About

About Me


Al Gore has this joke he says at the start of his film,  An Inconvenient Truth. He says (something like) “Hi, I’m Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States”.

Such is the straitjacket of identity: both an honour, and something of a burden.

Well,  I used to be the Words Woman for Spectrum in The Sydney Morning Herald. Until they saw fit to let me go. But people out and about still see my name and say, Ahhhh, you’re the Words Woman from the Herald!

So, that’s who I am, at the moment. The (or `a’, if you prefer) Words Woman. No longer from the Herald. Out in the blogosphere, alone but not alone. There are plenty of other voices and twitters in the wilderness. Or the blogerness.

I’m an applied linguist (that’s someone who studies language for the purpose of using it to explore something else);  a writer and researcher; an educator, editor, consultant, and a player with language. Much of my time I teach online (at Anaheim University, California; and at The New School, in New York City); I also teach face-to-face as a coach, mentor, helper, u-name-it.

I’m also a mother ( son, daughter, and daughter-in-law) , a dog-owner (2 Labradoodle girls: Honey + Ginger), a gardener and a movie-lover.

About this Blog

This is a place for the language-related.  My definition of ‘language-related’ is just about anything related to big L-language.  In this basket I include everything from pointy-headed linguistics all the way through to little words. Comments are enabled so if you have a thought, let’s hear it.

This blog is about language. It takes a very broad look.  In the basket there is everything from

  • words – where they come from, how they’ve changed, who uses what, where, when and why; including how babies learn their language, how kids speak, how teens use language for assertion and identity, how slang and jargon operate and serve territorial interests
  • how we use language to broker almost everything we do – from making a purchase at the butcher’s, to  consulting a lawyer, to chatting to one’s child’s teacher, to doing lunch with a friend, to writing an essay in an exam, to returning a fault product
  • the mechanical bits and pieces  – grammar (written and spoken), discourse, sounds, ums and ahs, whatevers and likes
  • matters of identity – what our language says  about who we are, where we stand in society, where we aspire to, what we want to hide/show, what’s important to us, what we value
  • matters of meaning – how what we mean slips out in/under/through/behind what we say; how others gather and construct meanings we make; or take away understandings we didn’t intend; how uptake is at best a fragile and delicate commodity
  • matters of power –  how power weaves its way through social corridors, and is maintained through language;   how language influences and shapes; and how we can learn to see how this happens, critically analyse it, and mount a cognitive  defence against it
  • how language traverses across uncomfortable speech events, like breaking bad news – in all kinds of contexts, from hospitals to the workplace; how this can work, or not work, and how discomfort can be managed (or unleashed)
  • how language through discourse shapes our narratives about who we think we are, now, in the past and  across the decades of a life-span
  • how language constructs history and sometimes collides with the onus and prerogatives of truth
  • how metaphor permeates our cognitive landscape, affects identity, and is malleable and able to be harnessed for growth and understanding
  • how language operates in humour and the functions it achieves in various sites – like the workplace, and other venues of asymmetrical power
  • how language serves (or not) educational processes, how it helps (or hinders) learning, how schools offer multiple sites for negotiation and transaction
  • how, more generally,  language is a central agency in helping, either one-to-one or in the broader discourses of the caring professions; and how help is essentially a problematic concept
  • how language constructs gender, and how these identities are managed in discourse
  • how we use language to negotiate both meaning and the way forward
  • how political correctness works and where it came from and why it costs us
  • how naming happens and what names mean, what power they can carry
  • how politeness operates and how it can sometimes (deliberately) obscure meaning
  • how English is really `Englishes’ – how multiple contacts with other languages shapes and changes dialects; how English as an International Language serves native/non-native speakers alike; how cross-cultural communication (and confusion) happens.
  • how language helps law enforcement agencies (police and the courts)to identify and prosecute criminals; how legal processes can sometimes compromise truth and deny justice
  • and more…

About my Categories

Dr Ruth’s Grammar Corner – This is the place to come when you have a question about language (any aspect thereof) to which you’d like a considered response. I often receive emails from people agonizing over where to put a comma, or how to untangle their syntax, or whatever. Sometimes there’s a spat going on in the office and they appoint me mediator-cum-arbiter (big responsibility). In the past I’ve carried on these private conversations by email.  Now instead, I intend to have the conversation on my blog. This way I can share the love around. Here’s an authentic recent example. It took place by email, but I’ve reconstructed it here.

What I’m Reading –  I used to be quite strict about what I would read.  I’d read fiction and non-fiction turn-about. I was attracted to non-fiction because I thought it was “good for me”; but drawn to fiction for the escape factor of narrative. I read one book at a time. I gave the work about 70 pages to engage me. If it hadn’t by the time I got to page 71, then it was goodbye to that book.

These days I’m much less stringent with myself. I read whatever I want, in any order. At any one time, I may have about 5 or 6 books open, in the state of being read. And that’s OK.  Every flat surface in my house has a stack of books on it. The shelves have long since been over-stacked.

One other thing that’s changed is my threshhold has gone down. I now give a book a maximum of 50 pages. Here’s what I’m reading at the moment.

Bits and Bobs – This is where I put this and that, things about language that do not fit comfortably in any of the other categories on this blog.

Words and Meaning – Language is a meaning-making resource of which words are a unit. As life changes, so does language, so new words and phrases appear by the minute.  Some people catch butterflies. Words are my thing.

Public Language – Some language is private and it’s best it stays that way. A huge amount of language is public, and always will be. This part of the blog is devoted to looking closely at bits of public language, poking at them, wondering about them.

Metaphor – There’s a book called I’ve Never Met a Phor I Didn’t Like, and I’m a bit the same. In fact, a lot the same. Metaphors are wonderful. They’re little halogen lights that go on in your brain without any warning. They’re the readers’ ultimate reward, the something-for-nothing, the value-add. They’re the moments of comfort you get when everything else is pointing to Alzheimer’s.

Eavesdrops – Little snippets that you weren’t supposed to hear, but you did, and here they are! Instead of carrying them around in my head, I’m setting them free.

Personals – This is a little hobby of mine – unpacking the language and intent of Personals – that special category of advertisements that seek, within the constraints of strict space, to achieve artful impression management. perhaps like no other.

Mediated-Language – all language is mediated in some way. I find this is a good thing to remember so that we never assume otherwise. We should always approach text “with caution” knowing that it usually has someone’s agenda contained somewhere within it.

Apologetics – I collect apologies. Yes, I know it’s a bit weird. Why not stick with succulents or little birds. Can’t answer that. I find apologies interesting linguistic events, and usually quite political in one way or another. You might find you get interested in them too.

Neologisms – By some estimates, as many as 50 new words are invented every day. Mostly they spring into life momentarily filling a gap or a need. Not all of them will make it into a dictionary: some will; others will vanish, and never be seen or heard again. I like them because they always tell us something about the world in which we live.

Teaching and Learning

Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow’ “.

from The Talmud

I’ve been a teacher for a long long time. I’ve taught in a lot of  places. Have a look at the map below to get an idea.  I could list all the things I’ve taught – from history and literature to critical literacy to media studies to discourse analysis and bla bla bla – but I actually think you don’t teach subjects; you teach people.

For a long time it was English as a Second/Foreign language. ( I didn’t fall into teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, like people do in transit lounges or overseas holidays. I actually chose to do it from the start.) Then it was teachers who teach this. Then it was trainers who train people to teach people like this. Looking back now it feels like Russian dolls. See the map below for all the places where I’ve taught in some fashion or another.

This category holds stuff to do with teaching in particular, and education in general.

My Books

Find most of my books on google books

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