The Queen’s speeches conservative agenda?

I read a BBC news article this morning about Labour’s criticisms that the Queen’s speech this week contained support for the Conservatives party. It contained the phrases ‘long-term plan’ and ‘long-term economic plan’, which are Conservative Party slogans.

The opening line of the speech was, “My government’s legislative programme will continue to deliver on its long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.”

Is ‘long-term plan’ so tied to a conservative message it can’t be used neutrally? What other synonyms could have been used if they wanted to keep the same opening statement?


English as a second language in schools

I think that the news that English will be taught as a foreign language in a secondary school in Leeds is fantastic. I really hope that it will be implemented in other schools in the UK. I volunteered for a year in lower set English classes in a secondary school and one of my biggest frustrations was that the pupils – who mainly didn’t have English as a first language – were being taught English the same as pupils with English as a first language. This meant that although they were aged 11 and 12 they were being made to read books aimed at children much younger than them. They had to complete work-sheets which assumed a child had grown up hearing English.

Of course they felt frustrated and didn’t enjoy the classes when they had to read books aimed at children so much younger than them.

I studied a module about teaching English as a foreign language at university and some of the principles there would have suited the pupils I was working with a lot better. Schools need to be aware that a large proportion of students might not have English as a first language and allow them to have the opportunities to learn, so they can integrate better with their peers and understand classes. Giving them books for young children won’t increase their confidence or enjoyment of lessons.


“Kiss me” code

This code reads ‘kiss me’ and is an example of the playful nature of rune codes…and apt for Valentines day!

“Kiss me” written in digit runes (Photo: Jonas Nordby)[/caption]

This is written in a variant of digit runes, where number combinations represent a rune. This particular code has been able to be translated for a while, however there has been a recent discovery of how to understand a previously un-solved code.

The jötunvillur code can now by read because of the work of Jonas Nordby.

In the jötunvillur code the last sound of the rune’s name replaces the rune in the code. Nordby suggests it was used to help remember the runes’ names and the code has sometimes been found in an educational context, supporting this theory. It was unlikely to be used for messages as it isn’t easy to immediately decipher. The first thing I remember being taught about runes and rune codes at university was that they aren’t mystical or magical, but used in everyday contexts. I think the kiss me translation is a nice example of this (especially today on Valentine’s day!).

As a child my cousin and I made a type of code (to use the word loosely) with each letter of the alphabet replaced with a symbol. I don’t think we used it much as we had to remember what the symbols stood for and I think our childish spelling probably didn’t help in being able to translate it! But this shows the fun people have in creating codes.


Non-verbal communication was important in language development

Non-verbal communication is important to human communication. Think about how different it can be talking to someone on the telephone from speaking face-to-face. Communication is two-way, so we adapt our communication (verbal and non-verbal) depending on the other person’s response. If someone isn’t engaging with you, such as smiling at your jokes, then you might tone down the humour, if you want to encourage someone to keep talking you might smile or nod your head.

A recent study looked at the reactions of two chimpanzees (who have been trained in language) to communicate with a human to find hidden food. The chimpanzees increased their use of non-verbal communication, such as pointing, when the human approaches the food, thus meaning the food is found quicker. This study suggests that the use of non-verbal cues in response to an action is likely to have been important in the development of human language.


Neanderthals could talk

Findings from a new study suggest neanderthals were capable of complex language, like humans. An analysis was carried out on the hyoid bone of a neanderthal (a bone important for speech in humans) and found that there is very little difference between it and a human’s. The writers are cautious about making any outright claims to language, but their findings are consistent with neanderthals being capable of complex speech.


Uptalk taken up by men

A study suggests that California men are adopting a rising pitch at the end of their sentences, which is typically used more by women. The study says that this use of pitch, called uptalk, is beginning to be adopted by more Californians.

Although the use of it is still used by more women than men, Young South Californian speakers of different genders are now using it, when before it had been primarily women.

I’ve read a few people’s comments on this story and people seem to be surprised at men adopting a women’s language feature. Maybe studying language means I’m aware that women typically lead innovative language change (although as Labov’s Gender Paradox observes, women are also the ones most likely to use established standard forms of language) so take for granted that women would be the ones using a language style before it’s picked up by men. Talking to a friend about this, I was surprised that they thought it odd that men were adopting a “girly” speech feature. Surely then most language changes would therefore be “girly”?

Using LCD touch-screens to gather words

Now it’s the new university year I’m beginning to get requests on social media to fill in surveys for people’s university research projects. I don’t mind filling in a survey if it’s about something I’m interested in and I have some time to kill. So when I saw this article on the New Scientist page about the use of large LCD touch-screens placed on busy streets for gathering data, I thought it was a great idea! People can kill time by interacting with the screens and giving useful data. Online I’m not going to search for surveys to fill in, but if I was waiting on a bus stop I probably would.

The main use that interested me is the possibility of using the screens to gather words and people’s emotions about the location. These could then be used to select relevant content for the screens. This article reminds me of a link I posted about a few weeks ago about the use of tweets to map emotions in New York. We can then properly connect a place with people’s information. While online crowdsourcing can gather keywords about a general area, I think that the use of the screens actually on that location might give more precise keywords and allow us to gather words about how people see the area then, rather than how they remember it.

I was recently on a train with interactive screens that had breaking news stories across the top. One of these news stories was about a huge train crash. Not really something I want to be reminded of when I’m on a train! Because it’s so important to match content to the environment it’s being displayed, I think these touch-screens could be fantastic in giving more precise information about the place and the people who frequent it.