Saturday, October 27, 2012

Make yourself better with slang

This quick link (with more discussion on the audio link) gives some good reasons why we should treat slang as a positive, creative form of language use.

Michael Adams' book, Slang, The People's Poetry, is a damn good read, as is Julie Coleman's The Life of Slang, which focuses a  bit more on UK slang.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Redefining misogyny

There's some good discussion about sexism and language in the aftermath of the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's attack on her male rival for his dodgy attitudes to women. Here, several feminists look at gillard's use of the word misogyny and the Macquarie Dictionary's decision to update their entry for the word in the light of Gillard's use of it.

They are now adding a definition of it, according to this piece from the Australian Financial Review,  so it changes as outlined here:


While this is good material for language and gender, it's also interesting to think about how dictionaries work these days and the ways in which they respond to changing usages. We all know that language changes, but there are different positions adopted by commentators about how much a dictionary should change and respond to - what some might describe as - mistaken or just plain wrong usage. And when you introduce sexism and political correctness to the mix, you have a recipe for some heated debate, like you'll find here and in the comments that follow this piece in The Guardian.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Media stereotypes

The Guardian has been running some really useful material for ENGA2 recently. The links here relate to their coverage of research into newspaper front pages and how women are both represented in terms of their construction and depiction in news stories, but also in terms of their representation in the workforce of newspapers as journalists writing front page stories. To cut a long story short, it's pretty bad representation for both...

In this piece, the headline figures are that 78% of front page stories are written by men and 84% of those mentioned or quoted are male.

In this piece, the study by Women In Journalism is looked at in depth. They address the methodology used, the details of their findings and the bleak picture for women in the UK media.

*Thanks to Nikolai for the links.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Giving the old folks airtime

Habits of telephone use are changing, according to research carried out by the US media research organisation, Nielsen and covered in The Washington Post.

On the whole, the number of voice calls made and the length of the calls themselves, particularly among younger age groups (late teens to mid-30s...so not me any more), are falling. Meanwhile, the older generations still seem to prefer the phone to the text message, but for how long?

Language is clearly being affected in different ways by advances in technology, with many arguments raging about the effects (positive or negative) of text messaging on literacy levels, but as with so many other things, phone use is a type of technology too. Perhaps it's because it's been around for so long that we forget it too caused genuine concern about what would happen to people's relationships and even the language itself.

Of course, mobile phones have changed the way we used to talk on landlines, because a) we know who is calling us (and therefore can avoid all the old-fashioned rituals of "Hello, you are speaking to Bartholomew Smythe-Gherkin; to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?") and b) we can talk nearly anywhere we like (apart from in Norfolk, where mobile phone use is viewed as akin to witchcraft).

But if mobile use is now changing too, what is it about voice calls (and that expression itself didn't really exist, as far as I'm aware, until video calls came along, since all calls were voice calls back then) that puts off younger people? Some talk about them as being more intrusive than a text message, others that they're less convenient. I know that I've never really liked talking on the phone, conference calls give me the shakes and I don't even want to start talking about Skype because it drives me to despair, but is this down to a lack of social skills or a justified belief that words come out better when texted on a phone? I don't know. Perhaps, in the near future, very few of us will talk at all on the phone and all communication will be via messages. Anyway, go to go now as I need to give my mum and dad their weekly call.

'Anglocreep'

There's more discussion of the two-way traffic between British and American English in the New York Times this week, including some insightful comment from linguists. Anglocreep is a word for the gentle drift of British English terms into the US English vernacular - words like cheers for thank you, mate for friend, ginger for redhead - and it's viewed with the same ambivalence and sometimes outright hostility as American English is in the UK.

We looked at the rising phenomenon of Britishisms here, but it's also been covered since then by The Sun and The Daily Telegraph. This is all good stuff for AQA A's ENGA3 unit, especially the World Englishes section. Have a look at other releavnt blog posts by clicking on the labels below (e.g. ENGA3, American English and World Englishes). Toodle pip, old beans.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Everyday sexism

In looking at language and representation, we've started to think a bit about the links between language and gender: how language often reflects historically sexist attitudes while also constructing (or reconstructing) those same attitudes. Many of the comments in class along the way have treated sexism or patriarchal attitudes as things of the past, old-fashioned views held by long-dead men, but this disturbing article about the kind of everyday sexism experienced by university students shows that while the sexism still exists it has just shifted its frame of reference.

It's the almost normal way in which slut-dropping, rape and hoes are talked about that makes this so wrong. If the words are treated in such a casual way, doesn't that also suggest that the attitudes are pretty casual too?

There's more about this on the Everyday Sexism Project's site.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Help make the dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary is appealing for help from the public in tracing the earliest appearances of words. What they're looking for is documentary evidence of when a word was first used, so at the moment they're after evidence that disco appeared before September 1964, FAQ earlier than 1989 and a few others.

You can read more on the OED blog or follow them at @OEDonline to find out how it is progressing. Apparently, they've already found an earlier appearance of FAQ just today.

Over two and a half million 'faggots'

We've started to look at language and representation in AS Language recently, so this link might be of interest to you. It uses Twitter to track the use of potentially homophobic language items, such as dyke and faggot.

It's pretty shocking that so many casually abusive words are chucked around so frequently, but is it the whole story?  As we've been looking at with racist and sexist terms, part of the consideration we need to give to some of these words is the context they're used in. For example, slut might mean one thing when shouted across a street or posted by some sleazy internet troll, but might mean something completely different when used in banter with another female.

We've already seen that the word nigger (or nigga) mean different things to different people in different contexts, so is a blunt tool like counting the number of times a word is used really going to reveal much abut homophobic attitudes? It's a start, at least, so might then allow a more detailed analysis of the contexts and meanings in each case.

There's more about the real-time Twitter feed here, where you can really look at each tweet as it appears, and yes, most of them are from teenage boys abusing each other or talking rubbish. The questions then might be, does it matter? Is anyone really offended by it? Why is it seen as acceptable for these words to be chucked around with such gay (sorry) abandon by some of these people? Does it reflect a deeply ingrained anti-gay attitude, or just a casual attitude to what words mean and how they can harm?

Some of these questions are addressed here on the No Homophobes site, and it makes for a provocative and interesting read.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Teenage dirtbags

The representation of social groups is an area that we're starting to look at in AS English Language this week, so I've been gathering together texts and extracts on different groups to start some discussion. One good area of study is how young people are represented in the media, so this piece in today's BBC News Magazine on the death of the teenage rebel is a good read.

Apparently, recent studies suggest that young people are now less likely to smoke, drink and take drugs than ten years ago. So, why are young people still almost universally slated in the mainstream media?

A study by the children's charity Barnardo's back in 2008 addressed some of these concerns and you can find some of the relevant blog posts about their study and campaign here (along with some older posts about attitudes to young people).

You'll also find these articles, which we'll be looking at in class over the next few weeks, go some way towards answering that question and are worth a read if you're planning ahead and thinking about your potential coursework project.

"Thugs consider ASBOs a diploma" - Daily Mail article
"We see young people as pestilent" - Tanya Byron in The Guardian
Tony Parsons on attitudes to young people

A noun phrase to end all noun phrases

Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour Party conference (of which there'll be more on this blog tomorrow), featured a cracking example of a super-long noun phrase for those of you who like that kind of thing.

Here we go... "Have you ever seen a more incompetent, hopeless, out-of-touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-we-go-along, back of the envelope miserable shower than this prime minister and this government?".

For this week's Haribo prize, what's the head word in the highlighted noun phrase? First person to post the right answer in a comment gets the prize.