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Tag: Cambridge

English: Going nowhere and everywhere

Wednesday, 13 July, 2016 0 Comments

Andrew Linn is Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Westminster. He studied English and Modern Languages at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and he was Professor of the History of Linguistics and successively Head of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield. So, he should know what he’s talking about, then, when it comes to the future of the English.

Britain may be leaving the EU, but English is going nowhere” was the title of his article that appeared in The Conversation (motto: “Academic rigour, journalistic flair”) on 4 July. A week later, it was given a wider platform when it was published by Quartz, the global business news website of the Atlantic Media Company. This time, it had a different title: “English is and will be the lingua franca of Europe in spite of Brexit.”

Was the headline change prompted by the, er, Atlantic divide? Or because of literal and figurative incomprehension? Let’s look at the language and the meaning of go nowhere.

Confusion arises because the phrases “going nowhere” and “not going anywhere” have literal and figurative meanings. In the figurative sense, both can mean “not changing” or “not making progress.” Example: “His career in Brussels is going nowhere.” Meaning: He’s not climbing the greasy ladder at Eurocrat HQ. But here’s where it gets tricky: “not going anywhere” can have the same meaning as “going nowhere”. Example: “His career in Brussels is not going anywhere now, thanks to those chavs in Sunderland.”

But “not going anywhere” can also mean “constantly in existence.” Example: “Theresa, you know you can count on me here in Brussels. I’m not going anywhere.” Meaning: I’m in the Berlaymont building and I’m staying here to support you during this nasty Article 50 business, no matter how long it takes.

Keep Calm As regards the content of the dual-headlined piece, that will be the subject of another post, but one thing requires addressing right away. Andrew Linn writes: “The preponderance of English has nothing to do with the influence of Britain…” This is daft as it suggests modern British culture, from The Beatles to Monty Python to J.K. Rowling to Idris Elba, plays no role when English is being taught in Munich, Dakar or Lima. English is everywhere now and the the influence of Britain is key to understanding why this is so and why so many of its teachers draw upon certain models that affect how learners acquire the language and absorb the prestige that makes it so attractive. The influence of Britain, like the soft power of Miss Marple or James Bond, is global, linguistically, whatever about politically, diplomatically or militarily.


The toxic elites combined

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

“In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites — the economic elites of ‘the City’ (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together. This has proved to be a toxic combination.”

Peter Mandler teaches British history at Cambridge University. According to Dissent, which published Britain’s EU Problem is a London Problem, Mandler “voted Remain, so he is probably part of the problem.” In an admirable example of fairness, however, he takes his own side to task for its arrogance:

“Rather like the New York Times’ attitude to Trump, Remain thought it could laugh off Leave, or dazzle it with ‘facts.’ A very large part of the Remain campaign was focused on troupes of ‘experts’ — investment experts, science and university experts, fiscal policy experts—signing collective petitions and open letters declaring their loyalties to Europe. This played directly into anti-elitist sentiment. A very telling point late in the EU referendum campaign came when Michael Gove, one of the right-wing Conservative leaders of the Leave side, was quoted as saying that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts.’ Much fun was made of this remark. But it touched a nerve. The next day a leaflet came through my letterbox from Remain. ‘Find out what trusted experts say’: a range of views from left to right backing Europe, including a trade unionist, a military chief, a scientist, a banker, and a billionaire entrepreneur. All live in London and the southeast except for one Scot and the billionaire, who lives in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. That billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, took out full-page ads in all the major papers in the last days of the campaign, extolling Europe.”

A powerful new caste has come to believe it deserves to rule the world. It combines a brazen devotion to self-preservation with contempt for ordinary people, who are increasingly set against one another in a battle for survival. It ignores the declaration made on this day in 1776 in Philadelphia that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


Summer reading

Tuesday, 3 July, 2012

The 19th century is drawing to a close as a young Cambridge student travelling through France arrives in the small, decaying cathedral town of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, at the foot of the Pyrenees. He spends a day exploring the interior of the cathedral and is encouraged by the sacristan to buy an old scrap book that was […]

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When Churchill flirted with Basic English

Monday, 7 May, 2012

In the early 1920s, a rather eccentric Cambridge academic named C.K. Ogden came up with the idea of “Basic English“, which reduced the language to 850 words. One can imagine Winston Churchill, then in his mid-forties, having been shocked by such an idea, but circumstances change cases and, astonishingly, the great orator and author of […]

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