Mercedes Mejia

Reporter/Producer

Mercedes Mejia produces interviews for All Things Considered, including the music segment Songs from Studio East. She also produces content for Stateside. Mercedes relocated to Michigan from New Mexico, where she earned her BA in Latin American Studies and Journalism. She began in public radio as a reporter at KUNM in Albuquerque. She brings extensive video production skills from her work at Univision and Edit House Production.

The English language is constantly changing. How do English teachers keep up?

Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller recently got a letter from a listener, Bill, from Eaton Rapids who asks why there isn’t a difference between researching English change and teaching language usage.

“I think there is a difference,” said Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan who specializes in linguistics.

She believes teachers can teach the standard language usage and talk about language change with their students.

“And I think maybe one way to help think about this, is I often talk about it as a repertoire, and the bigger the repertoire we have as speakers and writers, the more versatile we are. So what I’m trying to do is to make sure that students have in that repertoire the standard, formal written variety and perhaps the formal spoken variety so they can use it when they need to or want to. But if they have other varieties in there too, all the better,” Curzan said.

Listen to the full interview above to hear why it’s okay to use ain’t in writing. Also, Curzan explains how people in the 19th century “hated” the English passive progressive construction, “the house is being built," but now it is completely standard. An example of why people should not be too quick to judge a certain form, as it might become popular years from now.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks with Bonnie Raffaele, mother of Kelsey Raffaele, a teenage girl who died in a car crash on January 24, 2010 while using a cell phone. Bonnie has been advocating for the passage of Senate Bill 756. The bill, also known as Kelsey’s Law, would prohibit novice teen drivers from talking on the cell phone while driving. The bill, passed by the Senate earlier this year, will be discussed tomorrow in a House Transportation Committee Hearing.

Merriam Websters’s definition of retronym is a term consisting of a noun and a modifier which specifies the original meaning of the noun. “Film camera” is a retronym.

Every Sunday, Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller talks with Anne Curzan a professor of English at the University of Michigan, specializing in linguistics.

In many cases the retronym is formed in response to technological advances.

“We now specify a land line because when you say phone people may assume it’s a cell phone and we need to now, talking about a phone, say a land line,” said Curzan.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Each week we take a look at Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

The House GOP Health Policy Committee, today voted by a 9-5 vote  against legislation to establish a state-run health care exchange. The health care exchanges are a requirement of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Governor Rick Snyder has been pushing for a state-run online market where people can compare and buy health insurance plans, but Republicans in the House continue their opposition to Obama's federal health care act. Today, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger asked fellow Republicans to pass the legislation.

"Here you have a situation where the Speaker finally said lets do this, and his own members said, 'No, we don't want to do it.' So, I think that's somewhat of an embarrassing moment here for the Speaker, not so much for the Governor," said Sikkema.

Demas says there are no signs of an extension for states to set up the exchange. At this point it's likely the state will get a federally created exchange.

More candidates are entering the Detroit mayoral race. State Representative Fred Durhal Jr. announced his plans to run this week.

In the best of times, running a city the size of Detroit is incredibly challenging. The city will face some considerable challenges for some time to come. So we asked Rep. Durhal Jr. why he wants the job.

Others possible candidates for Detroit mayor include State Rep. Lisa Howze, Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. Current Mayor Dave Bing has not yet announced whether he plans to run for reelection.

Why do some people say, “I could care less” to mean they don’t care? It doesn't make sense. The expression is, "I couldn't care less," right?

“What has happened here, as far as I can tell, is that speakers are no longer parsing this phrase for every word. And this is what happens with idioms. Idioms take on a meaning that surpasses their parts,” says Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan.

“I think the ‘less’ there feels negative to speakers. It already says, ‘I don’t care,’ so for them, ‘I could care less -- I couldn’t care less,’ they mean the same thing,” she says.

Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller asks Curzan to explain this idiom, “Butter would not melt in her mouth.”

“People tell me that the pronoun ‘they’ cannot be singular. But here’s the thing - it already is,” says Anne Curzan. She’s a professor of English at the University of Michigan who specializes in linguistics.

Most speakers already use “they” as a singular pronoun in speech.

“In writing, we are told to use ‘he’ or ‘she,’ or change the whole sentence,” Curzan says.

English teachers have been telling us for years that “they” is not a singular pronoun. But, Curzan offers a few examples of indefinite pronouns that speakers make singular.

Michigan Senate Democrats

Listen to the full interview.

The Michigan legislature enters the lame duck session this week. Republicans held onto a majority in the State House, so they’ll be setting the legislative agenda, but Democrats will be watching closely.  Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer talks with Jennifer White. Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, was overturned by Michigan voters last week, could a new version of the law emerge? Plus, a discussion on right to work. And, what could the repeal of the personal property tax on businesses mean for local municipalities?

Merriam Webster has one pronunciation for the word lackadaisical, but often people pronounce it laxadaisical.

“I would guess that what’s happened here is that speakers have reinterpreted lackadaisical as related to lax. And once they do that they change the pronunciation of lackadaisical to laxadaisical” said Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan.

Curzan says in surveys she’s done, half the people say lackadaisical and half say laxadaisical, but it doesn’t seem to be because of generation differences.

It’s seems that the combination of the letter K and S is what causes the confusion. Another mix-up can be found in words like especially and espresso.

Michigan Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson.
MI SOS

It is perhaps the busiest day of the year for Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. Michigan polling locations will be open until 8 p.m. tonight.  And, it will likely be some time before we have the final calls in many of the races.  Michigan Radio's Jennifer White spoke with Ruth Johnson about the long lines at the polls, frustration over the voter verification check box, and when we should all expect to hear some results.

Less vs. fewer

Nov 4, 2012

“There are people who cringe at the grocery store when they see the sign '10 items or less,'” said Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan.

It seems as though the rule for less vs. fewer is becoming less clear.

She said, “The rule is that with nouns that are countable we should use fewer. And with nouns that we can’t count, such as water, we should use less.

“Ten items, clearly you can count them because there are ten, so it should be fewer. If you have money it would be less money, but fewer dollars.”

The principles are the same with amount vs. number, so amount for an uncountable noun, and number for a countable noun.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Every week Michigan Radio talks with political analyst Jack Lessenberry about some of the stories making news across the state.

This week Lessenberry and Rina Miller talk about the critical decisions Michigan voters will make on Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 6). Also, the Michigan Secretary of State has dismissed all but one of several complaints against Republican state House Speaker Jase Bolger and newly-Republican Representative Roy Schmidt. Plus, a Wayne County judge says the ACLU can move ahead with its right-to-read lawsuit against Highland Park schools.

CedarBendDrive/flickr

Michigan House Representatives are up for election next Tuesday. All 110 seats. Both Houses of the legislature hold Republican majorities, but this election could mark a shift of power in Lansing if Democrats gain more votes. Jennifer White talks with Susan Demas, political analyst with Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

On the November 6 ballot you'll find a non-partisan section, along with the names of candidates running for the Michigan Supreme Court. Jennifer White talks with Bridge Magazine correspondent Peter Luke who has taken and in-depth look at how Michigan Supreme Court Justices are elected, and what you should know about the candidates before heading to the polls. Go here to read the full article.

Um, yeah, no, hmm...

Oct 28, 2012

Discourse markers are the little words at the beginning and ends of sentences that help people organize conversation and relate to listeners.

“I noticed ‘yeah, no,’ ‘no, yeah’ and ‘no, I know,’ where no seems to mean yes,” said Anne Curzan, an English Professor at the University of Michigan.

‘Yeah, no’ does a few things. It helps people agree with another person who has made a negative statement.

Flickr/jnn1776

Recently, there was a protest rally in Southwest Detroit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement over raids and deportation, and what’s seen as overreach by ICE officials. Non-citizens can't legally vote, but how does the heightened sense of tension impact the Latino vote here in Michigan? Also, the Latino community is one of the fastest growing minority groups in the state. Should there be more Latino representation among lawmakers? Jennifer White talks with Laurence Garcia, an attorney, and the Chairman of the Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan.

Screen shot from Sundance Film video.

The film, Middle of Nowhere tells the story of a young woman caught between loyalty to her incarcerated husband, and possibilities she finds outside the walls of the prison. Jennifer White interviews actor Omari Hardwick who portrays Derek, the incarcerated husband. Hardwick has also appeared in the films Sparkle and For Colored Girls, to name a few. Ava DuVernay won the Best Director Award for the film at the 2012 Sundance film festival, the first time that award has been won by an African American woman. The film is showing in Southfield.

Michigan voters face six questions on November’s ballot. And those questions can be very confusing. Today, we look at two proposals that focus on collective bargaining. Proposal 2 would protect collective bargaining in the state constitution, and Proposal 4 would reinstate collective bargaining for in-home health care workers.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, not everybody in your virtual circle of friends shares the same political beliefs as you.

Jennifer White talks with Cliff Lampe, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He gives some tips on how to survive social media, especially Facebook during this election season.

Take a vacation from social media

“If for instance, you were ever thinking about trying out Pinterest, now might be the time because there you’ll see a lot of pictures of cupcakes and dresses, and very few political campaign messages. Or if you were thinking about trying out Instagram and sharing your photos with people. So, this might be a great time to try another site and explore that for a little bit,” Lampe said.

Hide posts if you must, but try to embrace political differences

In the lead up to the November elections we’re hearing a lot about different voting blocs.

Well, the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has released a detailed presidential election summary and legislative scorecard focused on issues of concern for Muslims here in Michigan.

Open The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and you will inevitably find Usage Notes under certain words. These notes warn readers there might be problems or controversies involving grammar, diction, or writing style.

Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, who specializes in linguistics is 1 of 200 panelists asked to comment on the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.

iRon leSs / flickr

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that nearly 1 in 4 kids in Michigan lives in poverty. For a family of four that means living on $23,000, or less per year.

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, Political Analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

They talk with Jennifer White about the lack of mention for the auto industry at Wednesday night’s first Presidential debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and the Republican Candidate for President Mitt Romney.

If you listen carefully you can hear sentences with a double "is" all the time.

President Obama does it. “The fact of the matter is is that…,” he said at the House Republican Conference on January 29, 2010.

Michigan Radio's Rina Miller talks with Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, who specializes in linguistics.

We’re a little over a month out from the November 6th election. At this point you would expect to hear a lot of political ads on television.

But there seem to be more TV ads for and against the various ballot proposals, and less from the presidential races.

For example, the Romney campaign pulled advertising from Michigan weeks ago, although a pro-Romney group has been running a new ad. But Susan Demas says money is not the issue.

Susan Demas is a Political Analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service. She says there might not be any ad time left to buy.

What's the right way to use bad, or badly?

Michigan Radio's Rina Miller talks with Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, who specializes in linguistics.

Linguists call "feel" a linking verb, which requires an adjective to follow it. Curzan says that's where people get confused.

"I feel happy, I feel bad, but people get confused because with other verbs you'd get an adverb there, I feel bad, I cook badly," Curzan said.

Meritful.com

Founders of a new startup company are trying to help teens create a professional online presence.

The website Meritful.com launched this week. It's sort of a LinkedIn for students.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are among the top sites where teens connect with friends and talk about their lives. But a lot of teenagers also posting embarrassing stories or pictures that can have some unplanned consequences as they apply for colleges, internships, and jobs.

Azarias Reda is one of the founders of Meritful. "In this day in age a digital presence is a very important currency, something that you have to protect and build. And high school really is the time to start," he said.

Listen to full interview above to learn more about the Ann Arbor startup.

MODCaR Facebook

People are making a lot of movies about Detroit these days. More than 60 of those films will be screened this weekend at an outdoor film festival in Detroit's Perrien Park.

Organizers hope to spark conversation about how Detroit is seen by Michiganders, and the rest of the world. 

25 hours, 15 minutes and 45 seconds of film, documentaries and music videos - all about Detroit.

“It’s kind of wild how many [films] have been made in the last 3 or 4 years...I wasn’t aware it was on this scale,” said filmmaker Nicole Macdonald.

Perhaps the most popular event in West Michigan begins Wednesday.  The art competition known as Art Prize runs through October 7th in Grand Rapids.

Now in its third year it’s an even larger event with more prize money for the winners. Brian Burch  is Public Relations Director for Art Prize. He says the visitor just keep showing up.

"This year we'll have about 350, 000 visitors, but that's right from the start. Our first event in 2009 had about 200,000 people. so we just continue to grow," he said.

There are public awards and juried awards that total $560,000.

State of Opportunity / Michigan Radio

Join us this afternoon at 2 p.m. for a special call-in show. We'll examine the disparities that exist in our society, and how they make it more difficult for children to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Michigan Radio reporters are working on a new three-year initiative to explore the issue of children living in poverty here Michigan. State of Opportunity captures the stories of children and families struggling to make ends meet. We’re going beyond the statistics and exploring what it takes to make Michigan a place where our every kid have a chance to build a positive future.

“Our project kind of has two ways at looking at these issues. We look at statistics, we look at data, and we look at trends. But then when we talk to the individuals, the individual stories don’t always match up with those trends,” reporter Dustin Dwyer said.

Reporter Jennifer Guerra is currently working on a documentary about the infant mortality rate in the state. She says the information she found was staggering. “Infant mortality is still a big problem in Michigan. We’re above the national average for the past twenty years,” she said.

Pages