Friday, July 10, 2009

Vlogging a dead horse

The latest version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary is coming out and some of the words it has included are covered here in a Guardian piece.

Among the words are vlog (video blog) which you will know all about if you attended Kerry Maxwell's sessions last week. Also featured is another blend, frenemy ( a sneaky snake who pretends to be your friend but is in fact your enemy).

For more detail on vlog check the Macmillan Dictionary Word of the Week page on it here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ephebiphobia

Ephebiphobia: fear of young people. Some of us might have experienced it; others might find it bizarre. Perhaps Michael Jackson would have benefitted from it. But in this article from back in March, psychologist Tanya Byron argues that it's skewing our perception of young people and society.

This is the sort of text we look at as part of ENGA2 Investigating Representations and it's one to which there are some really interesting and provocative online responses.

Investigating Language

Here are the suggestions for language investigations that we've come up with in our intro pack. If you've got any adaptations to these, or ideas of your own, please add them here. But remember, that on the new AQA A spec the focus has to be spoken language.


An investigation into the ways in which two children of different ages use spoken language in similar situations.

A study of the use of metaphor in a political speech

An investigation into how three different teenagers use language while involved in a puzzle solving task.

A study of the language used by gym instructors or football coaches

An investigation into how males and females use similar or different language when describing a picture.

An investigation into the language used by teachers in 2 different classes of similarly aged students/pupils.

An investigation into how candidates on The Apprentice use language in the boardroom.

A study of attitudes towards different regional or national accents.

An investigation into how different ethnic groups use particular slang expressions in conversation.

A study of how Creole is used in three different generations of the same family.

An investigation into the differences between how the same person tells a story in spoken English compared to in a written form.

A study of the language of cinema trailers

An investigation into the language used by a range of radio DJs to introduce songs

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Monkey magic


And following hot on the heels of the last post about research into child language and how it seems to support interactional theories of development, here's research on monkeys that seems to offer support to nativist theories. According to the BBC news website and New Scientist (quoted here) by playing repeated patterns of two syllable "words" to monkeys on one day and then mixing up the patterns on the second day, it could be observed that the monkeys were alert to differences in syllables:

The findings do not mean primates can communicate using language, but they do suggest that some of the skills required to use language may be linked to very basic memory functions.

One grammatical structure that is found across many languages is affixation: the addition of syllables, either at the beginning or at the end of a word, to modify its meaning.

For instance, in English, the suffix "–ed" is added to verbs to make the past tense. In German, the same effect is achieved by adding the prefix "ge–" to the front of verb stems.
What this doesn't "prove" (and to be fair, no one is claiming that it does) is that grammar is inbuilt. What it does seem to support is that some sort of learning process - which involves language in some form - is present is monkeys, our evolutionary relatives and that this process can be extended to "rules" of human languages.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Language development under the microscope

This article on the BBC news website offers an insight into one approach to researching children's language development at the moment. As part of the "speechome project", Professor Deb Roy and his colleagues are collecting a quarter of a million hours of data. And the other figures are equally staggering:

"The first task we set for ourselves was to transcribe everything my son heard
or said from nine to 24 months," he says. He estimates that there is somewhere
between 10 to 12 million words of speech to transcribe. "For anyone that has
transcribed speech, they will know that is a laborious and slow process," he
says, with a degree of understatement.


And some initial observations that Roy has made seem to offer support to social interactive theories of language development. The BBC site explains:

By analysing the length, and hence complexity, of sentences spoken by caregivers
to his son, he believes that he has shown that adults subconsciously simplify
sentences until the child understands the word. Once it has been understood, the
adults then build up the complexity of the sentences containing the word. "We
essentially meet him at this point of the birth of the word and gently pull him
into language," he says.


Elsewhere, there's more support for interactive models of language acquisition. A report from UCLA suggests that adult-child conversations can potentially offer six times as much language development improvement as talking at a child (parent monologues/reading) or the child watching TV.

"Talk is powerful, but what's even more powerful is engaging a child in
meaningful interactions — the 'give and take' that is so important to the
social, emotional and cognitive development of infants and toddlers," says Dr.
Jill Gilkerson, language research director at LENA Foundation and a study
co-author.

"It is not enough to speak to children," Zimmerman adds.
"Parents should also engage them in conversation. Kids love to hear you speak,
but they thrive on trying speech out for themselves. Give them a chance to say
what's on their minds, even if it's 'goo goo gah.'"

And finally, in a piece of investigation that could win the No Sh*t Sherlock award for 2009, researchers at Seattle Children's Research Institute have discovered that when the TV is on people talk less and use fewer vocalisations, potentially harming the language development of children who are in the same environment. What is interesting about this is the observation that it's not so much the TV programmes that could damage the children's language (although In the Night Garden is the work of Satan as far as I'm concerned) but the effect watching TV has on the family's spoken interaction.

The study found that each hour of audible television was associated with
significant reductions in child vocalizations, vocalization duration, and
conversational turns. On average, each additional hour of television exposure
was also associated with a decrease of 770 words the child heard from an adult
during the recording session. This represented a seven percent decrease in words
heard, on average. There were significant reductions in both adult female and
male word counts. From 500 to 1,000 fewer adult words were spoken per hour of
audible television.