Monday, August 29, 2005
After scoring a goal for his little-known north western team, he is alleged to have yelled "Get in there, you f***ing beauty", prompting an apology from a Sky Sports commentator. And Rooney's excuse? According to The Mirror, it's down to his youthful enthusiasm.
But shock horror! He's not the only one in the news for swearing. I know it's hard to believe, but some Australians have been swearing too. And a school in Northamptonshire has imposed a "five f***s a day rule" in an attempt to cut down swearing in its classes.
So what is it with all this f***ing swearing? One academic claims it's all part of language change - old swearwords lose their power, new swearwords and taboo terms become unacceptable. Others argue that swearing is losing its power to outrage.
ENA5 - Language Change and Language Varieties
ENA6 - Language Debates
EA4C - Language Investigations
Friday, August 26, 2005
Fair enough, you might say: most of us know that politicians live on another planet. But isn't this a bit naive from someone who's used to the devious doublespeak of today's PR-conscious self-publicists ? Maybe politicians are perfectly aware they're not making sense to us, because they know we'll switch off and let them get on with their dodgy dealings unhindered. After all, voter turnout has slumped over the last decade and has reached almost laughable levels in some working class areas where none of the main parties are seen as being able to deliver anything worthwhile.
So why talk straight when you can carry on talking rubbish?
For a great insight into the language of politics - its obfuscations, euphemisms and hoodwinking newspeak - take a look at this link to George Orwell's brilliant essay, Politics and the English Language, written 60 years ago but still pertinent today.
ENA1 - Language and Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates (language and ideology)
In her research, Fox has studied changing accents and dialect in a youth club in Tower Hamlets over a 9 month period and found that a new generation of Bangladeshi-influenced dialect has grown and spread into the speech patterns of many young East Londoners, Asian, white and black alike.
Three articles give you the tabloid, broadsheet and BBC website take on this research:
East End Cockney Accent Fading
Bangney New Voice of East End
It's All Kent and Dover for Cockney
As Julie points out in her Language Legend blog, it's interesting to see how this change of dialect is represented in the media. Many see the fading of cockney as a terrible loss to British culture, while others treat the dialect as a bizarre and unfathomable anachronism (much as they do the white working class who use it, I suppose).
In an article in The Daily Telegraph the spread of Bangla-dialect is even couched in terms of an invasion, getting a bit "Infectious Disease" model on us (Jean Aitchison fans, take note!).
While Sue Fox's research is fascinating in its depth and detail (and we hope to get her to speak at our next Language Conference in 2006!) this sort of language change is nothing new, just part of a wider pattern of immigration, demographic shifts and linguistic accommodation.
On the day these articles were printed, we were on holiday in Italy staying with friends who are big reggae fans. As luck would have it, one of the records I heard that day was Smiley Culture's Cockney Translation, a hit from the early 1980s which blends cockney rhyming slang and Jamaican slang into a witty commentary on shared culture in London. I've tried to track down the lyrics on google with no luck as yet, so if someone can find them I'd be grateful, but there are some great lines in the song which show just how normal the blending of cultures and languages is in youth culture.
Its I Smiley Culture with the Mic in me hand
Me come to teach you the right and not the wrong
In a de cockney translation
Cockney's not a language it is only a slang
And was originated ya so inna England
The first place it was used was over East London
It was respect for different style pronounciation
But it wasn't really used by any and any man
Me say strictly con-man also the villain
But through me full up of lyrics and education
Right here now you go get a little translation.
Cockney have names like Terry, Arthur and Del Boy
We have names like Winston, Lloyd and Leroy
We bawl out YOW while cockneys say OI!
What cockneys call a jacks we call a blue bwoy.
Say cockney have mates while we have Spa
Cockney live in a drum, while we live in a yard
Say we get nyam while cockney get capture
Cockney say Guv'nor We say Big bout ya
In de cockney translation x2
Well watch a man.......
The translation of cockney to understand is easy
So long as you aint deaf and you listen me keenly
You should pick it up like a youth who find some money
Go tell it to your friends and also your family
No matter if a English or a Yardy
Ca' you never know when them might buck up a cockney
Remember warn dem dem deh man dem don't easy
Dem no fire sling shot a me say strictly double B
Dem run protection racket and control 'nuff CID
Say cockney fire shooter, we bus' gun
Cockney say tea leaf. We just say sticks man.
You know dem have wedge while we have corn
Say cockney say Be first my son! we just say Gwan!
Cockney say grass we say informer man
When dem talk about Iron dem really mean batty man
Rope chain and choparita me say cockney call tom
Cockney say Old Bill we say dutty Babylon
In a de Cockney Translation x2
Well watch a man
But let me first tell you more about the Cockney
Who live comfortably and have a yacht by the sea
And when it come to money most of them have plenty
But where dem spent it? In de bookie
Lose it all on the dogs ot on the gee gees
Or paying off fe dem bribes to the Sweeney
So dem nah get no time fe Armed Robbery
Or catching anything that fell off the back of a lorry
Me at the mike stand
In a dance
'pon a sound
But sometimes me shake out and leave me home town
And thats when me travel a East London
Where I have to speak as a different man
So that the Cockney can unserstand
So black man and white man hear dem fashion
Cockney say Scarper we say Scatter
Cockney say rabbit, we chatter
We say bleach, cockney knackered
Cocknay say triffic, we say waaaacked!
Cockney say blokes we say guys
Cockney say alright, we say Ites
We say pants, cockney say strides
sweet as a nut.... just level vibes seen?
ENA5 - Language Change and Varieties
ENA6 - Language Debates
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Most of you will get the grades you deserve, and most of you will get the grades you need. Even if some people don't get the results they deserve/hope for/need, it's not the end of the world. There's plenty of good advice in the broadsheet newspapers about what to do if things don't go well tomorrow.
Most importantly, whatever you do, don't look at the Daily Mail or you'll get upset. Every year they try to rubbish students' performances at A levels, claiming that the exams are easier, the students are dumber and the teachers are lazier. The Daily Mail once supported Oswald Moseley's fascists and longs for a return of the "glory days" of the Empire, when men were men and women stayed at home and did the washing. So ignore whatever it says!
For some sense on A levels, how they've changed and why some people think they're actually more demanding than the old A levels that my generation and older took, you could do worse than look here at The Guardian's A level special.
In the mean time, don't get too worried and enjoy the rest of the summer holiday.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Bacon is reported as saying that the band had been put in a big "fat melting pot of talent". Irked at this apparent jibe at their weight, the band refused to perform.
So, is it wrong to use "derogatory" expressions such as "fat" about other people? Is this just people who eat too much getting touchy about their size, political correctness gone too far ("they're not fat, they're abdominally-challenged"), or a fair point from a band who should be judged on their music not their belly sizes? Is "skinny" just as bad, and what about "bald"? Not that I'm worried, obviously...
I think I can promise you that this will be her first - and last - appearance on this blog, but Anne Widdecombe (AKA Doris Karloff) had something interesting to say about this in last week's Guardian while, if you want to see what The Magic Numbers had to say about it all you could look at the NME article about it.
ENA1 - Language and Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates (political correctness)
The image file here is from an article in The Daily Mirror a week or so ago, giving a slightly more populist slant on the whole issue.
ENA3 Male and Female conversation
The last series was a great resource for any budding linguists and allowed huge numbers of people to get involved and talking about their own use of English. This time round looks just as good, and the broadsheets have already started running articles on youth slang and dialect revival which link to the series and the issues covered in it. The main BBC Voices site contains a wealth of information and views on the way we speak and is a brilliant resource.
Meanwhile, The Daily Mirror's coverage of Voices consists of a cartoon dialect map of Britain, reproduced below (full version on Englang@SFX Resource site):
ENA5 Language Varieties and Language Change
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
In an article on the history of his own family, Dr Robert Beckford of Birmingham University looks at the origins of his surname and how he came to be "branded" with the slaveowner's name.
The article is well worth a read and also reminds me of how at a previous college with a largely white intake, it was fairly straightforward and uncontentious to look at the histories of family surnames, linking them to areas of the country, geographical features ("Cliff" or "Rivers") or even physical characteristics ("Fox" often meaning red-haired), but how, when moving to work at a much more racially mixed college, the whole discussion became much more sensitive.
Beckford's article (like the whole series) is a timely reminder about the legacy of slavery and its impact on the world today.
The full article is here and there are more in the rest of the national press, such as The Guardian's take on it here.
The Daily Mirror meanwhile covers it here, choosing to focus on the trend towards more derogatory words than complimentary ones. Fans of Julia Stanley's research into lexical over-representation (more derogatory terms for women than men in the English language) may be interested to see that, according to The Mirror "There are 50 words for pretty women, such as babe, cutie and eye-candy with just 20 for hunky men".
Meanwhile, if podcasting is so last year for you, you can now get Godcasting: spiritually-themed podcasts. More on this here.
ENA5 - language change (esp. contemporary language change essay topic)
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
They're interesting as pieces of history in their own right, but would make a very good project for analysis of Language Change. I've scanned and saved two of the pages onto the resources website here in case anyone is interested in looking at them and working on them.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
According to the Mrs Watts, "Presenters who say "yeah" instead of "yes" and "nar" instead of "no" throughout children's favourite programmes make it much harder for teachers and parents to enforce the correct pronunciation"
And just to show how in touch with the times she is, Watts goes on argue that "The pendulum has swung from the BBC English of the Fifties ... and we have seen a growth in the incorrect use of grammar. Today's heroes are Rodney and
Read the full article here for the true horror of these dinosaurs' ramblings.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Take "normalisation" for example: ostensibly this is a term to describe the process of make life normal in Northern Ireland, but why "normalisation" (the "isation" suffix suggesting it's a noun describing the process of making normal)? Why not "renormalisation" suggesting that it's a process of returning life to normal? Or would that suggest life has ever been normal?
Then there's "demilitarisation": its root word word seems to be "military", and then you've got "militarise" (to turn into having military qualities), "militarisation" (the process of turning something into having military qualities) and finally "demilitarisation" (the opposite of this process). So what if you're like the Rev Ian Paisley and opposed to this (and well, everything else by the sound of it...), then you might be an "antidemilitarisationist". I could think of other, shorter, words to describe him but this is a family (sorry, college) blog!
And how about "jihadist" or "jihadi"? What a great combination of loan words and morphological madness. Jihad (from the Arabic "to exert or struggle") is given an English twist with the addition of the "-ist" suffix (meaning someone who "does jihad") or an Italian twist (I might be wrong) with the "-i" suffix. On top of that, there's been a semantic shift among many users to specifically denote "jihad" as some kind of violent struggle, while others cling to its more metaphorical meaning. Meanwhile the Arabic language actually has a word for this type of person "Mujahid" (according to the ever-helpful Wikipedia online encyclopedia). Again, I can think of many other, shorter and much ruder, words to describe such demented fundamentalists but once again, family blog and all that ...
All this is before we even get onto the subject of the word "terrorist" and what it means. "Freedom fighter"? "Member of teh armed struggle against an oppressive regime"? "Murderer"?
I suppose what this goes to show is that our language is flexible enough to chop and change words, with prefixes, suffixes and even infixes, as well as pilfering them from other languages. One loan word I find hard to get my head round is "alcohol", which is apparently taken from Arabic again. But considering that Muslims don't drink, I can't see how we got it. But of course, very thankful to them for letting us "borrow" it.
Monday, August 01, 2005
Why? While it's fascinating to see how many times these classics can be recycled for different audiences, and exciting for those of us who're fans of both great writers, it seems a touch desperate to keep trying to flog the traditional English literary canon to us year after year, century after century. They may be great stories which can be re-told time and again, but aren't there more relevant ways of telling stories to young (and old) people in the 21st Century?
Much of this coincides with a debate going on about the future of English teaching at the moment. The government has set up a project called English 21 which apparently seeks input from teachers, students and anyone interested in English as a subject. Whether it listens to those contributions or becomes yet another New Labour consultation exercise (tell us what you think and if we don't like it we'll ignore it) remains to be seen.
But with an ever-changing language creating its own new forms of communication, and fewer and fewer young people reading the "classics" of English literature, is there really a place for literature at the heart of English teaching any more?
Much as I love to read Chaucer and Shakespeare (and even - occasionally - watch one of his plays) I can't personally see the need to insist on Shakespeare plays being part of the the GCSE syllabus for English. In fact, I can't really see a good argument for insisting that any of "the greats" of English Lit are taught at all at GCSE. After all, what's the point of trying to teach what is essentially a foreign language (Early Modern English of the 1600s) to 15 and 16 year olds today, when many of them struggle with Standard English in its written form, or don't speak Standrad English as a first language anyway?
I'd be interested to know what your views are on this subject. And I'd also be interested to hear what you think of my latest effort at turning the Miller's Tale into rap. Please imagine this is performed in a Tim Westwood stylee:
"Fo shnizzle my nizzle", cried the student to the ho
Who was sticking her big ass out the open window.
So he climbed the ladder with a rat-a-tat-tat,
Perchance to get Medieval like a spitting gat
But as he closed his eyes and assumed the position,
Alisoun's butt went on a mission,
And Absoloun's dreams of being in da club
Flopped as she gave his face a rub...
But of course, as our new favourite Canadian rapper, Baba Brinkman says, some scenes have had to be toned down for a young audience. So, if you want the full, rude version of Geoffrey Chaucer's Miller's Tale, have a look on google. Key words: Miller Chaucer fart window face
Firstly, there's the foul-mouthed parrot, Barney, who's been in trouble for swearing at the local vicar and police officers. And then there's another old bird (sorry), Madonna, whose recent outburst of swearing during her afternoon performance at Live 8 caused many a maiden aunt to clutch their pacemakers and get up to "make a cup of tea" for a few minutes.
While both are silly stories, there's perhaps some mileage to be gained from looking at the response to swearing from different groups in society (parents, children, media) and the importance of context in each of these cases.
Parrot placed in solitary for swearing at vicar
By Jenny Booth, Times Online
A foul-mouthed parrot who stands on top of his cage shouting rude words at passers-by has been isolated after swearing at the mayoress, a lady vicar and two police officers.
Stacey Clark, who works at Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary in
"We don't know who taught him the words, but he seems to have a problem with authority figures," said Ms Clark.
"When he saw the policemen coming, he said: 'Hello, you two w*****s'. He told the mayoress and the lady vicar to f*** off. He stands on the top of his cage swaying his head backwards and forwards, singing 'B*****ks', "B*****ks'."
Normally Barney flaps around in a pen in the back
But Ms Clark said that Barney had now been locked in the front room to keep him away from visitors to the sanctuary after the incidents. He was still shouting abuse at people through the window.
"The lady vicar came to borrow a bird cage, because she was preaching a sermon about the birds," she explained. "She was speaking to Barney really nicely when he said 'F*** off', clear as a bell, so you could tell exactly what he was saying. The vicar was a bit shocked but luckily she didn't mind. She even put it in her sermon on Sunday, saying she had never been told where to go by a parrot before."
Ms Clark said that Barney seemed to know what he was saying as he always picked the wrong person to insult.
"He always swears when you don't want him to," she said. "But when BBC West Midlands came round to film him, he point blank refused to say it. The reporter repeated it to him over and over and over, and he wouldn't say it back to her, so I think he knows.
"I can't wait to hear what he says when he sees himself on television tonight."Barney does also know some marginally more polite words, apparently. When he sees someone he likes approaching, he says: "Hello, big boy."
*!@**! Where did that come from?
Unexpected swearing incidents are breaking out all over mainstream songs. Giles Hattersley asks the producers why
As if it were not difficult enough to protect children from video games, fatty foods and athlete’s foot, parents have a new problem to confront. Unexpected Swearing Incidents (USIs) seem to occur with worrying frequency. They can surprise you in the car or the comfort of your home and the worst always end with someone in Boden dungarees asking, “Daddy, what’s a motherf*****?”
Nobody could claim to be surprised by popular music’s desire to be outré. Elvis, the Who and the Sex Pistols certainly pushed some buttons. Hell, even Brian Wilson raised eyebrows when he dug a French bikini on California Girls. But latterly the frisson of a rare rude song has been eclipsed by a taste-crushing onslaught of sexually explicit, violence-promoting popular music so pervasive that four-letter foes are turning up in places they never used to.
Wednesday morning and I am in a music shop. As it’s the summer holidays, and raining, a few 9 to 13-year-olds are browsing the plastic racks, killing time discussing this rapper or that pop babe.
“Wicked fit” is the consensus on Cheryl Tweedy of Girls Aloud, whose leathers and suggestive stare would make a yummy mummy blanch. “Crazy tough” is the verdict on 50 Cent, the world’s biggest rap star, whose bullet-scarred torso adorns the cover of his album Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
Despite such temptations, a well turned out 10-year-old girl instead splurges £1.99 on James Blunt’s sweet bestseller Beautiful. Unlike Tweedy or 50, Blunt, a wan-looking Old Harrovian, does not seem the type that parents need to worry about. His hair may be a little longer than necessary, but at least he is free of piercings. They might even buy his album themselves.
She skips to a waiting car where, I imagine, mum, eager to assert her grooviness, will pop Beautiful into her Volvo estate’s CD player. The gentle love song will wash over them, she will think how nice it is to share such moments, then over the speakers will come: “Yes she caught my eye as I walked on by. She could see from my face that I was f****** high.”
Bang — USI! The only question is: who is squirming more? “This is why I never let my
Kate Fielder, a
“I had the same thing when we were watching Live 8,” says Liz Johncox, 44. “Madonna said f*** on the BBC in the middle of the afternoon. Here’s this woman, who’s my age by the way, swearing during a charity concert.” Johncox tried to explain to her eight-year-old that saying “f***” at home was not on. “She said, ‘Why not, mum? Madonna does.’”
Of the 100 most downloaded songs on the internet last week, one in six contained explicit lyrics. In the record shop Charlie’s friend Anna says, “The rudest thing I’ve bought was Khia.” It takes some persuading to get her to tell me how it goes. Finally the 13-year-old rappily sings, starting, “Right now, lick it good . . .” followed by a lyric too shocking to repeat.
How did this stuff get into the mainstream? “When we compare music today to the past, we can see there is now a total lack of self- censorship,” says Professor Franco Fabbri from
Simon Frith, chairman of the Mercury music prize, agrees: “Even five years ago I think a record company might have told James Blunt he would have to edit (the bad language), because otherwise people will complain about it.
“The fact they no longer think that necessary does tell you something. The Streets, for example, write songs that sound like conversations, and if everyday conversation includes more swearing, then that will be reflected in the music.”
Theories are not much use to overloaded parents who are too busy to police their children’s record collections. Helen Whitehead, a 46-year-old mother of two, works full time and worries more about school work than tastes in pop: “They download music for free off the internet, burn it on CDs and listen to it on headphones and I never know what goes on. I only ever get suspicious when they buy a CD and it’s got a parental warning sticker on it.”
British law has it that children of any age may buy any music CD they like. Record companies are advised by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) to put parental advisory stickers on material with explicit content, but it is not compulsory. Even when they do feel like it, a four-year-old is free to walk into HMV and buy any stickered Blink-182 album (sample lyric begins “s*** p*** f***).
“That’s mad, isn’t it?” says Frith. “Music has never been subjected to the same kind of censorship as film.” In Borders only last week, Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP could be bought by toddlers, but if you want to see him perform the same songs on his Anger Management DVD, you need to be 15.
“They’re very different mediums,” says Steve Redmond of the BPI when I raise this. So it is okay for four-year-olds to experience Reservoir Dogs if they throw a tablecloth over their television set?
That parents dread what their children listen to is nothing new. What has changed is their involvement in a shared culture with their kids. In the same way that fathers and sons will both be reading Harry Potter this week, they might both be listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“We do listen to some of the same music,” says Brian Allen, a 41-year-old father of three. “But lots of it has bad language that I wouldn’t let my youngest listen to, though.” This did not stop the five-year-old saying “s***” — he had heard it on his brother’s stereo.
Frith believes that modern music suffers for the inclusion of thoughtless vulgarity: “The songs become less interesting when language is no longer used in an inventive way. In a time when people couldn’t use bad language freely, they had to be much more imaginative with metaphors and word games.”
Frith and Fabbri think we can expect more artists to resort to bad language. Meanwhile the record industry, claiming that you encounter worse on Big Brother, will continue to insist that children — their biggest market — should listen to whatever filth they like.Sadly, USIs are here to stay — but can I make one small request? BPI, please slap a parental advisory sticker on Blunt. You are frightening the grown-ups.