Monday, 12 October 2009

On 'It's Only a Theory'

A correspondent writes to ask, having seen a newspaper listing for the new BBC4 TV series 'It's only a theory', whether I am the 'David Crystal' listed in this week's episode (being broadcast at 10 pm on the 13th October). I had to think for a moment, as the programme was recorded months ago; but yes, it is me, and I have a certificate to prove it.

It's an interesting idea. They got various academics to present and justify their 'theory' to a team of three (led by Andy Hamilton) in front of a TV audience. At the end, each member of the team decided whether the academic had made his/her case. I defended the proposition that 'texting is good for the English language', and managed to persuade two of the three that this was so. (I would have persuaded all three, but Andy felt I was being too enthusiastic about it!) They ceremoniously stamped a certificate with the word 'Approved'. And they gave me a souvenir, in the form of a pseudo-Scrabble game with all the vowels left out.

It was good fun, and, on the day I was there for the recording, I very much enjoyed watching the others who had to defend their propositions - one was Stanley Wells, arguing that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. It's a strange rhetorical exercise, having to reduce sometimes quite complex points to the bare minimum, and in a way that will get an audience on your side. Bit like debating, really. They recorded about 20 minutes worth of material per person, and I imagine will use less than ten, in the transmission, so it'll be interesting to see one's already pared-down arguments pared down even further. Maybe they'll just leave out my vowels.

16 comments:

Gabriel said...

I always enjoy these types of debates because they prove that languages are alive and well (whether written, typed, texted, graphed or spoken like evolving English-es). txtng is already shaping up to be a name for itself-the fact that we are talking about it certainly proves its current might. I'm from a Mexican American community on the Southside of Chicago, and do not purport to say every Chicagoan sounds alike. There is no doubt that Spanish has shaped the way I speak English in Chicago. So as funny as this may sound, we may send a texto-not to be confused with the fabric or english textile-

I've also heard various ways other languages use text as a verb like
textiando (spanglish), sms (french), texting(english)...why don't we simply call it writing, or wouldn't it be fun to says you just sent an alphabetized phone digit graph morphed message to your friend...

my girlfriend has even found favor with using textspeak(isms?) expressions like btw (actually saying the letters b.t.w. or simply pronouncng it "beeteedubs" its cute, so as long as she doesn't say it too often and have it become annoying.

Eli said...

I wonder if there's any way for us Americans to watch this program(me) when it comes out (e.g., on the internet), or if the BBC will have it locked down to just the UK.

Barrie England said...

Congratulations, David, on winning your case so convincingly last night.

David Crosbie said...

The show will be repeated tomorrow Thursday14 October and Friday 15 at various times on BBC4. It will also be on BBC iOPlayer for a week at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00n9105/Its_Only_a_Theory_Episode_2/.

DC said...

Thanks for that information, David. Am in the US right now and don't have any transmission details to hand.

Becci Jackson said...

David, I am a big fan, and I watched "It's Only a Theory" this afternoon. You did a really good job of bringing the field of linguistics to people's attention, and showing that it concerns every day life. I was amazed to find out that texting can improve literacy, and if that is true, then I am also convinced. We are looking forward to seeing you in Salford in March when you come to speak at our university. Look out for us - Salford Linguistics Society - at the lecture. Keep up the good work! Becci

Faldone said...

Not available in the US:



Currently BBC iPlayer TV programmes are available to play in the UK only, but all BBC iPlayer Radio programmes are available to you. Why?

If you are in the UK and see this message please read this advice.

Go to Radio channels home page

Annie said...

Not available in Armenia too:

I read exactly what Faldone quoted. Why? Professor, isn't there any way I can watch the programmme?

DC said...

Sorry, I've no idea. I have no responsibility for BBC transmission policy.

David Crosbie said...

The answer to Annies's question 'Why?' is that 'It's Only A Theory' is not a BBC production. Like many comedy and quiz programmes, is is produced by an outfit called 'Hat Trick'. The contract between the two give the BBC distribution rights in the UK, but not international rights.

Fortunately, these restrictions do not usually apply to radio programmes.

Tor Hershman said...

Has anyone done 'the theory of god'?

Gassalasca said...

The video has been uploaded to YouTube, you can watch it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7WSzxQ0nX4

Annie said...

Thanks for the link! Though a pity I cannot convert and download it, it says the flash cannot be found.

Fascinating! Professor, if there is anyone you cannot persuade on a language issue - that's their fault only.
You are on top, as always - persuasive, rational, elegant!

A Y R said...

I watched the video on YouTube. I liked it very much.

I have a question, Prof. In that show, it was the second time I hear you saying "a load of chicken droppings". My question is: is it not offensive to use expressions as such when talking to other people? Excuse me, I don't mean anything negative, it's just that I am a speaker of Arabic who teaches English. I believe that if I used these expressions in class, they might take it as an offence. Is it a matter of cultural difference?

AYR

DC said...

Yes, I would be very careful. This could easily cause offence unless you are very confident about the situation. What you have to realize is that this is a euphemism. A common expression for 'a load of rubbish' is a load of horse-shit or bull-shit. Now shit is not a word to use in polite conversation, and it could cause offence when used on public radio or television. So, to convey the same effect, I used the unusual form you heard. It isn't my invention - I've heard others use it - but it does rather appeal to me. It's still quite a forceful expression, though, and even in its non-taboo form I would advise caution in its use.

OutEast said...

'Chicken-droppings' does lack the academic gravitas of 'bullshit', though. It's firmly a colloquialism, not a technical philosophical term.