Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Like, really interesting.

A very brief post, just directing you to this article, which combines two of my favourite things, feminism and language. Thanks to Sarah Hutchinson, Oxford student and county councillor, who brought it to my attention. Its basic premise is that women use 'like' as a filler as a means of making themselves more socially acceptable, as it makes them sound less aggressive (i.e. assertive). Now you might also want to read Deborah Cameron on the subject, an Oxford linguist who has debunked the male/female language myth. Or you might want to consider it in the light of the research that shows that using fillers actually makes our listeners pay more attention, as they have to work hard to filter out the ums, ahs, and ers. Does 'like' count? You may not want to listen to someone who can't string a sentence together without all those little time-wasting syllables, but your brain knows better.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your words

Yes, yes, I know. You wait ages for a blog post and then two come along at once. Which reminds me of a Wendy Cope poem ("Bloody men are like bloody buses") which I won't quote in full, because really you should go and buy a book of her poems instead.

The point is, however, entirely different, and relates to Hubert van den Bergh's latest book, How to Sound Even Cleverer: he's looking for your words, as he tells us in this Telegraph article. I'm not sure personally that I would describe Pippa Middleton as Promethean, but he's got some points. Anyway, I merely post this to urge you to contribute to his quest for those all important impressive sounding words. The kind of words that people in Oxford seem to trot out all the time to keep you thinking they're clever, even though they don't really know the meaning of them. It's the way I use 'Vygotskyan' and 'Socio-Cultural Activity Theory', although I have clever friends who do know what they mean and can explain them in words of two syllables with reference to Harry Potter.

Personally, I prefer people to use shorter and less clever sounding words that they know and understand. But if being a post-grad has taught me anything, it's that the more syllables, and the more confuscated and obtuse the writing, the better, and the more clever people will think you are. Alternatively you can just use statistics. It has the same effect, since readers can't understand you either way.

The future is now...

Well this is an exciting but not entirely English related post. I'm creating it on my mobile phone. It's going to take a while, given the one-fingered typing it requires.

I'm not the first to do this, and in fact Neil Gaiman has been doing it for years. And more and more people are using their phone as one of their main ways to use the internet, let alone to read e-books. Surely all this mobile reading and writing is going to have an effect? Internet writings are going to get shorter, and people's attention spans will shrink with them? It's alleged that one of the effects of the National Literacy Strategy, with its snippets-based approach to literature, created a generation of children who couldn't manage an entire book, because as far as they were concerned, English came in units of a couple of paragraphs.

I don't know. What I do know is that kids reading and writing what they want to read and write is a Good Thing (see earlier post on texting). In a recent job interview I was asked what the potential use of mobile devices in the classroom was: they have enormous potential for a school and teacher brave enough to swim against the tide of public opinion, and with students sensible enough not to abuse the privilege. Instant internet facts, or YouTube clips of poets reading, or photos for animations or recording of presentations, or even mobile blogging. The possibilities will surely increase and increase; this little palm-sized thing I'm writing on is exponentially more powerful than that first school BBC acorn computer I learnt to type on twenty years ago.

Meanwhile I must get back to the present and marking my final 50 KS2 reading scripts. I wonder if I could upload the marks using my phone...