THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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23 posts categorized "Social sciences"

30 September 2019

Recording of the week: in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire …

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

H-dropping – the tendency for some speakers to omit the initial <h> sound in words like house – has a long history. It’s extremely common in England, Wales and parts of the Caribbean, but rare in Scotland, Ireland or indeed the USA and most other English-speaking parts of the world. Because of its association in the UK with ‘local’ speech, it’s extremely stigmatised and frequently provokes criticism as these speakers confirm.

Discussion about H-Dropping & Hypercorrect H. BBC Voices Recording from Devizes, Wiltshire, 2004 (C1190/34/03)

For many years, self-conscious speakers in the UK have been anxious to avoid this social gaffe. In some cases insecurity over when to include <h> and when to leave it out can prompt a speaker to insert a <h> sound where there is none in the written word – a process referred to by linguists as hypercorrection. In the 19th century as social status became increasingly associated with accent, elocution classes, instruction manuals and pamphlets, such as 'Poor Letter H', were extremely popular among lower-middle-class speakers keen to acquire prestigious pronunciation forms.

Illustration from 'Poor Letter H: its use and abuse' (1854)Illustration from 'Poor Letter H: its use and abuse' (1854)

More than 150 years of middle-class anxiety about H-dropping has occasionally led to a change in the way we pronounce individual words. In contrast to the advice given here in 'Poor Letter H', we now seek to pronounce humble, humour, humility and hospital with initial <h> in formal speech, although they were originally pronounced without it even in ‘polite circles’. We also expect herb with an audible <h> in the UK, although the older form (without <h>) persists in the USA and opinions vary as to the ‘correct’ pronunciation of hotel and historic (is it a historic moment or an historic moment?). Perhaps the increased tendency to pronounce the letter aitch as ‘haitch’ as discussed here is an example of a similar change in progress. If prompted by our continued disapproval of H-dropping, it’s particularly interesting as it requires speakers to insert a <h> sound that is not reflected in the spelling.

Personally, I can think of no greater guilty linguistic pleasure than a judiciously dropped H or indeed a hypercorrect one. One of my fondest memories of my dad (b. Castleford, 1934) is of the occasion he took me to a prestigious boarding school for a hockey match and asked a rather condescending-looking schoolmaster the way to the hall-weather ockey pitch. That was 1983 – I wish he were around now to ask for directions to the hastroturf.

Find out more about social variation in British English on our British Accents and Dialects website and follow @VoicesofEnglish for tweets about language.

19 August 2019

Recording of the week: securing the right to read

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This week's selection comes from Josie Wales, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Along with many other libraries around the world, the British Library celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride this summer, with staff from St Pancras and Boston Spa joining the parades in York and London.

This Recording of the Week takes us back to 1985, when Pride was a very different kind of event with a much stronger political tone. With around 10,000 people in attendance, the 1985 march was considered to be the biggest to date. In comparison, an estimated 1.5 million people gathered in central London to mark the annual parade this year.

This recording comes from a collection of brief street interviews conducted at the 1985 Pride March, through which we can gain an insight into the atmosphere of the event and the thoughts and preoccupations of those attending. A recurring concern were the raids and seizure of imported books by UK Customs and Excise, which most famously involved independent bookseller Gay’s the Word in Bloomsbury, but also affected other organisations that sold or distributed gay and lesbian reading material. More than one hundred imported titles were deemed ‘indecent or obscene’ under the 1876 Customs Consolidation Act, and confiscated.

Photograph of rows of books in a bookshopPhoto of neatly stacked books placed in front of a wall of bookshelves by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash. Click here to view image credit.

In this short clip, a marcher from the Gay Christian Movement, a charity founded in 1976, describes the impact  of this state censorship and the expensive legal battle against it, and shares their thoughts on our right as people in a free society to read and, most importantly, to choose what we read.

Securing the right to read (C456/121)

Both the Gay Christian Movement and Gay’s the Word faced charges of conspiring to import indecent material, but mounted successful opposition to these acts of repression with the strong support of both authors and publishers and the wider community of readers.

Technology has altered the way in which many of us engage with and access reading material, but the sense of community and solidarity that can be created through literature, particularly for LGBTQ+ and other marginalised populations, remains just as important. This theme will be explored over several events at the British Library in the upcoming season, including Banned Books Week in September, which examines censorship and other barriers to self-expression. More information and tickets can be found on our events page.

Discover more LGBTQ history at the British Library.

This recording belongs to the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, which has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project

Follow @BLSoundHeritage, @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news. 

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29 July 2019

Recording of the week: kids say the funniest things

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Watching a child acquire its first language is a fascinating process. At a certain age, children naturally apply rules drawn from their exposure to their mother tongue to create forms which ‘seem’ right. The most obvious example is how some young children initially form past tenses such as drinked and falled. The fact that children don’t hear these forms from adults around them proves that they are not just ‘learning’ language and copying others, rather that they have an in-built language faculty and can intuitively apply rules to words, albeit in some cases not producing conventional forms.   

As children begin to experiment creatively with language, they often produce the kind of innovative construction discussed here. As their ability to express themselves grows they sometimes invent original expressions, such as the phrase fully-handed [= ‘overladen/carrying too much’].

In the following clip, Terri Bond speaks about an original expression invented by her son:

FULLY-HANDED (C1190/39/02

'If a child has used a word wrongly that makes everyone laugh, it then becomes part of your family’s vocabulary. We have loads of them, we’ve got one of them where I once asked Jonathan to pick up his coat as he was getting out of the car and he’d got a book, a cuddly, and he was about four, he said 'I can’t mummy I’m fully-handed', so now if you’ve got too much to carry in our house you’re now fully-handed and you don’t realise that other people don’t know what you’re talking about and think you’re a bit odd.'
BBC Voices Recording in Jersey © BBC 2005 C1190/39/02

Photograph of Terri BondPhotograph of Terri Bond who speaks about original expressions and family vocabulary.

This word captures the concept perfectly and is in fact grammatically acceptable, but does not reflect idiomatic usage. The effect is often comical to adults and most families can list numerous examples of the wonderful expressions invented by young children that become part of their ‘kitchen table lingo’. One of several such expressions that have stuck in our family is the tendency to describe fresh food as on, since all three of our children when younger made a point of enquiring before pouring milk on to their cereals first thing in a morning: is this milk off or on?

We’d be delighted to hear examples of your kitchen table lingo, so do tweet us at @VoicesofEnglish.

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.                                           

10 June 2019

Recording of the week: Loss of a world and a need to capture it

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This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archivist.

'Someone asked Goha what was his favourite music and he replied, "The clanging of pots and pans and the tinkling of glasses’"'(Middle Eastern Food, p.520)

In 2018 Gaby’s Deli closed after 50 years on Charing Cross Road. A popular haunt of both theatre goers and Central London protestors, it’s also where the proprietor Gaby Elyahou claims (although who can really prove such a thing) to have introduced falafel to London. Gaby’s opened in 1965 and three years later, cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist Claudia Roden published her first masterpiece A Book of Middle Eastern Food, updated two years later with A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. While Gaby’s was pretty successful in selling falafel, Roden is the first to admit that Middle Eastern cuisine in general did not go down too well in the UK. In the clip selected for this blog she remarks on how “in those days I wasn’t thinking of the English, because at that time the English were not interested at all” and how the general consensus was it might all be “eyeballs and testicles”. Obviously things are different today, but this does raise the question of who Roden was writing for instead.

Photograph of Mediterranean cookery booksMy mum's copy of Mediterranean Cookery, my housemate's copy of A New Book of Middle Eastern Food and a teapot.

Claudia Roden was born in 1936 to a Jewish Egyptian family. In 1951 she left Cairo for France and then the UK to study art, but after the Suez Crisis of 1956 her family, like many other Egyptian Jews who were expelled or fled, joined her to settle in London. It’s there that Roden began, as a form of historical preservation, to collect recipes, and in this recording she gives her poignant reasons for doing so; “loss of a world, loss of a heritage and a need to capture it”.

Claudia Roden on Middle Eastern cuisine (C821/47)

Roden began with “ourselves, my family” and moved on to “others who had come from Syria, or had come from Turkey”, eventually culminating in A New Book which is described in the introduction as a “joint creation of numerous Middle Easterners who, like me, are in exile”. But wherever the recipes came from and whatever stories they told, Roden was adamant that they “have to be written down, have to be made a record of”. With that in mind it’s apt that we come full circle to this Recording of the Week, itself, taken from an eleven hour oral history interview recorded by Polly Russell for the National Life Stories project ‘Food: From Source to Salespoint’. Because if books are one way of preserving history then recordings are another, and both are underpinned by the same principles of heritage. Interviews too are a “joint creation” and, in the domain of oral history, “loss of a world, loss of a heritage and a need to capture it” remains central.

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

27 May 2019

Recording of the week: Gbamu gbamu jigi jigi! Happy times in WordBank

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This week's selection comes from Dr Amy Evans Bauer, a former British Library volunteer.

The repertoire of contemporary celebratory exclamations is one of the most joy-filled parts of the Evolving English WordBank. This recording was contributed by a man born in 1965, who defined his accent as Nigerian and spoke both English and Yorùbá.

Photograph of sunset with silhouetted figures in foreground

GBAMU GBAMU JIGI JIGI (C1442/2785)

The word is gbamu gbamu jigi jigi it’s a Nige… it’s a native Nigerian Yorùbá language of origin and it’s mainly associated or you know used when someone is expressing when someone is happy or when someone is showing how happy he is, you know.

Yorùbá is one of Nigeria’s four most widely spoken languages, alongside Hausa, Igbo and English (which is the official language). Part of the Niger-Congo group of languages, it is the first language of an estimated 20 million people in southwestern Nigeria, with more speakers in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, the Gambia, UK, USA, Brazil, Cuba and elsewhere. Like many other African languages, Yorùbá is tonal: the pitch at which syllables are voiced can denote different meanings of words of the same spelling. For example, oko means farm, whereas òkò means projectile.

This recording contains a letter that you will not find in the English alphabet. The Yorùbá alphabet consists of twenty-five letters. Almost all of the consonants have the same pronunciations as in English, except for the letters p, gb and ṣ:

The letter gb has no similarity in the English language. It does not represent a separate pronunciation of g and b as spelled but articulated as a simultaneous release of both, following a contraction of the lips and muscles of the throat.
(Fakinlede, K. 2002. English-Yorùbá Yorùbá-English Modern Practical Dictionary, p. 11-12)

The expression is also striking for its poetic devices of repetition and onomatopoeia, whereby a word is formed through imitative sounds that convey its content. (The term onomatopoeia derives from the Greek onoma, onomat [= ‘name’] + -poios [= ‘making’]). The first part of the phrase, gbamu gbamu, indicates being overfilled, and the second, jigi jigi, resembles a drumbeat rhythm. As Professor Karin Barber told me, “In Yorùbá, speech easily turns to song, and it’s said that aiduro nijo [not standing still is tantamount to dancing].” When I asked my Nigerian friends from Yorùbáland Yinka, Funke and Edward whether they say gbamu gbamu jigi jigi, they immediately flung their arms in the air and swung their hips while chanting it back to me. Their moving answer transformed our spoken interaction into contagiously grinsome conversation-as-choreography! (Try this on someone today!).

Our contributor’s verbal celebration contrasts with the numerous utterances of dismay that are preserved in the collection, and which are often similarly replete with arm flinging. Favourites that we have tweeted include the Yiddish expression oy vey and a refrain of my own West Sussex and Hampshire childhood soundscapes my giddy aunt.

We’d love to know the exclamatory slang and dialect that you shout, sing and dance when the silent stillness of a texted emoji just won’t do. So do tweet us at @VoicesofEnglish. Meanwhile, I wish you all a jazz hands kind of day!

Amy’s at-sea poetry installation SOUND((ING))S is available to hear online or to read in chapbook form as the transcript PASS PORT

01 April 2019

Recording of the week: well sick

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The widespread use among young speakers of sick [= 'great, excellent'] follows the pattern of several slang terms in which the conventional meaning is inverted by speakers who subsequently use it as an all-purpose term of approval. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records a similar process with wicked from the 1920s and bad from the 1950s onwards, for example.

Taken out of context this can, of course, lead to confusion between the generations as illustrated by a text message I once received from my then 18-year-old daughter. Having just seen one of her favourite bands at Reading Festival she texted: Peace just finished! fifth row! was sick! I chose to interpret this as good news.

Photograph of a message alert on a mobile phone

This positive meaning of sick was one of the most popular submissions to the Library's Evolving English WordBank, a crowd-sourced collection of dialect and slang created by members of the public in 2010/11, as illustrated by these two contributions, and is first recorded in the OED in 1983.

SICK [Manchester C1442/1917]

female (b.1987, Manchester): 'Sometimes with my friends I say that’s sick meaning that’s extremely good. I’ve got a feeling it comes from sort of Afro-Caribbean influences,  Asian British Asian influences as well, that’s where I seem to hear it the most.'

SICK [West Midlands C1442/1332]

male (b. West Midlands): 'One of the most common phrases I use is sick for something really good it’s extremely common between me and my mates we would say oh how was the gig last night ... oh it was sick.'

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

25 February 2019

Recording of the week: rabbits and chickens by post!

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This week's selection comes from Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History.

I recently went to post a letter in my local post-box and discovered that it had disappeared! Gone without warning or explanation. It had been there for as long as anyone could remember and it made me think about how post-boxes are such a fixture of our environment, both in the town and in the countryside (where I live), that we take them for granted. And behind every post-box is an amazing network of people and systems carrying our letters, packages and postcards all over the world. 

Photograph of a Royal Mail postboxPostbox and gatepost, Wainsford Road, Pennington / Robin Somes / CC BY-SA 2.0

National Life Stories’ ‘An Oral History of the Post Office’ interviewed 117 people working for Royal Mail from the 1930s (or the GPO, General Post Office, as it was then known). Working for the GPO was ‘a job for life’ and being a postman often ran in families. Seamus McSporran was Postmaster on the remote Isle of Gigha off the west coast of Scotland in the 1960s where people (long before Amazon) relied on mail-order catalogues for parcel post deliveries of everyday items. And at certain times of the year rabbits and chickens would also go through the post!

Seamus McSporran (C1007/09)

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

18 February 2019

Recording of the week: croggy or backy?

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Sadly, despite growing up in Yorkshire and the West Midlands in the 1970s, I never owned a Chopper, although I certainly remember the thrill of a croggy [= ‘shared ride on handlebars of bicycle’] on my mate’s bike (including the obligatory football cards and lollipop sticks attached to the spokes). Online debate about the relative merits of croggy versus backy [= ‘shared ride on back of bicycle’] are numerous and invariably focus on the potential dialectal (i.e. geographical) preference for one or other variant. Curiously, these virtual discussions seem particularly animated on Teesside, where a third variant – tan – also exists, but submissions to the Library’s WordBank, a crowdsourced collection created in 2010/11 by visitors to the Evolving English exhibition, suggest croggy resonates particularly strongly with many contributors.

CROGGY [Middlesbrough C1442/6650]

CROGGY [Peterborough C1442/4353]

CROGGY [London C1442/3192]

Photograph of a woman riding on the handlebars of a bicycle

The form croggy arises by taking the first segment of the word, crossbar, changing the final consonant <s> to <g>, and adding the suffix <-y>; thus crossbar → cross → crog → croggy. This brilliantly playful hypocorism is a popular productive process in some British dialects, in which an underlying polysyllabic word containing a medial <-s-> (or <-st->) sound mutates to a <g> (or <k>) sound and the final syllable is replaced by the suffix <-y> (or <-ie>). The most widespread analogous form is probably plastic → placky, although there are other examples and the phenomenon is perhaps particularly common in adolescent speech. I certainly have very fond childhood memories of winters praying we would have enough snow to go plackybagging [= ‘sledging on a plastic bag/bin liner’] and I always kept a lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] in my school blazer pocket to fire paper pellets with.

As this type of linguistic creativity is restricted to very informal speech it is seldom documented in conventional dictionaries, although the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006) has an entry for plaggy [= ‘plastic’] and The Lore of the Playground (Roud, 2010) includes laggies as one of several regional variants for 'French skipping' (i.e. skipping with a long elastic band round one's legs rather than with a skipping rope). Collins Dictionary categorises croggy as ‘Northern England and Midlands dialect’, while The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (Thorne, 2014) classifies croggie as ‘schoolchildren’s slang’, thereby implying, I suspect, a somewhat wider (geographic) distribution, which is supported by our WordBank data. The advent of social media offers far greater prominence to this kind of vernacular language and so, not surprisingly, croggy/croggie has several entries at Urban Dictionary (which also includes lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] and (like its counterparts, backy/backie and tan) warrants its own hashtag (#croggy and #croggie) on Twitter. A university friend from Newcastle once uttered my favourite ever example of this process: fantackerbacker [= ‘fantastic’], which kind of sums it up in a nutshell, really.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.