Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Children’s book funding fiasco

A few days before Christmas, the Government announced it was removing funding for Booktrust, a charity which gives free books to children.

This resulted in an outcry from everyone who understands the social, cultural and economic value of reading. Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion warned of “an act of gross cultural vandalism” whilst children’s author Philip Pullman told BBC News that it would be an “unforgivable disgrace” if the charity could not continue.

The Government is now reported to have performed a U-Turn. Talking to the BBC, Viv Bird, chief executive of Booktrust, says that she will be meeting with Education Secretary Michael Gove in the New Year to discuss funding. However she refused to state categorically whether she had received an assurance that the charity would continue to receive the full level of state support as previously.

Michael Gove wrote an article for today’s Daily Telegraph in which he stressed the importance of raising education standards in the UK. Instilling children with a love of reading must surely be the first step to achieving this aim.

We all know and understand the need for the Government to reduce the national deficit. But whilst taxpayers money continues to be wasted on bureaucracy and pointless schemes of dubious merit, it would be nothing short of a scandal if the very youngest members of society, who quite coincidentally of course cannot vote, are forced to pay the price of our previous profligacy.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Puns upon a time

An interesting article on the BBC website about the return of puns in comedy. The author, Gareth Edwards, describes a pun as the “moment when the beautifully knitted cardigan of language catches on the nail of reality and ever-so-slightly unravels.”

I once entered a pun contest. I submitted ten entries in the hope of winning a prize. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Strictly English

Simon Heffer, Associate Editor of the Daily Telegraph, has published a new book entitled ‘Strictly English. The correct way to write…and why it matters.’

According to the blurb on the inside cover, Heffer “makes an impassioned case for an end to the sloppiness that has become such a hallmark of everyday speech and writing, and shows how accuracy and clarity are within the grasp of anyone who is prepared to take the time to master a few simple rules.”

This is an extract from a recent interview with self-appointed media expert Iain Dale.

Q. At what point did the English language reach perfection beyond which further evolution is unacceptable?”

A. When all ambiguities, in grammatical terms, were eliminated. Which I think, really, by the early nineteenth century, they were. It was when we invented the passive voice, when we stopped saying ‘a house is building’, you would say: “well building what?” We now say the house is being built. In Jane Austen, it’s always ‘the house is building’, or ‘was building’. I think that grammatically we had got it pretty well sorted out by the middle of the nineteenth century. Note I said ‘sorted out’, not ‘sorted’. We don’t want to go into this... ‘innit’. The meaning of words always evolves, and I don’t object to that. It’s one thing for words to evolve where something needs a new meaning, where you have something that there’s no word to describe it so you borrow a word to do it. What I don’t accept is that for reasons of ignorance we should use a word that we shouldn’t use. I heard a man on the BBC when I was writing the book about seven or eight months ago, say: “Yet again they are flaunting the rules”. And I thought: “You don’t mean that. You mean flouting the rules”. I remember looking it up in the Oxford English dictionary, which I invite any of you to do, and it does say that in recent years flaunt has often been used for flout. Well why? Flout’s a perfectly good word. If you can’t be bothered to use flout or can’t be bothered just to sharpen your brain to the extent that you can pick the word flout out of a box and use it instead of the word flaunt.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Monday, 20 December 2010

Children cannot understand Enid Blyton

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, Enid Blyton has fallen out of the top ten list of children's authors for the first time in decades because, supposedly, youngsters cannot relate to her language.

Revised editions of the Famous Five have modernised some of the language and names used in order to attract a new generation of readers. “Mother” and “Daddy” have been replaced with “Mum” and “Dad” and words such as “golly”, “rather” and “awfully” have been removed completely.

Where will such wanton sacrilege end? Will Shakespeare have to get down wiv da kidz?

Rather than dumbing down the language of story telling, perhaps we should consider raising children’s reading standards instead?

How English evolved into a global language

From the BBC website, Michael Rosen gives a brief history of a language that has grown to world domination with phrases such as “cool” and “go to it”.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The English Vernacular

Another day, another seminar at the British Library! On Wednesday we were treated to a ‘celebration of swearing and profanity’ with Peter Silverton, author of Filthy English, Graham Dury and Simon Thorp from Viz magazine and Ian Martin, writer and swearing consultant on the TV series ‘The thick of it.’

There may well have been an educational aspect to this. Or it might just have been a good excuse to say f*ck and c*nt rather a lot!

On this occasion, the temptation to buy their books proved irresistible! The new Viz book is entitled Das Krapital - an updated version of Roger’s Profanisaurus with such entries as: Shatkins n. Rapid astonishingly affective diet based on the somewhat controversial theory that the most effective way to lose weight is to acquire a bacterial stomach infection by the intake of meat only, especially 2am burger bar fayre.”

Peter Silverton’s book is, according to the blurb, “the story of our bad language and its three-decade journey from the fringes of decency to the working centre of a more linguistically liberal nation.” Peter kindly gave me a free music CD, so with absolutely no risk to my integrity, and without breaking my non-endorsement rule, I am happy to urge you all to buy his book here!

Pastiche, Parody, Lampoon

Monday’s seminar at the British Library was somewhat tedious. Fortunately the opposite was true on Tuesday when the guest speakers were Craig Brown, who writes the diary page for Private Eye, and authors John Crace and Sebastian Faulks.

Yes, they all had books to plug, but they treated the audience to a reading of some of their best works and a discussion of how they set about writing their masterpieces. Pure genius.

Hopefully, the British Library will make a podcast available.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

English: The World’s Language?

As part of its Evolving English exhibition, the British Library held a seminar on 6th December 2010 to discuss the future of the English language. The guest speakers were Robert McCrum and Nicholas Ostler.

The seminar lasted 90 minutes and can be summarised as follows: Robert McCrum plugged his new book ‘Globish; How the English Language became the World’s Language’ and Nicholas Ostler plugged his book ‘The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel’.

On 13th December, Jonathon Green plugged his new book presented a talk on Slang. Perhaps for the people who stayed, the second half was more interesting.

The Stories of English

Talking to an audience at the British Library, Professor David Crystal explores the evolution of the English language, from everyday colloquial English to formal speech, regional dialects and international variants.

Download the podcast from the British Library here.

File size 32 Mb (approx). Talk duration: 1hr 25.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Any last words?

The Daily Telegraph reports that twenty languages used in Britain, including Old Kentish Sign Language, have become extinct or are in imminent danger of so doing.

Full story here and here.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

It's a Brum rap

Jeremy Vine discusses the distinctive Birmingham accent and considers whether Brummies are considered “thick” simply because of the way they speak.

Broadcast on BBC Radio 2, December 8th 2010. Split into two clips due to file size.

Monday, 6 December 2010

BBC English

What would Lord Reith have said about this unfortunate slip from the naughty James Naughtie?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Happy December

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all … and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make England great, (not to imply that England is necessarily greater than any other), and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual preference of the wishee.


(By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.)