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What have you got against adverbs? What did they ever do to you?

loudI’ve noticed a disturbing trend that seems to be happening in the English language–at least in American English. Every time I heard this mistake, I cringe and wonder why it’s happening.

Evidently, people are not using adverbs correctly anymore. I keep hearing the “-ly” dropped from words in sentences often, and it makes me wonder why this is happening. Is it a lack of proper verbal education–not being taught to speak properly? Is it ignorance? Or is it part of an evolutionary process occurring in American English? (I haven’t noticed it when listening to British English on British television shows, which is why I think it might only be in the United States.)

Let me use some of the sentences that I’ve used above as examples, in which I’ll drop the “-ly” from the descriptor of the verb in the sentence.

“Evidently, people are not using adverbs correct anymore….Is it a lack of proper verbal education–not being taught to speak proper?”

See what I mean? This bothers me to no end, because I’m starting to see it in written English too, and, well…

IT’S NOT CORRECT!!

Perhaps I watch too much reality television that shows under-educated people who aren’t exactly the living examples of academia or professionalism. Even so, while I’ve noticed this trend in the past few years, it seems like it’s getting worse.  Is this evidence of the decay of American education? Perhaps.  I can tell you that being the “grammar police” of my household, this is always a concern to me. I want to make sure that my son speaks well and properly as he grows up and makes his way into the world. 

While I was writing this, it occurred to me that there is another consideration with this phenomenon related to technical communication.  This lack of correct adverb use can greatly affect translation and localization efforts. A huge issue that I’ve been hearing in tech comm is the need to write more clearly and in plain language to aid in better translation for localization.  If adverbs are not used correctly, how does that translate? In some languages, it might not matter, since some languages don’t use adverbs the same way English does. But most languages that I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve studied four, but far from mastered any of them) always had adverbs. Adverbs are simply proper grammar! So if improper grammar was used in a document, how would that reflect on the writer and the establishment the writer represented?

I implore my fellow technical communicators to please advocate for the adverb! Please make sure that adverbs are used properly, both in written and spoken language. We need to make corrections to preserve this important part of speech. Save the adverb!

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Did I just see a big glowing brain on wheels pass by?

When one receives an email that starts out, “Since I’m a momma’s boy and a geek…” you can’t resist reading what the rest of message says when you are a TechCommGeekMom. This is because I hope my own son follows that same description! 🙂

I received an email from Tyler Alterman, who is crowdfunding for a venture that he and some others are trying to come up with for a neat educational business. From the sounds of it, it reminds me a little bit of the Mad Science franchise, but with a twist on cognitive sciences instead of the physical sciences. Tyler summarized it as this:

“I’m currently crowdfunding for a lab-on-wheels and cognitive science education station with a glowing brain on top (“The Think Tank“). It’s a collaboration between artist friends and scientists from my lab to transform an old truck into a literal and metaphorical vehicle for empowering the public with the behavioral and brain sciences.”

ETA: Tyler later forwarded me the following press release, with more details:

What is pink and green on four wheels with a big, glowing brain on top? Granted he can fundraise $10,900 by March 13th, Tyler Alterman’s cognitive science education station will be. Alterman is teaming up with artists and scientists from his lab to build a  lab-on-wheels called “The Think Tank.”

“Most think tanks have Washington, D.C. addresses,” notes Alterman, a researcher at the New School for Social Research. “But The Think Tank, as a literal and metaphorical vehicle, will roam New York streets (for starters) without an address, empowering kids and adults with the behavioral and brain sciences wherever it parks.” To join about 70 others in supporting Alterman’s campaign–launched on Alterman and Darwin’s birthdays–check out his video and crowdfunding page at http://igg.me/at/CogSciOnWheels.

The lab-on-wheels will be built out of a renovated box truck by Alterman and a team of artists headed by Christine Alaimo, a neuroscientist with a cupcake business in support of autism research. Alterman plans to bring classrooms and scientists aboard The Think Tank to teach the research process, collect demographically diverse data, and educate citizens with sidewalk talks about how the science of brain and mind can improve lives.

Created as Alterman’s senior thesis project, The Think Tank is a collaboration between the CUNY Macaulay Honors College senior and the New School for Social Research’s distinguished neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Casasanto, who holds a doctorate from MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and contributes to Psychology Today.

After meeting his funding goal of $10,900, Alterman plans to unveil the vehicle at a public benefit, held in the Honors College’s landmark brownstone neighboring Lincoln Center. The benefit will be headlined by the Amygdaloids, a rock band made up entirely of neuroscientists. Named for the part of the brain believed to register fear, the band is fronted by Joseph E. LeDoux, a leading authority in neural science, Director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety and author of such books as The Emotional Brain: the Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. Other highlights include mini-lectures by noted experts and a screening of shorts from the Imagine Science Film Festival.

I’m thinking of throwing in a little money for this. Since he’s based in NYC, I hope at some point he might be able to travel or expand his business so it can visit my son’s school in Central Jersey! 🙂 It just sounds like a neat business venture, and anything that’s educational on wheels has to be cool, especially one with a big brain on wheels.  You can view the video above for more info, and then as soon as you are convinced, like me, to throw a few dollars his way, go to:

http://igg.me/at/cogscionwheels/x/1033375

At this writing, it looks like Tyler and his staff are about a little more than a third of the way to their goal of almost $11K by March 13th. He’s not asking even for big donations–any donation will be helpful! I imagine that just the big brain for on top of the truck would cost about half of that money, if not more, so I think his crowdfunding goal is not asking for much, if we can all chip in a little bit.

I like this concept not only because Tyler suckered me in with “I’m a momma’s boy and a geek,” (that’s like Jerry Maguire‘s “You had me at hello”), and I can see an educational benefit to school kids, but I can see how it might also help us professionals, especially technical communicators. Think about it for a moment. Cognitive science, as Tyler points out in his video, is about why we do what we do, and what elicits reactions or responses. How important is that to technical communication? Very important! So having a team of experts out there who can start helping others understand the power of cognitive science would be great. I’m all about STEM causes, and this sounds like a great one! You could also say that as an advocate of mobile learning, this is a different twist on that concept!

So, what are you waiting for? Throw a couple of dollars to the Think Tank cause. Hopefully, it will help!

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Is English an International Language? – Part 1

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English: Hypothetical flag quartering the Brit...
English: Hypothetical flag quartering the British and American flags. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I mentioned a while ago that I had several writing projects that were coming up, and the first of them is now published! I was asked by the STC-PMC to write a two-part article about the differences and similarities between American and British English. Of course, I think there’s much more to that simple debate, and this is a favorite topic of mine, so I gladly accepted the challenge. The bigger challenge was to try not to write an entire book!

To find the original article, see the January/February 2013 edition of the STC-PMC Newsletter here.

The article itself is below:


Is English an International Language?
Part 1

Is English an international language? Yes…and no. There is no question that English is a predominant global language. Half the world’s technical and scientific periodicals are written in English, as is eighty percent of the information stored in the world’s computers. There is no question that English is the most prominent language on the Internet, which has contributed to its continued spread around the world.

However, among English speakers, there can be huge differences, as if English speakers from different countries actually spoke different languages. The argument is often made that those who speak English do speak the same base language with just a few different spellings or colloquial idioms now and then. This is only partially true. While most of the world thinks of English in terms of American or British English, there’s also Canadian, Indian, Australian, New Zealander and South African versions of English to consider among others. Each version of English has further nuances that distinguish itself from another version. For the most part, an Australian can understand a South African, an American can understand a New Zealander, and someone from India can understand someone from the UK. But there will be moments that any one of those speakers could elicit a bewildered “EH?” amongst themselves in understanding.

Since most countries that speak English as the dominant language or a second language are former British colonies or Commonwealth countries, British English is usually the standard taught in schools. The exception to this, of course, is American English, which is usually taught in the United States and much of Central and South America as a second language. Even so, between American and British English, one would think that with a few small exceptions, they are essentially the same language, right?

What many Americans don’t realize is that British English has enough nuances that in several cases, we can’t understand our British brethren, and vice versa. For example, if a person came up to you in London and mentioned that he had a mate who sold so many crisps from his lorry that the crisps were falling out the boot and bonnet, would you know what that person meant? If you’ve watched a lot of BBC America or read enough books from the UK (as I have), then you might. An American would have to translate what the Londoner said, which was that he had a buddy who sold potato chips out of his truck, and the chips were falling out of the trunk and hood. Another example would be that if an American said that he would lose his pants over a financial deal, a Brit would misunderstand it to mean that the American would be losing his underwear over the deal, as “pants” is used to refer to underwear instead of “trousers” in the UK. Those are just two of many examples of how Brits and Americans don’t necessarily understand each other.

This divide is an important consideration in technical communications. Single-sourcing and translation are a large and continually growing component of technical communications. While software is becoming more intuitive about translating written content into different languages, it’s not flawless. Using a standard commonality in the language would be desired as a result.


See the March/April issue for Part 2.