Thursday, January 27, 2005

G'day mate

So, just when you thought you'd mastered the fine art of the Australian accent, ready for your Gap Year on Bondi Beach, in comes news that it's changing. No need to panic because like most language change it's all happening pretty slowly. Nonetheless, language scientists found some dusty old tapes in a cupboard, with recordings of people who were born in the 1880s talking about their lives. By comparing them with modern day Australians, the researchers have shown how the accent is changing.

There is evidence to suggest that the accent is diverging from the New Zealand accent with which it is often confused, and shows no signs of converging with either British or American accents. Perhaps this is an accent in search of a unique identity, reflecting increasing national self-confidence as the country's colonial past fades into the distance. It bears interesting comparison with Labov's Martha's Vineyard study, and all that has to tell us about how accents evolve, and how connected they are to our perceptions of identity. Go check it all out. Either that, or go and watch Neighbours...

The first link takes you to a transcript of a radio feature: makes a nice change for the blog to link to an audio file, but it also shows you how to write a good radio feature for Editorial Writing!

Aussies losing broad ocker strine

Rack off Hoges, we just don't like the way you speak

Australian English from Wikipedia

Labov's Martha's Vineyard Study

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

So, every now and again I come across stuff about the English Language that just makes me cry laughing, and this week's post is a prime example I hope you will all enjoy. It's about the very important linguistic business of how bilingual people (er, the vast majority of the world's population apart from a few weirdos in Britain) select between their languages. Sometimes, the context will clearly demand use of one or the other, and sometimes people mix bits together in a highly creative phenomenon known as code-switching.

And what do I find on icWales, the national website of Wales, but an article explaining that a recent informal survey of bilingual English-Welsh speakers suggests that whilst Welsh is happily used for flirting and chatting people up, it is regarded as unsuitable for use during sex! English is fine though... Now how come this important question about the use of English had simply never crossed my mind??!!

Apparently Welsh is not much good for swearing either...

Do I dare ask you to post your observations on the board?!!....

The ancient tongue which is far too respectable to wet the lips in bed


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Lost in translation

And this week, because it was my birthday, you get 2 posts on the same day! Now I can't say fairer than that...

The other fascinating article in the news concerns the role of idioms in English as a global language. Check out the Wikipedia link if you want to clarify what idioms are in more detail, but, basically, they are all those tricky little fixed expressions that you can only know the meaning of if someone tells you. Knowing the meaning of the individual words is never much help - take "kick the bucket" to mean "die", for example! I use idioms a lot, much to the puzzled amusement of my students (well, okay, they laugh out loud at me and say "Julie, what are you saying?"), and last year they tried to convince me that only old people (er, like me) use idioms. So, we did a piece of research and, blow me down, it appeared to show that they were right.

When we discussed the findings, all sorts of ideas were raised to try to account for this. One of the most interesting suggested was that because young people are so internet-connected, and are used to communicating quite happily with English speakers all over the world (cousins in Australia, chatrooms for fans of American metal bands, etc), idioms are becoming redundant because they are a barrier to communication in a global context. Cor, that was a good lesson..........

Anyway, lo and behold, in this week's Telegraph there is an article about this very subject. It explores problems that are occurring in the conduct of international business in English, because native English speakers, whether American or British or whatever, are failing to take account of their idiomatic language when dealing with speakers of global varieties of English. In an utterly fascinating example, Korean airways recently awarded a contract for flight simulators to a French company because their business executives spoke more readily understood English than those of an English company. Check it out. And don't ever say you're "over the moon" in Botswana unless you know what it means there!!...

Universal language? Not on your nelly

Wikipedia on Idiom

Thass nowt tha's et...

...More appalling transcriptions from me of bits of dialect, this time my Yorkshire granny's quaint favourite saying, said with a maniacal glint of humour in her eye, and used to express disapproval of a person's accidental emission of intestinal gas. Translated into Standard English, it goes "that's nothing you've eaten, it's something that has crept up your bottom and died". Dialect, local idiom, or just a very strange grandmother? I'll accept any answer...

Anyway, entitled as I will be, come Independence Day, to my People's Republic of Yorkshire passport, I like to keep an eye on things North of the border, and this week's post follows through on the BBC Voices dialect project I posted about earlier this week. Check out the link below to the Guardian's Northerner section which discusses the way the Northern newspapers have responded. There is some really cool stuff in this - like how Geordie buskers don't make as much money in Newcastle as "outsiders" because their accent is regarded as insufficiently exotic and exciting for the purposes of street entertainment. Now how cool would that be as the starting point for a language investigation project for A2?!

The other really cool thing about this is that it provides links, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, to 19 Northern newspapers. On some of these you have to click around a bit to find the stuff on dialect, as some have more accessible search functions than others, but they are a fantastic resource for the study of dialects. I checked out the Yorkshire Post: clicked on news, rummaged around and found the search box, typed in 'dialect' and up came all the stuff they'd ever archived on the topic - er, loads.... Dialect is dead?!! Again, I say, who's dead?!!

You say grouts, I say that's the dregs

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Youw toorkin' a me?

Hmm, well, that's my shoddy representation of my current Estuary English accent, though as a linguistic chameleon I change it every time I move, and it's accents and dialects that are the hot topic in the media this week. I'm sure none of you can have missed this as just about every trainee journalist on every local TV or radio station has been sent out onto the mean cold streets with a microphone to interview local punters about their regional language use.

It all ties in with the BBC's major linguistic research project into the way people in Britain speak. This is very very cool. Go onto the BBC Voices website link below and you too can take part (if your English teacher hasn't already made you do so!!) in the national survey of dialect forms. This online data collection will be compiled and used to create a new dialect map of Britain, showing the forms most frequently used around the country. Dialect is dead? I don't think so!

This project is in itself tied into a new programme called "Word for Word" starting 9.00am on Radio 4 tomorrow, (Wednesday 19th January 2005) so check that out too - there is a link below to BBC radio's online "listen again" function in case you missed it.

What is additionally interesting is how the same story has been reported within the different regions of the country. Regional journalists have obviously tapped into their local readers' interests, drawing attention, especially, to issues related to their local language forms. Check 'em out and see for yourself. And do post other regional news article links in the comments box.

BBC Voices project

BBC Radio 4 "Word for Word" programme website

Radio 4 "listen again"

From Wales: We love our lilt but noone else does

From Scotland: Sean's voice the 'most pleasant' in Britain

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The youth of today...

...have got lots to say, as the 1980s one-hit wonder band, Musical Youth, sang. So there's me showing my age, but at least I'm doing it in an upfront unapologetic "yeah I'm old - and?!" kinda way, rather than dressing my linguistic mutton as lamb and attempting to talk in youth slang. Be grateful!

So, two things have been doing the rounds recently about written and spoken forms of language preferred by young people. The first link is to an article about a piece of research investigating whether the use of text messaging language forms affects a young person's developing ability to spell or punctuate. Before you read it, what do you think its findings will be? Surprised, or not?

The second link is to an article about slang. What makes it more interesting than the stuff often churned out by journalists on the topic, is that a much higher proportion of the word count than usual is actually given over to real live young people (er, some of whom may well be reading this, so a special hi to you guys!) talking about their language use. And they raise useful points about how journalists are constantly trying to 'jack' this language in order to sound cool, and how young people's slang constantly has to twist and turn to evade this. My question in reading this is to what extent the slang identified here is used by young people outside London, so any light you can shed on that would be good in the comments box... Or would telling me, a geriatric, mean the language was already doomed to obsolescence?....

Slangsta rap

Texting and literacy research

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Language at work

So, it's the time of year in the college where I work when we all get our annual "performance management review". If you've been a good boy/girl, you might get your "professional standards payment"; if you've been a bit rubbish you might be subjected to "marginal performance procedures". Either way, you get "targets", an "action plan" and "Continuing Professional Development". It's all good stuff, but it does require us to issue new teachers with a small dictionary to explain all the management-speak.

Now, every year, my boss does my "PMR" and after we've done all the grown-up serious target-setting, he gives me a spoof set of targets to make me laugh. In the spirit of continuous progress, he always sets me a new target to reduce the number of times I swear in team meetings. It's a target we both know I will be completely unable to achieve, but it's all in jest and an entirely acceptable part of our normal jokey rapport. But it's not always like that at work, and this week I've been reading about a couple of scenarios where the ways in which managers have tried to control how people use language at work have resulted in court cases.

First up is news in The Times of the French company, in France, in which it is company policy to use English as the working language. This means that all its software and company manuals are written in English. However, trade unions have just taken them to court and won the right for hygeine and safety documents to be translated into French. The trade union official cited in the article points out the absurdity of company practice, whereby meetings held between French speaking French people are held in English.

The second article was published before Christmas but it links in nicely with this. At a McDonalds branch in Manchester, employees were warned by their manager that disciplinary action would be taken against any employee who spoke in any language other than English while in the workplace. So there you are, having a pee, when in comes your Urdu neighbour or your Spanish cousin, you ask them how they're doing in your common tongue, and you're up before the boss for a verbal warning! How harsh is that?! The case has been referred to the Commission for Racial Equality.

So, in both articles the issue is being forced by an employer to use English. It raises really interesting questions about the global spread of English, and the way this may be resisted for all sorts of reasons to do with personal and political identity, as well as skill in its use. And it also draws our attention to the instrumental power that employers frequently seek to have over our language use at work. I'm just grateful that my employer's only joking!

For The Times article, the usual - click on link to homepage; type "French hail victory" into the search box; click on "search the site"; select only item

French hail victory over English

McDonalds orders a full English

Sunday, January 09, 2005

United Queendom

From my browsing around, there are some tantalising articles about language in The Independent, but they've gone all tight-waddy again and are charging to read them, so, lang-ledge punters, we're back to The Times this week. But don't forget, you only get 7 days to read it for free.

And the news in The Times is that the British Tourist Authority has decided to try and cash in on Britain's thriving gay culture. It's written a load of promotional guff on its website, with the purpose of persuading gay visitors to come and spend pink pounds on these tolerant shores. That's all fine and dandy, but the language has come in for some criticism from gay writers as comprising little more than redundant cliché. Interestingly, this is not regarded as offensive in any way - just sort of hopelessly untrendy in a stereotypically straight way.

I mean, "pulsating nightlife"??!! Don't believe me? Go read for yourself!

Click on the link below for The Times homepage; type "gay vistors" into the search box; click on "search the site"; click on first item.

Tourism chiefs to lure gay vistors to 'United Queendom'

Our rainbow nation

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Record breakers

Ah well, so Gordon Ramsay didn't manage to hold on to his record for long - for the highest swear-word count in a TV broadcast. I was going to attempt to break it myself once my daytime magazine programme on Teachers TV starts. (You think I'm joking about such an exciting new digital TV channel? Think again! It's real!) But now that Jerry Springer The Opera is to be screened on BBC2 this Saturday night, even I have no chance - it has 3168 F-words and 297 C-words! Respect!! Check out the link to read The Sun's report into the howling storm of public protest currently whipping round the BBC complaints department about this tiny matter of lexical choice...

Swear Box

What's in a name?

So, the other piece of language news today comes from the Office of National Statistics which has published its annual survey of names given at birth registrations. Like any other area of language, naming children reflects long term changes in society, and short term whims and fashions. So, this year the news is all about how the name Mohammed has leapt up the list of most popular boys' names, reflecting the changing cultural diversity of Britain. But this is not mirrored in girls' names, accounted for in the article by the wider pool of girls' names that exists in most cultures. Now there's a fascinating fact I wasn't aware of before... The article also considers the enormous influence of American names and American popular culture, and if you click on the items in the "related stories" bar to the right of the article you can read about a Muslim cleric's appeal to families not to call their sons "Osama", and the influence of Footballers' Wives and Fame Academy on the nation's babies. It's scary...

Mohammed the lad leaps up league of names

Babies names 2004 - National Statistics Online

Sunday, January 02, 2005

An instrument of revelation and power

Here's wishing everyone a happy New Year. Though I mean that, of course, it's quite hard to write the word 'happy' in a week overwhelmed by the pain and suffering unleashed by the tsunami. Browsing through the papers, we can take our pick between the material reports and graphic images of disaster and attempts at its relief, and the interesting emergence of a divided and uncertain spiritual response. Is this catastrophic event proof that God does not exist? Or is it the size of the force needed to make the world get on its knees and pray? You'll have to sign up for Philosophy or Religious Studies A Level to debate those questions, but in the spirit of pausing for a moment to reflect on deeper things, this week's post focuses on a new translation of part of the Bible from Hebrew into English.

Why is this of any interest to the English language student? Well, as the reviewer explains in the article linked below, the history of Biblical translation into English has a lot to tell us about the way that our language has changed over time. The article makes useful comparisons between the language used in the new translation, and that used in the authorised King James Bible of 1611 (see pp64-65 in Crystal's Encyclopaedia of the English Language for more about this). The reviewer notes differences in degrees of formality, and in the type of discourse adopted, but a close look at the lexis and grammar is interesting too. Some of the semantic variations are to do with the new translator's desire to stay closer to the sense of the original Hebrew, so there is also much here of interest to those of you studying foreign languages.

The other aspect to think about is the way in which English gradually became accepted, from the 15th century onwards, as a language suitable for the articulation of serious matters. This happened in many areas of learning, but the Bible has consistently made special demands of its translators. There is a tension to be resolved between making the word of God accessible to everyone, and not reducing its power by using everyday street talk.

You may well be yawning here, but this is not just a debate the Lollards were having several centuries ago. I was having a perfectly normal conversation with my brother's girlfriend over the twiglets at Christmas, when she suddenly asked me what I thought of her daughter being taken to Latin Mass, because her priest had told her that the word of God is more powerful in Latin. My mum declined coming to church on Christmas Eve because she practises Methodism and loathes the 'fancy language' of the Anglican service. And I, as usual, got all the words wrong to the Lord's prayer because I haven't yet got over my outrage at the change from the deliciously archaic "Our father, who art in heaven" to the lumpenly prosaic "who is in heaven". And then there's the poster outside the Baptist church round the corner that is using text messaging language to make its appeal: the phrase "seek the lord" has been written "ck the lord". Having initially read it as "cook the lord", I'm not at all convinced that this works... These are all debates about what forms of the language are "right" for this purpose.

Read the article soon because it's from The Times and we only get a 7 day window...

Click on the link; type "bible" into the search box; click on "search the site"; click on the first item.

The Five Books of Moses by Rober Alter

Check out the language of different versions of the Bible using this groovy tool:

Different versions of the Bible