Differences in the English Language in a Post-Cultural World

Guest Post

Regular readers will be aware that I have occasionally presented ‘Guest Posts’ on behalf of colleagues.  I’d like to introduce yet another Trans-Atlantic contribution.

This time the post is by Angelita Williams [see by-line below].  We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post, especially as the differences between our written languages is such an issue (especially for me!!!)

Differences in the English Language in a Post-Cultural World

I know; the title of this post is quite a mouthful. Not to worry though; I plan to take this topic in stride, offering first a brief history of American English and how it has differed from British English. As for the “post-cultural” idea, I will in essence be describing the evolution of the English language in the midst of the uprising of the Internet as a primary communication tool, particularly for international correspondence.

Brief History of American and British English

Aside from natural differences in dialect and culture that occurred between the isolation of these two English speaking countries, one of the first “active” catalysts which has differentiated American from British English is Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language.

Make no mistake, Webster was a politically charged revolutionary aiming for American independence from British culture. While this may seem a bit extreme or xenophobic even for our modern, melting-pot standards, do remember that Webster’s dictionary was published just over a decade after the War of 1812. And at this time, most nations were much more filled with nationalist pride than our modern day standards (particularly in America … despite what our Republican party may have you believe).

To be honest, most of Webster’s dictionary involved hair-splitting differences, notably in spelling (such as color rather than colour or center rather than centre or defense rather than defence). Some innovations never even caught on, like his spelling of tung as opposed to tongue. While many of these changes were discrete, I feel that they opened the doors of divergence between the two dialects. Also, I find it interesting that these differences have become more noticeable now that text has become the most popular communication tool online (a noticeable jump from previous mass media such as television or radio).

Since that publication, most changes between the two dialects have been due to natural variations of usage trends and connotations of various words. There are few words with completely different meanings between the dialects; more likely, there are words with both multiple shared and different meanings between the two. For example, the word “fall” means “to descend” in both languages but also means “to become pregnant” in British English and “autumn” in American English.

Post-cultural English?

Before I dig into this idea, I would like to disclaim that this term is entirely made up by myself and stems from the idea that an unofficial standard English has developed through mass media and the internet. For a good time, this spoken standard was American-favored, as American media has left its mark in Europe and the rest of the world for quite a few decades in the late 21st century. As demonstrated by the guardian, Hollywood still has a strong influence over British culture.

However, what are we to make of the English language as it appears on the internet? The memes, the multitude of abbreviations (“wut r u up 2?”), and, most importantly, the slang that passes for the English language is beyond puzzling. And it is also incredibly hard to track or even assess on a holistic scale because every site seems to have a wide variance of what it views as acceptable language. Take, for example, Hipster Runoff as opposed to Wikipedia. Or, for better measure of how massive amounts of people use English on the internet, compare Reddit and 4chan.

While perhaps none of these sites (with maybe the exception of Wikipedia) have set any sort of standard for an online dialect of the English language, they do all seem to have self-contained dialects that also share odd similarities, an online community dialect so to speak. And it is difficult to tell which country (if any) is responsible for these trends in online dialect. If anything, I would say that it’s not necessarily one place as it is one range of age (mostly young adolescents but as old as mid-twenties) from which these trends in internet language originate.

If I am to see any good come of these trends in online communication (trust me, I cannot see many), it would be that those exhibits of language encourage advocates of thoughtful, well-versed words such as myself (and I assume many of you readers) to cling tighter to our written roots. For every online community filled with shallow, poorly executed thoughts, a community like this one has an opportunity to emerge and demonstrate the English language as it should be. Whether American or British, the most important aspect of English in its online form should be quality and clarity.

By-line:

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.

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Leeds 2

Cold Turkey.

I’m now at the end of a rock and roll week with only one more day to go before I can put my feet up for a short while [I wrote this on Saturday – I’m now on my ‘feet-up’ day]. I’ve booked myself a day off on Monday [today – yippee] but have already committed to make many phone calls and ‘quick’ replies before it starts again in earnest on Tuesday.

Since Saturday last, Sharon and I have been in Leeds working with a large group of adult learners, here to improve their language, understanding of British culture and ICT. Also see https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/leeds-1/ Through Monday to Wednesday, we were joined by Lilian (@xlearn : www.xlearn.co.uk).

Advanced e-Guides and PDAs
Late on Monday afternoon, I had to leave the group and go to London where I worked with other colleagues to deliver the Advanced PDA/e-Guides course. Sally Betts, Nigel Davies and I worked through the day to deliver this course for the first time. We’d spent Monday night having dinner at a place on Tabernacle Street, just behind the hotel on City Road. Apparently, the restaurant was a member’s club but really – you had to be a member to find it. The only recognition that it existed at all was a small plaque above a buzzer, by the side of an innocuous door. Inside it looked great and the food was good – what we could see of it. The light was so dim, we each had to use our mobile phones (or iTouch in my case) to read the menu. We shared the most wonderful and most green bowl of olives I’ve ever seen.  On Tuesday, we repeated the course again in Birmingham but without the excellent food.

And then it was back to the Europeans.

Back again
It sounded like they had had a great time in Bradford on Tuesday, where they had gone to explore the Pakistani culture living within the British culture. For many, this was the first time they had witnessed women wearing the burkha outside of television news and made them stop and think. They also visited a Mosque and were given a talk about Islamic tradition and culture. The National Media Museum also provided them with a two-hour workshop, where they learned the tips and techniques of television. http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/ Their enjoyment of this day was reflected in their blogs (read on)…

Lilian had introduced blogs on Wednesday, so my plan on Thursday was for them to continue with blogs for a while and to move back onto their Bonfire Night web quest before lunch.  Which is what we did, but there was such a lot of questions about blogging that many neglected the web quest. Although Blogger is remarkably simple to set up and use (and links directly to all the other iGoogle tools) it was not the best choice within the University.

Techie Stuff
Each room we used represented the interface differently. The Thursday room even had different versions of IE – which the techies told me was impossible. But IE 7 has tabs and prior to that there were no tabs: Our room had a mixture of tabbed IE browsers and non-tabbed! Then some machines needed Flash updating, or Java updating or simply updating. WHY oh why can’t this be done automatically? Why do learners have to suffer because the technology is bollocks? On Friday, Internet Explorer simply would not show the normal Blogger interface. Learners could not ‘add’ pictures or videos because the buttons were simply missing. I eventually got most of them onto Firefox – but then Blogger had updated itself since Thursday (it probably hadn’t, and probably has a slightly different interface for Firefox) and the video button was missing until you went to settings and asked it to revert to the ‘older version’ – which caused huge amusement amongst the older participants (all except two were over forty and many fifty plus – one was 21 on Thursday).

Reflection
It has been the most wonderful, entertaining, wet, though-provoking, funny, rewarding and exhausting experience. The group; from Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Latvia, Italy and England have worked together well this week and to say that they had not met each other before last Sunday, they have made remarkable progress.

Outcomes include the sharing of experiences and of each other’s cultures. Both of these were addressed in abundance. It became very clear to everyone that when national boundaries and prejudices are set apart – we are all the same. We share the same concerns and the same pleasures. This has been a wonderful week.

The group had said during their first day (last week) that they wanted to be bloggers – let them tell the story:

(Please note the use of videos, pictures they have edited and pictures made into movies too)

Our blog addresses:

http://leedsexp.blogspot.com Roberto

http://unver64.blogspot.com Fahrettin

http://vonweitzel.blogspot.com/ Christoph

http://eduwholearning.blogspot.com Eduardo

http://jnmarin.blogspot.com Javier

http://guntistravel.blogspot.com/ Guntis

http://secretary-fall-secretary.blogspot.com/ Mairita

http://learningwithpeople.blogspot.com Angus

http://mpwbauhuette.blogspot.com/ Edith

http://annavuerich.blogspot.com Anna

http://leedsandbradfordexperience.blogspot.com/ Gabrielle

http://siegfrieddierl.blogspot.com/ Siegfreied

http://vivianapurina.blogspot.com Viviana

http://cristinadelfabbro.blogspot.com/ Cristina

http://atanurcaglayan.blogspot.com/ Atanur

_________________________________________________________________________________

http://xlearn.co.uk/blogger.html Lilian’s blog

http://sharonsugden.blogspot.com Sharon’s blog

Leeds 1

We’re at the end of what really is day two, but is officially day one now. The Improving Language and Culture with ICT course has started well.

On Thursday, we’d heard that there was to be a right-wing English Defence League rally in Leeds on Saturday with the inevitable opposition rally occurring at the same time. Because our visitors were coming to Leeds to witness and learn more about British culture (and given that the postmen and local refuse collectors were striking anyway) we decided that as the Latvians had arrived a day early, we
would ask them to visit York on Saturday instead of Leeds! This turned out to have been a good plan because the two that did go to York had a brilliant time. The third Latvian went to Bradford and enjoyed herself too – the only problem being that we’re spending a day in Bradford this Tuesday. Never mind.

So that was three participants sorted – but the rest were arriving at various times in the day. Only one, from Germany, was affected and then, only because the police had put a ring around the railway station, that prevented taxis from operating out of there. The poor man had to walk all the way to our hotel, with his luggage, not understanding why there were no taxis!

Sharon and I arrived mid-afternoon.

We first went to Leeds Metropolitan University to drop off all the tools and equipment we will need on Monday through until Friday and then to the Novotel in Leeds, where we had our first meeting today. They knew we were coming today, when we called in last week to check and they knew who we were on yesterday when we came along with all our ‘stuff’ for Sunday (today) – but today (Sunday), they had no idea who we were (but that’s another story and one that a stern voice and no nonsense but polite attitude took five minutes to sort out). Then we arrived at the Ibis, where we are to stay for eight (8!!) days.We’d arranged to meet everyone at 7.00pm for dinner at 7.30pm – at the
Ibis. Which was ok, but fairly confusing because no one had met anyone else. Luckily I have a distinctive visage and was able to attract people from all over Europe to our table. There were fourteen of us for dinner and as it was Halloween (another story), a special menu too. So the meal went ok and the group got on well. Four people were still traveling as we went to bed.

Breakfast was nice and relaxed but the weather had changed. Outside it was pouring down. Torrential rain followed by strong winds was the story of the day. Everyone was drenched by the time we got to the Novotel. We’d planned that everyone would introduce themselves first and then tell us a little more about their countries by means of a newspaper collage. But most of them didn’t bring their newspapers to the Novotel. So we moved on to the ‘what do you think England is, what
do you think the English are, what do you think about English culture’ activity. We were investigating preconceptions and asked the group to mix themselves up to reach a common understanding of ‘England’. This turned out to be a brilliant get-to-know-each-other activity that
highlighted some real stereotyping. The idea is that we re-visit the activity again next Saturday and see how things have (or have not – gulp) changed.

We spent the afternoon at The Armouries (after another stern voice and no nonsense but polite attitude with the taxi company). Now we’re preparing to go out into Leeds for a communal dinner – at La Tasca!

Leeds

Improving language and culture with ICT.

Tomorrow, Sharon and I will meet most of the sixteen people arriving from all over Europe to take part in this course. Some won’t arrive until very late evening, so we’ll meet those people first thing Sunday morning at breakfast.

The course is taking place in Leeds.

This is a city I’ve hated with a real passion ever since I was dragged there twice a year as a cub-capped, short-trousered boy needing summer, then winter clothes from C&A (do you remember C&A?). I used to find it big, noisy and far too full of shops for comfort; the only good thing about it was the train journey from Huddersfield. Yet things change, and whilst it is still big (too big), noisy and far too full of shops for comfort, my preparations for this course have changed my view of Leeds.

The course was conceived by Khawar Iqbal and she’d asked me to help her deliver it if she won the European funding required to run it. Both Sharon and I have been heavily involved in the planning. Basically, Khawar has done the early people-stuff (recruitment, flight and transfer booking, hotel booking etc.) and Sharon has done the later people-stuff (venue planning, food, goodie finding and purchasing, bag packing, David pushing). I have had the leisure of planning the course around Khawar’s original ideas and with Khawar’s support and input.

And the planning has been a real pleasure. I’ve learned more about Leeds than I ever thought existed. I’ve walked the streets with new eyes. Until September this year, Leeds was still the place of boyhood dread; these days even the train journey was (is) to be dreaded (mainly due to the times I generally have to visit Leeds, the trains are overcrowded for about three hours at each end of the day). But researching the history, the culture and the city itself has opened my eyes to it’s (mmm, lost for a word here – not quite beauty …) Well.

So  we start on Sunday with a full-on day and continue through to Saturday with another full day planned (although the afternoon, like Wednesday is fofo).  We will also visit Bradford to look at culture within culture and part of our historical/cultural research will include Bonfire Night! What is it? Why is it? What does it say about us?

Because I have to help deliver Advanced PDA/e-Guide courses in London and Birmingham this week, the lovely Lilian Soon will be working with the group Monday through until Wednesday – so I know they will be in good hands.

Which reminds me – I plan on reading through the Advanced course today (as well as the Leitch 2006 Report, the Digital Britain Report and another big paper I’ve already lost the will to read), so I’d better go.