Saturday, December 23, 2006

OMG it's the new OED

The Oxford English Dictionary is having a major overhaul and the full story is covered here in a Guardian article from last week which features an interview with one of its top bods, John Simpson. Dictionaries may not seem the most exciting things in the world, but for English Language students they should be mines of fascinating detail, and barometers of social change.

The whole process of putting new words into the OED is discussed in this article, including the growing range of sources from which they acquire citations for new words - blogs, websites, rap lyrics - and the new ways of searching it online to find histories to individual words, but wider patterns as well. The college has a subscription to the OED online, so make it your New Year's resolution to look up a word a week and refer to it whenever you get set a homework on Language Change.

Useful for:
all units but especially ENA5

OMG it's the new OED

The Oxford English Dictionary is having a major overhaul and the full story is covered here in a Guardian article from last week which features an interview with one of its top bods, John Simpson. Dictionaries may not seem the most exciting things in the world, but for English Language students they should be mines of fascinating detail, and barometers of social change.

The whole process of putting new words into the OED is discussed in this article, including the growing range of sources from which they acquire citations for new words - blogs, websites, rap lyrics - and the new ways of searching it online to find histories to individual words, but wider patterns as well. The college has a subscription to the OED online, so make it your New Year's resolution to look up a word a week and refer to it whenever you get set a homework on Language Change.

Useful for:
all units but especially ENA5

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas is cancelled...

...except it isn't. The tabloid press (especially The Sun) has been running a campaign against the politically correct nutters who want to ban the term "Christmas" for fear of offending Muslims, Hindus, Pagans and err...turkeys. The Sun even ran a front page "Kick Them in the Baubles!" urging on the Great British public in their attempts to stop this politically correct madness. But it's all a load of rubbish!

No one has tried to ban Christmas, just like no one has seriously tried to ban Baa Baa Black Sheep. And, in a more serious incident last year, a judge in Manchester bleated about political correctness gone mad when a white boy was brought to court for calling a class mate a "paki". Except it wasn't just the one-off name calling event that led to his prosecution, but what appeared to have been a long campaign of abuse and intimidation. So, it wasn't really political correctness gone mad at all.

And what's this got to do with language? Well, lots really: various myths abound about the ways in which the Political Correctness movement has forced ludicrous language changes upon us, but so many of them just aren't true, and reflect a staggeringly conservative - and often reactionary & racist - worldview.

So, be careful when you write your language & representation answers. And if you want to go on to do journalism as a career, be prepared to do some research. Unlike the lazy b*stards on The Sun.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Christmas is cancelled...

...except it isn't. The tabloid press (especially The Sun) has been running a campaign against the politically correct nutters who want to ban the term "Christmas" for fear of offending Muslims, Hindus, Pagans and err...turkeys. The Sun even ran a front page "Kick Them in the Baubles!" urging on the Great British public in their attempts to stop this politically correct madness. But it's all a load of rubbish!

No one has tried to ban Christmas, just like no one has seriously tried to ban Baa Baa Black Sheep. And, in a more serious incident last year, a judge in Manchester bleated about political correctness gone mad when a white boy was brought to court for calling a class mate a "paki". Except it wasn't just the one-off name calling event that led to his prosecution, but what appeared to have been a long campaign of abuse and intimidation. So, it wasn't really political correctness gone mad at all.

And what's this got to do with language? Well, lots really: various myths abound about the ways in which the Political Correctness movement has forced ludicrous language changes upon us, but so many of them just aren't true, and reflect a staggeringly conservative - and often reactionary & racist - worldview.

So, be careful when you write your language & representation answers. And if you want to go on to do journalism as a career, be prepared to do some research. Unlike the lazy b*stards on The Sun.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Teenage twits


It's the news that all parents of 15 year olds already know: teenagers have poor language skills and need to stop mumbling. According to a report on the BBC website, based on research done for Tesco Mobile Phones by Lancaster University linguist Professor Tony McEnery, "teenagers used half the words of average 25 to 34-year-olds".

His analysis of a database of teenage speech suggested teenagers had a vocabulary of just over 12,600 words compared with the nearly 21,400 words that the average person aged 25 to 34 uses. Prof McEnery said in his report: "Of note when examining the word 'no' is the frequency with which the word is accompanied by the word 'but'. These words occur in the sequence 'but no' or 'no but' almost twice as frequently in teenage speech as it does in young adult or middle aged speech."

Employers often complained that new employees were unable to answer the telephone in the formal way required of them for work and that they were also intimidated by speaking formally in meetings, the professor added. He put this down to a lack of training and the overuse of technologies such as computer games and MP3 players. "This trend, known as technology isolation syndrome, could lead to problems in the classroom and then later in life. Employers are already complaining that first jobbers are lacking basic verbal communication and it seems things could be set to get worse. Kids need to get talking and develop their vocabulary."

Fair points or gross generalisation? Is it fair to lump all teenagers together, in the same way that some peopel generalise about all men and all women and their speech styles? And what about different communities of practice? Maybe Emo teens and goths have a wider and more sophisticated vocabulary (misery, suffering, pain) than hip hoppers and ravers (choong, merked, tune)... or maybe not.

What do you think? Can you even string a sentence together to comment? And can we honestly believe a report sponsored by a mobile phone company whose aim is to make us talk more so they can make money from our chat?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties and Change
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

Teenage twits


It's the news that all parents of 15 year olds already know: teenagers have poor language skills and need to stop mumbling. According to a report on the BBC website, based on research done for Tesco Mobile Phones by Lancaster University linguist Professor Tony McEnery, "teenagers used half the words of average 25 to 34-year-olds".

His analysis of a database of teenage speech suggested teenagers had a vocabulary of just over 12,600 words compared with the nearly 21,400 words that the average person aged 25 to 34 uses. Prof McEnery said in his report: "Of note when examining the word 'no' is the frequency with which the word is accompanied by the word 'but'. These words occur in the sequence 'but no' or 'no but' almost twice as frequently in teenage speech as it does in young adult or middle aged speech."

Employers often complained that new employees were unable to answer the telephone in the formal way required of them for work and that they were also intimidated by speaking formally in meetings, the professor added. He put this down to a lack of training and the overuse of technologies such as computer games and MP3 players. "This trend, known as technology isolation syndrome, could lead to problems in the classroom and then later in life. Employers are already complaining that first jobbers are lacking basic verbal communication and it seems things could be set to get worse. Kids need to get talking and develop their vocabulary."

Fair points or gross generalisation? Is it fair to lump all teenagers together, in the same way that some peopel generalise about all men and all women and their speech styles? And what about different communities of practice? Maybe Emo teens and goths have a wider and more sophisticated vocabulary (misery, suffering, pain) than hip hoppers and ravers (choong, merked, tune)... or maybe not.

What do you think? Can you even string a sentence together to comment? And can we honestly believe a report sponsored by a mobile phone company whose aim is to make us talk more so they can make money from our chat?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties and Change
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

Monday, December 11, 2006

Talk to me, baby

As AS students are well into their study of Child Language Acquisition and A2ers will be revising it in the Spring term for ENA6 preparation, I thought it might be handy to flag up some useful links to child language resources.

First off, Chas Blacker from City of Bristol College has put some new resources up on his website here and you'll find them handy for revision and a few extra ideas.

Also, the National Literacy Trust's Talk To Your Baby project has some nice links to projects on child language, with a good section on theories of CLA here.

Then, Beth Kemp's website here has plenty of revision material for all sorts of English Language topics, including CLA.

Finally, teachit's resource site has plenty of material on CLA, primarily aimed at teachers but containing plenty of child language data for those of you seeking out examples to explore.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Child Language Acquisition, obviously...

Talk to me, baby

As AS students are well into their study of Child Language Acquisition and A2ers will be revising it in the Spring term for ENA6 preparation, I thought it might be handy to flag up some useful links to child language resources.

First off, Chas Blacker from City of Bristol College has put some new resources up on his website here and you'll find them handy for revision and a few extra ideas.

Also, the National Literacy Trust's Talk To Your Baby project has some nice links to projects on child language, with a good section on theories of CLA here.

Then, Beth Kemp's website here has plenty of revision material for all sorts of English Language topics, including CLA.

Finally, teachit's resource site has plenty of material on CLA, primarily aimed at teachers but containing plenty of child language data for those of you seeking out examples to explore.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Child Language Acquisition, obviously...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The cockney sparrow?

Following on from last week's post about the changes in the Queen's accent (apparently downwardly converging to the likes of us), Simon Jenkins in The Guardian links the story to another one about how birds' songs are changing (No, not Girls Aloud, sadly.) because of the noise in their urban environments. Just like birds have to change their songs to communicate in an ever-noisier world, so the royals have to change their tune to mingle with us.

Tenuous connection? Maybe, but it's an interesting thought, and makes me wonder how much our accents and dialects change due to physical factors such as noisy city streets, cramped working conditions, the urbansied environment we're increasingly living in. We all know that mobiles and computers are changing the way we communicate, but are these other factors affecting us too? Is language evolving to suit our environment?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change & Varieties

The cockney sparrow?

Following on from last week's post about the changes in the Queen's accent (apparently downwardly converging to the likes of us), Simon Jenkins in The Guardian links the story to another one about how birds' songs are changing (No, not Girls Aloud, sadly.) because of the noise in their urban environments. Just like birds have to change their songs to communicate in an ever-noisier world, so the royals have to change their tune to mingle with us.

Tenuous connection? Maybe, but it's an interesting thought, and makes me wonder how much our accents and dialects change due to physical factors such as noisy city streets, cramped working conditions, the urbansied environment we're increasingly living in. We all know that mobiles and computers are changing the way we communicate, but are these other factors affecting us too? Is language evolving to suit our environment?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change & Varieties

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The power of powerless speech

A piece of research carried out by psychologists at the University of North Carolina has identified that some people respond more positively to leaders and managers who express doubt and hesitation in their language, than to those who sound confident and certain.

The research is reported in the BPS's weekly digest (subscribe here) and on their blog here. The researchers set up an experiment in which two transcripts of an employee making a phonecall were read by 54 partcipants, who had previously been shown one of two different versions of what the company valued: the need to work independently or the need to work co-operatively. The participants were then asked to rate the telephone transcripts in terms of the feelings they had towards each speakern. The crucial difference between the transcripts was that one version had been read in a hesitant way, with pauses, hedges and indirect structures, while the other had been read in a more confident and succinct fashion. The BPS story explains:
As you might expect, participants who read that the company valued people’s ability to work alone, were more likely to recommend Richard for a high status promotion if they’d read the telephone transcript in which he had spoken assertively and without hesitation. More surprisingly, among the participants who read that the company cherished cooperation among staff, those who read the transcript in which Richard spoke with doubt and hesitation were more likely to recommend him for promotion than were the participants who read the transcript in which he was assertive and confident. The explanation for this probably lies in the fact the participants who read the ‘hesitant’ transcript rated Richard as more likeable and tolerant than the participants who read the ‘confident’ transcript.

It was O'Barr and Atkins who first looked at the idea of "powerless language", making the point that hesitation and tentativeness were not exclusively features of female language,as Robin Lakoff had proposed, but were common to all people in situations where a power differential was apparent: defendants in court, police suspects, students being admonished by teachers etc.

This research seems to suggest that our responses to hesitation aren't quite as clear cut as some might say, and that good leadership & management skills can be inclusive and tentative, as well as assertive.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

The power of powerless speech

A piece of research carried out by psychologists at the University of North Carolina has identified that some people respond more positively to leaders and managers who express doubt and hesitation in their language, than to those who sound confident and certain.

The research is reported in the BPS's weekly digest (subscribe here) and on their blog here. The researchers set up an experiment in which two transcripts of an employee making a phonecall were read by 54 partcipants, who had previously been shown one of two different versions of what the company valued: the need to work independently or the need to work co-operatively. The participants were then asked to rate the telephone transcripts in terms of the feelings they had towards each speakern. The crucial difference between the transcripts was that one version had been read in a hesitant way, with pauses, hedges and indirect structures, while the other had been read in a more confident and succinct fashion. The BPS story explains:
As you might expect, participants who read that the company valued people’s ability to work alone, were more likely to recommend Richard for a high status promotion if they’d read the telephone transcript in which he had spoken assertively and without hesitation. More surprisingly, among the participants who read that the company cherished cooperation among staff, those who read the transcript in which Richard spoke with doubt and hesitation were more likely to recommend him for promotion than were the participants who read the transcript in which he was assertive and confident. The explanation for this probably lies in the fact the participants who read the ‘hesitant’ transcript rated Richard as more likeable and tolerant than the participants who read the ‘confident’ transcript.

It was O'Barr and Atkins who first looked at the idea of "powerless language", making the point that hesitation and tentativeness were not exclusively features of female language,as Robin Lakoff had proposed, but were common to all people in situations where a power differential was apparent: defendants in court, police suspects, students being admonished by teachers etc.

This research seems to suggest that our responses to hesitation aren't quite as clear cut as some might say, and that good leadership & management skills can be inclusive and tentative, as well as assertive.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'Er Royal 'Ighness goes all Cockernee

Or "Gor Blimey, Guvnor, Betty Gets on her Plates of Meat and does the Lambeth Walk"...

A report in The Independent on Sunday claims that the Queen's accent has taken a slide from its clipped RP tones in the 1950s to something much closer to the Estuary-influenced accents found in the London area. According to research by Jonathan Harrington in the latest Journal of Phonetics:

The Queen's accent has not become cockneyfied but it has shifted subtly towards an accent that is more typically spoken in the wider community. The changes also reflect the changing class structure over the last 50 years. In the 1950s, there was a much sharper distinction between the classes as well as accents that typified them. Since then, the class boundaries have become more blurred, and so have the accents. Fifty years ago, the idea that Queen's English could be influenced by cockney would have been unthinkable.
So, how do they know and why should we care? The research has been conducted by analysing changes in the Queen's voice on her annual Christmas broadcasts, so perhaps factors like performing to the camera and nervousness might be involved in the young Queen reverting to her upper class type and using the "cut glass" of marked RP; alternatively, it could all be a PR move by the royal family, a re-branding exercise to cast themselves as plain-speaking, normal people, rather than the overindulged, antiquated relics they so clearly are. It wouldn't be the first time, as this post on this blog in September 2005 relates.

But if you want to get a real taste for how upset some people are about this shift in accent, just take a look at this link to The Daily Telegraph's website (average age of reader: 121) where the palpitation-inducing horror at the desecration of HRH's RP is a true sight to behold.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties

'Er Royal 'Ighness goes all Cockernee

Or "Gor Blimey, Guvnor, Betty Gets on her Plates of Meat and does the Lambeth Walk"...

A report in The Independent on Sunday claims that the Queen's accent has taken a slide from its clipped RP tones in the 1950s to something much closer to the Estuary-influenced accents found in the London area. According to research by Jonathan Harrington in the latest Journal of Phonetics:

The Queen's accent has not become cockneyfied but it has shifted subtly towards an accent that is more typically spoken in the wider community. The changes also reflect the changing class structure over the last 50 years. In the 1950s, there was a much sharper distinction between the classes as well as accents that typified them. Since then, the class boundaries have become more blurred, and so have the accents. Fifty years ago, the idea that Queen's English could be influenced by cockney would have been unthinkable.
So, how do they know and why should we care? The research has been conducted by analysing changes in the Queen's voice on her annual Christmas broadcasts, so perhaps factors like performing to the camera and nervousness might be involved in the young Queen reverting to her upper class type and using the "cut glass" of marked RP; alternatively, it could all be a PR move by the royal family, a re-branding exercise to cast themselves as plain-speaking, normal people, rather than the overindulged, antiquated relics they so clearly are. It wouldn't be the first time, as this post on this blog in September 2005 relates.

But if you want to get a real taste for how upset some people are about this shift in accent, just take a look at this link to The Daily Telegraph's website (average age of reader: 121) where the palpitation-inducing horror at the desecration of HRH's RP is a true sight to behold.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties

Monday, December 04, 2006

Myths of Mars and Venus

Last week's Guardian featured a brilliant 8 page article on the perceived differences between how men and women talk. Focusing on a claim in a new book called The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, that women talk more, using on average 20,000 words to an average man's 7,000, the Guardian wires up two reporters - one male, one female - to see if it's all true.

And the result? Well, you can look for yourselves. But along the way, top linguist Deborah Cameron gets a look in with some incisive comments:

The degree to which this biological and linguistic battle is also a cultural and political one is striking. Deborah Cameron, Rupert Murdoch professor of language and communication at Oxford University, is sceptical about the claim that men and women are inherently different in the way they use language, and thinks such arguments find a receptive audience because people are scared of the growing similarities between the sexes.

"People want to believe there are clear-cut differences between men and women," she says, "because they are men and women. They don't want to think about the similarities, which outweigh the differences. The other thing they don't want to think about - which for a linguist like me is the most interesting thing - is the extent of variation within each gender group, which statistically is as great, or greater than, the variation between the two. Women are as different from each other as they are from men, and gender is about those differences, too. The way you think about yourself as a woman is not only about comparing yourself to the available men; it's about thinking about the kinds of women you are not."

So, it's no great surprise to find that Brizendine's claims are explored with critical reference to a whole range of popular stereotypes about how men can't talk about emotions, women like to gossip and all the rest of those sweeping generalisations that we try to (gently!) knock out of you when we study ENA3 in the Spring term.

But the article is not only great for challenging stereotypes; it's also excellent on investigation methodology and ways you can collect valid data.

Read it!

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

Myths of Mars and Venus

Last week's Guardian featured a brilliant 8 page article on the perceived differences between how men and women talk. Focusing on a claim in a new book called The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, that women talk more, using on average 20,000 words to an average man's 7,000, the Guardian wires up two reporters - one male, one female - to see if it's all true.

And the result? Well, you can look for yourselves. But along the way, top linguist Deborah Cameron gets a look in with some incisive comments:

The degree to which this biological and linguistic battle is also a cultural and political one is striking. Deborah Cameron, Rupert Murdoch professor of language and communication at Oxford University, is sceptical about the claim that men and women are inherently different in the way they use language, and thinks such arguments find a receptive audience because people are scared of the growing similarities between the sexes.

"People want to believe there are clear-cut differences between men and women," she says, "because they are men and women. They don't want to think about the similarities, which outweigh the differences. The other thing they don't want to think about - which for a linguist like me is the most interesting thing - is the extent of variation within each gender group, which statistically is as great, or greater than, the variation between the two. Women are as different from each other as they are from men, and gender is about those differences, too. The way you think about yourself as a woman is not only about comparing yourself to the available men; it's about thinking about the kinds of women you are not."

So, it's no great surprise to find that Brizendine's claims are explored with critical reference to a whole range of popular stereotypes about how men can't talk about emotions, women like to gossip and all the rest of those sweeping generalisations that we try to (gently!) knock out of you when we study ENA3 in the Spring term.

But the article is not only great for challenging stereotypes; it's also excellent on investigation methodology and ways you can collect valid data.

Read it!

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

Globish takes over the world

A new language termed Globish is taking over the world, and it looks remarkably like English. In an article in this week's Observer, Robert McCrum takes a look at this stripped down version of English and how it's being used to lubricate the wheels of business around the world. According to McCrum, "By some calculations, indeed, as many as a billion people, nearly a sixth of mankind, now use English as either a first or, more prevalently, second language. This used to be known as 'offshore English'. Globish, 'the international dialect of the third millennium', is a more apt description."

But, just because we speak English it doesn't mean we have an advantage. The idiomatic, figuarative ways in which many native-speakers of English communicate makes us harder to understand than the more literal-mineded speakers of Globish who strip the metaphors and jargon away to use English in a more streamlined way.

Useful for:
ENA5 Language Varieties

Globish takes over the world

A new language termed Globish is taking over the world, and it looks remarkably like English. In an article in this week's Observer, Robert McCrum takes a look at this stripped down version of English and how it's being used to lubricate the wheels of business around the world. According to McCrum, "By some calculations, indeed, as many as a billion people, nearly a sixth of mankind, now use English as either a first or, more prevalently, second language. This used to be known as 'offshore English'. Globish, 'the international dialect of the third millennium', is a more apt description."

But, just because we speak English it doesn't mean we have an advantage. The idiomatic, figuarative ways in which many native-speakers of English communicate makes us harder to understand than the more literal-mineded speakers of Globish who strip the metaphors and jargon away to use English in a more streamlined way.

Useful for:
ENA5 Language Varieties

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

When is a war not a war?

Much media interest recently in the American media's language change in their reporting of the situation in Iraq. Is it an insurgency against a peace-keeping force? A legitimate imposition of democracy on a tryannical regime? The American national broadcasting network, NBC, announced a couple of days ago that its reporting of events in Iraq in future will refer to the violent events in Iraq as a 'civil war'. Here's an extract from the BBC story on this:

The New York Times is the latest publication to take the decision following the NBC network's highly-publicised move on Monday. The paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, said it is hard to argue that this war does not fit the generally accepted definition of civil war. The Bush administration maintains the term civil war is inappropriate.

'War of semantics'

In Washington, a war of semantics has broken out over whether the conflict in Iraq can be called a civil war. Just what is the definition of a civil war, of course, has been the subject of much debate since NBC's decision to defy White House objections and use the phrase.
President George Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has said the Iraqi government does not see it in those terms, while the president himself described the latest attacks as part of an ongoing campaign by al-Qaeda militants.


One person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist; as Norman Fairclough has demonstrated in his work on language and power, the terms we use are not neutral when it comes to social, cultural and political events and concepts. Language is power, and its use is not benign.

This is language change in action. Here's the link to the whole story from the BBC:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6194646.stm

When is a war not a war?

Much media interest recently in the American media's language change in their reporting of the situation in Iraq. Is it an insurgency against a peace-keeping force? A legitimate imposition of democracy on a tryannical regime? The American national broadcasting network, NBC, announced a couple of days ago that its reporting of events in Iraq in future will refer to the violent events in Iraq as a 'civil war'. Here's an extract from the BBC story on this:

The New York Times is the latest publication to take the decision following the NBC network's highly-publicised move on Monday. The paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, said it is hard to argue that this war does not fit the generally accepted definition of civil war. The Bush administration maintains the term civil war is inappropriate.

'War of semantics'

In Washington, a war of semantics has broken out over whether the conflict in Iraq can be called a civil war. Just what is the definition of a civil war, of course, has been the subject of much debate since NBC's decision to defy White House objections and use the phrase.
President George Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has said the Iraqi government does not see it in those terms, while the president himself described the latest attacks as part of an ongoing campaign by al-Qaeda militants.


One person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist; as Norman Fairclough has demonstrated in his work on language and power, the terms we use are not neutral when it comes to social, cultural and political events and concepts. Language is power, and its use is not benign.

This is language change in action. Here's the link to the whole story from the BBC:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6194646.stm

Friday, November 24, 2006

There's a nip in the air

Radio One DJ Edith Bowman has landed herself in trouble for reading out an apparently racist email on air, according to The Independent . In a discussion about modern slang, Bowman is reported to have read out the email which stated "When the weather is a little cold, we say that it's a bit Pearl Harbor, meaning that there's a nasty Nip in the air".

Why the fuss? Well, "nip" has long been a pejorative term for Japanese people in much the same way as "Paki" has been for Asian people. And a little bit of History GCSE or a few Hollywood films will probably have informed you that Pearl Harbor was the scene of Japan's infamous air attack on the US Navy in the Second World War, hence "nip in the air".

But does using a word like "nip" automatically make you a racist?
Maybe not, particularly if you're not even clear it's racist in the first place, which is something that can't be said for the American actor, Michael Richards who has apologised for launching into a racist tirade on stage which included describing members of his unsympathetic audience as "niggers", as reported in The Guardian. And not so long ago, it was Mel Gibson doing a Hitler impersonation by drunkenly rambling about Jews being sinister...

So, why should we care? In this interesting series of essays on the BBC Voices website,
Dr Emma Moore of Sheffield University looks at the significance of the labels we give to each other and why they make a difference. As she puts it in her second essay, Who Has the Power?:
What does the existence of terms like 'coloured', 'queer' and 'people with disabilities' tell us about the distribution of power? Basically it suggests that the people with the power to get their version of the world 'out there' are busy defining themselves as normal and marking out everyone else as different. We all define our world in relation to what's familiar to us. If something falls outside what we consider to be 'like us' (i.e. normal) - more likely than not - we'll find a way to define it as marked. So, if being black or Asian or gay or disabled is labelled as marked, we can be pretty sure that these groups represent individuals who haven't traditionally had the power to get their version of the world 'out there'.
So, coupled with linguistic theories that link the language we use to the attitudes we express (ideas like linguistic reflectionism and determinism) labels like nip, nigger, queer, paki and white trash define these groups as outside the norm, somehow different, and may in fact influence our perception of the actual people. So no more nips in the air; let's stick to brass monkeys.

Useful for:

ENA1 - Language & Representation

There's a nip in the air

Radio One DJ Edith Bowman has landed herself in trouble for reading out an apparently racist email on air, according to The Independent . In a discussion about modern slang, Bowman is reported to have read out the email which stated "When the weather is a little cold, we say that it's a bit Pearl Harbor, meaning that there's a nasty Nip in the air".

Why the fuss? Well, "nip" has long been a pejorative term for Japanese people in much the same way as "Paki" has been for Asian people. And a little bit of History GCSE or a few Hollywood films will probably have informed you that Pearl Harbor was the scene of Japan's infamous air attack on the US Navy in the Second World War, hence "nip in the air".

But does using a word like "nip" automatically make you a racist?
Maybe not, particularly if you're not even clear it's racist in the first place, which is something that can't be said for the American actor, Michael Richards who has apologised for launching into a racist tirade on stage which included describing members of his unsympathetic audience as "niggers", as reported in The Guardian. And not so long ago, it was Mel Gibson doing a Hitler impersonation by drunkenly rambling about Jews being sinister...

So, why should we care? In this interesting series of essays on the BBC Voices website,
Dr Emma Moore of Sheffield University looks at the significance of the labels we give to each other and why they make a difference. As she puts it in her second essay, Who Has the Power?:
What does the existence of terms like 'coloured', 'queer' and 'people with disabilities' tell us about the distribution of power? Basically it suggests that the people with the power to get their version of the world 'out there' are busy defining themselves as normal and marking out everyone else as different. We all define our world in relation to what's familiar to us. If something falls outside what we consider to be 'like us' (i.e. normal) - more likely than not - we'll find a way to define it as marked. So, if being black or Asian or gay or disabled is labelled as marked, we can be pretty sure that these groups represent individuals who haven't traditionally had the power to get their version of the world 'out there'.
So, coupled with linguistic theories that link the language we use to the attitudes we express (ideas like linguistic reflectionism and determinism) labels like nip, nigger, queer, paki and white trash define these groups as outside the norm, somehow different, and may in fact influence our perception of the actual people. So no more nips in the air; let's stick to brass monkeys.

Useful for:

ENA1 - Language & Representation

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mind your language

Attitudes to language change have often been negative, with concerns about slipping standards and laziness not just limited to commentators in this century but ranging all the way back to the 14th Century and perhaps even further. As we've been looking at in A2 classes this week, one generation tends to look down its nose at that below it and their use of language. As one student said a couple of years ago, "Those Year 10s on the bus use bare slang."

Among the perennial concerns are that language is getting sloppy, lazy and unclear, that it's being too heavily influenced by American, Black or working class varieties, that it's basically going down the dumper. Julie Blake, in her lecture at the last SFX Language Conference, looked at exactly this strand of prescriptivism through time and reached the conclusion that people have always complained about language change, while more recently even those who ostensibly embrace it, tend to only like its novelty value.

But if these concerns are justified, and the English language has been going down the toilet since 1357 (or whenever), why aren't we grunting like cavemen? It's pretty simple really; most changes to the language are made to ease communication and make it quicker, more concise and efficient. Take new words (neologisms) for example; when we invent new words or create blends and compounds, we don't add archaic inflections such as -en plural endings or -dst 2nd person suffixes, we just add a simple -s to show plurality and -ed to indicate past tense. We've regularised and simplified the suffix system. Guy Deutscher in his excellent book, The Unfolding of Language, also points to this gradual erosion of unnecessary language features but also looks at how language change is also a creative process at the same time: in other words two processes of destruction and creation working side by side.

But, as we've seen, most negative attitudes to language change are only superficially about language itself, and often much more to do with the commentators' dislike of modern manners (or lack of them) , the education system (Why don't we cane these little ragamuffins any more?) and immigration (Those black people with their hippety hoppety language are destroying our beloved language!). So when Norman Tebbitt made his infamous remark in 1985 that bad grammar leads inevitably to a life of crime, you could see the real underlying concern was not language per se, but morality and standards of behaviour.

Which brings me on to John Humphrys. In an article in The Telegraph a week or two back, he launches into a broadside against language change and its impact on British culture. Parts of it sound like the bitter ramblings of an eccentric Wing Commander in a country pub, while others are couched in more rational and reasonable terms, but it's well worth a read to see what linguistic bugbears get his goat (to mix my metaphors). Take these for a start:


Word by word, we are at risk of dragging our language down to the lowest common denominator and we do so at the cost of its most precious qualities: subtlety and precision. If we're happy to let our common public language be used in this way, communication will be reduced to a narrow range of basic meanings...

...The supermarkets are masters of the art – always trying to persuade us how thrilling it will be if we share our shopping experience with them. Note "experience". We don't shop any longer. We have an "experience".

At the heart of this hype process, in which the "experience" is all, individual words are given an even sharper 180 degree change of direction. Take "enjoy". You're sitting in a restaurant, the waitress brings your meal and, with a sweet smile, says, "Enjoy!" I want to say: "Don't you know that 'enjoy' is a transitive not an intransitive verb? You should say, 'Enjoy it!' not 'Enjoy!'."

So, he has a range of targets in his sights; some of them I'd agree with too, especially when he remarks that language should make communication as clear as possible, but do we really care that "enjoy" is a transitive verb and shold take an object? Does it matter? It doesn't actually impede meaning, does it?

David Crystal attacks such nitpicking attitudes in his excellent book, The Fight For English and makes the point that many of the so-called rules of English are actually little more than the personal prejudices of a small group of 18th Century grammarians who tried to impose the rules of Latin upon the English Language. Other linguists and commentators have produced convincing arguments against the prescriptivist approach that Humphrys favours, and you can find a selection of them here and here.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENA6 - Language Debates

Mind your language

Attitudes to language change have often been negative, with concerns about slipping standards and laziness not just limited to commentators in this century but ranging all the way back to the 14th Century and perhaps even further. As we've been looking at in A2 classes this week, one generation tends to look down its nose at that below it and their use of language. As one student said a couple of years ago, "Those Year 10s on the bus use bare slang."

Among the perennial concerns are that language is getting sloppy, lazy and unclear, that it's being too heavily influenced by American, Black or working class varieties, that it's basically going down the dumper. Julie Blake, in her lecture at the last SFX Language Conference, looked at exactly this strand of prescriptivism through time and reached the conclusion that people have always complained about language change, while more recently even those who ostensibly embrace it, tend to only like its novelty value.

But if these concerns are justified, and the English language has been going down the toilet since 1357 (or whenever), why aren't we grunting like cavemen? It's pretty simple really; most changes to the language are made to ease communication and make it quicker, more concise and efficient. Take new words (neologisms) for example; when we invent new words or create blends and compounds, we don't add archaic inflections such as -en plural endings or -dst 2nd person suffixes, we just add a simple -s to show plurality and -ed to indicate past tense. We've regularised and simplified the suffix system. Guy Deutscher in his excellent book, The Unfolding of Language, also points to this gradual erosion of unnecessary language features but also looks at how language change is also a creative process at the same time: in other words two processes of destruction and creation working side by side.

But, as we've seen, most negative attitudes to language change are only superficially about language itself, and often much more to do with the commentators' dislike of modern manners (or lack of them) , the education system (Why don't we cane these little ragamuffins any more?) and immigration (Those black people with their hippety hoppety language are destroying our beloved language!). So when Norman Tebbitt made his infamous remark in 1985 that bad grammar leads inevitably to a life of crime, you could see the real underlying concern was not language per se, but morality and standards of behaviour.

Which brings me on to John Humphrys. In an article in The Telegraph a week or two back, he launches into a broadside against language change and its impact on British culture. Parts of it sound like the bitter ramblings of an eccentric Wing Commander in a country pub, while others are couched in more rational and reasonable terms, but it's well worth a read to see what linguistic bugbears get his goat (to mix my metaphors). Take these for a start:


Word by word, we are at risk of dragging our language down to the lowest common denominator and we do so at the cost of its most precious qualities: subtlety and precision. If we're happy to let our common public language be used in this way, communication will be reduced to a narrow range of basic meanings...

...The supermarkets are masters of the art – always trying to persuade us how thrilling it will be if we share our shopping experience with them. Note "experience". We don't shop any longer. We have an "experience".

At the heart of this hype process, in which the "experience" is all, individual words are given an even sharper 180 degree change of direction. Take "enjoy". You're sitting in a restaurant, the waitress brings your meal and, with a sweet smile, says, "Enjoy!" I want to say: "Don't you know that 'enjoy' is a transitive not an intransitive verb? You should say, 'Enjoy it!' not 'Enjoy!'."

So, he has a range of targets in his sights; some of them I'd agree with too, especially when he remarks that language should make communication as clear as possible, but do we really care that "enjoy" is a transitive verb and shold take an object? Does it matter? It doesn't actually impede meaning, does it?

David Crystal attacks such nitpicking attitudes in his excellent book, The Fight For English and makes the point that many of the so-called rules of English are actually little more than the personal prejudices of a small group of 18th Century grammarians who tried to impose the rules of Latin upon the English Language. Other linguists and commentators have produced convincing arguments against the prescriptivist approach that Humphrys favours, and you can find a selection of them here and here.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENA6 - Language Debates

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Coloured", the other c-word

A Conservative MP has got himself into trouble for using the word "coloured" to refer to people who aren't white. The BBC Magazine covers it here and it's got some interesting background on the word too. We've covered it here on this blog before so just do a quick search using the word in the search bar at the top.

So, what's wrong with it? Here are two points of view from the site:

The term was common parlance in the 1960s, but its origins are the problem, says Mr Agbetu. It comes from the ideology of racism, that white people are white, and everyone else is somehow other coloured. It fails to recognise that everyone has an ethnicity and is an inadequate "one-size-fits all" description.
When I was growing up in the 70s, "coloured" was considered by my white, middle-class demographic as the polite word for dark-skinned persons. To call someone "black", which is preferred by many people now, was extremely rude. In adulthood I see that we had this backwards, but it was well-intentioned. I sympathise a little with Mr Jenkin, as this minefield is being constantly re-laid. For Labour to take such gleeful advantage is shabby. But he does need to keep up. I understand why "coloured" is seen as offensive now and certainly wouldn't use it myself.
Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

"Coloured", the other c-word

A Conservative MP has got himself into trouble for using the word "coloured" to refer to people who aren't white. The BBC Magazine covers it here and it's got some interesting background on the word too. We've covered it here on this blog before so just do a quick search using the word in the search bar at the top.

So, what's wrong with it? Here are two points of view from the site:

The term was common parlance in the 1960s, but its origins are the problem, says Mr Agbetu. It comes from the ideology of racism, that white people are white, and everyone else is somehow other coloured. It fails to recognise that everyone has an ethnicity and is an inadequate "one-size-fits all" description.
When I was growing up in the 70s, "coloured" was considered by my white, middle-class demographic as the polite word for dark-skinned persons. To call someone "black", which is preferred by many people now, was extremely rude. In adulthood I see that we had this backwards, but it was well-intentioned. I sympathise a little with Mr Jenkin, as this minefield is being constantly re-laid. For Labour to take such gleeful advantage is shabby. But he does need to keep up. I understand why "coloured" is seen as offensive now and certainly wouldn't use it myself.
Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Crackberry

Before this item, a correction to my previous post: I inadvertently left in a floating line at the end, suggesting a link followed. Sorry, that was a typo. Bit late at night for thinking straight.
Here's an item I just posted on my college virtual noticeboard in Cornwall:
This is a link to an item about the Word of the Year in Webster's Dictionary: 'crackberry', used of those enthusiastic people who are addicted to their Blackberries or PDAs (note the absence of apostrophe there: see the Cambridge English Usage guide for info on when apostrophes are recommended in initialised terms like CDs, MPs, and when not, like 'dotting the i's'). Other contenders are mentioned there. Always an interesting activity, this, choosing the item most characteristic of a year, though linguistic purists and mavens might look askance. Take a look too at Susie Dent's 'Language Reports', where she examines whole ranges of such items each year. This year's came out recently; also great fun and wide-ranging are Kate Burridge's surveys of usage, named along horticultural-metaphorical lines - 'Blooming English' and 'Weeds in the Garden of Words' (all titles can be found by searching Amazon with the two authors' names).
Here's the link to the crackberry story:
http://www.sootoday.com/content/news/full_story.asp?StoryNumber=20625

Crackberry

Before this item, a correction to my previous post: I inadvertently left in a floating line at the end, suggesting a link followed. Sorry, that was a typo. Bit late at night for thinking straight.
Here's an item I just posted on my college virtual noticeboard in Cornwall:
This is a link to an item about the Word of the Year in Webster's Dictionary: 'crackberry', used of those enthusiastic people who are addicted to their Blackberries or PDAs (note the absence of apostrophe there: see the Cambridge English Usage guide for info on when apostrophes are recommended in initialised terms like CDs, MPs, and when not, like 'dotting the i's'). Other contenders are mentioned there. Always an interesting activity, this, choosing the item most characteristic of a year, though linguistic purists and mavens might look askance. Take a look too at Susie Dent's 'Language Reports', where she examines whole ranges of such items each year. This year's came out recently; also great fun and wide-ranging are Kate Burridge's surveys of usage, named along horticultural-metaphorical lines - 'Blooming English' and 'Weeds in the Garden of Words' (all titles can be found by searching Amazon with the two authors' names).
Here's the link to the crackberry story:
http://www.sootoday.com/content/news/full_story.asp?StoryNumber=20625

Red sky thinking and herding dinosaurs: jargon again

These stories about office jargon and business speak just keep coming. After the post yesterday from Dan about getting your ducks in a row (which, weirdly, my wife used at the weekend before she went in to a meeting; she also used 'heads up', and I'm still not sure what that one means...), the BBC News Magazine invited suggestions and comments on its website. For example:
Promotion beyond your means is a fruitful bug bear for jargon. A polidiot is someone promoted beyond their abilities thanks to their political skills...Full-blown sarcasm and workplace resentment are a heady cocktail for some evidently long-suffering employees.
Nick W, dryly suggests new jargon definitions for his bosses: decision - the art of choosing between options without asking someone; responsibility - used with the above - and listening - if someone says it can't be done, there's a reason.
But spare a thought for Valerie; hard at work, but baffled. At her office, the mission is to herd the dinosaurs to the right end of the cricket green.
What does it mean? She has no idea.
Here's the link to the full item:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6124438.stm

Here's the link to what came up:

Red sky thinking and herding dinosaurs: jargon again

These stories about office jargon and business speak just keep coming. After the post yesterday from Dan about getting your ducks in a row (which, weirdly, my wife used at the weekend before she went in to a meeting; she also used 'heads up', and I'm still not sure what that one means...), the BBC News Magazine invited suggestions and comments on its website. For example:
Promotion beyond your means is a fruitful bug bear for jargon. A polidiot is someone promoted beyond their abilities thanks to their political skills...Full-blown sarcasm and workplace resentment are a heady cocktail for some evidently long-suffering employees.
Nick W, dryly suggests new jargon definitions for his bosses: decision - the art of choosing between options without asking someone; responsibility - used with the above - and listening - if someone says it can't be done, there's a reason.
But spare a thought for Valerie; hard at work, but baffled. At her office, the mission is to herd the dinosaurs to the right end of the cricket green.
What does it mean? She has no idea.
Here's the link to the full item:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6124438.stm

Here's the link to what came up:

Slang: bare swag or just repping your endz?

In a thorough, well-researched and rather splendid article in The Independent, youth slang in London gets some extended coverage. Those of you who like these kinds of things - slang, "Jafaican", multi-ethnic youth dialect (MEYD) and the changing nature of London's language - might remember that Sue Fox did a talk in college earlier this year on Tower Hamlets accents changing as a result of the influence of Bangladeshi young people, and this article picks up on her and Paul Kerwill's latest research as part of Linguistics Innovators: The Language of Adolescents in London.

The article covers what MLE(Multicultural London English)/MEYD is, how it is developing and how it's being viewed by teachers, politicians and (most importantly) the users of it. In one section, Fox looks at the ways in which this variety of English is represented in the media and how she views it:
"The term Jafaican gives the impression that there's something fake about the dialect, which we would refute," she says. "As one young girl who lives in outer London said of her eight-year-old cousin who lives in inner London, 'People say he speaks like a black boy, but he just speaks like a London boy.' The message is that people are beginning to sound the same regardless of their colour or ethnic background. So we prefer to use the term Multicultural London English (MLE). It's perhaps not as catchy," she says, "but it comes closer to what we're trying to describe."

Elsewhere, Kerswill explores the social factors that influence whether or not young people continue to use the language as they grow older:
"We don't quite know whether kids will un-acquire MLE as fast as they've picked it up," concedes Kerswill. "The indications are that it depends very much on people's social networks and aspirations. Those who go into university or highly-paid jobs will change their speech. Those who remain where they are will most likely retain a lot of it. Most people are doubtless somewhere in the middle, and will change to some extent. But that will open the way for MLE to lead to changes in the English language in its spoken form, at least. One conclusion that we have definitely drawn from this study," he concludes, "is that English is one of the most dynamically protean of all languages."

All in all, it's a top read so have a look...

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change & Varieties

Slang: bare swag or just repping your endz?

In a thorough, well-researched and rather splendid article in The Independent, youth slang in London gets some extended coverage. Those of you who like these kinds of things - slang, "Jafaican", multi-ethnic youth dialect (MEYD) and the changing nature of London's language - might remember that Sue Fox did a talk in college earlier this year on Tower Hamlets accents changing as a result of the influence of Bangladeshi young people, and this article picks up on her and Paul Kerwill's latest research as part of Linguistics Innovators: The Language of Adolescents in London.

The article covers what MLE(Multicultural London English)/MEYD is, how it is developing and how it's being viewed by teachers, politicians and (most importantly) the users of it. In one section, Fox looks at the ways in which this variety of English is represented in the media and how she views it:
"The term Jafaican gives the impression that there's something fake about the dialect, which we would refute," she says. "As one young girl who lives in outer London said of her eight-year-old cousin who lives in inner London, 'People say he speaks like a black boy, but he just speaks like a London boy.' The message is that people are beginning to sound the same regardless of their colour or ethnic background. So we prefer to use the term Multicultural London English (MLE). It's perhaps not as catchy," she says, "but it comes closer to what we're trying to describe."

Elsewhere, Kerswill explores the social factors that influence whether or not young people continue to use the language as they grow older:
"We don't quite know whether kids will un-acquire MLE as fast as they've picked it up," concedes Kerswill. "The indications are that it depends very much on people's social networks and aspirations. Those who go into university or highly-paid jobs will change their speech. Those who remain where they are will most likely retain a lot of it. Most people are doubtless somewhere in the middle, and will change to some extent. But that will open the way for MLE to lead to changes in the English language in its spoken form, at least. One conclusion that we have definitely drawn from this study," he concludes, "is that English is one of the most dynamically protean of all languages."

All in all, it's a top read so have a look...

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change & Varieties

Hinglish

New varieties of English seem to be cropping up all over the place, as we've seen with multi-ethnic youth dialects (do a search in the toolbar above to find all the mentions of it), so it's no surprise to find that Britain's growing Asian population is having an impact on English. In particular, it's the Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi-speaking Indians and Pakistanis who are shaping a new cross-fertilised variety called Hinglish (a blend of Hindi and English).

As this article points out, "more people speak English in south Asia than in Britain and North America combined" so it's no surprise that local languages start to inflect the main, unifying language. Have a look at the examples given in the article, especially the shocking definition of ganja.

More about Indian English can be found here:
Guardian Education article
Times article
MacMillan Dictionaries article

...and another article from the BBC website

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties
(This topic focusses on English spoken in the British Isles, but you might be able to make a convincing case for Hinglish being spoken here if you can point to examples from your own transcripts and experience.)

Hinglish

New varieties of English seem to be cropping up all over the place, as we've seen with multi-ethnic youth dialects (do a search in the toolbar above to find all the mentions of it), so it's no surprise to find that Britain's growing Asian population is having an impact on English. In particular, it's the Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi-speaking Indians and Pakistanis who are shaping a new cross-fertilised variety called Hinglish (a blend of Hindi and English).

As this article points out, "more people speak English in south Asia than in Britain and North America combined" so it's no surprise that local languages start to inflect the main, unifying language. Have a look at the examples given in the article, especially the shocking definition of ganja.

More about Indian English can be found here:
Guardian Education article
Times article
MacMillan Dictionaries article

...and another article from the BBC website

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties
(This topic focusses on English spoken in the British Isles, but you might be able to make a convincing case for Hinglish being spoken here if you can point to examples from your own transcripts and experience.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rhyming slang goes a bit Pete Tong

Rhyming slang is changing to include more up to date references to celebrities such as 1990s dance DJ Pete Tong, cartoon heroes Wallace and Gromit and Prime Minister Tony Blair. That's what a new Collins guide, Shame about the Boat Race claims. Cormac McKeown, a Collins editor states:
A lot of the celebrities in rhyming slang 100 years ago would have been music hall stars who would have been very famous but only in the confines of the London area. Now it's opened up with figures from around the world, such as Britney Spears. Much of the new rhyming slang is pretty coarse, revolving around drinking (Paul Weller/Stella; Winona Ryder/cider) and bodily functions (Wallace and Gromit/vomit).
And, as he goes on to say, rhyming slang (like lots of other forms of slang) has always been about hiding what you really want to say from unwanted listeners:
Its purpose has always been to disguise and spare blushes. In the past there were lots of racial slurs which were hidden by rhyming slang. Now it's fairly tongue-in-cheek and it's got a register of its own. People are often being ironic when they use it.
To find out more about Cockney Rhyming Slang have a look here or in one of the great books on slang in the library.

But more importantly, to win this week's Haribo prize, just answer this simple Cockney Conundrum: if I'm off down the fatboy to get Brad Pitt, what am I really doing? Post your answers as comments below and join the ranks of winners...

Useful for:
ENA1 Language & Representation
ENA5 Language Change

Rhyming slang goes a bit Pete Tong

Rhyming slang is changing to include more up to date references to celebrities such as 1990s dance DJ Pete Tong, cartoon heroes Wallace and Gromit and Prime Minister Tony Blair. That's what a new Collins guide, Shame about the Boat Race claims. Cormac McKeown, a Collins editor states:
A lot of the celebrities in rhyming slang 100 years ago would have been music hall stars who would have been very famous but only in the confines of the London area. Now it's opened up with figures from around the world, such as Britney Spears. Much of the new rhyming slang is pretty coarse, revolving around drinking (Paul Weller/Stella; Winona Ryder/cider) and bodily functions (Wallace and Gromit/vomit).
And, as he goes on to say, rhyming slang (like lots of other forms of slang) has always been about hiding what you really want to say from unwanted listeners:
Its purpose has always been to disguise and spare blushes. In the past there were lots of racial slurs which were hidden by rhyming slang. Now it's fairly tongue-in-cheek and it's got a register of its own. People are often being ironic when they use it.
To find out more about Cockney Rhyming Slang have a look here or in one of the great books on slang in the library.

But more importantly, to win this week's Haribo prize, just answer this simple Cockney Conundrum: if I'm off down the fatboy to get Brad Pitt, what am I really doing? Post your answers as comments below and join the ranks of winners...

Useful for:
ENA1 Language & Representation
ENA5 Language Change

Jargon gets workers' ducks out of row

A survey by Investors in People* and reported here on the BBC website reveals that office workers feel baffled and irritated by the jargon their managers use. According to the article, expressions such as blue sky thinking and brain dump don't clearly communicate ideas and cause frustration.

So what is jargon and why does it annoy people so much? Wikipedia defines it as:
Jargon is terminology, much like slang, that relates to a specific activity, profession, or group. It develops as a kind of shorthand, to express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group, and also to distinguish those belonging to a group from those who are not.
One of the problems with office jargon is that it often appears to take the place of straightforward clear communication. Another problem is that it is used by some to indicate their "in the know" status and exclude others. Some argue that it's just silly and gets made up by managers with too much time on their hands.

But in the end, like slang, jargon is part of language change in action; it reflects the industry it comes from. So, out go words and phrases to do with actually making things (because we don't really do that anymore in the UK - we get all our products from China and Bangladesh) and in come words and phrases to do with the "creative industries", which are all about selling ideas and business models to other companies.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change

*Investors in People is the government body that awards tacky little plaques to any organisation that "invests in its people", whatever that means: Burger King, Cash Converters in Walthamstow and err...SFX all have them on proud display - go figure.

Jargon gets workers' ducks out of row

A survey by Investors in People* and reported here on the BBC website reveals that office workers feel baffled and irritated by the jargon their managers use. According to the article, expressions such as blue sky thinking and brain dump don't clearly communicate ideas and cause frustration.

So what is jargon and why does it annoy people so much? Wikipedia defines it as:
Jargon is terminology, much like slang, that relates to a specific activity, profession, or group. It develops as a kind of shorthand, to express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group, and also to distinguish those belonging to a group from those who are not.
One of the problems with office jargon is that it often appears to take the place of straightforward clear communication. Another problem is that it is used by some to indicate their "in the know" status and exclude others. Some argue that it's just silly and gets made up by managers with too much time on their hands.

But in the end, like slang, jargon is part of language change in action; it reflects the industry it comes from. So, out go words and phrases to do with actually making things (because we don't really do that anymore in the UK - we get all our products from China and Bangladesh) and in come words and phrases to do with the "creative industries", which are all about selling ideas and business models to other companies.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change

*Investors in People is the government body that awards tacky little plaques to any organisation that "invests in its people", whatever that means: Burger King, Cash Converters in Walthamstow and err...SFX all have them on proud display - go figure.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Texting and spelling

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian has sparked heated debate on the subject of text message language and its impact on spelling. In his piece here, he argues that texting is driving us into a more logical and phonetically realistic system. He says:

Can texting finally spur revolution? Young people have evolved both a new script and a cost-effective reason for using it. They are breaking free of spelling dogma and expanding the alphabet with emoticons. Texting is the shorthand of the computer age. It is concise, cutting through the verbal jargon by which the professional classes seek to exclude the less educated.
I fully support his argument and have long felt that English spelling is bizarre and ludicrous. In his excellent book on arguments about the English language and the way it changes, The Fight for English, David Crystal points out that many English spellings were deliberately changed to remind us that they came from French, so it's no wonder that so many words have silent "k", "gh" and "h" sounds. No surprise then that so many English speakers struggle to spell. Have a look not just at the article but the hundreds of responses to it on the Guardian site.

Simon Lavery, who has posted the last couple of articles on the blog (cheers Simon!), has put together a set of links to this and related stories about texting, and I've included some of them below:

The Times on the Scottish exam board, SQA, allowing students taking the equivalent of GCSE Eng. Lit. to be rewarded for writing answers using text message language.

Next is a link to BBC Wales' message board discussion on texting.

This next BBC story from 2003 discusses the effect text talk might be having on people's ability to use Standard English in writing.

This story from BBC Scotland is from a woman complaining about the impact on children's literacy of text messaging.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change


Texting and spelling

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian has sparked heated debate on the subject of text message language and its impact on spelling. In his piece here, he argues that texting is driving us into a more logical and phonetically realistic system. He says:

Can texting finally spur revolution? Young people have evolved both a new script and a cost-effective reason for using it. They are breaking free of spelling dogma and expanding the alphabet with emoticons. Texting is the shorthand of the computer age. It is concise, cutting through the verbal jargon by which the professional classes seek to exclude the less educated.
I fully support his argument and have long felt that English spelling is bizarre and ludicrous. In his excellent book on arguments about the English language and the way it changes, The Fight for English, David Crystal points out that many English spellings were deliberately changed to remind us that they came from French, so it's no wonder that so many words have silent "k", "gh" and "h" sounds. No surprise then that so many English speakers struggle to spell. Have a look not just at the article but the hundreds of responses to it on the Guardian site.

Simon Lavery, who has posted the last couple of articles on the blog (cheers Simon!), has put together a set of links to this and related stories about texting, and I've included some of them below:

The Times on the Scottish exam board, SQA, allowing students taking the equivalent of GCSE Eng. Lit. to be rewarded for writing answers using text message language.

Next is a link to BBC Wales' message board discussion on texting.

This next BBC story from 2003 discusses the effect text talk might be having on people's ability to use Standard English in writing.

This story from BBC Scotland is from a woman complaining about the impact on children's literacy of text messaging.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change


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