Language

Abroad thoughts from home

One fascinating aspect of the country’s foolhardy departure from the European Union is the fate of Britons in the 27 member states of the European Union; and more particularly how they are depicted here now that the “free and independent coastal state” of Brexitannia has “taken back control“.

Keen observers of the British media will note all foreigners seeking to come to the English Empire (which some refer to as the United Kingdom. Ed.) to settle are referred to as “migrants“. When used by the right-wing press or politicians, “migrants” has a clear pejorative tone to the effect that these people are not as good as us.

However, in line with British exceptionalism as Brits seeking to or having taken up residence abroad are termed “expats” by the fourth estate, as per this typical specimen from yesterday’s Daily Brexit, which some still call Daily Express.

Headline reads Brexit BACKLASH: British expats could abandon Canary Islands for Greece and Cyprus

Expats? Emigrés? Immigrants?

 

Of course, what the Daily Brexit forgets is that even in Greece and Cyprus, holders of those nice, new and allegedly blue British passports will still be classed as third country citizens by the Greek and Cypriot authorities; and if they try staying there for longer than the maximum period without applying for a residence permit, they’ll be regarded as illegal immigrants, just as they are now finding out on the Costa del Sol.

Expat” is of course a truncation of the term “expatriate“, with the shorter form’s first recorded use in the first half of the 1960s.

When people move for work, settlement or other reasons, the language used about them is always full of meaning. In earlier, less judgemental times those who left British shores to settle abroad might have been referred to as “émigrés” or “emigrants“, whilst those coming here for permanent settlement were “immigrants“, which had more than its fair share of negative connotations in times past.

Nowadays all those negative connotations are to a certain effect by “migrant“, which, unlike “immigrant” or “emigrant” is not specific about the person’s direction of travel.

Nevertheless, I can see the exceptionalism continuing and am not expecting the Daily Brexit to refer to Brits resident abroad as “British immigrants” at any time soon. 😉

PS: Apologies to Robert Browning for this post’s title.

Another classic headline

Bristol Live (formerly the Bristol (Evening) Post. Ed.) really has form when it comes to writing ambiguous headlines (posts passim).

Attempting to drive whilst giving birth is extremely dangerous! Do not try it on the roads! 😀

Headline reads 'Dangerous driver had baby in car before crash'

New alternative to binning soft plastic

Tesco logoThe BBC reports that Tesco is to introduce collection points for soft plastic packaging such as crisp packets, pet food pouches and bread bags at its stores in England and Wales.

This follows a successful trial in 2018 at 10 stores.

The roll-out will start with facilities being installed in 171 stores in south-west England and Wales.

Tesco is hoping to collect 1,000 tonnes of soft plastic a year and customers may return packaging from other retailers as well as its own packaging provided all packaging presented for collection is clean.

Soft plastic is notoriously hard to recycle and most currently ends up going to landfill or being incinerated.

Given Bristol’s wide range recycling collections, this type of plastic makes up the majority of my residual waste collected by the refuse lorry.

With this move, Tesco is finally living up to its “Every little helps” motto.

Theft, consent and tautology

Another day and every regional newspaper in the country is replete with examples of one of its mainstays – reports of criminal cases being processed through the local courts of justice.

The details of one case in particular on the Bristol Live (formerly the Bristol Post. Ed.) website caught my eye for one single sentence.

In the relevant sentence we are told that the defendant*

stole his dad’s car keys without consent last October.

I have never before heard of an item being stolen with its owner’s consent, so let’s examine that sentence in detail.

We are told the defendant “stole his dad’s car keys“.

The dictionary definition of the verb to steal is “to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force“. That definition includes the words without permission, i.e. without consent.

The lack of consent is implicit in verb’s definition, hence the qualification without permission is superfluous.

This brings us to another concept with which the author of the piece in question will be unfamiliar: tautology, i.e. “needless repetition of an idea, especially in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness“.

To some it may seem that I’m being overly pedantic, but as a linguist I’m all too aware that words matter as they are the only tools we have to convey meaning and in being the main source of information the press has a duty to use them properly.

* = Name omitted as having his name pop up once for a youthful misdemeanour in search engine results is enough without my adding to his woes.

Amazon customer couldn’t post review in Welsh of Welsh book

Cover of Llad Duw novel by Dewi PrysorAmazon was forced to apologise and blamed a “technical error” for a customer being unable to post a review in Welsh of a novel written in Welsh, Wales Online reports.

Cathryn Sherrington of Cardiff had submitted a Welsh Language review which she then translated to English of the book Lladd Duw, by Dewi Prysor.

The book is described by its publisher as a “hefty, ambitious novel set in London and an imaginery [sic] seaside town. It deals with the destruction of civilisation from the standpoint of the working class. An intense, dark novel but with the usual humour from Dewi Prysor.

Cathryn’s review reads as follows:

Gwych Brilliant. I haven’t read a Welsh book for years – sometimes the formality of written Welsh puts me off – this is brilliant though.
Hawdd i ddarllen, stori gyffroes, cymeriadau diddorol. Wedi joio fo gymaint dwi’n mynd i ddarllen mwy o lyfrau Cymraeg.”

In English the review’s second sentence reads: “Easy to read, exciting story, interesting characters. Have enjoyed it so much I’m going to read more Welsh language books“.

However, Amazon which employs 1,000 people in Swansea, emailed Cathryn implying her review might have broken its guidelines.

There then followed a social media and email exchange between Cathryn and Amazon at the end of which the latter relented, stating: “This was due to a technical error for which we apologise. It has now been resolved.”

Planning for clichés

The inspiration to write this post was what an old friend referred to on social media as the Town Planners’ Little Book of Tired Clichés.

We were discussing a press report on long-term plans for Bristol Temple Meads, the city’s main railway station and its environs.

The report itself was written up from a press release issued by the literary geniuses employed in the Bristol City Council Newsroom down the Counts Louse (which some people now call City Hall. Ed.).

Bristol Temple Meads railway station

Bristol Temple Meads. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whilst avoiding clichés has long been a given as advice for good creative writing, the various actors quoted in the Temple Meads piece seem to relish in their use.

Thus the surrounding area “will be rejuvenated with housing, shops and hospitality outlets creating a new area of the city where people can live, shop, visit and socialise”.

Note the exemplary use of rejuvenated.

In addition, how a new area of the city can be created by covering an existing but derelict city area in architecturally contrived arrangements of building materials is beyond me. If you have any clues, dear reader, please enlighten me via the comments.

Then there’s that essential element for anything involving urban planning – the vision thing. This is ably provided in this case in a quotation by Network Rail’s spokesperson: “We are delighted to be working with our partners on this significant regeneration project and Bristol Temple Meads station is at the heart of this vision.”

Helmut Schmidt, who served as the West German chancellor from 1974 to 1982, had a thing to say about visions: “Wer Visionen hat, sollte zum Arzt gehen“. In English: People who have visions should go to the doctor. Genau! Sie haben Recht, Herr Schmidt.

Needless to the whole glossary of hackneyed phraseology seems to have been upended into the phraseology mixing bowl to create something not only unappetising, but indigestible: ambitious; innovative; rejuvenate/rejuvenation; regeneration; gateway; transformation/transformative; integrate; blueprint; showcase.

And on the clichés go, marching tediously across and down the page.

There are nevertheless a couple of absolute gems in the piece to compensate for all this guff.

Firstly,there’s the timescale for the plans. We are are informed that “work is not expected to start for another decade with the expected completion not until 2041 at the earliest“. Thus all that hot air is being expended on something whose actual implementation is two decades in the future; if not more.

A well-known adage springs to mind: pigs might fly.

Secondly, there’s the promise of an integrated transport hub. Basically this means creating a major public transport interchange (as seen in sensible city’s where the local bus/tram serve the railway station). To my knowledge, there’s been talk of a transport hub/interchange at Temple Meads for at least 3 decades already, so for it actually to become a reality within 5 decades would entail the city’s infrastructure planning process moving at more than their usual slower than tectonic plates speed.

LibreOffice 7.0 beginner’s guide launched

Cover of LibreOffice 7.0 Getting Started GuideThe Document Foundation’s blog announced last week that the LibreOffice Documentation Team had released its LibreOffice 7.0 Getting Started Guide. The Guide, which was previously issued for LibreOffice version 6.4, has been updated to include all the new and improved features of LibreOffice 7.0, the latest version of LibreOffice, the free and open source alternative to proprietary office suites.

The guide has been drafted especially for those wanting to get up to speed quickly with LibreOffice, whether they are new users of office productivity software or already have some familiarity with other office suites, such as Microsoft’s ubiquitous and expensive offering.

The guide provides an introduction the LibreOffice’s 6 major components, i.e.:

  • Writer (word processing)
  • Calc (spreadsheets)
  • Impress (presentations)
  • Draw (vector graphics)
  • Base (database)
  • Math (equation editor)

Furthermore, it also covers some of the features common to all those components – set-up and customisation, styles and templates, macro recording, digital signing and printing.

The guide can be downloaded (PDF format) from LibreOffice’s English Documentation site., which also includes links to documentation in other languages, as well as user guides for earlier LibreOffice releases.

Express implodes in fury

Nearly 80 years ago, Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin laid into the press on 17th March 1931 accusing them of wanting “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages“.

When it comes to harlotry combined with lack of responsibility, it’s hard to emulate the Express.

For years these purveyors of xenophobia have actively campaigned for the country to leave the European Union, telling all manner of lies in the process.

Since achieving that aim the xenophobia has not abated in the slightest; and neither have the lies.

Yesterday the Daily Brexit – as it is otherwise known – reported (if it can indeed be called that. Ed.) on the the progress post-Brexit UK-US trade deal; or rather the lack of any progress.

However, anyone expecting a rational, balanced account would have been sorely disappointed.

Screenshot of Express website article with headline reading: It's a CON!' Britons react with fury after Biden puts brakes on post-Brexit trade deal

The only con is the poor quality of Express reporting

It’s a CON!’ Britons react with fury after Biden puts brakes on post-Brexit trade deal‘ screamed the headline.

What? All Britons? Hardly.

In total, five Britons were quoted, all of them Express readers, hardly a scientifically selected cross-section of British society.

There is no input to the piece from the alleged government, not even a nudge or wink from the usual unidentified Whitehall source.

Not that such a minor detail matters to the bigots in the Express’ editorial office, who just wanted another opportunity to rant at these beastly foreigners and whose readers were more than happy to assist, especially as a trade deal with the USA was a major objective of Johnson’s Vote Leave government and, if achieved, would represent a major face-saver for a hardline administration whose tanking of the economy by its extremely poor deal with the EU has so far been masked by the damage done by coronavirus.

Furthermore, the piece is an opportunity for the Express to put the boot in on Katherine Tai, President Biden’s nomination for United States Trade Representative, both of whose parents were born in China, so enabling yet more causal bigotry from the Express.

Finally, it’s been a matter of general fact even before his election as president that Joe Biden does not regard the clinching of a trade deal with a post-Brexit United Kingdom as a high priority. Whereas previous US presidents have tended to use the UK as a bridge when dealing with the EU, a UK outside the EU is of less utility to Washington, since Biden has already bypassed the UK and has already been talking directly to Brussels.

If there has been a con, it’s been all the lies and British exceptionalism nonsense that the Express – exercising its power irresponsibly – has published for years.

Footways, footpaths and pavements

How many of us pay that much attention to road signs when out and about on our daily business on foot as pedestrians?

I mean really pay attention, not just to the instruction being given or the advice being offered by the road sign itself, but the actual words used.

Take the two examples below, both taken during this past week on the streets of Bristol. Both are on a part of the highway used by pedestrians and generally referred to by the general public as the pavement (on which more anon. Ed.). But which – if any – is the correct term? Are footways and footpaths the same?

Composite image showing 'Diverted Footway' and 'Footpath Closed' road signs

Left, Newfoundland Road = correct. Right, Lansdown Road, Easton = incorrect.

To answer the second question first, no; they are not the same.

If there’s one thing many decades of being a linguist has taught me, it is that terminology is important – the correct word used in the right context.

One generally has be a legislator, highway engineer or transport campaigner to know the difference between a footway and a footpath.

Fortunately, it is clearly defined in legislation, in this case the Highways Act 1980, which provides the following definitions:

“footpath” means a highway over which the public have a right of way on foot only, not being a footway;
“footway” means a way comprised in a highway which also comprises a carriageway, being a way over which the public have a right of way on foot only.

In addition, Cheshire East Council provides the following information on its webpage entitled “What Are Public Rights of Way?

You should be careful to distinguish between ‘public footpaths’ and ‘footways’. Pavements beside public roads are not public footpaths – it is better to refer to them as footways or simply pavements.
Footways are not recorded on the Definitive Map as Public Rights of Way. A footway is really a part of the main highway which has been set apart for pedestrians.

Nevertheless, a caveat needs to be added to the clause where Cheshire East Council advises that “it is better to refer to them as footways or simply pavements“.

The caveat is that there’s a world of difference between what “pavement” denotes to ordinary mortals and professionals such as civil and highway engineers: for the former it’s the footway; for the latter more specialised use, Britannica gives the following definition:

Pavement, in civil engineering, durable surfacing of a road, airstrip, or similar area. The primary function of a pavement is to transmit loads to the sub-base and underlying soil.

Who would have thought two words on two such simple temporary road signs deployed for road works could be such a terminological minefield? 😉

A language lesson for an ignorant MP

The continuing ignorance of the hardline Tory MPs who spearheaded the UK’s departure from the European Union is a gift that just keeps on giving.

Not only do they not understand how the EU works (clue: it’s a rules-based organisation. Ed.), they also do not know how international trade works (clue: that’s also a rules-based system. Ed.).

When it comes to ignorance of the workings of international trade – and tariffs in particular – Shrewsbury and Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski has previous form, ending up looking a lemon in respect of, er, lemons.

However, there appears to be no start to Daniel’s ignorance and no end to his vanity in wanting to draw attention to the same. On Monday 22nd February he posted the tweet below on his Twitter account.

Tweet reads: Now we have left EU & creating exceptionally strong global economic partnerships with key non European partners, the time has come for a debate as to which languages are taught to children in schools. I feel the almost total domination of French Spanish & German needs review.

Daniel no doubt believes that these languages are spoken solely in countries such as France, Spain and Germany in the hated EU.

Time to think again, Danny Boy! 😀

Let’s start with your last mentioned language shall we, Daniel (especially as it might be considered the easiest to dismiss.Ed.)?

German is, of course, spoken in Germany. However, it’s also the official language in Austria as well as being one of Belgium’s four official languages. In Italy’s province of Alto Adige (also known as the Südtirol. Ed.), 62% of the population are German speakers. Outside the EU, German is also one of Switzerland’s four official languages. German is a recognised minority language in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia. Beyond Europe there are still 25,000-30,000 native German speakers in Namibia, despite it ceasing to be a German colony over a century ago: some 12,000 persons whose first language is German currently live in South Africa. Turning to South America, there are an estimated 1 million German speakers, with German-speaking minorities in almost every Latin American country including Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In North America, there are also German-speaking minorities in both the USA and Canada.

The map below illustrates where German is spoken around the world.

German speaking areas of world

The German-speaking world. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How does Daniel fare with French?

Equally badly is the answer.

Besides the EU countries of France, Belgium and Luxembourg, French is also spoken within Europe in Monaco and parts of Italy. Throughout the world there are estimated to be some 274 million French speakers, of whom some 77 million are native speakers. Within the EU alone, French is the third most widely spoken language (after English and German), being spoken by 19.71% of the population and is the second most-widely taught language after English. It’s an official language not only in France, but Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco and Switzerland. It is also widely spoken in Italy’s Aosta valley region.

However, it is in Africa – and particularly former French colonies and territories – that the majority of the world’s French speakers live. According to a 2018 estimate from the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, an estimated 141 million African people spread across 34 countries and territories can speak French as either a first or a second language. This estimate does not include those inhabitants of non-Francophone African countries who have learned French as a foreign language.

Looking at the Americas, French is the second most common language in Canada, after English, and both are official languages at the federal level. It is the sole official language in the Canada’s Quebec province. In the USA, French is the fourth most-spoken language in the United States after English, Spanish, and Chinese, when all forms of French are considered, according to the United States Census Bureau.

The following map shows membership of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, the international organisation representing countries and regions where French is either a lingua franca or customary language.

Map of membership of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie

Membership of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

So far that’s two own goals Daniel’s scored on the worldwide importance of 2 of the major foreign languages taught in British schools.

How does he fare with his third target – Spanish?

In short, not any better.

Today Spanish has 500 million native speakers, mainly in Spain and the Americas and is the world’s second-most spoken native language after Mandarin Chinese and the world’s fourth-most spoken language overall after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi. Overall there are estimated to be 586 million speakers of Spanish in the world. As befits its large number of speakers, Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and it is also used as an official language by the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the African Union and many other international organisations, as well as being one of the world’s most widely taught foreign languages.

Below is a map showing where in the world Spanish is spoken.

Map of the Hispanophone world

Map of the Hispanophone world. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So how’s Daniel done?

In brief, not very well.

If Mr Kawczynski had been a footballer instead of a member of Parliament, he would have gone down in the match report as having scored three goals for the opposing side, also know as own goals (Kawczynski 3, og).

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Daniel has been appointed the UK’s trade envoy to Mongolia. If his tweet was an attempt to increase the teaching Mongolian as a foreign language in British schools, it was, to say the least, extremely clumsy.

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