English Speaking Union
The English Speaking Union has become the principal distributor of Beyond Babel on DVD. The organisation, which was established for 'the mutual advancement of education of the English-speaking peoples of the world' will be using the DVD's as part of their education programme. This follows on from the earlier adoption of Babel by the British Council and reflects the importance of the series as the only documentary series to examine the globalisation of English. Purchase of the series on DVD will still be possible from this website and we will shortly be rolling out a VOD service.
Crystal Clear Spelling
David Crystal's latest work, Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling delves into the fascinating story of how English came to have such idiosyncratic spelling. The books traces the development of the language through its various historical influences and for the first time offers a coherent account of why English spelling can prove challenging even for native speakers. David has written a brief overview for the Guardian newspaper and the book is reviewed by the same publication here. A brief audio interview with David is available on the BBC website. Highly recommended.
Babel for Academic Australia
Kanopy, the leading supplier of programming to Australian University Libraries has acquired Beyond Babel and will be making the series available for direct streaming or purchase on DVD. This reflects the series continuing use by universities in Europe, the Middle East, US and Asia Pacific regions. Beyond Babel remains the only series to offer a comprehensive examination of the global spread of English and its supporting material (freely available from this website) has ensured its value as a teaching resource.
The Life of Slang
Following the heated debate on pernicious versus beneficial effects of slang, a fascinating new book The Life of Slang, by Julie Coleman Professor of English Language at the University of Leicester, offers a timely insight into its ever presence throughout the history of the language. As well as unpicking the surprising antiquity of some contemporary slang, she also clarifies the role it plays in social differentiation between the users and society at large. This use of slang to establish discrete group identities, goes a long way to explaining the anger it manages to provoke among those self-appointed defenders of the integrity of English. Slang is decisive in its nature uniting one group to the exclusion of another, but its pretty clear that after centuries of recorded use it has yet to undermine or destroy English.
The Ebonics Controversy
A timely reminder of the ability of language to stir up extremes of opinion has come in the unwelcome torrent of predominantly racist comment provoked by this video of Professor Mary Zeigler's students at Georgia State University. Their view that African American dialects should be respected as a distinct and valid version of English, has been denounced as everything from academic fraud to wilful ignorance and a desecration of the English language. Most of the comments draw upon a an ill defined notion of 'correctness' and the belief that the Ebonics agenda is essentially an assault on white society through a subversion of the language. The dilemma faced in moderating these comments is where to draw the line between rejecting racial abuse and allowing intemperate opposition in the name of open debate. Language is an incredibly sophisticated means of communication, but all too often it becomes just another tool of aggression.