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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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Nabokov on spoken language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 6 Oct 2021, 22:41

Many courses that I teach and have taught discuss the differences between spoken and written language and I was interested to read the following description by the narrator in a novel by Nabokov that I was rereading recently:

“I am a bad speaker, and the oration which I seem to render word by word did not flow with the lissom glide it has on paper.  Indeed it is not really possible to set down my incoherent speech, that tumble and jumble of words, the forlornness of subordinate clauses that have lost their masters and strayed away, and all the superfluous gibberish …..”

This short extract seems to refer to the difficulty of transcribing speech, the frequency of false starts and redundancy, which is commonly mentioned in the literature on spoken discourse.

Nabokov, V (1965) Despair Harmondsworth:Penguin

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Voice messages on WeChat

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Mar 2021, 13:57

I notice that several ex students and colleagues contact me on WeChat by voice message rather than written messages and I wonder why this is.  Do they think it is easier to speak than compose a message?  It seems less convenient to me as the receiver as they cannot be processed as quickly.

This is a contrast to many of my OU tutorials where many students seem keener to use text chat than the microphone.

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Recording some teaching materials

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 12 May 2015, 15:41

Yesterday, I was interviewed on reading strategies (along with a colleague, Anna Calvi) as part of the development of listening materials for a rewrite for LB160 "Communication Skills for Business Studies" (the new module will be LB170).

It was an interesting experience.  I was surprised at how quickly we finished the recording and most of it was done on the first take.  One of the few parts that went to a second take were the result of my drinking some water being picked up by the microphone.  Other reasons for second takes included very obvious stumbles over words and a missed cue (I though Anna was responsible for one answer I should have spoken on).

I think there will be some editing of the product but authenticity is more highly prized than linguistic polish.  So, some hesitators, false starts etc will be included.


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