Saturday, December 19, 2009

English: refreshing the lexical gaps that other languages cannot reach

“If a language is not capable of creating new words to describe new advances, it will die.” These are the words of Alfred Gilder, terminology chief at the French finance ministry, speaking at a recent Swiss conference about the spread of English around Europe and the state of the continent's native languages. "Modernise or die!" was his message. There is a growing concern in many countries about the seemingly unstoppable rise of English as a global language and the effect that this is having on the health and integrity of other languages. So, when words like laptop and roaming, and a phrase like last but not least make it into another language - be it Swiss, German, French or Turkish - the native language takes another step towards losing part of its identity and global English takes another step into another nation's territory.

But why are speakers of other languages using these English words? Why don't they come up with their own new expressions in their own mother tongues? Well that's what Alfred Gilder would like to see, but it's hard to imagine it happening when English has become so ubiquitous and so, well...global. With English being spread through technology, commerce and culture around the world, it's hard to resist its influence. But perhaps there's something about the language itself that makes it attractive - something internal, rather than external - such as its adaptability and tendency to innovate. In short, the fact that English is constantly adding new words and phrases to its vocabulary could be the reason why it's spreading so quickly: it's refreshing the lexical gaps that other languages cannot reach, to nick Heineken's old advertising slogan. In effect, language change - so often derided by prescriptivists as leading to the degradation of our language - has helped push English to the forefront of world languages.

And returning to the article in The Journal of Turkish Weekly, where this conference was covered (linked from Macmillan Dictionary's language in the news roundup), there is recognition that this isn't a new thing, but it's something that is happening at a much swifter pace than ever before:

Of course borrowing words and expressions from other languages is a natural function of language development and English itself has absorbed countless influences in its history – from Latin, French and Hindi, to name but a few. What is different about the current dominance of English is that it is the first truly global language and it is spewing out words at a pace that other languages have no chance to compete with. This rapid evolution favours those who can ride the English wave but creates a language divide, akin to the digital divide, for those who are poor in English.


Where will this lead? At worst, it could lead to the deaths of certain languages around the world, some of which are nearly on their last legs, if this report is anything to go by.

English: refreshing the lexical gaps that other languages cannot reach

“If a language is not capable of creating new words to describe new advances, it will die.” These are the words of Alfred Gilder, terminology chief at the French finance ministry, speaking at a recent Swiss conference about the spread of English around Europe and the state of the continent's native languages. "Modernise or die!" was his message. There is a growing concern in many countries about the seemingly unstoppable rise of English as a global language and the effect that this is having on the health and integrity of other languages. So, when words like laptop and roaming, and a phrase like last but not least make it into another language - be it Swiss, German, French or Turkish - the native language takes another step towards losing part of its identity and global English takes another step into another nation's territory.

But why are speakers of other languages using these English words? Why don't they come up with their own new expressions in their own mother tongues? Well that's what Alfred Gilder would like to see, but it's hard to imagine it happening when English has become so ubiquitous and so, well...global. With English being spread through technology, commerce and culture around the world, it's hard to resist its influence. But perhaps there's something about the language itself that makes it attractive - something internal, rather than external - such as its adaptability and tendency to innovate. In short, the fact that English is constantly adding new words and phrases to its vocabulary could be the reason why it's spreading so quickly: it's refreshing the lexical gaps that other languages cannot reach, to nick Heineken's old advertising slogan. In effect, language change - so often derided by prescriptivists as leading to the degradation of our language - has helped push English to the forefront of world languages.

And returning to the article in The Journal of Turkish Weekly, where this conference was covered (linked from Macmillan Dictionary's language in the news roundup), there is recognition that this isn't a new thing, but it's something that is happening at a much swifter pace than ever before:

Of course borrowing words and expressions from other languages is a natural function of language development and English itself has absorbed countless influences in its history – from Latin, French and Hindi, to name but a few. What is different about the current dominance of English is that it is the first truly global language and it is spewing out words at a pace that other languages have no chance to compete with. This rapid evolution favours those who can ride the English wave but creates a language divide, akin to the digital divide, for those who are poor in English.


Where will this lead? At worst, it could lead to the deaths of certain languages around the world, some of which are nearly on their last legs, if this report is anything to go by.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

10 years of new words

Top lexicographer (and frequent visitor to SFX) Kerry Maxwell, has put together a list of the most interesting words of the decade on the excellent Macmillan Dictionary blog. So in the spirit of Christmas and all that, the first three people to identify the word formation/language change processes (blending, compounding, borrowing, affixation etc.) behind these new words will get a bag of Haribo/alternative organic foodstuff when term begins.

Here they are:

  1. Staycation
  2. WAG
  3. blog
  4. slow food
  5. sudoku

Add your attempt as a comment with your name and class, and the best 3 answers will win. If you enter and you're not an SFX student, you win eternal pride and a few bluetooth high fives.

10 years of new words

Top lexicographer (and frequent visitor to SFX) Kerry Maxwell, has put together a list of the most interesting words of the decade on the excellent Macmillan Dictionary blog. So in the spirit of Christmas and all that, the first three people to identify the word formation/language change processes (blending, compounding, borrowing, affixation etc.) behind these new words will get a bag of Haribo/alternative organic foodstuff when term begins.

Here they are:

  1. Staycation
  2. WAG
  3. blog
  4. slow food
  5. sudoku

Add your attempt as a comment with your name and class, and the best 3 answers will win. If you enter and you're not an SFX student, you win eternal pride and a few bluetooth high fives.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Weapons of mass distraction?

The USA is a few years behind Britain with texting and the moral panics around it, but there has been a recent upsurge in reports of texting damaging literacy skills, textisms working their evil way into students' written work and suchlike. So, this article from Science Daily is a nice counter to those stories and a very helpful one to have a look at for the Language Discourses part of the A2 exam. Phones, therefore, aren't really weapons of mass distraction, more like tools of mass engagement. Or something like that...

Here's a quick snippet of what Carol L. Tilley, professor of library and information science at Illinois says about using texts and tweets in lessons:
"There's always that danger when embracing something in a school setting that you kill it for the students," Tilley said. "But helping kids understand the social and contextual role that texting plays in their lives I think is one possible justification. If there are ways educators can incorporate it in providing homework support or building dialogue out of school hours, then I think it could be a useful communications tool."

Weapons of mass distraction?

The USA is a few years behind Britain with texting and the moral panics around it, but there has been a recent upsurge in reports of texting damaging literacy skills, textisms working their evil way into students' written work and suchlike. So, this article from Science Daily is a nice counter to those stories and a very helpful one to have a look at for the Language Discourses part of the A2 exam. Phones, therefore, aren't really weapons of mass distraction, more like tools of mass engagement. Or something like that...

Here's a quick snippet of what Carol L. Tilley, professor of library and information science at Illinois says about using texts and tweets in lessons:
"There's always that danger when embracing something in a school setting that you kill it for the students," Tilley said. "But helping kids understand the social and contextual role that texting plays in their lives I think is one possible justification. If there are ways educators can incorporate it in providing homework support or building dialogue out of school hours, then I think it could be a useful communications tool."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Slanguage reviewed

Not that I'm obsessed, but here's another link to something about the Radio 4 programme that SFX students took part in. This time it's a positive review of the programme from today's Guardian.

Slanguage reviewed

Not that I'm obsessed, but here's another link to something about the Radio 4 programme that SFX students took part in. This time it's a positive review of the programme from today's Guardian.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Slagging slang

The Mind Your Slanguage programme on Radio 4 today, which SFX students and staff contributed to, has kicked off an interesting debate about slang on the BBC news site today. We've got the usual prescriptive arguments: things were better in my day...these young people are just using broken English...it's all the fault of those black people with their ghetto talk...slang is "contaminating" Standard English...it's lazy and ugly talk... you know the kind of thing. But there are also some more sensible and well-formulated positions, which might also be termed prescriptive too.

Perhaps there is some truth in the argument that language is changing so rapidly now - faster than ever before - that it's too much to cope with for many people. Perhaps too, there's some truth in the claim that young people don't recognise that they're using slang some of the time, and that it's inappropriate in formal settings. But isn't that also the case for older people too and their own slang and idiomatic expressions?

Have a look and see what you make of it all. But remember, this is a great opportunity to be part of a language debate and even intervene in it yourselves. Many of you have already, by being part of the programme, so big up yourselves and that, bang bang etc.

Slagging slang

The Mind Your Slanguage programme on Radio 4 today, which SFX students and staff contributed to, has kicked off an interesting debate about slang on the BBC news site today. We've got the usual prescriptive arguments: things were better in my day...these young people are just using broken English...it's all the fault of those black people with their ghetto talk...slang is "contaminating" Standard English...it's lazy and ugly talk... you know the kind of thing. But there are also some more sensible and well-formulated positions, which might also be termed prescriptive too.

Perhaps there is some truth in the argument that language is changing so rapidly now - faster than ever before - that it's too much to cope with for many people. Perhaps too, there's some truth in the claim that young people don't recognise that they're using slang some of the time, and that it's inappropriate in formal settings. But isn't that also the case for older people too and their own slang and idiomatic expressions?

Have a look and see what you make of it all. But remember, this is a great opportunity to be part of a language debate and even intervene in it yourselves. Many of you have already, by being part of the programme, so big up yourselves and that, bang bang etc.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Noughty words

With 2009 drawing to a close, nearly every newspaper and magazine in existence is currently filling its pages with end of decade lists: films, albums, influential political figures, artists, you know the sort of list. But BBC news magazine also offers us some good language discussion as it looks for the most important words of the noughties.

The language expert and author, Susie Dent (who has written some really good books on language change, the annual Language Report) offers a few suggestions - chav, green, tweet and poking among others - but the BBC also wants your suggestions. Have a look here for more. And my personal favourite has to be (drum roll)... celebutard: a blend of (I think) celebrity + d├ębutante + retard, a nice and catty term of abuse for a recently semi-famous nonentity.

Elsewhere, if you're interested in new words and where they come from - and you should be 'cos you're an English Language student, innit - then you can do much much worse than Buzzword on the excellent Macmillan Dictionary pages here.

Noughty words

With 2009 drawing to a close, nearly every newspaper and magazine in existence is currently filling its pages with end of decade lists: films, albums, influential political figures, artists, you know the sort of list. But BBC news magazine also offers us some good language discussion as it looks for the most important words of the noughties.

The language expert and author, Susie Dent (who has written some really good books on language change, the annual Language Report) offers a few suggestions - chav, green, tweet and poking among others - but the BBC also wants your suggestions. Have a look here for more. And my personal favourite has to be (drum roll)... celebutard: a blend of (I think) celebrity + d├ębutante + retard, a nice and catty term of abuse for a recently semi-famous nonentity.

Elsewhere, if you're interested in new words and where they come from - and you should be 'cos you're an English Language student, innit - then you can do much much worse than Buzzword on the excellent Macmillan Dictionary pages here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Mind your slanguage

Tuesday 8th December, 11am on Radio 4 is when Mind Your Slanguage is broadcast. It features lots of good stuff about how people use and feel about slang, including interviews with Tony Thorne and Paul Kerswill. But most importantly it features lots of SFX students talking about the slang they use, don't use and how they feel about it. Huzzah!

Mind your slanguage

Tuesday 8th December, 11am on Radio 4 is when Mind Your Slanguage is broadcast. It features lots of good stuff about how people use and feel about slang, including interviews with Tony Thorne and Paul Kerswill. But most importantly it features lots of SFX students talking about the slang they use, don't use and how they feel about it. Huzzah!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The unseemly stalkers of youth slang

In this comment piece in The Guardian, Shirley Dent takes a swipe at "the rush to relevance" that she argues is reducing classic literature to a series of empty gestures, designed to attract fickle youth audiences who can't cope with proper English. Swear down.

Dent, in particular, doesn't like the idea of Julius Caesar being adapted to include street slang:
Not only is it patronising to those it hopes to welcome, but it entirely
misses the literary purpose and value of slang, usually utilising the lamest,
least challenging has-been manifestations of "cutting-edge,
fresh-from-the-street" talk. Take a line from the street slang Julius Caesar: "I
come to bury Caesar, not big him up." Are you kidding me? Even to an old fogey
such as myself, this sounds dated. When well-meaning literary professionals seek
to get down with the kids in this way, the world really is turned upside down.
On one side, those who should know better abdicate their duty to introduce the
next generation – wherever they come from – to the very best of literature; on
the other, you have a misplaced scramble to latch on to and leech off the
knowing cool of youth.

I've got mixed feelings about this view. On one hand, the students involved in the Wasted production, deserve to be applauded for their hard work and dynamism ( I've got to say that as well because I teach some of them and I don't want to get slapped up by an angry gangsta-thespian at registration), and you can see that the use of language that they are familiar with from the colloquial discourse around them is one way of opening up the text to different audiences. But, on the other hand, is it just a cheesy, patronising and craven attempt to bring a hint of ghetto colour to a pedestrian adaptation of a great play? Is slang being used because the actors don't actually understand the original words and meanings?

The unseemly stalkers of youth slang

In this comment piece in The Guardian, Shirley Dent takes a swipe at "the rush to relevance" that she argues is reducing classic literature to a series of empty gestures, designed to attract fickle youth audiences who can't cope with proper English. Swear down.

Dent, in particular, doesn't like the idea of Julius Caesar being adapted to include street slang:
Not only is it patronising to those it hopes to welcome, but it entirely
misses the literary purpose and value of slang, usually utilising the lamest,
least challenging has-been manifestations of "cutting-edge,
fresh-from-the-street" talk. Take a line from the street slang Julius Caesar: "I
come to bury Caesar, not big him up." Are you kidding me? Even to an old fogey
such as myself, this sounds dated. When well-meaning literary professionals seek
to get down with the kids in this way, the world really is turned upside down.
On one side, those who should know better abdicate their duty to introduce the
next generation – wherever they come from – to the very best of literature; on
the other, you have a misplaced scramble to latch on to and leech off the
knowing cool of youth.

I've got mixed feelings about this view. On one hand, the students involved in the Wasted production, deserve to be applauded for their hard work and dynamism ( I've got to say that as well because I teach some of them and I don't want to get slapped up by an angry gangsta-thespian at registration), and you can see that the use of language that they are familiar with from the colloquial discourse around them is one way of opening up the text to different audiences. But, on the other hand, is it just a cheesy, patronising and craven attempt to bring a hint of ghetto colour to a pedestrian adaptation of a great play? Is slang being used because the actors don't actually understand the original words and meanings?

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Sun comments on 'silliness that is attempt to change the way we think'

Bold print stating BAN ON WORD 'YOUTH' could be seen on the front cover of The Sun on Saturday Nov 28th. The article on p4 expanded on the 'potty language changes' in the code of practice issued by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families on how to give out conditional cautions. According to the Sun, it reads: 'A number of responses suggested the term 'youth' had negative connotations and should be replaced by 'young person'. Therefore throughout the code (with the exception of the term 'Youth Conditional Caution') 'youth' has been replaced.'
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2749902/The-word-youths-banned-by-Ministry-of-Justice-and-Dept-for-Children-Schools-and-Families-code-of-practice.html
Interestingly, the article itself refers to the young people as 'yobs' and shows a picture of a 'hoodie!' The writer states: 'Politically-correct penpushers have banned calling yobs 'youths' - so as not to hurt their feelings.'
What terms are acceptable when referring to teenage criminals? How is the Sun reader being encouraged to think about young people? Is there any difference implied or stated between young people and young offenders (or are you all the same?)
The topic is expanded upon in the Sun's editorial exploring other aspects of extreme political correctness such as 'winterval' which 'is making a mockery of Christmas.' It goes on to say that 'This stupidity is no joke. It prevents us dealing with real problems in society because people feel nervous talking bluntly about their causes.' After quoting extreme PC examples such as 'Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep' it states:' but behind all this silliness is an attempt to change the way we think.' A familiar theory?
After 'banging on about this' in class today (quote from Ben -thanks!) there was some discussion about whether I should have written 'youth language' on the board as a cause of language change or whether I should have reworded it! What do you think?

The Sun comments on 'silliness that is attempt to change the way we think'

Bold print stating BAN ON WORD 'YOUTH' could be seen on the front cover of The Sun on Saturday Nov 28th. The article on p4 expanded on the 'potty language changes' in the code of practice issued by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families on how to give out conditional cautions. According to the Sun, it reads: 'A number of responses suggested the term 'youth' had negative connotations and should be replaced by 'young person'. Therefore throughout the code (with the exception of the term 'Youth Conditional Caution') 'youth' has been replaced.'
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2749902/The-word-youths-banned-by-Ministry-of-Justice-and-Dept-for-Children-Schools-and-Families-code-of-practice.html
Interestingly, the article itself refers to the young people as 'yobs' and shows a picture of a 'hoodie!' The writer states: 'Politically-correct penpushers have banned calling yobs 'youths' - so as not to hurt their feelings.'
What terms are acceptable when referring to teenage criminals? How is the Sun reader being encouraged to think about young people? Is there any difference implied or stated between young people and young offenders (or are you all the same?)
The topic is expanded upon in the Sun's editorial exploring other aspects of extreme political correctness such as 'winterval' which 'is making a mockery of Christmas.' It goes on to say that 'This stupidity is no joke. It prevents us dealing with real problems in society because people feel nervous talking bluntly about their causes.' After quoting extreme PC examples such as 'Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep' it states:' but behind all this silliness is an attempt to change the way we think.' A familiar theory?
After 'banging on about this' in class today (quote from Ben -thanks!) there was some discussion about whether I should have written 'youth language' on the board as a cause of language change or whether I should have reworded it! What do you think?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Words of warning

Two rappers have apparently been jailed for issuing blood-curdling death threats to potential witnesses in a murder case, according to the BBC news website.

"Its connection to this case and its chilling message were immediately obvious to the officers," Mr Glasgow told the court. The video had but one purpose - to threaten any witness to this incident to frighten them to such an extent that they would refuse to co-operate with the police. They made it clear exactly what it was they wanted to do to them.

"Namely, kill them or to use their own words, 'I can't wait for the snitch to drop, I still show up at his wake just to see him off'."

Old Bailey Judge Richard Hone said the lyrics meant: "Those who went chitter-chattering to police were themselves in danger of being shot."


It's a strange story and one that might be of use to anyone working on material for political correctness and language on ENGA3/4. How far does freedom of speech extend? Should we be able to say whatever we want, or can certain pronouncements put us at risk of a prison sentence?

Words of warning

Two rappers have apparently been jailed for issuing blood-curdling death threats to potential witnesses in a murder case, according to the BBC news website.

"Its connection to this case and its chilling message were immediately obvious to the officers," Mr Glasgow told the court. The video had but one purpose - to threaten any witness to this incident to frighten them to such an extent that they would refuse to co-operate with the police. They made it clear exactly what it was they wanted to do to them.

"Namely, kill them or to use their own words, 'I can't wait for the snitch to drop, I still show up at his wake just to see him off'."

Old Bailey Judge Richard Hone said the lyrics meant: "Those who went chitter-chattering to police were themselves in danger of being shot."


It's a strange story and one that might be of use to anyone working on material for political correctness and language on ENGA3/4. How far does freedom of speech extend? Should we be able to say whatever we want, or can certain pronouncements put us at risk of a prison sentence?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crippled by language

G.P. Doctor Crippen, a Guardian columnist, makes some good points about how language can be used to define people by their illnesses in yesterday's G2 section. In his column he points out that adjectives used to describe medical conditions (e.g. "schizophrenic") can be problematic when applied as nouns to the people who have these conditions (e.g. "he is a schizophrenic").

He points out:

the thoughtless use of words may indicate an underlying iceberg of prejudice and
misunderstanding. I was taken to task a few days ago by a psychiatrist colleague
for using the word "schizophrenic" as a noun. "It is not a noun, and
schizophrenics are people," he said. Technically the psychiatrist is wrong. Like
"diabetic" and "asthmatic", schizophrenic was always meant to be an adjective,
but common usage has made it a noun.


It's the same with other adjectives as nouns too. We've discussed in class how people feel about adjectives used to label ethnic and other social groups (the blacks, the Asians, the disabled) and this seems to be part of the same issue. So, now we know that David Beckham has asthma, is he an asthmatic (noun)? Or should we say David Beckham is asthmatic (adjective)? Or perhaps, an excellent footballer and fashion icon who happens to excel despite his asthma?

Crippled by language

G.P. Doctor Crippen, a Guardian columnist, makes some good points about how language can be used to define people by their illnesses in yesterday's G2 section. In his column he points out that adjectives used to describe medical conditions (e.g. "schizophrenic") can be problematic when applied as nouns to the people who have these conditions (e.g. "he is a schizophrenic").

He points out:

the thoughtless use of words may indicate an underlying iceberg of prejudice and
misunderstanding. I was taken to task a few days ago by a psychiatrist colleague
for using the word "schizophrenic" as a noun. "It is not a noun, and
schizophrenics are people," he said. Technically the psychiatrist is wrong. Like
"diabetic" and "asthmatic", schizophrenic was always meant to be an adjective,
but common usage has made it a noun.


It's the same with other adjectives as nouns too. We've discussed in class how people feel about adjectives used to label ethnic and other social groups (the blacks, the Asians, the disabled) and this seems to be part of the same issue. So, now we know that David Beckham has asthma, is he an asthmatic (noun)? Or should we say David Beckham is asthmatic (adjective)? Or perhaps, an excellent footballer and fashion icon who happens to excel despite his asthma?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Acting like a bardboy

This article in today's Evening Standard tells us about a new version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar which is being performed by a cast of young actors in London. Not exactly much news there you might think, but what's piqued the interest of the Standard is the fact that part of the script adapts the words of the bard (Shakespeare to you and me) and renders them in "street slang". Oh and the play is being rebranded as the "ultimate knife crime". D'ya get me?

Cue righteous indignation from some Evening Standard readers and probably a couple of letters in tomorrow's edition.

+++stop press+++ SFX students are actually involved in this play, so if I may "big you up" that would be splendid+++stop press+++

Acting like a bardboy

This article in today's Evening Standard tells us about a new version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar which is being performed by a cast of young actors in London. Not exactly much news there you might think, but what's piqued the interest of the Standard is the fact that part of the script adapts the words of the bard (Shakespeare to you and me) and renders them in "street slang". Oh and the play is being rebranded as the "ultimate knife crime". D'ya get me?

Cue righteous indignation from some Evening Standard readers and probably a couple of letters in tomorrow's edition.

+++stop press+++ SFX students are actually involved in this play, so if I may "big you up" that would be splendid+++stop press+++

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Txtrage

The Daily Mail is angry and this time it's not immigrants, youth gangs or single mothers who are to blame, but the evil empire that is the exam board AQA and its decision to put text messaging on the curriculum. Have a look at this article to get an idea of what it's all about. But also have a read of some of these really sensible and funny comments from readers (possibly not your average Daily Mail readers, but those who've followed Twitter feeds and email links to it, I would guess). Have a look at Chris's comment below and then the excellent response from luvu2h8me:

Well, Your "language skills" will not score with me or my customers, that's for sure... After all, I'm one of those old buzzards that knows nothing and should shut up, just accepting the blazing communication skills of yours, take you on, and happily accept that the very same skill of yours will put us both out of a job sooner rather than later, as long as you get your great pay for your extraordinary language knowledge and communication skills.
Realize that your txtspk skills has no real worth.
- Chris, Ayr, Scotland, 16/11/2009 13:43


1. Why did you capitalise "Your" in your first sentence?
2. Why did you spell "realise" as "realize"?
3. Why did you have a run-on sentence instead of punctuating it correctly?
4. Why did you say "your txtspk skills has no" instead of "your txtspk skills HAVE no". Didn't you realise that you were referring to a plural when you typed "skills"?

I'd advise you to keep away from txtspk until you master English correctly! ;)

Txtrage

The Daily Mail is angry and this time it's not immigrants, youth gangs or single mothers who are to blame, but the evil empire that is the exam board AQA and its decision to put text messaging on the curriculum. Have a look at this article to get an idea of what it's all about. But also have a read of some of these really sensible and funny comments from readers (possibly not your average Daily Mail readers, but those who've followed Twitter feeds and email links to it, I would guess). Have a look at Chris's comment below and then the excellent response from luvu2h8me:

Well, Your "language skills" will not score with me or my customers, that's for sure... After all, I'm one of those old buzzards that knows nothing and should shut up, just accepting the blazing communication skills of yours, take you on, and happily accept that the very same skill of yours will put us both out of a job sooner rather than later, as long as you get your great pay for your extraordinary language knowledge and communication skills.
Realize that your txtspk skills has no real worth.
- Chris, Ayr, Scotland, 16/11/2009 13:43


1. Why did you capitalise "Your" in your first sentence?
2. Why did you spell "realise" as "realize"?
3. Why did you have a run-on sentence instead of punctuating it correctly?
4. Why did you say "your txtspk skills has no" instead of "your txtspk skills HAVE no". Didn't you realise that you were referring to a plural when you typed "skills"?

I'd advise you to keep away from txtspk until you master English correctly! ;)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why do we talk?

There was a really good documentary about children's language development on BBC2's Horizon programme last night, called Why Do We Talk? Have a look here on BBC's i-player this week to watch it. And the BBC magazine has an article about it here.

And there's more on Deb Roy's massive child language data experiment here on a blog post back in July of this year. Meanwhile, have a look at this TED online lecture by the mighty Steven Pinker for his view on "the blank slate". But first, make yourself a nice cup of tea and put on your thinking cap (rather than your dodgy New Era hat).

Why do we talk?

There was a really good documentary about children's language development on BBC2's Horizon programme last night, called Why Do We Talk? Have a look here on BBC's i-player this week to watch it. And the BBC magazine has an article about it here.

And there's more on Deb Roy's massive child language data experiment here on a blog post back in July of this year. Meanwhile, have a look at this TED online lecture by the mighty Steven Pinker for his view on "the blank slate". But first, make yourself a nice cup of tea and put on your thinking cap (rather than your dodgy New Era hat).

Friday, November 06, 2009

Hoodwinked

Hoodies, thugs, yobs, feral youths, louts and scum. That's what many readers of this blog are, if you subscribe to the popular view that all young people (particularly if they're from the inner city and/or black and/or working class) are unruly troublemakers.

Jane Graham writing in today's Guardian, in a piece mainly about the new Michael Caine film, Harry Brown*, points out that the hooded youth or "hoodie" has now become a kind of visual or linguistic shorthand for a new kind of folk devil, a new bogeyman for the twenty first century. As Graham points out, hoodies are "defined by their class (perceived as being bottom of the heap) and their social standing (their relationship to society is always seen as being oppositional). Hoodies aren't "kids" or "youngsters" or even "rebels" – in fact, recent research by Women in Journalism on regional and national newspaper reporting of hoodies shows that the word is most commonly interchanged with (in order of popularity) "yob", "thug", "lout" and "scum"".

And the research by Women in Journalism referred to above makes for some fascinating reading. The headline statistics that they use in the report "Hoodies or Altar Boys?" are as follows:

* 85% of teen boys said newspapers portray them in a bad light
* Reality TV was seen as portraying teen boys most fairly
* Media stories about yobs and hoodies are the main reason why teen
boys are wary of other teenagers
* 80% of teen boys think adults are more wary of them now than they were a year ago.
* Terms used in newspaper stories about teen boys included thugs, yobs, hoodies, feral, evil, lout, monsters, brutes, scum, menace, heartless, sick, menacing and inhuman
* Over the past year, there were more newspaper stories about teens and crime (as victims or offenders) than about teens and all other subjects put together

* Even on subjects other than crime, few newspaper stories show teen boys in a good light: only 24% of stories about teens and sport were positive about teenage boys; only 16% of stories about teens and entertainment were positive.
Fiona Bawdon, the WiJ committee member who will be presenting the research, says: “When a photo of a group of perfectly ordinary lads standing around wearing hooded tops has become visual shorthand for urban menace, or even the breakdown of society, it's clear that teenage boys have a serious image problem. The teen boys' "brand" has become toxic. Media coverage of boys is unrelentingly negative, focusing almost entirely on them as victims or perpetrators of crime - and our research shows that the media is helping make teenage boys fearful of each other.”


So, as students of English Language, particularly if you're doing ENGA2 work on the representation of young people, this is fertile ground to investigate. The links on the Women in Journalism site are really helpful too, as they point us towards some particularly relevant articles such as Suzanne Moore's thoughtful piece in The Daily Mail here and The Labour MP David Lammy's excellent comment column here.

And just to remind you of how very similar students to yourselves are referred to in the national press and by members of the public, why not have a read of this appalling tripe from the Daily Mail and some of the deranged comments of its readers on a recent unpleasant incident linked to Orpington College, a "scum magnet" according to an equally unpleasant article in The Sun.

*set in Elephant and Castle, south London fact fans...and not a lot of people know that

Hoodwinked

Hoodies, thugs, yobs, feral youths, louts and scum. That's what many readers of this blog are, if you subscribe to the popular view that all young people (particularly if they're from the inner city and/or black and/or working class) are unruly troublemakers.

Jane Graham writing in today's Guardian, in a piece mainly about the new Michael Caine film, Harry Brown*, points out that the hooded youth or "hoodie" has now become a kind of visual or linguistic shorthand for a new kind of folk devil, a new bogeyman for the twenty first century. As Graham points out, hoodies are "defined by their class (perceived as being bottom of the heap) and their social standing (their relationship to society is always seen as being oppositional). Hoodies aren't "kids" or "youngsters" or even "rebels" – in fact, recent research by Women in Journalism on regional and national newspaper reporting of hoodies shows that the word is most commonly interchanged with (in order of popularity) "yob", "thug", "lout" and "scum"".

And the research by Women in Journalism referred to above makes for some fascinating reading. The headline statistics that they use in the report "Hoodies or Altar Boys?" are as follows:

* 85% of teen boys said newspapers portray them in a bad light
* Reality TV was seen as portraying teen boys most fairly
* Media stories about yobs and hoodies are the main reason why teen
boys are wary of other teenagers
* 80% of teen boys think adults are more wary of them now than they were a year ago.
* Terms used in newspaper stories about teen boys included thugs, yobs, hoodies, feral, evil, lout, monsters, brutes, scum, menace, heartless, sick, menacing and inhuman
* Over the past year, there were more newspaper stories about teens and crime (as victims or offenders) than about teens and all other subjects put together

* Even on subjects other than crime, few newspaper stories show teen boys in a good light: only 24% of stories about teens and sport were positive about teenage boys; only 16% of stories about teens and entertainment were positive.
Fiona Bawdon, the WiJ committee member who will be presenting the research, says: “When a photo of a group of perfectly ordinary lads standing around wearing hooded tops has become visual shorthand for urban menace, or even the breakdown of society, it's clear that teenage boys have a serious image problem. The teen boys' "brand" has become toxic. Media coverage of boys is unrelentingly negative, focusing almost entirely on them as victims or perpetrators of crime - and our research shows that the media is helping make teenage boys fearful of each other.”


So, as students of English Language, particularly if you're doing ENGA2 work on the representation of young people, this is fertile ground to investigate. The links on the Women in Journalism site are really helpful too, as they point us towards some particularly relevant articles such as Suzanne Moore's thoughtful piece in The Daily Mail here and The Labour MP David Lammy's excellent comment column here.

And just to remind you of how very similar students to yourselves are referred to in the national press and by members of the public, why not have a read of this appalling tripe from the Daily Mail and some of the deranged comments of its readers on a recent unpleasant incident linked to Orpington College, a "scum magnet" according to an equally unpleasant article in The Sun.

*set in Elephant and Castle, south London fact fans...and not a lot of people know that

Children's melodies

Recent German research into children's early exposure to sounds seems to suggest that newborn babies have noticeably different cries, with distinct intonation patterns linked to the sounds of their mothers' language. What is even more striking is that these patterns seem to become established before the child is even born:

The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation.


So in other words (and helped by a news piece on Radio 4 this morning that I'll try to link here later) a French baby's cries will be closer to the melodic patterns of the French language, while a German baby's will be closer to the intonation patterns of the German language, and these intonation patterns will have been developed while in the womb. The audio can be heard by going to this link on Billy Clark's London Language blog.

More on this story here. But in this report on the same story, some interesting reasons are suggested for not jumping to conclusions about what this experiment proves or disproves:

More work remains to be done to confirm that parental talk affects how babies cry, remarks psycholinguist D. Kimbrough Oller of the University of Memphis. Newborns cry differently depending on their emotional states, which may have differed for French and German babies, Oller says. Mothers of one nationality may have allowed babies to cry longer before picking them up. Or, recording devices may have been set up more intrusively in one country than in the other. Either situation would complicate an acoustic comparison of French and German newborns’ cries, Oller notes.A related scientific debate concerns whether parents’ native language influences how babies babble during the first year of life. Oller regards babies’ babbling as a universal set of sounds largely immune to cultural or linguistic influences.

Children's melodies

Recent German research into children's early exposure to sounds seems to suggest that newborn babies have noticeably different cries, with distinct intonation patterns linked to the sounds of their mothers' language. What is even more striking is that these patterns seem to become established before the child is even born:

The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation.


So in other words (and helped by a news piece on Radio 4 this morning that I'll try to link here later) a French baby's cries will be closer to the melodic patterns of the French language, while a German baby's will be closer to the intonation patterns of the German language, and these intonation patterns will have been developed while in the womb. The audio can be heard by going to this link on Billy Clark's London Language blog.

More on this story here. But in this report on the same story, some interesting reasons are suggested for not jumping to conclusions about what this experiment proves or disproves:

More work remains to be done to confirm that parental talk affects how babies cry, remarks psycholinguist D. Kimbrough Oller of the University of Memphis. Newborns cry differently depending on their emotional states, which may have differed for French and German babies, Oller says. Mothers of one nationality may have allowed babies to cry longer before picking them up. Or, recording devices may have been set up more intrusively in one country than in the other. Either situation would complicate an acoustic comparison of French and German newborns’ cries, Oller notes.A related scientific debate concerns whether parents’ native language influences how babies babble during the first year of life. Oller regards babies’ babbling as a universal set of sounds largely immune to cultural or linguistic influences.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Glaswegian translation

This news piece on the BBC site covers the recent story about a translation company in Scotland advertising for "Glaswegian English" speakers to help their clients understand the local dialect. There's more detailed analysis of the Glaswegian dialect here in the Telegraph and one academic, Dr Jane Stuart-Smith, a Reader in English Language at the University of Glasgow, makes the point that Glaswegian itself is quite a broad category:

The Glaswegian accent has a range of varieties, ranging from those close to standard English to those that are much closer to Scots, so the broad varieties of Glaswegian which are linguistically and structurally more different from standard English you would expect people to find harder to understand. Non-native English speakers or southern English people who are used to standard English or American find the sound system of Glaswegian different and these differences mean it will be difficult to understand.

Glaswegian translation

This news piece on the BBC site covers the recent story about a translation company in Scotland advertising for "Glaswegian English" speakers to help their clients understand the local dialect. There's more detailed analysis of the Glaswegian dialect here in the Telegraph and one academic, Dr Jane Stuart-Smith, a Reader in English Language at the University of Glasgow, makes the point that Glaswegian itself is quite a broad category:

The Glaswegian accent has a range of varieties, ranging from those close to standard English to those that are much closer to Scots, so the broad varieties of Glaswegian which are linguistically and structurally more different from standard English you would expect people to find harder to understand. Non-native English speakers or southern English people who are used to standard English or American find the sound system of Glaswegian different and these differences mean it will be difficult to understand.

Hate Mail

Stephen Gately was gay. And now he is dead. Therefore he must have died of being gay. Such is the deranged subtext of Jan Moir's Daily Mail opinion piece, which has apparently become the single most complained about newspaper article in the Press Complaints Commission's history.

In her column, originally entitled Why there was nothing "natural" about Stephen Gately's death, but later amended by a worried Daily Mail to A strange, lonely and troubling death..., Moir says:

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered. And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.
She later goes on to claim that Gately's death "strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships", trying to link Gately's untimely death and Kevin McGee's suicide to a wider discourse about gay relationships being unnatural, phony and not equivalent to heterosexual relationships.

Whatever your views on homosexuality (and just to be clear, I believe that gay relationships should be treated in exactly the same way as heterosexual ones, and gay people afforded the same rights and respect as every other human being) it's pretty clear that in the way Moir has used language here she is consciously trying to associate Gately with some imagined seedy, hedonistic lifestyle while at the same time knowing literally nothing about the exact circumstances of his death. It just amounts to prurient and tasteless speculation, especially considering that the poor guy's body was not even cold in the grave when the article was published.

The Guardian's Charlie Brooker responded quickly to the Moir article in his customary style, describing it as "a gratuitous piece of gay-bashing" and adding:

It has been 20 minutes since I've read her now-notorious column, and I'm still struggling to absorb the sheer scope of its hateful idiocy. It's like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.


Elsewhere, thousands of online responses, the vast majority critical of Moir, were posted to the Mail's website, and many others complained to the PCC.

The recent killing of a gay man in Central London, for which three young people have been charged, should show that the distance between hateful words and hateful deeds is not that far. Words matter. Language matters. And I think there's a strong case for arguing that those who use hateful language ultimately bear some responsibility for what happens when words turn to deeds.

Hate Mail

Stephen Gately was gay. And now he is dead. Therefore he must have died of being gay. Such is the deranged subtext of Jan Moir's Daily Mail opinion piece, which has apparently become the single most complained about newspaper article in the Press Complaints Commission's history.

In her column, originally entitled Why there was nothing "natural" about Stephen Gately's death, but later amended by a worried Daily Mail to A strange, lonely and troubling death..., Moir says:

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered. And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.
She later goes on to claim that Gately's death "strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships", trying to link Gately's untimely death and Kevin McGee's suicide to a wider discourse about gay relationships being unnatural, phony and not equivalent to heterosexual relationships.

Whatever your views on homosexuality (and just to be clear, I believe that gay relationships should be treated in exactly the same way as heterosexual ones, and gay people afforded the same rights and respect as every other human being) it's pretty clear that in the way Moir has used language here she is consciously trying to associate Gately with some imagined seedy, hedonistic lifestyle while at the same time knowing literally nothing about the exact circumstances of his death. It just amounts to prurient and tasteless speculation, especially considering that the poor guy's body was not even cold in the grave when the article was published.

The Guardian's Charlie Brooker responded quickly to the Moir article in his customary style, describing it as "a gratuitous piece of gay-bashing" and adding:

It has been 20 minutes since I've read her now-notorious column, and I'm still struggling to absorb the sheer scope of its hateful idiocy. It's like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.


Elsewhere, thousands of online responses, the vast majority critical of Moir, were posted to the Mail's website, and many others complained to the PCC.

The recent killing of a gay man in Central London, for which three young people have been charged, should show that the distance between hateful words and hateful deeds is not that far. Words matter. Language matters. And I think there's a strong case for arguing that those who use hateful language ultimately bear some responsibility for what happens when words turn to deeds.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Happiness, suicide, Facebook and Bebo

Normally on this blog we've tried to cover material that's specifically about language topics that you study at A level or news stories that have relevance to wider issues about language that might interest us. The two main stories mentioned below are not really about language - and are genuinely sad, involving the deaths of three people - but have links to how we use language to express ourselves, so I hope that makes some sense.

In the first story, the death of Kevin McGee (Little Britain star, Matt Lucas's ex-partner) seems to have been widely reported with reference to his 21st century style suicide note: a Facebook update that read "Kevin McGee thinks that death is much better than life". When we look at the concept of mode and use it to think about differences between written and spoken texts, we've often considered the written mode to confer more seriousness, formality or permanence on its language, but what happens when you've got a blended mode form like Facebook profiles (typed on a keyboard, certainly not spoken, but not exactly written)?

I reckon the last thing on poor old Kevin McGee's mind was "where on the mode continuum will an English Language student place my suicide message", but doesn't this raise important issues about the status we give to social networking sites and the language we use on them?

Likewise, the pointless and tragic suicides of Niamh Lafferty and Georgia Rowe near Glasgow, earlier this week (and reported here) have led to many social networking tributes. And what's striking about these tributes is how different they are from the kinds of messages left engraved forever on tombstones. A message apparently left by Georgia's cousin reads "georgia a know we havent spoke in a very long time but u'll always be ma wee cousin an a love u. Hope ur in a better place now. R.I.P".

Again it may seem cold and callous to look at such a sad waste of young lives for the purposes of language analysis, but maybe this all tells us something about the society we live in, our reactions to the deaths of others and our changing attitudes to what is appropriate language in situations like this. After all, we're studying language not for its own sake but to give us an understanding of ourselves and others, aren't we? And maybe what's striking too about this particular "tribute" is its use of non-standard features - not just the fairly typical ones to do with abbreviation, letter homophones, clippings and non-capitalisation - but its apparently regional features of accent (a not i/I and ma not my) and dialect (we havent spoke not we haven't spoken). Does this make the tribute more "real"? Does the fact that it's written in a way that the speaker finds natural make it a less frozen, less formal, more genuine tribute to the person who's now gone?

This feature article in today's Guardian takes a not very linguistic, but interestingly psychological approach to tribute websites like Gonetoosoon and lasting tribute too, and I think it's worth a look.

Elsewhere (and it's a desperate attempt to finish on a happy note) this bizarre piece of non-research seems to be trying to work out how happy Americans are by "analysing" their Facebook status updates. It's worth a quick look, if nothing else.

Happiness, suicide, Facebook and Bebo

Normally on this blog we've tried to cover material that's specifically about language topics that you study at A level or news stories that have relevance to wider issues about language that might interest us. The two main stories mentioned below are not really about language - and are genuinely sad, involving the deaths of three people - but have links to how we use language to express ourselves, so I hope that makes some sense.

In the first story, the death of Kevin McGee (Little Britain star, Matt Lucas's ex-partner) seems to have been widely reported with reference to his 21st century style suicide note: a Facebook update that read "Kevin McGee thinks that death is much better than life". When we look at the concept of mode and use it to think about differences between written and spoken texts, we've often considered the written mode to confer more seriousness, formality or permanence on its language, but what happens when you've got a blended mode form like Facebook profiles (typed on a keyboard, certainly not spoken, but not exactly written)?

I reckon the last thing on poor old Kevin McGee's mind was "where on the mode continuum will an English Language student place my suicide message", but doesn't this raise important issues about the status we give to social networking sites and the language we use on them?

Likewise, the pointless and tragic suicides of Niamh Lafferty and Georgia Rowe near Glasgow, earlier this week (and reported here) have led to many social networking tributes. And what's striking about these tributes is how different they are from the kinds of messages left engraved forever on tombstones. A message apparently left by Georgia's cousin reads "georgia a know we havent spoke in a very long time but u'll always be ma wee cousin an a love u. Hope ur in a better place now. R.I.P".

Again it may seem cold and callous to look at such a sad waste of young lives for the purposes of language analysis, but maybe this all tells us something about the society we live in, our reactions to the deaths of others and our changing attitudes to what is appropriate language in situations like this. After all, we're studying language not for its own sake but to give us an understanding of ourselves and others, aren't we? And maybe what's striking too about this particular "tribute" is its use of non-standard features - not just the fairly typical ones to do with abbreviation, letter homophones, clippings and non-capitalisation - but its apparently regional features of accent (a not i/I and ma not my) and dialect (we havent spoke not we haven't spoken). Does this make the tribute more "real"? Does the fact that it's written in a way that the speaker finds natural make it a less frozen, less formal, more genuine tribute to the person who's now gone?

This feature article in today's Guardian takes a not very linguistic, but interestingly psychological approach to tribute websites like Gonetoosoon and lasting tribute too, and I think it's worth a look.

Elsewhere (and it's a desperate attempt to finish on a happy note) this bizarre piece of non-research seems to be trying to work out how happy Americans are by "analysing" their Facebook status updates. It's worth a quick look, if nothing else.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Poison pens and private eyes

Forensic linguistics is rapidly becoming my favourite thing in the world: what better way to combine a love of language and The Wire in one job? So, this story on the BBC news website about abusive letters being sent to religious and political figures and covered in this week's Crimewatch is very exciting.

Apparently, a total of 57 abusive, racist and sexually graphic letters have been sent to various religious and political figures from the Southampton & Portsmouth area, and forensic linguist Tim Grant from Aston University's Centre For Forensic Linguistics has been called in to look at who the sender/s might be.

The article raises a number of interesting questions to do with language, some of them about gender and language use. While the linguist, Deborah Cameron lays into the generalised "myths" of clear differences between male and female language use in conversation, Tim Grant seems to suggest that men and women often tend to have distinctive patterns of written language:

He said: "One of the things that were striking about the letters was the heavy use of expressive adjectives, which is more typical of women than men.

"You could say women use more adjectives because they can be more socially evaluative but we don't look at why rather than how the two different groups behave.

"We just know that's the case because we read a lot of letters and make statistical correlations. The words (in the letters) used were things like 'squalor', 'dirty' and some sexual adjectives which were suggestive of women's writing.

"Another thing we know is that women tend to use fewer first person pronouns, such as 'I'."

Poison pens and private eyes

Forensic linguistics is rapidly becoming my favourite thing in the world: what better way to combine a love of language and The Wire in one job? So, this story on the BBC news website about abusive letters being sent to religious and political figures and covered in this week's Crimewatch is very exciting.

Apparently, a total of 57 abusive, racist and sexually graphic letters have been sent to various religious and political figures from the Southampton & Portsmouth area, and forensic linguist Tim Grant from Aston University's Centre For Forensic Linguistics has been called in to look at who the sender/s might be.

The article raises a number of interesting questions to do with language, some of them about gender and language use. While the linguist, Deborah Cameron lays into the generalised "myths" of clear differences between male and female language use in conversation, Tim Grant seems to suggest that men and women often tend to have distinctive patterns of written language:

He said: "One of the things that were striking about the letters was the heavy use of expressive adjectives, which is more typical of women than men.

"You could say women use more adjectives because they can be more socially evaluative but we don't look at why rather than how the two different groups behave.

"We just know that's the case because we read a lot of letters and make statistical correlations. The words (in the letters) used were things like 'squalor', 'dirty' and some sexual adjectives which were suggestive of women's writing.

"Another thing we know is that women tend to use fewer first person pronouns, such as 'I'."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Liar, liar, your pen's on fire

Forensic linguistics is a great area of language study. You can find out more about the range of activities the forensic linguists at Aston University do from their site here, but one of its many uses is to work out if someone is telling the truth or is who they say they are. This brief article from Physorg looks at new research into handwriting and truthfulness and links it to how the brain works when telling lies.

In short, "The researchers analyzed the writing and discovered that in the untrue paragraphs the subjects on average pressed down harder on the paper and made significantly longer strokes and taller letters than in the true paragraphs".

Liar, liar, your pen's on fire

Forensic linguistics is a great area of language study. You can find out more about the range of activities the forensic linguists at Aston University do from their site here, but one of its many uses is to work out if someone is telling the truth or is who they say they are. This brief article from Physorg looks at new research into handwriting and truthfulness and links it to how the brain works when telling lies.

In short, "The researchers analyzed the writing and discovered that in the untrue paragraphs the subjects on average pressed down harder on the paper and made significantly longer strokes and taller letters than in the true paragraphs".

Getting the message

The debate about young people's literacy and the impact of electronically-mediated communication rumbles on. Many commentators argue that the use of texting, instant messaging, social networking sites and online chat forums is leading to poorer spelling, less confidence in standard grammar and shorter attention spans. Others make the pint that research into such areas hasn't thrown up any real evidence to back up these claims.

We have covered the Coventry University research into texting elsewhere on this blog, but a new piece of research from Canada authored by Connie Varnhagen (and reported here) seems to offer support to the idea that good spellers in formal written tests are often the ones who use online chat more than their poor spelling counterparts. But does it mean that chatspeak is actually having a positive impact on spelling habits, or are better spellers just the ones who communicate more often in all forms of written or blended modes? See what you think:

Varnhagen's findings come from a class-based study that was recently published in Reading and Writing. A group of third-year psychology students proposed and designed a study to test whether new Simple Messaging Service, or SMS, language—also known as chatspeak—which refers to the abbreviations and slang commonly used when texting, emailing or chatting online, had an influence on students' spelling habits. The group surveyed roughly 40 students from ages 12 to 17. The participants were asked to save their instant messages for a week. At the end of the study, the participants completed a standardized spelling test.

"Kids who are good spellers [academically] are good spellers in instant messaging," she said. "And kids who are poor spellers in English class are poor spellers in instant messaging."



Does this prove anything? Your comments would be welcome...

Getting the message

The debate about young people's literacy and the impact of electronically-mediated communication rumbles on. Many commentators argue that the use of texting, instant messaging, social networking sites and online chat forums is leading to poorer spelling, less confidence in standard grammar and shorter attention spans. Others make the pint that research into such areas hasn't thrown up any real evidence to back up these claims.

We have covered the Coventry University research into texting elsewhere on this blog, but a new piece of research from Canada authored by Connie Varnhagen (and reported here) seems to offer support to the idea that good spellers in formal written tests are often the ones who use online chat more than their poor spelling counterparts. But does it mean that chatspeak is actually having a positive impact on spelling habits, or are better spellers just the ones who communicate more often in all forms of written or blended modes? See what you think:

Varnhagen's findings come from a class-based study that was recently published in Reading and Writing. A group of third-year psychology students proposed and designed a study to test whether new Simple Messaging Service, or SMS, language—also known as chatspeak—which refers to the abbreviations and slang commonly used when texting, emailing or chatting online, had an influence on students' spelling habits. The group surveyed roughly 40 students from ages 12 to 17. The participants were asked to save their instant messages for a week. At the end of the study, the participants completed a standardized spelling test.

"Kids who are good spellers [academically] are good spellers in instant messaging," she said. "And kids who are poor spellers in English class are poor spellers in instant messaging."



Does this prove anything? Your comments would be welcome...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Teenglish? Allow that...

This article from Tuesday's Education Guardian is a good example of how some newspapers treat slang. While some of the definitions aren't exactly wrong (and it's tricky to say if a word meaning is ever really wrong if someone uses it in their own way with their peers) they're certainly only half the picture. To call these examples of "student slang", as Lucy Tobin does, seems to be forgetting that many of the terms (waste, wagwan, allow that/it, among others) originate specifically from young inner city (often black) roots. They might have spread to university campuses with the increasing numbers of working class and inner city students entering university over the last 10 years, but I suspect that only a handful originated on the campuses themselves.

However, grumbles aside, it's quite a good read as a source of inspiration for an ENGA3 Language Intervention (or even a B spec media text?) and there's even a quiz you can take here to test your skills.

Teenglish? Allow that...

This article from Tuesday's Education Guardian is a good example of how some newspapers treat slang. While some of the definitions aren't exactly wrong (and it's tricky to say if a word meaning is ever really wrong if someone uses it in their own way with their peers) they're certainly only half the picture. To call these examples of "student slang", as Lucy Tobin does, seems to be forgetting that many of the terms (waste, wagwan, allow that/it, among others) originate specifically from young inner city (often black) roots. They might have spread to university campuses with the increasing numbers of working class and inner city students entering university over the last 10 years, but I suspect that only a handful originated on the campuses themselves.

However, grumbles aside, it's quite a good read as a source of inspiration for an ENGA3 Language Intervention (or even a B spec media text?) and there's even a quiz you can take here to test your skills.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Jolly Wicked Actually

Here's a link to a piece in last month's Sunday Times extracted from the linguist Tony Thorne's new book on British slang, Jolly Wicked Actually and how it reflects our national identity/ies. Tony did a great talk on slang at SFX last year and he is one of the top experts on the history and changing nature of British slang, so it's well worth a look.

Here's an extract about the expression innit:

By the end of the 1980s, innit — the unvarying question tag put on the end of sentences and used separately as an exclamation of agreement, “Innit!” — had become identified especially with black-British and later Asian-British speech patterns. So much so that, in the mid-1990s, my students at King’s College London were referring to their Asian fellows collectively as “the innit crowd”; and when Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic character Ali G parodied Asian and white “wiggas” (imitators of black styles), innit was incorporated in the title of a 1999 collection of TV shows. Since 2000, innit has been seen as one of the most recognisable features of “Hinglish” — south Asian English — and of multiethnic youth dialect, supposedly a new accent and vocabulary common to younger speakers across a range of ethnicities and mainly urban environments, which may eventually influence mainstream English. It is also seen as emblematic of the troublesome underclass known as chavs, and in 2005 jokes were circulating playing on the fact: “What do you call a chav in a box? Innit.” And: “What do you call an Eskimo chav? Inuinnit.”


And here's a link to arch-prescriptivist Lynne Truss's rather sniffy review of it.

Jolly Wicked Actually

Here's a link to a piece in last month's Sunday Times extracted from the linguist Tony Thorne's new book on British slang, Jolly Wicked Actually and how it reflects our national identity/ies. Tony did a great talk on slang at SFX last year and he is one of the top experts on the history and changing nature of British slang, so it's well worth a look.

Here's an extract about the expression innit:

By the end of the 1980s, innit — the unvarying question tag put on the end of sentences and used separately as an exclamation of agreement, “Innit!” — had become identified especially with black-British and later Asian-British speech patterns. So much so that, in the mid-1990s, my students at King’s College London were referring to their Asian fellows collectively as “the innit crowd”; and when Sacha Baron Cohen’s comic character Ali G parodied Asian and white “wiggas” (imitators of black styles), innit was incorporated in the title of a 1999 collection of TV shows. Since 2000, innit has been seen as one of the most recognisable features of “Hinglish” — south Asian English — and of multiethnic youth dialect, supposedly a new accent and vocabulary common to younger speakers across a range of ethnicities and mainly urban environments, which may eventually influence mainstream English. It is also seen as emblematic of the troublesome underclass known as chavs, and in 2005 jokes were circulating playing on the fact: “What do you call a chav in a box? Innit.” And: “What do you call an Eskimo chav? Inuinnit.”


And here's a link to arch-prescriptivist Lynne Truss's rather sniffy review of it.

CAPS LOCK AND SHOUTY MESSAGES

Sitting in my swivel chair while rubbing chalk dust from my scruffy tweed jacket's leather elbow patches, I've often told my A level Language students that writing about graphology is the last refuge of the loser. That if you write about graphology in an exam you would be best to write "Loser" as your name on the paper and write in the words "epic fail" where examiners should put their marks. We can all see that a heading is in bold to make it stand out, that a picture is centred to give it prominence, that the font is Times New Roman: none of that is language analysis and it's not worth any marks in exams. Loser.

But with Language & Mode now an AS level topic area, perhaps that's no longer the case. Graphology - the layout of words, images and headings on a page, the way things look on the page - is actually quite important when looking at differences between written and blended mode texts. The fact that a word on a web page is underlined might mean that it's a clickable link and therefore an interactive feature. The choice of font might actually convey some kind of tone too. And this piece on the BBC News website makes a number of interesting points about what we think about capital letters in emails or on web forums. As the piece tells us:

Most web users know capital letters are a capital offence - they're commonly thought to be online shorthand for screaming. But how did they get this reputation?

Ultimately, in the rushed world of online communication, all-caps has become a
bit of a "lazy" shorthand for yelling - it's faster than finding another way to
convey excitement or agitation. But the recipient feels like they are being
shouted at.

So, there's stuff here to think about for graphology and what it tells us about how we're being addressed by the writer of a text. The article also goes on to talk about different fonts and the history of some of them, which is interesting in a bit of a nerdy way, but it's the discussion of email etiquette and caps which is most useful, I think. So, graphology might now become quite an intelligent thing to write about in such situations. I take it all back: graphology is no longer the last refuge of the loser. Sorry.

CAPS LOCK AND SHOUTY MESSAGES

Sitting in my swivel chair while rubbing chalk dust from my scruffy tweed jacket's leather elbow patches, I've often told my A level Language students that writing about graphology is the last refuge of the loser. That if you write about graphology in an exam you would be best to write "Loser" as your name on the paper and write in the words "epic fail" where examiners should put their marks. We can all see that a heading is in bold to make it stand out, that a picture is centred to give it prominence, that the font is Times New Roman: none of that is language analysis and it's not worth any marks in exams. Loser.

But with Language & Mode now an AS level topic area, perhaps that's no longer the case. Graphology - the layout of words, images and headings on a page, the way things look on the page - is actually quite important when looking at differences between written and blended mode texts. The fact that a word on a web page is underlined might mean that it's a clickable link and therefore an interactive feature. The choice of font might actually convey some kind of tone too. And this piece on the BBC News website makes a number of interesting points about what we think about capital letters in emails or on web forums. As the piece tells us:

Most web users know capital letters are a capital offence - they're commonly thought to be online shorthand for screaming. But how did they get this reputation?

Ultimately, in the rushed world of online communication, all-caps has become a
bit of a "lazy" shorthand for yelling - it's faster than finding another way to
convey excitement or agitation. But the recipient feels like they are being
shouted at.

So, there's stuff here to think about for graphology and what it tells us about how we're being addressed by the writer of a text. The article also goes on to talk about different fonts and the history of some of them, which is interesting in a bit of a nerdy way, but it's the discussion of email etiquette and caps which is most useful, I think. So, graphology might now become quite an intelligent thing to write about in such situations. I take it all back: graphology is no longer the last refuge of the loser. Sorry.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Weasel words

Today's Independent features an article by columnist Johann Hari on the euphemisms he would expunge from the English Language. As he puts it, "The English language needs periodically to be given a spring-clean, where we scrape off the phrases that have become stuck to the floor and toss out the rotting metaphors that have fallen down the back of the settee".

Among the expressions are "fair trade", of which he says:

This phrase suggests that paying desperately poor people a decent wage is a nice
ethical add-on, and a gratifying departure from the norm. In fact, it should be
taken for granted – the default position of civilised human beings. If we
believed that, the labelling would be reversed: it's all the other food that
should be labelled as "Unfair Trade", "Rapacious Trade", or
"Let's-Pay-a-Pittance Trade." The terrific comedian Andy Zaltzman suggests a sign
that could be on the packets: it is a silhouette of an obese businessman pissing
on an African child.


Fair enough. But several comments in response to the article accuse Hari of doing exactly the same thing that he's complaining about: giving a political spin to the language he uses and the meanings he creates. So, is any language genuinely neutral? Can we open our mouths and speak without allowing our language choices to inadvertently reflect our views and political/ philosophical outlooks?

Again, this is an interesting article not only for the language issues addressed but for its potential use as a style model for the text you'll be writing about a language issue in your ENGA4 coursework and the Language Discourses part of the ENGA3 exam paper.

For more on euphemisms - what they are, how they're often used and why they annoy people - try this 2007 post on the blog.

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 ...