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.

Friday 9 October 2009

On a new m-novel

A correspondent writes from South Africa's Shuttleworth Foundation to tell me about the world's first m-novel written in English and isiXhosa (an indigenous South African language). It's a teen mystery story set in Cape Town about four graffiti writing friends. You can read it (still evolving) at Kontax on your PC or a WAP-enabled phone.

The Foundation believes that m-novels have the potential to be big in Africa and wants to explore this space through a project they're calling m4Lit. It's planning to conduct research with 50 teens in Cape Town to understand their experience of the m-novel within a broader literacy context. Post-project papers are planned too. The comments from users so far are really interesting.

I'd come across m-novels and short stories in Japan, China, India, and a few other places, when I was writing Txtng: the Gr8 Db8, but I'd not encountered it in Africa, and certainly not involving a language like Xhosa. Given the remarkable growth of mobile phones in Africa, where they foster communication in areas which don't have good computer connections, I wouldn't be surprised if the genre catches on. It could be a useful additional strategy for involving young people in community languages that are endangered.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

On English Language Day

The English Project - the Winchester-based group that is planning the first permanent English-language exhibition space, with a target opening in three or four years time - have come up with a lovely piece of PR: English Language Day. It's 13 October. They hope to make it an annual event.

They chose this date because it was on 13 October 1362 that the Chancellor of England for the first time opened Parliament with a speech in English. In that same Parliament, a Statute of Pleading was approved that permitted members in debate to use the English language. It had become again an official language of law and law-making.

Because of this connection with law-making, the theme this year is the language of law. The English Project’s contribution to the Day will be three events hosted by London law firm Taylor Wessing, for schools, for university law students, and for the public. They're also carrying out a survey of legal language. For more information, visit their website: English Project.

I think language days are important, as they keep the subject in front of people's minds. It's a pity that so few people are aware of the two we already have: 26 September, European Day of Languages, and 21 February, World Mother-Tongue Day. If I were in charge, I would give every language its special day. Maybe English Language Day will start a trend.