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16 posts categorized "Sociolinguistics"

21 December 2016

Sports Word of the Year 2016

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

So congratulations to Andy Murray on his well-deserved victory at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) awards, one of countless ceremonies that take place at this time of year as clubs, societies, institutions and industries recognise the outstanding people, events or phenomena of the previous twelve months. In a year dominated by political upheaval it’s perhaps not surprising that linguists at Oxford Dictionaries chose ‘post-truth’ as their Word of the Year 2016 from a list of candidates that included several items reflecting contemporary societal challenges – Brexiteer, glass cliff and alt-right. Here then, in similar spirit, are my ten nominations for the 3rd unofficial British Library Sports Word of the Year (SWOTY) selected from examples of interesting English usage in the British sporting press and media in 2016:

January (Lawrence Ostlere on Jade Clarke signing for Loughborough Lightning, Guardian Sport): The mid-courter values her time abroad and wants to see more young players experience the ANZ Championship

January (Richard Williams on the treacherous Hahnenkamm downhill slope in Kitzbühel, Guardian Sport): This week’s new snow will enable the skiers to tackle the Streif’s whole length, from its near vertical start to the fiendish icy traverse of the final schuss

March (Eddie Jones on the Welsh RFU’s vacillation regarding Joe Marler’s alleged description of Welsh prop Sampson Lee as ‘gypsy boy’, Radio 5 Live) They don’t know whether they’re Arthur or Martha

May (Robert Kitson on Saracens wing Chris Ashton, Guardian Sport) The player who used to appear several scones short of a tea party has matured and learned from his mistakes

June (Neil Lennon on Wales v Northern Ireland at Euro 2016, Radio 5 Live) The game’s a bit eachy-peachy

June (Barney Ronay on England’s humiliating Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland, Guardian Sport) For the next few months a post-Royxit vacuum beckons

July (Andy Sullivan on how to hit a fade shot, Sky Sports 1) I […] just open my stance up to hit that little lemonade

August (Aaron Bower quoting Gareth Ellis in the build-up to the Challenge Cup Final, Guardian Sport) Last year I was limping around with a pot on [my foot] and now I’m leading Hull out at a cup final

August (Emma John on the women’s Olympic hockey final, Guardian Sport) The first four shuffles had gone begging before the Dutch keeper Joyce Sombroek was ruled to have deliberately fouled Sophie Bray

November (Simon Hughes on the wicket for India v England 2nd Test): [It’s unlikely to be] a raging Bunsen straightaway

As in previous years the list is drawn from the usual suspects – football and rugby union (two entries each), rugby league, cricket and golf (one each), but this year includes netball, skiing and hockey for the first time. The ten nominations have been chosen as they demonstrate a range of linguistic phenomena from jargon, slang and dialect to loan-words and neologisms. Having spent several years teaching German I’m particularly pleased to include the skiing term schuss [= a straight downhill descent] as a rare example of a sporting loan-word. English dominates sporting discourse for a number of reasons – not just the current status of English as a global language, but also the influential role played by the British in codifying many (but by no means all) international sports. Thus loan-words are relatively rare, but alpine sport, understandably, is a notable exception as illustrated by e.g. piste, après-ski (both from French), langlauf (like schuss, from German), slalom and, of course, the word ski itself (both from Norwegian). Loan-words surface from time to time in other sports – in recent years football has appropriated rabona, tiki-taka and last year’s SWOTY winner, gegenpressing, for instance – but unlike schuss these tend to appear italicised or within speech marks in print, reflecting their novelty or status as exotic, potentially temporary terms. Schuss is an example of sporting jargon – a technical term used by participants, coaches and fans and universally understood within those circles to describe a particular action, skill or element of the sport. The other examples of jargon here are shuffle [= a system used to determine the winner of a drawn contest in hockey in which an attacker has 8 seconds to score a goal in a one-on-one situation against the goalkeeper] and mid-courter [= netballer who specialises in playing centre, wing defence or wing attack]. Thankfully, GB goalkeeper, Maddie Hinch, cemented her reputation this summer as the world’s best at penalty shuffles and anyone familiar with netball (or basketball) will know the value of a versatile mid-courter.

Six entries reveal sporting discourse as a particularly rich repository of vernacular forms. Three items might reasonably be categorised as dialect: eachy-peachy [= phrase equivalent to ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’]; pot [= plaster cast]; and not know whether one is Arthur or Martha [= to be in a state of confusion]. The other three might be classified as slang: several scones short of a tea party [= slightly, albeit endearingly, mad]; lemonade [= rhyming slang for ‘little fade’, i.e. a golf shot that is directed intentionally left of the target and drifts right in the air before landing]; and Bunsen [= rhyming slang for ‘Bunsen burner: turner’, i.e. a wicket likely to be advantageous to spin bowlers]. Finally, Royxit [= the resignation of former England football manager Roy Hodgson] demonstrates the enthusiasm with which the media latched on to neologisms formed by analogy with Brexit – a blend of <British> and <exit> that quickly established itself as universal shorthand for the UK’s decision to leave the European Union following this June’s referendum. Politics, of course, has always had an impact on language so it will be interesting to see if forms like Brexit prove as prolific as the infinitely productive suffix <-gate> that originated in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s which prompted the resignation of US President Richard Nixon. In July 2016, for instance, Coiffeurgate trended on Twitter following revelations of French President François Hollande’s allegedly extravagant hairdressing bill, and, during television coverage of this summer’s Olympic marathon, Steve Cram urged fellow BBC commentators, Brendan Foster & Paula Radcliffe, to end a long-winded discussion of Bahrainian athlete Alemu Bekele’s frequent stops to tie his shoelaces with the phrase enough of Lacegate. Guardian journalist Sean Ingle’s use of Chexit and Lexit to refer, respectively, to Chelsea’s and Liverpool’s current absence from European football competition demonstrates how such light-hearted wordplay appeals to our sense of linguistic creativity.

Not surprisingly, Brexit merits an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, unlike Royxit, which, as a neologism, is unlikely to meet criteria for inclusion. Many of this year’s candidates are recorded in authoritative reference works, but some have yet to reach the attention of lexicographers, so their presence in the British Library’s newspaper collections, web and sound archives is an invaluable resource for language scholars monitoring the continued evolution of English. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, includes mid-court and schuss, Collins English Dictionary categorises not know whether one is Arthur or Martha as ‘Australian and New Zealand informal’, while the Dictionary of the Scots Language records eachy-peachy from the 1960s. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006 edition) includes several examples of NOUN short of a NOUN (e.g. sandwich short of a picnic) and the BBC Voices survey (2004/5) captured numerous similar variants (e.g. slice short of a loaf and brick short of a load) confirming this is an extremely productive metaphor for mild eccentricity, although neither features scone short of a tea party. I’ve been unable to find the others in print glossaries, although the Cockney Rhyming Slang website suggests Bunsen burner is established rhyming slang, albeit for ‘earner’, i.e. easy/quick profit, not for ‘turner’. Proof of their authenticity, however, can be found in specialist reference works and publications: Martin Williamson’s glossary of cricket terms includes Bunsen in the sense recorded here and a Golf Digest article confirms the use of lemonade in this sense and both forms bear witness to our enduring fascination with, and affection for, rhyming slang. Wikipedia explains the importance of shuffles in hockey, while pot is captured in a recording submitted to the Library’s Evolving English WordBank.

And so to this year’s winner … given the incomprehensible absence of female athletes in this year’s SPOTY top three and comparative lack of representation in the nominations here drawn from women’s sport – a reflection of the glaringly disproportionate prominence of men’s sport in the mainstream media – combined with the presence of glass cliff in the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year nominations I’m going for shuffles in honour of the extraordinary achievement of GB women’s hockey team securing their first Olympic Gold. Fingers crossed for an increased profile for women’s sport and continued success in women’s hockey in 2017 – especially @DUHC1 Women’s 1st XI and @southgateHC Ladies 2nd XI.

22 December 2015

Sports Word of the Year 2015

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

It's that time of year again when clubs, societies, institutions and industries reflect on the previous twelve months and nominate people, events or phenomena for special recognition. In November, for instance, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) stunned linguists and pedants alike by choosing a pictograph – the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji as their Word of the Year; VLM reviewers deliberated the merits of Foals’ What Went Down and Tame Impala’s Currents for their Album of the Year; and on Sunday BBC Sports Personality of the Year was awarded to Andy Murray. So, in a year where, despite recent events on the football pitch, Jose Mourinho’s outstanding contribution to our sporting lexicon drew academic attention, here are my nominations for Sports Word of the Year 2015 selected from examples of interesting English usage in the British sporting press and media:


February (BBC online Cricket World Cup live update) [Tim Southee] sends down an absolute jaffa which cuts Dilshan in half

May (Guardian Sport): [Martin Guptill] made a brief and extremely eye-catching return to crowd-pleasing one-day stylings with this massive six to cow corner

June (Mike Selvey, Guardian Sport): Tim Southee joined a pretty exclusive club of Test pace bowlers who have conceded a gallon in both innings of a Test

June (ex-Aussie cricketer Jason Gillespie, Radio 5 Live): we’re not playing for sheep stations

July (Jim Maxwell, Test Match Special, Radio 5 Live): 120 looks a bit too skinny for Australia to defend

September (Robert Kitson quoting Orrel Director of Rugby, Ian Hollis, Guardian Sport): around here they still think union’s a game of kick and clap

September (Robert Kitson, Guardian Sport): he doesn’t care where he’s playing, who he’s playing against or what Twickenham alickadoos make of his appearance

November (Jamie Jackson, Guardian Sport): The victory was a triumph for Klopp’s gegenpressing ethos

November (George Riley, England vs. New Zealand Rugby League First Test, BBC1): if ifs and buts were chips and putts we’d all be Gary Player

December (John Rawling, Fighting Talk, Radio 5 Live): Dennis Wise a nasty little five footer

The dominance of cricket and rugby in this year’s nominations reflects the fact 2015 featured a Cricket World Cup, an Ashes series and Rugby Union World Cup, but golf and football also make the cut. Seven items are restricted to the discourse of their respective sports of which three are international cricketing slang: cow corner is an area on the leg-side boundary to which a batsman plays an ‘agricultural’, i.e. unconventional slog; a jaffa is an unplayable delivery; and if a bowler concedes 100 runs in a single innings he has the dubious distinction of recording a gallon – the less desirable equivalent of a batsman’s century or ton; kick and clap is used by British Rugby League fans as an expression of disdain for Rugby Union deriving from a typical Union crowd’s penchant for politely clapping repeated passages of kicking in contrast to League supporters’ enthusiastic encouragement of running and passing; alickadoo is used within Rugby Union circles, equally disparagingly, to refer to a somewhat out of touch ‘hanger-on’ or feckless club administrator; gegenpressing refers, in football, to the tactic of collectively pressurising the opposition immediately after a turnover of possession; and a Dennis Wise is golfing shorthand for a relatively short but annoyingly scary putt – a jocular reference to ex-professional footballer, Dennis Wise, who had a reputation for confrontation despite his diminutive stature. Two are idiomatic expressions: not playing for sheep stations is an Australian phrase roughly equivalent to ‘it’s not a matter of life and death’; while if ifs and buts were chips and putts we’d all be Gary Player adds a sporting twist to a well-known saying – Gary Player is a South African professional golfer and nine-times major winner; finally skinny refers here to an uncompetitively low run total.

Most importantly, the ten have been selected as they demonstrate a range of linguistic phenomena, from jargon and slang to dialect and proverb. Perhaps surprisingly not many are documented in conventional dictionaries or glossaries, so their presence in the BL’s newspaper collections and/or TV and radio archives represents an invaluable record for language scholars investigating developments in the English language. The OED (online) includes skinny as a colloquial form for ‘mean/stingy/grudging’, which captures the way it is used in northern dialect and one can readily see how, by extension, this might apply to a low score in cricket – sports reporters often refer, for instance, to a ‘miserly defence’. The OED also has an entry for alickadoo, categorising it as originally Irish English, while John Miller’s Essential Lingo Dictionary of Australian Words and Phrases has an entry for playing for sheep stations (2015: 161). Geoff Tibball attributes Dennis Wise to British journalist and presenter, Des Kelly, in his compilation of sporting quotations, The Bowler’s Holding the Batsman’s Willy (2008: 189) and the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2005) includes the proverb if ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no work for tinkers’ hands as a ‘traditional response to an over-optimistic conditional expression’ – i.e. a common retort to someone wistfully saying ‘if only …’. Coincidentally, a variant of this also made an appearance on a recent episode of Coronation Street (16 November 2015) when Erica Holroyd comforted Liz McDonald over her latest calamitous relationship break-up: as me mother always says if ifs and buts were whisky and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.


To my knowledge, none of the other terms have been captured in English print reference works. An internet search for gegenpressing, however, returns 219,000 hits so this is clearly well established sporting jargon. As a former German teacher, I find it a particularly intriguing loan word as it contains a German element gegen [= ‘against’] blended with an English gerund pressing. Similar constructions occur in German sporting discourse even when unidiomatic in English – das Dribbling, for instance. Like other loan words in football (cf. tiki-taka and catenaccio) the relish with which it has been adopted by the British press not only speaks volumes for the charisma of Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, with whom it is most closely associated, but also reflects our constant desire to adopt the latest European tactical innovation. Cow corner, on the other hand, transports me to my schooldays and a Yorkshire cricket master, who viewed any shot in that direction with utter contempt. Neither this nor jaffa warrant entries in print dictionaries, but both appear in Wikipedia’s Glossary of Cricket Terms; gallon is surprisingly absent, but is included in a rival online cricket glossary, while kick and clap appears in League Freak's Rugby League Dictionary.

So to this year’s winner: much though I sympathise, as a Castleford Tigers fan, with the sentiment expressed in kick and clap and was delighted to see Kevin Sinfield come runner-up on Sunday, deep down even football fans with no affiliation to Liverpool (myself included) have to admit we’re all rather excited about the arrival of Jürgen Klopp, so it’s got to be gegenpressing, hasn’t it?

 

23 March 2015

Spring/Summer Events

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Over the last few months members of the team, along with colleagues from across the library and external partners, have been working to organise numerous public events.  This post gives details of some of these events.

On Wednesday of this week (25th March), we will be holding the next event in our Talk Science Series.  On this occassion, journalist and Antarctic veteran Alok Jha (ITV) will chair a discussion with Director of the British Antarctic Survey Professor Jane Francis, UCL anaesthetist and space medicine expert Dr Kevin Fong and University of Cambridge historian Dr Michael Bravoon the subject of 'Scientists in extreme environments'. They will consider numerous questions including:

  • Why do scientists work in extreme environments, and is it worth the financial and human cost?
  • Why do Scientists travel to the tops of mountains, the polar regions and even outer space in order to conduct experiments, make observations and set up instruments and what have we learned from doing science in extreme environments?
  • Is what we gain worth the high financial, and sometimes human, cost?
  • Does exploring these places also make science a vehicle through which geopolitics is played out and do we need to explore for the sake of exploration?

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For further inforamtion on the event and to book a ticket please visit the library's What's On page

On the 11 May, we will be holding Family History/Public History? in association with the Raphael Samuel History Centre, London.  This evening event will consider how family history spans both private stories and public history. It challenges our ideas of what we mean by ‘proper’ history and experiments with the limits of fiction and non-fiction.

Richard Benson and Alison Light read from their recent work and discuss writing their family histories of the working classes.

Richard Benson’s The Farm (2005), an account of his family during the forced sale of their farm, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. The Valley (2014), which sets his family stories against the history of the mining industry, was a Radio 4 Book of the Week; it was praised for combining ‘the epic sweep of Gone with the Wind with the microscopic intensity of Tolstoy’.

Alison Light is author of the much-acclaimed Mrs Woolf and the Servants (2007). Common People: the History of an English Family (2014) explores her own family history across two centuries. Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize, one reviewer deemed it ‘part memoir, part thrilling social history of the England of the Industrial Revolution, but above all a work of quiet poetry’.

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The Private History/Public History event is free, but booking is essential.

We will be holding a one day conference, in association with Urban Photo Fest and Goldsmiths, University of London, on the the 29th May on 'Visual Urbanism: Locating Place in Time'.  Throughout the day speakers and delegates will examine interdisciplinary approaches to investigating urban space and consider topics such as how does the temporal dimension influence practices of urban place-making; what happens to our perception of urban space when we look at it both forwards and backwards in time; and how can time-based media be used to challenge linear notions of time?

A keynote talk will be given by Professor Michael Keith (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford). The event will include a short film festival showcasing work by artists and researchers exploring urban space through moving images and sound.

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Refreshments, a sandwich lunch and wine reception are included in the ticket price.  Tickets can be booked here.

We are delighted that Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, will deliver the fifth Annual British Sociological Association/British Library Equality Lecture on the evening of the 22nd June.

Drawing on her recently published book 'On Liberty' and her work in high-profile campaigns, from privacy laws to anti-terror legislation, Shami explores how our world has changed since 9/11. Her talk considers whether governments have decided that the rule of law and human rights are often ‘too costly’, and look at the unprecedented pressures those rights are under today. She outlines why our fundamental rights and freedoms are indispensable, even paramount in upholding democracy and democratic Institutions.

The event will be chaired by Professor Eileen Green, Chair of the British Sociological Association and Professor Emerita in Sociology at Teesside University.

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Shami Chakrabarti. Image used courtesy of Liberty.

Tickets are £10.00 full price, with concessions available and can be booked here.

Now are you are you sat down or sitting down while reading this? Have you got or do you have a preference for one form over the other?   If you do, why not join us on the 29th June for English Grammar Day 2015

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English has a number of ways of expressing the same concept and with approximately 400 million mother-tongue speakers and an estimated 1400 million non-native speakers it has become a diverse, flexible language that continues to adapt, evolve – and provoke strong reactions. Despite – perhaps because of – this extraordinary diversity debates about English usage have been commonplace since at least the 18th century. Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving, & Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) warned against the dangers of unregulated language, linking jargon and slang with declining morals and poor social behaviour.

In the 20th and 21st century radio phone-ins, newspaper letters' pages and online discussion forums bear witness to continued enthusiasm for dissecting the state of the nation’s linguistic health – more often than not with a particular focus on notions of ‘grammatical correctness’.

Recent developments in the National Curriculum have placed the teaching of grammar in schools once more at centre stage and divided opinion among politicians, teachers, linguists, and journalists, as well as the wider public. How have teachers implemented changes to their teaching and learning programmes to adapt to the new syllabuses and assessment criteria? What resources are available for students, teachers and the general public to learn more about English grammar and vocabulary?

What do teachers, professionals, academics and the general public feel is the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about the language? Join us for a day of talks, and feel free to ask our panel of experts to explore any aspect of English grammar from ain’t to innit. 

To book a place please see our 'What's On' page

In addition to the above events we also have London and the Nation and A Magna Carta for Women?  taking palce in July.

Gosh! There is a lot going on.  We hope you will join us. 

02 February 2015

2014 in review: Management Book of the Year, the problem with democracy, epigenetics and beyond.

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2014 saw British Library curators working across diverse themes, including: sport, law, language, gender, ageing and democracy. Through conferences, exhibitions, workshops and collection development, we worked with a range of audiences, uncovering new insights to our collections and learning more about contemporary research. Here are some highlights:

The annual Chartered Management Institute/British Library Management Book of the Year awards ceremony was held in the British Library conference centre on the 3rd February 2014.  Details of the category winners can be found on the CMI website along with videos which summarise each of the books.  The videos were produced by students from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.  The overall winner for 2014 was The Ten Principals behind Great Customer Experience by Matt Wilkinson.  We look forward to participating in the 2015 awards ceremony, which takes place on the 9th of February this year.

As part of the public events series linked to the Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight   exhibition, we held a public discussion ‘Beyond Nature versus Nurture’.  This event brought together social scientists and scientists to discuss how the nature versus nurture debate has been revolutionised by the study of Epigenetics and to debate the moral, ethical and social consequences of the growing understanding of how nurture affects nature. The speakers were Professors George Davey-Smith and Nikolas Rose.  The evening was chaired by Professor Jane Elliott. The discussion is available as a podcast and can also be watched on the library’s Youtube channel.

To mark Le Grand Départ of the Tour de France 2014 from Yorkshire, members of the team, with colleagues from across the library, curated and installed a display of collection items at the library’s Boston Spa site near Wetherby. The display included accounts of the early days of cycling as a mass pastime and sport, including an 1897 description of a ‘bicycle gymkhana’, more recent journalistic accounts of the legendary cycling extravaganza, typographical prints responding creatively to the 2011 Tour de France – including Mark Cavendish’s Green Jersey win – and the original manuscript of Tim Moore’s best-selling French Revolutions, his 2001 account of cycling the entire 3,630km route of the 2000 Tour de France.

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Gill Ridgley and Robert Davies following the installation of Le Grand Tour exhibition at Boston Spa

In addition to the exhibition there was a ‘peloton’ of blogs written by staff including 'Pedal Power' which explored how patents held by the library shed light on the technical development of the bicycle over the last two hundred years and ‘Escorting Stoller's Depart' which reports on the Tour de British Library when members of staff cycled from St Pancras to Boston Spa to mark the start of the Tour de France.

In April we held a one day conference Portraying Ageing: Cultural Assumptions and Practical Implications in partnership with the The School of Language, Linguistics and Film – Queen Mary, University of London and the Centre for Policy on Ageing.  The conference brought together experts from different backgrounds to share and discuss, from a variety of theoretical and practical viewpoints, how age and ageing are not only biological events but also cultural and social constructions and how insights from research can be translated into policy and practice.  They keynote address was given by Professor Lynne Segal, Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, Guardian Columnist and author of ‘Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing’. The conference was filmed and the videos can be accessed via a page on the Social Welfare Portal.  An overview of the day is also available via the ‘Age is in the eye of the beholder' blog post.

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Professor Lynne Segal delivering the keynote address at the Portraying Ageing Conference.

We were delighted to hold the Fourth Annual Equality lecture in association with the British Sociological Association.  This year our speaker was Dr Tom Shakespeare, a senior lecturer in medical sociology at the University of East Anglia and disability rights advocate. Tom’s research interests centre on disability studies and bioethics and his publications include: The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996), Genetic Politics (2002) and Disability Rights and Wrongs (2006). He has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva where he helped write and edit the World Report on Disability (WHO 2011) and has been involved in the disability movement for 25 years.

The theme of Tom’s talk was ‘Enabling Equality: from disabling barriers to equal participation’ and explored what it takes to achieve equality for disabled people, in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ‘welfare reform’.  The lecture is available on our podcast page and as a video on the British Sociological Association’s vimeo channel.

Members of the team assisted colleagues from across the library in the planning and delivery of the Languages and the First World War International Conference which was held in association with the University of Antwerp and timed to coincide with the opening of the library exhibition Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.  The conference aimed to study how the languages of combatant nations influenced each other; the use of trench slang to both include and exclude individuals; censorship and propaganda; the development of interpreting as a profession; personal communication and silence during and after the war and how the First World War still influences how we all speak today.  The speakers represented a range of academic disciplines and were drawn from across Europe, North America and Australia.  The programme and related blogs can be found on the dedicated conference tumblr page. Some of the twitter feed from the conference is available via Storyfi.

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Postcard home: Arthur Tildesley writes to his Mother and Father that he is 'tray bon'.

In June we hosted the inaugural English Grammar Day, which was inspired by renewed political interest in the role of grammar in English teaching and assessment and debates about the cultural and educational significance of knowledge about grammar. EGD 2014 was a sell out event and a forum for reflections on the state of, and attitudes towards, English grammar – in school and beyond – with public contributions encouraged in the form of a lively ‘Any Questions’ style Panel session. The event brought together academic linguists, teachers, PGCE students, teacher trainers and non-specialists and we look forward to hosting EGD 2015 on June 29 and making this an annual event.

The year also saw British Online Archives made available via remote access for British Library readers.  This is an online platform which brings together digitised images, and descriptions, of collections held in archives and libraries from across Britain.   Collections include the BBC Handbooks and Listener Research, Parliamentary Labour Party records, missionary and colonial papers (recording some of the earliest contacts between Europeans and the populations of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific), and the archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  More information on some of the material available via the service can be found in an earlier Social Sciences blog post.

Holders of British Library Reader Pass can now access these collections from outside our Reading Rooms, using our Remote e-Resources service at https://eresources.remote.bl.uk:2443/login

Britihs Archives Online

Images taken from British Archives Online.

In partnership with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Socio-Legal Studies Association we held the third national socio-legal training day.  The theme this year was Law, Gender and Sexuality.  The day aimed to draw attention to archives and content which newcomers to the investigation of intersections between law, gender and sexuality may not be aware of and to consider the methodological and practical issues involved in analysing sources. Information about the programme and details of speakers can be found here and overviews of the day can be found here and here.

We also launched our new series of public discussions ‘Enduring Ideas’ in partnership with the Academy of Social Sciences.  The series aims to explore some of the key concepts which underpin society.  In the first event, Professor Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield and author of Defending Politics, discussed ‘Enduring Ideas: The Problem with Democracy’.

During the evening Professor Flinders asked and addressed many questions: does the apparent shift from healthy scepticism to corrosive cynicism have more to do with our unrealistic expectations of politics than a failure of democratic politics?  Do the problems with democracy – if they exist – tell us more about a failure on the part of the public to understand politics rather than a failure of politicians to understand us?  Is the problem with democracy is not that it is in short supply but that we have too much of it? He went on to suggest new ways of thinking about politics to ensure not the death but the life of democracy.  A podcast of the talk is available here.

Naturally, this post only provides a snapshot of some of the activities we were involved in, in 2014.  We’ve enjoyed working with colleagues from across academia; libraries; archives; third sector organisations; professional bodies such as the Academy of Social Sciences, British Sociological Association and the Sociological Research Association, enormously.  It has also been a great way to meet so many members of the public.  We’re already looking forward to a new Enduring Ideas discussion, Talk Science, the Annual Equality Lecture and more in 2015.  Keep an eye on What’s On for events.

22 December 2014

SWOTY 2014

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

It's customary at this time of year for individuals, societies, institutions and industries to reflect on the previous twelve months and nominate people, events or phenomena for special recognition. In  November, for instance, lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary selected vape [= 'E-cigarette'] as Word of the Year 2014 (succeeding 2013's selfie) and last week BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2014 was awarded to Lewis Hamilton - best driver in a field of 24 (22 of whom apparently had inferior equipment) - ahead of Rory McIlroy - best driver, best chipper and best putter in a field of 175. So, in an equally subjective attempt to combine my two great interests - sport and language - here are my nominations for Sports Word of the Year 2014 selected from examples of interesting English usage in the British sporting press and media:

May (Adrian Chiles commenting on Hull City defence, ITV FA Cup Final): they must be too cream crackered to sort it out.

July (Guardian G2 Tour de France special):  Ey up or allez allez allez?

September (Peter Allis spotting two spectators in fancy dress watching difficult bunker shot, BBC Ryder Cup highlights): I'll tell you what they're two bobby-dazzlers there and is this going to be a bobby-dazzler?

October (Mike Selvey, Guardian Sport): He was, said Smudger, [...] the fellow who would pay the way for all of us, and he was not wrong.

October (Asteras Tripolis, Guardian Sport): The Argentinian scored twice but it was his first-half rabona that sparked a gasp from all inside the stadium.

November (Sachin Nakrani quoting QPR captain, Joey Barton, Guardian Sport): If you're not playing for Liverpool, who couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo, how do you get into the England squad?

November (Simon Cambers & Kevin Mitchell, Guardian Sport): Lamri [...] played a handful of minor matches on the Futures circuit, the last recorded of them when he double-bagled in a qualifier in Morocco two years ago.

November (Lizzy Ammon, Guardian Sport): [Moeen Ali] will be leaving his doosra delivery firmly in the locker for the foreseeable future.

December (Dean Ryan, Guardian Sport): "Jackling" [...] is something which can be taught as, apparently, the exceptional Francois Louw is doing with Burgess in training with Bath.

December (Martin Castrogiovanni): The widely reported, extraordinary rant that demonstrated the Italian prop's perfect mastery of the F-word and C-word.

Though not comprehensive, the list encompasses six sports: cycling, football, cricket, tennis, golf and rugby and entries were chosen to offer a range of linguistic research enquiries.

Four terms stand out as they are restricted to the discourse of their respective sports. Of these, two are loan words: rabona [= Spanish for 'to play truant'] - an impressive skill whereby a footballer kicks the ball by wrapping the kicking foot behind the standing leg thus appearing to kick the ball cross-legged; and doosra [Hindi/Urdu for 'the second/other one'] - a ball in cricket which spins away from a right-handed batsman but is delivered with a bowling action that appears to suggest the opposite. The other two are examples of the kind of jargon that inevitably occurs in descriptions designed for a specialist audience: jackling [= a blend of 'jackal' and 'tackle'] - the skill in rugby of winning the ball in a tackle before a ruck has been formed; and double-bagel [= a visual reference to two zeros] - a 6-0, 6-0 defeat in a three set match of tennis.

Six entries demonstrate how vernacular forms occur even in relatively formal sports discourse. Two items might best be categorised as dialect forms: ey up [= 'hello' or 'watch out'] and bobby-dazzler [= 'someone/something striking or impressive']. Dialect is extremely useful shorthand for conveying a sense of location and/or identity. Three are slang forms typical of an informal register: cream crackered [= rhyming slang for 'knackered', i.e. 'exhausted'], Smudger [= nickname for anyone called Smith] and couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo [= 'wildly inaccurate in front of goal']. This deliberate use of slang creates a sense of shared conversation between presenter and viewer/listener or between journalist and reader. Finally, swearing, though generally still taboo in mainstream press and media sports coverage (albeit part and parcel of the live experience itself), is included here as the Guardian remains unique among British newspapers in printing the C-word and F-word without resorting to asterisks to represent the letter <u>. I've often wondered whether this is confirmation of the paper's sociolinguistic maturity or more a reflection of childish editorial glee.

Most of the terms above are documented in authoritative dictionaries in the British Library's collections, but some are yet to appear in print reference works, so their presence in our newspaper collections is an invaluable resource for language scholars monitoring the continued evolution of English. For anyone interested, the Oxford English Dictionary (online) includes doosra, bobby-dazzler and cream crackered, the Collins English Dictionary (online) has an entry for jackling and includes rabona in a set of 'new word submission[s]' under consideration, while the Macmillan Dictionary (online) records bagel as 'in tennis, a score of 6-0'. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English noted Smudger in the mid-20th-century, while ey up appears in the 19th-century English Dialect Dictionary. Finally, the first person I ever heard use the phrase couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo was my brother-in-law who used it on a golfing holiday in the late 1980s to describe his wayward driving (and his unpredictable long-irons, inconsistent approach play and inept putting). I've not found it in a print publication, but I'm sure he'd be delighted to know it's accorded an entry at Urban Dictionary (online) and features in George Sandford's English Idioms blog.

And this year's winner is ... it's got to be bobby-dazzler, hasn't it?

24 June 2014

Lost in pronunciation

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MA student Maryna Myntsykovska writes:

The British Library presents a wealth of opportunities, sometimes most unexpected ones. Fuelled by my desire to participate in an on-going linguistic project, I recently completed a three-month placement at the British Library as part of my Linguistics MA course at Queen Mary, University of London. I worked with the BBC Voices Recordings, aiming to create a detailed linguistic description according to the framework developed by the British Library’s Voices of the UK project. My task included capturing instances of lexical, grammatical as well as phonological variation in one of the recordings.

My first task was to choose a recording, in which I would look for vernacular words, pronunciation features and grammatical constructions.  Having considered recordings from Glasgow, Cardiff and Oxford, I opted for the latter, since understanding the flow of words naturally produced by British people is not a piece of cake for a non-native speaker like me. Before coming to London last September I had previously only been exposed to the socially prestigious British accent, Received Pronunciation (RP). Speakers from Scotland or Wales presented a considerable challenge, but even some varieties of southern English speech remained undecipherable for a while. One speaker, for instance, referred to [‘broid’] and [‘stroidz’] –frustratingly, corresponding entries were elusive in the Oxford English Dictionary. Only with the help of another native speaker did I learn that this was a London pronunciation feature, and the speaker was actually saying brideand strides(his preferred variant of ‘trousers’). Gradually, listening to the recording over and over again, I got used to the speakers’ accents to the extent that I stopped noticing vernacular features and could extract the meaning effortlessly.

Bizarrely, right by the time my skill at interpreting non-RP elements reached its peak, I got to the phase of the description in which I had to listen precisely for vernacular pronunciation features. All those little deviations in vowels and consonants that I was so determined to overlook in my effort to understand the meaning suddenly became the focus of my work!

The actual discussion I had chosen was built around 40 words, presented to the participants beforehand. The interviewees had to come up with words and expressions synonymic to those presented in the list (for example, clobber for ‘clothes’ or sprog for ’baby’). My objective was to note down all the instances of a single lexical item and to check for spelling precedent in printed sources, which set me exploring endless pages of slang dictionaries and enriched my vocabulary with new acquisitions, such as chucking it down (‘to rain heavily’), tesco-bombers (‘cheap trainers bought in Tesco supermarket’) and up the duff (‘pregnant’), to quote just a few.

During my time at the Library I also attended a workshop about regional variation in accents and dialects aimed at A-level students, given by the Sociolinguistics curator of the British Library. Inspired by what I had witnessed, I delivered a similar presentation at school in my home town in Ukraine, promoting the use of the BL resources about regional varieties of English, such as Sounds Familiar?. Using Sound Map, we first listened to a fragment of the children’s story ‘Mr Tickle’ (© 1971 Roger Hargreaves), recorded by speakers from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. The pupils attempted to guess the accent of the speaker, but admitted it was a challenging task. In fact, due to their lack of exposure to regional varieties of English in the UK, the class did not identify any of the speakers, but was definitely eager to learn more about accents and dialects. In my presentation I encouraged them to make the most of the resources created by the British Library, both for learning as well as leisure purposes.

Overall, creating a linguistic description like this helped me to appreciate the differences between accents and understand the components constituting those differences. In this respect my time at the British Library was a truly invaluable experience.

02 June 2014

Languages and the First World War: Trench Journals

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Conference Organiser Julian Walker writes:

The First World War was, as is well known, a great catalyst for literary activity. The relationship between expectation and reality, the change, the magnitude of the experience and the sharp focus on the details are the matter of a literary experience that altered the direction of twentieth-century literature.

But these ideas could be equally seen in a non-literary written culture produced by the war, the trench journal. Trench journals were magazines produced by troops for troops. There were produced in vast numbers, at the front, in hospitals, behind the front lines, in troopships and in prison camps. Issues were printed in a small number of copies, or in their thousands. They are known from September 1914, and they immediately tell the experience of the war.

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Cyclist Battalion Christmas Bulletin 1915

They are important because, as J G Fuller writes in Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies (1990), they are ‘ not coloured by subsequent experience, and they represent a collective rather than an individual commentary, validated to a large extent by their soldier audience.’ Effectively they represent the experience of the war to those who are going through the experience, presented by those who are going through the experience; as such they are uncoloured by subsequent thoughts and to a large extent give us an immediate idea of ‘what it was like’. This validity was recognised early on, as from 1915 the British Museum asked for copies of trench journals for their collection, and the British Library now holds 1138 issues, including Australian troopship journals, hospital journals and journals produced by German internees and prisoners-of-war. The most well known title is the Wipers Times, but there were hundreds of others.

They were produced by people who often had no professional journalistic experience, but employed the skills of soldiers who in civilian life were printers, compositors, or commercial artists. Some were made up in the trenches and printed back in Britain, others were copied out by hand and circulated amongst a handful of men. Full of in-jokes, poetry of dubious quality, limericks, pastiches, well and badly drawn cartoons, awful puns, diary-sketches that give self-censored references to the frontline experience, football results and thanks for gifts from home, they often resemble school magazines. But then the people who wrote and read them were in many cases little older than schoolboys.

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Morning Rire Issue 3 1916

It is in homage to this extraordinary journalistic culture that the Languages and the First World War conference is working with Graphics students from Central St Martins College of Art and Design to produce a homage ‘trench journal’. It will contain articles by some of the people who wanted to come to the conference but were unable to attend, some linguistic titbits (including new finds), illustrations and photographs, excerpts from journals in the British Library collection and some in private collections, and pastiches of trench journal material.

The Central Saint Martins students have studied trench journals in the British Library collection, and for them this project, working in direct relation to a print medium a century old that was produced under the most stressful conditions conceivable, is a challenging venture. Various print methods are being explored, including letterpress and mimeograph, the print technique by which some of the more close-to-the-action original trench journals were produced. Echoing the ‘autonomy within self-imposd boundaries’ of the originals, the students have full design control of the journal, including the title; working from the description by Graham Seal (The Soldiers’ Press, 2013) of trench journals as a ‘democratic cultural republic amidst a hierarchical martial regime’, the publication is called At No-one’s Authority.

The relationship between the wartime journal editors and their superiors varied; while some were explicitly published under the authority of commanding officers, for others, circulating even in typescript or manuscript, this was not an issue. It is particularly pertinent that Koenraad Du Pont from the University of Leuven will be giving a paper on how an Italian trench journal, L’Astico, was centrally manipulated for propaganda purposes; in this case the attempt to use a range of dialects to cement camaraderie within the army backfired. Though British journals display attitudes of ‘grumbling but not complaining’, pride in achievement, group identity, ‘laughing will get us through’, and ‘getting on with the job’, these were perhaps uneasy and fragile masks of the soldier’s awareness of his unprecedented relationship with his environment, and manifestations of a desperate need to say ‘I am still here and alive now’.

At No-one’s Authority will be available in a very limited edition, and only at the conference, so book your ticket now.

Programme, booking links, and blog: http://languages-and-first-world-war.tumblr.com/

09 May 2014

Languages and the First World War

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Julian Walker writes:

The early part of 2014 saw a rush of books, new websites and television programmes about the First World War, and for some of us there was a concern that ‘First World War fatigue’ would set in before the arrival of the actual anniversaries. Finding a new way of considering the conflict seemed a remote idea. The field of language, however, has been little considered, is a fantastically rich area, and allows examination of both the differences and the commonality of experience among civilians and combatants across all the combatant nations. How did language change during and as a result of the war, how did languages influence each other, and what effects have lasted through the century between then and now?

The conference ‘Languages and the First World War’, to be held at the University of Antwerp and the British Library in June 2014 will address some of these questions, with papers from 27 speakers, and subjects ranging from the influence of French on English trench-slang, to the professionalisation of interpreting, to the censorship of soldiers’ letters home in Welsh, the difficulties faced by French-speaking Caribbean soldiers in France, and the use of propaganda in an Italian soldiers’ magazine. The conference coincides with Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour, the British Library’s exhibition on the First World War, and is open to the public.

The linguistic experience was a fundamental part of the experience of the war, and ranged from the deeply problematic to the enjoyable. The melting-pot of the Western Front brought together speakers of different dialects or sociolects within one language, leading to the uptake and spread of previously isolated terms. Officialese brought terms such as ‘debus’ and ‘attest’, while British soldiers tucked into ‘Bombardier Fritz’ (pommes de terre frites); new terms from the conflict – camouflage, tank, air raid – quickly came into common use. The management of the war was in many cases required to be multilingual: administrators dealing with Belgian refugees were baffled by Flemish, and the 1919 report on the Belgian community in County Durham relied partially on sources from the Catholic Church, written in Latin.

Trench glossary
Pastiche glossaries were popular in trench journals, newspapers produced by soldiers for soldiers.

The British Expeditionary Force was to a large extent made up from men who were the beneficiaries of a series of compulsory education acts, and who constituted the most literate army Britain had ever had. They were led ‘over the top’ by junior officers who were in many cases public school and university educated, conversant with Latin and Greek. Trench journals, diaries and letters home give evidence of how important reading and writing were for the Tommies – 15,500 bags of mail crossed the Channel just from England to France every day in 1916 and 1917. Those who found themselves further away from home, in Palestine, Greece or Iraq, might not know exactly where they were – so labelled those parts ‘Mesapolonica’.

Examination of the linguistic aspects of the war reveals an underlying sense of shared experiences, and there are instances of parallel wordplay occurring across the hell of no man’s land. German hand grenades were called ‘potato-mashers’ by both sides. Both German and British soldiers were unimpressed with the substitute for butter in their rations: on one side they called it ‘Wagonschmiere’, on the other ‘axle-grease’. Sometimes this wordplay emerged as the most awful puns: a German raiding party scrawled the words ‘Gott mitt uns’ on a plank left amongst the barbed wire; the following night a British raiding party turned it round closer to the German lines, adding the words ‘Don’t swank – we’ve got mittens too’.

Message for the Bulgars
Message for the Bulgars: the conflict in Salonika allowed references to what was at that time a highly contentious term

German soldiers could find themselves using a phrasebook that told them how to say in French both ‘I am confiscating the money’ (schè kongfisk larschang) and ‘Waiter, bring me half a litre of wine’ (garsong, donneh moa öng dèmih litr dè wäng). It all looks very like an English schoolboy’s attempt to pronounce French; but then many of the British soldiers fighting in France were not long out of school themselves.

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Postcard home: Arthur Tildesley writes that he is ‘tray bon’.

Perhaps the one word that conjures up images of the First World War is ‘Blighty’, meaning ‘home’ or ‘Britain’. Deriving from the Hindi bilyati, meaning ‘foreign’ or ‘European’, it was applied to British soldiers and administrators, who then took the term themselves. ‘A Blighty one’ or ‘a blighty’ was a wound that would take you safely away from the fighting, while ‘a Blighty touch’ was the same thing, but self-inflicted.

Throughout the war there was discussion of the origins of the names of allies and enemies – did the nickname Poilu (‘hairy’) for French soldiers really derive from their being able to grow beards while on active service, or was it from a novel by Balzac? And where did the word ‘Boche’ come from? Indeed was it ‘Boche’ or ‘Bosche’? Newspapers regularly updated their readers with new slang terms, and there was an awareness in the UK that the ‘war of words’ was enlarging and enriching the English language. Right at the beginning of the war the Rev. Andrew Clarke set about collecting what he saw as ‘ordinary words’ – the words used in reporting the war, in advertising, and in people’s conversation as they experienced the fear, grief, relief and stress of the conflict. Lynda Mugglestone, University of Oxford Professor of the History of English, will be giving a keynote paper on his work.

The conference is at the University of Antwerp on 18th June and the British Library on 20th June, and is open to all. Regular updates and information will be posted on the blog http://languages-and-first-world-war.tumblr.com/ and the twitter feed @LanguagesFWW and tickets can be booked on http://www.bl.uk/whatson/events/event160561.html