Students at a disadvantage
"a text receiver needs to utilise the knowledge of semantic prosody to percieve irony in the message or to judge the degree of sincerity of its proponent. Access to information on prosody from the corpus is paticulary important for nonnative speakers, since they are more liable to miss such irony and be more vulnerable to the hidden intentions of the producer than native speakers, who probably have some sensitivity to it at some subconscious level."
How can we help our students become more aware of the semantic prosody of English words and expressions? What practical steps can we take to prevent our students becoming disadvantaged in such areas of usage?
I am a student. Teacher first tell me what is "prosody" so that I can't be at a disadvantage.
"Prosody" and "semantic prosody" are actually two ideas that are only loosely related. "Prosody" is the intonation you use when you speak. For example, in most dialects of English, a question usually has a rising intonation at the end of the sentence, and a declarative sentence usually has a falling intonation. It also has to do with which words you stress when you speak. In every (or almost every) language with distinctive stress, the important words like the subject, verb, and object are stressed, while the less important words like articles and prepositions are unstressed. In short, prosody is extra information carried by how the sentence is spoken rather than the words themselves.
But that's not what M56 is talking about. Semantic prosody is something different, and has to do with words rather than sounds. We were talking about this a few days ago, when Pos pointed out that the words "utter" and "utterly", while their own meanings were neutral, were used more often with negative words rather than positive words. Another example is "cause" as a verb: phrases like "to cause an accident" and "to cause cancer" sound typical, while a phrase like "to cause happiness", while possible, sounds unusual. That's the basic idea of what semantic prosody is: how certain words can be associated with other kinds of words in ways that aren't really obvious. Googling for "semantic prosody" (in quotes) should yield some more information.
By the way, to answer the post, I think students of any language will get a good grasp of the semantic prosody of words over time. Native speakers get a grasp of it by reinforcement through seeing recurring phrases and recurring types of phrases, and foreign speakers -- at least those who put an honest effort into learning the language -- should naturally acquire it in the same fashion.
The only way to truly learn a language, as the Antimoon website repeatedly states, is to learn it from lots and lots of good input. You can learn everything with it, and nothing without it. Get a lot of good input and the rest should eventually take care of itself.
What is good input? I like to read about sexual stories of other people. Will it be considered good input as they write the way they speak?
<Will it be considered good input as they write the way they speak? >
If the English they write is grammatically correct and idiomatic, why not read such stories? As long as you are over the legal age limit for such ,go ahead. Input is input, after all.
<By the way, to answer the post, I think students of any language will get a good grasp of the semantic prosody of words over time. >
I disagree. I have been a student for many years and still there is a lot of English use which escapes me. I have never lived in an English speaking country and so find it difficult to understand the subtleties of much English usage. Irony, is one such area of difficulty and an area that many language teachers avoid. I get tired of native speakers who think that it will all just fall into place at some time in the future. Many of us do not have that time. We need to know now! We need good teachers who can break down the language and help us understand the subtleties of English use.
So, I disagree wholly with Kef's viewpoint. It sounds like the view of a lazy or unqualified teacher.
I see what you mean, Bridget, and I happen to agree with you regarding the "it will all just fall into place" theory - though I wouldn't be so hard on Kef as you are.
Let's say that this was written in a book by native speaker :
"He caused much happiness in his years as boss."
How would the native speakers here interpret that sentence? Literal? Ironic? Other?
Just take all as ironic, it's better for your health. Become a cynic and hate everyone. Learn to say 'what bullshit' whenever theres a new idea.
Consider this, Kef.
'Louw (1993), widely cited as the classic text on semantic prosody,
suggests that intuition is not a guide to semantic prosodies:
"They [semantic prosodies] are essentially a phenomenon that has only
been revealed computationally, and whose extent and development can only
be properly traced by computational methods."
"It may well turn out to be the case that semantic prosodies are less
accessible through human intuitition than most other phenomena to do
If it's difficult for native speakers to notice semantic prosodies, how can we expect nonnative speakers to notice them?
I don't think I was too hard on Kef, M56. His view is simply too simple. If he were correct, no native speaker would ever need go to university to study how to write literature, etc. All natives would just know how to create and interweave complex meanings. That it not the case.
Well, you might be right, Bridget. Obviously, you have more first-hand experience in that area than I do. I still think it can all be accomplished by studying your input, but you need to dive into the areas that give you trouble. You might need the help of a native speaker, or you might not, but do whatever you can to concentrate on the things that give you trouble. You can't overcome them if you don't confront them, right? :)
And to respond to M56's point:
<< If it's difficult for native speakers to notice semantic prosodies, how can we expect nonnative speakers to notice them? >>
I'm not clear on what the cited text means by "intuition". Semantic prosodies still developed without computers. The computer was only needed to document a phenomenon that already existed. How did these prosodies come about in the first place? Collectively, our minds created them. It's something you "feel" rather than consciously think about. At least, that's my impression...
<You might need the help of a native speaker, or you might not, but do whatever you can to concentrate on the things that give you trouble.>
The question was aimed at teachers and asked what they could do to help their students. Are you saying that teachers may not necessarily be needed?
<Collectively, our minds created them. It's something you "feel" rather than consciously think about. >
Many native speakers use grammar without thinking about it or knowing how to talk about that grammar. Semantic prosody is no different in that way. How does one teach it?
<In the same way, semantic prosody is a matter of intuition: whether or not something 'feels' right. For example, someone saying that their party was "an utter success" sounds odd, while "utter disaster" doesn't; I can't explain why, it's just my feeling. >
If I understand you correctly, your hypothesis seems to be that native
speakers will perceive usual and unusual semantic prosodies in your
example sentences, and non-native speakers will not. Am I right?
<The quote that 'Mitch' (who by the way uses the same IP as Bridget, M56, and Pos) added merely indicates that for a formal study of semantic prosody, intuition is not sufficient.>
Is that a problem? Should we use different IPs?