Friday, 28 December 2007

Speaking 'the Queen's Mother's Language...'

A fascinating comedic 'English Lesson' for Jamaicans, given by a taxi-driving Nigerian trainee-accountant called Natahniel (played brilliantly by actor and comedian Felix Dexter). Hilariously this clip reveals that culture, identity (and comedy itself) is intrinsically tied to language.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Radio One - Censorship or Responsible Broadcasting?

BBC Radio One have caused a stir by censoring FairyTale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl. Probably the greatest and most sublime Christmas track of all, the lyrics are uncompromising and contain references to 'faggot' and 'slut' - two derogatory terms that according to Radio One would offend at least some of their obviously very sensitive listeners. Amusingly, the only offence that seems to have been caused stems from their decision to censor the song in the first place. Confusingly, BBC Radio Two have taken the decision not to bother and happily play the original in all its glory. This article written by Brendan O'Neil, takes an interesting take on the issue by suggesting that what this is really about is a narrow-minded, snobbish elite showing distaste for street-lingo. Is he right? Or, as Pater Tachel argues in The Guardian is ignoring the homophobic connotations of the word hypocrisy? Perhaps, but one thing is sure. Attempts at controlling, restraining and washing language clean of anything that might offend tend to fail because those attempts are always clumsily prescriptive, and therefore ignored by the rest of us living in the real world.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Ye huv tae keep up language wise

Liz Lochhead's 'Kids poem/Bairnsong' offers an interesting interpretation of the relationship between schooling and language. In it she suggests that the price for learning 'standard English' was losing her daily use of Scots dialect. In a way this poem is rather like Helen Dunmore's wonderful To My Nine Year Old Self which was recently brought to my attention by a collegue here at Christ the King. (Thanks Dave!) Personally, I think it would be great if Gordon Brown would deliver his first speech as Primeminister in Scots. Now that would cause a stir, wouldn't it?


it wis January and a gey driech day
the first day Ah went to the school
so my Mum happed me up in ma
good navy-blue napp coat wi the rid tartan hood
birled a scarf aroon ma neck
pu'ed oan ma pixie an' my pawkies
it wis that bitter
said "noo ye'll no starve"
gie'd me a wee kiss and a kid-oan skelp oan the bum
and sent me aff across the playground
tae the place a'd learn to say

it was January
and a really dismal day
the first day I went to school
so my mother wrapped me up in my
best navy-blue top coat with the red tartan hood,
twirled a scarf around my neck,
pulled on my bobble-hat and mittens
it was so bitterly cold
said now you won't freeze to death
gave me a little kiss and a pretend slap on the bottom
and sent me off across the playground
to the place I'd learn to forget to say

"it wis January and a gey dreich day
the first day Ah went to the school
So ma Mum happed me up in ma
good navy-ble nap coat wi the red tartan hood
birled a scarf aroon ma neck
pu'ed on ma pixie and ma pawkies
it wis that bitter"

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Language Change Snippet : Nice try, Ronald!

According to the BBC, The UK arm of McDonald's is planning a campaign to have the dictionary definition of a McJob changed. The Oxford English Dictionary defines MacJob as: "An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector." Macdonald's complain that this definition is "out of date and inaccurate" - sensitive of the negative connation of the neologism, MacDonald's countered it by spearheading an employment campaign last year entitled 'McProspects', stating that "over half of our executive team started in restaurants. Not bad for a McJob." Fine: it is their prerogative to do so, although whether anyone was convinced is another issue (they didn't specify which restaurants!). However MacDonald's has a lot to learn about the way language functions in the real world: even if the OED were to change the official definition under corporate pressure, the common meaning and use of the term MacJob would remain the same. Enforced language change is, happily, always doomed to failure - whether the clown likes it or not.

Terminology check: neologism

Seduced by an accent...

According to Stephen Fry, the recent love affair between Hollywood and some British (meaning white, middle class English) actors may have something to do with the seductive magic of accent. In an article taken from The Guardian, Fry is quoted thus: "I shouldn't be saying this, high treason really, but I sometimes wonder if Americans aren't fooled by our accent into detecting a brilliance that may not really be there." Given that Fry has failed to make the big time across the pond (and boy, he has tried) one might detect the bitter taste of some rather sour grapes in his assertion - particularly now that his mate Hugh Laurie is earning $240,000 an episode playing an eccentric doctor with a rather convincing American accent in the highly successful 'House'. Moreover, one could just as easily suggest that the British constitute a nation (or nations) of people perpetually fooled by the connotation of accent. I mean, Fry has been voted the 'most intelligent man' on TV by readers of The Radio Times - I wonder if they would they have done so if he sounded like Danny Baker? Probably not - and anyone who has heard Danny or seen his performances on Fry's own 'Q:I' would quickly see that he has an intelligence that easily rivals its host's. Danny's accent (and arguably his association with Millwall Football Club) just prevents many from recognising it. Indeed, perhaps Fry's accent has been fooling us into "seeing a brilliance that may not really be there" for years!

Thursday, 1 March 2007

What's in a name?

Oisín Rhys Kelly as branded by his parents on 1/03/2007

[with apologies to Dave and exponents of the alphabetical principle]

Oisín is now one week old and I have spent much of the past seven days explaining the pronunciation of his name to those unfamiliar with Irish spelling and phonetics. Which is mostly everyone, including some Irish people themselves. (It is "Osh-een" by the way). A part of me is mindful of the possibility that I have condemned him to a life of wearisome explanation- "It's Irish. That's why the spelling makes no sense." Indeed he may well curse the day his parents trotted off to the register office congratulating themselves on their rather exotic choice of name. I can almost picture him now in a not too distant future - sitting alone in a cold bed-sit, his life ruined because of the angst created by having a name hardly anyone can pronounce. "Why couldn't you give me a name conforming to the alphabetical principle? Why couldn't you call me DAVE!", I hear him cry. But I am hopeful that Oisín's name will not be an irritant to him or others but an opportunity to celebrate the unfamiliar. Moreover his forenames will be a reminder to him of both a paternal and maternal Celtic ancestry and I hope he becomes very proud of it indeed. And anyway let's face it - it's better than 'Dave'.