On 10 April, Dr. Anya Luscombe from University College Roosevelt (Middelburg, The Netherlands), will give a guest lecture at the University of Leiden Centre for Linguistics. The lecture will be from:
1.15 to 3 pm, and will take place in van Wijkplaats 4, 004.
Auntie and Prescriptivism: the fine line the BBC treads to ‘uphold language standards’
Many people believe the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, has a duty to maintain English language standards. Listeners, viewers and online readers complain vociferously when the BBC, in their opinion, fails in this regard. In particular, people appear intolerant of mistakes in ‘Auntie’s’ news output. Incorrect grammar and a poor choice of vocabulary will be noticed, if not by everyone in the audience, certainly by enough who will be troubled by a perceived decline in standards. The danger is that if the language is misused, audience members will start to doubt the validity of the facts reported to them.
To help journalists produce linguistically accurate copy, the BBC regularly produces so-called News Style Guides. As the (publicly available) 2003 version of the Guide says: ‘Our task is to tread a fine line between conserva-tism and radicalism, to write in such a way that we do not alienate any section of our audience.’
There is no evidence to suggest that BBC audience expec-tations on accuracy and fairness are any different now than several years ago. What does appear to have changed is that many journalists themselves now also worry about a decline in standards. As 24-hour rolling news is the norm and fewer BBC journalists have to pro-duce more output, the layers of control have disappeared.
Dr Luscombe will discuss the BBC News Style Guides produced between 1967 and 2008, giving a glimpse of which issues were pertinent to news coverage in different decades and the types of linguistic issues which were thought important. In addition, she will outline what BBC radio journalists and audience members have to say about language standards.
Please leave a comment to this post if you wish to attend. The deadline for this is 1 April (no joke).
A most enjoyable and interesting lecture. Thank you very much for advertising it and welcoming outsiders!
When I got home and checked my emails I found an announcement for the forthcoming Bill Walsh book, due out on 18 June. It’s “Yes, I could care less: how to be a language snob”. I look forward to reading it, as he’s a pragmatic prescriber of style and usage (not surprising – he’s a chief copy editor at the “Washington Post”) with a great sense of humour. His previous books are “Lapsing into a comma: A curmudgeon’s guide to the many things that can go wrong in print – and how to avoid them” and “The elephants of style: A trunkload of tips on the big issues and gray areas of contemporary American English”. Incisively written and opinionated, but nonetheless great bedtime reading – unlike the worthy style books that were mentioned this afternoon ;-)
Thanks for your feedback, Joy, and it was good to see you again as well. Thanks also for mentioning the book. Perhaps you would like to write up your thoughts on it once you have read it? We have a section called Features, and it might well go in there.