The red pupil prefers much winking

Sunday, 2 May 2004 — 5:42pm | Scrabble

The above statement, of course, contains all of the single letters that combine with “RETINA” to create a Scrabble-legal “bingo”, or seven-letter word. These phrases are known as anamonics, and I don’t know them nearly well enough, which did not stop me from winning seven games of eight in today’s mini-tournament in Calgary, one of which was a forfeit. The record was just enough to prevent my present NSA rating of 1267 from dropping, as I was the top seed in a division of twelve players in the 900-1300 range. Given the circumstances, I should have done better.

Let this not be meant as a slight to players of this calibre, however. Despite how low the numbers look – expert level is conventionally defined as anything above 1600 – they were no small fish to fry. The typical player above 900 knows her two- and three-letter words cold, likely has the big three stems (AEIRST, AEINST and the aforementioned AEIRNT) well on the way, and has a good sense of positional strategy – in short, enough to clobber anybody who’s never left the living room. Especially interesting to watch are players whose first language is not English; they are tremendously advantaged by a lack of “word shock” given that obscure words seem no odder than many one may consider common, but disadvantaged by a deficit of “natural” word knowledge outside the sphere of study lists. Today, a player who is on nearly equal footing with me in terms of ability arguably lost by way of sacrificing two turns, the first when she challenged REDUX, the second when I caught her tacking an S on the end of ALIT.

Really, this is just a microcosm for the differences one generally notices between naturalistic and academic langauge acquisition. Homonym errors are far more frequent in the writing of those who learn a language verbally and contextually, whilst grammatical mistakes committed by those who learn English in an academic setting, upon analysis, are very systematic.

It is quite unfortunate that most language curricula nowadays in primary and secondary schools – and I believe this is not just the case in Alberta – are merely immersive and never bother to address the elements of syntax in the same manner as second-language programmes. The consequence is that in many cases, native English speakers are sometimes just as, if not more writing-impaired than their ESL counterparts. We already see some degree of linguistic confusion, or even reduction, with the misuse/non-use of “whom”, and the conflation of past tense and past participles.

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