24 January 2014

Capturing details in a speech: a musical reminder of failure

Prelude & Fugue BWV 846 No. 1   in C Major by Bach piano sheet music
Yesterday, I had my first piano lesson for 55+ years, which reminded me of something I gave up on when starting the research into political speeches that eventually resulted in Our Masters' Voices in 1984 - links to the story of which can be found HERE.

It was easy enough to collect tapes of political speeches, but many of the most significant findings from conversation analysis had come from detailed transciptions of recordings of actual conversations (for more on the methodology of which, see Structures of Social Action (1984).

So the first challenge was how to transcribe the lines spoken just before bursts of applause in the speeches. Variations in intonation clearly mattered, not least because the way speakers talked in speeches featured more (and longer) pauses and much more marked tonal shifts upwards and downwards than is typically found in everyday conversation.

I started by trying to capture such details by trying to transcribe syllables, words, sentences and phrases on the different lines and spaces in the staves of blank musical manuscript paper. But two obstacles stood in my way.

One was that it was far more time-consuming than doing the transcripts in Our Masters' Voices - which took well over an hour to transcribe each 10 seconds of speech.

The second one, as I realised again yesterday, was that I was never much good at sight-reading music anyway, so my attempts to capture details of the beat, timing and positioning of words on the lines and spaces of a stave were doomed to failure.

I'm hoping that it may not be too late to improve my sight-reading of music - but have no illusions about my chances of ever being able to write music, let alone to transcribe speeches, on manuscript paper...


22 January 2014

Does English really work as a common language of communication (?) revisited...

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog asking 'How well does English really work as a common language of communication?'.

Today, I received an email from a senior executive of a leading international research company in the UK with advice to staff on the same issue.

It doesn't say anything about where it came from, but one can't help wondering whether John Rentoul's Banned List had anything to do with it (see also @johnrentoul on Twitter):

If you are working on an international project on in a cross-cultural team here are a few things to consider:

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY
WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN
WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say
I disagree and do not want to discuss it further
He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect
You are an idiot
He is listening to me
That's not bad
That's good
That's poor
That is a very brave proposal
You are insane
He thinks I have courage
Quite good
A bit disappointing
Quite good
I would suggest
Do it or be prepared to justify yourself
Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way
The primary purpose of our discussion is
That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that
I am annoyed that
It doesn't really matter
Very interesting
That is clearly nonsense
They are impressed
I'll bear it in mind
I've forgotten it already
They will probably do it
I'm sure it's my fault
It's your fault
Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner
It's not an invitation, I'm just being polite
I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree
I don't agree at all
He's not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments
Please rewrite completely
He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options
I don't like your idea
They have not yet decided



17 January 2014

A 'backie' of Miliband's speech about bankers?



Ed Miliband's speech today had been trailed by the media and social media all week, so what he had to say about the banks hardly qualified as news. But where and to whom he was speaking remains a bit of a mystery.

Some, like ITV and the Daily Telegraph, were helpful enough to tell us that he was speaking at the University of London. But at which of its many colleges or at which of its even more numerous departments did this happen? It might, of course, have been at a political club somewhere in some college of London University, but no one bothered to tell us that either.

Blue tie to the front
Nor did anyone note or comment on why the Labour leader was wearing a blue tie and we were left wondering whether he or his aides thought that dressing up like a Tory would be a subtle ploy while confronting the banks.

Audience to the back
And no one will be surprised that I was also left wondering (yet again) why our leading politicians are so obsessed with speaking with their backs to part of the audience. I'm still waiting to be told which of their advisors think it's such a good idea - not to mention why they recommend it.

A defence sometimes made is that it's a neat way of showing what a mixed bunch of supporters they have (if supporters they were). Yet women seem rather poorly represented in this particular audience (at about 3:25), as too are youth and the elderly (0).

But, however uninspired they may look, no one yawns or goes to sleep. At least one - in a grey jacket on the lower left of the picture - had brought along his tablet to distract him (and viewers like me).

At about 26 seconds in, he starts to take a photograph of Mr Miliband's back, after which he spends quite a while admiring his efforts.

A backie?
So one question arising from the Mr Miliband's speech is whether 'backies' have started to replace  'selfies' or are merely yet another new word for pictures made possible by innovations in portable technology...