Welcome to the latest instalment of English in Progress, the newsletter that keeps you updated on the English language. Fresh in your inbox every first Friday of the month. (Ish.) Copied onto my website englishinprogress.net for your googling convenience. The original Substack newsletter can be found here.
My name is Heddwen Newton. I am a translator and English teacher. I love discovering all the ways English is spoken, the ways in which it is used by different generations and by people from all over the world.
You may have noticed, these newsletters are getting a bit too long… Rather than cutting content (how could I?! It is all so interesting!) I will be moving to a fortnightly schedule. That’s British English for once every two weeks.
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Best of the month
Nancy Friedman has joined Substack
Nancy Friedman, a.k.a. Fritinancy, a.k.a. one of my favourite writers on names and words, has come to Substack and is producing posts at a rate that puts my soon-to-be fortnightly newsletter to shame. I especially liked her article about the word “girl” and the one about “canoodle”.
For Rob Drummond’s book about accents (discussed below), The Guardian put out a call for people to tell them how their English accent affects them. The result is 11 fascinating stories about people’s shifting accents and other people’s judgements.
Reading time: 12 minutes / The Guardian (UK)
The Valley girl accent is named after the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles in California. Its signature features are a creaky voice (a.k.a. vocal fry), an upward inflection and liberal usage of “like,” “whatever,” “totally”. Many women who grew up with this accent now consciously hide it. They do not want to be associated with the stereotypical vapidness, superficiality and self-importance. Stereotypes which, interestingly, do not apply to males with the same accent.
Reading time: 7 minutes / LA Times (USA)
Student writer Nicola Brayan sets out to understand “DoggoLingo”. Many of its words clearly derive from English, but are slightly altered in how they are spelt or pronounced — “fren” for “friend”, “floof” for “fluff”, “hooman” for “human” and “smol” for “small”. It adds suffixes like -o (“doggo”, “catto”) and chooses onomatopoeic words, like “mlem” for a lick, or are specific to things dogs do: to “sploot” is to lie with hind legs splayed, and to “blep” is to stick your tongue out slightly. There is also a decided wholesomeness to it; “heckin” is the expletive of choice.
Reading time: 5 minutes / Honi Soit (Australia)
Gen-Z slang of the month
Here are some of my favourite new-ish slang words. Slang is difficult to track. I currently make use of “the craziest Gen Z slang terms you ever heard” type lists on Buzzfeed-type platforms. If anyone knows of a better source, please let me know! (Click on the word to see where I got it from.)
bougie broke – not having as much money as you want, but still able to buy and do relatively expensive things (on Urban Dictionary since 2019)
cake – buttocks. Possibly fat, possibly female. “All this cake, but you’re still hungry” (On Urban Dictionary since 2005)
delulu – delusional (on Urban Dictionary since 2016)
grammable – suitable to be posted on Instagram (on Urban Dictionary since 2013)
iykyk – if you know, you know (on Urban Dictionary since 2016)
mogging – shaming or asserting dominance by targeting weaker, smaller, less confident or attractive individuals (on Urban Dictionary since 2018)
ngl – not gonna lie (on Urban Dictionary since 2004)
poggers – good, exciting, amazing. “That match was poggers!” (On Urban Dictionary since 2018)
slept on – ignored, overlooked, underappreciated. “Everyone slept on that group’s latest single” (on Urban Dictionary since 2002)
wig snatched – (adj.) used to express extreme surprise, usually in a positive way “When I saw that she had won it got me wig snatched” (on Urban Dictionary since 2017)
The shifting meaning of words
Linguist Ken Grace at his best: “Those who rail against [verbing] – and there are many – are not merely fighting a losing battle, they’re fighting a battle that ended centuries ago with verbing the deserved victor. Here are some examples, none of which are likely to offend anyone’s ears: dog someone, lord it over, holidaying in the sun, hoover down your dinner. Each of those italicised words began life as nouns only. Now look at them, wandering around like planets loosed from their orbit.”
Susie Dent is perhaps the most famous lexicographer in the world, certainly in the UK, and deservedly so. Dent is enthusiastic about the fact that non-native English speakers now outnumber native speakers worldwide and embraces the “new Englishes” emerging from their language use. She isn’t concerned about the impact of AI and believes that new technology won’t disrupt the way we communicate, noting historical parallels with the Victorians’ unfounded fears about the postcard’s influence on language.
Valerie Fridland discusses a new study in which researchers have found that the F-word is now one of the most frequently used swear words in both American and British speech, especially among young speakers. It is increasingly used in set idiomatic phrases for emphasis, rather than its original literal meaning. For example, saying “it’s f-king hot in here” uses the F-word for emphasis rather than referring to sexual intercourse.
Apparently, some English speakers use the construct “whom of which”. Examples: “They are special people, whom of which make special music together,” and “Our striker, whom of which is our best player, scores a lot of goals.” These people are not all from a specific region and they are not all of a specific generation. A mystery! There’s also a long discussion on Language Hat about it.
In the last five years, during which the oldest of Gen Z have embedded themselves in the office, over two thirds (70 per cent) of Brits have noticed a change in the way people use language in the workplace. Seven in ten (71 per cent) believe this is due to Gen Z changing the formality of language, with 73 per cent citing they were now more casual in their use of communication across the workplace.
“Coruscating” means sparkling, but is now also used to describe something scathing. Is this incorrect, or an example of language broadening and therefore correct English in 2023? This article from Guardian editor Elisabeth Ribbans discusses the tricky decisions editors sometimes have to make, and how they make them.
Neologisms of the month
The neologisms below were sourced from the Cambridge Dictionary New Words blog, “field X buzzwords”-type lists, and stuff I noticed myself. My admittedly subjective criterion for words to make the list is that they seemed new and interesting to me. Click on the word for my source.
digital necromancy – the conjuring of the dead from the digital traces they leave behind, for example by uploading texts and emails into a chatbot, enabling a conversation with someone who has passed away
immaculate disinflation – a scenario where inflation cools without causing a spike in unemployment
gamma destination – a place to go on holiday that very few other people in the world go to
gen zalpha – Gen Z and Gen Alpha taken together, which means anyone born after 1996
ghostlighting – a combination of “ghosting” and “gaslighting”. When someone ghosts you, i.e. drops out of contact without an explanation, and then, when communication is restored, does their best to make your believe the ghosting was your fault.
grandpa chic – a way of decorating and furnishing your home that uses dark colours, a typically masculine style and old, good-quality furniture
nomophobia – a fear of not having your mobile phone
psychwashing – when an employer pretends to care about its workers for its own gain, e.g. by using therapy speak and offering cheap workshops (analogous to “greenwashing”)
text bombing – sending a friend huge texts full of grievances about your relationship, often using therapy speak
tomato girl – a style for young women based on looking healthy, relaxed and typically feminine
Good for sparking lively debates in your English linguistics class, or for sparking curiosity in your brain.
Vaping produces a highly-irritating vapour that is inhaled past the vocal cords, causing inflammation of the lining of the vocal cords. In this article, writer Nicolaia Rips wonders if vapes are creating a generation of women with raspy voices. Her interviews with teenagers certainly seem worrying. (I also enjoyed and recognised her struggle to keep up with vape trends during her interviews.)
Frances Blanchette at Penn State studies double negatives: e.g. saying ““I didn’t eat nothing,” instead of “I didn’t eat anything.” People may think that kind of English sounds unintelligent, but double negatives are actually very common, and have been around for a long time. We even see them in Shakespearean English. Even if you say you don’t use double negatives and think they’re totally unnatural and unacceptable, you can understand them perfectly well in context. People interpret “I didn’t eat nothing” to mean “I ate nothing,” and not as “I ate something,” even if they say it’s bad English.
Familects and idiolects
The following two articles might be a good combination for a discussion on the unique language of families and individuals. (An “idiolect” is the language of one individual; think of the word “idiosyncratic”. It is not the language of one idiot. Just thought I’d mention it.)
On TikTok, a “#marriage language” trend has started, with couples sharing their specific words for things, like calling waffles “fle”, spinach “sponch” and sleeping “eeping”.
A charming story about the author’s father’s way of speaking English. “Let’s chogi,” for example, meant “Let’s leave right now,” and “skosh,” meant “a little bit,” as in, “Turn that screw a skosh.” After some sleuthing, the author discovered that the terms are Korean and Japanese respectively, and were probably souvenirs from his father’s time in the military.
We all have an accent. (Yes, even you.) These articles talk about the delightful way our English sounds different around the world.
As someone with Welsh heritage (which some of you clever clogs may have guessed by my first name) I am thrilled that exactly a year after I started this newsletter, someone finally wrote a piece about Welsh English. The reason was English actress Jenna Coleman’s Welsh accent in new British psychological thriller series Wilderness. People are saying her accent sounds fake, but Welsh writer Roger Lewis says it is spot on. It is just that the only Welsh accent we are used to hearing is a South Wales Valleys accent.
Given that adults typically have great difficulty with pronunciation when learning a new language, it stands to reason that after a certain age, our accents would be set. But that turns out not to be the case. Eleven participants, eight Brits, one American, one Icelander and one German, showed that in just one winter of living in close quarters, accents converge unconsciously. The Antarctic accent is not really perceptible as such—it would take much longer for it to become so—but it is acoustically measurable.
In Singapore, those who adopt Westernized accents (“atas accents”) often get criticised. People suggest they are insecure about their natural accent, and so are “putting on” a fake one. However, for some people, this might not be true; perhaps they grew up with an American accent, or are changing their accent for clarity when speaking to foreigners. What I found particularly interesting in this article was the clip of a young man speaking English in a way that to the writer seemed Westernised, but to my British ears seemed very Singaporean.
A string of recent studies shows that some iconic American accents are fading out. Georgians are speaking less “Southern,” Texans are sounding less “twangy,” and Bostonians are pronouncing their Rs. This is not due to consuming media, as many might assume, but more likely due to people moving around the country and children mixing with people from other places as they take their accent from their peer groups.
Rosemarie Ostler’s remarks neatly tie into the above: “it’s unlikely that any of these changes will result in the merging or disappearance of regional variations. American dialect boundaries have stayed the same for a few centuries now, so they’ll likely continue to do so. New Englanders of today don’t talk the same way as New Englanders of fifty years ago, but they still sound different from Southerners, Midwesterners, and Californians.”
English is an official language in Nigeria, spoken by at least half of its 200 million people. Though Hollywood would have you believe that there is a single Nigerian-English accent – the heavy one that pronounces “hamburger” as “hamboga” – at least 500 languages are spoken in the country and they each influence how English is spoken in different ways. Now, many are paying to speak English with a posh British accent.
September was the month for dictionary updates, with four of the six big online dictionaries posting their updates (the other two, Cambridge and Wiktionary, don’t post updates. At least, if Cambridge does, I have not yet been able to find out where.) The paper-based Macquarie dictionary published its ninth edition.
Merriam-Webster has added 690 words, and gives an overview of the most interesting ones on their website (they’ve probably also revised lots of definitions, but they don’t mention that in their post). The Atlanta Black Star noted that many new additions to Merriam-Webster were coined by the Black community.
Dictionary.com has revised more than 2000 definitions, and has added 566 new entries and 348 new definitions.
Not to be outdone, Collins has added eleven (yes, eleven) new words. (I jest. I like Collins, they just didn’t mean this to be a big attention-grabbing update. Unfortunately for them, their eleven words are now in this list, looking a bit paltry in comparison.)
The Macquarie dictionary, an Australian paper dictionary, published its ninth edition recently, with 3000 new entries, and lots of media attention. Articles here, here and here (that last one includes a swanky interactive word-definition thingy).
World Englishes – vocab
The different varieties of English as spoken all around the world are known to academics as “World Englishes”. In this section, I highlight some words and terms from the richness of the English-speaking world that came to my attention in the past month. Click on the word to get more information. Tip: see if you can find your own English variety below, and find out which words seem normal for you, but strange to others!
ang moh accent – Singapore English for an accent that makes you sound like you are white, a Western accent (ang moh = white)
atas accent – Singapore English for a posh accent, a Westernized accent
bipping – San Francisco English for breaking a car window with a small hammer and stealing things from inside the car
dep – Quebec English for convenience store “Grab a six-pack at the dep”
mind it – Indian English for “be careful” or “watch out”
pencil crayons – Canadian English for coloured pencils
post – British English for mail
real dog – Australian English for something that is unacceptable “that was a real dog move”
smart working – Italian English for working from home
steaming – Scottish English for drunk. “I’m pure steaming!”
tembak – Malaysian English for doing something without thinking “Don’t just tembak your opinions; think before you speak.”
troppo – Australian English for mentally disturbed, allegedly as a result of spending too much time (originally on war service) in the tropics
well done you – British English for “good job” or “bravo”
World Englishes – articles
Algeria is expanding its successful elementary school English program, reflecting a broader trend away from French in former colonies in Africa. Students in third and fourth grade will now have two weekly English classes. This mirrors a decline in French influence, with Mali removing French as an official language and Morocco making English lessons mandatory in secondary schools.
Miami English, heavily influenced by Spanish, is really having a moment, I’ve featured articles about it for the past three or four months. This month is no exception, with NBC noting these phrases: “married with” instead of “married to” or “throw a photo” instead of “take a photo.”
“Many of us [Scots] mastered the ability to fine-tune the density of our Scots and Scottish English mix on the fly; more Scots or more English depending on the situation and who we wanted to impress, our teachers or our pals. I still love this unique shape-shifting, more-or-less continuum between Scots and Scottish English, but it explains why Scots, despite all its literature, dictionaries and grammars can be mistaken, especially by non-speakers, as the dialect it never was.”
Yorkshire is a county in northern England, the largest county in the UK and the setting of Wuthering Heights. The dialect is distinct, but dying out, leading to one man setting up a course at his local library. ‘Hullet’ means owl, ‘clammed’ is cold, ‘nakt’ stands for naked and we learn that, in West Yorkshire, few words are more than two syllables because they had to be pithy enough to be yelled over the racket in the mills and mines.
Non-native English speakers take up to twice as much time as native speakers to prepare papers or presentations in English. They are also 2.5 times more likely to have their work rejected by journals, and 12.5 times more likely to be asked to do revisions prior to publication. This is a problem for them, but also for science.
Linguist Rob Drummond explores the enormous diversity in our spoken language to reveal extraordinary insights into how humans operate: how we perceive (and judge) other people and how we would like ourselves to be perceived.
Black vernacular doesn’t often get its due—despite its enormous influence on mainstream culture—but Historically Black Phrases is here to give Black language its flowers. A celebration of more than two hundred staples of Black conversation—from church sayings and units of measure to compliments and reprimands—this sharp and witty guide explores the unique importance of Black expression and communication.
Lexicographer Sarah Ogilvie dives deep into previously untapped archives to tell a people’s history of the Oxford English Dictionary. She reveals the full story of the making of one of the most famous books in the world – and celebrates the extraordinary efforts of the Dictionary People.
Warning: many links lead directly to a PDF
Contact linguistics is a diverse field, but all approaches share the general goal of accounting for the results of interacting linguistic systems. This book explores the extent to which contact linguistics can be viewed as a coherent field, and whether the advances achieved in a particular subfield can be translated to others.
Viral Language considers a range of different types of public communication and their discussion of the Covid-19 pandemic as a way to investigate health communication. The authors demonstrate how experiences of health and illness can be shaped by political messaging, scientific research, news articles and advertising.
This book showcases the unique possibilities of corpus linguistic methodologies in engaging with and analysing language data from social media, surveying current approaches, and offering guidelines and best practices for doing language analysis.
Discusses contexts in which prescriptive efforts can be both observed and studied including education, technology, the media, language planning and policies, and everyday grassroots practices. Features chapters on inner- and outer-circle Englishes, English as a Lingua Franca, as well as prescriptivism in the context of other world languages.
This book offers an alternative to traditional language teaching methods. It provides practical advice for teachers, emphasizing the importance of creating an appropriate classroom environment and integrating CLP (Critical Language Pedogogy) with ELF (English as a Lingua Franca). The book includes handouts and sample units to illustrate CLP in practice
Globalization of higher education has made English the dominant language in academia worldwide, even in non-English-speaking countries. Translanguaging, the flexible use of multiple languages, has emerged as a solution. It challenges English-centric practices, promotes social justice, and benefits students’ comprehension, self-directed learning, engagement, and confidence.
Ten papers and talks that have been devoted to the use of ChatGPT in lexicography so far are critically analysed, their results tabulated and cross-compared, from which the leading trends are determined. The conclusion is that a new age, that of the successful application of generative AI in lexicography, has dawned.
Global Englishes, Global Learning, and Teacher Cognition (book chapter)
This book chapter covers the relationship between World Englishes and intercultural communication, recent studies on teachers’ attitudes and students’ perceptions, and explores the theory and practical research of global learning. Additionally, it discusses models of teacher beliefs and practices, emphasizing teacher cognition and research on communicative language teaching.
This study asks the question: what do national tests in English in Norway say about the performance of students with immigrant backgrounds and how does this inform an educational future where what is dubbed the “Anglobalization of Education” looms large?
An assessment of the intelligibility of Philippine English (PE) diastratic varieties’ (= from different social classes) speech recordings produced by local Cebuano speakers. It aimed to specifically evaluate the speakers’ production differences, rate the intelligibility of the language varieties, and determine the effect of language variety on the listener-evaluators in terms of intelligibility and distraction ratings.
This study explores how English language communication impacts the dissemination of Buddhism globally, considering its benefits, challenges, and implications for practitioners, scholars, and the broader Buddhist community. The research highlights how English facilitates cultural exchange and cross-cultural understanding among diverse practitioners while addressing concerns about potential loss of depth and authenticity in translated Buddhist teachings.
Combining the concepts of ELF and interculturality can be beneficial. ELF studies can learn from intercultural knowledge, like how groups form and deal with uncertainty in intercultural situations. In turn, interculturality can benefit from ELF by using analytical tools developed in ELF studies to study communication strategies and practices.
The categorization of native and non-native speaker teachers is a powerful and historically rooted concept. It’s influenced by various factors like race, ethnicity, where someone is from, gender, and religion. This shapes discussions and practices related to fairness, privilege, exclusion, and discrimination in English language teaching.
In Japan, four lectures on the present-day realities of English communication relatively easily developed pre-service teachers’ open attitudes to the diversity of English but did not help them fully understand the complex realities of ELF communication.
Scholars from all over the globe, since the formal ceding of power back to subjugated nations in the 1950s and 1960s, have called for decolonizing the curriculum, including the English language curriculum, in all levels of education. This chapter features four innovative intercultural and multilingual approaches to decolonizing English-centred curricula.
With just 10 participants, this small study is still interesting, in that it shows that Nepalese teacher training students are focused on Inner Circle Englishes. They are open to Global Englishes, but do not have the materials.
This author made a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about Global Englishes and tested it on 72 Thai students. The MOOC was effective. (Unfortunately, it is no longer online. I asked. But at least you can read about it in this article.
We need to prepare our students to be linguistically competent in English, but also teach them intercultural communication competence. Two virtual exchange projects are discussed.
This paper analyses the acoustic and prosodic correlates of the uses of “so” in the context of four lectures in linguistics. For the majority of the occurrences, it seems that prosodic cues are more robust than segmental cues for the automatic detection of the uses of “so”. For “so”, prosodic features may play a more important role than segmental properties.
This paper argues that Saudi students pursuing tertiary education in scientific disciplines like health sciences must study in English-medium settings. Pre-university education for Saudi students is conducted in Arabic, which may have resulted in a jarring transition when they were instructed in English at university. This abrupt change in the instruction medium challenges students’ English language proficiency.
Researchers looked at condolence messages and used a coding system to analyze them. They found that certain phrases and words, like ‘pray,’ ‘love,’ and ‘condolence,’ were commonly used in these messages to express grief and offer support. These findings show that different cultural and social factors can influence how people express condolences. Understanding these differences can help improve communication and cultural sensitivity when offering condolences.
When dealing with English-speaking costumers, Chinese employees find it hard to respond with emotion
Chinese employees working at a phone-in complaint centre, responding to English-speaking customers, are professionally institutionalized and interpersonally de-individualized, which can sometimes make them sound like a machine.
I wanted to share this 11-year-old YouTube clip. One commenter said it well: “As an english speaker it feels like I SHOULD be understanding this and I’m just not, like I’ve heard them wrong or something. This is really well done.”
Clip should start at 2:20, there’s a lot of silence that goes before which is not very interesting if you are listening out for the funny non-English.
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The number of mistakes in this newsletter is directly proportionate to the number of times my three-year-old woke me up last night. If you want to give me any feedback, you can use the comment button below, or hit reply to send me an email.
Heddwen Newton is an English teacher and translator. She is fascinated by contemporary English and the way English changes. Her newsletter is English in Progress on Substack.