Friday, December 30, 2005

A brain like Albert Einstein and a voice like Vera Duckworth

A bizarre combination, but one introduced by Khalid Aziz whose Aziz Corporation has carried out a survey of businesspeople to explore attitudes to accents in the workplace.

"Even if you think like Albert Einstein, the reality is that if you sound like Vera Duckworth you will face prejudices in the business world," claims Aziz, before going on to say, "Experience shows that the key is to avoid using localised vocabulary, which others may not recognise".

So, do prejudices to accent and dialect exist in our society, and if so will they really hold you back? It's an interesting question and one that is probably not best answered by businesspeople themselves. Who are the Aziz Corporation? They sound a bit like a group of James Bond supervillains to me... And is the focus of their survey accent or dialect (the way we speak or what we say)? It seems a touch unclear.

Howard Giles once carried out a telling piece of research - the matched guise experiment - that has been replicated by students all over the country in coursework investigations. He found that while many respondents claimed to like regional accents for their warmth and friendliness (both rather vague judgements about the personality of the speakers who used them) they were much more likely to regard the speakers of RP as having more authority and expertise. (I've summarised this a little loosely, but that's the gist of it: a more detailed look at regional variations can be found in this extract from Peter Trudgill's book.)

So, is this what's happening with attitudes to regional and national accents in Aziz's survey? It seems to be, but we'd need to know more about the way the survey was conducted and the nature of the responses. I might just follow this up with him...

Meanwhile, for all the talk of multi-ethnic youth dialect and growing tolerance towards non-standard varieties, are we maybe kidding ourselves that the people who make the big decisions that really affect us (like giving us a job, a mortgage or a payrise) are as fair as we might want them to be? Perhaps there's still a huge reservoir of prejudice towards accents that aren't seen as "normal" - whatever that might be.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties

A brain like Albert Einstein and a voice like Vera Duckworth

A bizarre combination, but one introduced by Khalid Aziz whose Aziz Corporation has carried out a survey of businesspeople to explore attitudes to accents in the workplace.

"Even if you think like Albert Einstein, the reality is that if you sound like Vera Duckworth you will face prejudices in the business world," claims Aziz, before going on to say, "Experience shows that the key is to avoid using localised vocabulary, which others may not recognise".

So, do prejudices to accent and dialect exist in our society, and if so will they really hold you back? It's an interesting question and one that is probably not best answered by businesspeople themselves. Who are the Aziz Corporation? They sound a bit like a group of James Bond supervillains to me... And is the focus of their survey accent or dialect (the way we speak or what we say)? It seems a touch unclear.

Howard Giles once carried out a telling piece of research - the matched guise experiment - that has been replicated by students all over the country in coursework investigations. He found that while many respondents claimed to like regional accents for their warmth and friendliness (both rather vague judgements about the personality of the speakers who used them) they were much more likely to regard the speakers of RP as having more authority and expertise. (I've summarised this a little loosely, but that's the gist of it: a more detailed look at regional variations can be found in this extract from Peter Trudgill's book.)

So, is this what's happening with attitudes to regional and national accents in Aziz's survey? It seems to be, but we'd need to know more about the way the survey was conducted and the nature of the responses. I might just follow this up with him...

Meanwhile, for all the talk of multi-ethnic youth dialect and growing tolerance towards non-standard varieties, are we maybe kidding ourselves that the people who make the big decisions that really affect us (like giving us a job, a mortgage or a payrise) are as fair as we might want them to be? Perhaps there's still a huge reservoir of prejudice towards accents that aren't seen as "normal" - whatever that might be.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Balderdash & Piffle

Just a quick plug, for a new programme called Balderdash & Piffle on BBC2 next week (Monday 9pm) about origins of words and phrases in English, produced in association with the Oxford English Dictionary. Could be very handy for studying Language Change units.

Balderdash & Piffle

Just a quick plug, for a new programme called Balderdash & Piffle on BBC2 next week (Monday 9pm) about origins of words and phrases in English, produced in association with the Oxford English Dictionary. Could be very handy for studying Language Change units.

Festive language round-up

I hope everyone who reads this blog has had a good Christmas break (so far). I'll keep this post brief as there are lots of other things to do.

A couple of articles which have appeared over the last week or so are worth a look at: first off is the list of most popular baby names for the year. According to the Guardian and Independent, it's back to the future with these: old-fashioned names top the list, while those influenced by celebrity births and popular TV characters show a rise as well (although I should add that we called our daughter Ruby well before we realised she was a character in Eastenders, and she's named after our favourite food, in cockney rhyming slang, or something like that...).

'New old-fashioned' Jack is most popular name for 11th year
Jessica and Jack are top baby names

Second up is the news that predictive text dictionaries are being updated to include new words and phrases. Like traditional lexicographers, the firms who create dictionaries for new technologies are having to keep pace with lexical change in English. But what's driving these changes and is new technology causing some of these changes? Someone told me recently of an appearance of the word "book" as a new slang term for "cool" because it's what appears in predictive text when you type the latter. We're all aware of processes like blending, conversion, compounding and borrowing in language change, but what do we call it when it's just a technological blip?

At a stroke: Asbo, smlirt, podcast enter predictive text dictionary

And finally (as Trevor McDonald used to say), to the word "Christmas" itself. Has political correctness "gone crazy" (copyright Daily Mail mentalist posse) again? The Sun - always a bastion of accurate reporting and fairmindedness - has been crusading against "loony" councils who have allegedly banned the word "Christmas" so as not to offend religious minorities. Except, they're struggling to find that many examples of it happening and not quite getting it right even when they do find examples. There is a similar trend in the USA media, but perhaps with a slightly different slant. Have a look at the selection of articles here and make up your own mind! And have a Happy New Year.

Pupils in 'c'-word ban
Nativity scenes are out, carols are banned, and don't dare wish anyone merry Christmas: the festive season, US-style
Don't mention the C-word
Christmas under threat from political correctness

Festive language round-up

I hope everyone who reads this blog has had a good Christmas break (so far). I'll keep this post brief as there are lots of other things to do.

A couple of articles which have appeared over the last week or so are worth a look at: first off is the list of most popular baby names for the year. According to the Guardian and Independent, it's back to the future with these: old-fashioned names top the list, while those influenced by celebrity births and popular TV characters show a rise as well (although I should add that we called our daughter Ruby well before we realised she was a character in Eastenders, and she's named after our favourite food, in cockney rhyming slang, or something like that...).

'New old-fashioned' Jack is most popular name for 11th year
Jessica and Jack are top baby names

Second up is the news that predictive text dictionaries are being updated to include new words and phrases. Like traditional lexicographers, the firms who create dictionaries for new technologies are having to keep pace with lexical change in English. But what's driving these changes and is new technology causing some of these changes? Someone told me recently of an appearance of the word "book" as a new slang term for "cool" because it's what appears in predictive text when you type the latter. We're all aware of processes like blending, conversion, compounding and borrowing in language change, but what do we call it when it's just a technological blip?

At a stroke: Asbo, smlirt, podcast enter predictive text dictionary

And finally (as Trevor McDonald used to say), to the word "Christmas" itself. Has political correctness "gone crazy" (copyright Daily Mail mentalist posse) again? The Sun - always a bastion of accurate reporting and fairmindedness - has been crusading against "loony" councils who have allegedly banned the word "Christmas" so as not to offend religious minorities. Except, they're struggling to find that many examples of it happening and not quite getting it right even when they do find examples. There is a similar trend in the USA media, but perhaps with a slightly different slant. Have a look at the selection of articles here and make up your own mind! And have a Happy New Year.

Pupils in 'c'-word ban
Nativity scenes are out, carols are banned, and don't dare wish anyone merry Christmas: the festive season, US-style
Don't mention the C-word
Christmas under threat from political correctness

Friday, December 16, 2005

Multi-ethnic youth dialect - thanks!

Thanks for all the completed questionnaires already posted or emailed. This is going to be a much bigger project than I'd originally envisaged but it should prove very interesting as a result.

Thanks!

Multi-ethnic youth dialect - thanks!

Thanks for all the completed questionnaires already posted or emailed. This is going to be a much bigger project than I'd originally envisaged but it should prove very interesting as a result.

Thanks!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pryor Convictions




It was really sad to hear that the comedian Richard Pryor had died earlier this week. He was one of the most influential stand-up comedians of his generation and creator of some hilarious sketches and characters.

I can't really add anything to what's appeared in various obituaries and tributes, but it's maybe worth thinking about looking at some of his - and other stand-ups' - sketches as a source of data for linguistic analysis on research investigations.

For a study of laughter and what it does to us, check this Telegraph online article. Meanwhile have a look at some of the links to Richard Pryor websites for more info about this comic genius.

Pryor Convictions




It was really sad to hear that the comedian Richard Pryor had died earlier this week. He was one of the most influential stand-up comedians of his generation and creator of some hilarious sketches and characters.

I can't really add anything to what's appeared in various obituaries and tributes, but it's maybe worth thinking about looking at some of his - and other stand-ups' - sketches as a source of data for linguistic analysis on research investigations.

For a study of laughter and what it does to us, check this Telegraph online article. Meanwhile have a look at some of the links to Richard Pryor websites for more info about this comic genius.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Multi-ethnic youth dialect (rewind)

Following on from yesterday's post about the rise of "multi-ethnic youth dialect" it would be good to have some responses to a little bit of data collection we've initiated. If you go to the SFX resources site, you can download a grid that asks you to fill in your colloquial version of various common expressions or phrases, such as greetings or words for things that are good or bad.

If you fill it in and return it to me at either the college email address or the address on the website. we'll crunch up the data and share the findings.

Multi-ethnic youth dialect (rewind)

Following on from yesterday's post about the rise of "multi-ethnic youth dialect" it would be good to have some responses to a little bit of data collection we've initiated. If you go to the SFX resources site, you can download a grid that asks you to fill in your colloquial version of various common expressions or phrases, such as greetings or words for things that are good or bad.

If you fill it in and return it to me at either the college email address or the address on the website. we'll crunch up the data and share the findings.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Multi-ethnic youth dialect

I don't know how many of you read this blog from beyond south London, where our college is based, but it would be handy to have as many of you contribute to this debate as possible, wherever you're from.

Various pieces of research and comment from linguists such as Roger Hewitt in the late 80s/early 90s, Roxy Harris in the 90s and Paul Kerswill, Sue Fox and David Britain this year, seem to be suggesting that there is a new youth dialect emerging in the UK. This dialect is not regionally based, as many have been in the past, but linked to a whole range of other factors: ethnicity, age, identification with a particular way of life or subculture (or "communities of practice" as linguists seem to be calling it now).

According to an article in today's Sunday Times (which, it has to be said, is a pretty badly cobbled together piece) this dialect is spreading far and wide. Read the article and let us know what you think. And more usefully, in weeks to come we'll be running our own research to see how well known certain slang terms are and what they mean to you around the country.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change and Varieties

Multi-ethnic youth dialect

I don't know how many of you read this blog from beyond south London, where our college is based, but it would be handy to have as many of you contribute to this debate as possible, wherever you're from.

Various pieces of research and comment from linguists such as Roger Hewitt in the late 80s/early 90s, Roxy Harris in the 90s and Paul Kerswill, Sue Fox and David Britain this year, seem to be suggesting that there is a new youth dialect emerging in the UK. This dialect is not regionally based, as many have been in the past, but linked to a whole range of other factors: ethnicity, age, identification with a particular way of life or subculture (or "communities of practice" as linguists seem to be calling it now).

According to an article in today's Sunday Times (which, it has to be said, is a pretty badly cobbled together piece) this dialect is spreading far and wide. Read the article and let us know what you think. And more usefully, in weeks to come we'll be running our own research to see how well known certain slang terms are and what they mean to you around the country.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change and Varieties

Motherese, Parentese, Gesturese?

We all know that interaction with children is believed to help them with their language acquisition - Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner and loads of others tell us so - but did we know that our body language could affect this too?

An article in today's Scotsman newspaper, citing research from Maria O'Neill at Portsmouth University, suggests that simple non-verbal communication like "Pointing at objects such as a dog while repeating the name; Tapping when counting items; Nodding and head shaking when saying yes or no" can rapidly improve a child's understanding of language.

This may not sound like such a revolutionary concept (and maybe it isn't, but you can never rely on a newspaper to tell you the full story!) and it's fairly clear that you can't really help children label things around them without some body language to identify the things they're labelling, but the real success of this approach seems to be with kids who haven't developed as quickly as others. Maybe it means that certain "learning styles" (a trendy area of teaching at the moment) can be applied to one year olds as well as 14 year olds and the rest of us.

Or perhaps it just means that we should be careful about slapping our heads and miming "d'oh" when our children can't identify their names on a Christmas card and open their brother's instead...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Child Language Acquisition

Motherese, Parentese, Gesturese?

We all know that interaction with children is believed to help them with their language acquisition - Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner and loads of others tell us so - but did we know that our body language could affect this too?

An article in today's Scotsman newspaper, citing research from Maria O'Neill at Portsmouth University, suggests that simple non-verbal communication like "Pointing at objects such as a dog while repeating the name; Tapping when counting items; Nodding and head shaking when saying yes or no" can rapidly improve a child's understanding of language.

This may not sound like such a revolutionary concept (and maybe it isn't, but you can never rely on a newspaper to tell you the full story!) and it's fairly clear that you can't really help children label things around them without some body language to identify the things they're labelling, but the real success of this approach seems to be with kids who haven't developed as quickly as others. Maybe it means that certain "learning styles" (a trendy area of teaching at the moment) can be applied to one year olds as well as 14 year olds and the rest of us.

Or perhaps it just means that we should be careful about slapping our heads and miming "d'oh" when our children can't identify their names on a Christmas card and open their brother's instead...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Child Language Acquisition

Friday, December 09, 2005

Boy George Savaged by Beast

Politics - and the language of political rhetoric - is back on the front pages of the national press (which makes a change from I’m A Celebrity and Robbie Williams in Not Gay Shocker), with David Cameron being elected to lead the Tory party and facing his first exchanges with Tony Blair in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

But it’s an older fighter, rather than a new pretender, who hit the headlines yesterday: Dennis Skinner aka The Beast of Bolsover, a Labour MP known for his fierce socialism and hatred of the pampered rich,
got himself excluded from The House of Commons for goading the new Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, over his alleged use of cocaine.

In an exchange over rates of growth in the economy in the 1980s, Skinner commented "The only thing that was growing then was the lines of coke in front of Boy George and the rest of the Tories." Skinner wouldn’t retract his statement, so was excluded for the day.

Marginally higher up the scale of subtlety (but not much) was the playwright, Harold Pinter’s blistering attack on the USA and its foreign policy in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In The Guardian, Michael Billington, the newspaper's theatre critic, analyses the content and delivery of Pinter’s speech, commenting:

Warming to his theme, Pinter argued that while language is, for the dramatist, an ambiguous transaction, it is something that politicians distort for the sake of power. And, in making his point, Pinter deployed a variety of tactics: the charged pause, the tug at the glasses, the unremitting stare at the camera. I am told by Michael Kustow, who co-produced the lecture, that after a time he stopped giving Pinter any instructions. He simply allowed him to rely on his actor's instinct for knowing how to reinforce a line or heighten suspense.

Although the content of the speech was highly political, especially in its clinical dissection of post-war US foreign policy, it relied on Pinter's theatrical sense, in particular his ability to use irony, rhetoric and humour, to make its point. This was the speech of a man who knows what he wants to say but who also realises that the message is more effective if rabbinical fervour is combined with oratorical panache.

The full text of Pinter's speech can be read here.

A more – apparently – conciliatory approach was taken by David Cameron towards Tony Blair in PMQ on Wednesday, but
an article in The Independent takes a look at the pragmatics and hidden implicature present in the first bout between the two leaders. Reading between the lines they can see that Cameron's ostensibly affable style hides a sharper, steelier core:

David Cameron: "I want schools to control their own admissions. That's what's in the White Paper and let's see it turns into the Bill."

What he meant: I am going to do all that I can to drive a wedge between the Prime Minister and Labour backbenchers on the sensitive issue of admissions

Tony Blair: "It's obvious that we disagree on the issue of admissions. I think if schools are free to bring back selection at the age of 11 that would be regressive for our country. So I'm afraid in this grand new consensus we have to disagree on that point."

What he meant: Phew! Thank goodness I've found something to disagree with him on. Hopefully this will reassure some of the Labour doubters.



Useful for:
ENA1 – Language & Representation
ENA3 – Spoken Language

Boy George Savaged by Beast

Politics - and the language of political rhetoric - is back on the front pages of the national press (which makes a change from I’m A Celebrity and Robbie Williams in Not Gay Shocker), with David Cameron being elected to lead the Tory party and facing his first exchanges with Tony Blair in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

But it’s an older fighter, rather than a new pretender, who hit the headlines yesterday: Dennis Skinner aka The Beast of Bolsover, a Labour MP known for his fierce socialism and hatred of the pampered rich,
got himself excluded from The House of Commons for goading the new Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, over his alleged use of cocaine.

In an exchange over rates of growth in the economy in the 1980s, Skinner commented "The only thing that was growing then was the lines of coke in front of Boy George and the rest of the Tories." Skinner wouldn’t retract his statement, so was excluded for the day.

Marginally higher up the scale of subtlety (but not much) was the playwright, Harold Pinter’s blistering attack on the USA and its foreign policy in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In The Guardian, Michael Billington, the newspaper's theatre critic, analyses the content and delivery of Pinter’s speech, commenting:

Warming to his theme, Pinter argued that while language is, for the dramatist, an ambiguous transaction, it is something that politicians distort for the sake of power. And, in making his point, Pinter deployed a variety of tactics: the charged pause, the tug at the glasses, the unremitting stare at the camera. I am told by Michael Kustow, who co-produced the lecture, that after a time he stopped giving Pinter any instructions. He simply allowed him to rely on his actor's instinct for knowing how to reinforce a line or heighten suspense.

Although the content of the speech was highly political, especially in its clinical dissection of post-war US foreign policy, it relied on Pinter's theatrical sense, in particular his ability to use irony, rhetoric and humour, to make its point. This was the speech of a man who knows what he wants to say but who also realises that the message is more effective if rabbinical fervour is combined with oratorical panache.

The full text of Pinter's speech can be read here.

A more – apparently – conciliatory approach was taken by David Cameron towards Tony Blair in PMQ on Wednesday, but
an article in The Independent takes a look at the pragmatics and hidden implicature present in the first bout between the two leaders. Reading between the lines they can see that Cameron's ostensibly affable style hides a sharper, steelier core:

David Cameron: "I want schools to control their own admissions. That's what's in the White Paper and let's see it turns into the Bill."

What he meant: I am going to do all that I can to drive a wedge between the Prime Minister and Labour backbenchers on the sensitive issue of admissions

Tony Blair: "It's obvious that we disagree on the issue of admissions. I think if schools are free to bring back selection at the age of 11 that would be regressive for our country. So I'm afraid in this grand new consensus we have to disagree on that point."

What he meant: Phew! Thank goodness I've found something to disagree with him on. Hopefully this will reassure some of the Labour doubters.



Useful for:
ENA1 – Language & Representation
ENA3 – Spoken Language

Friday, December 02, 2005

K - A - T

The government has ordered a shake-up of primary teaching, with more emphasis in the early years to be placed on the teaching of synthetic phonics. Just for once, this might be a good piece of government intervention (and you don't have to look too far to see that this isn't usually the case: city academies sponsored by religious fundamentalists; league tables; paying sixth form college teachers much less than their secondary counterparts etc).

Synthetic phonics is a relatively new way of teaching phonics, and one that has attracted some controversy as it does away with the names of letters and instead focuses on the sounds. Phonics themselves are generally seen to be a highly useful way of teaching the sounds of our language and helping children's phonological development, but it's their use in reading that has sparked debate. Many teachers have argued that teaching phonics on their own detracts from the joy of reading books and that synthetic phonics in particular is a very dry and joyless way of teaching children.

Personally I think they're wrong. As we've already seen, in the article last month about spelling reform, the English Language is a difficult and inconsistent beast for many people to master, so teaching the sounds of language - as they sound not how they are named (e.g. the letter "c" is learnt as a "k" sound) - seems a step in the right direction. Also, the teaching of synthetic phonics breaks down all words into these sounds and then allows children to blend sounds into more difficult patterns ("Sh" and "Ch"). This can be as exciting as the teachers (and resource makers!) allow it to be: there's no reason why this type of learning should be any more dry than learning to read through books and memorising the shapes and meanings of words as has been done for decades in British schools. It's also a bit like saying that English Language A Level is dry because it's analytical and strips language down to its syntax and morphology. Poppycock and balderdash, in other words (and there are other words, but they're a bit rude, so I'll stick to these old ones).

Giving people tools to either learn or dissect language is absolutely vital and (I would argue) truly democratic. Under the old system of teaching reading, many young children would miss out because they wouldn't be able to make the leap from seeing a word on the page to grasping how its sound was actually created: they might grasp the meaning but then that's probably down more to memeory than semantic or phonological understanding. Under synthetic phonics, every child can be taught the individual sounds and then blends, before being unleashed upon the slightly more baffling irregularity of the English spelling system.

My own boys are 4 now and learning synthetic phonics at their Tower Hamlets primary (a Local Education Authority that has been at the cutting edge of this style of teaching for a good few years now, and has shown huge increases in its English attainment - not bad for one of the most deprived boroughs in the whole country and one with a huge proportion of English as a second language kids in primary schools) and they love it. Now all I have to do is stop singing alphabet songs to them and learn the sounds of the words. After three, "K - A - T".

Interim Report (Word document)

Guardian Q&A on phonics


Useful for:
ENA1 - Child Language Acquisition (although strudying reading and writing aren't AQA A requirements on this unit, the phonological development inspired by synthetic phonics could be fair game)

K - A - T

The government has ordered a shake-up of primary teaching, with more emphasis in the early years to be placed on the teaching of synthetic phonics. Just for once, this might be a good piece of government intervention (and you don't have to look too far to see that this isn't usually the case: city academies sponsored by religious fundamentalists; league tables; paying sixth form college teachers much less than their secondary counterparts etc).

Synthetic phonics is a relatively new way of teaching phonics, and one that has attracted some controversy as it does away with the names of letters and instead focuses on the sounds. Phonics themselves are generally seen to be a highly useful way of teaching the sounds of our language and helping children's phonological development, but it's their use in reading that has sparked debate. Many teachers have argued that teaching phonics on their own detracts from the joy of reading books and that synthetic phonics in particular is a very dry and joyless way of teaching children.

Personally I think they're wrong. As we've already seen, in the article last month about spelling reform, the English Language is a difficult and inconsistent beast for many people to master, so teaching the sounds of language - as they sound not how they are named (e.g. the letter "c" is learnt as a "k" sound) - seems a step in the right direction. Also, the teaching of synthetic phonics breaks down all words into these sounds and then allows children to blend sounds into more difficult patterns ("Sh" and "Ch"). This can be as exciting as the teachers (and resource makers!) allow it to be: there's no reason why this type of learning should be any more dry than learning to read through books and memorising the shapes and meanings of words as has been done for decades in British schools. It's also a bit like saying that English Language A Level is dry because it's analytical and strips language down to its syntax and morphology. Poppycock and balderdash, in other words (and there are other words, but they're a bit rude, so I'll stick to these old ones).

Giving people tools to either learn or dissect language is absolutely vital and (I would argue) truly democratic. Under the old system of teaching reading, many young children would miss out because they wouldn't be able to make the leap from seeing a word on the page to grasping how its sound was actually created: they might grasp the meaning but then that's probably down more to memeory than semantic or phonological understanding. Under synthetic phonics, every child can be taught the individual sounds and then blends, before being unleashed upon the slightly more baffling irregularity of the English spelling system.

My own boys are 4 now and learning synthetic phonics at their Tower Hamlets primary (a Local Education Authority that has been at the cutting edge of this style of teaching for a good few years now, and has shown huge increases in its English attainment - not bad for one of the most deprived boroughs in the whole country and one with a huge proportion of English as a second language kids in primary schools) and they love it. Now all I have to do is stop singing alphabet songs to them and learn the sounds of the words. After three, "K - A - T".

Interim Report (Word document)

Guardian Q&A on phonics


Useful for:
ENA1 - Child Language Acquisition (although strudying reading and writing aren't AQA A requirements on this unit, the phonological development inspired by synthetic phonics could be fair game)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Half-castes, mongrels and skinheads

It’s the 25th anniversary of the release of the track Embarrassment by one of my favourite bands of the time, Madness. The song tells the story of one of the band member's teenage sisters who had become pregnant, and - to the shock and resentment of some family members - a black man was the father. As the article about the song goes on to explain, attitudes towards mixed relationships have not always been very positive, and in a time (late 70s/early 80s) when issues of race were high on the national agenda and scumbags like the National Front were active in many areas of the country, the song struck a chord with many people. Using the song as a starting point, it's perhaps interesting to look at the way labels to describe people born of mixed parental ethnicity have changed over time. And maybe also to look at the way "skinheads" have been stereotyped with labels too.

It might also have appeared a brave move for a band like Madness - who had a large working class skinhead following - to make a stand on a race issue, but maybe not if you look at the true history of skinheads: their adoption of Caribbean culture, their fierce pride in their working class roots, and their prominent role in anti-racist and anti-fascist groups like the first incarnation of the Anti-Nazi League and SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), then later such militant groups as Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action. All too often, when people hear the word "skinhead" they conjure up an image of a knuckle-dragging racist, when the majority of skinheads were quite the opposite. "Bonehead" was always a more popular term among anti-fascist skins for their dim-witted racist nephews!

So getting the skinhead history out of the way, what about the labels for people of mixed parentage? Terms like "half-caste" have been around for a while, but are often seen as being derogatory because they suggest someone is less than complete (as John Agard points out in his poem of the same name). The word "mongrel" is clearly offensive, carrying with it connotations of being on the same level as an animal and it sparked a storm of controversy in the 1997 General Election when a Tory MP John Townend used it to describe the changing ethnic make-up of the country; the term "half-breed" which is chucked around by some people apparently does the same, causing offence because of its connection to animals and its dehumanising effects on those it's applied to. Clearly, these words - which have all been used to describe people of mixed parentage - reflect the nastier side of human nature.

So what of attempts to find neutral alternatives? "Mixed race" is now seen as a suitable term here in Britain, while in America, "dual heritage" seems to be more popular (but then when the USA starts giving us lessons in race relations it's time to start taking lessons from them on foreign policy!). These have got to be better than "other" which is what had to be ticked on the UK census form until recently!

And in a very roundabout way that takes us back to the original inspiration for this: the lyrics to Embarrassment by Madness.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates

Half-castes, mongrels and skinheads

It’s the 25th anniversary of the release of the track Embarrassment by one of my favourite bands of the time, Madness. The song tells the story of one of the band member's teenage sisters who had become pregnant, and - to the shock and resentment of some family members - a black man was the father. As the article about the song goes on to explain, attitudes towards mixed relationships have not always been very positive, and in a time (late 70s/early 80s) when issues of race were high on the national agenda and scumbags like the National Front were active in many areas of the country, the song struck a chord with many people. Using the song as a starting point, it's perhaps interesting to look at the way labels to describe people born of mixed parental ethnicity have changed over time. And maybe also to look at the way "skinheads" have been stereotyped with labels too.

It might also have appeared a brave move for a band like Madness - who had a large working class skinhead following - to make a stand on a race issue, but maybe not if you look at the true history of skinheads: their adoption of Caribbean culture, their fierce pride in their working class roots, and their prominent role in anti-racist and anti-fascist groups like the first incarnation of the Anti-Nazi League and SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), then later such militant groups as Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action. All too often, when people hear the word "skinhead" they conjure up an image of a knuckle-dragging racist, when the majority of skinheads were quite the opposite. "Bonehead" was always a more popular term among anti-fascist skins for their dim-witted racist nephews!

So getting the skinhead history out of the way, what about the labels for people of mixed parentage? Terms like "half-caste" have been around for a while, but are often seen as being derogatory because they suggest someone is less than complete (as John Agard points out in his poem of the same name). The word "mongrel" is clearly offensive, carrying with it connotations of being on the same level as an animal and it sparked a storm of controversy in the 1997 General Election when a Tory MP John Townend used it to describe the changing ethnic make-up of the country; the term "half-breed" which is chucked around by some people apparently does the same, causing offence because of its connection to animals and its dehumanising effects on those it's applied to. Clearly, these words - which have all been used to describe people of mixed parentage - reflect the nastier side of human nature.

So what of attempts to find neutral alternatives? "Mixed race" is now seen as a suitable term here in Britain, while in America, "dual heritage" seems to be more popular (but then when the USA starts giving us lessons in race relations it's time to start taking lessons from them on foreign policy!). These have got to be better than "other" which is what had to be ticked on the UK census form until recently!

And in a very roundabout way that takes us back to the original inspiration for this: the lyrics to Embarrassment by Madness.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Literature txts and deranged algebra

Dot mobile's PR department will be very chuffed with themselves this morning. Several papers have picked up on their story (in the loosest sense of the word) about sending plot summaries to students' mobile phones in text speak. So, according to The Independent, Pride and Prejudice becomes:
5SistrsWntngHsbnds.NwMenInTwn-Bingly&Darcy Fit&Loadd.
BigSisJaneFals4B,2ndSisLizH8sDCozHesProud. SlimySoljrWikamSysDHsShadyPast.
TrnsOutHesActulyARlyNysGuy&RlyFancysLiz. SheDecydsSheLyksHim. Evry1GtsMaryd.


Fantastic news! But do stories like this actually throw any light on the way language changes or are they just silly gimics to market new products to us, the gullible public? Getting John Sutherland on board (a man whose article on texting was used in an ENA6 paper a couple of years ago, AQA factspotters!) lends the project a dubious form of linguistic credibility, but perhaps the whole silly focus on the reductive nature of this type of exercise devalues the more serious points about how technology changes the ways we communicate with one another.

Guardian story
Daily Mail


Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENA6 - Language Debates

Literature txts and deranged algebra

Dot mobile's PR department will be very chuffed with themselves this morning. Several papers have picked up on their story (in the loosest sense of the word) about sending plot summaries to students' mobile phones in text speak. So, according to The Independent, Pride and Prejudice becomes:
5SistrsWntngHsbnds.NwMenInTwn-Bingly&Darcy Fit&Loadd.
BigSisJaneFals4B,2ndSisLizH8sDCozHesProud. SlimySoljrWikamSysDHsShadyPast.
TrnsOutHesActulyARlyNysGuy&RlyFancysLiz. SheDecydsSheLyksHim. Evry1GtsMaryd.


Fantastic news! But do stories like this actually throw any light on the way language changes or are they just silly gimics to market new products to us, the gullible public? Getting John Sutherland on board (a man whose article on texting was used in an ENA6 paper a couple of years ago, AQA factspotters!) lends the project a dubious form of linguistic credibility, but perhaps the whole silly focus on the reductive nature of this type of exercise devalues the more serious points about how technology changes the ways we communicate with one another.

Guardian story
Daily Mail


Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENA6 - Language Debates

Sexist!

Tube Tips for Women has been withdrawn following complaints, according to this report on the BBC website. It's political correctness gone mad, I tells ya...

Sexist!

Tube Tips for Women has been withdrawn following complaints, according to this report on the BBC website. It's political correctness gone mad, I tells ya...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Tube tips for women

Hot on the heels of Hull City Council's problem with "ladies", comes another issue that concerns language and the representation of women. The government has recently produced a document (reproduced below in images) giving women tube travellers advice on a range of personal safety issues, like, umm, always carry a cereal bar with you and don't use your party shoes to wedge a carriage door open.

Zoe Williams, writing in yesterday's Guardian Weekend, takes issue with not only the graphology of the leaflet but its patronising lexical choices, arguing that the whole leaflet is demeaning and outrageous.


A storm in a teacup, or a reasonable cause to complain? You can decide...



 

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Tube tips for women

Hot on the heels of Hull City Council's problem with "ladies", comes another issue that concerns language and the representation of women. The government has recently produced a document (reproduced below in images) giving women tube travellers advice on a range of personal safety issues, like, umm, always carry a cereal bar with you and don't use your party shoes to wedge a carriage door open.

Zoe Williams, writing in yesterday's Guardian Weekend, takes issue with not only the graphology of the leaflet but its patronising lexical choices, arguing that the whole leaflet is demeaning and outrageous.


A storm in a teacup, or a reasonable cause to complain? You can decide...



 

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This man walks into a bar. "Ouch," he says...

Alright, so that's not the funniest joke in the world, but if you're a woman you might have liked it more than a man, because (according to research from Stanford University) women analyse the language of humour more than men. So the hilarious homophone (lexeme that sounds the same as another with a different meaning, or telephone used by the gay community, whichever definition you prefer) in the joke above (that's the word "bar", for those of you in Croydon) might be what women find more amusing.

So what's all this brain gender stuff about? And where does it lead us? I worry a little bit that any biological/genetic discussion about the different behaviour of the genders slips into the "I can't help it; it's in my genes" school of thought. In other words, we make excuses for our dubious behaviour by claiming we're genetically predisposed towards not washing up/leering at young women in short skirts/ not liking David Baddiel (take your pick), when in fact gender is only one part of our make-up as human beings.

And maybe this applies as well to arguments about language and gender, and particularly gender and conversation. How much of our talk is determined by our gender and how much by our status in society, age, ethnic background, our feelings towards other people we're talking to at any one given point in time?

I don't know, but then I'm a man and I'm not programmed to think...

Useful for:
ENA3 - Male/female conversation

This man walks into a bar. "Ouch," he says...

Alright, so that's not the funniest joke in the world, but if you're a woman you might have liked it more than a man, because (according to research from Stanford University) women analyse the language of humour more than men. So the hilarious homophone (lexeme that sounds the same as another with a different meaning, or telephone used by the gay community, whichever definition you prefer) in the joke above (that's the word "bar", for those of you in Croydon) might be what women find more amusing.

So what's all this brain gender stuff about? And where does it lead us? I worry a little bit that any biological/genetic discussion about the different behaviour of the genders slips into the "I can't help it; it's in my genes" school of thought. In other words, we make excuses for our dubious behaviour by claiming we're genetically predisposed towards not washing up/leering at young women in short skirts/ not liking David Baddiel (take your pick), when in fact gender is only one part of our make-up as human beings.

And maybe this applies as well to arguments about language and gender, and particularly gender and conversation. How much of our talk is determined by our gender and how much by our status in society, age, ethnic background, our feelings towards other people we're talking to at any one given point in time?

I don't know, but then I'm a man and I'm not programmed to think...

Useful for:
ENA3 - Male/female conversation

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fanning the flames?




With France gripped by riots for the last 2 weeks, it might seem odd to start looking at language. After all, petrol bombs are petrol bombs and riotous mobs are riotous mobs, aren't they? Well maybe not...

French politician Nicolas Sarkozy has got himself in trouble for describing rioters as "racaille", which has been translated as "scum" or "rabble" in various English newspapers. As a report in The Guardian's newsblog reveals, the term "racaille" has its own etymology and its own history of derogatory connotations. So is Sarkozy fanning the flames of hatred when he uses this word, perhaps suggesting the rioters are lowlife scum who deserve no sympathy? Or could they be seen as disaffected, inner city working class youth whose protests are a last ditch mayday call?

Well again, words can play tricks. First off, are they really from the inner city? The areas affected by rioting (particularly those in Paris) are what are called "banlieus", which translates into English as "suburbs". This has totally different connotations in English: we assume suburbs to be hubs of middle class life, affluent, quiet and probably quite respectable (bar the odd wife-swapping party or alleged Steve McFadden "dogging" incident), not some strife-torn ghetto. This comes down to human geography rather than language, I suppose: British inner cities have historically been the home of generation after generation of migrants from the Hugoenots through to the Jews, Irish, Caribbeans, Indians and Bangladeshis, and now maybe the East European building trades, all of whom move out towards the fringes as they gain prosperity. But in France, the new arrivals have been housed on the edges of society, perhaps literally.

Secondly, are the rioters really working class? Well, if your definition of working class is that people work, then probably not. Figures suggest that up to 40% of the residents of the banlieus are unemployed and - according to the report in today's Guardian - make their money from state benefits, petty crime and drug dealing. Sounds like work of a sort, but not the stereotype of manual labour, the term "working class" usually brings to mind.

While France burns up like something out of La Haine and even La Haine's director Mathieu Kassovitz weighing into the debate in today's Guardian, maybe we should have a look at the language we use to label social groups here in Britain: while one Tory party pretender calls some of you the "wristband generation", you can be sure as hell that other people in his party - and of course more widely across society - are calling you something else, a lot less pleasant.

But of course, how important is language when the real problem is how society is structured and controlled? Do the terms we use to label people simply reflect our attitudes or shape them? And how much does a term like "racaille" contribute to the feelings of resentment of the rioters - who've suffered at the hands of a system that segregates and scapegoats them, and a police force that's notorious for its racism - or simply reflect the attitudes of those disgusted and ashamed by what they see happening to their cities?

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Fanning the flames?




With France gripped by riots for the last 2 weeks, it might seem odd to start looking at language. After all, petrol bombs are petrol bombs and riotous mobs are riotous mobs, aren't they? Well maybe not...

French politician Nicolas Sarkozy has got himself in trouble for describing rioters as "racaille", which has been translated as "scum" or "rabble" in various English newspapers. As a report in The Guardian's newsblog reveals, the term "racaille" has its own etymology and its own history of derogatory connotations. So is Sarkozy fanning the flames of hatred when he uses this word, perhaps suggesting the rioters are lowlife scum who deserve no sympathy? Or could they be seen as disaffected, inner city working class youth whose protests are a last ditch mayday call?

Well again, words can play tricks. First off, are they really from the inner city? The areas affected by rioting (particularly those in Paris) are what are called "banlieus", which translates into English as "suburbs". This has totally different connotations in English: we assume suburbs to be hubs of middle class life, affluent, quiet and probably quite respectable (bar the odd wife-swapping party or alleged Steve McFadden "dogging" incident), not some strife-torn ghetto. This comes down to human geography rather than language, I suppose: British inner cities have historically been the home of generation after generation of migrants from the Hugoenots through to the Jews, Irish, Caribbeans, Indians and Bangladeshis, and now maybe the East European building trades, all of whom move out towards the fringes as they gain prosperity. But in France, the new arrivals have been housed on the edges of society, perhaps literally.

Secondly, are the rioters really working class? Well, if your definition of working class is that people work, then probably not. Figures suggest that up to 40% of the residents of the banlieus are unemployed and - according to the report in today's Guardian - make their money from state benefits, petty crime and drug dealing. Sounds like work of a sort, but not the stereotype of manual labour, the term "working class" usually brings to mind.

While France burns up like something out of La Haine and even La Haine's director Mathieu Kassovitz weighing into the debate in today's Guardian, maybe we should have a look at the language we use to label social groups here in Britain: while one Tory party pretender calls some of you the "wristband generation", you can be sure as hell that other people in his party - and of course more widely across society - are calling you something else, a lot less pleasant.

But of course, how important is language when the real problem is how society is structured and controlled? Do the terms we use to label people simply reflect our attitudes or shape them? And how much does a term like "racaille" contribute to the feelings of resentment of the rioters - who've suffered at the hands of a system that segregates and scapegoats them, and a police force that's notorious for its racism - or simply reflect the attitudes of those disgusted and ashamed by what they see happening to their cities?

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Monday, November 07, 2005

Is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?

"Call God, because heaven must be missing an angel". Or how about, "this face leaves in 5 minutes and I want you on it"? Classy, eh?

An article in this week's Independent on Sunday looks at the dubious art of chat-up lines (or "chirpsing" as I believe the youth of south London call it) and seeing as at least one of our students is doing this for a language investigation (hi Femi) and others probably use them at the weekends (hi Max, Jerome and Niall - only joking) I thought it might be a useful article to look at.

The article is here but I've pasted it below as well. How about taking a framework analysis (lexis, semantics, grammar, pragmatics, phonology etc) of a range of chat-up lines and looking for patterns? Or even testing them out on unsuspecting members of the public as a weird form of social anthropology?

'Excuse me, beautiful, do you have space in your handbag for my Merc keys?' And if you think that's excruciating, you should hear the successful chat-up lines...
By Roger Dobson and Jonathan Thompson
Published: 06 November 2005

Having sweated over the origins of the universe and split the atom, academics have finally tackled the question that has perplexed mankind since the dawn of time: what are the best chat-up lines?

For millions of males forced to do a swift about- turn in nightclubs, the advice is simple. The way to a woman's heart is to dazzle her with a bit of culture and suggest that you're a fine specimen of a man.

Think long term, even if that is not your intention. For, according to psychologists from Edinburgh and Central Lancashire universities, the opening gambit is much more than a simple introduction. They tried 40 "verbal signals of genetic quality" on 205 people.

Dr Christopher Bale, who led the research, explained the findings. "The highest-rated lines were those reflecting the man's ability to take control of a situation, his wealth, education or culture, and spontaneous wit. A direct request for sex received a low score, but it was not the least effective gambit."

So what are the words of wonder that researchers believe will secure a night of passion? Apparently: "It's hot today isn't it? It's the best weather when you're training for the marathon."

Another winner, they assure us, is to steer conversation towards your favourite music, so you can drop the line: "The Moonlight Sonata or, to give it it's true name, Sonata quasi una fantasia. A fittingly beautiful piece for a beautiful lady."

By now, you may be wondering what the worst lines were. Well, "You're the star that completes the constellation of my existence" is unlikely to make her swoon.

The Independent on Sunday decided to road test the research at London's fashionable Match Bar near Oxford Circus. We began with one of the top five offerings.

"Ten-ton polar bear."

"What," replied the young brunette at the bar. "Well, it breaks the ice, doesn't it," we said, optimistically.

The verbal response was unprintable. Undeterred, we pressed on. "Your eyes are blue like the ocean, and baby I'm lost at sea."

The result: "You're an idiot. And you're colour- blind - they're brown."

The lauded marathon line attracted only giggles. We got a better response to the line "There's something in your eye. Nope, it's just a sparkle", but the big winner proved to be our very own: "Is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?"

The scientists maintain that while it might be good to hint at having the means to support a potential partner, showing off is not appreciated. "I was just wondering if you had space in your bag for my Merc keys" proved their ultimate flop.

Having sweated over the origins of the universe and split the atom, academics have finally tackled the question that has perplexed mankind since the dawn of time: what are the best chat-up lines?

For millions of males forced to do a swift about- turn in nightclubs, the advice is simple. The way to a woman's heart is to dazzle her with a bit of culture and suggest that you're a fine specimen of a man.

Think long term, even if that is not your intention. For, according to psychologists from Edinburgh and Central Lancashire universities, the opening gambit is much more than a simple introduction. They tried 40 "verbal signals of genetic quality" on 205 people.

Dr Christopher Bale, who led the research, explained the findings. "The highest-rated lines were those reflecting the man's ability to take control of a situation, his wealth, education or culture, and spontaneous wit. A direct request for sex received a low score, but it was not the least effective gambit."

So what are the words of wonder that researchers believe will secure a night of passion? Apparently: "It's hot today isn't it? It's the best weather when you're training for the marathon."

Another winner, they assure us, is to steer conversation towards your favourite music, so you can drop the line: "The Moonlight Sonata or, to give it it's true name, Sonata quasi una fantasia. A fittingly beautiful piece for a beautiful lady."

By now, you may be wondering what the worst lines were. Well, "You're the star that completes the constellation of my existence" is unlikely to make her swoon.

The Independent on Sunday decided to road test the research at London's fashionable Match Bar near Oxford Circus. We began with one of the top five offerings.

"Ten-ton polar bear."

"What," replied the young brunette at the bar. "Well, it breaks the ice, doesn't it," we said, optimistically.

The verbal response was unprintable. Undeterred, we pressed on. "Your eyes are blue like the ocean, and baby I'm lost at sea."

The result: "You're an idiot. And you're colour- blind - they're brown."

The lauded marathon line attracted only giggles. We got a better response to the line "There's something in your eye. Nope, it's just a sparkle", but the big winner proved to be our very own: "Is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?"

The scientists maintain that while it might be good to hint at having the means to support a potential partner, showing off is not appreciated. "I was just wondering if you had space in your bag for my Merc keys" proved their ultimate flop.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Conversation Analysis
EA4C - Language Investigation

Is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?

"Call God, because heaven must be missing an angel". Or how about, "this face leaves in 5 minutes and I want you on it"? Classy, eh?

An article in this week's Independent on Sunday looks at the dubious art of chat-up lines (or "chirpsing" as I believe the youth of south London call it) and seeing as at least one of our students is doing this for a language investigation (hi Femi) and others probably use them at the weekends (hi Max, Jerome and Niall - only joking) I thought it might be a useful article to look at.

The article is here but I've pasted it below as well. How about taking a framework analysis (lexis, semantics, grammar, pragmatics, phonology etc) of a range of chat-up lines and looking for patterns? Or even testing them out on unsuspecting members of the public as a weird form of social anthropology?

'Excuse me, beautiful, do you have space in your handbag for my Merc keys?' And if you think that's excruciating, you should hear the successful chat-up lines...
By Roger Dobson and Jonathan Thompson
Published: 06 November 2005

Having sweated over the origins of the universe and split the atom, academics have finally tackled the question that has perplexed mankind since the dawn of time: what are the best chat-up lines?

For millions of males forced to do a swift about- turn in nightclubs, the advice is simple. The way to a woman's heart is to dazzle her with a bit of culture and suggest that you're a fine specimen of a man.

Think long term, even if that is not your intention. For, according to psychologists from Edinburgh and Central Lancashire universities, the opening gambit is much more than a simple introduction. They tried 40 "verbal signals of genetic quality" on 205 people.

Dr Christopher Bale, who led the research, explained the findings. "The highest-rated lines were those reflecting the man's ability to take control of a situation, his wealth, education or culture, and spontaneous wit. A direct request for sex received a low score, but it was not the least effective gambit."

So what are the words of wonder that researchers believe will secure a night of passion? Apparently: "It's hot today isn't it? It's the best weather when you're training for the marathon."

Another winner, they assure us, is to steer conversation towards your favourite music, so you can drop the line: "The Moonlight Sonata or, to give it it's true name, Sonata quasi una fantasia. A fittingly beautiful piece for a beautiful lady."

By now, you may be wondering what the worst lines were. Well, "You're the star that completes the constellation of my existence" is unlikely to make her swoon.

The Independent on Sunday decided to road test the research at London's fashionable Match Bar near Oxford Circus. We began with one of the top five offerings.

"Ten-ton polar bear."

"What," replied the young brunette at the bar. "Well, it breaks the ice, doesn't it," we said, optimistically.

The verbal response was unprintable. Undeterred, we pressed on. "Your eyes are blue like the ocean, and baby I'm lost at sea."

The result: "You're an idiot. And you're colour- blind - they're brown."

The lauded marathon line attracted only giggles. We got a better response to the line "There's something in your eye. Nope, it's just a sparkle", but the big winner proved to be our very own: "Is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?"

The scientists maintain that while it might be good to hint at having the means to support a potential partner, showing off is not appreciated. "I was just wondering if you had space in your bag for my Merc keys" proved their ultimate flop.

Having sweated over the origins of the universe and split the atom, academics have finally tackled the question that has perplexed mankind since the dawn of time: what are the best chat-up lines?

For millions of males forced to do a swift about- turn in nightclubs, the advice is simple. The way to a woman's heart is to dazzle her with a bit of culture and suggest that you're a fine specimen of a man.

Think long term, even if that is not your intention. For, according to psychologists from Edinburgh and Central Lancashire universities, the opening gambit is much more than a simple introduction. They tried 40 "verbal signals of genetic quality" on 205 people.

Dr Christopher Bale, who led the research, explained the findings. "The highest-rated lines were those reflecting the man's ability to take control of a situation, his wealth, education or culture, and spontaneous wit. A direct request for sex received a low score, but it was not the least effective gambit."

So what are the words of wonder that researchers believe will secure a night of passion? Apparently: "It's hot today isn't it? It's the best weather when you're training for the marathon."

Another winner, they assure us, is to steer conversation towards your favourite music, so you can drop the line: "The Moonlight Sonata or, to give it it's true name, Sonata quasi una fantasia. A fittingly beautiful piece for a beautiful lady."

By now, you may be wondering what the worst lines were. Well, "You're the star that completes the constellation of my existence" is unlikely to make her swoon.

The Independent on Sunday decided to road test the research at London's fashionable Match Bar near Oxford Circus. We began with one of the top five offerings.

"Ten-ton polar bear."

"What," replied the young brunette at the bar. "Well, it breaks the ice, doesn't it," we said, optimistically.

The verbal response was unprintable. Undeterred, we pressed on. "Your eyes are blue like the ocean, and baby I'm lost at sea."

The result: "You're an idiot. And you're colour- blind - they're brown."

The lauded marathon line attracted only giggles. We got a better response to the line "There's something in your eye. Nope, it's just a sparkle", but the big winner proved to be our very own: "Is that a ladder in your tights or a stairway to heaven?"

The scientists maintain that while it might be good to hint at having the means to support a potential partner, showing off is not appreciated. "I was just wondering if you had space in your bag for my Merc keys" proved their ultimate flop.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Conversation Analysis
EA4C - Language Investigation

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

There ain't no love, no Montagues or Capulets, just banging tunes and DJ sets and dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness

I suppose it's a bit embarrassing at my age to be rambling on about pop lyrics and the music that the youth of today listen to, but why break the habit of a lifetime?

That Arctic Monkeys tune - it's got a good beat, eh? And great lyrics. And lyrics is what this is all about. The genius of Jarvis Cocker (formerly of the Sheffield beat-combo Pulp, for those of you under 25), Eminem (a popular rapper from Detroit, for those of you over 80) , Tupac Shakur (a sadly deceased rapper, for those of you without the internet) and Dizzee Rascal (the talented garage MC who hails from my postcode - E3 in the area etc...). And that's not to mention, the lyrical genius of Mike Skinner from out of The Streets... and maybe even Pete Doherty's junkie/crackhead ramblings.

So are lyrics worthy of linguistic and/or literary analysis? Are they just a debased form of poetry made up by young punks/stoners/thugs (take your pick) high on a lethal cocktail of booze/weed/crack (take your pick), or perhaps the lovesick meanderings of teenage bedroom poets? The jury is out, but some A Level coursework moderators have issues with students tackling lyrics for their A2 Language Investigations and it's not hard to see why. Unless you take a strong linguistic focus on the lyrics you're studying and get away from crazed hero worship, your work may well be shallow and banal. What's needed - it seems to me - is an engagement with the meanings of lyrics within their specific social contexts and a close attention to the various ways in which lyrics reflect or shape the world they describe.

Should we, for example, take the monosyllabic mumblings of a dimwit like 50 Cent at face value, celebrating his hilarious simile skills such as "I'll lick you like a lollypop", or his claims to have been shot nine times (sadly perhaps, not 10 times, but I wouldn't say this to his face...) or should we read his lyrics as the work of a storyteller, building a fantasy around the bare bones of truth in his life story? And what about Eminem's insane tales of killing his ex-wife and mum, or even the extended stalker track, "Stan"? These all seem like fair game for some in depth analysis.

Jarvis Cocker has recently been in the news as "A specially commissioned verse by the singer will be unveiled this week in Sheffield, as part of the Off The Shelf literary festival" according to The Observer, while "the literary critic DJ Taylor described his lyrics on the 1998 album This is Hardcore as 'one of those rare occasions when a pop artist transforms himself without irony into an artist proper'" (again from The Observer).

Meanwhile, the lyrics of all those mentioned earlier: Dizzee Rascal, Eminem andTupac have been discussed at length in various highbrow publications. In a Guardian article in 2001, the writer Giles Foden compared Eminem to the literary giant Robert Browning. Elsewhere, Counterpunch, a political website in the USA described Mr Mathers as "A hired gun from the poor part of town, who preys on the powerless, extorts money from the poor and celebrates a thuggish brand of gangster capitalism".

Dizzee Rascal's lyrics get a look-in here while Tupac's legacy gets the critical overview here, and Mike Skinner of The Streets gets dissected here.

Useful for:
EA4C - Language Investigation



Embracing Independent Study (at home!)

This is a guest blog by Richard Young, an A level student at St Thomas More RC Academy in Tyne and Wear, who's hoping to go on to study ...