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Tutor profile: Ed M.

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Ed M.
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Questions

Subject: French

TutorMe
Question:

In the French sentence "J'ai compris la voiture que j'avais vu," we need a special form of the past participle "vu." Why do we need this special form, and what will it be?

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Ed M.
Answer:

We will need the feminine singular form of the past participle "vu," namely "vue" (which is pronounced, but not spelled, identically to "vu") because notice that the verb phrase the "vue" is a part of, namely "avais vue," is in the relative clause that begins with "que." And since we have here "que," which is a direct *object* relative pronoun (as opposed to the subject relative pronoun "qui"), we know two things: (1) the understood object of the verb "avais vue" is "que" and (2) this "que" refers to a noun in the main clause, and in this case that is the noun phrase "la voiture." Further, since the noun "voiture" clearly belongs to the French feminine gender as signaled by the "la" (which also indicates the noun is singular, as does the absence of any "-s" at the end of "voiture"), these two features, feminine gender and singular number, carry over to the "que," and in French when a direct object pronoun like "que" precedes the verb, if the verb is in the "passé composé" form, the past participle must agree with relative pronoun in number and gender. Compare "J'ai compris le livre que j'avais vu," where "vu" agrees with masculine singular "le livre," and "J'ai compris les fleurs que j'avais vues," where "vues" is in the feminine *plural* to agree with "fleurs," a feminine noun in its plural form.

Subject: Writing

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Question:

There is an old grammar rule in English dictating that one must not "split" an infinitive, i.e., put a word like an adverb between the "to" and the main verb of the infinitive, as in "to boldly go." However, there are some instances where avoiding splitting an infinitive, e.g., by putting the adverb or other intervening word either before the "to" or after the verb, can actually result in an awkward or unclear sentence. Can you think of an example where going against the rule and leaving an infinitive "split" might in fact create a better sentence?

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Ed M.
Answer:

Take the sentence "The government decided to gradually lower taxes." This has a "split" infinitive, namely "to gradually lower" where the adverb "gradually" comes between the two elements of the infinitive "to lower." Now, using one of the strategies mentioned in the question, one could move the adverb "gradually" to before the "to," resulting in "The government decided to gradually lower taxes," but notice that this would change the meaning of the original sentence; that is, this new sentence is saying that the *deciding* was what was gradual, and that doesn't seem to be what the original means. And even if we tried the other strategy, i.e., putting the adverb after the main verb "lower," notice the resulting sentence would be rather awkward and unnatural: "The government decided to lower gradually taxes," where we have the adverb "gradually" unusually separating a verb from its direct object, namely "taxes." Therefore, it might be best to retain the original sentence despite its split infinitive "error" for the sake of clarity and flow.

Subject: Linguistics

TutorMe
Question:

If you notice the occurrence of two sounds in a set of language data, what is the general procedure for determining whether the sounds are separate phonemes or are allophones of the same phoneme in the language?

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Ed M.
Answer:

Look for minimal pairs, that is, two words whose only difference is that one word has one of the sounds in question and the other has the other sound; if speakers of this language recognize the two words as different, then you have proof that the two sounds must be separate phonemes. If you can't find any minimal pairs in the data, look for the occurrences of the sounds in the words of the data; do you see environments, i.e., surrounding sounds, where one of the sounds in question occurs but the other one never does? If so, then this is a good indication that both sounds are allophones of the same phoneme, meaning that native speakers of the language hear these sounds as the same but there are phonological rules that determine when one of the distinct sounds is actually produced and when the other occurs.

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