Publications List at

The Pitch for Immortality (OK, five minutes of fame..)

Geoffrey Chaucer’s England contained maybe 2.5 million people in 1400, after the ravages of the Black Death. Most of them were illiterate, so a literary and intellectual giant of Chaucer’s stature remains a beacon in the wilderness. In March 2012, 6.7 million of us were publishing blogs (, and most of us of course are literary pygmies. It doesn’t matter, good or bad, barring accidents of fame or notoriety we are condemned to remain anonymous in the surging masses.

Fifteen years ago some people apparently were still reading my website ( and a couple of predecessors). Sometimes they took the trouble to comment. Decoding webpage statistics is a black art, but since I activated a CGI script on actual document pages (not images etc) in August 2001, there have been just over a million “page views” and 607,000 “visitors” (as of October 2012). Wouldn’t it be nice to have a dollar for every one of those! After a few years of euphoria though, it dawns on the naïve webmaster that most “visitors” are web bots from the likes of Google etc who barely pause to scratch their electronic armpits. We are shouting into the void. That may be a good thing. Who wants a curse, fatwah, burning effigy or voodoo doll as a memorial? Still, there is obviously a market out there for neglected geniuses to re-post into niche corners. seems to have become one of those niches, and it’s free (though they need to hire some programmers: the site’s code is broken in several places). One of the nicer things about stats used to be that the visitors actually had human names and even photos. They stopped that. Wah! Anyway, I’ve re-posted a bunch of papers onto, ranging from whimsical to po-faced academic, and the number of  (human) readers has been surprising. Here’s a current list of those posts in reverse order with abstracts, and the link:


Publications List at :



Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich

Abstract: [The context of the material is a set of talking points for a Brisbane, Australia discussion group. It may be of interest to other thoughtful readers]. This little essay is about (my ideas of) the behaviour of the rich. Of course all kinds of people are rich for all kinds of reasons (ditto for the poor). Nevertheless I will argue that rich people demonstrate ethics in ways which are consistent with broad human tendencies. Depending upon the social context of their wealth (e.g. corporate versus inherited) that wealth might influence them to exhibit particular behaviours. Yet those habits will merely be a subset of something much more general. Ethics, at bottom, is sourced in the evolutionary behaviour of the species.



The Democracy Problem

Abstract: The material here comprises discussion points and some reference links for a diverse group of people in Brisbane, Australia, who fancy themselves as “gentle thinkers”, and who meet from time to time to talk things over. All kinds of things. The topic on hand, “The Democracy Problem”, is probably of interest to thoughtful individuals in many latitudes, so I am putting it online as a general stimulus for some creative discussion. Any opinions expressed in this piece are entirely my own, and may be dissected without mercy.



Background Information on New Guinea

Abstract: Because New Guinea is little known to the world at large, I have prepared a brief profile of the island, together with some snippets of personal experience from my time as an academic in Papua New Guinea. More detailed information is readily available from Internet search engines.



(ex - 1987)

Super-Culture And The Ghost In The Machine

Preface: This little essay is a bit mischievous, and apparently politically incorrect enough to have sparked outrage in the minds of some sensitive souls from the polite dinner party set. Although it has no claims to academic decency, I have preserved it online as a stimulant to fancier research, since I think the metaphor the essay runs on captures some essential truths.


The essay had its genesis in the startled observations of a fresh expatriate teaching in foreign surrounds. In this case, it was the PNG University of Technology, Lae, Papua New Guinea in 1987. I found my untried liberal conscience struggling to comprehend the sheer incompetence of people faced with institutions and technology which didn't seem to work. Many of the locals were bright and friendly enough, but somewhere a spark of insight was missing. Much later, surveying Australia with the naked eyes of a returnee, it was all too clear that the paralysis of imagination was a universal problem. 



The Agnostic's Survival Manual

abstract: Dear reader, are you really hoping for a book of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’? Do you want gentle ideas and a comfortable corner in which to rest your half-formed prejudices? Alas, you have come to the wrong place. ...


The truly employable in this world are harmless blobs of not-quite-anything, or heroic knights of flaming conviction (best employed by others after safe removal to a site of sacrifice), or good old fashioned hypocrites with opinions for hire. This particular writer is entirely unsafe to hire or to know, being addicted to a deadly combination of moderation and candour. Luckily few people ever understand what he is talking about.


International Language Testing Washback – standing the monster on its head

abstract: At the top of the assessment pyramid are multinational testing corporations, best known by the names of their standardized tests, such as IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL, BULATS, TKT, Cambridge ESOL main suite, or G-TELP (there are many other aspirants). In some ways these testing companies can be thought of as the Big Pharma corporations (i.e. drug companies) of the educational world. Like Big Pharma they are subject to constant challenges to their ethics and reliability from within and without, and like Big Pharma they are rather prone to corrupt the issues which they were designed to assist with. The possible corruption of language learning by the requirements of testing is known as wash-back. Wash-back is not always malignant. The analysis in this paper is a tentative attempt to manipulate the wash-back from an international test in a manner which actually assists genuine language acquisition.




North Korea – An American Accident

abstract: The reason that North Korea exists is that America, the superpower, exists. This was true during the 1950-53 Korean War, and it is true today. After World War II, American ignorance of the Korean peninsular was matched only by its disinterest. In 2013, oddly perhaps, the best friend of the North Korean regime is the American military-industrial complex. They need each other. That part of the American polity which persists in playing the games of empire absolutely craves a North Korean demon. Yet China in 2013 would happily erase North Korea into a dusty footnote, if it were politically possible. Kim Jong-eun and his coterie are not only bad for Chinese business, they are downright embarrassing for Chinese respectability.




Monolingualism and How to Fix It (if it needs fixing)

abstract: The argument I will develop in this essay is that the foreign students are a latent human resource who can assist with overcoming English monolingualism in the Australian population. Foreign students, properly rewarded, can be a major source of skills transfer. Every one of those students is a walking compendium of language and cultural skills that Australians need to know.




The Probable Language Brain

abstract: Let us suppose that you are a research linguist, tormented by some doubts and questions about the state of your profession, and not constrained by having to repeat a catechism of "known truths" to Linguistics 101 students, and not worried about employment tenure. How would you actually go about tackling "the central problem of linguistics", namely how we acquire and maintain knowledge of the probability of systemic relationships in a language?




Chinese Moments – Six Vignettes from 1999

abstract: China is a downmarket rubbish heap for the detritus of the industrial age. By any honest vision, it is not quaint and photogenic. It is desperately ordinary. And yet, and yet, from this mountain of human rubble and stained concrete, the hands of children are reaching out to the sky, small blossoms of beauty flower in strange corners, while here and there honest people struggle to steer the leviathan monster we call China towards some goal of human fulfilment...



Testing for Teaching; Teaching to What?

The outline which follows analyses the two halves of a language teacher's profession:


a) The first half is daily classroom practice : what is taught and how is it evaluated?

b) The second half of a teacher's profession is to know or at least estimate what is going on in the brains of her students : what is learned and how is it learned?


Teaching is a simulation machine. Learning is for life. The implicit professional challenge is in making the simulation useful for living.


Note: The discussion here reflects a teacher’s interest in actual language learning, rather than that special game which sets out to manufacture “the IELTS/TOEFL performing clone”. Also, I have termed these notes an “outline”. It would be an abuse of language to call them an academic paper in any finished sense, and the absence of referencing reinforces that. There are, after all, whole academic faculties devoted to the study of testing, though unfortunately most teachers have never heard of them. Still, for those in a hurry, these reflections of my own may crystallize some of the questions which, sooner or later, will trouble any thoughtful teacher.




Hidden Boundaries – A Joint-Venture Education Program in China

This review is a post-mortem of an education joint-venture between an Australian college and a Chinese college in central China at the three year mark*. It has lessons for policy, management, teaching and learning. The focus is on foreign language teaching, but most of the elements also apply to other fields of study.


Choose When to Live and When to Die - Some Notes on Diet and Exercise

These notes on exercise and diet have not been written for average people in any known culture. 'Culture' is shorthand for a rough consensus on the grab-bag of events, habits, attitudes and actions that make up daily living. Once you start to ask questions about any of this stuff, you are stepping outside of the consensus. You are no longer average. You are alone in the big bad world, and there is nothing heroic about it because probably there is no one there to clap. So these notes are about non-average survival, specifically my own. Take what looks useful, ignore the rest.



WHAT NEXT? - Eighty things to do with students learning English

This is a collection of things to do in a classroom, plus a little explanation for teachers. The collection is not a syllabus, it is not graded and it is certainly not “complete” (what would “complete” mean here?). However bits of it should be useful for almost anyone teaching English.



Some Mysteries of Language Learning

An expert is a fool a thousand miles from home. Having successfully failed to learn about nine languages, I’m a veteran language learning imbecile, always a thousand miles from success, and an eternally hopeful beginner. I’ve also had the cheek to teach my native language to hopeful novices for over thirty years, which sometimes leads them and others to mistake me for a wannabe guru. The sheer hypocrisy of this dilemma should condemn me to embarrassed silence forever, yet I persist probing the reasons and remedies for my own language learning incompetence. After all, my exasperated search is surely shared by millions of others. The discussion which follows is informal, but makes serious points. It builds on an original e-mail exchange with a correspondent in 2005.



The Contest for Competence

If some people don't break the rules sometimes, then a normal society will cease to function. Breaking the wrong rules for the wrong reasons is like breaking legs though. And if everyone breaks the rules, then a society will disintegrate. A paradox? Yes. See how this cake is baked... || The vector in play is the scarce resource of competence. Most people doing most things are marginally competent at best, and this is in every area of human activity, taken in its aggregate. Any given individual may be good at one thing - cooking, music, his job, whatever - but the aggregate of people doing any of those activities will be indifferently capable. In fact, a significant number will be seriously incapable, and they may do damage out of proportion to their numbers. There will be a small number who are brilliant at this particular thing... || This paper is part of a series, "Thor's Unwise Ideas" ( where he asks himself awkward questions and tries to provoke creative debate.



Please Tell Me Some Idioms to Learn

What is an idiom? The answer is both complex and fuzzy. This short paper is a colloquial discussion that begins with a student inquiry about learning idioms and progresses to the realization that idioms are an indeterminate category which raise deep questions about the nature of collocation and cognitive language processing.



Stress, Rhythm and Intonation for Teachers and Students

Abstract: These are notes on English stress, rhythm and intonation. Part A is for students and Part B is for teachers. The treatment here is “technical”, as by a linguist, but in very plain language. Even with poor formal English, L2 speakers who “sound right” will gain social acceptance, and this in turn will greatly accelerate their learning. Firstly the concept of “the music of a language” is introduced. It is noted that languages are on a scale of “syllable timed” to “stress timed” (though this is not a simple matter). English is a stress-times language. Both word stress and sentence stress are essential in English. However, proper word liaison and elision marks native speakers from non-native speakers. Some advice is given on how to practice privately and in a classroom. The importance of teacher talk as a model is noted.



Managers: Getting It Done, Or Your Gift For Mine?  - An Echo from the Philippines

Imaginary correspondence with the author of "Becoming a Guru" by Dr Ramon Katigbak (Anvil Publishing, Manila, 2008). || Imagine meeting a man who, without asking, gave you gifts of great value. At first you might be pleased, though a little embarrassed since you had nothing of obvious value to offer him in return. However, this man had no interest in whatever humble things you might proffer anyway, but each day insisted on giving you new gifts. Shortly you would probably begin to resent the fellow, and wonder if you were merely a vehicle for promoting his glory (yes, there are echoes with religion in this business too). The sullen students that I meet have had the gift of education shoved down their throats for most of their short lives. They are held captive to receive this gift, and are considered ingrates if they question it at all. The human spirit would be entirely dead if they were not simmering with revolt...



Why Write A PhD?

The internal rules in universities rules which define a PhD invariably say that it must be an original contribution to human knowledge. Ground breaking dissertations have indeed been written from time to time. In fact though, few PhDs amount to some grand, original contribution to human knowledge. Many dissertations do include fresh assemblies of data, which may or may not be useful to someone. However, the interpretation of the data found within these documents is rarely original, except in a trivial sense...



Cultural Operating Systems – Thoughts on Designing Cultures

First published in Zhengzhou, China, 2010. This is a reflective piece, not academic research, but nevertheless quite extensive. To those who wish to keep their "cultural operating systems", like the Korean or Russian or Thai or French, "pure", closed, proprietary, without outside influence, I say you are in great danger. Maybe your closed cultural system was elegant and refined. Maybe it has a glorious past history. But it ultimately comes from an earlier human civilization of small, savage tribal groups. Now we humans are many, crowded on a small planet, and communicating with everyone instantly. We need a different design, and that has to be an Open System.



Somebody Else’s Problem – Decision Making in China

This wry, informal but informed article offers some insight into decision making processes in the Peoples Republic of China. The Peoples Republic of China has many faces, and its inhabitants come in every imaginable shade of character. The seven deadly sins are richly represented, and a healthy bouquet of virtues can be found as well. There are however some constants in public life. Whoever the PRC belongs to, it is not Joe Wang and Molly Liu on Jiefang Lu in any of the 700 cities or countless thousands of villages. It probably isn’t the old men in Zhongnan Hai either, or even the Black Hands that shadow every lucrative trade. Perhaps, in the tradition captured so well by Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , the place is really owned by some prissy field mice wheeling a UFO above the Yellow River plains. In any case, it is totally predictable in every imaginable situation that in China nobody traceable is responsible for anything, ever.



Teaching Productivity and Its Enemies

A study of factors affecting teacher productivity, supported by case studies in teaching English as a foreign or second language from Australia, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. This is a commercial version of Thorold May's doctoral dissertation, ISBN 978-0-9871390-0-9. It is available at . $12.50.



Language Tangle - Predicting & Facilitating Outcomes in Language Education - PhD Thesis  –  Thor May

This thesis argues that foreign and second language teaching productivity can only reach its proper potential when it is accorded priority, second only to language learner productivity, amongst the many competing productivities which are always asserted by stakeholders in educational institutions. A theoretical foundation for the research is established by examining the historical concept of productivity, and its more recent manifestation as knowledge worker productivity, especially as applied to teachers. The empirical basis of the thesis is sourced from a chronological series of twenty biographical case studies in language teaching venues in Australia, New Zealand, Oceania and East Asia. The biographical case study methodology, although rare in applied linguistics, is justified by reference to its wide and growing application in other fields of qualitative research. The case studies are analysed for common patterns of productivity, as well as teaching productivity inhibition or failure. It was affirmed across all of the case studies without exception that external parties could not control or even reliably predict what individual students might learn, and how well, from instances of instructed language teaching. This was regardless of the power of institutional players, external resources, curriculums or the teacher. Student belief in the immediate value of what was to be learned in a given lesson, and personal confidence in an ability to learn it were the most critical factors. Teaching productivity was found to turn, ultimately, on the teacher's ability to influence the probability of student learning. The teacher could best influence learning probability by enhancing student motivation. The most effective environments for teaching productivity were seen to be those where the teacher was professionally equipped and politically enabled to exercise judgements which maximized opportunities for student language learning productivity. A negotiated pact concerning both curriculum and method often proved effective, especially with mature students, and at times required some deception of institutional authorities. Empirically, the encouragement of reciprocal learning relationships between teacher and students was found to be powerfully enabling for language teaching productivity in the case studies. In many venues a small but effective minority of 'intimate learners' were also able to leverage their language learning productivity by forging more personal relationships with the teacher. The wider cultural paradigm within each of the countries represented in the case studies sanctioned different paths and limitations for both language learners and teachers, and hence was seen to influence teaching productivity in critical ways. It was found that under certain conditions, notably (but not exclusively) those prevailing in many East Asian educational institutions, that certification of foreign language skills had a higher cultural, employment and monetary value than the actual ability to exercise foreign language skills. A negative influence on teacher productivity in many of the case studies was an ignorance about language learning and teaching amongst institutional players. The disregard of language teacher professionalism was fed by a belief that being able to speak a language was all that was necessary to teach it, and reinforced by misinterpreting the meaning of test results. Related to this, an imbalance of power relationships between teachers or students with other institutional interests was consistently found to interfere with teaching and learning productivities. Overall, the model of productivity understood in institutions instanced by the case studies tended to reflect a 19th Century economic paradigm of capital, raw materials (students) and labour (dispensable classroom workers) rather than any more sophisticated grasp of knowledge worker productivity. It was demonstrated in the context of the case studies that productivity, and in particular knowledge worker productivity, is a complex concept whose facets require detailed analysis to arrive at a proper understanding of the role that foreign and second language teachers play in educational institutions.

More Info: Language Tangle is a doctoral dissertation examining knowledge worker productivity (specifically language teaching productivity). The degree was awarded by the University of Newcastle, NSW in 2010. A book version of this material titled "Teaching Productivity and Its Enemies", ISBN 978-0-9871390-0-9, is available at . $12.50. The abstract and links to supporting documents including the thesis itself may also be viewed at The full dissertation title is "Language Tangle - Predicting and Facilitating Outcomes in Language Education".



Fluency Vs Accuracy OR Fluency AND Accuracy for Language Learners?

This seminar paper indicates a fundamental difference in objectives between language learning for certification and learning for live use. Whereas accuracy is an absolute goal within schooling contexts, its value on the street is highly variable. This difference is reflected in teaching perspectives. // This is the outline of a seminar on teaching methodology given as a teacher inservice for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, in November 2009.



Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language Education

This paper examines some of the ways in which foreign language education has been affected by corrupt practices and various other distortions of best teaching practice. Particular attention is paid to South Korea. The nature of corruption and its social origins are identified. Pressures affecting students, teachers and institutions are all seen to play a part. It is noted that mass education is a simulation which leaves space for fraud, whereas actual live language performance is its own test. Perhaps as a consequence, the gradual insertion of a new language code like English into a speech community might succeed over the long term even where immediate educational practices suggest failure.



Grammar For Language Teachers

1.    What are we doing when we do grammar ? / 2. So what is grammar?/ 3. Where do the rules in book grammars come from ? / 4. So is grammar just about the links between words ? / 5.Language grammar always happens at the same time as lots of other things in your brain / 6. What should grammar teachers teach ? / 7. Do students learn useful language control from studying grammar books? / 8. Can teachers teach grammar? / 9. How can language teachers be most useful? / 10. Do grammar mistakes matter? / 11. Is accuracy more important than fluency? //==// This is the outline of a seminar on grammar teaching given as a teacher inservice for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China, on 13 May 2008. Thor May has been teaching language and linguistics since 1976.




These notes consist of three parts : 1. Some short background notes on the profession of teaching languages; 2. A few useful links for teaching tips and content; 3. A collection of ten activities which the seminar presenter has invented or borrowed, and found to be popular with students.

This is an outline from one of a monthly series of seminars by Thor May on teaching skills. The seminars were given as a teacher in-service for Chinese English teachers in Zhengzhou, Henan, China. This seminar was conducted on 10 June 2008



Fractional Language Learning

Many users of a second language, especially English, have little productive mastery of the language. Rather, some requirement in their life forces them to use limited subroutines (maybe quite small and formulaic) which are effectively encapsulated as special elements within L1. This paper proposes that fractional language learning is a valid objective for large numbers of users, and briefly examines some of the contexts in which it has a pragmatic application. It notes that much fractional language learning occurs outside of formal educational environments, and then goes on to consider how both the classroom teaching and evaluation can be adapted to give proper recognition to student achievements on a fractional scale. The paper suggests that this kind of graduated recognition is in fact likely to enhance outcomes across the full spectrum of language teaching, and can be consciously incorporated into curriculum design. A paradigm shift to teacher acceptance (and community acceptance) of fractional language learning has strong implications for assessment practices. Most current measures of language assessment offer little or no recognition to the achievements of learners in the pre-production phase of acquisition. Attempts at language use in this phase are routinely punished by existing assessment tools. Partly as a result of this discouragement, large numbers of students never progress to independent language production. Fractional language objectives are one remedy for this deep flaw in language teaching outcomes.



When Grammar Doesn't Help

This paper questions the role of grammar in language teaching and learning. Firstly it identifies the constituencies in academic language teaching, and their often conflicting notions of language programs. Several kinds of learners are discussed, with particular attention to the large group who are uncomfortable with any technical analysis, including formal grammars. Some conventional ideas about what a natural language grammar actually is are challenged. The consequences of a connectionist view of language processing are briefly explored. The power of collocation sets is identified as a key to language acquisition. Language is set in the broader cognitive context of memory processes and patterns of generalization. Pedagogical grammars are viewed as forced external generalizations with little organic presence in memory, but some suggestions are made about how to make use of them. Actual student language memory, as well as teacher self-insight into L1 are both contrasted with the idealized patterns assumed by academic language programs. Finally, the stubborn problem of average teacher behaviour is set against the real ways in which people appear to use grammars and learn languages.



The Conspiracy of South Kogglebot - A Fable

This is an East Asian fable told with generous good humour, sketched on a misty cloud of imagination. Any connection to real events, places or people is absolutely beyond belief.

Once long ago and far away, there was a land called South Kogglebot which had a problem with the education of its citizens. South Kogglebot had a long and chequered history. Indeed it had endowed universities for well over a thousand years …



Language Maintenance and Language Shift - a Contrarian Viewpoint

This short informal paper stems from reflection on an address by Ken Hale, doyen of minority languages (and now sadly deceased). It looks at the role of linguists themselves in the dynamic of language maintenance and the twin phenomena of language loss and language birth. The uniqueness of each language is weighed against the costs and benefits of language homogenization. It is recognized that the majority of speakers are ultimately pragmatists about language choice, yet an argument remains for offering some minority language support to groups struggling with their ethnic identity. Finally, it is asked whether language maintenance or revival can actually pose other risks under certain conditions. Note 1: These are observations which grew out of an Australian Linguistics Institute workshop on Language Shift & Maintenance in the Asia Pacific Region. It was held at Latrobe University, Victoria, Australia on 9 July 1994. At the time I was doing doctoral research at the University of Melbourne, and put this material aside. However, a decade later it still seems relevant.



Rude Thoughts About IT in Language Education

Information Technology in language teaching probably began with papyrus. It has attracted admirers and detractors ever since. This paper takes a slightly irreverent look at current IT, as well as its actual and potential uses in foreign and second language education. The power of commerce in IT development has always been a prime motivator, so the analysis here recognizes the essential economic context, with the resulting effects on language learning.



English for Mechanics

Sample chapters from English for Mechanics (commercially available). 95 units of teaching text with questions for oral response. The core of each unit is a short text of about 12 sentences which relate to a specific mechanical component or procedure. Short texts are highly productive in teaching and learning, as well as being extremely adaptable. A 1st edition of this e-book is for sale commercially in PDF format for US$15.00, and a hard copy version is available from for $21. It has been used on industrial sites in Australia, Indonesia, Hungary, Poland and South Korea.



Standing Room Only - Posture, Space and the Learning Process in ESL Classes

This article explores the role of posture in the language learning process, and concludes that it is sometimes critical for learning success. Principles of learning and moving are outlined. The history of physical movement in study is briefly traced. A Korean case study is presented of “failed” tertiary students who learn to learn on their feet. The paper is a practical guide for teachers who wish to experiment with physical movement and location in their own ESL/EFL classrooms .



 On Her Majesty's Australian Service - autobiography with a twist

The Australian Government gave him a gun. It was 1964, before the system got really professional. They said, Put it in your pocket. Neat little Browning .32 automatic ...



Generative Oscillation - A Cognitive Model for the Emergence of Language

The GO model proposes a co-generative view of the emergence of language. Most conventional linguistics models conceive of language as a representational system of symbols which refer to events, either mental or external to the organism. This representational function is said to motivate the linguistic system and (depending upon the linguistic model) largely control its form. The GO (Generative Oscillation) model proposed here recognizes the representational role of language. However it notes that as the mental linguistic system itself becomes efficiently organized, it creates an internal logic and drive of its own. To some extent this internally motivated linguistic system is conceived to override the external motivation to represent another reality. Since the internal linguistic system is dynamic and generative, it may give rise to linguistic output which seems strange in an inter-human communicative context (or even within the reflective mind of the creator). Thus while the external communicative context can become a constraint on unmotivated non-representational "internal language", it might not eliminate it. The Generative Oscillation model proposes that actual language production is an oscillating compromise between the representational function of language and the mental "language bot" itself (i.e. an internal self-organizing system) which is generating language strings just because that is what language language bots do. As far as I know, the Generative Oscillation Model, or anything like it, had not been suggested before in linguistics at the time of writing. Some conventional linguists may find it a bit "off the wall". note 1 : As the Generative Oscillation Model study progressed, it seemed unlikely that most supervisors would endorse this kind of theorizing in a PhD thesis, which was one reason for my decision to withdraw from the doctoral candidature that initiated it (I later obtained another PhD in an entirely different area). However, the general paradigm could well be quite productive. Many of the artefacts used for explanation were a kind of thought experiment, and expected to be discarded or modified later. I found this technique quite useful for navigating uncharted ideas (as many other thinkers have done in the past), but of course such constructs essentially inhabit a private world in the initial stages, and can only be made persuasive as they are gradually organized into a coherent system of argument tied the the known world. Readers are therefore forewarned to expect a strange ride, but also invited to dabble in the giddy enterprise of explaining the inner emergence of human language. My present views (2012) about some elements of this theory (such as it is) have evolved considerably. For example, recent work on neural networks, and speculation in chaos/complexity theory, leads me to a much more nuanced view of "encapsulation" as discussed here. note 2 : The early chapters on the GO model are heavily influenced by one particular book: Varela, Thompson & Rosch 1991 The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science & Human Experience, which sparked many of my own ideas. A mature study would obviously require greater referencing depth. The more conventionally linguistic later chapters are not yet fully integrated with GO, and some are little more than outlines. note 3 : This document is about 50,000 words. It was work done towards a PhD in Cognitive Linguistics at the University of Melbourne, Australia (part-time) between mid-1990 and 1994. The research was eventually allowed to lapse for a number of reasons. The original thesis topic was Formulas, Repetition, Substitution & Ellipsis in Discourse Organization: the Limits of Creativity in Language. Research led to the present model.



Inquiry into the Status of Australian Expatriates

This is an Australian parliamentary submission, dealing with the notion of the nation state, and the status of those citizens who live beyond its borders. For various reasons many people have chosen to live beyond their native borders. Some are absent from home for a fairly short time before heading back with a quota of after-dinner tales. For others, home is where their bed is, and the point of childhood departure is a distant memory. I happen to have started life as an Australian. The identity tag, 'Australian', still has some resonance for me, although not quite in the way your average Bruce in a Sydney leagues club would understand it. Now it has dawned on the Australian Parliament that out of twenty million citizens, around 800,000 of us are folk like me -- living away from 'home'. This has led the Honourable Members to wonder a little how (or whether) they should account for the interests of these scattered brethren. To that end, the Legal and Constitutional Committee of the Australian Parliamentary Senate has been accepting submissions on "The Status of Australian Expatriates". My submission below may interest some folk. Since it has now been tabled in the Australian Parliament, it can be viewed on the website of that parliament at , while links to a full list of submissions to the inquiry can be seen at . Note that all of these submissions are covered by parliamentary privilege (i.e. their author's have full legal protection for whatever they may have submitted).



Korean, American and Other Strange Habits - You Do It Your Way - two books reviewed day you set foot in someone else's country and your world turned upside down. These people were *weird*, really off the wall. The neighbours back home might be slack, but at least you could talk to them. In this new place, it was, well, eerie. A bit dangerous too. You were 100% outnumbered, and they called you a foreigner. You kept a low profile, and sort of adapted. Maybe you changed a bit too. After living on Mars for a few years, when you went home for a holiday the old family reckoned you'd gone native. Well, come to think of it, *they* looked sort of silly now...



So You Wanna’ Write a Poem??

The editor's lament: We watched as he carefully unwrapped his little bundle from a scarlet kerchief, and spread it out on the dirt floor before our altar. It was given with a good heart, we could see. But we sighed. That sigh of a god who is sick to death of gifts of chicken feathers, and milk, and honey. Should we tell him? Damn it all man, we want GOLD ......



The paradox of scholarship: pissing on every lamp post

Scholarship is that process of becoming familiar with, ordering, and acknowledging the thinking of earlier workers in a particular line of inquiry. It can easily become a lifetime task. The process is obviously valuable. Subduing the arrogance of an ignorant mind (especially one's own) is very healthy. Scholarship not only helps to avoid past mistakes and save the waste of "reinventing the wheel", but can also be a stimulus for new and more sophisticated ideas about a topic. However, the largest body of scholarship always remains inert, not only failing to stimulate new ideas, but actually forming a bulwark against the intrusion of fresh thinking..




Unseen Grammar - Suspecting the God of Cracks Between the Floorboards

The flight of a bird is not in wings, but in the shape of the space-time enclosed by each wing from instant to instant. In other words, flight is a grammar of relationships. An infinite variety and number of wings may participate in this grammar of flight relationships, but it is the grammar alone which remains constant.




Individualism or the Group?

... a typical naive set of assumptions about "group oriented" cultures it that the participants within them are basically altruistic, self-effacing, self-sacrificing and sociable. A society of such individuals should exhibit the very best of human civilization working in equitable, democratic communities. By contrast, those from individualistic cultures should be cold, grasping, selfish, egotistical and almost incapable of the cooperation demanded by a civil society. Indeed, a society of individualists, by this stereotype would be a dog eat dog affair, dedicated to conflict, riven with disloyalty and betrayal, forever failing to build a stable and humanistic community.




The Dialects of Wuhan (China)

The Chinese provinces are a crazy patchwork quilt of languages and dialects, where the histories of migrations and cultural enclaves, the tides of influence from empire and commerce, the sperm trails that follow rivers and railway lines ... are recorded in a tangle of codes that no one has yet made a serious attempt to untangle. Note that these comments are obviously informal, not a part of systematic research. Chinese scholars themselves are now (2013) taking a much more thorough interest in dialects than was the case even in 2000.



Interpreting China: Whimsy, where are you? 1999 … and now?

This snippet is clipped from my foreigner’s understanding of China in December 1999, on the cusp of the new millennium. At the time I was teaching at a university in Wuhan.(See Thor’s China Diary). The writer has mellowed a bit, older if not wiser. Noways in China they have bullet trains, and much more varied consumer choices than in 1999. Buildings are painted. There are signs that patches of the Chinese landscape are trying to slip out from beneath the grey smog of mass control. Real winds of change? Judge the weather for yourself.




Finding Truth: The Human Mind as an Error-Checking Mechanism

It is time somebody invented the electron theory of truth. Perhaps it could go something like this. Human minds come with a variety of different valences, although no one has yet devised a periodic table of their range. The simplest fellow, like a hydrogen atom with its single shell electron, holds that one truth stands for all worldly and other-worldly experiences. More complex souls have a varying number of truth (electron) shells, and although their consciousness may habitually dwell at a fairly intimate level, say the behaviour of a spouse, with sufficient heat and agitation, their attention (hence their judgement) may jump to an outer shell of national affairs, or to the dizzy distance of humankind. A few relatively eccentric human types may scarcely ever access their inner shells of intimacy with the laser light of mind...



Apprentice Literacy: Designs for a Bonfire of the Vanities

This is a study of the levels of literacy amongst apprentices in Victoria, Australia. Its context was the pending introduction of the New Apprenticeship Scheme by Australian state governments at the time of writing. This reform was essentially politically driven, and designed to redistribute much apprentice training away from purpose built institutions (TAFEs) into workplaces. Since the scheme would inevitably place a greater burden on apprentices' personal learning resources, especially their literacy, it was important to analyze the existing situation. It was noted that apprenticeship was a diverse category of skills studies that required varying levels of literacy. In heavily male dominated apprenticeship fields, the majority, there had always been severe weaknesses in general literacy. These weaknesses had been compensated by various stratagems, especially direct demonstration, which might not be easily available on many work sites. The newly favoured pedagogical approaches of CBT (competency based training) and "self paced learning", had translated in many TAFEs into tick-box answer booklets, rampant copying from classmates, and a severe degradation of integrated skills learning. These trends were likely to accelerate as students moved away from an environment where remedial assistance with literacy or trade skills was no longer easily available.



Technical & Further Education in Australia: Is there a star to steer by?

A review of the mission of Australian TAFES, and risks to their skill base. Published in CAMPUS REVIEW (a weekly newspaper for academics with Australian nationwide circulation) April 16-22 1997, p.13 (2000 words); also tabled in the Australian Federal Parliament, December 1996 as part of the Senate committee hearings on The Status of Teachers.



Negotiating Knowledge - Centralized Planning in Curriculum Control and Evaluation

This is a critique of a National Reporting System implemented by the Australian Federal Government in the mid 1990s in an attempt to centralize and standardize the evaluation of teaching in English language, literacy and numeracy to adults. As such it should be of purely historical interest at this editing (2012). In practice of course, the wheel continues to be reinvented with each new political cycle, and each fresh generation of bureaucrats. Perhaps it is part of the human condition that blind political ambition will always trump historical experience and professional insight. Nevertheless, for those currently involved anywhere in a struggle between managerial micro-control and independent professional judgement, or the perpetual dilemmas of evaluation and their blowback on teaching practice, the document may be of interest. (My own doctoral dissertation, Language Tangle, University of Newcastle 2010, deals with these issues at much greater length). A shorter version of this paper was first published in Fine Print Vol.18, No.1 1996 (Journal of the Victorian Adult Literacy & Basic Education Council) under the title of The National Reporting System: A Critique. The individual bureaucracies referred to have of course mutated to new acronyms (their analogue for progress). OTFE = Office of Technical & Further Education (Victoria); ANTA = Australian National Training Authority; NRS = National Reporting System; DEET = (Federal) Department of Education, Employment & Training; TAFE = Technical & Further Education institution (the Australian equivalent of a polytech); CBT = competency based training.



The Wrong Address - a prose poem anthology - Fragments from an Australasian Life

Twenty prose-poems: a snapshot of one wandering life in Australasia, 1956-1985. The real story begins earlier and ends later, but a storyteller's time is always short ...

Dates and times and places are daisy chain links for the accountants at Armageddon, and detective story tellers. For the rest of us, life is a more approximate affair, full of sudden holes in memory and meaning.

The act of recalling faint echoes into ink is a shameless deception on the self. Yet I crave this spurious integration of a created past. Is that so unusual? The tale is written in a kind of rough prose-poetry. It has a voice. Rake it around the tongue, but like any spice from faraway places, taste only a pinch at a time. 

About and about whom truth stands: this is an autobiography, a file of personal memorabilia. All persons, objects and events are real. It is a reality however which lives in the writer's own exotic brain. Aggrieved spirits and beings with any sense will say that it's all lies. These lines are irresponsible to every purpose, excepting only the pleasure found in language.



Postsuppositon and Pastiche Talk

Natural languages are examined as members of the class of complex dynamic systems in nature. The mathematical models of Complexity Theory have shown that complex dynamic systems as diverse as cyclones, the stock market and the human genome have the properties of a) being self-organising, b) existing in a precarious state of cyclical activity which alters slightly on each cycle, and c) containing an inherent indeterminacy. This last property, indeterminacy, is taken as a cue to develop an argument that language cannot be entirely representational, or altogether functional. It is proposed that in the generation of language there is a constant oscillation where thought sometimes gives rise to language, and alternatively, where unmotivated fragments of language force the development of post-rationalised ideas. Evidence is sought from the behaviour of formulaic phrases and apparent presuppositions.



Unclever Talk: Mnemonic Resonance and God Knows What

This paper questions the sources of linguistic creativity by considering the corpus of an idiolect (that is, one individual's grammar). The objective analysis of this corpus led the researcher to speculate that the use of mental constructs, specifically language, in real time had a kind of immediate "resonance" in the brain which increased the likelihood of their repetition, either exactly or with simple grammatical modifications. The phenomenon is defined in this paper as "mnemonic resonance". If this resonance patterning were general then it would have profound consequences for listener decoding strategies which depend heavily upon collocational predictability. At a theoretical level, mnemonic resonance would also have consequences for many existing linguistic models.



Purposive Constructions in English

This thesis* explores some of the syntactic & semantic properties of Purposive Constructions in English. The term "purposive" is recognized as a semantic concept which finds regular expression in a small range of syntactic configurations. Purpose Clauses (PCs) and Rationale Clauses (Rat.Cs) are examined in some detail. Briefer reference is made to several other configurations, notably Because Clauses, So-That Clauses and Infinitival Relatives. In general Purposive Constructions comprise rather fuzzy semantic categories. Nevertheless, the main syntactic features are fairly clear. Interpretation of the constructions requires a systematic account of the control of empty slots (ellipted NPs) by thematic elements in the matrix clause. General conditions of Government and Binding appear adequate to predict the distribution of gaps in most Purposive Clauses. However, the relationship between propositions predicated of a common argument in these constructions is found to sometimes require matching conditions too subtle for syntax alone to predict. A concept of Thematic Coextensiveness is introduced to account for such matching.



LANGUAGE IN SUVA - Language use and Literacy in an Urban Pacific Community

This research paper is a preliminary report on a sociolinguistic field survey. It records the beliefs which 834 permanent residents of Suva, Fiji had about their own language and literacy skills in 1988-89. The interview subjects were selected from five census enumeration districts with populations ranging from 430 to 1200, and chosen for having a roughly equal ethnic composition of Fijians and Indo-Fijians. Bilingual interviewers (linguistics students) invited and assisted subjects to complete an extensive questionnaire, and offer unstructured comments. The collated and analysed outcome gives a complex and sometimes surprising picture of urban language change. The paper was also incorporated as an appendix into Thor May's PhD dissertation, Language Tangle.



Plain Speaking : Judging an Oratory Contest

This paper attempts to explain the criteria which judges are likely to apply in the Fiji National Oratory Contest. It comments upon some features of the 1989 contest, and suggests factors which may have underlain the performance of contestants. However, the analysis is not merely local to an historical time or place. Oratory contests are a special case of the “speaking competitions” which are widespread in countries where English is learned as a second language. The cultural beliefs and traditions which come into play in public speaking are especially important in cross-cultural situations. The solutions discussed here have universal relevance for speakers and judges.



Verbs of Result in the Complements of Raising Constructions

The analysis considers the manner in which a class of matrix verbs, the so-called raising verbs, have been fitted into some generative linguistic models. Taking as a cue the difficulty posed for these models by sentences of the kind, *Linda believes Gary to murder David, the analysis proceeds beyond existing criteria for "raising" to the notion of Relative Tense. It is found that Relative Tense has a direct bearing on the infinitival complements permitted by raising-to-object verbs and some raising-to-subject verbs. The relevant constraints are formulated for incorporation into Bresnan's Lexical Functional Grammar as the Independent XCOMP Singularity Condition. The IXCSC may be recorded for convenience in the functional structure of LFG as a complex feature. When IXCSC carries a positive marking the functional structure of a sentence, that sentence may only be interpreted if ASPECT (AUX) is also marked as positive. Note: The author has now moved on from Joan Bresnan's Lexical Functional approach. This is relevant to interpreting the paper as it is presented here, although the actual issues with which the content deals are, I hope, still usefully clarified by the argumentation.



Evaluating Linguistic Difficulty

While ESL teachers cannot eliminate linguistic difficulties, with an awareness of the factors involved it is possible to minimise the confusion of their students. This article systematically analyses some important problem areas in language learning. It itemizes a range of syntactic and semantic phenomena, considering in each cas how the rule or pattern might pose a difficulty for some learners. This paper has been published for a number of years now, and the writer has become aware that many teachers themselves have found it a useful aid in preparing and presenting course material. Table of Contents: INTRODUCTION // orders of complexity // LEXICAL DIFFICULTY // Syllabic length:// Clusters // Irregular spelling // Irregular stress // Affixes // Multiple denotation // Range of connotation // Specialized application // Frequency of lexical items // Selectional restrictions // Subcategorical restrictions // MEASURES OF STRUCTURAL COMPLEXITY IN SENTENCES // Sentence length // Qualifying words // Adverbial and prepositional phrases // Conjunctive sentences // Equi-deletion // Deletion by convention // Permutation // Transposition // Embedding // Sentential complements // Topicalization // Presupposition // Tense // Aspect // Agreement (concord) rules // Anaphoric, cataphoric and exophoric references // DISCOURSE COHESION // CUEING // IDIOM // CONCEPTUAL DIFFICULTY // More accessible reference // Less accessible reference // Types of Inference // REFERENCES




A Collision of Technology and Politics - Star Wars Revisited

We kidded ourselves for a while that Star Wars had gone away. We pretended that flower power was winning. But in our heart of hearts, in our 3 a.m. nightmares, we knew that no toy of destruction, once conceived of, has ever been left to rest. Like Mordor's ninth ring of power*, hidden forever deep in a dark river beneath a mountain, some Gollum was sure to chance upon it, and once set free it would again corrupt all who carelessly picked it up; (*J.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings). Below is a computer engineer's report on the technical viability of Star Wars I, circa 1986. Judge for yourself how relevant it is to Star Wars II, millennium edition...



A Cure For Formal Language Errors In Papua New Guinea (& Elsewhere) - This Is Your Problem, Friend, Not Mine

This paper proposes that teacher correction often has very little transfer effect on a student's later language behaviour. It examines reasons for this, and the motivational paradigm within which students operate. The paper argues that student self-correction is more likely to have a measurable long term effect. A mechanism to motivate directed self-correction is therefore proposed. This mechanism involves subtracting marks from assessed essays, and indicating line locations where there is a problem, without however explaining the problem. The procedure gives students the option to recover the lost marks through re-editing and re-submission within a time frame. The system has been tested empirically and found to yield promising results. The method of error evaluation also results in a lower burden of pointless correction for teachers. The material in this article is as relevant now as it ever was. Some things don't change.




The Price of Freedom ..the true story of a Vietnamese military officer's escape from Vietnam, and its aftermath

Picture a Vietnamese fishing town of about 10,000. It is 5a.m., and already there is a busy traffic of fishermen, bamboo sellers, and market women. The air is washed by a pre-dawn coolness and islands of light still flare in the shadows. It is too early for policemen, too early for anyone on government business. 


Banjalung* - Transcript for a Language Course

Middle Clarence dialect, NSW;[4Mb pdf file]. This is a rudimentary phrase book for the Australian Aboriginal language, Banjalung (*aka Bundjalung, Bunjalung, Badjalang, Banjalung & Bandjalang), constructed in co-operation with a surviving speaker and designed to encourage Banjalung language revival. It was untertaken at the request of Southern Cross University (then Northern Rivers CAE) and local community members.



Memories of Afghanistan (1972)

Story with b&w photographs. Extract account of a journey I made with very little money in 1971-72 from Australia to England, sleeping on the decks of old boats through Indonesia, overland on anything that moved from India to England. Afghanistan ..this truly was the abrupt partition of worlds. South, somewhere over those unthinkable mountains was the steaming monsoon world of South Asia with its tropical profusion and teeming millions. From here to an unmeasured bleak north you would find only scattered remnants of humanity, or life of any kind. A harsh world of fierce pride and careful conservation, where precious water came from dark places deep in the earth...


All documents copyright to Thorold (Thor) May 2012 – all rights reserved


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