Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Passive Voice for ESL Learners

Dear readers,

In this post I wish to discuss passive voice from a different perspective Every sentence must have a point of focus . The speaker's or writer's attention or interest is held by a particular element in the clause , and this may be called point of focus. For example, in the sentence

Shakespeare was born at Stratford

the focus could be on any element , depending on the context . If the sentence was answer to the question"Who was born at Stratford?'the focus would be on Shakespeare .Generally speaking, the focus of a normal English sentence is on the last lexical item It carries new information This is known as the Principle of End-Focus. End-Focus is signalled by tonic accent .The last lexical item carries end-focus unless it has to be brought forward by the requirement of the context

Passive Voice & the Principle of End -Focus

In passive construction the clause elements are manipulated in such a way that the active subject receives end-focus .The motivation of the writer who prefers the passive alternative is to confer focus on the active subject by bringing it to the end of the sentence where it can receive end-focus . Look at these sentences

Tom fed the kittens

If Tom is to be given focus ,the writer can use the passive construction

The kittens were fed by Tom

This gives us another perspective on passive voice. It is a syntactic device to give focus on the active subject by bringing it to the end of the sentence where it can receive end-focus .However, in conversational English tonic accent can achieve the same effect in a much more economical way!

ESL Learners are generally not aware of this aspect of passive voice . They look upon passive construction as an interchange of the positions of the subject and the object. They do not see it in relation to focus

I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Indefinite Article A/AN

Dear readers,

Today I am going to discuss the indefinite article -a/an.Most of the mistakes made by non-native speakers of English is the omission of the indefinite article ..

ESLlearners seldom fail to use the indefinite article when it is the non-emphatic form of the counting number ONE.Example

I bought a pen for Rs.10.

However, most non-native speakers of English are not aware of several idiomatic uses of a/an because it makes no sense for them.Example

Her mother is a teacher .

The tendency of ESLlearners is to omit a The use of the indefinite article before nouns denoting trade or profession is unknown to speakers of native languages of India. Hence,one of the common errors made by Indian learners of English is the omission if the indefinite article before nouns denoting trade/profession.

The use of a/an before nouns preceded by adjectives is common among native speakers of English .But non-native speakers of English tend to omit a/an due to the influence of their mother tongues Example

Shakespeare had a deep understanding of human nature.

Non-native speakers may find the article unnecessary and omit it

Please note that a/an never takes stress .English is a stressed -timed language .This may explain the native English speakers' fondness for a/an.

Where AN is used

AN is used before nouns having an initial vowel sound Spelling is not always a guide!Example

French ia a European language.

"a European" because the initial sound is a consonant denoted by the IPA symbol/j/

It is a one-time offer>

"a one-time " because the initial sound is not a full vowel It is a semi-vowel denoted by the IPA symbol/w/

He was an honest man

"an honest" because ihe initial sound is a full vowel denoted by the IPA symbol/o/ and h is silent ,though present in spelling

Enough for indefinite article! I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you