Further musings on the English language sparked off by listening to Bill Bryson’s Journeys in English last week. This time I want to talk about written vs spoken English in terms of standard use.
Towards the end of the programme they were discussing possible future directions for English. The rise of literacy was mentioned as having changed things somewhat – rather than passing things on verbally, people can read information. Written English has a standard form, a ‘correct’ form that we’re taught and tested on at school, and it’s relatively slow to change. It helps to homogenise the language and stamp out regional forms. The more people read standard English the more it influences the way they formulate their own sentences. The rise of the internet, at first glance, seemed to make that even more likely as international English-speakers read American newspaper websites or the BBC.
However, the more I thought about internet trends (because I know about them, and what the youth are up to. Oh yes) the more I thought about non-standard communication. I might generally write this blog in standard English as I do my usual translation from Yorkshire to proper English in my head, but I’m a lot less formal on sentence structure than I could be and plenty of people write blogs in their own dialects. Then there’s the recorded voice. In the same way that TV, films and radio have an influence on people’s accents and vocabulary, popular podcasts and vlogs will no doubt influence others, but primarily they allow the presenter’s accent to remain in place, maybe introducing their listeners to a new word or phrase here and there.
It remains to be seen how English changes and adapts over the next fifty or a hundred years but if nothing else we’ll have plenty of recordings of how people sounded in the early twenty-first century. I might even add to that myself and record a few more stories to add to the ones you can already listen to.
Last night we were on the radio again. Twice. The chaps at Chapel FM in Seacroft not only let Ilkley Writers (me, Andrea and Roz again, same as last year) do a programme called The Borrowers, but we all took part in the open mic later in the evening as well (I’m about 8min40 in, if you’re in a hurry).
Luckily someone took a photo so you can appreciate the inspiring (and subtly-lit) surroundings of the radio theatre, though you can’t see the fabulous stained glass from there.
Taking the ‘Writing on Air’ festival title literally, we did a writing challenge live on air in our programme, which was great fun and was supposed to illustrate that using random words (picked from a book if you like, you don’t have to have a well-known local poet read them out to you) can be an enjoyable and accessible way to get you a starting point for a story or poem. Other than that we talked a lot about libraries, which regulars here will know that I’m rather keen on.
The 4-day festival was packed with content which you can listen back to at the radio station website, and we had a great time and met some lovely people like Malika Booker and SJ Bradley. Thanks to Peter Spafford for shepherding us all and remaining affable throughout.
The wind and rain of the last few days have been best enjoyed from a snug reading corner. It seems somehow appropriate that I’m reading a book about climate change and major sea-level rise, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ll be reviewing it for the Bookbag once I’m done (it is long! Brilliant so far, but long) but in the meantime I recommend this interview with the author in Scientific American.
This week has also been a time of radio preparation, fine-tuning the timings and rehearsing the readings and all that. I’m on Chapel FM at 6.15pm (BST) on Saturday 1st April, with Andrea and Roz from Ilkley Writers. There is so much good stuff going on for the whole weekend though, and if you miss it live it’ll be up for listen again. I’ll just leave this here: Writing on Air schedule pdf
This was the week of International Women’s Day so unsurprisingly most of my writing activity has been focused around that. Bradford Libraries had asked for poems on the theme of being bold, and though I don’t often write poetry these days I was inspired (not least by the idea of having a poem on display in Bradford library) and you can read the resulting poem on Bradford Libraries Facebook page.
I had an invite to Edinburgh for International Women’s Day, to celebrate a year of the Dangerous Women Project, which if you recall I had an essay in last August. Sadly I couldn’t go, but that’s because I was in a pub in York with my storytelling-partner Alice Courvoisier and friends, regaling a packed room with tales true and mythical about women through the ages. You can read about what a fabulous time we all had, in a post I put up a few days ago. In the meantime, amuse yourself with this photo from the event:
As if all that wasn’t enough, it’s the final pre-festival meeting at Chapel FM tonight, for last-minute preparations for the Writing on Air Festival which Andrea, Roz and I will be doing in a couple of weeks. Among the music I’ve chosen this year is The Electric Prunes – I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night). You can read the schedule for what looks like a well-stocked festival here: Writing on Air schedule pdf
This was the week leading up to the first Newsjack deadline of the season, and by season I mean time of year not series. Newsjack is a BBC radio comedy sketch show with a completely open submission policy, meaning absolutely anyone can send in a sketch or one-liner as long as it relates to the week’s news somehow. Traditionally I dip a toe in the comedy water by sending one-liners to the first couple of episodes, before I work myself up to a sketch later on. None of them have been successful so far but I entertain myself (and occasionally OneMonkey) while I’m writing them, so it’s not all wasted effort. This week has been tricky as reality has largely moved beyond satire, which hasn’t left much to write about. I’m persevering, however.
I did try to ignore the whole Presidential circus but I didn’t quite manage, thanks to Twitter and Radio 4. I unfollowed a few people on Twitter because I couldn’t stand any more hourly updates on Trump. I’m British, I don’t tend to follow American politics, in the same way I don’t follow French or German politics. I keep half an eye out to get fair warning of anything that might have global ramifications, but honestly I’ve never even bothered to watch all the rigmarole of a new PM arriving at Downing Street, I’m certainly not going to watch a foreign leader getting sworn in.
In my attempt to avoid too many news bulletins this week I may also have missed the point of the women’s march. I was genuinely moved and amazed to see so many people take to the streets, but I’m not entirely clear on what they were there for, or rather they didn’t all seem to be there for the same thing. From the people I follow on Twitter and a few things I caught in the Guardian and on the BBC I picked up the following reasons:
- because no genuine feminist would stay away;
- to point out they didn’t vote for Trump;
- to reclaim public space as safe for women;
- to protest gun crime;
- to protest racism;
- to promote gay rights;
- to state that their son has been brought up in a civilised way;
- to point out they are a man who’s been brought up in a civilised way;
- because all their friends are;
- because it’s Saturday (OK that one might be a King Missile reference to lighten the mood).
Maybe I missed the ones protesting at the women who’ve been killed in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria etc at least in part due to the (apparently sainted and beyond criticism now) Obama administration, and the ones protesting at Britain and America’s close alliance with that staunch defender of women’s rights, Saudi Arabia. Maybe I was too busy noticing all the loud, comfortable, Western women in pink hats who were shouting a host of different messages. But hey, if we could get that many people behind an actual campaign, say to alter a policy or stop a war, I think they could change the world.
This has been a week of friends, family, and hedonism (2 pints of real ale, 4 chocolates and a glass of mulled cider. Not all on the same day, obviously). A week of train travel (no excuse needed to spend hours reading), abandoning routine, and Christmas Day.
A selection of my Christmas goodies
I rediscovered my ability to write with music on, this year, so the albums I got for Christmas don’t have to compete with writing time. I’m afraid I didn’t do any writing on Christmas Day, nor did I watch the Doctor Who special for later discussion with Big Brother. We were together, in a house with no TV, at the time it was on so he hasn’t seen it either. As usual, books both new and second-hand were passed around the family as presents, and I’m waiting to borrow the copy of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography BB received.
I hope you, dear reader, had a safe and enjoyable Christmas with your preferred level of hedonism and book-gifts. If you haven’t already, may I suggest you listen to Radio 4’s wonderful adaptation of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series, the festive instalment is on the iplayer now, with Bill Nighy as Charles in The Cinderella Killer. I wish I could write like that…
I had to restrain myself in the library this week, which took a lot of doing. In fact I went directly to the shelf I was hoping to find book two of a series on, picked it up and took it to the counter. I know from painful experience that when my back is almost feeling better, carrying a thick hardback book for a couple of miles is a bad idea (you would think I could have worked that out without needing empirical evidence), so thankfully the second book in William Horwood’s Hyddenworld series is much thinner than the first, and was a paperback. Proper epic fantasy with prophecies, immortals, Anglo-Saxon artefacts, and some great characters. And available in the library.
For some reason, whenever I spot a fantasy novel that looks interesting, it turns out on further investigation to be part two (or sometimes part seven) of a series. Volume One is not a concept my local library seems to handle well. However, such is the charm of libraries – the random availability, the not knowing whether the book you want will be there or not (yes I have come across the concept of catalogues, and inter-library loans, but they take half the fun out of it). Like a lucky dip for reading material.
It seems entirely fitting, then, that Ilkley Writers (for whom last week I wrote a summary of our 2016) are proposing a radio programme about randomness and libraries, for the Chapel FM Writing on Air Festival in a few months. We might be pre-recording part of it in an actual library, which is quite exciting. My week has been spent getting into the serious discussion and planning stages with Andrea and Roz (it’s the same trio that did the programme last year), and thinking about unusual libraries. It’s a hard life…