31 August 2011

Arabic speakers boo at names too!

"An imam leading the dawn prayer urged all Libyans to stand united and hailed the ousting of 'the tyrant Gaddafi', prompting jeers from the crowd at the mention of the former leader's name" - report about Libyans celebrating Eid on AlJazera's website earlier today (paragraph 4).

I was struck by this sentence because it represents the opposite of a technique for triggering applause that's described in my books as 'clap on the name'.

A prompt for boos & jeers too
I've noticed in other contexts, as when a crowd gathers on the pitch for the speeches and awards at the end of international cricket test matches, that naming one of the players (or umpires) quite often prompts booing and jeering.

So the fact that a name can prompt an identical response from an audience of Arabic speakers is something I'll be adding to my collection of evidence that there's something very general (i.e. cross-cultural) about the way in which audiences respond to different rhetorical techniques.

Related posts:

28 August 2011

777: 7 Kindle books, 7 pluses and 7 minuses

I've been a fan of Amazon's Kindle ever since signing a contract for digital versions of two of my books - when I discovered that the author's share of the royalties is about seven times more than the miserable 7.5% we get from sales of conventional paperback books.

Now, having just finished reading a seventh book on a Kindle of my own, I can report on the gadget from a user's point of view.

1. Pluses
  1. My main reason for getting a Kindle was that I found the print in a book I was trying to read so small that it was almost unreadable without a magnifying glass. By letting you select the size and type of font suits you, the gadget solves the problem at a stroke (and I finished reading the said book much more quickly than expected).
  2. The screen really does make it easy and comfortable to read for long periods - compared with those on computers, iPads, etc.
  3. Very portable.
  4. Long battery life between recharging.
  5. Good connectivity with a computer.
  6. Fairly easy to convert PDF and Word documents for reading on Kindle.
  7. Spectacularly fast downloads of books from Amazon.
2. Minuses
  1. Given the ease of reading via bigger fonts, it's odd that the colour and size of the Kindle's QUERTY keyboard makes it quite difficult to read and use, especially in poor light.
  2. It's difficult to stand it up on a table without it slipping down - why it doesn't have a lever on the back for propping it up at an angle (like many portable radios) is quite beyond me.
  3. No good for reading in the bath.
  4. Although you can search backwards and forwards, it's far more complicated than flicking through a proper book.
  5. Page-turning and other buttons make it too easy to press the wrong one by mistake and get lost and/or end up in the wrong place.
  6. Pictures, footnotes, bibliographies, etc. are grouped together at the end of Kindle books, which requires much tedious manipulation if you want to refer to them while reading the text. As a result, non-fiction books are much more trouble to read than fiction.
  7. I hadn't realised that, when reading a proper book, you're constantly monitoring how far you've got and how long it's going to take to get to the end. Kindle doesn't have page numbers, but does tell you what percentage of the book you've read so far. But, if it's a very long book 1% can mean as many as 8 pages of densely packed pages - which can be more demoralising than I'd realised.
3. Verdict
There may be as many minuses as pluses, but Kindle's supreme virtue (1.1) makes all the cons seem little more than minor irritations.

I do, however, think that Amazon should be trying to do something about some of the minuses, and especially those that would be so cheap and easy to fix (e.g. 2.1 & 2.2).

17 August 2011

Yvette Cooper's precisely timed response to a contrast from Ed Miliband

I noted a while back in a post showing how a member of the audience anticipated the answer to a rhetorical question by David Cameron that television editors are sometimes very helpful in providing detailed data on the interaction between a speaker and audience.

In that particular case, the camera switched from speaker to audience just before he delivered the answer to his question - with which a woman in the audience (on the left of the screen) was already agreeing before he actually got there (for more discussion of which, see HERE):

video

In the House of Commons, some members of the audience are routinely visible behind the person who's speaking, as in this next clip from Ed Miliband's speech in the debate about last week's riots.

What's interesting is that it shows just how quickly some listeners can and do respond when a speaker uses a rhetorical technique - in this case a contrast, with repetition and alliteration - to make a pont:

[A] To seek to explain
[B] is not to seek to excuse.

Yvette Cooper, behind his right shoulder, starts nodding in agreement before he gets to the end of the word "excuse" - at which point the MP sitting behind her starts to nod too:

video

In Our Masters' Voices (1984) I suggested that contrasts work to trigger applause (and other positive reactions) because the first part enables listeners to anticipate and identify precisely when the speaker reaches the end of the second part.

What I liked about this sequence, apart from Ed Miliband's neat contrast, was the way in which we can actually see Ms Cooper's positive response getting under way a split second before he's finished saying the word "excuse".

Foot note
This was also the first speech I'd heard from Mr Miliband since his nose operation and all the speculation about whether its real aim was to change his voice or to cure his sleep apnoea, which had made me curious to see if he sounded any different than he did before the operation.

As far as I could tell, his voice sounded exactly the same, but I do hope that the operation will have given his wife and children some relief from his alleged snoring - I say 'alleged' because I too am regularly accused of the same offence, even no one in the family has ever managed to produce any evidence (other than hearsay) in support of their complaints.

14 August 2011

Words of the week from a bereaved father

video

From the thousands of words written and spoken about this week's riots, these from Tariq Jahan, the bereaved father of a victim stand out as exceptional.

On YouTube, it's already been watched by about 100,000 viewers. Another 100,000+ have seen other versions of it and/or other statements by Mr Jahan on YouTube.

If you haven't seen it already, you'll find it as impressive and moving a two and half minutes as you could ever hope to see - and as time better spent than watching and listening to the hundreds of hours of reportage and 'expert' discussion on the media (e.g. on Newsnight) since the troubles began.

13 August 2011

Horrible historian David Starkey has also got it in for the Scots, Welsh and Irish

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Editors of TV current affairs programmes believe, probably correctly, that guests who can be relied upon to say outrageous things are a sure-fire recipe for making their shows more entertaining - and may even help to increase their ratings.

Rentamouths
In reporting on this week's riots, BBC's Newsnight brought quite a few such 'experts' to our screens, including former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie and historian David Starkey.

Last night's performance by Dr Starkey (which you can watch in full HERE) set Twitter alight for a quite a while, with accusations ranging from claims that "he's a 'racist" to "he's bonkers".

I tweeted that I don't think he's 'bonkers' because it's difficult not to be impressed by the way he's managed to carve out a niche for himself as an all-purpose rentamouth. Like Mr MacKenzie, he can always be relied on to say controversial things that will shock, irritate or amuse a substantial proportion of any audience that happens to be watching.

For Starkey himself, an important spin-off of his 'celebrity' status is that he presumably sells far more history books than most professional historians.

Horrible historian?
As for how good a historian he is, I have no idea, as I've never read any of his books.

I also have no idea where he gets the idea that the English "don't make a great fuss about Shakespeare" (Question Time, 23 April, 2009), unless he went to a very different school than the ones most of us attended.

Nor am I convinced by his glib dismissal of Robert Burns as a "deeply boring provincial poet".

Whether or not his performance on last night's Newsnight exposed him as racist about black members of our community, the above clip shows that he not only thinks that it's jolly funny to make racist-sounding noises about the Scots, Welsh and Irish among us, but that he also revels in the boos and laughter his calculated insults attract.

Most depressingly of all, such 'entertaining' episodes inspire the editors of Question Time, Newsnight and other current affairs programmes to inflict him on us again and again and again...

11 August 2011

Cameron's "up & running" (twice in 50 seconds)



So far, the PM has had a good press on Twitter for his performance in the House of Commons today.

But, although my books and courses recommend certain forms of repetition, I don't think he gained much by using that over-used phrase from management jargon - 'up and running' - twice within 50 seconds.

If it isn't already on the #BannedList being compiled by the Independent on Sunday's @JohnRentoul, it surely ought to be.

8 August 2011

Long-winded Latin strikes again - and does it also make people speak louder?

After a short trip to Italy about eighteen months ago, I was so struck by the long-winded nature of Italian notices that I suggested that it might have a bearing on the widely-held belief that speakers of Latin-based languages make more extensive use of gestures than those of us who speak Germanic/Nordic languages (for more on which, see HERE).

Having just got back from a holiday in Sicily, I've already posted my most spectacular holiday snap (of Mount Etna smoking) of the week.

But here's the one that delighted me the most - not just because the notice was telling me not to do the very thing I was doing, but because it only took 3 syllables of English to translate 9 syllables of Italian.

As the previous post on the subject attracted some rather interesting discussion, it occurred to me that anyone who missed out on it might like to join in now.

Louder as well as more long-winded?
What's more, my casual observations from the past week, like standing in airport check-in lines and wandering around local markets, have prompted another thought about languages that require speakers to hold the attention of their listeners for a very large number of beats/syllables:

Does the long-windedness of a language also result in native speakers speaking more loudly, even to the point of shouting at each other during conversations, than speakers of languages like English?

Comments, as ever, welcome...

Spectacular holiday snap & video of Etna erupting


Before going to Sicily last week, we hadn't realised what a spectacular view we'd have from the terrace of our friends' villa on the Gulf of Catania - let alone that Mount Etna would mark our arrival and departure by smoking as the sun set (above) defore spewing out red fountains 250 metres high and a river of lava running about a third of the way down the eastern side of the volcano.

For an early iPhone, the above picture of Etna smoking came out better than I'd expected, but my photographic equipment and skills weren't up to filming what came after the smoke. However, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you don't have to worry any more about your own inability to capture such a memorable sight: