Thursday, January 19, 2006

E-Julie has left the building

So, this post is going to be a bit different to the rest, cos in this one you get to watch live as E-Julie disappears into the far horizon.

Is that the sound of screeching brakes of shock and horror?! Well...

The Language Legend started out as an experiment with a particular AS English Language class, to find out whether making material available in an online format would encourage wider reading and a more independent engagement with the subject. It kinda worked pretty well, so through an email discussion forum for teachers of this course, other students/teachers were invited to check it out. As time went by, all kinds of bloggers joined in the fun, and additional ideas about interactivity and the creation of online communities were explored.

It's been a cool project, and this weekend E-Julie's alter-ego is presenting the research findings, involving this and another blog project, at the annual conference of the National Association of Teachers of English. If E-Julie's far less brash, confident, articulate alter-ego doesn't first pass out on the floor in a pathetic display of hyperventilating nervousness, she will be exploring why the Language Legend has to die.

One of the problems with an educational blog is that for it to become widely used, it needs to speak with some kind of knowledge and authority on the subject, but in so doing it becomes less the kind of mutable, interactive space for the creation of shared and contested knowledge that grassroots blogs are, and more the kind of fixed world of teacher-centred incontestable knowledge that is at the hollow heart of much educational practice. In a bizarre twist, E-Julie has ended up recreating the world she sought to help her students tunnel out of.

So, while her serious and reclusive alter-ego continues to go to work everyday at the chalkface of education, E-Julie is taking a well-earned fictional Gap Year. No doubt she'll be back - she has that prodigal daughter kind of attitude - and who knows what adventures she will have in educational cyberspace in the future. But in the meantime, E-Julie has left the building.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


When I was at school, way back some time in the dark ages, I had a cartridge pen. This technological dinosaur was a pen with a nib fuelled by a little cartridge of ink. You could write seventeen and a half words and then you had to change the cartridge. I'm sure the manufacturers would have argued for a higher word count, but they wouldn't make any allowance for the gallon of ink seeping all over your hands/shirt/desk as you wrote.

But at the time we were told that an ink pen was better for you. I think teachers may have meant better for hand writing development, or maybe better in delaying the onset of Repetitive Strain Injury, but somehow there was always a sense that it was better for you morally and socially. I compromised with a predilection for ridiculously expensive graphic design pens.

Why this trip down memory lane? Well, because the issue of the technology of writing is explored in today's Observer, and it's interesting to see what difference developments might make to the written text of the future. Super-geeks are currently busy trying to figure out how to make a portable reading device to rival the commercial success of the iPod. The trouble they're having is that we already have a superbly efficient portable reading device. It's called a book...

Lots of e-books are already available for download onto your PC, but people haven't really gone for them in a big way because most people like the whole experience of book reading and the flexibility of the format. It requires no electricity (unless it's dark, but then I guess we have candles...) so can be done in the bath or up a mountain; many books will fit in your bag or even a large pocket; you can flick at random between the pages; you can write on them, tear bits out to write a note for the milkman on; and you can leave them on planes and trains for other people to enjoy. Bit tricky doing that if you need a grand's worth of kit.

But what people also seem to enjoy is the aesthetic value of paper and ink. Not me, I have an issue with ink and prefer the sterile cleanliness of my PC screen. But that is what the techies are working on: how to create something with the same aesthetic satisfaction. They've already invented e-ink to replicate the visual appeal of the writing, but I'm sure replicating the "feel" of paper will be a big challenge.

As the people most likely to adopt this technology, young people generally being at the forefront of these things, how would you want e-books to be?

And if anyone tells you that 'real' books are better for you, take the moral high ground with the environmental argument. Check it out.

E-read all about it

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blame it on the yogh

So I listen to obscure songs on my iPod rather than political debate on Radio 4 - does that make me such a bad person?... Well, okay, you're entitled to your opinion, but I'm sure I can't be the only person for whom the most important question about the whole Liberal Democrat leadership contest is Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis?

Obviously not, because the BBC has been kind enough to explain the answer, and to do so with beautiful depth and clarity for any student of the English Language. It's all to do with sounds that exist in Scots (and did exist in Old English), and the way that the orthographical representation of these have changed over time. Swoons with joy...

Check it out. And if the BBC would like to answer my next questions, it's this: given the growing popularity of the word 'minger' has he ever thought of changing his name by deed poll?...

Why is Menzies pronounced Mingis?

Sunday, January 08, 2006


So, the other week over lunch, I happened to mention the post I'd just written about how rubbish predictive text messaging is. I was immediately assaulted with a barrage of evidence to the contrary, and now I find I am actually the only person in the whole world who is not using it. So, I like abbreviations, okay? Those '2's and 'U's remind me of secret code messages in the puzzle books I had back in the bad old days when surfing didn't exist.

But anyway, there's a nice article in yesterday's Guardian about the phenomenon. It makes a change for a journalist to note it with a degree of objectivity, rather than the usual dreary old story about falling standards and how the kids can't spell nuffink nemore. But I particularly like two features of this article. First, the invitation to you guys out there to undertake some 'serious study' of the 'whole field of predictive text-related lexicology'. Need an A2 coursework idea - there you go... And second, you even get some starting points - a whole list of phrases and sentences to try out on your mobile to see what predictive texting comes up with.

Check it out.

Whatever happened to ... txt lngwj:)?

And for old times' sake (though I should point out I wasn't actually alive in 1873) here's an old rebus puzzle for you

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Instant messaging

Stories in the news this week have shown us both the good side and the bad side of technologically mediated communication, specifically its power to transmit our messages across distances immediately.

First up is the story about the mine disaster in the States. The transcript of radio traffic with the emergency services shows the confusion about what was happening quite clearly. Asked what is happening and whether or not the miners have been found, Voice 2 (Matt) clearly hedges his statements, saying "they're all okay, I guess", "we might be transporting them", and "I'm not exactly sure". He does the same when asked if the miners are still alive, "as far as I know". These are positive comments but not unequivocal. But in the heat of the moment, with distraught families desperate to hear the best outcome not the worst, those hedged statements get lost. What gets transmitted in a second, because of the communications technology, is the story that all 12 men are alive. Bells are rung, families celebrate, hymns of praise are sung. And three hours later the terrible truth emerges.

The other story is about the Magic FM DJ who tried to save the life of a caller who had a heart attack in the middle of a live talkshow debate. When the line went silent, the DJ knew there must be something wrong. Calling the police didn't help, so using the immediacy of live radio he was able to alert the man's neighbours who knocked down his door, while he flicked the switch to continuous music and leapt in a cab to go and help. Sadly, the man died, but that power of immediacy at least enabled people who cared to try.

Emergency Radio Transcript of Mine Rescue

Anger as mine rescue hopes are dashed

Radio talkshow DJ rushes to help as caller dies on air

Monday, January 02, 2006

Tics and pig dicks

So, here we go again with a new term, a new year and a whole bunch of new resolutions. One of mine last year was to find a way to control my terrible swearing, which got so bad at work that I used to joke about having Professional Tourette's. Not that having Tourette's Syndrome is a laughing matter, as today's article in the Guardian makes very clear. Tourette's is a brain disorder which affects language and behaviour. On the language side of things it causes coprolalia (involuntary swearing and bad language) and echolalia (repeating words), which can make life very difficult for people with the condition.

The article is based on an interview with a girl called Jessica (and her parents) who features in a documentary starting tomorrow about five British children who went to the States on a special Tourette's camp. Hmm, sounds suspiciously like the teenagers from hell documentary so I'm not expecting much more than voyeuristic entertainment masquerading as intelligent TV, but I'll give it a go as I find language disorders deeply fascinating. If I understood the first thing about Science, which I wish I did, I'd want to know more about what these disorders have to tell us about the function of the brain. But as I don't, I'm really curious to know how other people react to people with Tourette's in social situations, especially given the frequency with which the most taboo language is used, particularly racist language.

Jessica explains that once people know she has no control over this, they are cool with it. I have no reason not to believe her, but if this is the case it raises really interesting questions about the way we perceive taboo language ie it is not nearly as 'absolute' as we tend to think it is.

Check the article, check the programme.

'If I was offered one wish, I'd ask not to have Tourette's for one week. But it won't happen, will it?'

Tourette Syndrome

Friday, December 23, 2005


Oh boy, I love the holidays. When else do you get to spend a whole day tinkering with your iPod? How on earth can that take a whole day, I hear you ask... Well, when you've somehow managed to blow up your iPod and you've got to restore it to its factory settings, and then install the updated software, and then you've got to reload all 3710 songs, trust me, that can take all day...

And what's this all got to do with the state of the English language, you're muttering into your Cadbury's selection pack. Well, the makers of the T9 predictive text dictionary have also just upgraded. Did they hear me chuntering about its inadequacy a few weeks back?... They don't appear to have added any words normal human beings might actually find useful, but much to my delight they have added some words I've never even heard before. Like 'playlistism' - judging a person by the playlist of their digital music player. Ha! That's fantastic! I was only teasing someone the other week for having Jona Lewie's Stop The Cavalry on his iPod, and now I have a word for my viciously judgemental response!

So long as no-one finds out I've got the full 9 minute 52 second version of Bat Out Of Hell on mine, I think I'll be okay...

Check out the predictive text new words - it's language change in action.

At a stroke: ASBO, smlirt, podcast enter predictive text dictionary