Blending with Lewis Carroll

A student had finished writing her sentence using the word include for a routine and was reading it aloud to the evaluators (the class) as follows: “I always like to include waffles in my linner.” She explained to the class (and me) that linner is a meal you eat between lunch and dinner.

Part of teaching, as Pete Bowers explains in his interview, is making the implicit explicit.

So we took her blend, wrote it on the board, and wrote some other blends:

motel -> motor and hotel (a type of blend that involves overlapping segments of the two lexemes to form a new lexeme)

brunch -> breakfast and lunch (a type of blend that involves the juxtaposition of two segments to form a new lexeme)

chortle -> chuckle and snort (a type of blend that involves a segment, ort, from one lexeme that is positioned in between two segments, ch and le, from the other lexeme)

We talked about how a blend is defined as “segments (letter strings) of words that are then combined with segments of other words to form new words.” David Crystal defines blending as “a process in the analysis of lexical constructions in which two elements which do not normally co-occur, according to the rules of language, come together within a single linguistic unit” (Crystal 57).

We stopped as a class to talk about what a blend is not:

While whole language ignores sublexical units in favor of guessing at pictures, phonics likes to blend together lots of things. Moats defines a blend as “A consonant sequence before or after a vowel within a syllable, such as cl, br, or st; the written equivalent of consonant cluster” (272). Henry defines it as a consonant blend in her gloss: “Two or three adjacent consonants before or after a vowel sound in a syllable…” (286). Finally, Birsch defines a blend: “Two or more adjacent consonants (consonant blend) or two or more adjacent vowels (vowel blend) whose sounds flow smoothly together; to combine sounds of letters to produce a word or to sound out” (Birsch 492).

Yikes. Not only can we see that the meaning of the word blend has been completely obliterated, but on top of that, this ridiculous definition has been recycled multiple times, confusing students and teachers alike.

We talked as a class about how a blend is actually none of the things that are defined by research education “experts.” Then we got really excited to learn that the concept of a blend is not new!

Lewis Carroll in fact uses blends so elegantly and thoughtfully in the Alice books that we had to look at the first stanza:

Alice Whiteboard 1.jpg

We listened to a musical rendition of Jabberwocky on YouTube and then I wrote the first stanza on the board in purple. We used the Marvin Gardner annotated version to help us with the words, and we went through word by word in green with Gardner’s notes. Finally, in order to tie in the standards, we looked at which words gave us the most information about the exposition in blue.

Then, we looked at slithy -> slimy and lithe (another blend) and talked about how cool it was that outgrabe comes from a root that means shriek and creak (both great sensory words). Students got to give me a silent shriek and mimic the door creaking shut.

We decided that the tone of the poem was pretty creepy, but also kind of cool.

Finally, the students were tasked with making their own blends in poster form and putting them up on the bulletin boards in the hallway. Some of the words students chose were:

liger -> lion and tiger

merclam -> mercedes and lamborghini

sturger -> steak and burger (yum, and also burger is a clip of hamburger. A hamburger was originally someone from Hamburg, the first element coming from Old High German hamma meaning “bend, back of the knee” and the city being named for its location on the bend of the river)

The four questions used to study any subject (in this case a word) were part of the rubric for the poster. Students had to dedicate a part to 1) What does it mean? 2) How is it built? 3) What are its relatives? and 4) What aspects of pronunciation affect its meaning?



Carreker, Suzanne, and Judith R. Birsh. Multisensory teaching of basic language skills activity book. Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co, 2011.

Carroll, Lewis, et al. The annotated Alice: Alices adventures in Wonderland & Through the looking-Glass. W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Crystal, David. A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (The Language Library). John Wiley & Sons Incorporated, 2008.

Henry, Marcia Kierland. Unlocking literacy: effective decoding & spelling instruction. Paul H. Brookes, 2010.

Moats, Louisa Cook. Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 2000.




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