Eloise Keightley: David Crystal, British Library

The broadcaster John Humphrys remarked in 2007, “It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago”.

Not strictly true, according to the renowned linguist Professor David Crystal, who gave an insightful talk earlier this year intended to challenge the myths about the impact of texting and tweeting on our use of language. Myths include the notion that young people are using abbreviations to the extent that they cannot distinguish between text-speak and ‘proper’ English (and hence can’t write their school essays without slipping in a gr8 or 4u). Realities? We can trace text-speak abbreviations back to the Victorians, many of whom – including Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria herself – were fond of language games and employed very similar abbreviations to the ones that we use now in text messages.

Equally stimulating was The British Library’s English Language Question Time event, part of the BL’s Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices series. Chaired by the luminous and ever-articulate Victoria Coren, a panel of language experts took a range of questions and conundrums from the audience, ranging from the baffling (“Kilometre or kilometre – what should you call a thousand metres?”) to the philosophical (“Is perfect punctuation necessary in order to write beautifully?”). The mainstay of the series is the interactive exhibition which continues to April 2011 and is highly recommended.

Justin Labourde: Anthony Swofford, ‘Exit A’

I just finished Exit A, a rather interesting novel by Anthony Swofford. Swofford is the ex-Marine who wrote the non-fiction bestseller Jarhead a few years back. Exit A is an interesting look at modern Japanese culture told from the perspective of an American Air Force brat who lives on the Yokota air force base on Honshu. It’s a love story, but not a ‘simple’ one. Parts of the book are tragic, parts are confusing and parts are wandering and overlong, but what it is most of all is an effective, and ultimately enjoyable, explanation of how the US military presence there has been affecting the development of Japanese youth and society.

Walker Smith: A. R. Ammons

At the end of every year I promise myself that I will read new poetry in the year ahead.  But I never do.  I keep returning to what always moves me.  A.R. Ammons is my favorite. He seems hard to find these days, and is too little known outside of the US.  “Corson’s Inlet” is far too long to recite, so let his much shorter “Winter Scene” suffice.

There is now not a single

leaf on the cherry tree:

except when the jay

plummets in, lights, and,

in pure clarity, squalls:

then every branch

quivers and

breaks out in blue leaves.

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