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The Vocabula Review

 

John Nelson

John Nelson

Among the many oddities of life in the United States, none is perhaps quite so peculiar as the fact that a nation born of immigrants has so little proficiency in foreign languages. Headstrong and willful, generations of American students struggle through two years of high school Spanish and come away with the ability to ask after the whereabouts of the loo — no doubt a propitious skill to have after a night of overindulgence in Mexico, but a meager reward for all those hours lost in the classroom.

Spend enough time in Europe and you'll eventually hear someone declare in a haughty and well-rehearsed voice that a speaker of three languages is trilingual, a speaker of two is bilingual, and a speaker of one is American. This old Continental barb has as much longevity — and veracity — as American quips about the French inclination to surrender.


Paula LaRocque

Paula LaRocque
Early in my university teaching career, I agreed to teach basic or remedial English one night a week to special-needs students, many of whom were itinerant farm laborers who spoke English as a second language. The students were of varied backgrounds but of similar zeal: each had paid for sixteen weeks of instruction. Because it was a university extension course, tuition was nominal compared to that of a college credit course, but it was still expensive for people who labored seasonally for minimum wages.


Mark Zimmermann

Mark Zimmermann
Seldom is the comma praised. Seldom does it rise above the obscurity of its name. Even among many dedicated English teachers, comma inspires about as much enthusiasm as that word it so closely resembles: coma. This is easy enough to understand; of the punctuation marks most commonly affecting the rhythms of English — ellipses, semicolons, colons, dashes, periods, exclamation points — the comma is weakest, signaling only a slight pause. Never in any major English-language writer's work has it attracted the degree of stylistic, convention-busting attention lavished either by Dickinson on the dash or by Whitman and Ginsberg on the exclamation point. Never has, likely never will.



The August issue of The Vocabula Review is due online August 17.


 

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