Inspirational TED lecture
Inspirational TED lecture
It may be a wooden ruler, but I like this.
Norman Davies in 'The Isles' devotes a chapter to this idea of Britishness ... and across his book, the equivalent of another chapter all over.
We could get like this trying to pen in types of learning (e-learning, online learning, CBT etc the same applies to many facets of the Internet, it's like trying to define the oceans, ignoring the current the run underneath the surface.
Why is it so easy for English speakers to create words if one doesn’t exist.
‘Web-based learning’ or ‘e-learning’ ?
Which do you prefer?
Does it matter so long as we have a good idea of what it means and entails. ‘e-tyres’, which I saw ten minutes ago on a van, confounds the logic of 'e-mail' or 'e-forum', it is easy to understand its meaning - ‘buy tyres here online’ (rather than ‘electronically enhanced tyres.’) But when was English ever logical?
The ‘Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language’ talks about word-building or ‘compounding’. This is possible we are told because of the way the Old English vocabulary builds up through the process of affixation and compounding.
A prefix I wasn’t aware was one is ‘to’ as on the English prefix we see in ‘today, towards and together.’
One from my home town, so clearly embedded in its Danish roots is ‘gan’ as in ‘go’ which is used on Tyneside as in the Geordie for go home ‘gan yem’.
The readiness to build up words from a number of parts is a feature that has stayed with English ever since.
In English we tend to concertina words, to simply them. If it can be understood in one syllable, then this works best of all.
Most English vocabulary arises by making new words out of old ones – either by adding an affix to previously existing forms, altering their word class, or combining them to produce compounds. Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. (1995:128)
Common affixes are:
I think there has to be something poetic, something logical, simple, immediately understood and that rolls naturally off the tongue. Web-based learning, web-based training, web-based virtual asynchronous communication ‘Web/VAC’ have had their day (a decade even, 1995-2005). We will ‘google’ forever – no need here for e-search (was that ever used?) and 'to yahoo; would not do. Or e-encyclopaedia when we had Britannica Online and now have Wikipedia.
Never hyper-learning, though if we create the holy grail of game-like learning for the current generation of net-savvy, game-savvy, texting, blogging, social-networking kids then ‘hyper-tivity’ could be exactly what would describe their engagement. I watch and listen in to my son’s antics on the X-box, using Skype, online to the world, organising games, while clicking through web-pages for the latest ‘cheat’ and viewing YouTube ‘how to ...’ Training or Learning?
Terms can be made to change their word class without the addition of an affix – a process known as conversion nouns from verbs – verbs from nouns.
‘e’ isn’t a prefix, it’s a compound of ‘electronic and/or enhanced’, that has been abbreviated to ‘e-‘.
Does it matter?
If it is in common usage and it is understood then whether it follows a rule or a former pattern or not means nada. The great thing with English is that anything goes. What counts is whether people adopt a word and if it sticks. and gets into everyday usage.
‘A compound is a unit of vocabulary which consists of more than one lexical stem. The parts are functioning as a single item which has its own meaning and grammar.' (Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. (1995:120)
Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. 1995
'A feeling in the tips of one's fingers.' Courtesy of Henry Hitchings (2009)
My journey through the English language courtesy of Henry Hitchings has come to an end. I have read his ‘The Secret Life of Words. How English Became English’ from cover to cover. I’ll have to read his book on Dr Johnson’s Dictionary next – unless I have something better to do in OU Land. Or get my hands on Mencken’s book on ‘The American Language’ which the late Alistair Cook would often quote.
I feel better armed to deal with concerns for the veracity of such words as ‘enculturated’ and ‘e-lapsed’ time that those of studying Online and Distance Learning (e-learning) must get used to.
I’ve learnt about loan words, calques and coinage; words taken straight from a foreign language, expressions that are literal translations of a foreign language and invented words.
English is a language of constant invention.
I have a put down from the 16th century for any new fangled multiple-syllable techno babble I come across. I can call the author a 'Controversialist - a writer who spurts out horrid polysyllables; and I might use the line, ‘such addicts of exotic terms would rarely use a short word where a long alternative could be found.' From John Florio's A Worlde of Wordes (1598)
I love the French loan word 'Escargatoire' which is 'a nursery of snails'. I am sure I can find a way to use it.
It amuses me that William Fox Talbot wanted to call photography ‘photogenic drawing while after Louis Daguerre we have ‘daguerreotype’ but pushed by Sir John Hersche ‘photography’ and ‘photo’ caught on. (Queen Victoria asked a grand-daughter for a 'photo' in a letter).
I thought of ‘stakeholder’ as a word that had to be 1970s corporate speak, only to learn that it was first used in 1850, along with entrepreneur and capitalist
Etiquette has become ‘netiquette’ in OU Land
This is a Georgian notion and appears in Johnson's dictionary of 1818. One piece of advice given regarding etiquette is to 'be discreet and sparing of your words.'
With is in mind, as I begin a new module my self-imposed rules will be:
(I have also broken this entry into four parts to keep the wordage down per entry. More to follow.)
Hitchings leaves mention of the Internet to the last pages of the final paragraph
'Online communities, which are nothing if not eclectic, prove an especially rich breeding ground for new words.'
* deliriously ludic (sic)
The Secret Life of Words. How English Became English. Henry Hitchings. 2008
Inspired by The Secret life of words. How English became English. Henry Hitchings (2008)
‘Communications is essential to our lives, but how often do we stop to think about where the words we use have come from?’ Hitchings (2008)
Whilst ‘where words came from’ is the premise for ‘The Secret Life of Words’ it is much more: it is a history of the people who spoke English. It is a refreshing take on a chronology of events. We learn history through words for warrior, through the Anglo-Saxon, French and Latin word for the same thing ... and through the words the English language has so easily accommodated from across the globe. It is a fascinating journey, one made pertinent to someone studying on the cascading wave-edge of the digital ocean that is ‘e-learning’ with the frequent coining of new terms.
For a description of the way the English language functions (or mis-functions) I love this:
English is ‘Deficient in regularity.’
From James Harris (c1720) in Hitchings (2008:1)
It is exactly the kind of thing a teacher might write in red pen at the bottom of a school-boy’s essay.
This is another way of putting it. English, ‘this hybrid tongue’, as Hitchings calls it. Hitchings (2008:2)
A tongue that re-invents itself, twists and transmogrifies at every turn.
A couple of decades ago I recall there being suggestions that the English language would splinter into so many dialects, creoles and forms that a speaker of one would not understand the user of another. The opposite appears to be the case, that ‘core English’ has been stabilised by its myriad of versions. Users can choose to understand each other or not, to tolerate even celebrate their differences or to use difference to create a barrier: think of the class divide, the posh voice versus the plebeian, one regional accent set against another, or an accent from one former British Dominion compared to another.
‘Words bind us together, and can drive us apart.’ Hitchings (2008:3)
How is the Internet changing the English Language?
What impact has Instant Messaging, blogging and asynchronous communication had? Can we be confident that others take from our words the meanings we intend? As we are so inclined to use sarcasm, irony, flippancy and wit when we speak, how does this transcribe when turned into words? How can you know a person’s meaning or intentions without seeing their face or interpreting their body language? Must we be bland to compensate for this?
I love mistakes, such as this one from Hitchings:
Crayfish ... ‘its fishy quality is the result of a creative mishearing.’ Hitchings (2008:4)
Age ten or eleven I started to keep a book of my ‘creative mishearings’ which included words such as ‘ragabond,’ instead of ‘vagabond.’ I love the idea of the ‘creative mishearing,’ isn’t this the same as ‘butterfly’, shouldn’t it be ‘flutterby’? And recalling a BBC Radio 4 Broadcast on Creativity with Grayson Perry, ‘creativity is mistakes.’
Mistakes and misunderstandings put barbs on the wire strings of words we hook from point to point, between arguments and chapters. We are fortunate that the English language is so flawed; it affords scratches and debate, conflict and the taking of sides.
An American travelled 19,000 miles back and forth across the US with a buddy correcting spellings, grammar and punctuation on billboards, notices and road signs. His engaging story split the reviewers into diametrically opposed camps of ‘love him’ or ‘hate him.’ (Courtesy of the Today Programme, the day before yesterday c20th August 2010)
‘Our language creates communities and solidarities, as well as division and disagreements.’ Hitchings (2008:4)
My test for the longevity and acceptability of a new word coined to cover a term in e-learning will be twofold:
Can, what is invariably a noun, be turned with ease into a verb or adjective?
Might we have an Anglo-Saxon, French and Latin word for the same thing. We like to have many words for the same thing ... variations on a theme.
And a final thought
Do technical words lend themselves to such reverse engineering? Or, like a number, are they immutable?
If they are made of stone I will find myself a mason's chisel.
'Communication is essential to our lives, but how often do we stop to think about where the words we use have come from?' Hutchings (2008)
The Secret Life of Words. How English Became English
Words matter to me very much
Their purpose is to communicate.
We are all prone to use jargon, and the first time we use it we feel we belong that tribe. Academic writers are prone to the greatestmisdemeanours - they not only invent their own words, but they like to show off their command of words you/we have rarely come across, or they misappropriate words from other disciplines and force anew definition upon them.
Books on words appeal to me.
If Open Learning is to appeal to the broadest church, then clear, simple, language is required.
If you spot any polysyllabic bibble-babble, please do share.
Or is that me committing this very crime?
One long word, and another long word that might be of my own invention. My apologies.
So why use one word with many syllables which few people understand, when a sentence of short words would do a far better job?
Obfuscation or communication?
Showing off or joining the throng, who are your students.
And have I just done it again?
What I mean to say is, 'it cannot help learning if a writer puts in a long word that they and their colleagues understand that the majority don't.
Clear English, is simple English; anything more can be unnecessarily confusing.
And extended working of a response to a thread on placing a list of concepts relating to e.learning on a grid.
Understanding how we are placing these concepts is a path of academic study in its own right.
The fascinating thing is to be at a moment in history (again perhaps) where language, or at least certain new words and new concepts are fluid.
Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norman French ... Creole
'Definitions' offered by Wikipedia and the like cannot be 'solid' or 'set within parameters.
How stable is any word?
We know how a generation can take a word to heart and alter, even flip its meaning: wicked, gay, cool, ugly ...
My view is that we are all right in where we place the concepts (on the grid, axes exiting//new & formal//informal) ... and we could each in turn shift things around. Indeed, as I revist this exercise over the following weeks I'm sure I'll do exactly that.
Wherein lies the purpose of the task - we come to our own understanding through engagement with the subject matter ... and those who have been 'here' for a few months are more may be ahead (or at least in a different place). similarly a word can be hijaked. Off the top of my head think of 'Beatles' & 'Oasis.' Thinking longer, how the word 'traffic,' has for example gone from the inane movement of people, goods & vehicles ... to the illegal, & criminal kidnap, expert, trading, rape & prostitution of young woman.
The caveat is that without considerable common ground on what the concepts mean, communication and then action become difficult. To use a hackneyed phrase, 'we all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet.'
Were this a live project with money, clients, schedule & problems to solve, coming to a working agreement would be crucial.
Here's another thought. How are we each saying these words? How we say them adds an important additional layer. Not just any accents, but our state of mind, whether we speak with confidence or we are hesitatnt ... and then during the course of a conversation how we alter how we use the term.
There is good reason for meeting face-to-face. How we say a word is just the start, of course. Our body language adds yet more. Saying 'Just-in-time learning' I might act out a factory worked sifting through widgets on a conveyor belt. Is this your idea of 'just-in-time' - intellectually it is managed somewhat differently and there are different degrees of 'Jit.' There are elements that form part of a predicted learning progression ... and other ;unique' grabs on nuggets of learning that are more literally 'just-in-time.'
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