok, he might (could/may -- you choose) have not added something new but sometimes it's good to be reminded of some basics (mainly when one gets group after group and they don't stop to reflect too often) as a nnspeaker I'd also choose could have (and no, I wouldn't mark red if any of my pupils wrote or said 'may' for instance.)

Thanks for the link, I'll show this to an aspiring teacher friend of mine.

Josť
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2005 2:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hiya M! Actually, I often get a fair bit out of Widdowson's writing (his Defining Issues in ELT, as well as his foreword to the OALDCE7, at least, are both well worth reading), but unfortunately "his" half of the Yomiuri link didn't do the man justice (he comes across as rambling)...but perhaps I missed something. I'll read it again sometime, eh!
http://www.eslcafe.com/forums/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=15033#15033

One of the most interesting things in Defining Issues in ELT was Nabokov's attitudes to the invented examples he studied in learning English (Widdowson quotes him). I might dig it out and post a bit of it later.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 26 Oct 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 29, 2005 3:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Metamorfose wrote:
Indeed I like Widdowson's talk; ok, he might (could/may -- you choose) have not added something new


Ahem Very Happy :
He (Widdowson) may/might have not added anything new...but he (has) still made some valid (but nevertheless old) points
OR
He might have not added anything new in your opinion, but he did in mine,

to which we might compare:

He could have not added (=could have chosen not to add) something new, but he did (versus He could have added something new, but he didn't)

Wink

Regarding the Swan examples (of new use of 'may have' for 'might/could have' - bold denotes my versus Swan's own preference), I'd be reaching for my red pen, I think, or at least be trying to explain real possibilities (we still don't know the outcome and are thus still speculating about what has possibly happened/is possibly happening) versus purely imaginary statements about strictly hypothetical pasts (the actual outcome was nothing like what we are imagining it might/could/?may have been).

Quote:
as a nnspeaker I'd also choose could have (and no, I wouldn't mark red if any of my pupils wrote or said 'may' for instance.)


Glad we agree about the 'could', anyway (although you might want to invest in some red pens LOL).

http://www.eslcafe.com/forums/teacher/viewtopic.php?p=11455#11455
http://www.eslcafe.com/forums/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=1219

So, about the only use of 'may have' I've yet been able to (bring myself to?) envisage so far (it's getting late here!) is as in: He may have killed himself, but surely his sweet, honest, pure and noble soul is in heaven and not hell (R.I.P. Larry Latham, LOL! Seriously though, my meaning here is obviously NOT that 'he' - not referring to LL! - could possibly still be alive; and even though any meaning depends on the way we complete the sentence - 'He may have killed himself' ONLY, with no following text, versus '...but surely...not hell', I still find the Swan example, seemingly complete, odd (with the 'may have')).

Simply put, I can only really see 'may have' as looking to "future" possibilities, whereas 'could have' points to pondering alternate pasts (with the possibility of envisaging alternate presents in addition: 'and then you would be...now').

What do you guys make of all this? Has Swan unearthed That Which Should Not Have Been Unearthed? Surprised
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Metamorfose



Joined: 21 Jul 2003
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 2:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

So here we go:

Quote:

Ahem :
He (Widdowson) may/might have not added anything new...but he (has) still made some valid (but nevertheless old) points
OR
He might have not added anything new in your opinion, but he did in mine,

to which we might compare:

He could have not added something new, but he did (versus He could have added something new, but he didn't)


Hmm.... I liked your suggestions, but I put the something on puirpose, what's wrong with it anyway? Sad


By the way I asked that aspiring teacher and she also said could. The point is that in Portuguese we would use a past form of the verb poder to say such a thing and generally the past form of this verb matches most uses for could in English.

What about Swan's might, is it only a matter of personal choice (using could over might)?

Let me see if I got your example: She may have left me, but she's the one I will love forever. => That means she is no longer here but I still love here, regardless what she did or what happened.

You wouldn't use may in She may have told me this before, instead of leaving things come this far., am I right?

Now, doesn't our little discussion boil down to simply language usage? I mean, you might find the may have odd but some other natives will (would) use it naturally?

What do you say?

By the way

Quote:

One of the most interesting things in Defining Issues in ELT was Nabokov's attitudes to the invented examples he studied in learning English (Widdowson quotes him). I might dig it out and post a bit of it later.


If you could, I would be grateful Very Happy

Josť
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 2:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oooh, long reply, Jose! Thanks!

Quote:
Hmm.... I liked your suggestions, but I put the something on puirpose, what's wrong with it anyway?


Your 'Indeed I like W's talk...' sentence was fine with 'may/might'...I just wanted to point out that using your bracketed 'could' would give the resulting sentence a different meaning (different, that is, to what the two of us both apparently think: that Widdowson didn't appear to really be saying anything that new or amazing in his seminar).*

Quote:
What about Swan's might, is it only a matter of personal choice (using could over might)?


Yes, Swan seems to prefer 'might', whereas I (and it seems, you) would rather go for 'could' (regarding the possibility that 'you could've killed/injured/hurt yourself (by doing that)!' - compare 'You might've injured yourself...here, let me have a look, I'm a doctor you know'. I guess I'm always trying to think of a "central" meaning-function=use for any given form Cool ).

Quote:
Let me see if I got your example: She may have left me, but she's the one I will love forever. => That means she is no longer here but I still love here, regardless what she did or what happened.

You wouldn't use may in She may have told me this before, instead of leaving things come this far., am I right?


Yes, that's what I reckon, right on both counts, Jose! Razz For the second, again, I like the "There was the chance, the possibility, that she could(/might) have told me this before, back when we were..." kind of meaning (thus 'She should have told me this before, instead of letting things come this far' would also be OK ~ modal of obligation).

Quote:
Now, doesn't our little discussion boil down to simply language usage? I mean, you might find the may have odd but some other natives will (would) use it naturally?

What do you say?


Well, the fact that you and me appear to be agreeing is significant, Jose...but yes, it would still be interesting to hear what other competent speakers (non-native as well as native) reckon they say (that being said, however, I do sometimes get a bit tired of people Googling away all the time to "prove" things rather than telling us what they themselves really think and more importantly say...perhaps we are simply meant to assume that by their presenting the data they are "saying" that they do indeed talk exactly like the people in the data itself do? But I appreciate that the habits in our own speech are not that open to or always reliably revealed by just simple introspection, hence the frequent Googling we often seem to prefer to do Laughing Cool Wink ).

I'll post the Nabokov stuff from Widdowson ASAP (later today, after I get home from work). Wink Arrow

*If we take the negative 'not' out of the sentence, and perhaps add 'perhaps' Very Happy between e.g. 'could' and 'added', the use of 'could' would then be OK and equivalent to the 'may/might'.
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metal56



Joined: 25 Mar 2003
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 11:44 am    Post subject: Re: Swan speaks, Widdowson waffles Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:


What would you yourself say? Me, 'could have'. Cool

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/language/20051129TDY18001.htm


Me, "should have". Twisted Evil
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 12:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah, reading your posts is enough to drive anyone to it, metal! Laughing Luckily, however, I held back, if only to ensure that the AL forum wouldn't be left totally bereft of wit forevermore. Twisted Evil Cool Laughing Wink
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metal56



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 12:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:
Yeah, reading your posts is enough to drive anyone to it, metal! Laughing Luckily, however, I held back, if only to ensure that the AL forum wouldn't be left totally bereft of wit forevermore. Twisted Evil Cool Laughing Wink


Where there's a wit, there's a hamster, so to speak.
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 12:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Widdowson, in his Defining Issues in ELT pp 131-132, wrote:
Children appear to be particularly adept at constructing imagined realities out of the most seemingly arid of didactically designed language, and learning from it in consequence. Consider this extract from Nabokov's autobiography Speak, Memory:

I learned to read English before I could read Russian. My first English friends were four simple souls in my grammar - Ben, Dan, Sam and Ned. There used to be a great deal of fuss about their identities and wherabouts - 'Who is Ben?', 'He is Dan', 'Sam is in bed', and so on. Although it all remained rather stiff and patchy (the compiler was handicapped by having to employ - for initial lessons, at least - words of not more than three letters), my imagination somehow managed to obtain the necessary data. Wanfaced, big-limbed, silent nitwits, proud in their possession of certain tools ('Ben has an axe'), they now drift with a slow-motioned slouch across the remotest backdrop of memory...
(quoted in Brumfit 1991:29, emphasis added)

In the case of Nabokov's grammar, the imagined reality that Nabokov as learner derived from it was, presumably, incidental to its intended design. But compilers of traditional language teaching textbooks have very often turned their handicap to creative advantage and composed stories and dialogues out of limited language designed to engage the interest and imagination of learners. The kind of deliberate exploitation of simple language to create a literary effect that I illustrated in this chapter is a common feature of language textbooks. Such materials are effective to the extent not that they are true to life, but that they represent a fictional world that carries conviction. In this respect, the writing of language textbooks can turn into an exercise in literary creativity.


http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/CHIWEI.html
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

metal56 wrote:
Where there's a wit, there's a hamster, so to speak.


Very Happy
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 12:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hang on a sec...who's the wit?! Surprised

Confused

Evil or Very Mad Mad

Laughing
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Metamorfose



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 1:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your time fluffy.

Very interesting and witty, I read somewhere here something related to it, when children put their hands onto their hips, nod and utter [came-on] (I tried to by as phonetically accurate as I could) would be another example of how being creative and not worrying about form and correctness would work fine to their learning.

The only drawback (if it is really a drawback) is the fact that when one tries to be creative in this manner, mainly when it comes to coursebooks, they run the risk of being silly or even ridiculous to say the least, you know, the author might intend some effect and it may turn out to something totally unpredicted, I mean, instead of a weird and catchy example it can sound disgusting, what do you think?

I believe in all this stuff, but dealing with teens sometimes is a pain in the neck, now should I drive the course only on the basis of what they like? What they like is always what they need to know? Adults and children seem to cooperate and to try to fit into the author's spirit more.

Or I might give up teaching teens Very Happy


Josť
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metal56



Joined: 25 Mar 2003
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 30, 2005 8:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey, I may have missed something along the way, but do you lot "reject" things like:

They may have gone by another route. I'm sure they'll be here soon.

They may have lost their way.


Examples of the same sentences that choose "might" instead of "may" are simply more remote regarding likelihood/possibility.

If you had gone by the cliff path, you may/might have fallen.

(It is a logical possibility.)

If you had gone by the cliff path, you could have fallen.


(It's a definite possibility)
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fluffyhamster



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PostPosted: Thu Dec 01, 2005 1:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

OK (and thanks for all that, metal), but Swan's example is not so obviously a conditional (I suppose I am more willing, at least subconsciously, to process and accept the 'may have' for "logical possibility" when it's accompanied by an if-clause), and you still haven't told us whether YOU think the use of 'may have' THERE (in Swan's "bare, unaccompanied" example) really makes sense and is acceptable to YOU. Smile

Nobody is rejecting your first two ("another route?" and "lost?" sort of examples, where the facts are not yet known, by the way. Wink

I reckon that could/might is used for the eminently sensible reason that it makes the event that much more "remote" and thus "purely" hypothetical than using 'may', and it would perhaps be a good idea if writers of pedagogical grammars certainly for EFL made their selection and presentation based upon criteria of logic (logical consistancy) rather than trying to include every possible usage from quite possibly stupid "informants" (I'm sure Widdowson would have something to say about this too).

Of course, there's always the argument that sentences don't ever actually occur in isolation, but the real question should rather be, will the form-meaning=usage really be encountered (outside of tests, that is) so often if at all to make learning and worrying over it that worthwhile?

I'm not trying to be too prescriptivist here, just questioning the actual status of the usage among informants in the community that is Dave's, and extrapolating from there to a consideration of pedagogy. You must admit, it would be very odd if we teachers were to one day wind up explaining if not teaching something that we all confessed to not "appreciating" ("not" understanding) and never actually using ourselves (and all because a student comes in that one day and says 'Swan on page 666 says that...').
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