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LinguaPhile, July 2001

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


LOOKING AHEAD TO AUGUST: Happy Anniversary to Us!

Quotes of the Month: Summer . . .

The suggestiveness of summer! -- a word that is so weighted with the fullness of existence -- means more to me than any other word in the language, I think.
-- Edward Martin Taber

Summer's lease hath all too short a date.
-- William Shakespeare (1564-1616) from Sonnet XVIII

In summer the song / sings itself.
-William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), U.S. poet and novelist

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Vision: 20/20 Is Not Enough . . .

With more unscheduled daytime hours being available, summer is an excellent time to have your child's vision checked. Don't be too quick to say, "My child's vision is fine: 20/20!" In many cases that is not sufficient.

The Snellen chart, the instrument most frequently used to test eyesight, often gives people a false sense of security about their vision. It measures only acuity -- and that at a distance of 20 feet. How much does your child read at that distance?

The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that about 25 percent of children enter school with vision problems that can impede their school progress. Almost 50 percent of children with learning difficulties have vision problems, and up to 94 percent of children with reading problems have reduced visual skills.

Why does the Snellen chart leave some of these problems undetected? Vision involves much more than the sharpness of an image. It involves focusing -- and refocusing as attention shifts between far and near (as when copying from the board). It involves binocularity, the two eyes working together to capture accurate pictures of our world and of the printed page. Vision also involves perception, the brain's interpretation of the images taken in by the eyes.

Many people believe that vision should be checked by an ophthalmologist, the person with the highest credentials. While it is true that an ophthalmologist is an M.D., he or she has spent about the same amount of time studying the anatomy, functions, and diseases of the eye as an optometrist has spent studying vision alone. To check my child's vision I would seek an optometrist, specifically a "developmental" or "behavioral" optometrist. Not only will the vision exam be more thorough, but the developmental optometrist may prescribe a course of "vision therapy" to remedy problems.

Often we take vision for granted and do not think of it as a learned behavior. Because it is learned, however, through practice we can improve it. Experts speculate that the frequency of vision problems may be increasing because with television, video games, and computers, children today do not use their eyes in as many different ways as children did formerly; overall the vision of children entering school is less developed than it was a few decades ago.

What symptoms might indicate a vision problem? Any time a bright person struggles with reading, further investigation is warranted. Consider these specific questions in relation to yourself as well as in relation to your children or students. Answering yes to even a few of the questions justifies further examination. Do not discount a "yes" even if it is limited to special circumstances, such as fatigue.

Do you (or does the child) . . .
• hold reading material extremely close or far away?
• have poor posture or an unusual head tilt while doing close work?
• squint the eyes or open them very wide?
• cover one eye?
• frequently blink or rub the eyes?
• suffer from headaches, eyestrain, or fatigue?
• require excessive time to complete schoolwork or other near tasks?
• lose your place often when copying?
• skip words or lines when reading?
• report that words on a page blur or move?
• have poor comprehension of material read?
• run words together when writing?
• have poor hand-eye coordination?

I have first-hand experience with vision problems. I will be eternally grateful to Jane Porchey, my younger son's kindergarten teacher, for identifying his vision problem in October. She noticed that although he could count, he kept getting the wrong answer when counting dots in a square. Working with him individually and having him point to the dots as he counted them, she discovered that for him the dots moved. It is not unusual for children with vision problems to have words and letters swim on the page, appearing and disappearing, doing flip-flops. Imagine trying to read under these circumstances! Even if you could manage to decode the words, you would have very little reserve attention to devote to comprehension.

Life can be very frustrating for people with vision problems. The world as a whole is likely to be fluid and chaotic for them. School in particular is likely to become a source of failure. It has been found that 70 percent of juvenile delinquents have vision problems that interfere with their ability to achieve. In one study, however, the rate of recidivism dropped from 45 percent to 16 percent when offenders received on-site vision therapy.

People with vision problems usually do not realize that they have them; they have no reason to think that their view of the world is different from everyone else's.

My son's story has a happy ending. After a few weeks of vision therapy, his eyes began working together better. Letters and numbers were less mobile. He was able to corral his writing into primary triple-rule. By first grade his penmanship looked like the handwriting chart. His behavior improved, too. The frustration he had experienced in school -- and in the world in general -- had often made him sad, contrary, and belligerent. Once he discovered order in his world, he became cheerful, confident, generous.

This is John in SeptemberTwo self-portraits -- both made in kindergarten -- show how John changed as a result of vision therapy. The first, made in September, shows the most forlorn-looking child I have ever seen. I did not even recognize him as the child I had lived with for six years. The crayon lines are rather faintly drawn. One eye is about an inch lower than the other; he has no nose or mouth. Stringlike arms issue from his sides, the right arm about three times longer than the left. His right arm sprouts three fingers; his left arm, five, the shortest of which is longer than the arm itself. Although a patch of magenta represents his shorts, he has no legs or feet.

My mother and me in May 1979The second self-portrait, done in May, includes me. The lines of the drawing are firm. We both have noses, U-shaped smiles, and eyes that are directly across from each other. We both have legs and feet. We are, in fact, nearly identical as we stand with our arms around each other.

Preschoolers -- even infants -- can benefit from examination by a developmental optometrist. If a problem is identified very early, it might be able to be corrected before it has a chance to cause difficulty in school. Adults, too, can benefit from vision therapy.

I urge you to have your children's vision evaluated by a developmental optometrist this summer, particularly if your children are having learning difficulties or if vision problems run in your family. Such an evaluation can only work for good. If a problem is discovered, you can begin working to correct it. If no problem is identified, you will have ruled out one possible cause of learning difficulties. That, too, is worthwhile.

For more information about vision problems -- therapy, relation to learning difficulties, and referral to a developmental optometrist in your area, visit this site on the Optometrist's Network:
For additional information, including parent support groups, visit this site sponsored by Parents Active for Vision Education (P.A.V.E.):

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Follow-Up: Apostrophes in Business Names . . .

A subscriber writes: "Lands' End" is one of the company names that bugs people who enjoy proper English. It should be "Land's End" or "Lands' Ends." The story is that someone made the mistake on their first catalog. By the time they realized it and tried to fix it, someone else had registered the "Land's End" trademark. So they stuck with the improper "Lands' End."

Editor's Note: "Lands' End" is not necessarily improper. There does not need to be numerical agreement between the object owned and the owner. For example, you could say "the boys' room," assuming that the room is shared by more than one boy. So the question becomes, Can more than one land share one end? (It's the kind of question that can make you dizzy!) It seems that the main lesson to be learned here is to proofread carefully so that you won't have to become resigned to your second choice.

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Sharpen Your Vocabulary: Continuous, Continual . . .

Continuous and continual are among the most confusing of word pairs. Both are adjectives having to do with something continuing over a period of time. Continual means "repeated, intermittent," but continuous means "unbroken; continuing without interruption."

Thus, for a stretch of summer the oppressive heat and humidity might be continuous, but the flickering of fireflies, the croaking of frogs, the screeching of cicadas, and the thud of apples falling from a tree would be continual.

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Q and A: Plurals in Idioms . . .

Question: How flexible are we on singular vs. plural nouns in pluralized idioms, and what guidelines can we follow?


SINGULAR: He ended up with egg on his face.
PLURAL 1: They ended up with egg on their face.
PLURAL 2: They ended up with egg on their faces.

SINGULAR: She caught his eye as soon as she walked in.
PLURAL 1: She caught their eye as soon as she walked in.
PLURAL 2: She caught their eyes as soon as she walked in.

SINGULAR: How does she make her living?
PLURAL 1: How do they make their living?
PLURAL 2: How do they make their livings?

Answer: Thank you for your question -- and for the examples, which make it much easier to answer. I would say that if there is a noticeable clash of singular and plural, agreement should be maintained. When I read "their face," I immediately think, How many people share this face? Similarly with "their eye." "Their living," on the other hand, could probably go unnoticed. It does not scream for correction since it is not so obviously individualized. While "their livings" is correct and does not sound bad, "their living" seems a little less obtrusive to me. In general I would say to be governed first by logic, second by fluency.

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

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Portico Books News: Special Challenge! . . .

August marks the first anniversary of LinguaPhile. Please let us know if you have suggestions of features you'd like to see in the newsletter in the year ahead.

An excellent way to celebrate our anniversary would be to forward the newsletter to a friend or colleague and encourage him or her to subscribe. Let's see if we can double our number of subscribers by September 1.

* * *

If you're an educator, I hope you're planning to order a copy of Hands-On English for each of your students for next year. Think how much easier your job would be (not to mention your students' jobs!) if everyone in your class had quick access to this wealth of information. The more your students use Hands-On English, the less they'll need to use it.

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Review: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury . . .

Dandelion Wine is one of those books that can be enhanced by being read under particular circumstances. It comprises vignettes from the life of twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding, growing up in Illinois in 1928. Dandelion Wine is enhanced by a summer reading -- probably even more enhanced if it is read out-of-doors when the temperature is about eighty degrees, probably additionally enhanced if read in a small town in the Midwest. So this is an excellent time to read Dandelion Wine.

Best known for his science fiction writing, Bradbury departs from that genre in Dandelion Wine. Each vignette, like a bottle of Dandelion Wine, preserves -- well aged -- a moment of the summer. In his Introduction, Bradbury calls Dandelion Wine his "celebration . . . of death as well as life, dark as well as light, old as well as young, smart and dumb combined, sheer joy as well as complete terror . . . ." Early in Dandelion Wine Douglas Spaulding becomes keenly aware of the fact that he is alive. By the end of the book, after acknowledging the mortality of those around him, Douglas faces the inescapable realization that he, too, will one day die.

Bradbury brings the summer of 1928 to life with vivid imagery. Not only do we smell the freshly mown grass and hear the sibilant cicadas, we get to know Douglas's family and some of the other residents of Green Town: Grandma, who regularly concocts mouth-watering delicacies for her boarders in her disorganized kitchen -- until Aunt Rose comes to visit and set things straight; Mr. Jonas, the junk man, who "looked upon himself as a kind of process, like osmosis, that made various cultures within the city limits available to one another."

Some of the incidents recounted in Dandelion Wine will remind us of our own childhoods: getting a new pair of tennis shoes to start the summer, playing statue, having a good friend move away, getting a treat at a soda fountain, being sick with a high fever. One of the greatest delights of Dandelion Wine, though, is Bradbury's celebration of ordinary events with richly descriptive language: " . . . in . . . silence you could hear wildflower pollen sifting down the bee-fried air"; "bread waiting to be cut into slices of warm summer cloud."

Relating Dandelion Wine to James Joyce's aesthetic theory discussed in last month's LinguaPhile, it seems to be an example of the epical level of development. Bradbury presents his image "in mediate relation to himself and to others." That he is writing about his own experience is apparent from his introduction. Yet he creates some distance from himself by creating Douglas Spaulding, four years older than Bradbury was in 1928. He also sees Dandelion Wine as "the germination of all the summers of [his] life in one book" and admits to transporting his good friend John Huff from Arizona to Illinois. Dandelion Wine does indeed deal with epic themes: ritual, revelation, mortality, and memory.

Yes, reading Dandelion Wine in summer can enhance the book. There's also an excellent chance that it will enhance your summer.

Available from Dandelion Wine

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Periodic Sentences . . .

A periodic sentence delays completing its main clause until the end of the sentence, thereby creating suspense. This is a device you would not want to use often; frequent use would tire and frustrate the reader. It can be very effective, though, when used judiciously. Consider these examples:

After having discovered a dead body in the ravine just two pages previously (an event related in another periodic sentence): "And suddenly there, barring their way, standing very still in one spot, not seeing them, but looking on down at the moving lights and the body and listening to the official voices, was Douglas Spaulding."
--Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury

"As far as the eye could see, all around, wherever I looked, snow was lifting and spiraling from the steppe."
--The Endless Steppe, Esther Hautzig

Surely what follows is a preeminent example of a periodic sentence! The context is that Sam, a farmer, has been lying in wait for hours on a moonlit night, hoping to kill the skunk that has been killing his neighbor's chickens: "But the shape he finally observed, at the bottom of the reef, circling another rusty fender that lay there, moved nimbly, without a skunk's toed-in, tail-up shambling, and with many fractional hesitations and scent checks that were, to a skunk, quite unnecessary; what was coming through the cold green grass put its feet down briskly, kept its ears pricked and its tread light, and was, Sam saw, a fox."
--"Favor," Elizabeth Tallent

Collecting sentences that we deem worthy of imitation can help us add their structures to our own repertoires. Analyzing a sentence to determine exactly why it works or doesn't work goes a step further. In the example immediately above, notice how details are reported in the order in which Sam would have noticed them. The negative observations, the ways in which the animal's movements differed from those of a skunk, are entirely appropriate since Sam was expecting a skunk and the description reflects his thinking.

And how about this final gem that, concluding a section on periodic sentences, exemplifies the device it extols? "The important thing for the writer -- the architect of the composition -- to remember is that by skillfully interspersing among his loose, casual structures a number of balanced, symmetrical units and a few carefully styled ones of varying sizes, he can create effective design in his organic whole composition."
--English Composition, Charles H. Vivian and Bernetta M. Jackson

Follow these steps to craft an effective periodic sentence:
1. Be sure that the context warrants the tension that the sentence will create.
2. Jot down the details that your sentence will contain, including the subject and predicate.
3. Determine the most effective order for presenting your details.
4. Be sure that various phrases and clauses in the sentence have appropriate grammatical relationships.
5. Read the sentence aloud to be sure it achieves the effect you desire.

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Puzzlers: USA Words. . .

A. Put one letter in each blank to make a word defined by the phrase on the left.

1. Day LinguaPhile is published_ U _ S _ A _
2. Ten hundred _ _ _ U S A _ _
3. Forgivable _ _ _ U S A _ _ _
4. Beating of the heart _ U _ S A _ _ _ _
5. The "March King" _ _ U S A
6. Comprehension U _ _ _ _ S _ A _ _ _ _ _
7. A picture _ _ _ U S _ _ A _ _ _ _
8. Able to be bought _ U _ _ _ _ S A _ _ _
9. A campaign to reform _ _ U S A _ _
10. A servant _ _ U S _ _ A _ _

B. Now make up some of your own. You can make the puzzle more challenging simply by making the clues more cryptic. Send your favorites for inclusion in next month's LinguaPhile.

Answers next month.

Answers to June Puzzler

A. Here is the paragraph from last month with the sixteen embedded names of books of the Bible identified for you.

I once made a reMARK about the hidden books of the Bible. It was a luLU; KEpt people looKING So hard for fACTS . . . and for others it was a REVELATION. Some were in a JAM, ESpecially since the names of the books were not capitalized. But the tRUTH finally struck home to NUMBERS of our readers. To others it was a real JOB. We want it to be A MOSt fascinating few moments for you. YES, THERe will be some really easy ones to spot. Others may require JUDGES to help them. I will quickly admiT IT USually takes a minister to find one of them, and there will be loud LAMENTATIONS when it is found. A little lady says sHE BREWS a cup of tea so she can concentrate better. See how well you can comPETE. Relax now, for there really are sixteen names of books of the Bible in this paragraph.

B. And here is the paragraph with names of eighteen foods embedded.

This short PIEece of writing may not have much PIZZAzz, BUT TERrifically it includes tHE Names of eighteen kinds of food. If you like to COOK, You might find them mosT EAsily. Looking for them might be a biT OF Unusual fun, somewhat like a ROLLercoaster. When you are searching for them, you might feel either delight OR ANGEr. You MUST ARDently maintain your quest. SoME AT least are carefully hidden in order TO ASTound you when you find them. People whO LIVE in thiS AGE and haVE A Lot of PEP PERhaps will find the wordS MORE quickly than otherS, ALThough the logic behind that is questionable.

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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:

The index to LinguaPhile, which is updated monthly, is now available in either a text or .doc format on the GrammarAndMore Web site:
This makes the information from previous issues readily accessible. You are encouraged to print the index for your convenience or to share it with friends. Why not send them the URL of the text version?
It's a gift you can give, yet still have for yourself!

© 2001 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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