The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

30 Nov 2008


Echando un vistazo a las últimas entradas de blogs que sigo, me encuentro con "Confieso que lo he leído... o no". Ahí se comenta el libro Cómo hablar de los libros que no se han leído de Pierre Bayard.

Yo no voy a atreverme a hablar ahora de este libro, que ciertamente no he leído, pero que me ha hecho recordar la cantidad de exámenes recientes en que he escrito largo y tendido sobre obras no leídas, a partir generalmente de fragmentos e interpretaciones.

Creo que la disyuntiva entre reducir el número de obras estudiadas para hacerlo en profundidad y mantener un número más amplio del que al menos se se salga con algunas referencias se resuelve mejor o peor buscando un equilibrio en los programas de asignaturas a nivel universitario. Intentar completar hasta cierto punto el repertorio de lecturas clave queda para más tarde. De todas formas es curioso ver qué habilidades se pueden desarrollar para hablar de lo que no se conoce de primera mano.

27 Nov 2008


After learning from this former post about the more specific terms for naming different kinds of bildungsroman and reading that the Harry Potter stories can be considered an example of Kunstleroman, I started searching the Internet for some articles or notes on the literary features and values of J.K.Rowling’s most famous work and see what people say.

I began with the Wikipedia entry and found it clear and informative enough to get a general idea of where to place this series of novels according to genre and what discrepancies have been manifested among critics and writers.

Regarding genre, both fantasy literature and bildungsroman are cited. Furthermore, it is also pointed out that it can also be framed inside the boarding school subgenre, together with other series of books addressed to children and teenagers, and thus be further related to Victorian and Edwardian novels of British public schools. Mystery adventures and similarities to Sherlock Holmes are also mentioned.

I must say that I’ve read the seven books: the first two in Spanish, accompanying and sharing my daughter’s reading, and the remaining five in English, on the one hand, to advance her what was coming up and comment and speculate on it in funny conversations and, on the other hand, because I found the stories engaging and entertaining. If I had to say what is in my opinion Harry Potter’s main peculiarity, I’d mention eclecticism. The length of the work allows to mix lots of elements from diverse sources: childhood, youth and adult life concerns; past and present iconography; big and petty worries; fantasy and everyday life; characters which recall other well known figures from previous works (Dumbledore and Gandalf? The Drusleys and Roal Dahl’s Matilda’s family?)… In fact, echoes from other stories can be perceived throughout the whole series. But I think that the blending is well made and the author succeeds in producing an original work.

The Wikipedia article goes on and comments on the cultural impact, commercial success, etc. and I read that “The word Muggle has spread beyond its Harry Potter origins, used by many groups to indicate those who are not aware or are lacking in some skill. In 2003, Muggle, entered the Oxford English Dictionary with that definition.

I look up and come across these three entries for muggle provided at

1. muggle: n. a marijuana cigarette. Etymology: 1920s. Usage: slang
2. muggle: n. a common person, esp. one who is ignorant or has no skills. E.g.: There are muggles in every computer class. Etymology: 1920s Usage: slang
3. muggle: n. a person without magical powers. Etymology: 1996; popularized by J. K. Rowling in "Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone"

Finally, I reach the literary criticism section. Summarising it, I see that the strong points could be the following ones:

- Its classic story structure.
- It is imaginative.
- It is a richly textured novel.
- It is “Readable, saleable, everyday, useful prose"
- It presents funny and moving prose. “Dickensian ability to make us (…) weep (…) and (…) laugh…”
- The dynamism of its plot which evolves to suit the preferences of growing readers, “progressively darker tone of the books”

Negative criticism focuses on these weaknesses:

- Lack of originality. Harold Bloom: “Rowling's mind is so governed by clichés and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing."
- Repetition of situations, as the use of the formulaic beginning of placing Harry in his uncle and aunt’s house before starting a new school year.
- The story appeals to an undemanding readership. A. S. Byatt: "secondary world, made up of patchworked derivative motifs from all sorts of children's literature ... written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip". Anthony Holden: “the Potter saga was essentially patronising, conservative, highly derivative, dispiritingly nostalgic for a bygone Britain", "in a pedestrian, ungrammatical prose style".

26 Nov 2008


The film My Fair Lady, based on Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, deals directly with language as it emphasises the possibility of breaking through class barriers by modifying linguistic features such as pronunciation, lexis and topics of conversation. Philologist Henry Sweet inspired Shaw to create his fictional phonetician, Henry Higgins. The film offers instances of some characteristics of English sociolects, common differences between standard and vernacular ways of pronunciation, especially Cockney speech, techniques and exercises to practice phonetics…

Here we have a couple of examples:

Cinema and language. Scene 6

ELIZA: Why'd ya take down me words? 'Ow do I know you took me down right? You just show me what you wrote ab'ut me. That ain't proper writin'. I can't read it.

HIGGINS: I can. “I say, Capt'n, now buy a flow'r off a poor girl"

ELIZA: Oh, it's cause I called him "Capt'n"

Cinema and language. Scene 7.

HIGGINS: Every time you pronounce the letter ‘H’ correctly the flame will waver... and every time you drop your 'H' the flame will remain stationary. That's how to know you've done it correctly. In time, your ear will hear the difference. You'll see it better in the mirror. Now listen carefully. "ln Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen"Now you repeat that after me. “In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen"

ELIZA: "ln 'artford, 'ereford and 'ampshire 'urricanes 'ardly hever 'appen" HIGGINS: Oh, no, no! Have you no ear at all?

ELIZA: Should I do it over?

HIGGINS: No, please. Start from the very beginning. Just do this. HA HA HA… ELIZA: HA HA HA…

HIGGINS: Go on, go on. Does the same thing hold true in lndia? Have they the peculiar habit of not only dropping a letter but using it where it doesn't belong, like '"hever'" instead of '"ever'"? ……….

FRIEND: The girl, Higgins!

HIGGINS: Go on. Go on.

SOUNDTRACK: “Poor Professor Higgins”

25 Nov 2008


I´m sorry, but I think this quote is so funny that I´ve stolen it from Beatrice Santorini’s site:

The purity of the English language:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary.
James Nicoll (b. 1961), "The King's English", rec.arts.sf-lovers, 15 May 1990

24 Nov 2008


Many of us remember well the term “bildungsroman”, because we had to use it quite often in the last course of Eng. Phil., in UNED. But not everybody is fond of it. Here is what A.J. Jacobs (author of the hilarious The Know-It-All) has to say about it:
“In case you want to sound pretentious, … Do no not use the word “bildungsroman” when talking about a coming-of-age novel. Yes, it’s pretentious. But it’s not really pretentious. Try these: Kunstlerroman, a novel that deals with the formative years of an artist. Erziehungsroman, a novel of upbringing. Entwicklungsroman, a novel of character development. “I think Harry Potter is a fabulous Kunstleroman!”


Beatrice Santorini’s Linguistic Humor page contains a collection of jokes, anagrams, puns and other manifestations of word play.

This is an example of humour based on syntactic ambiguity (from the section 'Funny signs found on real businesses')


23 Nov 2008


Yesterday I went to the cinema and watched Brideshead Revisited. I must say that I started to read the novel years ago but never finished it and that I only saw part of the TV miniseries with Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder. Anyhow last year I read about this book as well as about A Handful of Dust when studying Evelyn Waugh’s work in the subject of Literatura Inglesa III. From that partial previous knowledge, my idea of the story was that of a young middle class Oxonian fascinated by the aristocratic world represented by a mansion and a Catholic family, of his friendship and love towards the brother and sister in that household, and of the social constraints and impediments that prevented the protagonists from being happy. I had also learned that Catholic aristocrats were presented as the custodians of traditional values in a declining society as a result of Waugh’s ‘romantic conservatism’ so I expected a positive approach to that religion.

At the end of the film I thought that the conveyed idea was the opposite, that the family’s Catholicism was the suffocating factor which provoked unfulfilled lives. Anyhow It is almost impossible for them to get rid of it (only Sebastian seems to find an exit far away from England). One of the final sentences, uttered by a soldier speaking to Charles, arouses the dilemma of the goodness or not of ending with the old world of the aristocracy.

18 Nov 2008


Sonnet Central is a website devoted to sonnets in English. Among other features such as a large collection of poems organised according to the alphabetical list of their authors' names or a battle of sonnets which allows the reader to vote for their winner, you can also access a section on sonnets about sonnets (does the word metasonnet exist?). So far my only reference to something similar had been Lope de Vega’s “Soneto de repente”

When browsing through the choice of poems in that section, I’ve come across ‘Enigma’ by Edgar Allan Poe:

"Seldom we find," says Solomon Don Dunce,
"Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.
Through all the flimsy things we see at once
As easily as through a
Naples bonnet —
Trash of all trash! — how can a lady don it?
Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff—
Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff
Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it."
And, veritably, Sol is right enough.
The general Petrarchanities are arrant
Bubbles — ephemeral and so transparent —
But this is, now, — you may depend upon it —
Stable, opaque, immortal — all by dint
Of the dear names that lie concealed within 't.

Unable to find out the clue, I’ve searched the Internet for a little longer and read it HERE

15 Nov 2008


I recently finished reading Utopia by Thomas More and I’ve just commented on it with a friend. The conversation has aroused the question of utopias and dystopias in fiction and derived in the preference of writers to show tragic, thrilling and imperfect worlds rather than happy and comforting societies. Life is made up of good and bad moments, of tragedy and comedy, but apparently, when choosing fiction we feel more attracted to sad grave stories which show human faults in situations and relationships.

Utopia in fact contains both visions, as More intends to expose the main social and political defects of his society by criticising them explicitly through the dialogues in the first book and, next, by the implicit comparison the reader is allowed to do when learning about the orderly, practical and probably happy society of the Utopians.

These are three quotes from an English version that can be downloaded from the Net, which reflect ideas on health service, euthanasia and lawers:

The hospitals are furnished and stored with all things that are convenient for the ease and recovery of the sick; and those that are put in them are looked after with such tender and watchful care, and are so constantly attended by their skilful physicians, that as none is sent to them against their will, so there is scarce one in a whole town that, if he should fall ill, would not choose rather to go thither than lie sick at home.

‘…but when any is taken with a torturing and lingering pain, so that there is no hope either of recovery or ease, the priests and magistrates come and exhort them, that, since they are now unable to go on with the business of life, are become a burden to themselves and to all about them, and they have really out-lived themselves, they should no longer nourish such a rooted distemper, but choose rather to die since they cannot live but in much misery;’

‘They have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters and to wrest the laws, and, therefore, they think it is much better that every man should plead his own cause, and trust it to the judge, as in other places the client trusts it to a counsellor; by this means they both cut off many delays and find out truth more certainly;

Anyway, when reading this book, I could not avoid feeling that such a ‘perfect’ world might be boring to some extent. Would it help foster imagination? What kind of literature would Utopians produce? Do we not need a certain dose of fears, insecurity and chaos to imagine and desire a better world?

13 Nov 2008


Have you done your good deed of today, already? Not yet? OK, what about helping some unusual English words to prevent being removed from the dictionaries? The publishers of the Collins Dictionary have launched a project to save twenty four obsolete words in risk of disappearing. They are trying to brought them back into popular usage. The project has engaged public figures in UK and some of them have adopted some of such words (Stephen Fry, for example, has taken on ‘fubsy’, which means ‘short and stout, squat’). We can help, too, although we are not public figures. So, come on! Try to use some of these words, for example, when you vilipend our olid politicians!

Here is the list of words in need of help:

abstergent: cleansing or scouring
agrestic: rural, rustic, unpolished, uncouth
apodeictic: unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration
caducity: perishableness, senility
caliginosity: dimness, darkness
compossible: possible in coesistence with something else
embrangle: to confuse or entangle
exuviate: to shed (a skin or similar outer covering)
fatidical: prophetic
fubsy: short and stout, squat
griseous: streaked or mixed with grey, somewhat grey
malison: a curse
mansuetude: gentleness or mildness
muliebrity: the condition of being a woman
niddering: cowardly
nitid: bright, glistening
olid: foul-smelling
oppugnant: combative, antagonistic, or contrary
periapt: a charm or amulet
recrement: waste matter, refuse, dross
reborant: tending to fortify or increase strength
skirr: a whirring or grating sound, as of the wings of birds in flight
vaticinate: to foretell, prophesy
vilipend: to treat or regard with contempt

11 Nov 2008


Sounds Familiar? Accents and Dialects of the UK is one of the sections that make up the website of the British Library. Through its pages you can listen to audio clips with the recordings of people from different parts of the UK, displayed together with their corresponding script and some notes on lexical or other linguistic issues. There are also interactive maps to illustrate the lexis, grammar and phonology of contemporary spoken English and discover some features of social and geographical variation.

9 Nov 2008


For those of you , freaks of English theater, here’s a tidbit that maybe you find interesting. It seems that it was usual in London theaters that the audience paid only a part of the fee if they left before the end of the play. Even those who were not Scottish! And also that the VIPs could sit at the stage, supposedly to listen and to see better, but probably to be seen better, also. Well, it was the immortal Shakespearean actor David Garrick, who in the 18th century, when he became manager of the Drury Lane Theater, changed all this. Of course, part of the public got annoyed, but I think he was right. After all, if you go to a restaurant and you discover that you don´t like the dish you have ordered, what do you do? To pay only for the part of the meat you have eaten?

5 Nov 2008


Es esta ocasión, y dentro de la sección de entrevistas, presentamos a María Magdalena García Lorenzo, profesora de la UNED.

¿Qué asignaturas imparte?
Este curso 2008/2009 imparto "Corrientes y Autores Literarios Norteamericanos", "Pensamiento y Creación Literaria Inglesas en el siglo XX", "Comentario de Textos Literarios Ingleses" y "Literatura Norteamericana Contemporánea" en la licenciatura de Filología Inglesa, y "Estilística" en el posgrado oficial de "Lingüística Inglesa Aplicada".

¿Cuántos años lleva en la enseñanza universitaria?
Desde 1993, es decir, 15 años.

¿Cómo definiría usted 'filología'? En qué ha cambiado, si es que lo ha hecho, el significado del término desde que usted empezó a estudiar hasta el momento actual? ¿Hacia dónde se dirige la disciplina?
Yo empecé a estudiar una disciplina ya cambiante, que se preocupaba un poco menos del trabajo filológico en sí (arqueología y disección del lenguaje) y un poco más del lenguaje como medio para adentrarse en una cultura y una forma de aproximarse a la experiencia. Como es lógico, seguimos siendo "filólogos" en el sentido etimológico del término, amantes de la palabra, pero es la palabra en sí la que ya no se nos muestra como antes. La filosofía y otras disciplinas nos han revelado el discurso y su relación con las ideologías.

¿Qué criterios sigue usted a la hora de elaborar el contenido de las asignaturas? ¿Cómo elige los autores y obras que forman parte del programa?
Intento mantener cierto equilibrio entre el respeto al canon, la subversión del canon, y las preferencias personales. En cualquier caso, prefiero escoger textos cuya lectura sea al tiempo un placer y un estímulo, bien porque sean muy ricos formal o ideológicamente, o porque sean un tratamiento de choque frente a textos más conocidos.

¿Qué ventajas e inconvenientes ve a la reforma de los estudios de Filología Inglesa?
Ahora mismo veo más inconvenientes que ventajas, no por los futuros"estudios ingleses" en sí sino por el marco teórico que los va a acoger, es decir, el espacio europeo. Éste se planteó como una puesta en común pero hay países europeos donde no se ha aprobado, y en otros el modelo simplemente no ha funcionado, así que todo el proyecto pierde parte de su sentido. También se nos obliga a los docentes a ser mucho más burócratas de lo que ya lo somos para garantizar "la calidad", una calidad que en el caso del profesorado universitario depende en gran medida (no sugiero que al cien por cien) de la investigación y la preparación. Sin tiempo material para investigar y compartir los resultados de la investigación, y con una carga docente desconocida enotros países, las reformas nunca son tales.

¿Qué le recomendaría a alguien que se plantea matricularse en Filología Inglesa? Para empezar, que sean conscientes de que no es una escuela de idiomas. Es decir, no se estudia Filología Inglesa para saber inglés. La lengua inglesa como instrumento es sólo una pequeña parte de la titulación. Lo que a todos los docentes de la licenciatura nos gustaría que supieran al finalizar la carrera es cómo se usa esa lengua y por qué, esto es qué significados y consecuencias tiene cada una de las opciones de habla y de escritura en esa lengua. Y, por último, que se den cuenta de que una filología como ésta es una llave, o unas gafas, que les permiten ver más allá de la superficie del lenguaje.

3 Nov 2008


Language and cinema: Scene 5

The following dialogue from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is included in the book Meaning in Interaction. An Introduction to Pragmatics by Jenny Thomas to illustrate her explanation about explicit and implicit performatives, a section in the chapter on speech acts.

Be quiet!

... but a two-thirds majority ...

Be quiet! I order you to be quiet.

Order, eh -- who does he think he is?

I am your king!

Well, I didn't vote for you.

You don't vote for kings.

Well, how did you become king, then?

The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held Excalibur aloft from the bosom of the water, signifying by Divine Providence ... that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur ... That is why I am your king!

Is Frank in? He'd be able to deal with this one.

Look, strange women lying on their backs in ponds handing out swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

Jenny Thomas uses this example when discussing Austin’s postulates regarding the force of explicit and implicit forms of performatives. She points out that, quite often, there are no substantial distinctions, e.g. “We remind you that all library books are due to be returned by 9th June” vs. “All library books are due to be returned by 9th June”.

In some cases, the difference of nuance lies in the degree of formality, e.g. “I apologize” vs “I’m sorry”. Explicit performatives, moreover, are used for other purposes such as reinforcing an assertion, e.g. “I assure you, I sent it on time” or trying to dispel a doubt, e.g. “I swear I love you”

Thomas adds that the use of explicit performatives often implies an unequal power relationship. That is the example in Monty Python’s scene. First, King Arthur utters an implicit performative by ordering “Be quiet”. Next, he uses the explicit one, “I order you to be quiet” trying to make it clear that he is entitled, as a king, to make his subjects shut up. He fails on both occasions, anyhow, as the peasant turns out to be an anarcho-syndicalist.

2 Nov 2008


These are two versions of Betty Botter. Good for practice of English voiced bilabial plosives.

In British English
Betty Botter 1
Betty Botter had some butter
But she said this butter's bitter,
If I baked it in my batter
It would make my batter bitter,
But a bit of better butter
That will make my batter better,
So she bought some better butter
Better than the bitter butter,
And she baked it in her batter
And her batter was not bitter,
So 'twas better Betty Botter
Bought a bit of better butter.

In American English
Betty Botter 2

1 Nov 2008


El País publica hoy el artículo Un Shakespeare inédito... y escrito a cuatro manos, sobre Los dos nobles parientes, obra escrita por William Shakespeare junto a John Fletcher