The Dark side … may the force find us

English is growing at the rate of 8,500 words a year. What is more, there may be now a million words in English, far more than any standard dictionary contains: more than half the language in use is “dark matter” which effectively avoids dictionaries. These are just two of recent conclusions from a study by physicists (yes!) of the Google collection of scanned books. The study is being called the first study in the new field of Culturomics. Read the complete article at: http://tinyurl.com/88oosnv

Far older but perhaps related is the concept of Zipf’s law which states: “that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.” The quote is taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zipf’s_law but do search Google for more information.

So, what does it all mean for us teachers in the classroom? Well, the old chestnut that the language and vocabulary found in textbooks is incredibly limiting as, perhaps, are the language tasks we ask students to complete. Back to Dogme perhaps on one level but it has to be Dogme including the wider world: will students needs alone guide them to exploring all that dark matter out there? What is the role of the teacher in introducing our students to the dark side?

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