‘Trump’ is Children’s Word of the Year.


Sad(!) news, the BBC have reported that ‘Trump’, is the children’s word of the year. 130,000 children’s stories that were sent to BBC Radio 2’s 500 words story competition were analysed by the Oxford University Press to reveal this tragic loss of innocence. 

Previous winners included ‘hashtag’, ‘refugee’ and ‘minion’, which show how media savvy kids are nowadays. When I was a child, I would have sworn that it was ‘trump’ with a lower case ‘t’…

Quiet down at the back, there.

More fury over grammar…

It seems like the ongoing war over English grammar is no closer to a ceasefire. The latest battle is being fought over Strunk and White’s fifty year old Elements of Style, where Edinburgh University’s Geoffrey K. Pullum delivers a headshot to the oft recommended guide. In the linked article, Pullum points out the apparent contempt for grammar that the authors display in the book, incorrect or misleading entries and numerous examples of superfluous advice, for example “Don’t over explain.”
A link to this article was published on the blog Boingboing and seems to have ruffled the readers feathers. Among the apoplectic rage on both sides of the debate in the Boingboing comments section, was the fun guide below, which highlights the hypocrasy of style guides quite well:

  1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
  4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat)
  6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
  7. Be more or less specific.
  8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
  9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  10. No sentence fragments.
  11. Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
  12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  14. One should NEVER generalize.
  15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  19. The passive voice is to be ignored.
  20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
  22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
  23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
  24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  25. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times:
    Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
  26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
  27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

N.B. all errors on this blog are entirely provocational. Go!

Fawlty English in Japan

As Tokyo gears up to host the 2020 Paralympic and Olympic Games, proposals for improving ELF are being made. One such method, reported by the BBC, is to focus on speaking and listening skills via British situation comedies like ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘Red Dwarf’
While this has the potential to spawn a thousand sit coms of it’s own, language training for major sporting events is big business. I once worked in a school in Mexico D.F. where the owner had bought the school outright from the proceeds she had received from teaching English to athletes in advance of the 1968 Olympics. 

Can pilots learn English in 10 days?

In a recent report, Sky News has highlighted a total of 267 aviation incidents that required reporting which were based on pilots’ language problems. 
Although pilots and controllers are required to pass the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) English qualification at level 4, one such incident was a pilot on an approach to Manchester Airport confusing ‘left’ with ‘right’. 

With the ICAO Operational Level 4 test focussing on speaking and listening, it is assessed in a face-to-face situation. This has led to allegations of cheating:

In one country, candidates who started with no English skills received their certificates after 10 days’ tuition – an “impossible” feat, according to one of the report’s contributors.

Seems do-able…

The report has also led to Wales’ Esperanto chairman Bill Chapman making calls for the international language of aviation to be Esperanto, instead of English. 

Automating asylum

In order to process a backlog of thousands of asylum claims, the German government will pilot the use of speech recognition software this week. Originally developed for financial security checks in telephone banking, the software assesses speech patterns to establish claimants’ place of origin. As Deutshe Welle reports, lingustic assessments have been part of the verification process in Germany since 1998 where lingustic data was sent to linguists to analyse. Even then, the system is flawed, with a recent study by the University if Essex’s Prof. Monika Schmid highlighting the inaccuracy if this approach. The study found that German citizens identified recordings of German expats as not being of German origin due to language attrition. Schmid goes on to say:

“We have argued that in order to do so reliably, an analyst must have a solid background in linguistic analysis and be able to take into account a wide range of factors. For example, people will adapt the way they speak to the speech patterns of their interlocutors. 

“I don’t see how automated software can distinguish whether a person uses a certain word or pronounces it in a particular way because this is part of their own repertoire or because they were primed to do so by the interviewer or interpreter.”

The Art of Language

Linguists and language teachers can be an analytical bunch and we often forget the natural beauty of languages. While poetry, prose and storytelling reside on the other side of the often perceived language / literature rift, linguistics can be beautiful too. This week there have been some stunning depictions of language in the media. The first is the work of photographer Jolita Vaikute, who has represented a series of untranslatable words in a series of collages. The example ‘sobremesa’ above represents the Spanish word for a lengthy discussion after an equally lengthy meal. My favourite example in Vaikute’s portfolio is:

Verschlimmbessern (German): To accidentally make something worse in the process of attempting to mend or improve it. Multiple applications around computers, cake baking and relationships.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s In Pictures has just published the 2017 series of Wellcome Images which celebrate pictures from scientific studies. The image below shows the neural pathways created by languages, as represented in a study byStephanie J Forkel, Ahmad Beyh and Alfonso de Lara Rubio at Kings College London.

This is an image showing a 3D-printed reconstruction of the white matter pathway connecting two areas of the human brain – the arcuate fasciculus.

The arcuate fasciculus links grey matter, which contains cells and is responsible for processing information, with white matter which connects areas of grey matter – allowing information to be transferred between distant areas of the brain.