Aspects of British English

In class ( year 13 LK) we talked about what it means to be British and what our associations and – of course – stereotypes are about “Britishness”.

One aspect we saw was that language, showing not only education but also a person’s belonging to a certain class in society, plays at least a bigger role in England than in other countries. (Please write a comment if you don’t agree.) Special words for certain types of English, often related with a certain pronunciation, give some support to this thesis: “Upper Class English”, “the Queen’s English”, “Oxford English”, “BBC English” etc.

Please note that these are not regional varieties of language, which we find in the UK too. Also you should remember the example from the movie “East is East” when Mrs Khan, changing into upper class English from the usual working class English in order to impress their guests, showed the typical British awareness of the meaning of lanuage.

To have a few examples for the English language and its use, I have picked the following examples from YouTube for you. The first one is also a historical document, because it is the first speech by Queen Elizabeth II to be broadcast on tv of the year 1957. As usual one can get more information about this on Wikipedia.

The second example of a speech is rather new in comparison and its topic is globalization, so for us its worthwhile to listen what Gordon Brown has to say.

The last example is from almost totally different areas. Remember I said that British and American scientists try to be understandable and entertaining even when dealing with highly scientific matters. German scientists – it often seems – are too afraid to lose their scientific respectability so that their texts tend to be unnecessary difficult. Listen to neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky about how humans are (not) unique. (The first 4 minutes are an introduction which is quite nice but which you might want to skip…).

A Survivor’s Perspective

Here I would like you to visit a blog written by a (former?) student from Kenya, Africa, about “African stuff” as the author calls it. The link takes you to a post related to the genocide in Rwanda. It contains a link to  a CBS video site by reporter Bob Simon who tells the story of Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Tutsi woman who survived Rwanda’s genocide by the Hutus in 1994. Unfortunately the video link doesn’t seem to work, but here is the link to the text version.

Film Stills and Storyboards

When interpreting movies the obvious thing to do is of course watch the movie or use individual sequences from it or even scene stills and see what you can find in them. There is a lot to discover as I would like to prove with this example of a scene still from Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”. It is – among other things – a cinematic quotation of John Ford’s “The Searchers”, and most of all, if you have meditated about the composition, you will find it is a deeply touching proof of the director’s humanity in keeping the dignity of Mrs Ryan  at this very moment.

It is also worth it to look at a movie from the production side. Here the best thing would be to shoot a movie yourselves. This would involve all the interpretation from the opposite angle. You would have a lot of deecisions to make about the what and why.

A simpler approach is the storyboard which is part of the production process, placed somewhere between the printed script and the real filming. Drawing a storyboard you have to think about the camera angles and the types of shot you want to use and so you will automatically use all that film analysis vocabulary which otherwise will be theory only. Here is an example that looks quite like some  storyboards drawn by certain people in the LK13 course, so you see there is no need to be ashamed:

I found this example at a site of the Ohio State University about digital animation. It is definitely worth to look at that site. It also offers some further links which are interesting.

Storyboards for the big movie companies will look a bit more artistic in the end though. The next example is from a tv show you might have watched: the “Sarah Connor Chronicles”.  I found it on the blog of  storyboard artist Adrian van Viersen. Visit his site to look at more of the storyboards, also from other movies.

Premiere of Eastwood’s “Invictus” in London

guardian - invictus premiere - johannesburg“Invictus” had its premiere in London last week and will be released this Friday,  February 5th in the UK. German moviegoers have to wait until February 18th. You can already read quite a number of reviews and some general texts about the film, of course there’s also one at wikipedia on “Invictus”. There’s a link to the trailer in a privious post.

Here’s something to remind you that there is a lot to be found for improving your auditory comprehension on the internet. Listen to David Smith from The Guardian about “Invictus”:

Audio (5min 28sec), The Guardian,  16 Dec 2009: David Smith on new film of the Rugby World Cup, Invictus

Or just read David Smith’s (Guardian Africa correspondent) report on the movie’s premiere in Johannesburg. You’ll find a link to the audio file there, too.

A boy of war, a man of letters (The Observer / Review, 31 Jan 2010, Page 7)

In some magazine’s obituary these days it said if you are lucky you read “A Catcher in the Rye” when you are in your adolescence. I was one of those who happened to be that lucky. Salinger’s book was probably the first one where I – at the age of sixteen or  seventeen – found  in the character of Holden Caulfield a protagonist who seemed to experience the world as I saw it. A world of an older generation “with no real people any more” where almost everything or everyone seemed to be “phoney”.

Looking back from today it is surely a view shared by members of every new generation, which explains that a novel written by someone who was born in 1919 could reach me in 1972 or so.

Please read the obituary from this Sunday’s Observer:

A boy of war, a man of letters

31 Jan 2010

Several years ago, here at the Observer, we described JD Salinger as a writer who “seems to understand children as no English-speaking writer has done since Lewis Carroll”, which sounds odd until you consider his career as a man, a writer, a literary…read more…

Robert B. Parker: A man of virtue and wit – The Boston Globe

Meet Robert B. Parker, one of my favourite authors of detective stories. He followed in the footsteps of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ross MacDonald. All of which I discovered for myself when I was still in my last years at school.  (I owe them a lot for what they did for my English!)

As I add this remark after just having finished my post on the death of J.D. Salinger the thought comes to me that there is a resemblance between Salinger’s young protagonist Holden Caulfield and the detectives invented by Chandler and Ross MacDonald and maybe many other detectives who live in a world often ruled by people who do not share the detective’s values, and in which it is hard to hold on to one’s convictions and beliefs.

This week it’s a little dimmer in Boston. A brilliant light is out. A literary light. Robert B. Parker, extraordinarily successful author of dozens of books about Boston sleuth Spenser, as well as other novels and young adult stories, died on Monday at his writing desk. There isn’t a bookstore or airport in the free world that doesn’t have his titles on their shelves. And although he didn’t put Boston on the map, he helped keep it there, making this great city accessible to the reading public – its glory and feisty independence, its rich and varied culture, its history and beloved teams. Collectively, his Spenser books are a symphony to this city by the sea.

The complete text can be reached at the Boston Globe’s site from here.

Haiti Earthquake

Hopefully what happens in the wake of the terrible earthquake will show the positive side of globalization. Almost immediately after the catastrophy everybody could know about it anywhere in the world, because the world today is interconnected by the news media as well as on an individual level via the internet, mobil phones, satellites etc.

But not only that. Very fast help was organized and soon installed at Port-au-Prince, arriving from all over the world again. Help was organized by governments, by celebrities (think about the calls for donations in Germany or look at the “Help for Haiti Now Concert”) and by individuals (e.g. via their own personal blogs).

I believe that everybody who has watched these pictures wants to help or contribute to the help.

But of course some of you might say, there are so many places in the world where people are poor, get tortured and murdered or are simply starving – whatever. And who is to say where the media set their focus, and what we are to realize and what we are to forget because something else gets into the focus of the globalized news? And I have got no answer.

aid worker in Haiti /

All I know is: this has happened now and we know and we must help. And we must not forget Haiti in a few weeks or next year, like the poverty of Haiti had been forgotten or neglegted before the earthquake. My admiration is for those who are there and work until exhaustion in order to help.

Read “Exhausted Aid Workers Among those Leaving Haiti” from the English site of  “Der Spiegel” here, and look up blogs on wordpress or blogger or whereever …

To support my arguments about the positive side of globalization through the development of communications, let me remind you of this example: the first catastrophy which had an almost global response (though not in terms of help) was the eruption of the Krakatau in 1883. This response had only been made possible by the new  telegraph cables from the years 1870 and 1872 which ran on the bottom of the oceans and connected the eastern and the western world.

Only half a century before a much stronger volcanic eruption – the one of the Tambora in 1815 – had passed without notice in the western world, although the whole northern hemisphere felt the consequences one year later, as 1816 became the “Year without Summer“.

Poems on the Underground

How do you spend your time waiting on the underground platforms or riding a subway train? In Britain starting 1986, following in idea by American writer Judith Chernaik, poems were displayed on the platform walls and inside the trains. The aim was to bring  poetry to a wide range of people. What effect might these poems have had on the passengers who came to read poems by chance? In 2000 London Transport about 3.5 million journeys every day! Where else would one be able to reach so many people?

Read some examples of these poems here. The authors ranged from well known writers like Shakespeare to a lot of less known young poets.

Parting in Wartime / found at:

Sylvia Plath: "Child" / found at:

Alicante / found at:


I am looking forward to this movie which is announced for 2010, a specific date not yet given.

Charles Darwin was born in 1809 and his famous “On the Origin of Species” was published 1859. Darwin has changed our world view and the theory of evolution is – while widely accepted in the scientific world – still a matter if dispute and a matter of irritation for some believers (of the Christian, Yewish and the Islamic world).

Yet – as it happens so often – it means to simplify things when we hold a picture of Darwin as an atheist. This would stand in total contrast to the time he was born into. Charles Darwin was indeed a child of his time and that made him also a man of deep faith. His scientific research was both a source of enlightenment for him and a cause for conflict, doubt and inner struggle. His fight was not only one against the prevailing  scientific views of the Victorian era, against society and the church. It was also a fight with himself, with what he was brought up to believe in.

Today we can accept that faith and science do not exclude each other. Quite a number of famous biologists, physicists etc. are nevertheless deeply religious people. But what is hard to understand for a lot of people is this: as a scientist you may believe in God, but it is not blasphemious if you try to understand the world and the universe without turning to God as a last resort if something seems unexplainable. When one tries to understand the world in a scientific way one has to leave God out of the play.

When looking into the e-paper version of this Saturday’s Guardian I found this review of a book about Darwin, which has the focus on another yet not less important topic: the fight against slavery.

Adrian Desmond and James Moore: Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins. (Penguin)

The authors of the book want to point out that there was a real “moral passion” behind Darwin’s objective studies:

[…] an abiding faith in the “unity of mankind” inherited from his mother’s family, the Wedgewoods. Darwin was instinctively opposed to scientific racism but in the end he went much further than demonstrating that all races were equal: he showed that all species had a common ancestor. […]  (The Guardian, 16th Jan, 2010, Review, page 18)

This is a link to the homepage of the movie “Creation”.   Watch the trailer here:

cloning and stem cell articles

Sorry – I did not want you to buy that issue of the Scientific American, so I have withdrawn it from the reading list, both for the LK and the GK.

Instead I have returned to my favourite newspaper, the Guardian. See this interactive guide about cloning and read “The decade we learned the language of life“. This will be enough for the GK. LK members please read the basic information in “Stem cell research“, too.