Who ‘spared’ the mass killer? Investigating word choice in the media

by Craig Evans

When news outlets reported on the sentencing of James Holmes at the weekend, I was struck by the incongruity between the events described and the repeated use of the word ‘spared’. In July, Holmes was found guilty of the murders of 12 people in a cinema in 2012. Prosecutors in the case sought the death penalty, but the jury needed to be unanimous in their decision to pass this sentence. At least one juror opposed the death penalty, and Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The consensus in the media was that James Holmes had been ‘spared’. Here are some quotes from publications across the political spectrum:

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Caesar was ‘ere: name etchings at the Colosseum

by Craig Evans


Here is a photo of names etched into an interior wall of the Colosseum. I was there the other day while visiting Rome. Inside that ancient arena it is hard not to be drawn into musings about universal human truths. My own thoughts fixed on the idea of the spectacle and how societies, ancient and modern, are organised around staged performances. This is somewhat aided by the design of a circular, tiered structure which encourages a sense of belonging to a mass group with a common purpose while also marking social status differences. The presence of a ‘Royal Box’ for distinguished guests at Wimbledon suggests that this social function of the arena has survived into today’s world.

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Some thoughts on ‘impact’, the theme at iMean 2015

by Craig Evans

It was the fourth meeting for iMean, a biennial linguistics conference first held at UWE in 2009. Jointly organised by staff and students from UWE and the University of Warwick, this year’s event took place at Warwick. Here are some of my thoughts on the main theme of the conference…

‘Impact’ was the theme at this year’s iMean conference. I was there as a student volunteer helping out for four days in April. ‘Impact’ emanates from a source, and I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the source in question at iMean 2015, that is: the linguistics research community. Or at least, I should say, a variety of academics from across the world whose research focus is language. This seems to be an important distinction to make now that the onus falls increasingly on the individual researcher – rather than research community – to justify their work in terms of its ‘impact’.

It was fascinating, as an English Language and Linguistics undergraduate still fairly new to the world of language research, to observe seasoned academics as they grappled with this buzzword ‘impact’.

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Rhetoricitus: Why Politicians Need Our Sympathy

by Craig Evans

The accusation often levelled against politicians is that they are not straight with people, but I’m inclined to believe that it’s not entirely their fault. After all, they do have an affliction, a language condition (let’s call it rhetoricitus) which prevents them from saying exactly what they think.

The BBC has been campaigning for years to raise awareness of the plight of rhetoricitus sufferers, and every Thursday their in-house specialist, Mr David Dimbleby, runs a workshop. At the workshop, the brave men and women of Westminster are invited along to demonstrate the crippling effects of their affliction on their ability to give straight answers to questions posed by members of the public. With the workshops being broadcast on both television and radio, the hope is that such exposure will take away the stigma associated with rhetoricitus whilst encouraging people to be more accepting of sufferers’ use of language.

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Top 10 Secret Languages

by Craig Evans


The glaring question that faces anyone researching secret languages is: do ‘secret languages’ actually exist? The description seems to present something of a paradox, in that language facilitates communication whereas a secret is about resisting communication. How would a ‘secret language’ survive in a time when open, well-documented languages are continuously dying out? Furthermore, how would it come into being in the first place? The world’s languages have evolved over time and consist of a set of internal rules that native speakers learn from a very early age. In contrast, the need for secrecy is a cultural phenomenon that occurs after language has already been acquired.

The fact is, a truly secret language probably doesn’t exist. When we use the term ‘secret language’, we actually mean the secret adaptation of known languages. Alternatively, the expression might be applied to new mixed languages or unfamiliar slangs or jargons, when they are used or perceived to be used for purposes of concealment. Continue reading

Fleshing Out the Theorists – Uriel Weinreich

by Craig Evans

In anticipation of one of my third-year module options, Bilingualism and Language Contact, I thought I’d investigate one of the more prominent theorists in the field. Here’s a short portrait of the individual behind the theory…

A time of war: of mass population displacement, of destruction and upheaval, of new beginnings in the midst of chaos. It was also the time of Uriel Weinreich’s formative teenage years. Weinreich was 13 when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. When it happened, the young Weinreich, who came from Wilno in the east of the country, was with his parents in Copenhagen. Weinreich’s father, Max, a renowned linguist specialising in the Yiddish language, was travelling with his family to the International Congress of Linguists in Brussels when they heard the news. Soon after, the Soviet Union advanced into east Poland, and the long-disputed territory of Weinreich’s birthplace, Wilno, was handed over to Lithuania, readopting its old name Vilnius. Europe was in the grip of war, the future seemed bleak and uncertain, and the best option left for the Weinreichs was to seek a new life in America. Continue reading

Looking at Aphasia and Semantic Dementia

by Will Dance

Aphasia (sometimes known as dysphasia) is a condition that affects the brain and leads to the inability or impaired ability to both understand and produce speech due to progressive or sudden brain trauma or damage. Aphasia can be defined as a ‘communication disability’ and it is caused by the damage of the communication centres within the brain. The most common cause of aphasia is stroke (disturbance in the blood supply to the brain) but it is also caused by brain haemorrhages (an artery in the brain bursting and causing bleeding in the surrounding tissue, the bleeding kills brain cells) and brain tumours (a growth of cells in the brain that multiply uncontrollably). There is also a condition called Primary Progressive Aphasia although the cause of this is undecided. Sufferers of aphasia make errors in their speech and at times use the wrong sounds in a word, choose the wrong word or use words together incorrectly. Aphasia affects writing as well as speech. Many individuals with aphasia find it challenging to understand words and sentences they hear or read.

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Bilingual education in the Amazon – a journey

by Jeanette Sakel

When I started to work on the language Mosetén in the Bolivian Amazon 15 years ago, I realised pretty early on that I was looking at a language that was ‘endangered’. The village where I had started to work was still predominantly Mosetén speaking, but there were quite a few families where Spanish seemed to play the main role. Many children were growing up speaking only Spanish.

There are many reasons for this… Spanish is the national language of Bolivia, and despite other ‘big’ indigenous languages benefitting from national language status in the country, Mosetén was never going to compete. With under a thousand speakers living in close vicinity to Spanish-speaking migrants from the Andean highlands, the Mosetén language was confined to the family domain and viewed by the migrants as ‘less important’ or even ‘simple’ – which enticed some Mosetenes to hide the fact that they could speak the language. Continue reading

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