Sunday, 24 May 2009

My idiogloss

What's yours?

James Forliti of the British Columbia Association for Conductive Education has just left a nice Comment on an earlier item in Conductive World. He writes:

Hi Andrew. One of the things I like about reading your blog is that I need my dictionary nearby; and I'm an English teacher!

I think that he means this as a complement (from someone who appreciates the semicolon, no less). I'm taking it that way anyway.

Pressure toward homogenisation

Over my career the register of how I write has gone round the houses and back again. When I was running the Foundation for Conductive Education it was pointed out to me that perhaps all those with whom I needed to communicate on its behalf might not not necessarily understand what I was saying to them and that the Foundation's cause might suffer correspondingly. There was some sense on this and I demoticised my style and my vocabulary accordingly. Hard sometimes, but salutary.

Then I was made reluctantly aware of the the recent concept of 'elitism' in public speech, that some some might take umbrage at this, and that umbrage is a powerful emotion (at least in some of the circles in which Conductive Education has moved). This served to reinforce the pressure towards demoticisation. I even tried to dumb down a bit in the service of wider ineligibility.

Bang went the half-nativised Latin words and phrases that had been a feature of so much of what I had read and said since childhood. Even 'i.e.' and 'e.g.' got the chop! Bang went a lot else too.

And then there has been the creeping influence of Microsoft. Readers of Conductive World will have noticed that I cannot type and that the text is littered with typos. I make a lot of use of spell checks. Along with these Microsoft also serves up a 'grammar check'. This can be very useful in spotting the odd slip but it goes impudently beyond grammar and into questions of syntax and style. I don't have much regard for Microsoft's rules of English syntax, nor do my (very British) manuals, and as for its notions of style, what can I say? It seems to have an outright revulsion for the passive mode and shies away in horror at what it calls 'long sentences'. For a time it was a useful discipline to review every example of such 'errors', till I realised that this was a slavery that was homogenising me.

There is another force for homogenisation, Conductive Education's global reach


Conductive Education is many things, one of which is a remarkable practical exercise in active, cross-national, cross-cultural, cross-lingual defectology. Wider mutual intelligibility is therefore a vital feature in the spread and influence of Conductive Education. Its lack is an impediment.

I have tried to internationalise my English. Basically, I maintain the conventions of British English but I do recognise reality and at times permit myself American usages. For example, I think that it is now time to recognise that the (to me) abomination of the use of the world 'billion' to refer to a mere mere one-hundred thousand has now overwhelmed the word's original British-English meaning. I am also happy to use the American word ' program' to denote a service or provision in North America, something for which the British 'programme' does not really include. I draw a personal line, however, over 'student' for 'pupil' or 'schoolchild'. There are limits!

And unlike most British people who write or speak for overseas consumption I try very hard to purge my work of terms that refer to specifically British institutions or practice. Where I cannot avoid British terms, then I try to remember to offer a brief explanatory note (e.g. '...educational psychologists', what 'school psychologists' are called in the United Kingdom').

Be yourself

I urge others to write in the mode in which they feel most comfortable, including writing in their native language. I also urge them to have a sense of audience. Like everyone, I find that these two important guidelines often enter into contradiction.

While I worked for a living, and therefore wrote for that living too, demoticisation, elitist flight, Microsoft's bullying and the pitfalls of internationalism, made for a creeping blandness that it has taken some time to shake off.

My present conscious formulation to writing (and speaking) is to retain lessons from earlier stages but above all to remember that I write Conductive World solely for my own enjoyment. Nobody's livelihood depends upon it (including my own). I am therefore free as I can be to follow my own advice and feel free to be myself.

If that turns some people off, then that's their privilege, not my problem. If some go racing to their dictionaries, then that's no more that I have had to do all my life. That what dictionaries are there for, to be raced to, often I hope.

The public language of Conductive Education

Well, James, that's where I am at the moment. No doubt I shill bounce too far but at least I know that I am bouncing. What about the public language of Conductive Education as a whole?

I used to try to teach student-conductors how to express themselves in a manner appropriate to the importance of their later task in communicating Conductive Education. Perhaps the most that I could aim at was to make them conscious that this is an issue, that there are skills and understandings involved here as in other aspects of their work as conductors, and that poor work in this aspect of practice will have the same blunting effect upon their impact as does poor work in anything else that they do.

I have no idea how much of this message they carried away with them or subsequently implemented, nor what they think of it now, but it was fun to do (I enjoyed it, anyway).

Not that much in fact is written publicly by conductors or others from within Conductive Education (though there is presumably a huge outpouring of non-public written material, both on paper and electronic) to meet all sorts of requirements to do with day-to-day operational requirements.
  • What is it like? What factors, what self-awarenesses, what instruction, what jargons, go to shape this aspect of the practice of Conductive Education?
  • How intelligible is it to its audiences, how well does it convey what those who wrote it actually think, what do its readers think in their turn when they read it?
  • What vocabularies are being adopted and what verbal accommodations created, blended with what (if any) models from the limited 'CE literature'?
  • How consciously is this seen as an issue a potential problem, a task to be solved?

Presumably the experience of these unpublic materials will serve as background to be drawn upon for public expression.

Those who will do this will doubtless be subject to the same pressures and constraints that I was, when I worked, and maybe others besides.

Just another little problem to be solved...


This has been written in the context of the English language.
Maybe things are different in others.

1 comment:

  1. Over the years I have found your writing more and more interesting even if at times it seemed I didn't speak and write the same language as you! I go so far as to say that at one time I thought you were inventing words to see how much we were all concentrating and reading thoroughly. Of course, I know now that that was untrue and I have found my own vocabulary extended as a result. I have read much written about CE. Different words have been used to mean what appeared to be the same thing, and must have contributed to the lack of understanding about CE and its prasctice. Perhaps a CE dictionary is needed to help find a common language and acceptance of terms?