Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Delivering on a Wednesday night in Rochdale

Well, actually I'm still just about in Eastbourne ahead of my move to the Fens tomorrow, but were I writing a football blog it'd be just about compulsory for me to use the name of a Northern industrial town to talk about the discipline of performing well every time. Why football this week? Two reasons.

The first is that I went to my first professional football match last week, free ticket courtesy of the company which sponsors Brentford. They lost, the match was a bit rubbish, but I learned a lot about the language of the terraces. Or, more accurately, how often the 11 year old boy behind me could use the f-word in one 90 minute period. What was also rather curious was the way that racist language was used. The depths of West London is really not somewhere you want to spend a lot of time unless you have to, trust me... Yes, there was offensively racist language, but the words "black cunt" were not actually directed at black players. Indeed, there was much pride and admiration expressed of black players on both sides, and this phrase was reserved specifically for the white male referee who made some distinctly unpopular decisions. Go figure the linguistic logic there...

The second reason is that the linkyloved article below explores the contents of a new book out, which identifies the - sometimes efficient, sometimes rather cliched - language of the beautiful game. The analysis is much more than a list of words and phrases, exploring other interesting language issues such as the representation of international players and particular collocations of words that have become established. Check it out.

And finally, if you are working on language change at the moment, try checking out football reporting from earlier parts of the 20th century. Click on the Online Newspaper archive link; click to enter as directed; then type "football" into the search box on the right hand side; click "go" and you will get 241 examples form 1918 onwards. Browse away and see what you discover about changes in language and style.

"Football lexicon" lays bare beautiful game speak

British Library Online Newspaper Archive

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Disturbing the dead

So, this week a few of the papers picked up on the shocking story of grave-robbing in the English countryside. That get your attention? Ah, well, perhaps I'll admit that was a cheap linguistic trick (the election is rubbing off on me), and the story is actually about a small DNA sample being taken, with permission, from the 400 year old grave of a relative of one Captain Bartholomew Gosnold.

Who? Why? Well, though Captain BG has, until now, been almost completely forgotten, he was a legend in his own 16th century lunchtime. In those heady days of Elizabethan exploration and/or plundering of the New World, he set off to establish a permanent settlement on the Eastern seaboard of America. He first landed in the area he named Cape Cod, but it took a second expedition for his plan to be realised as Jamestown, near the James river in Virginia (guess which king was on the English throne at the time...). Though as this was a bit on the hot and swampy side, he got a fever and died there. Game over; history marches relentlessly on without him.

But now American archaeolgists want to determine whether this body they've just found is his. Why all the fuss? Well, they regard him as one of the key figures in the European settlement of America, and they want to restore his name and status. It is claimed (rather grandly) that without Captain BG and Jamestown, the Spanish expeditionary forces might have held sway in the territorial claim-staking of the times, and America would never have become an English speaking nation.

So far, a curious side-story about English if, like me, you like a bit of swashbuckling and derring-do, but erm, let's just stop and think about this one because there are, in fact, far more language issues to this story than meet the eye. This is because the other thing rumbling on in the American press is a whole shedload of stuff to do with certain states using legal processes to try and make English the official language because they feel so keenly the pressure it is under from other languages, particularly Spanish. Two organisations, English First and US English, are campaigning vigorously to make America a monolingual nation, and if you thought Michael Howard's immigration rhetoric was scary last week, you wanna read these guys. Well, erm, actually, you probably don't...

So, I can't help thinking that whilst Captain Bartholomew Gosnold is undoubtedly an interesting character from history, all this DNA testing may have rather more to do with English speaking Americans needing to find an English speaking hero to compete with Cristoforo Colombo. And on those grounds, perhaps the dead might be better left undisturbed in their graves.

The man who went to search for America

English First and US English (these people scare me...)

Read factual stuff about American English

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Why is this lying bastard lying to me?"

So, now that one pope has been buried and another smoked out of the Vatican, and Chas and Milla are busy settling down to married life, we can turn our full attention to this election thing. And oh, what a linguistic smorgasbord of stuff has been laid out for our delectation this week.

First up, is the nature of political interviewing itself. Jon Snow, of Channel 4 News, is arguing that the BBC political heavyweights, especially Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman but also Radio 4's James Naughtie and John Humphreys, have gone too far, turning political interviewing into some kind of gladiatorial mauling with little purpose other than the spectacle of the fight. He wants rigour but with a bit more courtesy than Paxman's trademark sneering, interruptions and repetition of the question as many as 20 times in order to get past the politicians' spin and gloss. This raises interesting questions about how different journalists perceive the relationship between language and power.

Here's the stuff about Jon Snow's point of view:

Snow wants Paxman to show respect

And here's the BBC's response:

Why we love the "Paxman problem"

And if you want to get your teeth into some meaty academic research into political interviewing, check this out:

Poisoning the well of democratic debate

And that brings us onto the second hot story, about Paxman's interview of Tony Blair on last night's Newsnight. The Financial Times calls it a "mauling", but Simon Hoggart in The Guardian seems to think that Tony Blair was well up for it and the Spanish Inquisition itself would have had a hard job cracking him. Hoggart gives us a neat summary of the techniques each man used to assert his power, some of which were non-verbal, and some linguistic. Check these out, then take a look at the full interview text to see what else you can spot.

Tony sees off the Inquisitor-General

Full text: Blair's Newsnight interview

And in case you're bored of Tony Blair, here's some political balance with an interesting analysis of how Michael Howard is using language to talk about immigration issues. His campaign soundbite that "it's not racist to talk about immigration" is logically truthful. But this article shows that if you analyse the semantic values of the words politicians are using to do that talking, and the collocations of words that they are establishing, then it is clear to see that for all the "honest truth" rhetoric, a racist discourse is being employed. Fascinating analysis here that you could investigate further in copies of politicians' speeches.

In Other Words

Enjoy the spectacle, and, if you're old enough, VOTE! (People died so you could...)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Improve your essay writing?!

You gotta love this week's story choice. In it, 3 students create a piece of software which randomly generates scientific sounding discourse. They use it to create an academic research paper that sounds good but is, in fact, a load of gibberish. Oh, the naughty student pranksters!? Nope, it gets much better, cos they go ahead and submit it to the organisers of a conference in order to test their hypothesis that such conferences often accept complete rubbish. I especially like this sentence: "we dogfooded our method on our own desktop machines, paying particular attention to USB key throughput". And hey, guess what? They were right!

Think about what this tells us about jargon, and have a go at random text generation yourself.

How gibberish put scientists to shame

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What on earth is a l33t haxor?!..

It's tough being an English Language teacher... On the one hand, my finely tuned New Word Radar means I wander round with all kinds of strange and delightful words in my head. Even now, the Oxford English Dictionary team are checking "linkylove" after I pointed out their terrible omission of this splendid word. But as a teacher, I also have to be very careful not to fall into the Very Sad Old Git behaviour of trying to talk like a yoof.

But oh, politicians, what do they know of this delicate linguistic line?! Well, for at least one wannabe MP, obviously absolutely nothing, because in his desperation to seduce you guys into the polling booth for the first time, the Labour candidate for West Bromwich East has SO SO SO crossed the line. Check out the link to the "teens" page of Tom Watson's website and cry... Then please, someone email him and offer to write something decent. The man needs help...

Teens and politics - Tom Watson's webpage

And if someone could tell me what a l33t haxor is?.......

Saturday, April 09, 2005

I do, I do, I do, I do, I do

So, today's the day that Charles and Camilla finally get to do the time-honoured thing. You know, step onto the dance floor at the reception for the first dance, a nice pile of sentimental slush for them to slide around and smooch to. I know: yeuch.... But what will they choose? Well, statistically speaking, according to a new survey, there's a strong chance it'll be Bryan Adams' Everything I do (I do it for you). Check this survey out because I'm sure there's a fine investigation to be had into what qualities of language (cos let's face it, the appeal can't lie in the quality of the music) make a popular wedding smoocher.

Wedding songs that taste forgot

But that's only part of today's Chas and Milla commemorative blog. Because the other issue that's got some column inches is this whole business of the pair of them renouncing their "mainfold sins and wickedness". Now, I'm afraid at this point I'm sitting here smugly saying, "I told you so". Hmm, let's see... Yep, there it is in the Language Legend archive, blogpost Jan 2nd 2005, explanation of why the language of the bible is a hot topic.

The heat it's generating is all to do with attitudes to different varieties of language, and to do with how much language change is considered acceptable when publishing or preaching the Bible. And here's the future monarchic head of the Anglican church saying "don't gimme that modern junk". Y'see, as a divorcee, to get his second marriage blessed, he has to say a prayer of penitence. Like, "Oops, sorry, I made a bit of a mess of the first one, please let me off, and can we just forget the whole adultery thing cos after all, I am hot-blooded male and Milla's a foxy chick, and what else could we do, oh lord?" Nope, not good enough: Chas and Milla are going all the way with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which will see them asking God for forgiveness in the linguistic equivalent of a good whipping.

Check out the discussion in The Times here:

Charles and Camilla to admit 'sins and wickedness' in service

And have a flick for yourself through the 1662 Book of Common Prayer here:

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer

But, I hear you muttering into your Frosties, what's the Big? Well... All this is taking place in a context of debate about appropriate forms of language for religious expression. Except that now the debate is a bit more heated because a couple of new editions of the Bible have been published. First up is Today's New International Version, which sets out to make the holy text more accessible to the modern reader, and to avoid some of the tricky issues of language change. So, it's out with "aliens" and in with "foreigners"; bye-bye "Naboth has been stoned and is dead", hello "Naboth has been stoned to death". So, that clears up that bit of confusion about dope-toking extra-terrestrials, anyway...

New inclusive bible translation launched in UK

But that doesn't go nearly far enough for some people, and so watch out, here comes As Good As New: a radical retelling of the scriptures. This one gets the thumbs up from Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who sees the translation's power as lying in the rugged contemporary language it employs. Here's an example, first the usual Authorised Version, then the new version:

Matthew 23:25
Authorised version: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
New version: “Take a running jump, Holy Joes, humbugs!

How 'bout that for changes in language and style over time?!

Check out this link for more:

Radical new translation makes bible accessible to unchurched

So, as you watch Chas and Milla today, remember that not only is the man a royal studmuffin (check out Language Legend blogpost February 10th if you're now choking on your Frosties in disbelief), he's also a man of heated political conviction who directly opposes the Archbishop of Canterbury - who is going to bless his marriage!!! Now what was all that business before with kings, archbishops and getting rid of turbulent priests?...

Vive la republique?......

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mounds of verbiage

I am taking it for granted that you guys are all watching the election proceedings carefully, comparing the linguistic styles of the nation's leading politicians, and exploring how they are busy asserting their power, authority and general right to be elected. So as you're already on that case, I'm not going to dwell on it here.

Instead, my eye was caught by Fay Weldon's piece in the Sunday Times, lambasting the modern tendency, particularly in public slogans, to present the reader with the eternal promise and elusive fulfilment of the dangling participle. Even if you need to swot up a bit on what that grammatical term means (it's all in the article linked below), I'll bet you all ten quid you're already familiar with it from your school/college mission statements. How does it go? "Providing magnificent general education", or "Trying really hard". That 'ing' is your dangling participle, and Fay Weldon is fed up with them.

She's also none too pleased with other "mounds of verbiage" in other forms of public and official discourse. This is exactly the kind of linguistic issue the Plain English Campaign aims to tackle, so check them out too. And in one brief moment of election fantasy, wouldn't it be great if they got to vet all politician's speeches?....

Check out the links, then how 'bout posting your school/college's dangling participle on the comments board?...

Language: not another euphemism

Introduction to the Plain English Campaign

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The harmless drudge?

I'm sure over the next few weeks we're going to see so many column-miles devoted to Dr Johnson and his dictionary that we shall start thinking he was anything but harmless, but one more piece for you to look at before we get to that stage. This is a useful addition to our little collection because it gives 25 definitions from the dictionary, and you can see for yourself how Johnson's world view shaped them. Think about what is revealed about the social and intellectual context in which he was working....

An A-Z of English (without the X)