THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

18 posts categorized "Social sciences"

01 April 2019

Recording of the week: well sick

Add comment

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.

Text-message

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!

Add comment

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. 

Postbox_and_gatepost _Wainsford_Road _Pennington_-_geograph_org_uk_-_253116Postbox 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?

Add comment

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]

CROGGY

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.

21 January 2019

Recording of the week: it's a bit Derby!

Add comment

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

Rhyming slang is a wonderful vehicle for individual and collective linguistic creativity. The expression here a bit Derby [= ‘cold’] was submitted to the Evolving English WordBank by two contributors from Nottingham and captures the playful rivalry between neighbouring cities.

It's a bit Derby (C1442)

The term I was thinking of from Nottingham was we say if it’s cold we say it’s a bit Derby and this comes from it’s kind of a rhyming slang where we have a famous road called Derby Road but a lot of people in Nottingham seem to drop the L when they say cold so they say cowd so it rhymes with Derby Road so if someone says ooh it’s Derby they mean it’s cold (British Library shelfmark C1442/1310)

In Nottingham we might say it’s cowd instead of it’s cold and if we’re feeling frisky we might actually turn that into rhyming slang so oh it’s a bit Derby Road obviously rhyming with cowd meaning cold and we particularly don’t like Derby in Nottingham so it’s doubly funny (British Library shelfmark C1442/684)

Both speakers explain that the phrase derives from a dialectal pronunciation of cold as ‘cowd’, thus potentially rhyming locally with road. As the conventions of rhyming slang require the rhyming component (‘road’) be omitted, it’s a bit Derby might appear incomprehensible to outsiders but immediately strikes a chord with locals. The phrase illustrates how dialect is constantly refreshing and re-inventing itself and the obvious enthusiasm with which it’s used confirms the continued relevance of dialect as a means of expressing local identity.

Derby Road

The Derby Road itself merges into a long stretch of the A52 recently re-named ‘Brian Clough Way’ in honour of the football manager who enjoyed unprecedented success at both Derby County and Nottingham Forest from the 1970s to early 1990s. Despite the fierce rivalry between the two clubs, he’s viewed with equal affection in both cities, so this simple phrase conveys much more to a local than outsiders can possibly imagine.

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

10 December 2018

Recording of the week: a whole nother

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Dr Amy Evans, a recent volunteer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Whether this phrase amuses or maddens you, it is interesting to consider its provenance. I’m in in the former category, and find this a delicious curiosity of non-standard spoken English! The expression was submitted to the Library’s WordBank by a contributor from the Middle West of the US.  

A whole nother (C1442/4317)

The contributor says:
'OK so in Indiana a very common phrase that we use is a whole nother. You would spell it A space W H O L E space N O T H E R and instead of saying I would like another whole bagel you would say I’d like a whole nother bagel and it’s very commonly used, just about everybody I know in Indiana uses that phrase. It’s very popular'.

A WHOLE NOTHERWe can easily recognise that the word another is a fused form of an other reformulated as one word as a result of changes in spelling conventions. However, we would rarely expect an intrusion between the two parts, let alone an interruption of the first an. So how has a whole nother appeared? One interpretation is that this queue of bagel eaters is, in fact, demonstrating a perfectly natural linguistic process, in which phonetics (speech sounds) rather than morpheme boundaries (the point at which two or more ‘separate’ elements of a word meet) are the guide. English syllabification is based on morphological principles. Nevertheless, instinctively we syllabify the words here as a-nother, with the stress on the consonant <n>. Subconsciously, a re-interpretation of syllabification occurs, and with stress as our guide, we compose a whole nother.

The successive strong stresses of the result (whole no-) serve further to underline the intended point. In the literary language of scansion and poetic metre, we move from an amphibrach (one triple-metre foot of unstressed-stressed-unstressed a-no-ther), to an iamb followed by a trochee (the duple-metre of an unstressed-stressed foot followed by a stressed-unstressed foot a whole and no-ther). In laypersons’ terms, the stresses move from de-DUM-de to de-DUM DUM-de. Those of us who enjoy the phrase make quite a meal out of the inserted WHOLE and the springboard N sound.

You can currently hear this phrase used as an emphatic tool throughout the UK, US and beyond. Whether you decide to deploy it for dietary purposes so as to enjoy seconds today is a whole nother issue. Hungry for more? You could bake your own bagels so as to consider another type of verbal inheritance and its many non-standard written forms, the recipe—in either wheaty or gluten-free version. As a coeliac, I would like to point out that no UOSH volunteers were harmed in the research of this post!

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

27 June 2018

Using wildlife sound recordings in the field

Add comment

Coleridge research fellow Dr Alice Rudge writes:

What are the uses of the recordings we make beyond preserving them? How might archiving wildlife recordings open up possibilities for interdisciplinary research, beyond the original purpose of the recording? During my anthropological PhD fieldwork with Batek people in Malaysia, which focused on their uses of music and sound, using wildlife sound recordings in the field created some interesting outcomes.

Batek people are indigenous hunter-gatherers of the lowland rainforests in peninsular Malaysia, numbering around 1,500 people. They speak Batek, an Austroasiatic language of the Northern Aslian family.

DSCF2768
Evening fishing and flower collecting

In a Batek camp, or when out in the forest, birds are a common topic of conversation, and under the dense canopy of the forest, birds are some of the most noticeable creatures, not because they are seen, but because they are heard (see also Lye 2005). All that might be seen is a flash of colour or a shaking leaf, but birds’ calls cut across the background hum of insects and chatter. Perhaps for this reason, birds are a major source of musical inspiration. Birds are cosmologically significant, too, and played an important role in creating the world as it is today, according to Batek origin stories (see also Endicott 1979). They are also used to make predictions - for example if you hear a certain bird you might know that certain fruits are ripe, that elephants are close, or that a friend will arrive home that day. Birds are often named onomatopoeically for their calls - for example the sŋseŋ bird has the call ‘seŋ-seŋ-seŋ-seŋ’.

This evident salience of bird sounds for Batek people meant that I was interested to document Batek names for various birds during my fieldwork - partly so that I could then ask further questions about them! However - when out in the forest, if we heard a bird and someone told me the name of it, it was difficult for me to then know the English name of it based on the sound alone. I therefore got hold of some of recordings of Malaysian birds, and, alongside showing them images from photographic field guides, played them to my Batek friends with the idea that they would be able to tell me the Batek names for the birds, which I could then compare to the English names noted by the original recordist. This proved a fascinating exercise - in particular as often there was not any one simple answer or direct correspondence between the English and Batek names for birds. For example, the aforementioned sŋseŋ was variously identified from the images as the Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Long-tailed Sibia, White-bellied Erponis, Oriental Reed-warbler, Arctic Warbler, Mountain Leaf-warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Blue-throated Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Flowerpecker, Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, and the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. However, from the recordings it was more definitively identified by different people as the Brown-throated Sunbird.

Furthermore, not only did people help me to document a lot of bird names, but they were also keen to recount stories and other information about the birds. For example, on listening to the Crested Jay, ʔEyJayat identified that it was a lhlah in Batek, but also recounted a funny story about coming across a tourist in the forest: the tourist was reaching up, trying to record the lhlah bird with their microphone - but this took ʔEyJayat, who was walking in the forest, by surprise as he thought the tourist was a ghost. ʔEyKtlət also remembered that the lhlah was the bird we had heard in the forest that morning when we had been fishing. He, his wife, and his son talked about how the lhlah has two sounds - syãl and llɛk. If you hear these sounds it means you won’t find food in the forest that day. If you are tired, and have no food, or only a tiny bit of food - you will hear it. If you get back home and your lean-to is damp - you will hear it. People therefore feel angry when they hear this bird! Through this exercise, Batek friends also taught me that the baləŋ bird indicates that elephants are close, as it makes the sound tuləŋ that imitates the sound of an elephant trumpeting, and that the maliʔ bird calls rain to come (ʔoʔ ʔajak ʔujan). The ləʔ talok bird (a type of Scimitar Babbler) - whose name literally translates as ‘indicates the Dusky Langur’ indicates that Dusky Langur are close!

The recording that people found the most hilarious was of the trut kit, or ‘fart’ bird - whose call sounds a lot like somebody breaking wind. Not only did I learn this funny name for the Mountain Imperial Pigeon - but also everyone fell about laughing about the bird, saying yɛʔ malɛs nir klɨŋ - ‘I really don’t like the sound’, imitating the sound, and then laughing again. In the Batek’s forest, however, laughter can be taboo (lawac), and risks causing a storm - and in the recordings people can be heard warning each other - ‘watch out or we will be lawac from laughing so much’. As well as giving information about birds, the new recordings of people listening to these recordings therefore also document something about Batek humour and taboos more broadly.

The jayit srwal bawac bird - which in English is the Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush - has a name which translates as ‘sewing the trousers of the macaque’. This bird also has other messages - as it is also heard as saying cok buŋah kwaʔ and jŋʔɨl tlok kawah - telling the listener to prepare the kwaʔ flower to be worn in the hair and to jump into the water at kawah - a part of the nearby river. These messages are ‘phonological iconisms’ of the birds call. In other words, the words sound like the sound of the bird. This bird is therefore particularly inspiring to and well loved by the Batek, it is strongly associated with a particular place and with flowers that the Batek love, and its call often therefore prompts exclamations of feelings of longing and nostalgia, which the Batek call haɁip. You can listen to the sound of the bird, followed by ʔEyKtlət repeating its name, in the audio excerpt below:

Jayit srwal bawac

Through recording Batek people listening to the recordings, therefore it has been possible to preserve some of this complex and in-depth knowledge and love of birds that Batek people have, knowledge which is deeply connected to their forest home, and their daily experiences of the birds. The exercise has showed that wildlife recordings can have great use beyond documentation - in this case by providing a resource for eliciting, sharing, and in turn preserving, further unique knowledge, and providing a window onto important ways of thinking about the environment that challenge dominant discourses, and show the ways that human and avian lives can intertwine.

The Alice Rudge Collection is currently being deposited and catalogued with the World and Traditional Music collection as part of Alice's ongoing research with the Batek.

For more information on Batek people, see the following:

Endicott, K.M., 1979. Batek Negrito Religion: The Worldview and Rituals of a Hunting and Gathering People of Peninsular Malaysia, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lye, T.P., 2005 [2004]. Changing Pathways: Forest Degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Strategic Information Research Development.

Rudge, A., forthcoming 2018. The sounds of people and birds: music, memory, and longing among the Batek. Hunter Gatherer Research. 

 

21 May 2018

Recording of the week: "We regret to inform you" - bad news from the sound archives

Add comment

This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist.

An Oral History of the Post Office includes memories of telegram delivery boys who delivered telegrams by hand with news of war casualties during the Second World War, and their reflections on what it was like delivering the bad news. Delivery boys were always told what the news was. They were instructed to ask if there was a man in the house first. They also had to wait at the door in case a reply was requested.

Roger Osborn (C1007/16) discusses the wording of war telegrams which would always start with the words “We regret to inform you…” A friend of Roger’s in Tring, Hertfordshire, ignored his instructions when delivering news of the killing of a woman’s husband. He noticed the woman out shopping and gave her the telegram. Her first reaction was to hit him over the head with her loaf of bread.

Des Callaghan (C1007/38) remembers delivering three telegrams in Nottingham to one home: one with the news that the son was missing, the second the incorrect news that he was dead, and the third that he was actually in a prisoner of war camp - and Des got a £1 note in return!

These extracts come from An Oral History of the Post Office, a collection of life story interviews with a sample of Royal Mail and Post Office staff in the UK conducted between 2001 and 2005. Interviewees include, of course, postmasters and postmistresses, postmen and postwomen but also those involved with postal sorting and transportation (by road, air and train); stamp design, printing and marketing (the story of the stamp); legal, purchasing and property departments. The collection also includes interviews with staff who worked in lesser-known departments such as the Post Office Rifles, the Post Office Film Unit and the Lost Letter Centre.

There is an emphasis within the collection on change within living memory from the 1930s to the 1990s: the separation of post from telecommunications, computerisation and automation, new management practices and the diversification of new services offered by Royal Mail and the Post Office.

A CD of extracts from the collection entitled “Speeding the Mail: an oral history of the post from the 1930s to the 1990s” was published by the British Library and the British Postal Museum and Archive in 2005, and over forty extracts are available online at British Library Sounds.

Speeding the Mail CD

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

07 May 2018

Recording of the week: Doric dialect

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Andrew Booth, PhD placement student working on the VoiceBank collection.

An intriguing and unique variety of English spoken in the British Isles is Doric dialect. Doric refers to a Scots dialect spoken in the northeast of Scotland and to the outside ear (mine), it can be a difficult one to master. My favourite Doric contributions to the Library's WordBank are given below. Could you decipher what this speaker means?

Sair forfochen (C1442, uncatalogued)

Sair forfochen [= 'tired and hassled']
Faur div ye come fae [= 'where do you come from']

This speaker from Aberdeen explains question words in the local dialect, which I find equally interesting:

Fit like, Faur, Foo (C1442/6804)

Fit like [= 'how are you']
Faur [= 'where']
Foo [= 'how']

For more information about accents and dialects in the northeast of Scotland, see this article on the British Library website.

Doric Dialect

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