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“Thank you, thank you so much” – the language of acceptance speeches

Celebrity red carpet interviewJudith Willis, former Publishing Manager for bilingual dictionaries in ELT at Oxford University Press, looks at common themes in the language of acceptance speeches.

If you’ve ever had a nightmare about standing tongue-tied on stage grappling for words, you may find it instructive – and consoling – to study what the winners of major film awards say when they pick up the accolade. Analysis of recent acceptance speeches reveals the key features of the genre.

The stars are urged to keep their speeches brief – the average length is just 187 words and on the whole they’re getting shorter. As the main purpose is to express gratitude, the word thank is unsurprisingly the runaway winner occurring on average nearly 6 times per speech, with Thank you, thank you so much a common phrase:

Thank you, thank you so much.  […] Thank you so much, the Academy, what an honor.

This quote illustrates the popular rhetorical device of repeating words to emphasize the message. Some speakers, maybe aware of over-reliance on a single word, display a touch of irony:

There are  […] thousands of people to thank, so thankfully I’m not going to thank them now.

Unfortunately, award-winners don’t consult a thesaurus – occurrences of gratitude and grateful are fairly sparse, but there are a few instances of shout-out as in:

A big shout-out to Monty Norman and the late John Barry for that iconic theme.

The object of these outpourings are the awarding body, the fellow nominees (a term used predominantly by American English speakers, echoing the presidential my fellow Americans/citizens), the director – sometimes spoken of in nautical terms as our beloved skipper or our visionary captain, the cast, crew and team, and, of course, the speaker’s entire family. All of the above are frequently assured of the speaker’s love, especially at the Oscars:

And to our kids  […]. I love you guys.

Along with the thanks often comes surprise – favourite exclamations are wow, oh my, etc:

Oh my, oh my God. Oh wow really, […] truly wow. / Oh boy. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this.

The top adjectives used to describe the honour, emotions, etc. are, in order of frequency: wonderful, incredible, amazing, brilliant, extraordinary and fantastic, sometimes preceded by the intensifiers really, absolutely and truly.

Film or movie? This clearly depends in part on who the individual award-winners are: the BAFTAs show a strong and consistent preference for film over movie, but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the Oscars are undergoing a shift from film to movie with movie staying ahead of film at the 2013 ceremony, continuing a trend that started in 2012.

Speeches may be structured with the use of phrases such as first of all, first and foremost, matched by last but not least or finally:

And then finally, finally – okay, I am really getting there – finally, finally,…

To use a favourite end-of-speech phrasal verb, let’s wrap up this post with some interesting language from Quentin Tarantino’s acceptance speech at the 2013 BAFTAs:

I want to thank my actors for doing a bang-up job with my dialogue […] this was a pretty hot potato script  […]

… for them to actually do it, pony up a lot of money to do it, and do it the right way…

… and the more telegraphic style of the conclusion to his 2013 Oscar speech:

You guys are all wonderful. Peace out.

Data for this blog is drawn from BAFTA winners’ acceptance speeches from 2011-2013 and Academy Awards® winners’ onstage speeches from 2010-2013.

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Do you salad or sandwich? The verbing of English

Examples of verbing in English

Image courtesy of moreintelligentlife.com

In this article, Jon Hird, author of the brand new Oxford Learner’s Pocket Verbs and Tenses, takes a look at the verbing of English and shares with us some interesting examples he has recently come across.

A recent OUP ELT blog about the language legacy of the Olympics included some examples of nouns being used as verbs. Competitors no longer stood on the podium and won a medal, but podiumed and medalled. Athletes also finalled (reached a final) and PB-ed (achieved a PB, or Personal Best). Even Lord Coe, Chairman of the Organising Committee, got in on the act when, prior to the games, he told the nation that ‘The London Olympics need[ed] to legacy’.

This conversion of nouns to verbs is known as ‘verbing’ and it has been around for as long as the English language itself. Ancient verbs such as rain and thunder and more recent conversions such as access, chair, debut, highlight and impact were all originally used only as nouns before they became verbs. In his book, The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker tells us that ‘Easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that makes English English.’

Verbing exists essentially to make what we say shorter and snappier. It can also give a more dynamic sense to ideas. Conversion is easy and therefore common in English because, unlike in many other languages, the base form of the verb does not take a separate ending. Verbs converted from nouns are all regular and the past forms have an -ed ending.Here's to people hubbing

Today, noun to verb conversion is particularly common in the field of technology, especially when it comes to the internet and digital communication. Many words which were originally nouns have very quickly become established as verbs. We bookmark websites. We email, text, message and DM (Direct Message) people. We friend and unfriend (or defriend) people on Facebook. We tweet about topics that are trending. We blog. And now, at least according to one mobile phone provider, we also hub (see right).

Proper nouns are also used as verbs. If we don’t know something, we google it. We skype to keep in touch. We youtube to watch video clips. And we facebook and whatsapp people about what’s going on. A Turkish colleague of mine recently found himself saying that he’d ebayed something and was wondering if it’s OK to say that.

Outside the world of technology, it seems that nouns are being verbed wherever you turn. At the airport on a recent work trip, we were informed that ‘Passengers who are transiting need to follow the transit signs.’ After my return to the UK, a colleague emailed ‘I hope you had a great time conferencing around Italy.’ Around the same time a friend facebooked ‘let’s coffee soon!’ I’ve since discovered that ‘Let’s Coffee’ is the name of numerous coffee shops around the world. There’s also ‘Let’s Burger’, ‘Let’s Seafood’ and no doubt many more.

Food and drink, in fact, seems to be ripe when it comes to verbing the noun. Ted, a character in the TV show ‘How I Met Your Mother’, when offering to buy someone a drink, asks ‘Can I beer you?’ After a talk I recently gave, one of the participants facebooked me this photo he had taken of a London café window (see below). Whether he saladed or sandwiched that day, I’m not sure. And while a considerable number of English words connected with food come from French, I was surprised to come across the concept of fooding in, of all places, Montmartre in Paris.

Do you salad or sandwich?  Fooding

Do more. Cord less.Advertisers have latched on to verbing as well. For some time now, a high street chain here in the UK has been imploring us not to shop for it, but to Argos it. And while cycling through the centre of Oxford the other day, I noticed on the back door of a van this rather clever play on words promoting cordless power tools (see right). And only last night, during a BBC news item about the possible impending demise of the high street music store, a guest explained that part of the problem was that customers were overchoiced.

So, the choice is yours – do you noun or do you verb? Keep your eyes and ears open and see how many examples of verbing you come across. A lot, I suspect. And please share some of your favourites below.

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The Language Legacy of the Olympics

2012 Olympic Stadium

Image courtesy of Nick J Webb on Flickr

In this article, Margaret Deuter, a managing editor, and Leonie Hey, an assistant editor in the ELT dictionaries department at Oxford University Press, look at some of the language that came out of the Summer 2012 Olympic Games in London.

As memories of the 2012 Summer Olympic and the Paralympic Games fade, interest shifts to the legacy of the Games. Work has begun on the Olympic Park. Some of the buildings are being dismantled and taken to Rio. Others will be transformed for other uses. The poetry displayed around the Olympic site and read by thousands of spectators last summer will stay. But what about the words that were not carved in stone? The words that were on the lips of commentators and spectators – will their legacy include a permanent place in the English language?

Like true athletes, words are versatile, and during the Summer Olympics they were changing discipline all over the place. Competitors no longer ‘won a medal’, but ‘medalled’ – Michael Phelps even became the ‘most medalled Olympian’! To receive their medal, they used to stand on a podium – now they can ‘podium’. Neither of these verbs first appeared at these Games (‘to medal’ has been around since 1822) but the boost they received may mean that they will be around for longer.

And what a godsend for teachers dealing with comparison of adjectives the Games with their ‘faster, higher, stronger’ motto is. Reporters claimed they were running out of superlatives and reaching feverishly for the dictionary…

‘Medal munching’ was a new name for something that winning athletes have probably done for some time – biting into the gold for the cameras – or was it just another opportunity to show off that patriotic “nail art”?  Talking of nails, how many of those athletes were ‘nailed-on winners’? Of course they ‘nailed it’ – they won – but beforehand, pundits knew which candidates were guaranteed to succeed. This expression is a nailed-on certainty – it’s already used in a variety of contexts, including many sporting ones (‘a nailed-on penalty decision’) but also going beyond the world of sport: ‘A merger and acquisition boom looks nailed on.’ ‘It’s a nailed-on recipe for disaster!

Words not only morph into new parts of speech, they associate with new companions. Flag-bearers and torch-bearers always make appearances at the Olympics. A new compound was created for London in the shape of Games Makers. Although volunteers had helped at the Games when they last came to London in 1948, this year they were christened  ‘Games Makers’ in recognition of the way they helped ‘make the Games happen’. They were featured on a commemorative stamp after the Games, but their name might not be immortalized in the language. I doubt whether that’s a compound that will make its way into the dictionary.

New venues, too, will generate new terms. Perhaps in 2016 we’ll all be adding sporting words of Portuguese origin to our vocabulary.

The sporting legacy of the Olympics may be less spectacular than the politicians and sports organizers hoped – too many of us preferred to sit back and watch others achieve sporting greatness to doing anything more athletic than reaching for the remote control. But a little corner of the English language will have been shaped by the excited crowds and commentators of London 2012.

Margaret Deuter is a managing editor in the ELT dictionaries department at Oxford University Press.  She taught English in Germany and the United States before becoming a lexicographer in 1991 to work on monolingual and bilingual learners’ dictionaries.

Leonie Hey  taught English in Sardinia and worked as a language teacher in the UK before joining OUP in 2011 to work on monolingual and bilingual learners’ dictionaries.

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Teaching CLIL: Classroom Benefits

Wall-mounted map with woman pointing to a townIn her first guest post for OUP, Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blogger, talks us through some classroom benefits of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

Sometimes, just thinking about developing a CLIL program or even teaching one CLIL lesson can be intimidating, overwhelming, and confusing. But don’t let the tough appearance of CLIL fool you – it can be a very intuitive, natural way to teach and learn. Like any instructional method, though, it requires a certain amount of understanding and dedication from you. It also helps if you’re willing to learn through the process of teaching, as I’m sure you are – being teachable is one of the keys to successful pedagogy. CLIL can be successfully implemented by one teacher, but often, two teachers collaborate before developing lesson plans – and that means learning from each other. By expanding the knowledge available to your students, you’re also expanding your own understanding, learning new material so that you can teach it well. Although it can be a difficult process, it’s often rewarding to teach CLIL. But no matter what you have or haven’t heard about this method, the following description of CLIL and its benefits and challenges can help you decide whether or not it has a place in your classroom.

The pedagogical intentions behind CLIL

You’re probably well aware that Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is a way of approaching foreign language instruction subtly through subject-oriented teaching. For example, you might focus on teaching the geography of Spain, but the secondary learning objective would be Spanish vocabulary associated with geography. It might not sound like the most logical approach, but why has it been growing in popularity? – And what’s the point of CLIL?

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Kind of… sort of… not really

Girl biting her lip and looking to the rightKieran McGovern discusses the question of whether language shapes thought, or whether culture shapes language.

New cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences the way people see the world — Wall Street Journal, ‘Lost in Translation’, 30 July 2010.

The always-entertaining Michael Winner recently used his Sunday Times column to describe a visit to a London primary school (Winner’s Dinners: Heading back to school to award an A for effort). His guide was seven-year-old Skye Harris and the two had the following exchange about school dinners:

“Is the food good?” I asked Skye.
“Yes,” she said.
“Good as your mother’s?” I continued
“Not really,” responded Skye

The tentative ‘not really’ is characteristic of the answers I receive from my own seven-year-old daughter. Ask her if she likes this or that and the answer is usually ‘kind of’.

What is it that creates this reticence? Is it the hard-learned lesson that if you say you liked that trip to the museum you’ll be going there every Saturday? Or a reluctance to give a ‘wrong’ answer to an adult?

Or perhaps it’s an early manifestation of something more culturally and linguistically specific:  the famous English reserve.  English speakers generally prefer soft modals to harsh imperatives when expressing opinions: (“Do you want to listen to my new thrash-metal album?” “Um … I think I’d prefer to boil my own head…”). This can cause misunderstandings

In some cultures it is considered rude to give a negative answer – even if it involves sending someone asking for directions up the wrong street. In British English we perhaps do this too subtly. After battling through that awful spider soup we tell our dinner host it was ‘very distinctive’. We then watch in horror as she serves up a second helping.

Is this peculiar to the British? Or is it something inherent to the English language itself? What are your thoughts?

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