Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Selfie and other reflections

Last year, I was fascinated to hear about the research that was being done on the vocabulary used in the BBC Radio2 500 Word Competition for children 13 and under.  Words from the 90,000 stories entered into the competition were analysed to understand how children today are using English.  These examples of children’s writing were then also used in the Oxford Children’s Corpus, a research programme that analyses use of English language for (and now by) children across print, online, fiction and non-fiction, building up a picture of how children’s language is different from that of grown-ups, in a way recognising that they describe a different view.  Rather like when we let Puce use the camera for the first time and we got a glimpse into her vision of the world...

The announcement that selfie is the Oxford Dictionaries 2013 word of the year has got me thinking about how grown-up’s English language evolves, new words are adopted and whether there are things to be learned from children’s word inventions.

When you’re bilingual parenting, you have to keep a finely tuned ear open for words from the “other” language straying into sentences where they shouldn’t be; in our house, for instance, things like rapped carrots (carottes râpées) being passed off as grated carrots.  

Franglais aside, Puce sometimes invents words, as most children do.  My family in Scotland has unanimously adopted “alsoly” (derived from also), even though Puce herself no longer uses it – we all considered that it had its place in the flow of a conversation “…and alsoly…”.  The arrival of a guinea pig in our flat has created a lot of discussions about pet care and who’s in charge of “look aftering” the furry friend.  Somehow look aftering sounds better than looking after.  Applying mascara is part of the “make upping” routine, which suggests that “clean upping” will probably follow the same rule.

Quick as I am to discourage franglais, I’m loathe to correct these “new” words.  I like them and I like the fact that it challenges the way I think about how we express things in English, a bit like someone has come in and moved all the furniture around and suddenly the same room looks different.

From its first use in an Australian online forum in 2002, “selfie” has now become a generalised term in the English-speaking world for a self-portrait, with a 17,000% increase in use the last year.  So who’s to say that “alsoly” might not one day end up in the dictionary?

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