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Language and slavery

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Last weekend we visited our son in Cardiff and went to the reframing Picton exhibition at the National Museum of Wales 

https://museum.wales/blog/2458/Reframing-Picton--from-idea-to-exhibition/

The main focus is on whether someone so cruel should be glamorised and has parallels with the Colston issue in Bristol (and there is even a Picton Street near where we live).  The exhibition is interesting and important in its own right but there were some particular areas that link to my interest in language.

One part of the exhibition discussed the trial of Picton for the sadistic torture of a young woman and her testimony is described as follows:

It is interesting that the Creole is described as a corruption.

This report is from the following source.
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Article on plurilingualism in The Observer

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 5 Sep 2022, 09:40

This is quite a good newspaper article on parents and schools encouraging children to speak several languages and for a newspaper article, it seems quite well linked to what seems to be known.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/sep/04/britains-multilingual-children-we-speak-whatever-language-gets-the-job-done-?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

It seems that there are great benefits to knowing several languages besides the practical ones.  This is true for older people as well.  People can become more flexible and this confers cognitive benefits and it also seems that being multilingual can help with recovery from strokes and make the development of dementia less likely.

There still seems to be resistance in some places to the development of languages other than English at school but this is perhaps less true than it used to be.

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The importance of language for integration

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 4 Jul 2022, 16:23

My son is studying in Germany and we went to visit him last week.  We met in Dusseldorf and went to a museum about the state he is living in and there was an interesting section on immigration into the state.  Language was often an important issue and this is one of the captions.

Caption about the importance of language in the case of an immigramt to Germany from Russia.

It is interesting that she believed that "language is a key to life in Germany".  They are described as learning German from dictionaries, which no teacher training course on language teaching would recommend.  However, this seems to show how important having investment in wanting to learn a language is (Norton 2010).  These people have a real investment in the imagined community they want to join.


Norton B (2010) "Identity, Literacy, and English-LanguageTeaching" TESL CANADA JOURNAL/REVUE TESL DU CANADA1VOL. 28, NO 1, WINTER 2010


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Use of sources

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Sunday, 7 Aug 2022, 11:34

I have been marking a lot of work recently - about 70 EMAs and a large number of final TMAs.  Something that strikes me is issues around use of sources and referencing.

One issue is that many students overquote and some even seem to think that there is only a need to reference if they quote.  This seems a quite ineffective way of referring to knowledge of the course.  The references are often too wordy for the point they need to make.  Sometimes they do not make sense out of context - e.g. writing "now" or even "yesterday" when the student's work is about the situation a few years later. 

Another issue is that many students put a full stop before a reference when the reference finished the sentence.  Sometimes students even put a full stop before and after a reference.  This seems to suggest that they consider the reference as being apart from the rest of the sentence rather than an integral part of the text. 

These perhaps suggest that there need to be new ways of presenting how sources are used in academic contexts.

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Linguistic creativity in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine

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I had read about the term pашизм (literally transliterated as "rashism") being used as a way to refer to the ideology that justifies the invasion of Ukraine and I had assumed that it was mixture of Russian (just represented by the "r") and fascism (represented by the rest of the word).

In this article  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/magazine/ruscism-ukraine-russia-war.html Snyder argues that it is more complex than this and that the "ra" links to the way that Russia is pronounced in Russian (it is written as Россия but pronounced more like /ræsiːjə/.  He also suggests that the pашизм links it more closely to the English pronunciation of Russia/Russian.  As a result, he thinks the transliteration should be "ruscism".  I am not sure that I am completely convinced by this but it is an interesting hypothesis.

There is also much interesting discussion of the role of bilingualism in the Ukraine and presumably this means that there is great potential for cross linguistic puns and creative language.

As someone who knows Russian quite well and has just started learning Ukrainian, I am struck by how much of the lexis is diffferent and Snyder gives examples of this but I am finding I get most sentences correct when doing Duolingo as the grammar seems so similar.


Snyder T (2022) "The War in Ukraine has unleashed a new word" The New York Times Magazine April 22nd 2022 Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/magazine/ruscism-ukraine-russia-war.html (Accessed 27/04/2022)

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Zelenskiy and adapting messages to audiences

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 28 Mar 2022, 15:22

One of my students kindly sent me a link to this BBC article about the way Zelenskiy adapts what he talks about to his audiences:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-60855280.amp

It seems to me that this adaptation flatters the different audiences as well as helping him achieve his aims of trying to garner support.  For example, references to the Battle of Britain perhaps reminds British listeners of the time Britain stood up against tyranny.  It also makes it seem earth shatteringly important because someone so far away refers to it.  The same could be said of the mentions of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" for a French audience.  They may be flattered by the reference.

I am also interested by the way he presents himself.  He looks too busy to care about his appearance although he is probably quite mindful - he looks just "scruffy enough" (an interesting contract with Boris Johnson whose scruffiness is more over the top and seems contrived - there does not seem any purpose to Johnson's uncombed hair, for example).  He appears approachable and has been seen taking selfies with ordinary Ukrainians so probably seems "one of us" despite having the elevated role.  This contrasts with Vladimir Putin who is pictured at one end of a long table.

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More on Ukrainian, Russian and the invasion of Ukraine

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I greatly admired Ilya Kaminsky's long poem "Deaf Republic" and so I was interested in his views of language and writing about the situation in Ukraine at https://lithub.com/ilya-kaminsky-on-ukrainian-russian-and-the-language-of-war/

He refers to Russian speakers now choosing to use Ukrainian as a reaction to Putin's threats and of course what later turned out to be actions.  There is a sad account from a poet of how:

"I have never felt discriminated against because I spoke the Russian language. Those are myths. In all the cities of Western Ukraine I have visited, I spoke with everyone in Russian—in stores, in trains, in cafes. I have found new friends."

So, the language itself is not the problem and it was often a way of bringing people together.  This also undermines Putin's argument that he is protecting Russian speakers from discrimination (but, of course, this is just one account).

An even more interesting and tragic point is made about a Ukrainian poet:

"Just as Russian-language poet Khersonsky refuses to speak his language when Russia occupies Ukraine, Yakimchuk, a Ukrainian-language poet, refuses to speak an unfragmented language as the country is fragmented in front of her eyes. As she changes the words, breaking them down and counterpointing the sounds from within the words, the sounds testify to a knowledge they do not possess. No longer lexical yet still legible to us, the wrecked word confronts the reader mutely, both within and beyond language."

It seems that the way to express the broken world is to use language that is as broken as the world it represents.

Kaminsky then reflects on the issue of himself writing in English and presumably this reflects another angle and other ways of representing a perspective on the events.


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Language and the invasion of Ukraine

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 28 Feb 2022, 11:41

There has been much talk that the capital of Ukraine should be written in the style used in Ukrainian Kyiv rather than the Russian Kiev - see, for example 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/25/how-to-pronounce-and-spell-kyiv-kiev-ukraine-and-why-it-matters?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

I can see the argument for this but it also has to be considered that many Ukrainians are Russian speakers and many of these are also proudly Ukrainian.  I wonder whether insisting on the new spelling/pronunciation might have the unintended consequence of alienating some from their Ukrainian identities.

It is always difficult to compare language situations but Swansea are not called Abertawe in the Football League.  The supporters who speak English are no less Welsh than those who speak Welsh.  Using Russian for Kiev/Kyiv does not immediately seem to reduce support for the multilingual country of Ukraine.
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Discussion on accents

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 17 Feb 2022, 10:51

I was listening to this podcast while walking to play football today.  

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-bunker/id1496246490?i=1000551234508

It is an interesting and informative discussion about accents and how they relate to perceptions of people.  It mainly focuses on English but some references are made to other languages.

There are some key points that are relevant for students of L101, in particular.

1 Accents are not neutral.

2 There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about any sound or any accent.  However, they do have social implications.

3 RP is a rare accent.

4 There are accents for most (perhaps all?) languages.  They are not unique to English.

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Gender neutral pronoun in Norwegian

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I was interested by this story 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/02/new-gender-neutral-pronoun-norwegian-dictionaries-hen-official-language?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

It would be useful to have this kind of pronoun in English, especially for academic writing where there is often the dilemma of choosing “he or she” or using “they” in sentences like “a teacher decides how they/she or he plans lessons”.
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I am addicted .....

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 27 Apr 2022, 19:34

.... to duolingo.

I started practising Russian and Chinese last year on duolingo last year.  These are both languages I have studied before (in the 1980s) and I lived in China from 1986 to 1988 and Russia from 1989.  Duoloingo provides a good chance to practise for free and I think I do benefit to some extent although the practise is very decontextualised.

For any readers unfamiliar with Duolingo (https://www.duolingo.com/), the basic version is free.  A large number of languages are available but there are several gaps (eg Bulgarian).  There are a large (but finite) number of short "lessons" in each language taught - they are more like tests than lessons, though, in most cases.  The user starts with five "hearts" that are needed to access the lessons.  Each time they make a mistake, they lose a heart and when all are lost, they either have to do a practice lesson or wait for a period of up to four hours.  There are also "gems" that are needed to access some content and they are added as rewards for some achievements.

Users are put into groups who are encouraged to compete.  Users get messages that they might be relegated or that someone has overtaken them.  It is interesting how seriously I take not being relegated although it does not affect my learning at all (I get no change in what is available for me).  My wife and brother who also use the app are also anxious not to get relegated.

There are also frustrations.  Sometimes I write a translation that seems reasonable but the app rejects it.  It is possible to report this with a menu item "My answer should have been accepted" and sometimes I get emails saying my suggestion has been accepted but I still lose "hearts" which means that I cannot continue for a period of time. 

Another problem is sometimes the app crashes and I lose hearts and/or gems through no fault of my own.

I have more or less finished the Chinese course.  I have done the basic lessons and only have some lessons to get "legendary status" (legendary for who? 😀) left to do.  I have done some of these but I have to preserve my gems to access these.  It is interesting that there is some fairly key vocabulary not taught.  Despite several lessons on food, the words "soy sauce", "vinegar" "leek" and garlic" (fundamental ingredients) have not been mentioned.  There is a very difficult lesson on "net slang" that features "otaka" (the app seems to think this is an English word - it seems to mean a person who plays computer games all day).

I am well through the Russian course and I recently started Norweigan as a new language - I decided on this because I am interested in the writer Knausgaard but I imagine it will be a long time before I can read him in the original.

Does any of this give me insights for my own work as a teacher?  I think the ability to do short periods of learning is useful for students and is something I should emphasise to students of language.  My choices of language show that outside factors such as interest in cultures are important.  I do feel frustrated by the lack of context.  Sometimes the sentences taught raise questions it would be interesting to discuss (eg one question taught was "Which presents should not be given to Chinese people".  I know partial answers (eg I have been told clocks are unsuitable for retirement) but it would be interesting to have more.

The example of Duolingo is discussed in L161 so it is useful to have experience of it as a "consumer".




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Language and football - use of different varieties of English

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I sometimes play walking football with two groups in Bristol and each of these groups has a WhatsApp group.  One of the group has a strong representations of people who came to Bristol from Jamaica or who are of Jamaican heritage.  They mostly speak and write Standard British English (often with a Bristol accent) but there is some use of Jamaican English when two or more people of that heritage or origin are speaking in small groups, presumably as a way of asserting solidarity and a shared identity.

Until yesterday, all messages on WhatsApp had been in Standard British English but fury about the Lewis Hamilton result in F1 led to several messages in Jamaican English.  There was a feeling that he had been cheated because of his race and perhaps this was why Jamaican English seemed the most appropriate variety to express a group feeling.

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Reflections on first marking of the academic year

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I have just finished marking first assignments for LB170 and L161.  As I have two groups for both courses at the moment (I am covering for one L161 course), it has been a busy time.  As usual, there is a great variety but it seems some students have underestimated the amount of work they needed to do and wrote answers that they could have written without studying the courses.  I hope that my feedback will encourage them to make use of what they are studying in their future assignments (and presumably this is a major reason why they have assignments so early in the course.

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A language awareness quiz

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This is an intriguing quiz on Open Learn.

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/could-you-be-super-linguist

I got all parts correct apart from one although a few were guesses.

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Translation difficulties

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 13 Sep 2021, 11:57

Alice Roberts posted an interesting problem posed to a translator of one of her books.

https://twitter.com/thealiceroberts/status/1425444246321041414?s=21

https://twitter.com/thealiceroberts/status/1425444247776514052?s=21

I suspect a translator would need to be of a certain age as well as having a good knowledge of British culture to recognise the Smash advertisement.

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Choice of languages to be taught in schools

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 11 Aug 2021, 16:52

There has recently been some discussion of increasing the numbers of schools that teach Latin - see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/aug/08/requiescat-in-pace-no-need-to-resurrect-latin-in-schools for a response to this.  This seems to be an ill thought out response to the crisis in language teaching in this country.

I studied Latin at school for a couple of years although I never got to a high standard.  I can see the value of learning Latin for its intrinsic interest as a language and for the access to history.  However, of the languages I have studied (French, Russian and Chinese), it is the only one I have not made an effort to maintain (I am currently practising the latter two on Duolingo and read some texts and watch films in French.

There seems to be an argument that most learners will have less investment (Norton 2000) in learning Latin than modern languages.  There might, for example, be an incentive for schoolchildren to learn languages like Polish or Urdu.  These would be languages that would seem relevant in many communities where pupils might hear the languages or see shops with words written in those languages.

These languages would be at least as intellectually challenging as Latin (e.g. Polish has cases) but would have the advantage of seeming relevant to the modern world.

Norton, B. (2000) Identity And Language Learning: Gender, Ethnicity And Educational Change, London, Pearson Education.

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A history of Spanish

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This is quite an interesting video on the history of Spanish.  I suppose it has something in common with Horrible Histories in style.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAGak27LddQ

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Translation in times of crisis

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 23 Dec 2020, 12:36

I have just seen a tweet about a poor translation of advice into Polish https://twitter.com/TOrynski/status/1341540344832385024?s=20

The description of how poor it is makes use of back translation, a topic covered in L161.  A famous, but perhaps jokey, example is the back translation of "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" from Russian to "the vodka is good but the meat is bad".

It is surprising that the authorities could not find a good translator for the advice, especially considering how large the Polish community is in the UK.

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Stereotypes of OU lecturers again

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My wife sent me the following sentence from an email she received:

"My dad was on Open University BBC late night TV when I was a kid as the classic bearded wool jumper wearing maths type lecturer!"

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Stereotypes of OU lecturers.

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Some time ago I posted a Private Eye cartoon that featured a stereotype of OU lecturers.  I have discovered that there is at least one more cartoon that makes use of this view.

Thanks to Mike McNulty for sharing this.

Badly dressed OU tutors at a funeral

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Football and language again

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I have recently been watching the documentary "All or Nothing" about Tottenham last year.

There are a variety of languages used representing the multinational nature of the team.  I was interested to see Jose Mourinho talking one to one with the England international, Eric Dier in Portuguese.  Dier's Portuguese seemed fluent (but I am not expert on this) but I wonder whether there was a power dynamic at work here as it is obviously Mourinho's first language.

I was also struck by how often swear words were used as part of the culture.  Do the players and managers think this provokes more passion?  Interestingly, Amazon did not bleep out the "f word" but did bleep out the "c word".

There is also an interesting section where Mourinho learns the names of the players.  Again, there are aspects of hierarchies.  Harry Kane is called "Harry" so Harry Winks has to be called "Winksy".  He also asks the player Kyle Walker Peters if he is "Walker" or "Peters" and he replies "Walker Peters".  It seems surprising that Mourinho who has worked in Britain for a long time is not really aware of double barelled surnames.

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Multilingualism and football

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 14 Sep 2020, 17:52

I am preferring to watch football on the television without artificial crowd noise when I can.  This means that it is often possible to hear the managers and players.  I was watching Arsenal and Fulham and heard a few shouts in French as well as English.

The rather old fashioned pundit Martin Keown was disapproving and said that English should be the only language used.  This seems to be an assumption but as the manager of Arsenal, Mikel Arteta is multilingual, it seems reasonable that he should make use of his linguistic capabilities to speak in the language that is the most appropriate for the circumstance.  If he is able to speak French to the French players, it may give them a very slight advantage in terms of the time it takes to process the message as it is in their first language even if their English is good.  It might also help them affectively in feeling that their first language is valued.

The use of French might also be of value in confusing non French speaking opponents.  I remember listening to an interview with the ex Coventry player Dave Bennett where he said that he and Cyrille Regis often used patois, partly to confuse opposition players.  It might also have helped to bond Regis and Bennnett through commonalities in their backgrounds..

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Language and Covid

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There have been several articles on popular websites referring to language creativity and Covid.  The following is interesting in many ways:

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200522-why-weve-created-new-language-for-coronavirus

Key points I take from this are:

- there is creativity in recombining for new contexts (e.g. "quarantine and chill" repurposing "netflix and chill" although the latter seems to have a sexual implication that the former might not have)

- there seems to be a tendency to form abbreviations like WFH

- the metaphors used like "a war" are consequential and perhaps both reflect how people are thinking about the pandemic and how they may react to it.  There is perhaps a key role for politicians to think carefully about how these are used.  It was, for example, pernicious for so many allies of Johnson to say he would survive Covid because he was a fighter.  How does this make relatives of people who did not survive feel?

- the links between cultures and the forms used are clear - e.g. there seems to be a trend for Australian English to shorten words.  Presumably there are many more specific examples of creativity in smaller cultures.

I also read the following article about the way that new terms are being created in Welsh:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jul/23/coronavirus-coronafeirws-dictionary-welsh-speakers-wales

It seems telling that the writer refers to a term being "rather lengthy" in Welsh when the English is hardly shorter. 

Perhaps the most important point is that in the last paragraph where the Welsh language commissioner warns that Welsh speaking patients could be at risk if they are not able to use their own language.

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A creative notice on a shop

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 4 Aug 2020, 21:58

I saw the following poster yesterday and it links to some of the themes of some English language courses at the Open University.  The use of « the thing » rather than Covid is perhaps euphemistic but is perhaps also an inter textual link to the film of the same name.

The picture from the film Betty Blue is also a link to the product of the shop - it rents videos and also arranges for small scale screenings of films.  The reference to Betty Blue might also relate to the use of a French phrase at the end.

A poster on a video shop

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MOOC on Language and Culture

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 21 Jul 2020, 14:52

I have had a relatively quiet time at the moment in terms of tutoring duties so I decided to take a MOOC on Language and culture 

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/intercultural-studies-language-culture/6/todo/72483

As someone with a Masters in a related area and also being the tutor on L161, I was not expecting to be particularly challenged in terms of the content but I thought there might be some new perspectives.

Despite realistic expectations, I was rather disappointed by the course.  Many of the tasks were rather vague.  Course participants often posted interesting examples and ideas but there was no interaction with the course writer who might have been able to clarify exactly what she was expecting from the discussion.  I think this is quite a serious weakness.

There was a final test that did not seem to be well thought out. It had multiple choice questions and I am convinced that some of the answers that were not accepted could be argued for but there is no chance of dialogue on those.

Some of the content seemed very out of date.  For example, there was a document on the Welsh language that seemed to make some dubious assertions and the references were all quite old.

One of the learners also made the good point that sign language should have been considered.  This is an issue I have become particularly aware of in the past year as one of my students has been working with deaf students and there is a great deal of variation in language practices and cultures.

Perhaps the content of L161 has spoiled me but I was disappointed by the MOOC.  Anyone wanting to study this area would be better off studying with the OU.
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