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Descriptivist and prescriptivist views of language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 1 Oct 2021, 11:51

The course L101 covers the issue of descriptivist and prescriptivist views of language and this is reflected in the Guardian article about a school discouraging the "use of slang" (the scare quotes reflect my view that some of the examples are creative uses of language rather than slang) https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/sep/30/oh-my-days-linguists-lament-slang-ban-in-london-school

In particular, the expression "he cut his eyes at me" seems very expressive and eloquent and this seems to contradict the school's advice that following conventions will lead to eloquence.  These kinds of expressions seem to be the kinds that are valued in literature where linguistic deviance is an important way of "making the world strange" (остранение)  - for a brief summary of this see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamiliarization and follow links to Russian formalists for more detail.

This is not to say I would always encourage these kinds of creative expressions (and perhaps it mainly seems creative to me because I had not come across it before).  If clarity is required and the audience is older and would not know the expression, it should probably be avoided but this is different from saying it is not eloquent,

Ermm is a normal part of spoken language (see for example, Hultgren 2015: 126).  In fact, people are often more intelligible if their speech contains some redundancy (and fillers like this are examples of redundancy).  It would not normally be used in written texts but an awareness of the differences between spoken and written language is very useful in educational contexts.

Hultgren AK (2015) Exploring English Grammar Book 1: Grammar, context and meaning Milton Keynes: Open University

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Patrick Andrews

An interesting brief talk on translating brand names into Chinese

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 15:15

I found this talk on translating brand names into Chinese interesting:


It shows how creative translators need to be if the translation is to be effective.  In some cases, as in the example of "mini", there is a "lucky" coincidence of sounds that matchg the original and a positive meaning (although, this new meaning rather changes the connotation of the original).  In some cases, there has been more of a focus on the meaning and the original sound is lost and someone not speaking Chinese will not know what car is being referred to - as in the translation for Land Rover.

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Patrick Andrews

Language creativity in a football podcast (the Nii Lamptey Show)

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 23 Apr 2015, 17:28

This post attempts to apply some of the ideas from a course I am teaching on the Art of English (E301) to a football podcast for the football team I support (Coventry City).  It tries to show that the language used in the podcast displays many features of creative language use.  I first give some background information about the podcast and then discuss some of the instances of creative language use in one episode (number 14).

The podcast is called the Nii Lamptey Show and is now on the 14th episode.  It can be found here and is released towards the end of each week and consists of a few supporters of Coventry City discussing the previous week in a fairly irreverent way. 

The title itself is somewhat creative.  It makes use of the name of an ex-player for  Coventry City.  However, he did not have a particularly distinguished career for the team - see the posting on September 5th 2012 here.- although he had seemed to be a promising player when young.  It is possible that his career is seen as a kind of metaphor (Cameron 2006) for the fortunes of the club, who have had a decline over recent years.  This is a kind of intertextual reference (Swann et al 2004 in Gillen 2006) where the reference to a relatively obscure player would be recognied by supporters of the club but perhaps not by many others.

The podcast abounds in intertextual references that will make sense to the audience of Coventry City fans but will largely be obscure to outsiders.  For example, there is the punning feature "Go for Gould" which puns on the name of an ex-player and manager, Bobby Gould and the more obscure "Pead all about it", referring to a less well-known player, Craig Pead.  There is often a use of humour that mocks the team.  For example, they refer to a tradition of getting five goals from the distant past and the fact that a five goal win was secured by bringing on a poor quality striker when the team was winning 5-0 so that they would not get more than 5 goals.

There are other references that would be more recognisable to football fans in general but perhaps mysterious to people outside this group.  For example, there is a reference to the "hairdryer treatment".  For most people interested in British football, the would be a clear reference to Alex Ferguson and stories that he stands very close to players he is angry at and shouts at them in order to motivate them.

There are a number of metaphors used in the podcast.  Some examples are football related such as "the midfield got squeezed", "the goals flowed", "we were bombing on" or "Hartlepool got stuffed". There are others that refer to the  incidents in the game "that was the least X certificate stuff" (referring to some violent behaviour) and "he buried that" (ie he scored).  There are metaphors used to describe the way players are playing "Moussa's on fire".  There are also metaphors that are more general.  For example, Hartlepool is described as an "armpit of Britain".

Idioms are sometimes used creatively in a way similar to those mentioned in Carter (2004) .  For example, the idiom, "the roof caved in" is used and adapted for the context.  One speaker said "in a nice way, in a beautiful way for us for Hartlepool the roof caved in".  Of course, it would not have been a beautiful way if the roof really had caved in but the idiom refers to the way that Coventry were successful in the second half of the game.

There is frequent use of hyperbole (McCarthy and Carter 2004, Carter 2004). For example, there is reference to "our 89th left back of the season".  While it is true that the team has had many left backs, eighty nine is an exaggeration.  There is another entertaining example where the speakers says that one of the players drops back because it is very important for him to find a place to play "20 minutes of head tennis, every game".

Styles are switched frequently.  As can be seen from the examples above, the register is often informal and there are also uses of relatively mild swear words.  There can also be some relatively formal language used for an incongruous comic effect.  For example, the manager is described as "young Mr Robins".  Another interesting example is when describing the tactics at a corner and the speaker seems to suggest that there is something clever and complex but then undermines it by saying "dirty bastard".

New words are invented (Carter 2006).  For example, there is the following exchange:

A:  What effect did leaving John Fleck have?
B:    It left us a little Fleckless

This gets an acknowledgement of creativity in a "hey".  Similarly, there is the invention of nicknames for players.  One player, William Edjenguele has been renamed "Billy Edge".

Language is used creatively to show the relationships between the participants.  For example at one point, an idiom seems to have been misused by accident ("tugging at the heartsleeves") and the other participants laugh at this and use it.  This seems to be an example of language pattern reforming that becomes pattern reinforcing (Carter 2006).  The joking about this comes to an end with a couple of jokey comments about it having been a hard week and then there is the comnment "What a player he was" as presumably it sounds like a player's name. 

Sometimes, there is a comic sense of anticlimax as in the exchange below:

A: Is that a serious point?
B: Not really.

This gets a laugh and is part of the irreverent atmosphere of the podcast.

These are just a few examples of the creativity used in a podcast - almost all of the examples are from a 20 minute extract.  The podcast is very clearly intended at a particular audience and the creativity of the language use is largely what gives the podcast interest for the intended listeners.  There are other podcasts that are aimed at different audiences but they tend to share the linguistic creativity.  Another example is the Guardian Football podcast, which can be found here


Cameron L (2006) "Metaphor in everyday language"in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) (2006) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Carter R (2006) "Common Language: corpus, creativity and cognition" in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) (2006) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Carter R (2004) Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk Abingdon: Routledge

Gillen J (2006) "Child's Play" in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) (2006) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
McCarthy M and Carter R (2004) ““There's millions of them”: hyperbole in everyday conversationJournal of Pragmatics Volume 36, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 149–184


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