May 20:  Phonetic Alphabet Day

Today is the anniversary of the first Armed Forces Day, established by President Harry S. Truman in 1950. The new holiday stemmed from the unification of the Army, Navy, and Air Force under the Department of Defense, which was activated in 1947 and is still headquartered at the Pentagon.

In his Presidential Proclamation establishing Armed Forces Day, President Truman said the following:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

In addition to expressing the unification of the armed forces, this holiday was intended to be an opportunity to educate civilians as to the role of the military, to show off the hardware of the military, and to honor the men and women serving in the armed forces.

The goal of the establishment of the Department of Defense was improved cooperation and communication between the armed services. One element of this cooperation, and especially this communication, is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (1).

Although the alphabet we use today helps children achieve literacy, the 26 letters of the alphabet are not a full representation of all the sounds in English. A quick glance at any dictionary’s pronunciation chart will reveal 45-50 different pronunciations of English letters and letter combinations. In fact, even the 26 letters are not truly phonetic representations. For example, try writing out each of the letters: Aye, Bee, Sea, Dee, Eee, Ef, Gee, Aych . . . . As you can see, the letter C begins with an “S” sound and the letter F, begins with an “E” sound.

As a result of the non-phonetic nature of the English alphabet, verbal communication that is not face-to-face can be a problem. To improve verbal communication over telephone and radio, the armed forces adopted the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. In this alphabet, each letter is assigned a standard code word so that, if necessary, words can be spelled out clearly and unambiguously regardless of individual accent or communication interference.

Alpha

Bravo

Charlie

Delta

Echo

Foxtrot

Golf

Hotel

India

Juliet

Kilo

Mike

November

Oscar

Papa

Quebec

Romeo

Sierra

Tango

Uniform

Victor

Whiskey

X-ray

Yankee

Zulu

Today’s Challenge: Put (PAPA-UNIFORM-TANGO) Your Initials on the Alphabet

What words would you use for each of the 26 letters in your own phonetic alphabet?  The NATO Phonetic Alphabet we have today has evolved over time. For example, in World War II, the joint Army/Navy alphabet looked like this:

Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whisky Extra Yankee Zulu

In celebration of Armed Forces Day and in celebration of clear communication, create your own phonetic alphabet. Make each word memorable, but also try to make sure that each word you pick clearly corresponds to the pronunciation of each letter.

Quotation of the Day: Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons. -General Douglas MacArthur

1- United States Department of Defense:http://www.defenselink.mil/afd/

May 19:  Literacy Narrative Day

Black nationalist leader Malcolm X was born on this day in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Born Malcolm Little, he considered Little his slave name, so he replaced it with an X to represent the lost name of his African tribal ancestors.

Malcolm X in March 1964When he was 21 years old, Malcolm was convicted of burglary and received a ten-year sentence.  In prison, Malcolm transformed his life through voracious reading and study. He stopped using drugs and became a member of the Nation of Islam.  After his early-release from prison in 1952, Malcolm became a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Like Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights, Malcolm advocated for racial equality.  However, unlike King’s tactics of nonviolent resistance, Malcolm promoted a more militant approach, saying “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” Shortly before he died, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam.  While preparing to give a speech in New York, he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

In his autobiography, Malcolm recounts the events that led to his education behind bars.  With time on his hands, he attempted to read but due to his limited vocabulary, he could comprehend few of the words on the page.  To remedy this he decided to study a dictionary. Beginning with the letter A, he read and copied by hand page after page and soon discovered that he was learning more than just vocabulary:  “With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia.”

As his knowledge base and vocabulary grew, Malcolm turned to other books beside the dictionary, reading in every free moment during the day, and well into the night by a small corridor light outside his jail cell.

Talking about his prison studies, Malcolm says:  

I never have been so truly free in my life. . . . the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive . . . . My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America.

Today’s Challenge:  Your Love Letter to Literacy

What are some memorable experiences that would be in your autobiography regarding your acquisition of literacy?  What do you remember about learning to read, about learning to write, and about being influenced by books?  Imagine you are writing your autobiography and that it must include a literacy narrative, that is a story of your experiences with learning to read and write.  Write about a specific incident from your life that is related to books, reading, or writing.  Also consider the people who have influenced your experiences with literacy. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1965

 

May 18:  Connotations Day

Today is the birthday of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell who was born in Wales in 1872. Russell received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Russell’s writings are eminently quotable. Here are a few examples that demonstrate his genius for language that is both concise and profound:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.

One particular quotation by Russell has helped a generation of English teachers to illustrate the subtleties of denotation and connotation in the English language. On a BBC radio program called Brain Trust, Russell said the following:

I am firm.

You are obstinate.

He is a pig-headed fool.

With this one quotation, Russell demonstrated how a writer’s word choice is colored by his or her point of view and how the plethora of synonyms in English is a double-edged sword: it allows for an amazing array of possibilities, choices, and variety, but it also requires the writer to be a discriminating student of not just a word’s meaning, but also its associations and appropriate context.

The denotation of a word is its dictionary definition, but its connotation is its implied meaning – the associations and emotions that are attached to the word. For example, when addressing 15-year old, you have a choice of addressing him as a: young adult, a young person, an adolescent, a teenager, a teen, a teeny-bopper, a juvenile, or even a whipper-snapper. Although each of these words has the same basic denotation, they certainly have a range of different connotations on a scale of positive to neutral to negative.

Writing Russellesque triads is an excellent way to exercise your verbal muscles and learn to discriminate between the subtle differences in the connotations of various synonyms. For example, there is a classic example of a student who was looking for a synonym for “good.” He picked up a thesaurus and looked down the list of synonyms. Making a selection of what he thought was an appropriate synonym, the student wrote the following sentence: “Today I ate a benevolent donut.”

Here are some examples of triads:

I am an erudite scholar.

You are an learned instructor.

He is a didactic pedagogue.

 

I’m a patriot.

You are a flag waver.

He is jingoistic.

 

My smoking is a vice.

Your smoking is a transgression.

His smoking is a sin.

 

My story was a fascinating narration.

Your story was an interesting anecdote.

His story was a strange yarn.

 

I am sagacious.

You are astute.

He is crafty.

 

I am a scholar.

You are a student.

He is a pupil.

 

I am a wordsmith.

You are a writer.

He is a hack.

 

I’m resting.

You’re lounging.

He’s a coach potato.

 

I’m frugal.

You’re cheap.

He’s a tightwad.

Today’s Challenge: Connotative Concoctions

What are some examples of words that come in a variety of connotations?  Celebrate Bertrand Russell’s birthday by doing your own triad of synonyms. Use the following guidelines as you write:

-Arrange your concoction in first, second, and third person points of view: I, You, and He.

-Begin in the first person with the word or phrase that has the most positive connotations. Continue by using words and/or phrases with ever-increasing negative connotations.

Example:

My bathroom has a fragrant aroma.

Your bathroom has an odd odor.

His bathroom has a strange stench.

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quote of the Day: The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.-Mark Twain