Sunday, December 19, 2004


Okay, so when all the visiting relatives have started bickering, you're sick of mince pies, and there's nothing on all 764 channels of your TV, here's a game you can play to liven up the holidays. Just ask everyone to come up with a word they think should be in the dictionary, but isn't - "tinseltastic" and "Santa Stress" are big favourites of mine already. Then click on the link to the Collins dictionary below, take a minute to register, and you're away to a fantastic new thing - an online dictionary for the people, by the people! Like Wikipedia, you can submit material, debate other people's submissions, and generally have a fine old time contributing your kind of words to a truly comprehensive up-to-the-minute dictionary. Right now, as I post this, "dogging" is subject to hot debate - go see if you don't believe me!

Collins Word Exchange

Collins launches online dictionary to debate new words

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Now then, me sprigadees

Regular readers will know how much I love a new word, and it's been a big toss-up this week as to which one I shall adopt. It so could have been "pornaoke", but I cry laughing every time I think of that word, and that's no way to get a blogpost written! So, this week's new word is "sprigadee", a term of endearment from Jamaican English, according to Andrea Levy's novel, Small Island.

The article that I've linked to below explores the dialogue used by Levy, and considers interesting issues about how writers represent dialect speech in fiction. It's a thorny question. Do you represent it fully, in its "purest" form, or do you present just an impression of dialect? The problem with the former is that it can be inpenetrable to readers from outside that region; the problem with the latter is that it loses in authenticity.

Lots of contemporary writers use representations of dialect speech to explore issues of identity in the modern world - look at the links to writers below - but it was also a really popular technique in 19th century novels. The article mentions Emily Bronte and Thomas Hardy, and Charles Dickens represents features of London speech in many of his novels. This all tied in with a real interest that emerged in the late 18th and 19th centuries in non-Standard varieties of English, as a political reaction to forces in our culture that were working to standardise all sorts of areas of human existence. Given the rapid Americanisation of so many areas of our contemporary culture, should we not all be taking the same kind of interest today? Read and see....

Mind Your Language

Excerpt from Foxy T - a novel in Banglish

Excerpt from How late it was, how late - a novel in Glaswegian

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Werking for pland chanje

So, now I've started back on The Times, I can't stop! First up is one of the more intelligent considerations of the Hard Spell programme, which you may have seen on TV last week. I watched one episode - just out of professional curiosity, you understand - and was simultaneously fascinated and appalled. The super-geek that lives inside me was yelling "I know that, I know that", but my compassionate adult alter ego was just left wondering what kind of sick society we live in that would lure perfectly nice children onto prime time TV only to humiliate them. Some of those kids got really tough words - especially the poor lad who got "Bacchanalian". That was really mean...

The article in The Times moves on from the programme itself to explore the notion of correct spelling in some useful contexts, exploring spelling and creativity, the difficulty of English spelling compared with other languages, and giving examples of some situations in which misspelling has actually mattered. But most interestingly, the article looks at spelling reform and the proposals that have been made for its simplification and regularisation.

The link will take you to theTimes homepage; type "hard spell" in the search box; click on "search the site" on the pop-up; then click on the first item. And do it soon because you can only read articles in The Tight-Wad Times free for a week. Also check out the Simplified Spelling Society link to see reform campaigning in action. And finally, take direct action yourself on the freespeling website - go there and vote for the way you think the spelling of any one of 500 key words in English should be changed for the better.

What do you think? Should English spelling be reformed? How?

Focus: It's tough, it's cool, it's ... spelling

The simplified spelling society


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Lost for words

It's been a while since I linked to anything in The Times so good news for them, they've made it back into this part of the blogosphere. Not their fault... I upgraded my firewall, and the new virtual reality bouncers and rottweilers were savagely attacking anything that moved, including the pop-up search box in the online edition of The Times. All sorted now.

Anyway, The Times ran the most interesting story about a new piece of research into the ways in which Alzheimer's disease affects language. As a logophile, I can't imagine many worse indications of mortality than knowing you are losing your facility with language. I was moved to tears by Iris, the film about the novelist Iris Murdoch's battle with the disease. This piece of research covers exactly those bases, because the scientists investigated the ways in which her written style changed during her life.

The scientists used digital text-processing technology to examine, amongst other language frameworks, the lexical variety in 3 of her novels, one at the start of her career, one at the height of her powers, and one that was written a year before she was finally diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease. Check out the link to read what they discovered, and how they hope this will help them find new methods of diagnosis.

The article doesn't explain the technique the scientists used for this analysis, but it does helpfully provide samples of extracts from the 3 novels they used. Go ahead, give it a go! Can you work out a method for replicating this kind of lexical analysis? Do you achieve the same findings?

And while you're doing that, I'm off to do a crossword - apparently it helps...

The Times is always a slightly more tricky linkylover than the others: click on the title below to get to the homepage of The Times; enter "Iris Murdoch" in the search box in the top left corner; when the pop-up appears, click "search" on the left hand "search the site" box; when the second pop-up appears, click on the first article. Phew! You get there in the end...

Alzheimer's clue lay between the lines

Alzheimer's disease