Friday, January 30, 2009

Apostrophe apocalypse begins in Brum

Its the end of apostrophe's as we know em*. Birmingham City Council has decided to leave out apostrophes in all its new street signs after receiving numerous complaints about their use and misuse.

Deciding that the simplest answer is just to leave them out, the council has told its signwriters to include no apostrophes on its street signs. More here.

So, considering that we've started looking at attitudes to language change - prescriptive and descriptive approaches to how language changes - what do you think the opposing camps would say about this? What might a prescriptivist or a descriptivist say about this change?

Have a look here for the Kill the Apostrophe view and here for the Apostrophe Protection Society's take on it.

*Its the end of apostrophe's as we know em - this is a joke, not an extract from an A2 essay, although it could have been

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The evils of txt

The truth? Even though the increasing popularity of text-messaging since 2001 has spawned frequent, doomy pronouncements about illiterate teens, desecrated language, overused abbreviations, and crumbling civilization, there’s no evidence at all to back up these the-end-is-near-ish views about texting. When you look at the facts, they often say something positive about texting: that frequent texters actually do better in school, or that texting is associated with good things like creativity and political activism. Also, some of the supposedly text-specific features—like abbreviations—are older than dirt and not even that common in texting.


So says Mark Peters in this descriptivist post on the good blog. We've been looking at technology and language change in recent lessons and text messaging is very much part of this. What's quite amusing is that the USA media has only just started having discussions about the impact of texting as it's only just become a major phenomenon over there.

So, while some teenagers in south London feebly mimic the styles of 2005 US rap with rubbish New Era caps and outdated gangsta poses, finally Britain can fight back and loudly proclaim "Our language was ruined by texting first!".

Or not...because as their interview with the mighty David Crystal points out, many of the myths about texting destroying the English language are just a load of cobblers, as we have pointed out on this blog many a time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pakis, sooties and ragheads: welcome to the world of the Windsors!

It's a word that takes me back to my childhood, a time of fear and prejudice, when people could get away with racial abuse because it wasn't seen as racial abuse but as an acceptable term for a minority that looked funny and smelled funny.

So says Riazat Butt in a Guardian article. Meanwhile, the Prince Harry pakigate story has been dissected all over the national media and been followed up by stories about his dad - Prince Charles, not James Hewitt, as some naughty people suggest - and his friendly, affectionate nickname for his Asian chum. Sooty. Yes that's right, "Sooty". Because soot is black and Charles' friend is also... oh you get it. Good. And of course, the Prince Harry story wouldn't be complete without his added little touch of describing someone else as looking like a "raghead", a derogatory term relating to the headgear of some Arab or Asian people.

The debate about the word "paki" and whether or not it's actually a racist term, or just a clipping (like, say Brit for British, or Aussie for Australian) has been taken up on many news websites. Some of the more interesting articles are here (from where the quotation at the top of this post comes from) here and here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A right royal racist

Initially a simple abbreviation, the word 'Paki' acquired offensive connotations in the Sixties when it was widely used as a derogatory term to insult immigrants from across the Indian subcontinent.


So says the Daily Mail which covers the story of Prince Harry - a low-ranking member of the royal family, apparently - using the term to describe an Asian soldier during his training. He's got a track record in this kind of sensitive behaviour too, dressing up as a nazi soldier a few years ago at a fancy dress party.

So, harmless light-hearted banter or imbecilic racist rubbish?

For more on the p-word and its linguistic history, have a look here , here and here

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Language Lounge

Here's another good way of keeping up with what's happening to language: the Visual Thesaurus has its own language column called The Language Lounge. And in the latest edition of the Washington Post newspaper, there's an interview with the lexicographer behind the site, in which he discusses language change and his observations on the state of American and British English.

Advice for ENA6

OK, I know it's six months away... June 18th to be precise, but ENA6 needs to be planned for well in advance. Here's the advice sheet I've given out in the deranged hope that you'll do some of it.

ENA6 is a tough paper, lasting 2 hours 30 minutes and consisting of 5 different questions and quite a lot of reading. The whole paper is based on one topic that you’ve covered from the AS and A2 years, so it could be on child language acquisition, language & representation, male female conversation, spoken language in different situations, language change, language variation. The most likely topics this summer are language variation (accent and dialect changes in the UK) or spoken language, but you must be prepared to answer on any topic.

To make sure you are well prepared for the exam and for when we start teaching it (after half term) it’s important that you start doing the following:


Read a broadsheet newspaper article at least 2 or 3 times a week making sure you take in a variety of different forms – news, editorial, op-ed and letters to the editor. You will be set a writing task in the exam and it might take the form of an article like the above. Broadsheet newspapers: The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent.

Listen to at least one formal, spoken radio broadcast/podcast a week, preferably a programme like Radio 4’s Word of Mouth, or the A Way With Words podcast. You will be set a writing task in the exam and it might take the form of a radio/podcast script.

Use this blog! It’s been running for four years now and has hundreds of different posts and links about topics for ENA5 and ENA6. The articles are all focussed on aspects of language that might crop up on ENA6, and there is specific advice given about how to answer certain questions on the paper. Use the search bar at the top left of the screen to look for specific units and key words.

Read emagazine. It’s in the LRC and there are always 3-4 language articles in each edition. Many of these cover aspects of the course that will be covered in ENA6.

Develop your vocabulary. Try the flex your lexis exercise every couple of weeks. The words have been chosen because they are of a slightly higher register than what we normally see in student responses here, but which you’d be expected to understand and use when writing at A Level standard.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Attitudes to swearing

There's a good opinion piece by Christopher Howse in today's Telegraph about swearing. It's good, not necessarily because of the opinion put forward (which comes across a bit like a fusty old wing commander sitting in a gentlemen's club in Ascot, complaining about young people these days and how national service should be brought back) but because it's argued in a fairly convincing fashion and is a suitable model for your ENA6 Language Debates paper, which we'll be starting on later this term.

Here it is: have a read.

Words we do not <3

A story in the Daily Telegraph reports on the Lake Superior State University in Michigan, USA's annual list of words which should be banned. It's a light-hearted look at expressions that have become over-used in American speech, or that have become meaningless cliches, and makes a good companion piece to Susie Dent's list of words we hated in 2008.

Among the entries in the Lake Superior State University list are some we've probably all heard used here or in coverage of American politics - green for environmental, maverick for deranged and republican, iconic for anything/anyone remotely famous - and others I'd not come across such as the less than 3 emoticon used in the title of this post. It means heart, apparently. Yuck.