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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stephen Fry's Podcast on Language

Check out this beautiful podcast exposition on Language by Stephen Fry, available for free download from iTunes.

If you are a fellow linguaphile, you will get a kick out of this 33 minute spot, but even if you aren't a linguaphile, you should give this a chance. It provides a delightful overview of the reasons why we have a field called linguistics, the take-away ;) reason being the pleasure of Language.

My favorite bit of the podcast is where Fry compares language usage to clothing. To paraphrase from memory: "You slip into a suit for a job interview, and you dress up your language too.... You can wear whatever you want linguistically at home."

He explains that there is no right or wrong language just as there is no right or wrong clothing, but context, convention, and circumstance help determine what is appropriate when and where.

But the message Fry wants to deliver is that Language is fluid by nature, and its usage should not be so prescriptively policed. He celebrates the pleasure of language variation and change, and lambasts "pedants" who write letters to newspapers and TV programs complaining about "incorrect" usage. Although he admits to having his own grammatical pet peeves, he explains that he views these as any other vice to be worked on, such as anger, for instance.

So it's been awhile since I've written about Language on Bunsnip, which is unusual because it's generally a very enthusiastic subject for me. I tongue-in-cheekingly call myself a grammarnazi because many of my Language posts are directed toward my grammatical pet peeves, and this has made some of my readers feel self-conscious about their own grammatical errors. Some worry that I take my red pen to their own blog posts or comments on my blog posts. No, no, no, I stress time and again, I never do that. For one thing, have you ever proofed my comments? I make terrible errors left and right. That is the nature of comments, they are informal and quickly schrifted off without much attention to editing, as it should be. Likewise, blogging is an informal venue for Language. We're not writing for prestigious journals here. Context, convention, and circumstance.

So anyway, I am sharing this podcast here because it explains brilliantly my feelings about Language. Give it a listen.




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6 comments:

Dena said...

I love words. Hopefully I'll have time to watch this video tomorrow sometime. By the way, I used to always offer my proofreading/editing services to friends and family who needed help finaling term papers. They all have self-esteem issues now.

I blame my red pen. It has since retired.

Dena said...

I know finaling is not a word. I'm blaming the red pen (ret.) for this one, too.

Sra said...

I also used several non-words in the above post. Non-words are the thing of language evolution, and should be celebrated.

Yeah, I don't know why people take it personally when you proofread/edit. You wouldn't be a very good editor if you ignored errors to save feelings. I guess it's as good a job as being the messenger of bad news.

Oh, by the way, "messenging" is a non-word that I do not celebrate. Damn text culture!

B.R. said...

Ah, this is very, very good!
Great premise and utterly apropos. Language as 'text' is a topic that's grabbed many linguists' attention for quite a while now.
And I concur with the similarity between the 'texts' of language and clothing. Roland Barthes, the language expert, tried to a semiotics of 'clothing as text' and this is a notion that I actively investigate as well.

As for taking the 'red pen', I'm all for it. Not only professionally but personally as well. I believe that 'red pen' suggestions are meant to foster amelioration and if they are not appreciated by the receivers, then it truly is their loss. As Kant noted, it is our responsibility to learn and educate.
I tend to subscribe to the 'blue pen' school of thought myself, though. It seems to be an easier color to view.
Thanks for the post.
As for those of us who 'linguify for a living' this was an especially good podgram. I'll spread the word.
I've always adored Stephen Fry and this is a good addition to my library.

Sra said...

I am a newbie to Stephen Fry, but I loved this podcast so much that I listened to it twice before posting about it. I'm sure I'll listen to it many more times, because his delivery is so poetic in many ways.

I'm now seeing another side to the clothing as text thing, thanks to this podcast. I will check out Roland Barthes as well.

I have read before that the red pen makes people psychologically uncomfortable and defensive, and so it is wiser to edit with a different color. But then what would I do with my red pen? So that's what I do, because I have no other use for it, and wouldn't want its ink to go to waste.

When I have asked for "red pen" feedback on my own writing, I have been surprised to sometimes be greeted with apologies and over explanations about the marked changes. "You don't have to use this, it's only a suggestion." And so forth. Well, I know that I have the final say, of course. I just want to know what you would do if you had the final say. I think people need to be less sensitive about giving and receiving requested feedback.

Sra said...

I am a newbie to Stephen Fry, but I loved this podcast so much that I listened to it twice before posting about it. I'm sure I'll listen to it many more times, because his delivery is so poetic in many ways.

I'm now seeing another side to the clothing as text thing, thanks to this podcast. I will check out Roland Barthes as well.

I have read before that the red pen makes people psychologically uncomfortable and defensive, and so it is wiser to edit with a different color. But then what would I do with my red pen? So that's what I do, because I have no other use for it, and wouldn't want its ink to go to waste.

When I have asked for "red pen" feedback on my own writing, I have been surprised to sometimes be greeted with apologies and over explanations about the marked changes. "You don't have to use this, it's only a suggestion." And so forth. Well, I know that I have the final say, of course. I just want to know what you would do if you had the final say. I think people need to be less sensitive about giving and receiving requested feedback.

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