Thursday, 25 September 2014

We could test that

Something that I (Charlotte) find myself doing a lot when reading news stories is thinking ‘Interesting. We could test that’. So much of what we read is based on assertions that lack supporting evidence, or, cast in a more positive light, presents ideas that are still in a pretty nascent state. At worst this is hugely frustrating, at best it can provide ideas for projects...

By way of an example, a few years I was reading an article that stated that Unlike ‘science’, this new term – ‘The Science’ – is a deeply moralised and politicised category. Today, those who claim to wield the authority of The Science are really demanding unquestioning submission’ (Furedi 2008). I thought this was a really interesting idea, and, because it was a claim based on two lexical items, it looked like something that could be effectively investigated from a corpus linguistic perspective. It led to this article and I learnt a lot about how the science has indeed become a rhetorical device that is used to assert authority without disclosing anything about the science itself.

So, to help you think about possible project ideas, here are four stories that I saw and thought ‘we could test that’:
  1. This article was talking mainly about British men going to fight in Syria, but the claim that caught my eye was that 'The language used in public to discuss war has become extraordinarily distorted – and not only among radicalised communities. Combat is routinely described in the media as though it were a form of sport'. And this got me thinking that a really useful project could be an analysis of whether metaphors for war have changed over time.
  2. A while ago I read an article (but can’t remember where sadly) which talked about how women's bodies are used in the media as a metaphor for the text producer's evaluation of the Iranian government; so articles depicting an authoritarian regime will be accompanied by pictures of a veiled woman, while those talking about it as a more liberal state than its neighbours will use a picture of a woman with her hair uncovered and so on. I don’t know how this would develop as project and it would have to be for someone confident in multimodal CDA, but it was a different perspective on an old debate. 
  3. There has been a lot of discussion recently about possible BBC bias in the representation of the Scottish independence debate, for instance this article reports on a demonstration about bias, and so I was wondering whether there was much language evidence for this. This is potentially a huge project and would need narrowing down, but could be topical and revealing. 
  4. Finally, this article from yesterday’s Guardian was talking about the language of poverty and got me wondering about whether/how poverty may have shifted in terms of its associations, and how it currently relates to terms like inequality and deprivation (these are just the terms discussed in the article). 
I also wrote about a possible project from an article which asked So why does the western feminist movement hardly look at African feminism for clues?  on another blog last year, you can have a look here.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

four things I wondered about on Wednesday

So, yesterday I (Lynne M) listed three things I had cause to wonder about during the day. I have  more today! Two have to do with the pronunciations I heard during the ROLLS talk today. As you know, I'm not a phonetician/phonologist at all, so I'm asking these questions out of ignorance.

  1. Many British English speakers pronounce monolingual and bilingual differently from how dictionaries say the word is pronounced. The dictionaries say something like 'bilingwel' (what I say), but what I often hear is 'bilingyu-el'. (Similar is British pronunciation of jaguar with an unreduced and front-glided u.) Is this a change in progress? Does it have to do with the /g/ beforehand? Do dictionaries just have it wrong? Who says it which way? Are there other words like this?
  2. I heard someone today (not for the first time) say inVENT(o)ry rather than INvent(o)ry. This seems to be related to the change by which CONtroversy is now often rendered (in British Englishes) as conTROVersy. How broad is this pattern of change? Who's doing it and who's not? How regular is it?
  3. Signs people make to ask people do (not) do something are interesting. Sometimes people put "POLITE NOTICE" on top, which is often explained by others as "they want you to misread it as POLICE".  But I saw one that said 'COURTEOUS NOTICE' in a Brighton shop window. Why isn't saying "Please don't park your bicycle here" enough? Why do people feel like they need to give these signs a title?
  4. Still on the topic of signs, this came around on Twitter last night:

    When and why do people personify objects in this way, to give information or instructions? And why did this:
    end up like this?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

three things I wondered about today

This blog has been fairly quiet for a while. It's a trick for us all to remember to post here when we have little wonderings. But let me revive it by pointing out some things I wondered about language today.  I've not really researched them (that's not my job here--they're wonderings), but I have had a look to see if there's any recent work on the topics and will link to them here as starting points. (I am linking to the public-facing journal sites, so if you want to read the articles, you're better off searching for them through the library, where access may well be free.)

  1. English learners are taught to pronounce the as 'thee' before vowels and 'thuh' before consonants. The whole story is more complicated.  I'm wondering: are there dialectal differences (including national US/UK differences) in this?  Do learners follow the 'rule' or pick up other uses of 'thee'?
  2. Ad-hoc abbreviations to fit the 140-character limit in Twitter: which words do ppl shortn? How? Why? Where?  Here's a possibly interesting article re this & age.
  3. Here's an article about the language of restaurant menus in 1970s United States. What do menus tell us today? Which non-English words make it in (and why)? How are the descriptions structured? What do they tell us about class, food, consumerism...? The new book by Dan Jurafsky, The Language of Food, might cover some of this.