Thursday, 30 June 2011

The History of the English Language in Ten Animated Minutes


The History of the English Language in Ten Animated Minutes

(Sent from Flipboard) <- also awesome. 

The Stories of English

Just testing an Amazon link, really; but this is excellent background reading for the A2 year, covering the history of a variety of Englishes - all you need for Section A of the A2 exam. :)

The Stories of English
David Crystal
£12.99 £7.55

Semicolon Appreciation Society

This really exists. You can buy a T-shirt. 

Or rather: This really exists; you can buy a T-shirt. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


By popular demand: a Facebook Page to go with this blog. Share and enjoy.

Vintage Ad Sexism

I'm almost loath to post this, but it's such a goldmine of loaded language, I can't resist. It's certainly funny - but at least in equal parts scary, that this seemed okay not so long ago. Things are subtler today, but keep your eye out for assumptions in advertising language now. 

Monday, 27 June 2011

Park Magazine Blog

Added a link to the Park Magazine Blog in the Language Links, for ease of reference. Here you'll find articles by students from the Activities days and the Moving On Programme.

Also, as requested, here's a direct link to the example Task 1 Article on iLearn.

How to Craft a Blog Post – 10 Crucial Points

Good set of tips, with links for further detail.

How Search Engines Impact Life as a College Student


Doonesbury on How Search Engines Impact Life as a College Student

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Terminology - Website and App

Terminology, for iOS devices, looks cool for all your subjects, including English Language. Alongside a definition, it gives hypernyms, hyponyms, synonyms, antonyms and more. Handy.

There's a companion website which appears to do the same thing online, and it looks like the aim is to make all this well-integrated and easy to use as possible. Try it here.

Friday, 24 June 2011

i love english language

A number of diligent student researchers in the MOP have come across this blog during their googletreks. I can't quite track down who the author is, but the earliest entries suggest that it's the blog of an A Level Language student, taking an older version of the exam - and it seems to have blossomed into an ongoing language blog.
Perhaps the author is at university studying language now. Perhaps that love of English Language just never dies... Either way, they've collected quite a source of relevant material, which is well worth a trawl through.

It's going in the language links section in the sidebar.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Force Will Be With You

BEST OF LUCK to my A2s taking their big exam tomorrow!

Expect the unexpected; go for range; remember that the absence of a feature is a feature.

Flummadiddle, skimble-skamble, and other arkymalarky

Great opening line. 

Flummadiddle, skimble-skamble, and other arkymalarky

A do or a don’t

Would you 'do' a sandwich?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Language acquisition

Andrew Moore's useful overview of Language acquisition.

If you haven't come across AM's Universal Teacher site via Blackboard, do give it an explore. The exams info is out of date now - the author passed away - but it's still a great resource for theory, explanation and examples/exercises across the range of English subjects.  For AS students doing MOP as well as revising A2s.

Endowed by their Creator with certain WHAT?

I'm not the only one who gets carried away with Google Ngrams charts to solve a conundrum. 

This article looks at the transition between the word 'unalienable' and 'inalienable' in the US Declaration of Independence. Is it lexical change, or just modernisation of spelling?

Endowed by their Creator with certain WHAT?

Monday, 20 June 2011

California English and the "Gay Accent"

Looking for a research project idea for A2? This article ends with a challenge...

Unmapped Words: Portmanteaus

Or 'blendings' to you and me. Nice collection of 'em. 

Unmapped Words: Portmanteaus | Wordnik ~ all the words

Sane English

The subtitle of this lengthy but packed article was: "Can a native speaker of English make mistakes?"  A provocative question, which leads the article to explore prescriptivism, descriptivism, and a history of language change, as well as some resources for 'correct English'.  For A2s, and budding A2s alike.  

Sane English

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Here’s why you really need to master the parts of speech

Great article. An interesting companion piece to the earlier one about Shakespeare's conversion of parts of speech, too. 

Business writers, here's why you really need to master the parts of speech

See also a companion piece from the same site on the readability of the same extract discussed here.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

Being Wikipedia, this doesn't all make perfectly lucid sense, but the sentence is one of those pleasing/annoying puzzlers that get you thinking hard about language. 

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

He Words Me

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Ten Principles of Effective Writing - F.L. Lucas on Style

Found this recommended in a much, much longer article about a different book on style. Be thankful for my mercy.

Friday, 17 June 2011


Even Doctors dig their slang. A selection of creative coinages from the British Medical Journal:

There's actually a whole world of language to be explored in hospitals - field-specific lexis, word roots and morphology, pragmatics (politeness, euphemism), 'bedside manner' - any one a potential research project. ;)

Article: Father's Day words

A bit early, but consider it a reminder. 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Epicene Pronouns

The who? The huh? Epicene means 'gender-neutral' - so it describes the pronoun you want, which English doesn't have, when you want to refer to a person of either gender instead of saying 'he or she' in full, or calling a person 'it'.

Here's a list compiled by Dennis Baron of all the proposals that have been made over the last hundred years or so for a pronoun to serve this purpose. You'll notice none of them have caught on. (My favourite is h'orsh'it.)

Between you and me, the answer to this conundrum is undoubtedly to say 'they', which everyone does anyway. If anyone tells you this is hard to understand or leads to terrible ambiguity, point out that no-one has had trouble with the plural/singular 'you' since 'thou' died out.

Explore The Lexical Web

We demoed something like this in class way back when - but this is a nice slick version. Bung a word in the search box and watch as related words emerge and dance around it, organising themselves in a 2D diagram. You can even get a dictionary definition of each. 

An online thesaurus and dictionary of over 145,000 words that you explore using an interactive map.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Selling Like Hot Compounds

This is the kind of geek discussion we have in our house.

I complained about the fact that people have started to write 'selling like hotcakes'.  What's a 'hotcake'?  When I were a lad, we always said hot cakes, two separate words.  This was met by an indignant insistence that 'hotcakes' is how everyone says it, and that's always been true.  'Tisn't!  'Tis!  Right: off to Google Ngram Viewer, and we'll settle this once and for all, with Linguistic SCIENCE.  Stand back.

(Ngram Viewer searches the archive of Google Books for a word or phrase, or several, and charts their frequency over the years.)

First search: "like hot cakes" [in blue] vs "like hotcakes" [in red], default search, 1800-2000:

She was right!  It's 'hotcakes' these days! Language change has beaten you.  Ah, but only recently, I protested. Let's take a closer look, from 1900 before which the 'hotcakes' variant doesn't exist, and we'll extend it to 2011 (actually the most recent data is from 2008):

Wait!  Lookie there!  'Hot cakes' has made a final resurgence in the last few years!  In protest against those misguided fools compounding the word!  Now who would do a thing like that?  I blame the Yanks.  In Ngrams, you can search American English only, and here are the results:

Well, that's clear.  The compounded version is winning in the States, and has been for about a Young Person's lifetime.  But:  If you're British, this is the picture:

A clear, and consistent, win for warm confectionery deployed in simile separately, in these Isles.

So if you're selling something 'like hotcakes', you're not being stupid, just American.  And if you sell it like 'hot cakes', you're not being a fogey, just British.  Who wins?  SCIENCE.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Today's Editorial Meeting

Plotting stories for 'Fuse' magazine with copies of fresh-off-the-presses SQ for inspiration.

Free British Library App

For iUsers. The British Library do another app too, with more treasures from the history of language. 

Free British Library App Brings Beautiful, Old Books to the iPad

When did Americans Stop "Talking British?"

With a focus on accent, John Wells explores the evolution of American English. 

When did Americans Stop "Talking British?"
Via @accentdialectuk

Monday, 13 June 2011

Article: Why is 'chav' still controversial?

Why is 'chav' still controversial?

(Sent from Flipboard)

At The Coal Face of Journalism

Students brainstorming story pitches at the editorial meeting for activities week 'magazine-in-a-day', today.

Featured: Corey SQ brandishing a copy of the mag.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

How to use cartoons to practice English pronunciation - JimStroud

A bit oblique, but an interesting use of animation skills to reflect on the pronunciation of words, which illustrates some of the relationships between different vowel sounds. It's a little naïve linguistically: it's only illustrating five vowel sounds for example, when we know there are many more than that; and the example words don't accurately represent the mapping of sounds to mouth images... see if you can explain how, using your phonetic skillz.

How to use cartoons to practice English pronunciation - JimStroud

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Stephen King's 6 Tools for Writers

Neat summary of tips from King's 'On Writing'. The title should read His (or Her) Toolbox, of course...

Stephen King and 6 Tools Every Writer Should Have in His ToolBox

Friday, 10 June 2011


William, my nephew whose language development A2s have been privileged to hear, is now in his first year at school. Here he's signed his name on his auntie's birthday card. He started it a bit too far right, so he's carried on... above the first four letters. CLA writing development analysis -- go!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Check out Introduction to English Linguistics II

If you do the Apple thing, check out this collection on iTunes, from the marvellously German Prof. Bergs.  Don't worry if they're all speaking Deutsch at the start of some of these, Bergson switches to English and he's pretty lucid. See also the link to ELLO in the sidebar.
Cover Art

Introduction to English Linguistics II

ELLO: Language Birth

ELLO, ello. (I like this site.) Here's a nicely packaged portal into pidgin and creole languages - you can just read the summary pages, or go into the details and examples. Em i gutpela, savi?

How to Run an Editorial Meeting

Ahead of Monday and Tuesday's magazine-in-a-day activities, take a glance at how editorial meetings work. We'll be starting our day with one of these. The context here is public radio in the US - but the same principles apply.

Updated 2014 with a new link. Original link:

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

11 Secret Meanings Behind Punctuation in Text Messages

Remember kids: Punctuation is not Grammar. But it can be telling bit of graphology, as in the following - not entirely serious - article. 

11 Secret Meanings Behind Punctuation in Text Messages | Underwire |

Humans wired for grammar at birth

A green alien called Glermi teaches kids the artificial language 'Verblog', thereby supporting Chomsky's innateness hypothesis. In a world where you also do Wug tests, this is not weird.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

England's regional accents: Geordie's still alreet | The Economist

Accent regions of England... And predicted changes by 2030. Language variation and change -- two for the price of one. You can't say fairer than that, A2s.

Full article at, with added Sheryl Kerl references.

Hamlet and the region of death

There won't be much literature on this blog, but every now and then some will come along. This article is about 'quantitative literary studies' - for example, analysing Hamlet by looking at who has adjacency pairs with who, and seeing what networks of conversational interaction occur. It leads to some interesting conclusions about the play's structure and characters....

Hamlet and the region of death

The Value of Wikipedia

Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)

 on Twitter
"Wikipedia is a great place to start researching and the worst place to stop - Dan Gillmor #PDF11"

True, true, true. 

Monday, 6 June 2011

Words we don't say (

Not just cliché-avoiding sage advice for journalists, but a lesson in register and mode too - 'words we don't say' being both a warning not to use the lexis, but also pointing out that these are written forms not usually uttered by non-journalists. 

Words we don't say

Library Amnesty Week

Your chance to get off scot-free*, book-hoarders!

Library Amnesty Week

For this week only, we will be holding an amnesty week in the Learning Centres.

We will not charge fines on any items returned before 5pm on Friday 10th of June. No questions asked!

*See Or is it

Good Luck - We're all counting on you.

BEST OF LUCK to my AS students taking their exam today!
Watch your timings, keep a checklist, don't leave anything blank. :)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Halliday and functions

The more I read of Halliday, the more I realise how central he is to those who set the A Level exams.

This page is quite 'difficult', but it uses a lot of ideas we've met in the first year. You can skim most of it, and don't worry - it's university-level stuff. But do stop at this diagram:

It organises speech functions in a useful way: you're either Giving something, or Demanding it when you speak; and it's either Information (statement, question) or Goods/Services (offer, command). And either you're the one Initiating these functions, or you're Responding.

Using these categories to classify a conversation can help reveal the Field, the Function and the Tenor of the discussion, reveal who's in power, and more.

Scientist Captures 90,000 Hours of His Son's First Words

I mentioned this research to my A2s: impressive stuff at the cliff face of research into child language acquisition (and caregiver speech). 

MIT Scientist Captures 90,000 Hours of Video of His Son's First Words, Graphs It

Exam doctor's top tips

Eep! Big day tomorrow for AS students. Triumph with exams science!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Language of Love: Word Usage Predicts Attraction

Grammar words, too, not just words like 'coffee', 'fit' and 'phwoar'. Told you it was worth knowing your grammar words. 

As the article points out at the end: Is this convergence, or subconscious awareness of someone who 'speaks your language'?

The Language of Love: Word Usage Predicts Romantic Attraction

Words of 1911

This looks like a good one to follow. Dave Wilton has started a series of blog posts listing words coined in each year, starting at 1911. The lists are always surprising - sometimes how old a word is (eg, photocopier), and often how young it is (eg, brassiere). 
PS Cheers for the Facebook shares! ;)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Centuries of Advice & Advertisements

Historically funny.

Centuries of Advice & Advertisements

Facts About Phrasal Verbs (

We only did phrasal verbs very briefly in the AS year, alongside idioms, but they're worth knowing about and recognising. 

This link gives a few examples and some interesting titbits about their usage. It's aimed at learners of English as a second language - for whom phrasal verbs are notoriously tricky. (How does 'pick up' get to mean 'learn', 'receive on a radio set', 'improve' and 'meet for a sexytime at a nightclub'?) 

Facts About Phrasal Verbs

Actually, "STFU" is an Initialism, Not an Acronym.

Lulz. For when you're sick of all the nitpicky details. 

McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Actually, "STFU" is an Initialism, Not an Acronym.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Naipaul test: Can you tell an author's sex? | Books |

Lots of posts today. Try the The Naipaul test: Can you tell an author's sex? By what criteria will you do so? How do you separate the gender of a character from the gender of the writer creating it?

A Diagram for Graceful Prose

I might try this kind of diagramming next time we do syntax. It looks like fun*.

*Special English teacher's definition of 'fun'. 

A Diagram for Graceful Prose

The Metaphorical Terrorist

Semantics isn't just for literature. 

Shakespeare: the metaphorical terrorist

Coaching the active voice

Budding journalists need to know what the passive is -- and avoid it. 

Strictly, the last two examples given here aren't passive voice; though they are avoiding the direct, active, simple sentences recommended by the editors. 

Coaching the active voice

Bee Season brings out spelling reformers

Spelling reformers in the 21st century facing the same problems spelling reformers always have done. A2s will recognise the arguments. 

This article fails to mention Webster, who represents an important exception to its claim that spelling reformers are always ineffectual. Is Webster so fundamental for American observers that he's beneath notice?  Or has the article writer dun goof'd?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

This may interest you: British 'Euphemisms'

Pop quiz: according to politeness theory, what are 'The British' doing here?

This may interest you*

18 Seriously Cool Bookshelves

This isn't strictly to do with language, but you'll need somewhere to store all your fervent reading matter, right?