Tuesday, February 28, 2006


A new film, Kidulthood is about to hit the cinemas and its subject matter and language are likely to create a fair old stir. It hasn't even been released yet and campaigners have called for its withdrawal on the grounds that it promotes violence, happy-slapping and glamorises anti-social bahaviour.

Set in west London and focusing on the lives of a group of urban teens, the film has also attracted interest because of its attempts to use the genuine language of the street, or as an article in The Sunday Times magazine puts it, a multi-ethnic dialect. The relevant section of the article is scanned below, while the whole article appears (scanned) on the SFX resources site here.

It looks like it could be an interesting film and I'd be interested to hear from any of you who see it...

Thanks to Peter at SFX & Juliet at Highams Park for the info on the article, and to Kevin at Lancaster for these further links to MEYD:

Sunday Times article
New Scientist extract
Official webpage of the MEYD project

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties & Change

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Unspeak" revisited

Following on from last week's post about Alastair Campbell's review of the book "Unspeak" comes an article from the author himself, Steven Poole, and a number of letters complaining about Campbell's hatchet job.

Just to remind you, the idea of "Unspeak" is, as Poole himself explains,

What is unspeak? It represents an attempt to say something without saying it, without getting into an argument and so having to justify itself. At the same time, it tries to unspeak - in the sense of erasing, or silencing - any possible opposing point of view, by laying a claim right at the start to only one way of looking at a problem.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Friday, February 24, 2006

Barry White is alright, but James Blunt is a good example of Cockney rhyming slang

He may claim "Yooooo're beauteefooollll" but he's no hit with the ladies, that's for sure. At least when it comes to women who are at their most fertile, according to an article in The Daily Mirror today and on the BBC website yesterday.

Apparently, deeper toned male voices "float the boat" of women at their most fertile times and it could be down to hormones. According to the research, women "
like men with dominant voices as they are thought to indicate long-term health and higher reproductive success". So it's a shame that Barry White's dead really, and James Blunt isn't.

But in good news for James Blunt soundalikes everywhere, "the researchers found that when not fertile, women were more likely to be attracted to a more feminine voice signalling a more caring man, more likely to invest in a long-term relationship".

Phew! So at least if the old Berkshire Blunt does "get lucky" at least he won't be impregnating anyone and spreading his vile MOR seed.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Male/Female conversation

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The language of mothers and daughters

As AS students are moving onto looking at gender in conversation, this story might be handy. Deborah Tannen, whose best-selling books on male/female conversation, You Just Don't Understand and That's Not What I Meant came out in the 1990s, has released a new book that explores the language of mothers and daughters.

Rather excruciatingly titled, You're Wearing THAT? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation Tannen sets out to explore "another hotbed of miscommunication: the mother-daughter relationship".

While the article's rather folksy, twee style might put some people off, Tannen's work (in my opinion) has always managed to just about skirt the right side of the linguistic/populist divide, unlike the simplistic metaphors and sweeping generalisations of John Gray's Men Are From Mars and Women From Venus, and some of Tannen's observations quoted in the article look interesting.

"We talk to each other in better and worse ways than we would to anyone else," Tannen said by phone shortly before heading out on tour.

It's not that fathers and daughters, or mothers and sons, don't face some of the same conversational hurdles. But mothers and daughters tend to suffer more scorch marks because of the closeness and power struggles that often define the relationship.

"Someone said, 'Who else can I tell but my mother that I got a good deal on toilet paper?' " Tannen said. "There's just a level of interest in every detail of your life."

Of course, as Tannen herself admits above, gender is just one factor in a range of other factors, that influences conversational behaviour. And gender itself is a much more fluid and flexible identity than many people like to acknowledge when dealing with this topic.

Useful for:
ENA3 - Interacting Through Language

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Talk to your baby

No, not relationship advice after forgetting that special lady's Valentines Card last week (sorry, mum), but an article on interaction and its importance in child language acquisition. For those of you looking back over your CLA notes as we finish the topic and thinking "What's all that stuff about Nicaraguan deaf schools supposed to mean?" well it was a fiendish attempt to get you to use this blog as part of your revision. If you're looking for the link, you can find it here!

But back to interaction (and not the interaction that went on back stage after the College Council auction last half term...allegedly...). We all know it's important to talk to babies, even before they can talk to us, but how important can it be? Most linguists are of the belief that at least part of language acquisition is innate (Chomsky's LAD may not be the holy grail it used to be, but his PPT and Steven Pinker's Language Instinct seem to be respected as the most likely answers to this conundrum), so if that's the case, what can interaction do to aid development?

This article from last month's Times, suggests that it can benefit children in many ways, not all of them linguistic. Read on, and if anyone mentions this article in class they get 2 (yes, that's two) packets of Skittles as a prize. And this time, that's a promise...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Child Language Acquisition

Smash Hits RIP

I know I've missed the boat on this by weeks, but seeing as music journalism is one of the coursework topics we do, and some of you still need inspiration, here's a story about the sad demise of a once great magazine, Smash Hits.

In this article on the BBC website, Smash Hits is described as
the bible for many teenagers discovering their musical tastes in the 1980s and 1990s. Every fortnight, Smash Hits thumped through the letterbox dishing out gossip, interviews, pull-out posters - and perhaps most importantly - lyrics to the top tunes of the day. The whole kit and caboodle was served up in a typically playful house style that would go on to set a new standard in magazines.

(Not that I would have admitted that in the 1980s, being as I was a devout NME reader, who considered Smash Hits too poppy and shallow, sniff.)

But it's not so much the music that made Smash Hits such an influential magazine - thank God, as they covered such dreadful rubbish as Brother Beyond, Bros and Sinitta - but their linguistically creative house style. As another article on Smash Hits tells us:

As the 80s went on, so Smash Hits became bolder, eventually inventing its own argot, affectionately mocking the hyperbolic language of pop. Any pop star whose career was failing was held to be "down the dumper": by contrast, any pop star who returned after a period in the wilderness was invariably "back, back, BACK!!!!!" A female singer who overdid the sexiness was automatically a "foxtress", and a rock star who overplayed the social conscience bit - usually the luckless Weller again - was addressing "ver kidz". It may have been like punk never 'appened, but you caught a whiff of the movement's scorched earth puritanism in the mocking disdain with which Smash Hits addressed rock-star hedonism. Any ageing rocker who surrounded himself with nubile females was referred to as "Uncle Disgusting". Any remarks Uncle Disgusting made about the comeliness of said nubile females were countered in print either with an onomatopoeic representation of someone vomiting (which, if memory serves, went "SPEEEEEEEOOOOOW!") or with the phrase "pass the sickbag, Alice".

Alcohol was "rock'n'roll mouthwash" - Smash Hits themselves alleged toasted success with "a cup of milky tea and a cream horn". Pop stars had their names mangled beyond repair. Having noted both his resemblance to Britain's most famous missing aristocrat and his flexible attitude to sexuality, Freddie Mercury's name was altered by degrees to Dame Frederick Of Lucan. For reasons never fully explained, Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy was always Stephen "Tea Towel" Duffy.
The true impact of such genius wordsmithery is hard to gauge, but the influence of Smash Hits' language is obvious in the style of the NME of 2006, Popbitch, and magazines as grown-up even as The Word. Good bye, Smash Hits... sob.

Useful for:
EA2C - Language Production

Olympic conversions

Several people on the English Language List (the email list for A Level English Language teachers) have commented that new verb-noun conversions have appeared during the Winter Olympics. One contributor has noticed the verb "to medal" in the expression "We won't medal this year" (ie get any medals) while another has noticed the infinitive form "to podium".

And it's not just the Olympics either. An expression like "to text" is now commonplace, and even terms like "to prank" someone (to play a prank on them) or "stop paranoying me!" (in the context of a girl being wound up about her ship sinking and avalanches falling on her during a year 7 skiing trip!) have been reported on the list too.

Language change in action! But why is it so often, noun to verb rather than the other way round?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change

The tale of the gay horse and getting fined for sweet FA

Two recent news stories look at the issue of swearing and Tony Blair's "Respect agenda" (see the post here). In one story (the curious incident of the gay horse in the road, you could say) a student who was facing an £80 fine for calling a police horse "gay" had his case dropped. Quite how this ludicrous case even came to court is a long tail (sorry), but according to the BBC website,
Mr Brown, 21, a student at Oxford University, had said to an officer: "Excuse
me, do you realise your horse is gay?".

Police decided to take him to court when he refused to pay a fixed penalty £80 fine, arguing fairly rationally that a horse couldn't be insulted by the word "gay". The police countered by saying "He made homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by".

In today's Metro it's reported that a teenager was fined £80 for using the F-word while talking to a friend in a private conversation. With heavyhitters like Shami Chakrabati of civil liberties pressure group Liberty and the Rev. Ian Gregory of the Campaign for Courtesy stepping into the debate over the F-word, the whole incident has been blown out of all proportion.

But how much of our language is policed like this in reality? Most of us can swear with gay abandon and to our hearts' content if we so wish, and never get banged up by the police. How do we feel about swearing in public, homophobic abuse, offensive chants about supposedly gay footballers or even gloating chamts about injured footballers? Your comments are welcome...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

Monday, February 13, 2006

It's ruff oop north

I thought the silly season started in the summer, but this bizarre "exclusive" in today's Mirror proves that it starts today. According to the article, dogs bark with the regional accents of their owners. Oh yes, it's true. And as the Mirrror have chosen to pad out this exclusive with a picture of dogs wearing stereotypically regional clobber, I have to reproduce it here for your viewing (and, ahem, linguistic) pleasure. That is Robbie Fowler on the far right, isn't it?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties (although somehow I doubt it...)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic..."

Two good articles in yesterday's Guardian address issues of politics and English Language. In the first, Ian Samson takes issue with language-god David Crystal's claim in his new book, How Language Works, that "language change is inevitable, continuous, universal and multidirectional. Languages do not get better or worse when they change. They just - change."

Citing the rise of nazism as a counter-argument, and quoting Jewish writer Victor Klemperer, he argues that languages can get worse: they can in fact "coarsen" to the point where groups of people can be labelled, subjugated and slaughtered because words have convinced the general population that genocide is a necessary and justified action.

There's no doubting that we can abuse language in this way, but it all seems a bit dramatic to invoke the atrocities of the holocaust in an attempt to attack descriptivist linguistics. Have a read and make up your own minds...

In the second article, Alistair Campbell - Tony Blair's sultan of spin - lays into a book on the language of politics, Unspeak by Stephen Poole, arguing that it glibly criticises politicians' language use and provides no sensible alternatives of its own. It's a decent article, if only for the ironic spectacle of Campbell - a master of weasel words - savaging an opponent for being economical with the truth. But then, that's exactly the kind of wooly-minded lefty outlook that Campbell loves to attack.

Elsewhere, in a Times article from a couple of weeks ago, Vaclav Havel's play The Memorandum is discussed and its focus on politcal language explored. As the reviewer explains:

Set in an anonymous communist-era office, the play follows the torments of the managing director, Josef Gross (played by Gerry Mulgrew), as he tries to get to grips with a new language, introduced in an effort to bring order to workplace communications.

Known as Ptydepe — pronounced in Stevenson’s production as “pet-id-ipy” — the language has been mathematically constructed to avoid sound-alike words, thereby ensuring maximum precision.

Free from ambiguity though it is, Ptydepe is also impossible to learn. That doesn’t stop its zealous advocates snatching power from Gross and forcing the gobbledygook onto their colleagues.

All three articles provide good subject matter for topics around language change and attitudes to it, or language and representation, so happy reading...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

Friday, February 10, 2006

The language of love

With Valentines Day fast approaching, the latest edition of Macmillan English Dictionary Magazine has taken an in-depth look at the language of love in the 21st Century. In a great article, Kerry Maxwell examines words from bromances to man dates (heterosexual males' relationships with new male friends, and their meetings with said friends, respectively) and dogging to poodling (I'll let you discover these unsavoury, and allegedly Eastenders-star-in-a-white-van-in-Epping Forest-esque, activities for yourselves).

You can subscribe to the MED Magazine on their main site, and it's well worth it to keep up to date with new words and a whole host of language issues, from explanations of tricky grammar through to lesson plans for tough year 9 groups.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change

Thursday, February 09, 2006

You're not singing anymore...

Warning: this is not a post for the faint-hearted and contains reference to apparently racist, homophobic and generally unpleasant football chants.

It can't have escaped any tabloid reader's attention that Arsenal and England footballer, Sol Campbell is currently getting a lot of publicity for his off-field problems, which are affecting his on-field performances. But according to Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, the chants directed at Sol Campbell sung by Tottenham fans have reached a new low (despite the fact he or his team weren't even playing).

According to Hattenstone, the chants reflect not only homophobia (claims that Sol Campbell is gay and has HIV - a claim that led to his brother getting into a fight and being sent down for assault, last year), but sexism (for their use of the c-word) and racism (for their use of the image "hanging from a tree", which supposedly links to lynchings of black men in America).

Hattenstone's version of events has been rubbished by some Tottenham fans in today's papers, but it does at least raise a few interesting questions about what's fair game for abuse at a football match and what's considered appropriate material for chants.

So, what do you reckon: racist, homphobic and generally unpleasant, or just part of the everyday culture of football matches and lots of blokes together? Comments welcome...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates (Political Correctness)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wor lass's moongin she's fallen wrang

An article in today's Guardian tells us about a new guide for doctors in the North East of England, educating them about weird and wonderful examples of local dialect. And, as the article next to it in the paper tells us, people these days are living much longer than their parents' generations, perhaps we're going to face the need to "translate"dialect terms more and more in the future.

Why? Because, quite a few studies suggest that it's older people who cling onto the local and regional dialect forms of their areas, rather than the younger generation (who're moving towards multi-ethnic youth dialect/s, apparently). And as new doctors move into areas where regional dialects are still strong, they'll need all the help they can get to understand what the old codgers are chatting about (fast forward to me in 50 years, moaning about the price of Rich Tea biscuits and how Dizzee Rascal's fifteenth album is just waste, man...or something).

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change & Varieties

Friday, February 03, 2006

Linguistic profiling

Most of us are aware that people make snap judgements about us based on regional accents - artcles here and here from this blog give a few more details - but more worrying is this research by an American linguist that suggests people are making assumptions about us based on our ethnic accents (i.e. if you're African-American you'll be turned down for a loan; if you're Mexican-American you'll be assumed to be an illegal immigrant etc.).

Do we make the same assumptions here too, or are so many "urban" accents converging that we can't tell who's black and white, Bangladeshi or Turkish anymore?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change & Varieties

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Learning languages

There's a programme on Radio 4 tonight, Say What You Think, which takes a look at how we learn languages. It covers children's grasp of phonemes, issues like the Critical Period Hypothesis and how our ability to learn new languages declines with age. Looks good for ENA1 CLA students and teachers...

Black British English vs MLE

The latest episode of Lexis is out and it features an interview with Ife Thompson about lots of issues connected to Black British English, i...