1977. Oxford - Mention vs. Use in Structuring Classroom Discourse.

By C. George SANDULESCU, Stockholm.

(Paper given at the Ninth International Conference of IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) held at Oxford in January 1977)


(published in IATEFL Newsletter, The Bulletin of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Forein Language, No. 51, January 1978, pages 31 to 34)

1.        Autonomy. The best but unfortunately the most abstruse summary of the present paper is provided by the following quotation from the preface of a textbook of mathematical logic:

(QUINE 1940    :    V)    The contrast is emphasized between use of expressions and discourse about expressions, and the controversy overn implication is considered in the light of this distinction. (A 'meta-level' notation is introduced to facilitate discourse about statements and other expressions; and the principles of statement composition are expounded in these terms ...)

2.        The context of the discussion in our case is the use of language in the language classroom: it is suggested that the exceedingly primitive but well-known  distinction which teachers currently make between 'speaking the language' and 'speaking about the language' is far from adequate. So is also, unfortunately, the distinction between (object) language and meta-language, which, it is true, will dispose of quite a number of grammatical and other linguistic terms.

3.        Trivial vs. Non-trivial. What happens in the language classroom at least 75 per cent of the time is the teaching of the 'trivial' language rule, in the Itkonen 1976 sense:

Swedish bord is English table


John is easy to please is English for John is easy from please (cf. Itkonen 1976 : 32).

4.        We need the concepts of Mention and Use (Oxford is a city vs. Oxford is a word) coming from Quine's mathematical logic in order to deal adequately with language-class statements (e. g. 

a chamber is a room (with a difference). 

A sleeping-room is a bedroom, 

a skin-sofa is a leather-sofa). 

Such sentences are almost invariably  teacher-emergent, and have a strong performative 'implication', learners producing them mainly in teacher-initiated elicitation.

5.        The structure of meta-discourse. Alongside other ways of describing sentences, we suggest one derived  from the Fx of the logic of quantification, an expression which can be sketched as S=xRy 

(Oxbridge is a word vs.Oxbridge is a city (or, is it ?);   

New York is a city vs. New York is a word (also vs. New York is a State !)).  

This intra-linguistic sentential description is easily extended to the inter-language relationship 

('Cape Town' č il nome inglese di Cittā del Capo). 

The xRy propositional structure, uttered performatively, is very widespread in teaching at all language levels (segmental and suprasegmental; graphemic; morphological and syntactic; 'lexicological': i. e. word semantics & word building). We distinguish in particular the following basic relationships in word semantics: identity, polysemy, homonymy, paronymy, synonymy, antonymy. Discussion of word semantics comes nearest to modern logic.

6.         The obvious conclusion is that language-class communication is largely pseudo-communication on the basis of the highly tautological  nature of the xRy. This is a descriptive, not a normative, conclusion. The paper's ultimate intention is to increase the teachers awareness of the pragmatic impact of teacher-emergent utterances. Children and adults react in widely different ways to tautology; a world language generates tautological discourse in other languages.

Data: Part One:        The Discussion in Modern Logic.

(1)   (a)_______    (b)'_______'    (c)    "  '_______' "    (Autonymy/autonymous)

(2)   (a)    Oxford is a city. (b)    Oxford is a word.    (c)    'Oxford' is a word.

(3)   (a)    Oxford is overpopulated.    (b)    'Oxford' is disyllabic.

(4)   'Oxford is overpopulated' is about Oxford and contains 'Oxford'.

        'Oxford is disyllabic' is about 'Oxford' and contains " 'Oxford' ".

       " 'Oxford' " designates 'Oxford', which in turn designates Oxford.

(5)   " 'Oxford' " contains six letters and no quotation marks; and Oxford contains exactly 109, 350 inhabitants.

(6)   (a)    Uppsala    (b)    Upsala    (c)    Upsal

(7)   (a) Uppsala is an underpopulated city.    (b)     Upsala is a word.

(8)   Uppsala contains 97,200 inhabitants; Upsala contains six letters and no quotation marks; and Upsal contains six letters and just one pair of quotation marks.

(9)   (a)    Phonetic:    'Oxford' is disyllabic.

        (b)    Graphemic:    'Oxford' has six letters.

        (c)    Morphological:    'Oxford' is a (proper) noun.

        (d)    Poetic:    'Oxford' occurs five times in Canterbury Tales.

(10)     (a)    'Oxford' designates Oxford.

            (b)    'Oxford' designates an overpopulated city. 'Upsala' designates an underpopulated city.

            (c)    'Oxford'  designates the county town of Oxfordshire. 'Uppsala' designates one of the ancient capitals of Scandinavia. Uppsala designates one of the ancient capitals of Scandinavia.

            (d)    'Oxford' is synonymous with Y.  

(11)       (a)    The city of New York is made up of two words.

              (b)    The word Oxbridge is made up of two cities.

(12)      (a)        'Cape Town' is the name of Cape Town.

            (b)        'Cape Town' č il  nome di Cittā del Capo.

            (c)        'Cape Town' is the English name of Cape Town.

            (d)        'Cittā del Capo' is the Italian name of Cape Town.

            (e)        'Cape Town' č il  nome inglese di Cittā del Capo.

            (f)        'Cittā del Capo' č il  nome italiano di Cittā del Capo.

DATA:    Part Two:  The discussion in language teaching:        

The Relation        x    R    y

(51)        (a)        Graphemics:          

1. Graphic word-boundary:            now  a  days.            R        nowadays

2. Spellings:   (a)                            postphoned              R        delete h

                     (b)                            pieceful                    R         peaceful

                                                                                               (delete i ; insert a)

                      (c)                            uggly                        R        ugly  (delete one g)

3. Capitalization:         (a)        english                              R        replace e/E

                                 (b)        friday                                R        replace f/F

                                 (c)        january                              R        replace j/J

(b)        Phonetics:            1        segmental:            isle        /        aisle

                                        2        suprasegmental:

Are you a student ? (Rising Tune)        #    Who is a student here ? (Falling Tune)

(c)        Grammar:            1.    Morphology:        studyed / stoped / wouldn't asked

                                       2.    Syntax:   to start study / a six storeys high building

                                                            this objects are      

(d)        Lex:                     1. Identity:        war is war; children will be children.

                                        2. Polysemy:        Board    R    board

                                        3. Homonymy:      vice      R   vice;  witch R which 

                                        4. Paronymy:        lie        R        lay

                                        5. Synonymy:      A chamber is a room, with a difference.

                                        6. Antonymy:      Fair is foul & foul is fair

                                                        The Black-and-White Minstrel Show in colour !

(52)        A library is a place where books are kept for reading.

                A study is a place where books are kept for reading.

                A bookcase is a place where books are kept for reading.


(Editorial Note: B. J. Carroll, as rapporteur, noted that five participants spoke and were answered by the speaker. Unfortunately, only one participant has contributed a proper record in connected prose on a further  discussion sheet.)

        J. H. M. Butler    commented on the statement quoted from a German semanticist that language can occur out of situational context (e. g. "Rome is a city.") He was surely confusing the hypostatic use of language and normal use. The confusion seemed to underline many examples used by TG grammar linguists (e. g. "The unicorn trotted towards the flea" and by textbook writers (e. g. "The pen of my aunt").

        The presentation of language items ostensively involve tautological statements that mention but do not inform -- and the next stage must be informative use of language.

        C. G. Sandulescu, in reply, cited  "This is a book". This sort of tautological 'communication' is non-communicative and can kill communication. Telephonic communication is real communication.