Friday, 25 November 2011

Did Coriolanus play league?

Possibly one of the most surreal conversations I've had in recent weeks was in a debate with a PGCE student, naturally enough about the respective merits of union and league. (We're talking rugby here. If you didn't get that, don't bother reading on.) His main line of argument was 'Macbeth would have played league.' Then he upped it to 'Coriolanus. Coriolanus definitely played league. So did Titus Andronicus.'

Union or league is not really the question.* The real question is what position did they play? Macbeth's a hunky warrior to start, but turns out to be a bit of a flash in the pan, with power going to his head. Sounds like a centre to me. Macduff, slogger, slow to start, but makes it in the end? Classic prop behaviour. Julius Caesar, live fast, die young? Must be a winger. This is definitely my new favourite game. Along with the 'what would any given Shakespeare character be listening to on his iPod?' game.

* Because of course, the answer's union. No-one has ever seen the Aire Valley FM dancing girls in a Shakespeare play, and it's not a rugby league match without dancing girls in jewel coloured lycra and furry yeti boots.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Gendered language

This is just a quick post to point you in the direction of an up-to-date reading list from Deborah Cameron herself about gendered language.

Language and gender specialists rarely now consider women and men to speak in different ways just because they are men and women - it's much more specific, localised, and contextualised. But many teachers are still drawing on the same tired old stuff from the 1970s, so Cameron wrote this list of recommendations for bringing your knowledge on the subject up to date. Highly useful. And brought to you by E magazine, one of my favourite resources for Language and Literature A level students. They have such good taste they employ me to write for them from time to time.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

An almost entirely unrelated post

A laugh out loud sentence from an article on the BBC News website about 'mini-figures' which are apparently the new childhood craze. The writer comments:
The grammatically abhorrent question mark in Playmobil's Fi?ures set is the clue that these toys are sold in blind packs.
'Grammatically abhorrent' eh? Appropriate for the morning after Halloween: beware of those horrifying question marks. The world seems to be dividing into those who stress about grammar ('the Grammar Snob') and those who don't know and don't care ('everyone else'). I was particularly amused to get an email this week from someone who had ranted to me on a number of occasions about the use of apostrophes by others, and referred to "Julian Barne's new book". Oops. Let he who is without sin, etc.

I'm spending a wee bit of time at the moment teaching grammar to trainee English teachers. Some of them have never really learned the difference between the colon and the semi-colon before, and so now's the time to find out. This shocks some people, that I have to teach them grammar. But actually language is one of the most frightening aspects of English (and English teaching to a lot of literature grads). And better that they should learn now, because of an accepting attitude, than try to hide it because we're judging them for not knowing what a split infinitive is.

I've written before about the intrinsic split personality of the language teacher re descriptive/prescriptive grammar. But I remained a grammar snob for a long time. I do think it's important. I still correct people, and I still teach the right answer. But I've given up on the judging. Grammar shouldn't be the enemy.

Appalling neologisms from marketing executives, however? They might just be the enemy.