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.'
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?

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?

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+++

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


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).

Friday, November 06, 2009


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.

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...