Wednesday, January 30, 2013

cupertinos and the law of human attention

I had a tutoring session today with a fairly high-level international who had written a statement of research; having been in this country for years, her English was very good and the statement got right down to the heart of what she did, and was impressive. But I saw the hand of technology even in the finishing touches, as it were, of her perfecting her own English. First, she had come to the word "involve" as in, "I want to _______________ in this kind of research" and the computer had advised her to avoid the passive. How do you avoid the passive here? If you want to use this word, involve, you either want the research to involve you, or you want to be involved. I think the grammar-check did her a disfavor. And I say this because the other options really have different meanings.

The other one was her conjugation of the word lead; rather than lead/led/led, she was using lead/leaded/leaded, and the computer wasn't catching it, because leaded is a word. Now I have several questions about this. First, it is a general fact that most spelling errors these days are wrong-word-choice (as this one is; she has essentially chosen a kind of gasoline over a properly formed past), thus we have more there/their/they're, its/it's errors than we used to. Now there are several theories about this. 1) We have the same amount that we used to, but because the non-word errors are gone, we notice the cupertino errors more; 2) people don't worry about spelling anymore, since a machine takes care of it, thus they don't pay as much attention as they used to, and therefore they make more of these wrong-word errors, because they are poorer spellers in general; 3) spell-check tends to create cupertinos where there used to be no problem, because, before the time of spell-check, people would have other ways of finding the right word, whereas nowadays their primary method is letting the computer pick out misspelled words and give four or five alternatives, and choosing their favorite. Their methodology thus becomes a huge issue here in determining the general quality of their spelling.

I had an American student who was talking about his own errors, and who had, in effect, misspelled "write" (wright), and "sense" (scents) as in, "this doesn't make any scents." Ironically he was writing about what a horrible speller he was and was trying to say that he was committed to working on this in the upcoming semester. But it occurred to me that he didn't have a clue about how to really work on this. In fact I didn't have a clue, as to how he could need the word "write" and come up with the word "wright". I guess, if you think about it, he could have started with the word "right" and then had a vague sense that there had to be a w in there somewhere. It is these kinds of vague leadings that get us the product that we end up reading. It turns out to be a somewhat circuitous pathway sometimes.

More about this later...


Post a Comment

<< Home