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Language choice and identity in a recent novel.

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I am currently reading The Mersault Investigation (Daoud 2014, trans 2015).  This is a telling of the story of Camus' L'Etranger from the point of view of the brother of the murdered Arab.  There is the following a very interesting passage, where the narrator discusses the way that he uses a different language (I assume French) from his mother (I assume she speaks Arabic):

"And for a long time, she would make me feel impossibly ashamed of her - and later it pushed me to learn a language that could serve as a barrier between her frenzies and me.  Yes, the language.  The one I read, the one I speak today, the one that's not hers.  Hers is rich, full of imagery, vitality, sudden jolts and improvisations, but not too big in precision.  Mama's grief lasted so long that she needed a new idiom to express it in.  In her language, she spoke like a prophetess, recruited extemporaneous mourners, and cried out against the double outrage that consumed her life: a husband swallowed up by air, a son by water.  I had to learn a language other than that one.  To survive.  And it is the one I'm speaking at the moment.  Starting witrh my presumed fifthteenth birthday, when we withdrew to Hadjout, I became a stern and serious scholar.  Books and your hero's language gradually enables me to name things differently and to organise the world with my own words"  (page 37)

The extract shows how people can choose languages or varieties of language to mark difference or, in more extreme cases, create barriers.  Here, he seems to want to make a barrier and mark the diffeernce between himself and his mother.  He seems to be wary of her emotion and links this to the language and this gives him the motive to use French, which is seen as more precise.  The precision also seems to be used in contrast with the "richness" of his mother's langugae,  It is also interesting that he refers to being able to "organise the world with his own words".  Again this might be a contrast with the world that her mother lives in (and perhaps the word "improvisations" is significant, suggesting unpredictability.

This passage seems to have relevance to many of the OU's languages courses such as L161 and E301.


Daoud K (2014, trans 2015) The Mersault Investigation London: Oneworld

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Short video in Polari

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 25 Jun 2015, 16:44

E301 includes some content on "polari" (a gay language) and I found it interesting to see the following video where the dialogue is mainly in the language.  It is clear that some of the words such as "naff" have been taken up in English more generally but other words are mysterious to me.


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Pessoa and thoughts on grammar

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 27 Jan 2015, 22:40

I have just been reading a translation of an unusual book by Pessoa (1991) and was particularly intrigued by some thoughts on grammar towards the end of it.  Many of them seem to relate interestingly to concepts covered in E303 and E301.

The first is "grammar is a tool not a law" (page 231).  This seems to relate to the ideas of SFL where there is such an emphasis on the functions that language serves.

There is then a long paragraph where he suggests that "someone who understands what is involved in speaking often needs to make a transitive verb intransitive and vice versa" and that "If I wanted to talk about my existence as an entity that both directs and forms itself.....I would have to inventa transitive form and say grammatically supreme 'I exist me'" (page 231).  This quote is interesting as "I exist me" seems similar to the kinds of structures used in spoken English (Carter 2004).  Pessoa also seems to be explicitly linking grammatical deviance to creative and literary texts.

There is then another call for appropriate deviance "Only those who are unable to think what they feel obey grammatical rules.  Someone who knows how to express themselves can use those rules as he pleases.  There's a story they tell of Sigismund, King of Rome, who, having made a grammatical mistake in a public speech , said to the person who pointed this out "I am King of Rome and therefore above grammar" (page 231-232). 

These points resonated with many of my thoughts recently.  For example, I was thinking of this as I heard David Cameron recently say "I are...."  I have not seem this referred to in the press and I slightly wonder whether he was using the mistake/deviance as a tool for expressing (perhaps manufactured) anger about the recent EU bill.

Carter R (2004) Language and creativity: The art of common talk London: Routledge

Pessoa F (translated 1991) The Book of Disquiet London: Serpent's Tail.



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End of two courses for this presentation

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014, 13:35

Recently finished L185 and E301 for this presentation - time goes so quickly.  They are both good courses and students who work hard on them learn a great deal.

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Linguistic creativity in a documentary about Sun Ra

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 22 May 2014, 21:25

(This is an adapted version of a posting on my blog at http://patrickdandrews.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/creative-language-use-in-documentary.html )

I  recently came across the Sun Ra documentary "A Joyful Noise".  It seemed an interesting time to see it as it provides examples of language use that are creative just as students on E301 (The Art of English) are thinking about creativity in spoken language in preparation for an assignment.  It also allowed me to think about my interests in creativity in jazz and language and how they might intersect.


It is, to some extent a companion piece to my posting about creative language in a football podcast .  Here are some initial thoughts about creative uses of language in this documentary.  These suggest that there is a great deal of overlap between the ways that he presents himself musically, visually and through his use of language.


It is worth providing some contextual information about Sun Ra as this seems to affect the content and the style of what he says in the film.  He was born Herman Blount but claimed to have come from Saturn (Cook and Morton 2008) and this is presumably where the name comes from.  As a result, many of his compositions have a space theme with titles like "Saturn" and "Space is the Place".  There is also an interest in ancient Egypt (and this perhaps reflects the Ra part of the name) as can be seen from the film and song titles like "Sunset on the River Nile".  The film also gives a flavour of his music with the mixture of avant garde and rather traditional styles.


There is stylised repetition throughout much of the documentary and this occurs in short extracts but also at the level of the whole film.  In terms of repetition at a local level, there is an example after about 5 minutes.  Here, there is a call and response passage where Sun Ra speaks with his group repeating what he has said (e.g "I have many names" "many names").  This is a rather unusual version of how repetition can be used creatively as part of pattern forming (Carter 2004).  He also repeats "I have many names" like the poetic repetitions of many poems.There is thus a kind of foregrounding due to grammatical and semantic parallelism (Maybin and Pearce 2006).  This foregrounding seems to have the effect of making the viewer think about the importance of names.  The names seem to be presenting a particular identity and the identity seems to be presented as complex because the names are varied and unusual.

 His asserted identity as a complex and enigmatic man is reinforced by a pun.  He says "Some call me Mr Ra.  Others call me Mister E".  This seems to also refer to "mystery" and this seems to be more obvious in the way that his band members repeat the word.  Here the pun seems to reinforce the enigmatic image presented by his name, the music, the clothes.  It seems that here the language used is working in conjunction with other aspects of how he presents himself.  This seems to have parallels to Eckert and McConnell-Ginet’s (1999 in McCrae and Swann 2006) observations about how language use combines with other features to present identity. 

 He again uses a pun at about 11.15 minutes.  He makes the link between history and his story.  His story is also contrasted with my story. It is possible that this is related to his identity as a "Black American" musician (Cook and Morton (2008) refer to this in their discussion of his supposed origins) and the ways that much history taught in schools does not reflect the history that is relevant to his life.  This identification with Black America reappears at about 19 and a half minutes when he comments that he sees "The White House" but does not see "The Black House".

The theme of history/his story is repeated at the end.  He consciously repeats "They say that history repeats itself, they say that history repeats itself, repeats itself.  But history is his story.  It's not my story.  What's your story?"  Interestingly, this rather artfully repetitive language comes just after an infectiously repetitive tune.  These repetitions of themes throughout the documentary perhaps seem to reflect the ways that musical themes are used to provide structure to music.

At around 17 minutes, it is the Egyptian interest that comes to the fore and there is again a particular use of repetition.  He sets up one idea before giving a different perspective as he says "Somehow ancient Egypt is thought of as a kingdom of bondage but it would be better to say the kingdom of discipline".  This seems interesting in several ways.  One is that it reminds us that politicians and PR consultants can use euphemisms to show unpleasant details in a more favourable light.  Secondly, one of his most famous compositions is called "Discipline" so it raises the possibility that this is the discipline being referred to.

There is also a metaphor (Cameron 2006) when he says that the" stones speak through vibrations of beauty".  Although many metaphors can be stale, this one does not seem to be and seems to be part of the general language play of his comments (Cook 2006).  This language play becomes more apparent when he plays with "ocracy" endings (around 23:30).  Mythocracy seems to be a neologism.  Interestingly this is followed by some very "free" music.  Both the word and the music seem to have a schema refreshing role.

There are intertextual elements (Maybin and Pearce 2006) as he says "We hold these myths to be potential, they hold their truths to be self evident but our myth is not self evident because it is a mystery. I am not part of history, I'm more a part of the mystery, which is my story."  Here he seems to be referring to the Declaration of Independence and his own punning of "mystery/my story". So, the references refer back to a knowledge that he assumes the audience has as well as what they have seen earlier in the film.

These are just some initial observations on how the language used in this film have a relationship with the musical and visual elements.  Sun Ra seems to use language to reflect the identity he has created for himself.  Much of the language seems to refresh the schemata of the viewers/listeners.  There also seem to be parallels between the use of language and the music he plays with references to the past but also to the new (as in the coining of new forms such as "mythocracy").  There are repetitions and revoicings of words and ideas that also seem to reflect the way that jazz tends to work through musicians improvising around themes.


Cameron L (2006) "Metaphor in Everyday Language" in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) The Art of English: Literary Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave

Carter R (2004) Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk Abingdon: Routledge.

Cook G (2006) "Why play with language" in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Cook R and Morton B (2008) The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (Ninth Edition) London: Penguin.

McCrae S and Swann J (2006 "Putting on the Style" in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave

Maybin J and Pearce (2006) "Literature and Creativity in English" in Goodman S and O'Halloran K The Art of English: Literary Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave

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Creatvity portrayed in films

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 25 Sep 2014, 12:57

As I tutor on the Art of English course, I am always interested by the topic of creativity.  A few incidents in the "Muscle Shoals" film struck me. 

One was that Aretha Franklin had been recognised as a talented singer for some time before she was successful but she seemed to work in an inappropriate genre for a long time before she really found the type of music that enabled her to really create.  There was an incident in the film where many musicians were trying things out and getting nowhere until the keyboard player made a breakthrough.  I suppose this was the creative spark that the others needed.  So, it was a cognitive spark but needed to be done in a social setting.


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OU Live

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My first experience of OU Live today (an E301 tutorial).  Overall, it seemed quite similar to Elluminate but more people seemed to have problems with sound quality.  However, this might have been chance.

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OU anywhere

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 27 Aug 2014, 13:23

I have recently downloaded this to my phone and iPad.  It seems quite useful although not all of the modules I teach seem to have content available.  I would have thought it would be most useful on tablets.

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Elluminate and teacher strain

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 20 Jan 2014, 15:51

Due to circumstances, I had two Elluminate sessions on the same day last Saturday (one should have been a face to face tutorial but was changed to Elluminate as the venue was closed and many students would have found it difficult to get to Bristol anyway with the transport chaos).

It was very much more tiring than a similar amount of face to face teaching would be and the intensity of Elluminate teaching was very apparent.


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I did a session on Elluminate for E301 on Sunday.  I had a lot of positive feedback on this.  The session perhaps seemed quite dynamic because it was so well attended.

Again, there was quite a mixture of students who have attended Elluminate before and those for whom it is new.  This provides me with a dilemma in terms of how simple I keep the structure of the session.  I decided not to use breakout rooms because I thought they might intimidate the newcomers if some people seemed so much more at ease.

Would any of the students who attended like to add their perspectives?


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Face to face tutorials and committed students

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Last week I had a tutorial in Plymouth and this also showed how committed a lot of OU students are as they struggled through the transport problems due to the recent floods.
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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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