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    English Grammar Day 2014

    By Sophie E Pleterski, on 29 July 2014

    In a world where economics and technology dominate, what is the place of grammar in our society? Is it important?

    The English Grammar Day 2014  (held on July 4) sought to tackle these questions. Organised by Charlotte Brewer (University of Oxford English Language and Literature) and Bas Aarts (UCL English Language & Literature) in association with the British Library, this conference brought together some of the preeminent authorities on language use: Debbie Cameron, David Crystal, Dick Hudson, Debra Myhill and John Mullan.

    David Crystal

    David Crystal

    The event traversed the history of the “grammar debate” from Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving, & Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) to Michael Gove’s new curriculum. Yet the overriding theme of the day was the teaching of grammar (or lack thereof) in schools.

    Montaigne’s assertion that ‘the greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar’ was perhaps hyperbolic, but as Dick Hudson (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) pointed out in the opening lecture, London is experiencing a literacy crisis. Citing an article in the Evening Standard from 2011 which claimed that one million people in London could not read, he discussed the consequences of the decline in the teaching of grammar in the 20th century. ”From the 1920s to the 1960s grammar research died. The effect of a subject dying at university means that the next generation of school teachers never hear about it during their undergraduate years–a recipe for disaster”, he argued.

    Each speaker had their own ideas of how this could be remedied, but the prevailing opinion was that a playfulness with language is imperative. As Debra Myhill observed, British humour is often based on grammatical nuance: grammar is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit (not an example for the primary school kids).

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    Language machines – An Evening with Abdelkader Benali

    By Guest Blogger, on 7 February 2014

    pencil-iconWritten by Stefanie van Gemert, PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at UCL

    abdelkader_benali_2In the life and work of the Dutch writer Abdelkader Benali (1975) themes of travelling, migration and movement are closely connected. Benali has lived in Beirut, Rotterdam and Rome, and uses these and many other places as backdrops of his literary imaginings.  During the Travelling and Translation event at UCL’s new Centre for Low Countries Studies, the author explains how traveling can set off ‘language machines’.

    An accomplished long-distance runner, Benali is always on the move. Before he came to London, he ran the Marrakech half marathon in an hour and a half. Morocco also provided the scenery for his debut novel Wedding by the Sea (in Dutch: Bruiloft aan Zee (1997)), which launched him into the Dutch literary scene at the age of 21. In the novel Benali created alluring images of migrants returning to, what he calls, ‘their authentic place’.

    Having moved from Morocco to the Netherlands himself at 4 years old, he argues that the impact of migration sharpened his sense of early memories. Whilst learning Dutch at his new school, he intuitively understood that grammar positioned him in a complex society: ‘I am; you are; he is… I soon realised that language is always about social relationships.’

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    Live poetry is something else

    By news editor, on 13 June 2013

    imp09_Ester-Naomi-Perquin

    Ester Naomi Perquin (Photo: Henk Brinkman)

    pencil-iconWritten by Stefanie van Gemert, PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at UCL.

    Over the past few weeks, I got to know someone special. It sparked off as an online encounter – an email trail about translations.

    Her name is Ester Naomi Perquin, and she is an award-winning Dutch poet. I was invited to translate her work for the Contemporary European Poets series.

    Translating someone’s poetry is a slightly schizophrenic experience. While weighing Ester’s words and analysing her work, I felt I was peeking into her brain, aligning my thoughts with hers. I quickly realised her poems were products of literary craftsmanship: with depth and a refreshingly humorous side to them, though often heavy in subject matter.

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    Noam Chomsky: “On the Poverty of the Stimulus”

    By news editor, on 17 October 2011

    Professor Noam Chomsky

    Dr Hans van der Koot (UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences) gives a short summary of Professor Noam Chomsky’s recent lecture at UCL.

    On Monday 10 October, Professor Noam Chomsky (MIT) gave a presentation in the Department of Linguistics at UCL about the importance of the study of human language to our understanding of the human mind, entitled ‘On the Poverty of the Stimulus’.

    A video of the lecture is available below:

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