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LinguaPhile, November 2000

A monthly e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.


Portico Books News . . .

We welcome new subscribers from the National Middle School Association conference that met in St. Louis November 2-4. We hope you enjoy LinguaPhile and recommend it to your colleagues.

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Fran is looking forward to renewing acquaintances and making new ones at the annual conference of the International Dyslexia Association in Washington, DC, November 8-11. If you know people who will be attending, urge them to stop by Booth #417 to see "Hands-On English" products and to say hello.

* * *

Have you considered giving "Hands-On English" products as gifts? They would be wonderful for grade school or high school students, for education majors or beginning teachers, for people learning English as their second language, really for anyone who would like quick access to English fundamentals. You can order directly from the Web site.

Portico Books now offers Hands-On English, The Activity Book (Teacher's Edition), and Hands-On Sentences as a "Package" for $45.00 -- a savings of $4.95.

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Quote of the Month

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I must not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1787


Expand Your Vocabulary: agitprop . . .

The candidate's agitprop organized a multimedia campaign to discredit his opponent.

agitprop (AJ it prop) n. agency or department that directs and coordinates agitation and propaganda.

This word seems to be the result of one language, in this case Russian, borrowing from English, putting its unique spin on our word, and returning it to us in a somewhat aberrant form. "Agitprop" is a shortened form of "Agitpropbyuro," a Russian "bureau" in charge of agitation and propaganda. Often capitalized, "Agitprop" is used especially to refer to agitprop that promotes communism. It can also refer to a person who specializes in agitprop, and it can be used as an adjective.

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Q & A: "a," "an," and "the" . . .

Q: Which is correct -- "a historical..." or "an historical..."?

A: I would say "a historical...." The rule, of course, is to use "a" before a consonant sound and "an" before a vowel sound. Although the /h/ is "voiceless" from a phonetic standpoint, it nevertheless qualifies as a consonant sound. We probably wouldn't be tempted to say "an house" or "an hat." Why should "historical" be any different?

Words like "honor" and "hour" ARE different, however. Although they begin with a consonant letter, they begin with a vowel sound. Therefore, they should be preceded by "an." Conversely, words such as "uniform" and "eucalyptus," which begin with a vowel letter, begin with a consonant sound (/y/) and should be preceded by "a."

Variation of the pronunciation of "the" follows a similar pattern. Although it is inconsequential in everyday speech, pronouncing "the" with a "long e" sound before a vowel results in more precise articulation for singing or public speaking.

We invite your questions for this feature. Send them to Fran at GrammarAndMore.

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Criteria for Selecting Literature for Curriculum...

The Giver, winner of many awards including the 1994 Newbery Medal, is considered by some to be a controversial book. Before I review it, I would like to offer criteria for selecting literature that students will read as part of their curriculum.

1. The teacher or person leading the book study should like the book. If he or she does not, it will be impossible to muster the enthusiasm for an in-depth study.

2. The book should be one that the great majority of students in the group will like. If they don't like it, reading will become drudgery, and we will have lost the opportunity to reinforce one of the most basic lessons -- that reading is pleasurable, even exciting.

3. The book should be well written--plot, dialogue, sentence structure, description, figurative language should be worthy models for students to imitate in their own writing.

4. The book should be within the grasp of the great majority of students in the group. This applies both to the reading level of the book and to the concepts with which the book deals.

5. The book should provide good opportunities for teaching literary objectives from the curriculum--symbolism, point of view, etc.

6. The book should be thought provoking and should open avenues for discussion.

7. Together the group of books chosen should provide a variety of genres, styles, settings, etc.

There probably is little objection to any of these points with the possible exception of #6. Rather than exposing students to characters whose values differ from theirs, some people believe that the major characters in a book should exemplify the ideals we would have our children embrace. I believe that literature provides a valuable opportunity to explore places, times, and values that might be new to the reader. Reading about characters' experiences--and discussing books with adults and with peers-- can help students identify paths they would or would not want to follow. Seeing the results of characters' actions can dissuade students from making decisions they would later regret. After discussion of literature I have heard students exclaim (about characters), "Those kids need more discipline!" They might recognize that they themselves have some of the same needs as the characters.

Stories, after all, are based on conflict. The more significant the conflict, the more powerful the story is likely to be.

Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry . . .

Jonas, an Eleven when The Giver opens, lives in a Community where everything is meticulously ordered: houses look alike, people dress alike, each family unit includes a father and a mother (who can apply for one male and one female child). Children begin their volunteer hours when they are Eights, and the Committee of Elders assigns them their roles in the Community at the Ceremony of Twelves. Because the people have chosen Sameness, nothing in their Community is unexpected, inconvenient, or unusual. They have no hills, no color, no cold, no sunshine. Their feelings are only superficial; their memories encompass only one generation. Pain is relieved instantly by taking a pill. They have abdicated choices.

The Receiver of Memory holds the position of highest honor within the Community, serving as the repository for the memories and knowledge of generations. Whenever the Committee of Elders are faced with a new situation, they are able to seek the counsel and advice of the Receiver. They have the benefit of experience without having to bear its pain.

Because of his intelligence, integrity, courage, wisdom, and Capacity to See Beyond, Jonas is selected to be the next Receiver of Memory. The current Receiver, who has held the position for decades, then becomes The Giver.

Ms. Lowry paints a vivid picture of this Community. Referring to everyday concepts in a slightly unusual way helps to set that society apart from our own. Babies younger than one year are called "newchildren," for example; children of the same age are "groupmates"; the elderly, the unhealthy, or those who have broken the rules three times may be "released."

Why might parents or teachers consider The Giver inappropriate for their children? I can only speculate on this since I find the book profoundly original and commendable.

1. The setting being a community without freedom. It should be noted, however, that citizens relinquished their freedom years earlier in order to escape the accompanying chaos. They are perfectly satisfied with their arrangement and are not oppressed.

2. The family being depicted as a temporary sociological unit rather than a permanent socio-biological unit. Nevertheless, this family unit provides a very nurturing atmosphere.

3. References to 'Stirrings' (sexual arousal). These occur only a few times in the book and are only vaguely described. Since Stirrings are forbidden in the Community, young people begin taking a preventative pill upon first experiencing them and continue taking it daily until they enter the House of the Old.

4. The idea of young people bathing the elderly of the opposite gender. This happens only once in the book. It is a gentle, caring, and (given the ages of the participants) asexual experience.

5. The concept of 'release.' This pervades the book, but its meaning remains uncertain until Chapter 19, when Jonas witnesses a release.

I would think that for many readers these concerns would be assuaged by Jonas, the young protagonist who, in the course of his instruction, recognizes the advantages of previous systems and selflessly tries to better his Community.

Although there are aspects of this Community that we may find unsettling, we must remember that Lowry is not advocating this system. She is, in fact, inviting us to consider whether our own society has any of the characteristics of the Community that disturb us:

Do we attempt to make our lives pain free?
Do we attempt to erase unpleasant memories?
Do we use euphemisms?
Do we use robotic phrases, as for apologies?
Do we have anything resembling the "House of the Old?
Do we have a ritual that might be called a "Ceremony of Loss"?
Do we attempt Climate Control?
Do we avoid talking about ways in which we differ from each other?

In our own Society, without a designated Receiver of Memory, that responsibility--with its inherent pain and exhilaration -- falls to each of us. Vital questions for us to consider are Which memories will we receive? Which will we give?

Recommended for 6th graders through adults

Available from The Giver

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Suggestions for Writing

1. Using the models of "sunshine" (chapter 11), "warfare" (chapters 13 and 15), and "love" (chapter 16), describe the memory of an abstract concept as The Giver might transmit it to Jonas.

2. Would you rather live in a homogeneous community without choices (such as that depicted in The Giver) or in a diverse community where choices abound? Develop the reasons that support your answer.

3. Write a story in which you show what happens in the Community after Jonas' departure. Use the terminology that Ms. Lowry used in The Giver, and maintain consistency with information presented in the novel.

4. Using what you know about Jonas and Gabe from The Giver, write a story about Jonas and Gabe beginning their lives Elsewhere.

5. Describe an actual memory that you believe is worth preserving for future generations. This could be a memory that has been passed down to you, or one of your own memories that you intend to pass on to your children. Explain why you consider the preservation of this memory to be important.

6. Create a list of societal memories (as opposed to personal memories) that you believe should be preserved. Are there also societal memories that you believe should be obliterated? Select one of these memories, and write an essay explaining why (and how) you believe it should be preserved or obliterated.


Puzzler . . .

1. Start with the letters "ergro." Add three letters at the beginning and the same three letters (in the same order) at the end to make a common English word.

2. Find two eight-letter words, each of which contains the first six letters of the alphabet.

Answers next month.

Answer to October puzzle:

a. foul fowl
b. idle idol
c. rose rows
d. banned band
e. cereal serial
f. chic sheik
g. adz ads
h. cash cache

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Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. We welcome your comments and suggestions:

© 2000 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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