The Confusing Language of Mortgage Lending

by Craig Evans

A response to today’s news story about interest-only mortgages

I have a lot of sympathy for the ‘nearly a million homeowners’ who face losing their homes after opting for interest-only mortgages. I can also understand why more prudent borrowers and a lot of non-homeowners might feel differently; after all, who’d want to pay only the interest on a loan that they can’t afford to pay back in full?

The logic against it is very sound. However, so too is the logic in favour of taking out an interest-only loan: surely the lender wouldn’t give out hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time unless there was a clear plan for capital repayment – right?

I should probably now take a step outside this post and explain that it is not my intention to write about finance. This is actually an issue concerning language and communication. Having previously spent a number of years working in the mortgages department of a finance company, I can appreciate why people might put their faith in common sense when faced with the often opaque language of financial services.

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Politicians and Their Words: Some Thoughts about Semantic Prosody

by Craig Evans

The battle-lines of political discourse in the context of election campaigns are often drawn at the level of individual words. Take, for example, the following words: ‘immigrants’, ‘benefits’, ‘bankers’, ‘Islamic’, ‘Brussels’, ‘politicians’. While defined in neutral terms by dictionaries, these words tend to acquire a derogatory sense when used in the media or by politicians themselves: ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘benefits cheats’, ‘bankers’ bonuses’, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, ‘Brussels’ bureaucracy’, ‘distrust of politicians’.

The collocates that frequently occur with these words, as illustrated here, influence their semantic prosody; that is, the degree to which they have negative or positive associations. In the discourse of British political debate, the semantic prosody of these particular words tends to be negative. Alternatively, words like ‘troops’, ‘nurses’, ‘countryside’, ‘schools’, ‘British values’, ‘communities’, etc tend to have positive associations. This is because of the frequency with which they collocate with the possessive determiner ‘our’, where the sense of them belonging to us implies a positive emotional connection.

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CDA speeches! A practical exploration of Aristotle’s artistic proofs and other rhetorical techniques

by Craig Evans

For last week’s Critical Discourse Analysis module, several students volunteered to write speeches which they then delivered in the seminars. The purpose of the exercise was to explore the way that features of classical rhetoric, in particular Aristotle’s artistic proofs, work in persuasive writing. The format involved four speakers in each seminar making opposing arguments on two topics. After each speech the rest of the seminar group were asked to discuss the rhetorical merits of the speech; and after each topic, a vote was held to decide which argument had won the most support.

The two topics chosen by students to speak on were immigration and the Oscar Pistorius trial. Speakers were asked to argue against or for the following propositions:

“Immigration has gone far enough and a firm limit should now be placed on Britain’s borders”

“Oscar Pistorius is guilty of murder and should be sentenced accordingly” Continue reading

Glory and war: some thoughts on the language of remembrance

by Craig Evans

This year is the centenary of the start of ‘the war to end all war’. Images of flag folding at Camp Bastion to mark the end of Britain’s controversial 13-year-long military campaign in Afghanistan have been broadcast on the news during the past week. It is a reminder of the hopeless idealism of this expression, often attributed to HG Wells, to describe the First World War. Next Sunday is Remembrance Sunday. In the grounds of the Tower of London at the moment, tens of thousands of ceramic poppies are on display to commemorate people who have died serving in the armed forces.

For many, this hundred-year-old ritual of remembrance is sacred. To question its meaning is to express contempt for people who have ‘made the ultimate sacrifice’ in the ‘line of duty’. Others believe that remembrance is a custom that encourages a sanitised and glorified view of war and should therefore be scrutinised.

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Another advantage to being bilingual?

by Jeanette Sakel
A new study in one of the leading journals on language contact shows that bilingual children cope more easily with noisy classrooms, and are hence able to focus on a task despite substantial background noise. The tasks tested were relating to grammar (find a subject of a sentence, etc.).
Now why is this the case? The researchers want to look at this question in more detail, so there’ll be more interesting research into this area soon.
The CUP blog article about the paper is here: http://cup.linguistlist.org/journals/bilingual-children-cope-well-in-noisy-classrooms/

The actual paper can be accessed through the UWE library, where we hold an online subscription to the journal (Bilingualism: Language and Cognition).

In the news: “uptalk”

by Jeanette Sakel
Today’s BBC website features an article about the rise in intonation commonly heard at the end of a sentence without expressing a question:
There are some interesting theories discussed in the article – with comments from a number of linguists. Crystal’s comment about it sounding ‘Danish’ is not really correct, though, as this is not an intonation pattern of Danish. In Norwegian, however, it is quite typical.

The languages of Bolzano/Bozen

by Jeanette Sakel
I recently gave an invited talk in Bolzano/Bozen in Northern Italy, and I could not help but be amazed by the linguistic situations of the Alto Adige/Südtirol region of Italy. And since there is even a Guardian article about the language situation in this region today, I decided it was time for a new blog post.
Südtirol used to be part of The Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but became part of Italy at the end of the First World War. Yet, even a century later, the majority of people in this region still feel Austrian, or if not Austrian then at least ‘more’ Austrian than Italian. Local varieties of German are typically spoken here by the majority of local inhabitants. High German is only really used in highly official situations, if at all.

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After Analysing a Book is it Possible to Enjoy it?

By Tom Warner

When you find a book that you enjoy reading, you generally appreciate certain aspects of how it has been written. One example would be the creation of a character identity and how that affects you. Another may be the problems that are tackled by the characters or narrator within the plot. The question is: would you still see these features for what they are, after completing an in-depth analysis of the ‘themes’ or ‘representations’?

The theme of a book could be used to represent a common problem that we all face, so that the characters and the audience are connected. Certain personalities could also be displayed in the book that mirror those in society. This angle is sometimes thought of as a step towards the true understanding of an author’s creative choices. Alternatively, it could be seen as evidence of ‘over thinking’ and a sense of desperation for meaning, on the part of the reader. There does not always need to be a specific moral message behind the story. Sure the content may relate to our lives to grab our attention, but a life lesson or concept does not always have to be present. Continue reading

Decisions Decisions – Third-Year Module Choices

by Craig Evans

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / And sorry I could not travel both’ – Robert Frost


Friday’s module option fair has left me in a bit of a quandary. What to do, what to do? From the start I was certain about three of the four options, and I had hoped the fair would help me make up my mind about the fourth. Alas, it has not! I am stuck between two choices, but come 12 noon tomorrow (when the online module choices open), for better or worse, I will make my decision.

It is not a decision to be taken lightly, though. How do we want to spend our final year studying English Language and Linguistics at UWE: will it be with lecturers we favour? Are we going to allow ourselves to be swayed by what our friends choose? Or will we base our decision entirely on the module content?

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