Old white men dominate school English booklists. It’s time more Australian schools taught Australian books



Shakespeare’s plays are still some of the most studied texts in school English.
from shutterstock.com

Larissa McLean Davies, University of Melbourne

In recent weeks, Australian universities’ commitment to teaching Australian literature has come under scrutiny. This came amid revelations Sydney University has withdrawn funding from its Chair of Australian Literature – the nation’s first.

Later news of the possible closure of UWA Publishing compounded anxiety about the future of Australian literary studies. An article in The Australian newspaper noted there is no local university in which an undergraduate student can specialise in Australian literature.




Read more:
The open access shift at UWA Publishing is an experiment doomed to fail


The concern goes beyond tertiary studies. We conducted a project exploring secondary school teachers’ engagement with Australian texts. We found Australian books are not consistently taught in classrooms and, when they are, they more often than not marginalise female, refugee and Indigenous authors.

A professor famously said he would teach the novel Kangaroo, in the absence of appropriate texts by Australian authors.
Wikimedia commons

The demographic of Australian classrooms has changed significantly in the past fifty years. But the texts studied in English have remained remarkably stable.

In our multi-cultural society, where compulsory schooling is intended to help develop critically informed and empathetic citizens, this situation requires serious attention.

Why teachers don’t teach Aussie books

Studying English and literature in settler societies was historically intended to support students to value “Englishness”. As a result, Australian literature, if it was acknowledged at all, was systematically marginalised and maligned in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the 1940s – in a precursor to what we now call the “cultural cringe” – an English professor famously renounced Australian literature. He said that, in the absence of appropriate books by Australians, he would lecture on DH Lawrence’s novel, Kangaroo.




Read more:
‘Australia has no culture’: changing the mindset of the cringe


Australia’s first national curriculum, in 2008, attempted to respond to this enduring imperial literary legacy. It mandated teaching Australian literature, placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature at the heart of this commitment.

Harper Lee is one of two female authors on the list of the top 15 books taught by English teachers we compiled from our national survey.
Wikimedia commons

Most states and territories have mandated text lists for school senior years, which generally include titles by Indigenous authors. But recent research in Victoria has shown school uptake of these texts is limited.

Our research shows teachers are often reluctant to select books by Australian authors. Reasons for this include a limited knowledge of diverse Australian texts, often due to a lack of exposure to Australian literature at school and university.

There are fewer teaching resources for Australian literature too and teachers are concerned about inaccurately representing the stories of Indigenous Australians.

Some teachers we spoke to also raised questions about the quality of Australian literature, as compared with more established canonical texts. One teacher said:

While I appreciate that it is important to have Australian literature in the curriculum […] I find that Australian texts are often very similar and this limits the number of themes and ideas the students are exposed to over the course of their education.

We also conducted a national survey of more than 700 English teachers, asking them what books they taught in class. The following top 15 texts were most referenced:



This should not be seen as a definitive list of texts most used in Australian classrooms. But it does offer insight into the relative status of Australian literature in the curriculum.

Most works on this list are written in the past, by male British or American writers. Most of these have formed part of the school literary canon for generations. There are only two texts by women, Hinton and Lee, and no texts by Australian women, migrant Australians or Aboriginal writers.




Read more:
Diversity, the Stella Count and the whiteness of Australian publishing


The only texts by Australians cited here are Marsden’s 1990s dystopian invasion series and Silvey’s 2009 coming of age novel.

How do we change it?

Our research showed teachers need more time, knowledge, resources and confidence to include more Australian literature in the classroom. This is not surprising given teachers we surveyed and interviewed often completed both secondary and tertiary studies in English without significant experiences of Australian literature.

Coleman’s speculative fiction novel has been studied by our teacher researchers.

In response, colleagues and I have partnered with the Stella Prize (a literary award for Australian women writers) to develop the teacher-researchers project.

Teachers select a text from the Stella long-list. They then work intensively with the project team – which includes teacher-educators and Australian literary studies experts – and university archives or other cultural collections, to develop resources to teach their chosen texts that can be shared.

Texts in this pilot project have included Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neervan, Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman and The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

This project will expand the literary knowledge and experiences of teachers, students and school communities involved. But a concerted, bipartisan and enduring commitment to resourcing scholarship and teaching of Australian writing across universities and schools is imperative.

If we are to ensure all students experience Australian stories from the past and the present, Australian writing, in all its rich diversity, must be a central part of a literary education.The Conversation

Larissa McLean Davies, Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The English language is evolving – here’s how it will change after Brexit


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Emma Seddon, Newcastle University

Britain is facing an uncertain future and an uneasy relationship with Europe after Brexit. Among other things, the country’s woeful inability to learn languages has been raised as a key stumbling block – with the decline in foreign language learning among school and university students across the UK also raising alarm.

English is one of the official languages of the EU, along with 22 others, and also one of the three working languages of its institutions (with German and French). On top this, English is the most commonly taught foreign language in Europe, which is a major factor in why it is the most commonly used working language. Although not everyone is happy about this, including the French EU ambassador who recently walked out of a meeting on the EU budget when the Council decided to use only English translations.

So, even if Britain leaves the EU, English will remain not only an official language –- because of the member status of Malta and Ireland –- but it will likely also remain the principal working language of the EU institutions.

English is also often used globally as a common language between speakers of different languages. In other words, conversations are happening in English that do not involve native English speakers. This, of course, has a long and fraught colonial past – as the British Empire forced English on its colonies. But the decline of the Empire did not mean the decline of English. On the contrary, as the US rose to be a global economic power, globalisation drove the spread of English across the world – and continues to do so. And the European Union is no exception.

‘EU English’

As part of my ongoing PhD research on the translation profession, I interviewed some British translators working at the European Commission. From their perspective, English will remain the principal working language following Brexit, as switching to only French and German, or adding another language would be unrealistic and require a huge investment in training by the EU. Instead, they report that English will continue to be used, and will simply evolve and change in these settings.

So-called “EU speak” is an example of this. Non-native speakers’ use of English is influenced by their native languages, and can result in different phrasing. For example, within the EU institutions, “training” is often used as a countable noun, meaning you can say: “I’ve had three trainings this week”. In British English, however, it is uncountable, meaning you would probably say something like: “I’ve had three training sessions this week”.

This is a minor linguistic point, but it shows how English is changing within the EU institutions due to the influence of non-native speakers. For the time being, native English speaking translators and editors limit the extent of these changes – particularly in documentation intended for the public.

But if Britain leaves the EU, there will be a dramatically reduced pool of native English speakers to recruit from, because you need to have an EU passport to work in the institutions. As people retire, fewer native speakers will work in the EU, meaning they will have less and less influence on and authority over the use of English in these contexts. This means “EU English” will likely move away from British English at a faster pace.

Englishes and linguistic change

Such change is nothing new – especially with English. “Singlish” or Singaporean English has its roots in colonial rule and has since become independent from British English, integrating grammar and vocabulary from languages that reflect Singapore’s immigrant history – including Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tamil among others. Singlish has developed its own words and expressions out of this hybrid of languages and has evolved and shifted in response to the migrations of peoples and cultures, new technologies and social change.

Only time will tell whether “EU English” will ever move so far from its moorings. But, according to one translator I spoke to, even if Britain were to stay in the EU, English would continue to change within the institutions:

English doesn’t belong to us anymore as Brits, as native speakers, it belongs to everyone.

And the frequent exposure to and use of English in daily life means other language communities are increasingly gaining a sense of ownership over the language.

The ubiquity of English is sometimes touted as a demonstration of the enduring importance of Britain – and the US – on the world stage. From what I have seen researching translation, this assumption in fact shows how complacent English speaking countries have become.

This does not mean the economic, cultural, and military power of these countries should be dismissed. But this doesn’t change the fact that English is used as a common language in interactions that do not involve any of those countries – take, for example, a Slovenian cyclist being interviewed in English by a French journalist about his performance in the Italian cycling event Giro d’Italia.

Linguistic diversity certainly needs to be championed to ensure we do not lose humanity’s great variety of languages and dialects, and some great work is being done on this. Nevertheless, it is clear that English has developed a role distinct from its native speakers as a shared language that facilitates communication in an increasingly globalised world.The Conversation

Emma Seddon, PhD Candidate in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Edward Lloyd: 100 years before Murdoch, the father of English tabloid journalism



Edward Lloyd founded the first million-selling newspaper.
William Morris Gallery, Waltham Forest Council

Rohan McWilliam, Anglia Ruskin University

We live at probably the last moment when press barons such as Rupert Murdoch can hope to shape the political agenda, such are the waning fortunes of the print media. But who founded the popular press – and who created the sensationalist approach of the tabloids?

Some say it was Lord Northcliffe, who established the Daily Mail in 1896. Northcliffe was, however, preceded by the transformative figure of Edward Lloyd. Never heard of him? Lloyd (1815-1890) has never been given his due. He published the first newspaper to sell a million copies and shaped the popular imagination in fundamental ways.

Before he became a Victorian press baron, Lloyd was one of the dominant forces behind the sale of popular fiction to a growing market of increasingly literate working-class people. When we think of the 1840s, we think of the publication of major novels such as Jane Eyre or Vanity Fair. The reality is that many readers were as likely to consume Ada the Betrayed as well as Vileroy, or, The Horrors of Zindorf Castle – both shockers issued by Lloyd’s publishing house.

It might have been a penny dreadful, but it was very popular in its day.
AMazon

Hailing from a humble background, Lloyd became a leading publisher in London, promoting a group of hacks who would knock out cheap fiction. He knew what would sell: horrors, romance and thrills.

He launched a wave of “penny dreadfuls” on to the market in the 1830s and 1840s, all assisted by lurid pictures. As Lloyd exclaimed to his illustrators: “There must be blood … much more blood!”

The best known of these stories was The String of Pearls in 1846 which introduced the enduring character of Sweeney Todd. Even before the serial had finished publication, Sweeney Todd had been taken up by the popular stage.

Sweeney Todd origin story.
Amazon

Audiences loved the barber who murdered men who came to his Fleet Street shop for a shave and gave their bodies to Mrs Lovett next door to be made into meat pies. The dark humour is captured in the words of one character who says: “I’d eat my mother, if she was a pork chop.”

This was not the only ghoulish character to emerge from Lloyd’s offices. James Malcolm Rymer wrote Varney the Vampire for Lloyd, the most important undead character before Dracula. This was a form of distinctly working-class horror fiction, marked by a taste for blood and violence.

Nicking Dickens

Lloyd had no time for originality. He built up his firm by publishing plagiarisms of Charles Dickens’s works. The reading public was thus treated to works such as The Penny Pickwick, Oliver Twiss and Nickelas Nickelbery. Dickens was outraged by this treatment but was powerless to prevent such works appearing.

It is possible that many working-class readers first encountered Dickens via a Lloyd plagiarism, rather than one of the author’s own works (a perspective that should make us rethink the initial reception of Dickens).

Dickens plagiarised: the cover of the Edward Lloyd rip-off of Oliver Twist.:
source goes here, Author provided

Cheap newspapers came to dominate Lloyd’s output. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper was launched in 1842 and became one of the most important newspapers aimed at a popular readership at a time when the press had been forced since 1819 by the government to pay stamp duties (the “Taxes on Knowledge”) which inflated the price of print. He combined serious news reporting with stories of horrible murders, train crashes and aristocratic divorces. In some respects, his newspaper employed the techniques of popular fiction to grab an audience with accounts of true crime.

Lloyd also revolutionised newspaper production by introducing Richard Hoe’s rotary press to Britain, which sped up the process of putting out newspapers and made mass publication possible. With the abolition of the stamp and paper duties by the early 1860s, Lloyd was able to lower the price of his paper to one penny. The popular press had arrived.

Yellow press

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper was one of a series of mass circulation Sunday papers, including The News of the World (issued in 1843), which created a newspaper reading habit in increasingly literate workers.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, from 1891.

Lloyd was also a great believer in self-promotion. At one point he took to embossing coins with which he paid his workers with a stamp promoting his paper. This was denounced by The Times and an act of parliament had to be passed in 1853, making the defacing of the coinage illegal.

As his newspaper became more popular, Lloyd left his penny dreadfuls behind and was later embarrassed that they had been the source of his fortune. His paper tended to support Gladstone and the Liberal party, helping it to dominate mid-Victorian politics. The Conservative Party identified Lloyd’s as promoting “pernicious doctrines”, which included worker rights, free trade and democracy.

Lloyd died in 1890 but his newspaper remained popular, selling a million copies for the first time in 1896. As it went into the 20th century, the paper was outgunned by new rivals such as the Daily Mail and came to an end in 1931, having appeared for almost 90 years.

Lloyd’s reputation has gone into eclipse and he is seldom remembered. He was, however, a true pioneer. His legacy remains the sensationalism of the popular press but it can also be found in every slasher film, vampire drama and gothic romance from Twilight to the television series Penny Dreadful.The Conversation

Rohan McWilliam, Professor of Modern British History, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Author of first English novel kept it hidden for ten years – here’s why



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Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, detailing the grim fate of Protestant clerics Latimer and Ridley, is one clue as to why Baldwin hesitated before publishing his irreverent book.
Wikimedia Commons

Rachel Stenner, University of Sheffield and Frances Babbage, University of Sheffield

A dense work of early English prose, strewn throughout with serious and teasing marginalia from its author, might not be the most likely candidate for stage adaptation – but this project has just been undertaken by a team of artists and academics in Sheffield. William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat, written in 1553, will be performed in September as part of the university’s 2018 Festival of the Mind.

As a literary form, the novel is usually thought to have developed in the 18th century with the mighty classics Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. But researchers believe we should be looking back to the relatively neglected prose fictions of the Tudor era to find the earliest English examples. Beware the Cat, an ecclesiastical satire about talking cats, is a prime candidate and is now thought to be the earliest example of the novel form in the English language.

Baldwin is barely known outside the circles of Renaissance literature, but he was highly celebrated and widely read in Tudor England. In the mid-16th century, he was earning an inky-fingered living as a printer’s assistant in and around the central London bookmaking and bookselling area of St Paul’s Cathedral. As well as writing fiction, he produced A Mirror for Magistrates, the co-written collection of gruesome historical poetry that was highly influential on Shakespeare’s history plays. He also compiled a bestselling handbook of philosophy, and translated the controversial Song of Songs, the sexy book of the Bible.

Beware the Cat tells the tale of a talkative priest, Gregory Streamer, who determines to understand the language of cats after he is kept awake by a feline rabble on the rooftops. Turning for guidance to Albertus Magnus, a medieval alchemist and natural scientist roundly mocked in the Renaissance for his quackery, Streamer finds the spell he needs. Then, using various stomach-churning ingredients, including hedgehog’s fat and cat excrement, he cooks up the right potion.

And it turns out that cats don’t merely talk – they have a social hierarchy, a judicial system and carefully regulated laws governing sexual relations. With his witty beast fable, Baldwin is analysing an ancient question, and one in which the philosophical field of posthumanism still shows a keen interest: do birds and beasts have reason?

A woodcut from William Griffith’s 1570 edition of William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat.
Author provided

Turbulent times

But rights and wrongs of a different order coloured Baldwin’s book release. He self-censored for several years before making the work public. Beware the Cat was written in 1553, months before the untimely death of the young Protestant king, Edward VI. Next on the throne (if you disregard the turbulent nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey) was the first Tudor queen, Mary I. Her Catholicism was fervent and these were terrifying days. By the mid-1550s, Mary was burning Protestant martyrs. One of her less alarming, but still consequential, decisions was to reverse the freedoms accorded the press under her brother Edward.

At the height of his power during the 1540s, the Lord Protector during the young Edward’s reign, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, had relied on particular printers to spread the regime’s reformist message. Men such as John Day (printer of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) and Edward Whitchurch – Baldwin’s employer – printed and circulated anti-Catholic polemic on behalf of the state. Not content to persecute these men by denying them the pardon she accorded other Protestant printers, Mary I banned the discussion of religion in print unless it was specifically authorised by her officials.

Radical press

As a print trade insider, Baldwin was intimately connected with the close community of this radical Protestant printing milieu – and Beware the Cat is deliberately set at John Day’s printing shop. Having written a book that parodies the Mass, depicts priests in some very undignified positions and points the finger at Catholic idolatry, Baldwin thought better of releasing it in the oppressive religious climate of Mary’s reign. But by 1561, Elizabeth I was on the throne and constraints on the press were less severe – despite the infamous case of John Stubbs, the writer who in 1579 lost his hand for criticising her marriage plans.

A sermon being preached at St Paul’s Cross, 1614.
John Gipkyn

Baldwin, now in his 30s, had become a church deacon. He was still active as a writer and public figure, working on his second edition of A Mirror for Magistrates and preaching at Paul’s Cross in London, a venue that could attract a 6,000-strong congregation.

Once it was released, Beware the Cat went through several editions. It was not recognised for the comic gem that it is until scholars such as Evelyn Feasey started studying Baldwin in the early 20th century and the novel was later championed by American scholars William A. Ringler and Michael Flachmann.

Now, it has been adapted for performance for the first time and is being presented as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind. This stage version of Beware the Cat has been created by the authors with Terry O’Connor (member of renowned performance ensemble Forced Entertainment) and the artist Penny McCarthy.

Baldwin’s techniques of embedded storytelling, argument and satirical marginalia are all features that have been incorporated into this interpretation of the text. The production also includes an array of original drawings (which the cast of four display by using an onstage camera connected to a projector), but none of the cast pretends to be a cat. Instead, it is left to the audience to imagine the world Baldwin’s novel describes, in which cats can talk and – even if just for one night – humans can understand them.The Conversation

Rachel Stenner, Teaching Associate in Renaissance Literature, University of Sheffield and Frances Babbage, Professor of English Literature, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Curious Kids: Why does English have so many different spelling rules?



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More spelling problems came in when French scribes introduced new spelling conventions — their own of course, and not always helpful.
Shutterstock, CC BY

Kate Burridge, Monash University

This is an article from Curious Kids, a series for children. The Conversation is asking kids to send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. All questions are welcome – serious, weird or wacky! You might also like the podcast Imagine This, a co-production between ABC KIDS listen and The Conversation, based on Curious Kids.


Why does English have so many different spelling rules? – Melania P, age 12, Strathfield.


English spelling has been evolving for over a thousand years and the muddle we’re in today is the fall-out of many different events that have taken place over this time.




Read more:
Curious Kids: Why do Aussies have a different accent to Canadians, Americans, British people and New Zealanders?


A bad start

It was a rocky beginning for English spelling. Quite simply, the 23-letter Roman alphabet has never been adequate — even Old English (spoken 450-1150) had 35 or so sounds, and our sound system is now even bigger.

More spelling problems came in when French scribes introduced new spelling conventions — their own of course, and not always helpful. Using “c” instead of “s” for words like city was messy because “c” also represented the “k” sound in words like cat.

William Caxton set up the first printing presses.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

And then printing arrived in the 15th century — and with it more mess. William Caxton (who set up the presses in the first place) liked Dutch spellings and so established the “gh” in ghost and ghastly. Some printers were European and they introduced favourite spellings too from their own languages. Not terribly helpful either!

Those pesky silent letters

One of the biggest problems for English spelling has always been changes in pronunciation. Printing helped to stablise the spelling of words, but then some sounds changed their shape, and others even disappeared altogether. Think of those silent letters in words such as walk, through, write, right, sword, know, gnat — these were once pronounced.

If only the printer Caxton had been born a couple of centuries later, or if these sound changes had occurred a couple of centuries earlier, our spelling would be much truer to pronunciation.

And now comes another little wrinkle in this story – there’s a bunch of silent letters that were never actually pronounced. They appeared because of linguistic busybodies who wanted to make the language look more respectable. This caused some serious mess.

Take how we spell the word rhyme. When we swiped the word from French, it had a much more sensible look — rime. But this was changed to rhyme to give it a more classy classical look (like rhythm) – an interesting idea, but hardly helpful for someone trying to spell the word!

The 16th and 17th centuries saw many extra letters introduced in this way. Think of the “b” added to debt to make a link to Latin debitum. Now, the “b” might be justified in the word debit that we stole directly from Latin, but it was the French who gave us dette.

The “b” consonant was a mistake, and now we accuse poor old debt of having lost it through sloppy pronunciation!

Let’s make spelling more sensible

And so it is from this haphazard evolution that we end up with the spelling system we have.

But you know, there are in fact over 80% of words spelled according to regular patterns. So wholesale change is not what we want. However simple improvements could certainly be made without any major upheaval.

We could iron out inconsistencies such as humOUr versus humOrous. To introduce uniform -or spellings would be a painless reform (well, perhaps not painless, since many people are quite attached to the -our in words like humour)

We could also restore earlier spellings like rime and dette, and while we’re at it give psychology and philosophy a sensible look by spelling them sykology and filosofy.

So now, you can see the problem. No matter how silly spellings are, people get attached to them, and new spellings – even sensible ones – never seem to get a foot in the door.




Read more:
Curious Kids: Who made the alphabet song?


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to us. You can:

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Please tell us your name, age and which city you live in. You can send an audio recording of your question too, if you want. Send as many questions as you like! We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.The Conversation

Kate Burridge, Professor of Linguistics, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The English language is the world’s Achilles heel



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Filtering information.
pathdoc/Shutterstock

Guillaume Thierry, Bangor University

English has achieved prime status by becoming the most widely spoken language in the world – if one disregards proficiency – ahead of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. English is spoken in 101 countries, while Arabic is spoken in 60, French in 51, Chinese in 33, and Spanish in 31. From one small island, English has gone on to acquire lingua franca status in international business, worldwide diplomacy, and science.

But the success of English – or indeed any language – as a “universal” language comes with a hefty price, in terms of vulnerability. Problems arise when English is a second language to either speakers, listeners, or both. No matter how proficient they are, their own understanding of English, and their first (or “native”) language can change what they believe is being said.

When someone uses their second language, they seem to operate slightly differently than when they function in their native language. This phenomenon has been referred to as the “foreign language effect”. Research from our group has shown that native speakers of Chinese, for example, tended to take more risks in a gambling game when they received positive feedback in their native language (wins), when compared to negative feedback (losses). But this trend disappeared – that is, they became less impulsive – when the same positive feedback was given to them in English. It was as if they are more rational in their second language.

While reduced impulsiveness when dealing in a second language can be seen as a positive thing, the picture is potentially much darker when it comes to human interactions. In a second language, research has found that speakers are also likely to be less emotional and show less empathy and consideration for the emotional state of others.

For instance, we showed that Chinese-English bilinguals exposed to negative words in English unconsciously filtered out the mental impact of these words. And Polish-English bilinguals who are normally affected by sad statements in their native Polish appeared to be much less disturbed by the same statements in English.

In another recent study by our group, we found that second language use can even affect one’s inclination to believe the truth. Especially when conversations touch on culture and intimate beliefs.

English is one of the most studied languages in the world.
spaxiax/Shutterstock

Since second language speakers of English are a huge majority in the world today, native English speakers will frequently interact with non-native speakers in English, more so than any other language. And in an exchange between a native and a foreign speaker, the research suggests that the foreign speaker is more likely to be emotionally detached and can even show different moral judgements.




Read more:
Why native English speakers fail to be understood in English – and lose out in global business


And there is more. While English provides a phenomenal opportunity for global communication, its prominence means that native speakers of English have low awareness of language diversity. This is a problem because there is good evidence that differences between languages go hand-in-hand with differences in conceptualisation of the world and even perception of it.

In 2009, we were able to show that native speakers of Greek, who have two words for dark blue and light blue in their language, see the contrast between light and dark blue as more salient than native speakers of English. This effect was not simply due to the different environment in which people are brought up in either, because the native speakers of English showed similar sensitivity to blue contrasts and green contrasts, the latter being very common in the UK.

On the one hand, operating in a second language is not the same as operating in a native language. But, on the other, language diversity has a big impact on perception and conceptions. This is bound to have implications on how information is accessed, how it is interpreted, and how it is used by second language speakers when they interact with others.

We can come to the conclusion that a balanced exchange of ideas, as well as consideration for others’ emotional states and beliefs, requires a proficient knowledge of each other’s native language. In other words, we need truly bilingual exchanges, in which all involved know the language of the other. So, it is just as important for English native speakers to be able to converse with others in their languages.

The US and the UK could do much more to engage in rectifying the world’s language balance, and foster mass learning of foreign languages. Unfortunately, the best way to achieve near-native foreign language proficiency is through immersion, by visiting other countries and interacting with local speakers of the language. Doing so might also have the effect of bridging some current political divides.


The Conversation


Read more:
What will the English language be like in 100 years?


Guillaume Thierry, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

English swearing’s European origins



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Science Oxford

Emily Reed, University of Sheffield

When learning a new language, what’s the first thing most of us do? If you are like me, you flick through the dictionary to find all the naughty words. And a quick glance on Amazon will reveal a veritable library dedicated to the rigorous pursuit of insulting around the world. We seem to be just a little obsessed – and why the hell not?

But we actually don’t need to reach for the nearest Collins dictionary to pick up some polyglot profanities. Many English swear words have come from different languages over the centuries. For example, the classics – “fuck”, “shit” and “cunt” – are words the language shares with older Germanic and Scandinavian languages. Fuck is likely to be cognate with the Dutch “fokken”, which in the 15th century meant “to mock” – and may also be related to Middle High German “ficken”, meaning “to rub”’. Both words began to be related to sexual intercourse in the 16th century.

The earliest mention we have in English for fuck (in the sense of copulation) is in a Latin-English sermon from 1500. That’s right, a sermon (find it here on page 91). What is particularly fascinating here is the encryption – with each letter representing the one before it in the alphabet, suggesting some level of aversion to the word:

Non sunt in cœli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk.

Decrypting the last four rather incriminating words gives us: “fvccant vvjvys of heli” – which, when translated means: “They [monks] are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely.”. To decipher the code, we have to bear in mind the differences in both the alphabet and spelling between then and now: the letter “w” did not exist, instead, one could use “vv” to represent this sound. You could also use “j” in the place of “i”, and “v” in the place of “u”.

Fuck also appears in Middle English names and place names, often meaning “to strike”. Hence Henry Fuckebegger (on the record in 1286) most likely beat the poor, rather than shagging them. Shit and cunt, which both have cognates in earlier Germanic and Scandinavian languages, have also been used in placenames from the Middle Ages. Skidbrooke in Lincolnshire, for example, appears in the Domesday book as “Schitebroc” – that is: “Shit-brook”. In fact, if you ever walk down a Grape or Grove Lane, chances are it used to be one of the many “Gropecuntlanes”, denoting a medieval red-light district.

Cleaned up its act: Grope Lane in Shrewsbury.
Dpaajones via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Mind your language

So we know that a lot of our favourite swears are loans from the Germanic and Scandinavian language families. Well, yes and no. The words may come from these origins, but where their use comes from is where it can get interesting. I’m about to make the case that one of the most quintessentially British swear words is, in fact, kind of French. The word I’m talking about is “bloody”, as in, every time Harry Potter’s Ron Weasley exclaims “Bloody hell, Harry!”

The origins of this one seem consistent with the rest of the swear words – it’s a Germanic word that appears in Old and Middle English as an adjective meaning “bloodthirsty”, “cruel” and “murderous” alongside the more obvious “bloodstained” sense. But nowhere is it used as a swear word. One could make the case that the swear use comes from contact with Anglo Norman, which was a variety of French that came with the Normans in 1066. This is because it is in Anglo Norman that we find the French word “sanglant” (meaning “bloody”) being used as a swear word.

Sanglant appears twice in a 1396 version of a conversation manual called the Manières de langage, which was essentially the textbook for learning French at the turn of the 15th century. It appears in insults such as “senglant merdous garcion” (“bloody filthy rogue”), and “senglent filz de putaigne” (“bloody son of a whore”). Indeed, sanglant as a swear word seems to have enjoyed a particularly Anglo-Norman flavour.

Pour épater les Anglais

In the continental French farce Pathelin (1457), the eponymous character attempts to avoid repaying a debt by babbling in various French dialects in an attempt to appear mad. He utters the words “sanglant paillart” (“bloody bastard”) while speaking in the Norman dialect. Moreover, in the Chronique de Charles VII, the French call the “Angloiz et Normans” (Angles and Normans) by the insult “senglans puans mezeaulx porriz” (“bloody putrid rotting lepers”). Here, the French are ironically insulting the English in one of their own tongues, which was at that time a dialect of French.

Not that kind of swearing, silly! Although the Norman Conquest give English people a whole new set of naughty words.
Myrabella, CC BY

It is only after the appearance of “sanglant” that we then get “bloody” as a swear word – which means that it is very likely that this seemingly Germanic word has assumed a Francophone character.

Research into the English language reveals that the UK shares more with Europe than many realise. The language contact situation is particularly diverse for Britain, with heavy influence from Germanic/Scandinavian languages. As the evolution of the word “bloody” suggests, Anglo Norman also played a fundamental role in how English speakers use words.

The ConversationBut for Anglo Norman, the key message is that this was a variety of French that was viewed in the Middle Ages as a British language. Hence, English has evolved from a background of significant linguistic diversity that has formed part of the country’s identity for centuries. And the traces of that are sometimes hiding in plain sight.

Emily Reed, Doctoral Researcher in Late-Medieval Linguistics and Literature, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The slippery grammar of spoken vs written English



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We use different grammar when speaking or writing, but the difference is so subtle that linguists were blind to it for centuries.
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Andreea S. Calude, University of Waikato

My grammar checker and I are on a break. Due to irreconcilable differences, we are no longer on speaking terms.

It all started when it became dead set on putting commas before every single “which”. Despite all the angry underlining, “this is a habit which seems prevalent” does not need a comma before “which”. Take it from me, I am a linguist.

This is just one of many challenging cases where grammar is slippery and hard to pin down. To make matters worse, it appears that the grammar we use while speaking is slightly different to the grammar we use while writing. Speech and writing seem similar enough – so much so that for centuries, people (linguists included) were blind to the differences.




Read more:
How students from non-English-speaking backgrounds learn to read and write in different ways


There’s issues to consider

Let me give you an example. Take sentences like “there is X” and “there are X”. You may have been taught that “there is” occurs with singular entities because “is” is the present singular form of “to be” – as in “there is milk in the fridge” or “there is a storm coming”.

Conversely, “there are” is used with plural entities: “there are twelve months in a year” or “there are lots of idiots on the road”.

What about “there’s X”? Well, “there’s” is the abbreviated version of “there is”. That makes it the verb form of choice when followed by singular entities.

Nice theory. It works for standard, written language, formal academic writing, and legal documents. But in speech, things are very different.

It turns out that spoken English favours “there is” and “there’s” over “there are”, regardless of what follows the verb: “there is five bucks on the counter” or “there’s five cars all fighting for that Number 10 spot”.

A question of planning

This is not because English is going to hell in a hand basket, nor because young people can’t speak “proper” English anymore.

Linguists Jen Hay and Daniel Schreier scrutinised examples of old recordings of New Zealand English to see what happens in cases where you might expect “there” followed by plural, (or “there are” or “there were” for past events) but where you find “there” followed by singular (“there is”, “there’s”, “there was”).

They found that the contracted form “there’s” is a go-to form which seems prevalent with both singular and plural entities. But there’s more. The greater the distance between “be” and the entity following it, the more likely speakers are to ignore the plural rule.

“There is great vast fields of corn” is likely to be produced because the plural entity “fields” comes so far down the expression, that speakers do not plan for it in advance with a plural form “are”.

Even more surprisingly, the use of the singular may not always necessarily have much to do with what follows “there is/are”. It can simply be about the timing of the event described. With past events, the singular form is even more acceptable. “There was dogs in the yard” seems to raise fewer eyebrows than “there is dogs in the yard”.




Read more:
How students from non-English-speaking backgrounds learn to read and write in different ways


Nothing new here

The disregard for the plural form is not a new thing (darn, we can’t even blame it on texting). According to an article published last year by Norwegian linguist Dania Bonneess, the change towards the singular form “there is” has been with us in New Zealand English ever since the 19th century. Its history can be traced at least as far back as the second generation of the Ulster family of Irish emigrants.

Editors, language commissions and prescriptivists aside, everyday New Zealand speech has a life of its own, governed not so much by style guides and grammar rules, but by living and breathing individuals.

It should be no surprise that spoken language is different to written language. The most spoken-like form of speech (conversation) is very unlike the most written-like version of language (academic or other formal or technical writing) for good reason.

Speech and writing

In conversation, there is no time for planning. Expressions come out more or less off the cuff (depending on the individual), with no ability to edit, and with immediate need for processing. We hear a chunk of language and at the same time as parsing it, we are already putting together a response to it – in real time.

This speed has consequences for the kind of language we use and hear. When speaking, we rely on recycled expressions, formulae we use over and over again, and less complex structures.

For example, we are happy enough writing and reading a sentence like:

That the human brain can use language is amazing.

But in speech, we prefer:

It is amazing that the human brain can use language.

Both are grammatical, yet one is simpler and quicker for the brain to decode.

And sometimes, in speech we use grammatical crutches to help the brain get the message quicker. A phrase like “the boxes I put the files into” is readily encountered in writing, but in speech we often say and hear “the boxes I put the files into them”.

We call these seemingly unnecessary pronouns (“them” in the previous example) “shadow pronouns”. Even linguistics professors use these latter expressions no matter how much they might deny it.

Speech: a faster ride

There is another interesting difference between speech and writing: speech is not held up on the same rigid prescriptive pedestal as writing, nor is it as heavily regulated in the same way that writing is scrutinised by editors, critics, examiners and teachers.

This allows room in speech for more creativity and more language play, and with it, faster change. Speech is known to evolve faster than writing, even though writing will eventually catch up (at least for some changes).

The ConversationI would guess that by now, most editors are happy enough to let the old “whom” form rest and “who” take over (“who did you give that book to?”).

Andreea S. Calude, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, University of Waikato

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

British literature is richly tangled with other histories and cultures – so why is it sold as largely white and English?



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Brick Lane: popularised in a novel by British writer, Monica Ali.
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Elleke Boehmer, University of Oxford and Erica Lombard, University of Oxford

Recent global developments have sharply polarised communities in many countries around the world. A new politics of exclusion has drawn urgent attention to the ways in which structural inequality has marginalised and silenced certain sectors of society. And yet, as a recent report shows, diversity and inclusion in fact “benefit the common good”. A more diverse group is a stronger, more creative and productive group.

In the world of literary writing, we find similar gaps and exclusions. But these are counterbalanced in some respects by new positive initiatives.

In 2015, a study revealed that literature by writers of colour had been consistently under-represented by the predominantly white British book industry. Statistics in The Bookseller show that out of thousands of books published in 2016 in the UK, fewer than 100 were by British authors of a non-white background. And out of 400 authors identified by the British public in a 2017 Royal Society of Literature survey, only 7% were black, Asian or of mixed race (compared to 13% of the population).

Colourful misrepresentation

A similar marginalisation takes place in the curricula in schools and universities, mirroring exclusions in wider society. In most English literature courses of whatever period, the writers taught are white, largely English and largely male.

A fundamental inequality arises in which, though British culture at large is diverse, syllabuses are not. Indeed, many British readers and students find little to recognise or to identify with when they read and study mainstream British literature.

But it’s not just a case of under-representation. It’s also a case of misrepresentation.

Black and Asian writers who have been published within the mainstream British system describe the pressure they have felt to conform to cultural stereotypes in their work. Their books are often packaged and presented in ways that focus on their ethnicity, regularly using cliches. At the same time, more universal aspects of their writing are overlooked. For example, the covers of novels by Asian British writers usually stick to a limited colour palette of yellows, reds, and purples, accented by “exotic” images.

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These writers bristle at the sense that they are read not as crafters of words and worlds, but as spokespeople for their communities or cultures. At its worst, this process turns these writers and their books into objects of anthropological curiosity rather than works inviting serious literary study or simply pleasurable reading. The message is that black and Asian literature is other than or outside mainstream British writing.

Against these exclusions, leading British authors such as Bernardine Evaristo and others have urged for a broader, more inclusive approach. They recognise that what and how we read shapes our sense of ourselves, our communities and the world.

Reframing the narrative

The Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds research project, based in the Oxford English Faculty and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, set out to ask what it means to read contemporary fiction as British readers. Working with reading groups and in discussion with writers, we found that readers of all ages entered the relatively unfamiliar worlds created by BAME authors with interest.

For many, finding points of familiarity along gender, age, geographical or other lines was important for their ability to enjoy stories from communities different from their own. Identifying in this way gave some readers new perspectives on their own contexts. At the same time, unfamiliarity was not a barrier to identification. In some cases, universal human stories, like falling in love, acted as a bridge. This suggests that how literature is presented to readers, whether it is framed as other or not, can be as significant as what is represented.

Contemporary black and Asian writing from the UK is British writing. And this means that the work of writers such as Evaristo, Nadifa Mohamed and Daljit Nagra be placed on the same library shelf, reading list and section of the bookshop as work by Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Ali Smith – not exclusively in “world interest” or “global literature”.

Bookish.
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Equally, much can be gained by thinking of white British writers like Alan Hollinghurst or Hilary Mantel as having as much of a cross-cultural or even postcolonial outlook as Aminatta Forna and Kamila Shamsie.

There are positive signs. A new EdExcel/Pearson A-level teaching resource on Contemporary Black British Literature has been developed. The Why is My Curriculum White? campaign continues to make inroads in university syllabuses. And the Jhalak Prize is raising the profile of BAME writing in Britain. Against this background, the Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds website offers a multimedia hub of resources on black and Asian British writing, providing points of departure for more inclusive, wide-ranging courses. Yet there is still much to be done.

The ConversationAll literature written in English in the British Isles is densely entangled with other histories, cultures, and pathways of experience both within the country and far beyond. Its syllabuses, publishing practices, and our conversations about books must reflect this.

Elleke Boehmer, Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford and Erica Lombard, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.