Had Adwick, Doncaster been at this latitude when I was growing up, today would have been our first glimpse of the sun. Doncaster doesn’t have our mountains. Nevertheless, although we shall have to wait another two days before we see it ourselves, it was for the first time this year visible on the highest ground. On the horizon yonder a golden fire radiated around the distant peaks that at least for now kept us in the shade.
There is tangible collective optimism when the sun returns. Some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and for these the polar night can be a long time. In many communities, like Finnsnes where our competing blog Arctic Organist gets written, they really go overboard with a celebration in the church to which most of the schools come along. Then again, being further North they have good reason: they won’t be able to see the sun for another two weeks!
My apologies for perfectionists like myself. Because I have been taking so many pictures in dark conditions, I had left the ISO-setting at 1600, meaning that the images are a little too grainy for my liking. Nevertheless, in accordance with the policy of this blog stating “Although we reserve the right to use colour photography, black and white shall be preferred…” this is one of the occasions, then, when colour gets to be used.
We shall be getting a new employee in our church here in Lødingen in just over a week. He’ll be living in the apartment immediately over mine. Coming from Örebro in Sweden, he is going to experience huge changes even though he has missed the polar night. When he arrives, the day will only be a few hours long; by the middle of April, the last traces of night will be disappearing! The polar night has of course its counterpart: in the Summer from mid-May to mid July, the sun never goes down, and there really is no night from the last week of April to the first in August.
If anyone wants to experience the midnight sun then the best time to do so is the month of June. If you come in July, it is true that we have it until the middle of the month; but because things change so quickly here, one notices that the shadows are already getting longer with every passing day. If you really want to know what 24 daylight is like, my recommendation is the first two weeks of June. Then not only is the sun out 24 hours a day (if it’s not cloudy or rainy of course) – but it is still getting higher in the sky.
I shall publish some links to places you can stay in Lødingen later on. Right now, it’s bitterly cold. You wouldn’t really want to be here!
Andy Crane has just been talking about language on Radio Sheffield. More specifically, those expressions that “really get one’s goat”.
I don’t buy the linguists’ reassurances. He had one of these on his program. The English language is getting simpler. That isn’t in dispute. As it does so, however, my opinion is that it is losing nuances. Having more and more new words, which linguists like to mention supporting the idea of language growth, is a red herring. When I broke a set of china that I had inherited (during moving house), I had many more pieces of china than I had had before – but it certainly wasn’t worth the same.
Having now been away from England for a quarter of a century (!), I am sensitive to quite a lot of the changes. The wonders of the internet have allowed me to listen to Radio Sheffield, and it is a surreal experience listening to what I used to listen to as a schoolboy from my DAB/FM/and Internet radio here in Norway. I notice the language immediately, and when Andy Crane decided to talk about this – I couldn’t resist writing.
One of my pet gripes is the loss of the word “pupil”. Right from primary school, children are now called “students”. I know from correspondence with teachers this is done deliberately. “Student” is felt to be more respectful, or as the Outwood empire of schools based at Wakefield puts it “Students First” (yes, I know they are “academies” now, but I don’t have time to moan about that here). Yet this is firstly a loss of an important distinction, and secondly disingenuous in my opinion.
Firstly, a word about “in my opinion” though. That has to be the last time I write this. I remember when I went to the former Polytechnic of Huddersfield, we were told by our lecturer David Lennox that we should have the confidence to write what we thought. It should, he said, be obvious that it was our opinion; and now that we had got a place in higher education we should have that confidence about our own competency on the subjects we were writing about. I mention this because I can almost hear somebody thinking already, “well, that’s only your opinion”. Yes indeed it is my opinion, and that is why I write a blog about it!
By calling children “students” one is being disingenuous. Contrary to what you would think from an age with corporal punishment, schools were less autocratic when I was brought up. Looking at the “discipline policies” anyone can read for themselves on most schools’ websites, it seems to me that instead of calling it “a rule” one calls it now “a policy” – and somehow “policies” seems much nicer. My impression of the “student” life at school is that it is just as controlled as mine ever was as a pupil, if indeed not more so. Now these same policies for “students” are regulating their life even outside the school gates.
Yet there is another problem with “student”, which really comes back in the face of teachers thinking they are showing them respect. Let us say these teachers are successful in sending these “students” into higher education, there will now not be anything special about their new status – as students. Being a student formerly implied a greater degree of autonomy. If this were not so, then there would be no argument either for abandoning the term “pupil”: as we have seen, “student” is thought to be more respectful. Yet now this word “student” has become devalued and one denies today’s youngsters this later status.
I have already written about how language can sometimes do one’s thinking for a person, instead of the other way round. That English is simplifying (acknowledged by the linguists) means that everything we say today, Shakespeare could have said – but the opposite is not true. No Shakespeare didn’t know about computers, but he like we would have been able to invent a new word for something he hadn’t seen before. That is because in addition to words, as in the above example, we also have grammar. It is the grammar – not words – that is simplifying. In one respect, the argument that modern translations of the bible are more accurate is patently false: the English language can no longer distinguish between the singular and plural address. Given that biblical texts constantly alternate between “thou” and “you” within one sentence just like we alternate even today between “I” and “we”, there is no way that the paraphrasing into Modern English can be more accurate.
In 2004 I wrote a deliberately provocative essay on just that. It is called “Your Body Is NOT the Temple of the Holy Spirit”. Most churches in England and America are completely wrong on this. You can read why here. http://www.scribd.com/doc/49207268/Your-Body-Is-Not-The-Temple-of-The-Holy-Spirit
The distinction between “you” (singular) and “you” (plural) always used to be a problem for me when I lived in England. Once you grasp this, and start thinking it, then it can become a constant irritation for you. The model of communication is supposed to be TX (transmitter, ie speaker/writer), medium, and RX (receiver, ie hearer/reader). If I am transmitting “you” (plural) but in my receiver’s brain “you” (singular) pops out…. there is a real problem.
There is a problem. Most of you cannot see this, and if you do then chances are you have another language. It was only because fate brought me to a country where this distinction is a day to day part of my language that I escaped this.
So yes language is changing. That does not mean that this is necessarily progress, if that word is only understood to mean something good. I think the English language is much poorer today. One reason may well be that it is a victim of its own success. In order to become an international world language, it has had to adapt and simplify. Yet that has come at some cost.
Today I was really surprised. In a good way! A package awaited me in the post.
My surprise did not lessen when I opened it. I had got a relic! A friend with whom I correspond in England, who went to the school as I did – that same school I have written such a lot about in these blogs of mine – had sent me this pen (pictured) as a New Year present. It is made out the very building material that was salavaged when our school was knocked down.
It is difficult to describe how I felt when I held the wood that once housed our classes – the very same classes that once housed me! Here language and words fall too short.
Yet English is at any rate poorer that Norwegian if I first should try to put words to this. Indeed it was not so long ago that I discussed the (Norwegian) word “vemod” on a Facebook forum. Coincidently enough this was the forum for previous pupils of this very school. “Vemod” is precisely something I should employ to describe how I felt today, even though this does not translate so well into English. When we discussed “vemod” on the forum, Ken Cooke, who has a formidable insight into Norway, suggested that the best translation would be “melancholy”. While strictly speaking correct, “melancholy” is not the appropriate word for what I felt today.
I felt pride and grief all at the same time. In Norwegian I was certainly “vemodig”, but I was also something more. It is completely impossible to describe this (either in Norwegian or English). This feeling was as strong as it was strange. I have only to look at this pen, which is literally a relic from my schooldays, to feel a “stirring” within my heart.
There is no way I shall be taking my pen to work. It is going to remain where I live so that it does not sprout legs and walk…. my pens at the office seem to have a habit of doing just that! I have already thanked my friend by e-post, but I shall of course be sending her a proper “thank you” letter by post.
This gift was really a huge surprise. Adwick School rest in peace.
I like blogging. Language fascinates me.
It wasn’t always so. Though my blogs’ theme is based on my old school uniform, my schoolboy English was not something to be proud of. I consistently failed the old “O” level English examination until 1983, two years after leaving school. Indeed I also failed the examination in the Summer of that year as well!
When I decided to retake my failed examination something remarkable happened. This was at the former Doncaster Metropolitan Institute of Higher Education in that same Autumn. They held evening classes at the now demolished site in Waterdale, in the centre of town. All of us attending were there to redo in a matter of a few weeks what we had tried, and failed to do that Summer.
I wish I could remember the name of our teacher. He changed the course of my life – in more ways than I knew at the time, and not only in the English language. He shut the classroom door, and gesticulated that he had something to say to us almost as though he were afraid of saying it and might lose his job if he said it out aloud.
I can’t remember now when the course began, but he didn’t have a lot of time to change our failed examinations into passes. Therefore I can’t remember exactly how many weeks he said that we had, but what he said was truly astonishing. He said that we had only so many weeks until the examination, but he could guarantee us success if we would follow his method. There was only one catch: his method was an old fashioned one, and some did not approve of it in modern teaching.
Until these evening classes, I had used English “automatically” with my internal “autopilot”. That is to say that I wrote what I should say, and never thought about it any more than one thinks about how one walks. It is my belief that many people are now doing this very thing, and without most of these realizing it, their language does their thinking for them rather than letting them express ideas that they themselves have put together. Our teacher wanted us to analyse our language.
Obtaining so our surreptitious consent, he then introduced us to what we had thought was a very dirty word – grammar! In some respects, English is like a building that has lost one of its rooms. We started looking not just at how that building was today, but how it once used to be.
English address is a good example of this, where the plural has now to double up as a singular. Unless you know that, then it seems like the use of a plural verb, “are” for example, when one is addressing only one individual is just one of the many exceptions-to-the-rule that plague anyone who wants to use the language. Unless you have the grammatical bird’s eye view from above, then indeed it will seem like many complicated rules and exception to the rules just as in our example here.
We started writing out tables…. I am, thou art, he/she/it is, we are, ye(you) are, they are. We briefly looked at Middle English, but I have to say that most of what I now know of that came later. Nevertheless it was from the interest this evening class ignited inside me. Needless to say, I could see why verbs ended the ways they did very quickly. In Modern English, one simply cuts out the “thou” address, and replaces the “eth” verb ending with the “s” that we have today in the third person singular. Not complicated at all!
One of my major sins used to be the misplaced apostrophe. This subversive grammarian taught us that there were two types of apostrophe: the first when the apostrophe was used to show omission, and the second use to show possession. This was before I ever even heard of things like the genitive case, through my own study that followed!
Since I often pop into George Barton’s blog, and follow him on Twitter I have been introduced to the term “the apostrophe police”. This refers to those (like me) who have the audacity to pick people up on misplaced apostrophes. Nevertheless, for those of you who once and for all – guarantee! – want to learn this so you never make a mistake again, I shall give you the infallible rule.
The first use of the apostrophe is for an omission. Instead of writing the two words “it is”, you can contract these to “it’s”. The apostrophe stands for the omitted letter “i”. Instead of writing “you are”, you can contract to “you’re”, and the apostrophe is in place of the omitted letter “a”.
The second use, which I began this post with when I referred to the school uniform theme my blogs now use, is to show possession. You can very simply find out where to put the apostrophe here by rewriting the sentence using the preposition “of”. For example:
- the children’s toys – rewrite, the toys of the children (you know to put the apostrophe between “n” and “s”)
- the child’s book – rewrite, the book of the child (you know that the apostrophe is between “d” and “s”)
- the boys’ choir – rewrite, the choir of the boys (unless you really mean that one boy has started, and perhaps leads the choir, and that it is his project – then you know there are several of them, and the apostrophe comes after the “s” at the end)
- the boy’s friend – rewrite, the friend of the boy
So, whatever it is that you actually mean, write it first as an “of” sentence it you are in doubt! This always works! So if anyone thought that I had made a mistake at the beginning of this post, it should now be apparent that I was writing about the theme of my blogs (and not my blog). Yorkshire Viking Norway is twinned with a Norwegian sister blog.
I wish I could remember the name of our teacher who got me my English qualification. I should like to thank him. However I cannot, but I pay tribute here. What is more, if you follow the advice above, neither will you go wrong. Ever!
Whatever the competition does at Arctic Organist, we’d better do even better….
So without further a do…. Jon posts pictures, so I’ll post video 😉
Happy New Year to Everybody!
(and of course to you Jon, whose competition keeps Yorkshire Viking Norway on its toes!)
Our sister blog www.cqd.nu has embedded the King’s New Year Address.