A History of English in 11:20

A debate which has held a great deal of interest for me is the addition of new words to the English language. There are advocates for ‘proper’ English and a somewhat shaming of those who don’t speak the so called ‘proper’ English. This statement has never really had any great hold with me, I think because there is evidence of English consistently changing and evolving throughout history, borrowing words from other languages that it comes into contact with and adopting new words for new concepts and ideas. If English was not changing it would mean that civilisation had come to a stand still with no new ideas, technologies or activities coming into existence, which frankly would be a little concerning. Anyway, I have found this video whilst trawling Youtube which is a blunt, succinct and comedic recount of the changes and influences on English, it claims to be the history of English in 10 minutes but actually goes for 11 minutes 20 seconds, but I am willing to overlook that fact, hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

– Anastasia


Tales from TEFL 1 – Falling in love with Auxiliaries

Three weeks into my Sydney sojourn and there are two rivals for my affection: one is an old flame and one an unexpected new attraction.

My passion for Sydney first spilled into tears during the long spectacular descent of the northern approaches to the Harbour Bridge. I had come from a long way north, and slowly. Katherine, Mt Isa, Anakie, Fraser, Carnarvon Gorge, Tamworth, weeks of travel. I guess I was on my way through to visit the folks in Gerringong, so Sydney was probably an incidental. I did the Bridge on impulse, or maybe I missed the turn-off at Hornsby.

As I clung to my lane coming over the rise from St Leonards a Cossington-Smith, Brett Whitely Sydney sprawled lavishly, shiningly ahead of the red Hilux. I had been loving remote places, and was astonished at the heart-jump from this familiar place.

Thirty years, and Sydney still has me in thrall, but I keep her in my city pad. A week a year is about right. Doing catch up now.

I am two-timing with grammar. This week: auxiliary verbs. Thrilling to find points of attraction, even intimacy with something so difficult, so redundant, you may think. And will this love extend to modals, or should that be a separate affair? There are dimensions to this dalliance that were not anticipated. Just when I could have been being occupied with eHarmony (or eDisharmony, depending on your luck), I seem to have been being bewitched by the glamour of grammar. (Consider the auxiliary verbs in this sentence, comment on their functions and sequencing.



The foundation for communication in memes

Grammar, regardless of the language, is the foundation for communication.

The better the grammar, the clearer the message and its intent. Proper grammar and punctuation help control the flow of writing. Furthermore, both help to accurately convey the writer’s message and can change the meaning of sentences entirely.
The following five grammar memes show examples of incorrect punctuation, grammar (can you count the mistakes in the gas station one?), spelling, and something someone would say in conversation (see the raccoon one) without realizing they just did what they advised not to do.

These examples show us that without the correct use of grammar, sentences may become unclear and/or their messages altered completely.






The Gr8 Deb8: Is Txt badd for teenz in skool?


There is a great debate as to whether texting is affecting our language in a negative way and that it consequently has an impact on the writing and literacy of school children. Texting and other examples of e-communication are speeding up the rate of language change. Texting has introduced conventions which adhere to a written form of speech and the small screen has aided innovation in the form of the acronyms and abbreviations used.  It has been labelled as ‘slanguage’, ‘a digital virus’ and also ‘penmanship for illiterates’. Others argue it will be the death of the English language.  David Crystal disagrees with the popular view that the use of abbreviations and slang, such as those in SMS language, will lead to low literacy and bad spelling among children and that ‘children could not be good at texting if they had not already developed considerable literacy awareness’. Being able to write in text language comes after mastering standard writing (Crystal, 2009).  The news clip provided examines a certain school in the USA . The teacher is concerned about the lack of capitalisation and punctuation in the students’ formal writing. One student argues that just because you text a lot doesn’t mean you can’t write. There needs to be a balance.  I agree that there should be a balance and that in the future ‘textese’ may become part of our normal written language as language is always evolving. We should see it as an addition to our language. What do u think? Is it the death or the birth of a new language? and is txting badd for teenz in skool?

Further reference: Crystal, David. 2009. Txtng: the Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The language of Downton Abbey: what is a ‘weekend’?

The language of Downton Abbey: what is a ‘weekend’?
First watch this 20-second video clip.

Do you want to know more? Read the following:
“Of course, programmes meant to be up to date can suffer from the opposite problem, and be accused of being behind the times and of not giving a realistic portrayal of how people speak today. With language evolving at lightning speed, maintaining authenticity can be tricky, and writers have their work cut out for them when they try to portray realistically the way that any group of people speak to each other, especially when writing about a group of people with a particular idiolect that may be different from their own.
It’s certainly true that an individual’s personal grasp of contemporary language may fall short of complete comprehension. So while the concept of a weekend to mark the end of the working week has been around since 1638 according to the earliest OED citation, it rings completely true when, in an early episode of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess – played by a stately and wry Maggie Smith – asks the pretender to the Crawley fortune and title in disdainful astonishment: ‘What is a weekend?’ Never having worked a day in her life (one imagines) she has never had a need for the word, or conversed with people who used it. And so one person’s centuries-old tradition becomes another’s incomprehensible slang”.


For a cachinnation (a belly laugh), read the Grammaphobia Blog until the last line!

The Grammarphobia Blog
Something for the weekend?

If you want more, read the following 2 short articles:
A History of the Weekend, From ‘Saint Monday’ Hangovers to Henry Ford

A Weekend History Lesson

Have a great weekend!
(299 words!)

I was like, “colloquialisms are great.”

9523637197_fedf54a19c_oImages such as this circulate constantly on social media sites as judgements of those who use ‘incorrect’ English and they always make me cringe a little when I see them. Regardless of how you feel about these colloquialisms, the modern uses of the word ‘like’ are fantastic examples of the way in which the English language has changed and adapted over time. The more ‘acceptable’ uses of the term are numerous to begin with, but the controversy that still surrounds its modern applications exemplify the prescriptionist resistance to language evolution – an unwillingness to let go of the notion of ‘perfect English’ even for the purposes of casual, informal conversation.

The colloquial adoption of ‘like’ as a quotative, such as “I was like” is particularly reviled by a lot of people as a poor alternative to ‘said’ or ‘told’. It is ubiquitous in casual spoken conversation and undoubtedly appears in many forms of written conversation, as well, particularly in text messaging and online conversations. It seems to me that “was like” conveys a lot more meaning than the prescriptionist-approved “I said” or “I told him/her” which are not only more restrictive options in that they denote speech alone but they also imply a direct quote. In comparison, “was like” gives a sense of what the other person was trying to convey without the need for a direct quote and can encompass features of non-verbal communication such as a shrug, an eye-roll or a whistle.

This image typifies the view of many regarding this use of ‘like’ as “the speech impediment of the 21st century” but I think this type of linguistic innovation is part of what makes the English language so interesting.

Tales from TEFL 2 – Question tags and tag questions

iPhone for linguists and question tags

You can use an iPhone to receive an incoming phone call, can’t you?

Poking the iPhone in its rear surface with your index finger wasn’t very effective, was it?(pronoun in tag agrees with Subject of statement)

My apologies. When you rang me I couldn’t work out how to answer the phone, could I? (auxiliary in statement, repeated in tag)

But I didn’t ring you, did I? You rang me, didn’t you? (negative statement, positive tag; positive statement/negative tag)

“IPhones for Dummies” gives great tips for, well, dummies, doesn’t it? (no auxiliary in statement use do/does/doesn’t in tag, tense agreement with statement)

And are we talking about the Tag Question or the Question Tag?

masterclass in question tags for English (EFL) learners

Equipping teachers to teach the English language.

The NSW English K-10 Syllabus states that ‘the aim of the NSW English K-10 Syllabus is to provide students with an education that allows them to understand and use language effectively, appreciate, reflect on and enjoy the English language and to make meaning in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive, critical and powerful.’ Therefore, language is viewed as a foundation stone to the NSW English Syllabus and in order to achieve this aim, teachers must be equipped with functional teaching methods that allow students to develop knowledge of the complex systems regarding the ways language is composed for various purposes, the different types of meanings made with language, the various layers of language, and comprehending language using a variety of quality texts.

Despite these facts, it is feared that our teachers may not understand the grammar of English well enough to adequately provide students with a solid grounding in English grammar and punctuation. It is widely recognised that we need to bridge the knowledge gap in the teacher training courses to ensure all teachers are provided with subject knowledge and education theory of the English language to allow our future generations’ success in their language development.

To avoid teachers entering the work force without adequate knowledge of language, the NSW government are introducing a literacy and numeracy test which pre-service teachers are required to pass before completing their last practicum.


The importance of grammarHow important is grammar?  Well, grammar is very important because without it written language can be misinterpreted, leading to misunderstandings, break downs in communication, the inaccurate conveying of a message and possible embarrassment.   Some people say that grammar isn’t necessary and expression is more significant however this phrase is a perfect example of how without it a completely different message is conveyed.   “I like cooking my family and my pets”  verses “I like cooking, my family and my pets”.

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Humour created by homophones


I found the comparison between speech and writing features in Topic 10 (Grammar at Work) very interesting and in conversations I found my mind contemplating what the written transcriptions would look like.  I also became more aware of how context-dependent speech is.  For example, in speech, a noun phrase such as “that man over there wearing glasses, jeans and a black jacket” can be simply reduced to the pronoun “him” and accompanied by a raised eyebrow, nod of the head or point of the finger.

Another feature of speech that is context dependent is the use of homophones.  For example, the word “there” sounds the same in conversation – “That ball that they’re playing with over there is theirs.”  However, in written form, “there” is spelt three different ways with three different meanings.

While the incorrect use of homophones can be frustrating and distracting, it can be exploited to produce humour and irony.  “Dad jokes” that we all cringe at, while secretly loving, are excellent examples of homophones in action.  Often Dad or Embarrassing-Uncle-Ned will stress the appropriate word before nudging you in the ribs until you politely laugh.  Personally, I love Dad jokes and when I found this cartoon I let out a roar of laughter – followed by a quiet groan.  Enjoy!

American babies slower to pick up language?

I was following random links on the internet, as you do, when I stumbled across the headline American Babies Falling Behind in Language Development.

For real?! I thought. What could be the reasons for this? My mind churned up numerous possibilities (all of them ridiculous) as I clicked through.

The article compares language development of American English-speaking babies with those from China, Italy and Canada. It shows that babies from these latter countries start to speak over six months earlier than their American counterparts. The author cites a Chinese linguistics researcher who suggests that the different social standards of these cultures is the reason for the development disparity.

(It took me till the third paragraph to realise the whole article is a satire — I’m trusting like that. I thought it was pretty funny though, once I twigged. And the author’s other articles are great, too!)

Incomprehensible E-speak

It is quite interesting seeing how ungrammatically and absurdly people write on the internet. The youtube channel jacksfilms takes comments from various sources (facebook, twitter, youtube comments) and reads them aloud so viewers can hear how grammatically incorrect people are. Alongside the amusement of these videos, they also illustrate a few important things which are characteristic of e-speak:

–        You can really tell people write how they speak. There are abbreviated words, omission of words and a stack of misspelt words.

–        People love to string as many words together as they can in once sentence, with full stops, commas, apostrophes and capitals totally insignificant. In contrast, some e-speakers love to capitalise every letter (for what can only be interpreted as an angry effect).

–        Many words are spelt the way they sound, for example ‘dispise’ (despise), ‘real legion’ (religion), and ‘sinsearly’ (sincerely). Vowels are also often omitted.

One word which is continuously used wrong is ‘raping’ or ‘raper’ instead of ‘rapping’ and ‘rapper’, for example ‘wutang clan is a raping group’. This can dramatically alter a sentence’s meaning.

These videos are a good example of how language is evolving with the use of the internet. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry about some of the things people write on the internet.

Here’s a link for one of the videos, but there are many more to watch!

Your grammar sucks #38

Discourse Particles – Yeah-no I dunno!

My partner often gets slightly irritated when listening to me in conversation (especially on the phone) as I tend to over do it with the “you knows”, followed closely by “I means” and less frequently, smatterings of “sort ofs and yeahs”. I have only been made aware of my use of these discourse particles by my husband drawing attention to them and the frequency of them in conversations as they had occurred quite naturally and unconsciously. He has also noted that they are not as frequent when I’m talking with very close friends or family. From this I deduce that this is because I am more confident of there being a mutual understanding between myself and my interlocutor which has been established over a long period of time. It is in conversations with people I speak with infrequently or do not know intimately that these particles habitually appear.

One discourse particle I cannot be accused of using is the “Yeah-no”. Although I try to maintain a linguistic approach to spoken English the increasing use, or my increased awareness, of “Yeah-no” raised my prescriptive ire. I heard it most frequently while watching A League matches during interviews with players and coaches. Here, I gained insight into my husband’s ‘slight irritation’ with my chosen discourse particles. I just couldn’t understand what it conveyed. Did the speaker not know his own mind? Was he hedging his discourse bets? So, I was much relieved to read B&B’s (2010, p.246) explanation of its use as having “important conversational functions to do with turn-taking”. Finally it made sense, as did its heavy use in the sports interviews where turn taking is essential. And here I was thinking it was a product of a confused mind and an Aussie one at that.
Ange Postecoglou interview: example of heavy use of discourse particles an “yeah-no” at 8:55 secs. countdown

Jive Speak

Jive Speak – Airplane

This clip is from the 1980 film Airplane (or, as it is titled in Australia, Flying High), and uses intelligibility between varieties of English as a point of humour (very well – I think it’s hilarious!). The two men speak Jive, and their unintelligible vernacular is subtitled with a formal register of English that is closer to what may have been used in high society Britain years earlier. It’s an interesting clip as, while the film plays on the fact that the Jive variety of English is very different to the contemporary standard, after watching it a few times you can begin to comprehend it.

The birth of Jive lingo has been attributed to Cab Calloway, a singer famous in the 30s and 40s (McKay & McKay, 2008, para 3-4). Calloway went on to write his own dictionary of of Jive language, a selection of which can be found at the reference below. I’ve chosen a few to share here that you might recognise (or even use!) in contemporary speech:

  • Beat (adj.) — (1) tired, exhausted. Ex., “You look beat” or “I feel beat.” (2) lacking anything. Ex, “I am beat for my cash”, “I am beat to my socks” (lacking everything).
  • Dig (v.) — (1) meet. Ex., “I’ll plant you now and dig you later.” (2) look, see. Ex., “Dig the chick on your left duke.” (3) comprehend, understand. Ex., “Do you dig this jive?”
  • Pad (n.) — bed.
  • Stache (v.) — to file, to hide away, to secrete.
  • Tick (n.) — minute, moment. Ex., “I’ll dig you in a few ticks.” …

(McKay & McKay, 2008, para 8)

From the few examples here and on the website, you can see that the grammar is more or less the same as the standard English that even we would use today; it is just the words that are substituted. These “new” words were usually pre-existing in English but have been assigned new meanings (e.g. ‘beat’ and ‘pad’, and sometimes switch word class (e.g. ‘beat’: verb -> adjective).

I hope you guys have found this as fun and interesting as I have – I think I’ll start using some of these words!



McKay, B. & McKay, K. (2008). Are You Hep to the Jive? The Cab Calloway Hepster Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.artofmanliness.com/2008/09/25/are-you-hep-to-the-jive-the-cab-calloway-hepster-dictionary/


The Scottish tampering with the English language

So, this isn’t particularly educational and I’m not sure how exactly he got his ‘theory’ of Scottish tampering with the English language, but it is entertaining, and he is quite good with his accents.

For example, he mentions that the /k/ in words such as knife, knowledge, kneecap were originally silent, but they were originally pronounced. Languages develop slowly over centuries, not in a single setting, and from my understanding and research for the essay from this unit, Scottish didn’t have too much of an influence over English. English was influenced primarily from the French, and from Norman languages.

Obviously, I doubt he cares about the historical or linguistic accuracy of his routine, he is just out for the laughs. But I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Phrasal Verbs

              When learning Japanese I remember having problems with the Japanese equivalent of ‘phrasal verbs.’ Phrasal verbs are two or three word verbs. Borjars and Burridge (2010, p. 99) describe phrasal verbs as consisting of a verb and an ‘adverb particle’, the particle modifies the verb and together they then function as a unit.

  • Some examples of two word phrasal verbs:

ask around

blow up

break in

take off

  • Some examples of three word phrasal verbs:

get away with

 look forward to

get away from

 keep up with

            B & B go on to say that the particles that modify the verb in phrasal verbs differ from ‘mainstream’ adverbs because that have little ‘semantic sense’ and that the meaning of the phrasal verbs is idiomatic and is not derived from the sum of its parts.

            Saville-Troike (2006. P. 35) state that language learners acquire knowledge in different areas when learning a language, these include lexicon, phonology, morphology, syntax, nonverbal structures and discourse, and within each area one must acquire this knowledge at different levels and phrasal verbs are at the more advanced level of knowledge which are acquired by the language learner.

  • Lexicon (vocabulary)

–          word meaning

–          pronunciation (and spelling for written languages)

–          grammatical category (part of speech)

–          possible occurrence in combination with other words and in idioms

Since I am undertaking this unit as a requirement to be an EAL/D teacher,  BBC Learning English’s ‘Face Up to Phrasals’ has an interactive comic which has potential to be beneficial for the EAL/D student or for adapted use in the classroom.

it can be found at:




Bad Writing

The Source of Bad Writing

As with most of what Steven Pinker says, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with his latest article. He explains how people tend to fail to comprehend that when they speak in highy specialized jargons or registers they don’t effectively communicate with their audiences.

The most popular explanation is that opaque prose is a deliberate choice. Bureaucrats insist on gibberish to cover their anatomy. Plaid-clad tech writers get their revenge on the jocks who kicked sand in their faces and the girls who turned them down for dates. Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.

That last sentence is particularly veracious in my experience; many people relish using increasingly complex structures and rare latinate-based vocabulary that the plebeian is highly unlikely to grasp, in order to pompously propagate their own sententious,  portentous, grandiloquent reckonings, and… oh, I see. Haha. I find myself really struggling with many academics who write similar things in such a way that you really have to try and decipher just what it is that they’re trying to say. I guess it makes many people feel good about themselves, that they’re superior in intellect to many others? Who knows. No need for it really in so many cases. But what would a lawyer do if language in law were actually concise and clear?


Regional variation

Ok, so I’m assuming that this comic is a reasonably accurate description of English as spoken in the southern states of the USA! Regardless, it demonstrates the multitude of differences that exist between various varieties of English – all of which are considered to be perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct by their users. To me, the glaring error in the student’s statement that requires the most immediate attention, being entirely unacceptable to my understanding of ‘correct’ English, is his choice of verbs. To his teacher, however, the verb usage is completely acceptable, and it is what I would consider to be a more minor error that she firmly corrects.