Q3: Analyse how the writer uses language and structure to interest and engage the reader. (15)

In this text, an examination board is stating a task for candidates to complete. The question begins with an attempt to engage the reader directly with an imperative (“Analyse”), which leaves no doubt as to the action required.

Two pairs of components then offer further detail of the task to the reader. First, the reader is informed that they must discuss how the writer uses “language and structure”. The conjunction “and” in this noun phrase is perhaps intended as a signal to the reader that they must address both linguistic, and structural, features of the text in their response. There is an implicit point made here that failure to mention one or the other may be important, but why this might be is not made clear.

Furthermore, the terms used are themselves quite vague, which may also impact the engagement of the reader. It could be argued that the terms offer open-ended scope for reader interpretation, which is potentially engaging. However, students unfamiliar with the exam format may not be entirely sure what aspects of language or structure they are supposed to discuss, unless explicitly coached on what they will have to discuss in the exam.

Given the wide parameters suggested by the vague terms of “language” and “structure”, different readers may respond more generally, for example, commenting on the use of English and the question format, rather than specific technical details of the content.

Following this, the writer has provided another pairing, this time in a verb phrase (“to interest and engage”). This offers a range of actions to complete. The conjunction here could also be important, although the use of near-synonymous words may lead to some confusion, hence causing disengagement. It is possible that a reader may interpret this phrase to mean they should not address ideas that fail to be both interesting and engaging, and in not doing so lose further marks.

The question closes with a reference to “the reader”, which in this text clearly refers to an examination candidate. Although the word “engage” can mean “occupy”, which the simple of act of reading the question achieves, the idea of a “reader” being interested by the bland terminology is not particularly convincing.

In addition, there is an implication from the wording employed that the student is expected to know how to respond to a question phrased in such a generalised way in the exam. This suggests that such knowledge is presupposed by the exam board (“the writer”), with a logical inference from that perhaps being that teachers are expected to make this mechanical awareness the point of their lessons, rather than, say, making words and reading fun activities.

The number “15” appearing at the close of the text, isolated in parentheses for emphasis, may be a mocking final note reflecting the idea that the only truly important outcome of any interest to the reader is how many marks they need to get.

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(Standard English version below…)

aɪ seɪəʊld bɔɪˈʤɒli gʊd ʃəʊwɒt

ˈtraɪɪŋ tuː ˈkæpʧər ˈækjʊrɪtli ðə weɪ ˈpiːpl spiːk ɪz frɔːt wɪð ˈɛrə. təˈdeɪz pəʊst ɪz ɔːl əˈbaʊt aɪ-piː-eɪbaɪ wɪʧ aɪ miːn ə səˈluːt tuː ði ˌɪntə(ː)ˈnæʃənl fəʊˈnɛtɪk ˈælfəbɪt ˈrɑːðə ðæn ˈɪndɪə peɪl eɪlðə dɪˈlɪʃəsˈhɒpɪ vəˈraɪəti ɒvbɪəðɪs ʧɔɪs ɪz ˈprɒbəbli ɪnˈtaɪəli ˈgɪmɪkɪbʌt ɪn ˈrɑːðə ðə seɪm weɪ æz ðə dəʊnt dɪkˈteɪt pəʊst ɒn trænsˈkrɪpʃən tuːlz, wɒt ˈstɑːtɪd æz ə bɪt ɒv ə ʤəʊk fɔː maɪˈsɛlf tɜːnd ˈɪntuː ə ˈfæsɪneɪtɪŋ ˈprəʊsɛs æt liːst æz ˈɪntrɪstɪŋ æz ði ˈækʧʊəl ˈfɪnɪʃtˈdɒkjʊmənt.

aɪ-piː-eɪ ɪz juːzd tuː ˈɪndɪkeɪt pronounciation, ænd aɪ hæv lɛft ðæt dɪˈlɪbərət ˈɔːdɪˌəʊ gæg typo ɪn tuː ʃəʊ haʊ ðə ˈsɒftweə ˈbiːɪŋjuːzd (https://tophonetics.kɒm/) kəʊpt wɪð ˈlɪtl ˈvɜːbəl tɪks pʊt ɪn baɪ ə ˈwɪmzɪkəl ˈtaɪpɪst. “prəˌnaʊnsɪˈeɪʃən” ɪz wʌn ɒv maɪˈfeɪvərɪt nɒt-ə-wɜːd wɜːdz, əˈlɒŋ wɪð “ˌɪrɪˈgɑːdləs”, frɒm wɪʧ kʌmz ðæt dɑːft wɜːd ɪn ðə ˈtaɪtl ɒv ðɪs pəʊst.

æz juː kæn siː, tophonetics – tuː ɪts greɪt ˈkrɛdɪt – ʤʌst liːvz wɜːdz ðæt duː nɒt ɪgˈzɪst æz ðeɪ ɑː taɪpt. aɪ dɪˈlaɪtɪd ɪn ðə ˈnəʊʃən ɒv əˈsʌmwɒt ˈsnɪfi kəmˈpjuːtər rɪsˈpɒns. “deɪv, jʊə ʤʌst ˈbiːɪŋ ˈsɪli, naʊ, ɑːnt juː?” tuː gɛt ðə wɜːd aɪ ˈwɒntɪd, aɪ hæd tuː raɪtɪn “prəˌnʌnsɪˈeɪʃən” ænd ðɛn “naʊ” tuː gɛt ðə raɪt ˌkɒmbɪˈneɪʃən ɒv ˈvaʊəl saʊndz. ðə wɜːd “typo” wɒz ˈklɪəli ən ˈɪʃuː æzwɛl, səʊ aɪ juːzd “taɪp əʊ”. siː, ˈɔːlsəʊ, maɪ prəˌnʌnsɪˈeɪʃən ɒv “ˈtrɒlɪŋ” laɪk “ˈdɒl-ɪŋ”, nɒt “ˈbəʊlɪŋ”, ɪn ə ˈpærəgrɑːf ɔː səʊ.

əʊ! haʊ wiː larfed! (ænd naʊ aɪ æm ɪˈmæʤɪnɪŋ ə ˈslaɪtli ʌpˈtaɪtnɒt-ˈgɛtɪŋ-ɪt kəmˈpjuːtə təʊn ˈkriːpɪŋ ɪn: “ɑːjɛsðə juːz ɒv ə ˈkɒkni ˈfəʊniːm ˈɪndɪkeɪtsˈhjuːmə.” pɜːˌsɒnɪfɪˈkeɪʃənfɔː miːɪz pəˈhæps ðə ˈgreɪtɪst ɒv ɔːl ˈɪfiˈkeɪʃənz.)

haʊ dɪd ɪt kʌm tuː ðɪs? ə grəʊn ˈpɜːsn, ˈtrɒlɪŋ kəmˈpjuːtə ˈsɒftweə wɪð lɪŋˈgwɪstɪk ɪn-ʤəʊks. ˈjuːzɪŋ tɛkˈnɒləʤi tuː rɪf ænd teɪk ðə pɪs. ɪn ə breɪv njuː wɜːld ɒv eɪ-aɪ / məˈʃiːn ɪnˈtɛlɪʤəns, pəˈhæps ðæt ɪz ðə bɛst wiː kæn həʊp fɔːr .

ˈsɒrihællʊks laɪk juː gɒt ðæt rɒŋ əˈgɛn!” 

deɪvjʊər ə pjʊə ˈbæstədsəʊ juː ɑː.” 

naʊˈmeɪkɪŋ məˈʃiːn ɪnˈtɛlɪʤəns kəʊp wɪð rɪˈsiːvd prəˌnʌnsɪˈeɪʃən bæk-trænsˈleɪʃənz ɒv glæzˈwiːʤən ˈɪdɪəmz… 

wɒt kʊd ˈpɒsəbli gəʊ rɒŋ?

My Lachrymoid 3000 plug-in has been activated, Dave, I hope you are happy now.

maɪ ˈlækrɪmɔɪd 3000 plʌg-ɪn hæz biːn ˈæktɪveɪtɪd, deɪv, aɪ həʊp juː ɑː ˈhæpi naʊ.

 

I say, old boy! Jolly good show, what?

Trying to capture accurately the way people speak is fraught with error. Today’s post is all about IPA, by which I mean a salute to the International Phonetic Alphabet rather than India Pale Ale, the delicious, hoppy variety of beer. This choice is probably entirely gimmicky, but, in rather the same way as the Don’t Dictate post on transcription tools, what started as a bit of a joke for myself turned into a fascinating process at least as interesting as the actual finished document.

IPA is used to indicate pronounciation, and I have left that deliberate audio gag typo in to show how the software being used (https://tophonetics.com/) coped with little verbal tics put in by a whimsical typist. “Pronounciation” is one of my favourite not-a-word words, along with “irregardless”, from which comes that daft word in the title of this post.

As you can see, tophonetics – to its great credit – just leaves words that DO NOT EXIST as they are typed. I delighted in the notion of a somewhat sniffy computer response. “Dave, you’re just being silly, now, aren’t you?” To get the word I wanted, I had to write in “pronunciation” and then “now” to get the right combination of vowel sounds. The word “typo” was clearly an issue as well, so I used “type oh”. See, also, my pronunciation of “trolling” like “doll-ing”, not “bowling”, in a paragraph or so.

Oh! How we larfed! (And now I am imagining a slightly uptight, not-getting-it computer tone creeping in: “Ah, yes: The use of a Cockney phoneme indicates humour.” Personification, for me, is perhaps the greatest of all ifications.)

How did it come to this? A grown person, trolling computer software with linguistic in-jokes. Using technology to riff, and take the piss.

Perhaps that is the best we can hope for in a brave new world of AI/machine intelligence.

“Sorry, HAL! Looks like you got that wrong again!”

“Dave, you’re a pure bastard, so you are.”

Now, making machine intelligence cope with received pronunciation back-translations of Glaswegian idioms…

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

 

Will Self, writer of occasional interest, has had a go at George Orwell. In an article on the BBC, (a somewhat ouroborostic bit of content given Orwell’s role in much the same sort of position for the Beeb), Self describes Orwell as a “Supreme Mediocrity”.

It seems pointless to rebut Self’s preposterously contentious article in any depth, given that the argument is based on a Will-full misreading of ‘Politics and the English Language’. He suggests that ‘the George Orwells of this world’ are cultural conservatives, reactionaries who ‘would rather peer at meaning by the guttering candlelight of a Standard English frozen in time, than have it brightly illumined by the high-wattage of the living, changing language’.

Orwell and his supporters may say they’re objecting to jargon and pretension, but underlying this are good old-fashioned prejudices against difference itself. Only homogenous groups of people all speak and write identically. People from different heritages, ethnicities, classes and regions speak the same language differently, duh!

…’prejudices against difference itself’! This is the sort of rhetoric one might use to lambast people who object to “txt speak”, or any other modern innovations they suspect of being a bit foreign or liked by the youth, as debasements of our great and noble tongue. It’s a fair point in some ways. Languages are living and changing (although one could begin to dim Self’s de-lux metaphor by asking why language needs to be examined at night time anyway).

However, none of this is relevant to a discussion of Orwell’s essay, because Orwell isn’t talking about demotic Anglo-Saxae, the vernacular, street speak, and especially not about everybody speaking in the same way. He is discussing obfuscation in political discourse, and the obfuscating political discoursers who create it. It’s in the title, duh!

Orwell’s target is the generators of phrases (and situations calling for phrases) such as ‘friendly fire’. Self’s a provocateur. And he has succeeded in getting me geed me up enough to write something. Gah!

This was going to be another worked-up, serious-faced, lengthy post discussing language, words, and the wording worders who mangle them.

Languages change. Given this, one has to adapt, keep up, or risk not making sense. This is an individual thing, though, and attempts to impose orthodoxies on others should be resisted. Words can be keys or cages. It is advisable to use them carefully.

darwin_responsive_shh

One could aim at least to see when familiar or habitual ways of saying things might cause confusion or upset – are not developing anything.

Contexts change too, and the importance of being aware of this was exemplified in the recent revelations of English soccer administrator Richard Scudamore’s infelicitous emails as seen in the Mirror, also reported on BBC, in the Telegraph, etc.

The Mirror’s headline:

England football supremo Richard Scudamore made sexist slurs in a string of emails to soccer pals

To recap, briefly: British man in his 50s, father of five, former Head Boy of his school, former law student, and footballer, turns out to be a Bantersaurus Rex. Imagine our surprise!

With a strange next step in the process of “whistle-blowing”, former temporary PA Rani Abraham had passed the sorry dossier of shame to the Daily/Sunday Mirror.

The Mirror website updates its links frequently, but when I first saw the “sexist slurs” article, it was juxtaposed with this in the sidebar:

Sexy selfies of the week! Bikinis, bums and boobs – we’ve got it all right here

"Uh... jiggle?"

At that point I stopped getting worked up and started giggling.

tl;dr:
Languages change. Contexts are important. Keepy-uppy.

‘Nīðing’ used to be about the worst thing you could call a Viking. Languages change, but there always seem to be insults.

While reading about Jeremy Clarkson not thinking before he opens his mouth this week, I have had lots of thoughts about language, words, and the wording worders that use them.

Clarkson is a British broadcast and print journalist. He hosts BBC show Top Gear, a magazine prog about cars, and also writes a middle-aged blokish column of comment and rants in The Sun newspaper. He is someone whose recycled ideas, lumpen delivery and signposted humour have never appealed to me, but I can see why he might to certain tastes.

Anyway, he seems to be making a habit of putting a big racist foot in it recently. Apparently using, but not meaning to, because it is not in his ‘lexicon’, ‘the N-word’. Also in trouble for actually saying, as an aside, while an Asian was in shot, ‘slope’: Clarkson and his producer somewhat disingenuously claiming no awareness of this as a derogative term for Asians, the lying C-words.

I mean, though, really, rather than get offended or defensive, when Clarkson starts speaking I just think ‘Oh, F-wit speaking’ and tune out. Yet I believe him and co-presenter James May in their disavowal of racism. Having read the Clarkson canon, and having seen his shows, his loose lips, currently sinking the ship of his career, seem to be passing what might be most kindly termed ignorant anachronistic jokes: schoolboy puns and wordplay based on “equal opportunities bigotry – I don’t care who I offend!”. Offhand comments, often at the expense of ethnic minorities, LGBTQWERTY people (and that was a Clarkson-esque joke), etc. Not done with overt malice, but as a kind of teen/toddlerish boundary testing, quick to weigh in with apologies and qualifiers as soon as anyone says ‘Hang on, what did you say?’

It is ignorant, in the sense of JC probably not having experienced bigotry himself much, simply not knowing, standing up for ‘common sense’ and against ‘political correctness’, perhaps with a dash of ‘libertarian’ thought that ‘free speech’ is simply saying whatever you like whenever you like with no consideration of context or consequence.

Anachronistic, because I see in Clarkson’s persona the influence of 20th century writers and artists, who regularly threw in ‘offensive’ words to question the value, meanings and definitions of words, to shock but to ‘reclaim’ them. To be clear, though, while this influence may be there, Jeremy Clarkson’s sweaty posho Tory petrolhead demeanour is not that of Lenny Bruce, or Richard Pryor, or Robert Anton Wilson, for three male examples, and it’s not the 1970s. While we may still today need our minds unshackling, Clarkson is at best fumbling for the keys while attempting the same things as these people. What he says and does comes across as ill-considered and foolish.

This is me being kind, by the way. I don’t really think he’s attempting to emancipate us from mental slavery in his daring choices of language. I think he’s a bit of a spoon. But let’s lay off Jezza. I’m sure he has some very good gay, black friends. And it’s not just him.

Indiscriminately lobbing word bombs around is ill-considered anyway. If common sense suggests that some people are or could be upset when you say something, then you should seriously think about what will happen if you do say it, even as a joke. Really think about it. Bear in mind the impact what you say might have on someone, someone that hears you, or someone that hears about you saying it. If you believe using a word is harmless, or that because you have worked out your post-everything linguistic certainties it’s all OK, consider what your hearer will think you think.

Is that what you want them to think? Then speak on, sweet lips.

“It’s their problem if they get upset.”

It is their problem that they are upset, as it is yours that you have upset them. Conversation is not a one-way street.

Perhaps you are of the school that they’re only words, arbitrarily-defined strings of characters, and that we need to get over them. Just to be clear, I agree with this as a theoretical position. You may hold that one can say what one likes, and then sow your discourse with semantic landmines… You are probably only good company for a limited time before your aggressive testing of everyone else’s social norms begins to grate.

As I suggested, I don’t think Clarkson fits into any of these boxes. I do think he’s a bit of a fannyballs. I mean, what the F-word is he doing? ‘The N-word’, as it is still being termed, and it is probably safe to say in the face of coy media reporting and cultural assumptions that the word is not “nīðing”, ‘the N-word’ has a complicated heritage. As Russell Simmons wrote, it is:

…probably one of the most controversial words in the history of the English language.

It has multiple connotations, and it is almost certainly best avoided, in whatever company you are keeping, unless you are all happy with it. You certainly do not start doing playground verse with it, on camera, thinking perchance that nought ill may come of such a scenario (sorry, turning into Russell Brand there, forsooth).

‘It was a discussion on semantic intolerance!’
‘I was being ironic!’
‘Yeah, but black people use it all the time!’
‘Oh, but I was spelling it with the variant “a” at the end!’

[Sound of palm and face intersecting]

You can’t use violent mentalities anymore.
– “I can’t wait”, Ol’ Dirty B-word

Lenny Bruce on the issue (difficult, given both content and delivery):

I would tend to side with Bruce as well, given that he seems to be talking about an enforced semantic shift based on overuse not suppression. Maybe we like having these taboo terms, though, that we love to hate. We can dance around them, feel naughty about using them. This is what gives the words power, as Lenny Bruce suggests.

Contrast this, though, with the memory hole prescriptive approach advocated by Harriet Harman (who, note to non-UK readers, is often referred to in the (political right-leaning) press as “Harriet Harperson”, mocking her supposed relentless and apparently humourless political correctitude).

What, whatever context, ever? Whatever ever? Whatever ever?

Bit absolutist, perhaps. Yet racial stereotyping and thoughtlessness and what we say to each other ARE problems. It’s not any particular words, though, I think, that are the issue. There will always be some new word that takes over, when people try to shock, or get a laugh, or jab a finger in somewhere painful.

The older I get, the more I consider it, the less true the old proverb ‘sticks and stones’ is in practice. Broken bones heal, but word harm can fester in the brain. Words have physical power. Spells are called spells for a reason, as the carvers of runes understood it. To not see that that power is sustained in modern language… well, you’d have to be a really silly Clarkson.

One of those pinball conversations in the lunch room today. It concerned a particular subset of texting etiquette, the inclusion of typographical kisses.

Someone had received a text from a builder, regarding a job of work. It concluded “[name of builder] X” We all agreed that this was perhaps de trop, an over-familiarity in a business relationship.
(Having said that, I think it appropriate to add that the world needs more affection in it, and if the casual use of letters as a kind of punctuation substitute is the start of a slippery slope to lovin’ all god’s creatures, it’s the sort of behaviour to be encouraged.)

But with regard to yer everyday texting, basically, context is everything, of course, as usual. So, no kisses from tradesfolk setting up an appointment for an actual job of work. With friends, lovers, even, there is perhaps no need to end every text with an ‘x’ as it devalues the exchange.
“You wouldn’t end every sentence with a kiss if you were just conversing.”
“Ah, well, that depends on where and to whom you’re talking.”

An interesting point. A simple “x” or “x-space-x” was seen as acceptable as a conclusion for text chats with partners or those you love. More than five is perhaps a bit keen. The discussion ranged further afield, with considerations of the use of upper case included. The same colleague with the workman issue offered by contrast the example of their partner, who was anti ‘kiss’ in all circumstances. This set the banter in the predominantly female space of the lunch room veering into quite raucous territory.

“What about XXXX? You could be taken to be really saying something appalling. Is that just me?”
“XXX has different connotations. Even worse – or better!” 
“XXXX just makes me think of beer. My partner’s an alcoholic. I send him an XB… That was a joke… I don’t text him…”

And so on for happy minutes until it was time once more for work.
x x

What the student might have meant to write:

“Both Shakespeare and Orwell use the emotion of love to interesting effect.”

What the student wrote:

“It is also interesting to see how Shakespeare and Orwell make love.”

[If you have any similar examples – typos, Spoonerisms, unintentional smut – perhaps you’d like to share them with everyone.]