Life and LanguageSep 24, 2021
Chris Laoutaris – Shakespeare’s First Folio
What makes the First Folio so important and unique? 2023 marks the 400th anniversary of the first published collection of Shakespeare’s plays. In this episode, I talk to Chris Laoutaris, author of Shakespeare’s Book: The Intertwined Lives Behind the First Folio. Chris gives us fascinating insights into the human story of this book that was produced seven years after Shakespeare’s death. The story of the people, places, and contexts that were all part of the creation of this work still have their effect on what Shakespeare means to us today.
Chris Laoutaris is associate professor at The Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham. He is a biographer, historian & a poet. Shakespeare's Book has been selected as a BBC History Magazine Book of the Year (selected by Tracy Borman). It was also a Financial Times Best Summer Book.
Hannah Gold - Writing Bear
How do you become a successful children’s author? I invited the brilliant Hannah Gold so I could learn her secret. What I really liked was Hannah’s insights into the value of a holistic career including a range of professions as well as life experience before becoming an award-winning author of fiction for children. In Hannah’s books, friendships between children and animals play an important role. Making these friendships come alive requires descriptions of how people and animals communicate – Hannah shares some the techniques she has developed to show this kind of communication. In this episode, Hannah tells us about her research into polar bears and her passion for the natural world. She also explains how thinking about the climate crisis is a necessary part of writing a modern day story.
And guess what song Hannah likes to start events with? Well, I do like Katy Perry, too!
Hannah Gold’s first book, The Last Bear – won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2022 and the same year also the Blue Peter Book Award. Her second book The Lost Whale was the Winner of the Edward Stanford Children's Book of the Year 2023.
Karen McAuliffe - Multilingual Law
Can the law be the same if the language is different? I invited Karen McAuliffe, an expert in multilingual law, to shed some light on this question. Different languages represent reality in different ways. This has an impact on the legal system, too. So how can law be created that will have the same effect across multiple jurisdictions? Especially in the context of the European Court of Justice this is a critical question. Language and storytelling play an important role for law – from the pricing of football jerseys to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Karen McAuliffe is Professor of Law and Language at the University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on the relationship between law, language and translation in multilingual legal orders, particularly the European Union. She has run a number of large, funded, research projects in the field of law and language, including the Law and Language at the European Court of Justice project and The EU Case Law Corpus project. You can find out more about Karen’s research on her website: www.karenmcauliffe.com
Here are some links to the things mentioned in this episode:
Jack Grieve - Fake News
Are you be able to spot fake news? Can you even define what fake news is? According to Jack Grieve, ‘fake news’ is deceptive, it is intentionally trying to misinform its audience. Fake news is not the same as news that is untrue or false. But what exactly makes news fake? Are there any linguistic clues? Anything that gives away the intention to deceive? Can linguistic methods help us to find out? Surely there is lots of fake news out there that can serve as a data set for computational analysis? But not so fast! A key challenge is to find ‘real’ news that you can usefully compare to fake news in order to see what the difference is. Listen to Jack Grieve explain his linguistic methodology for such a comparison. Hear about an intriguing case study that looks at a journalist who used to work for the New York Times. This journalist, Jason Blair, would sometimes produce real and fake news on the same day! Now, that’s an exciting data set for linguists to work with!
Jack Grieve is a Professor of Corpus Linguistics at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the quantitative analysis of language variation and change. He also conducts applied research in authorship analysis. Together with Helena Woodfield he has written the book The Language of Fake News.
Paul Baker - The Story of Camp
What is the link between Oscar Wilde, Judy Garland and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Find out in this episode, where I talk to Paul Baker about his new book Camp! The Story of the Attitude that Conquered the World. Paul looks at the history of camp - a phenomenon that went from marginal to mainstream. He explains why laughter is so important in today’s world and how popular culture can help to ground us. The book is full of incredibly fabulous examples, and in this episode we get a selection of these camp confections.
In the show, Paul reads a passage from the book. He tells us what it is like to record an audiobook, and he shares brilliant tips for writers!
If you want to recognise the camp in yourself, this is the episode for you!
Also check out Paul’s Instagram account @campthebook.
Paul Baker is a Professor of English Language at Lancaster University. He has written numerous books for academic and popular audiences. These include Fabulosa: The Story of Polari, and Outrageous! The Story of Section 28 and the Battle for LGBT Education. Paul is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.
David Hannah: Water - The Climate Connector
Water is fundamental to life. Water affects us all. But do we talk about water enough to raise awareness of its value? What do we do to accelerate change to solve the water crisis? Are we aware of the various connections that make the water crisis a wicked problem? I am speaking to David Hannah, Professor of Hydrology and UNESCO Chair in Water Sciences at the University of Birmingham. David explains the kind of work he does as a water scientist, we speak about water cycle diagrams and the human impact on the water cycle. We consider how the language we use to talk about water relates to our perception of reality, and how it can help us to become more hopeful. Oh … and there’ll be polar bears, too!
David Hannah is the Director of the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action. He is included in the Reuters list of top 1000 climate scientists.
Paterson Joseph - Historical Fiction
What can historical fiction do for today’s society? Paterson Joseph’s first novel tells the story of Charles Ignatius Sancho, the first known Black person to have voted in a British election. In this episode, we talk about Black presence in history, the challenges of writing historical fiction, and seeing the world through narratives (on the page, on the stage or in films). Paterson tells us about his personal experience of becoming an actor and a writer, and shares his thoughts on the writing of history as performance. As a special treat Paterson will read passages from his new book.
Paterson Joseph is an acclaimed British actor and writer. He has starred in Peep Show, Green Wing, Safe House as well as in Royal Shakespeare productions. His debut novel, The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho will be out on 6 October 2022.
Sean Grass - Dickens, Identity & Commodity Culture
What makes Dickens enduringly popular and relevant to modern life? Who’d be better to talk to about this question than Sean Grass, the President of the Dickens Society. In this episode, we look at Charles Dickens in the context of commodity culture. Sean explains how autobiographical writing developed into a commercial genre. We look at the implications of exposing lives to public view and the social costs of commodifying identity. It won’t come as a surprise that we’ll touch upon questions of gender, too. Sean explains, for example, why in the 19th century Dickens’s novels were not really seen as appealing to a male audience. There's an opportunity to hear about portraits and Lady Audley’s Secret, too. Sean reads some wonderful extracts from 'Our Mutual Friend' and 'Great Expectations'. We talk about the art of compelling storytelling and what Dickens can teach us about community, empathy and personal well-being. And here a special treat: you will get some great advice for your own writing! Have a listen!
Sean Grass is Professor of English Literature at Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York. He is an expert on Victorian literature and culture and he is the President of the Dickens Society. His many publications include The Commodification of Identity in Victorian Narrative(Cambridge University Press, 2019) and Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend A Publishing History (Routledge, 2014).
James Tauber – Digital Tolkien
What is the connection between software development and Tolkien? In this episode, I talk to James Tauber. He is the founder and CEO of Eldarion, a company that develops web applications for a wide range of clients with a special focus on educational contexts. James leads the Digital Tolkien project and also teaches at Signum University. We talk about fantasy fiction, and how Tolkien creates worlds, names places, and invents languages. Obviously, James reads some fantastic text passages, too. He tells us about the Digital Tolkien project and shares his views on what makes a good software development team.
Peter Stockwell - Science Fiction
What are the ingredients of science fiction? To find out, I talk to Peter Stockwell, the author of “The Poetics of Science Fiction”. Starting with an example, Peter reads from “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury and explains why this is a great text to get you into science fiction. We talk about the history of the genre, its relationship with pulp fiction, Frankenstein as early sci-fi and time travel in Dickens. Science fiction is about the here and now. It is about page-turner stories and about the opportunity to imagine futures. Science fiction puts science into stories and creates narratives that make people care. This episode is full of examples and gives you plenty of recommendations for reading. Peter also reads an extract from his current favourite sci-fi text. I won’t tell… have a listen to find out.
Peter Stockwell is Professor of Literary Linguistics at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of “Cognitive Poetics: an introduction”. His most recent book is “Digital Teaching for Linguistics” (with Rebecca Gregory, Jessica Norledge, and Paweł Szudarski ) – which is a bit sci-fi, too.
Fiona de Londras - Human Rights
Why is human rights discourse so difficult? In this episode, I talk to Fiona de Londras about what it means to translate human rights into practical instruments and how language frames legal discourses. Fiona explains the difference between a human rights perspective and civil liberties talk that has been so frequent in the pandemic discourse. She shares her insights into why human rights don’t get much talked about in Prime Minister's Questions, we hear about her project on pandemic review, and we talk about the importance of language in the Irish abortion referendum campaign. Fiona tells us about her deep-seated dislike of inaccessible language, cooking as a way to measure time, and words as little pockets of Irishness.
Fiona de Londras is Professor of Global Legal Studies at the University of Birmingham. In 2017 she was awarded the prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize in law. Her most recent book is ‘The Practice and Problems of Transnational Counter-Terrorism’, published in January 2022.
Deryn Rees-Jones - Poetry and the Unsayable
What if there is no language to describe what the body experiences? In this episode, I talk to Deryn Rees-Jones about poetry and illness. Deryn shares what it feels like being a poet and tackling the complexity of life. With her personal experience of Long Covid, she talks about the challenge of how to use language to describe the precarious state of the body and finding ways to connect with the experience of others. In this amazing conversation, we go deep into topics of the everyday that are at the same time fundamental to human existence. Poets try to find a bridge through language so that experience can be articulated, understood, and shared. Moving beyond illness, we look at poetry and intersectional feminism, the climate crisis – and war. As a special treat, Deryn reads two of her poems: “The Cure” and “Drone” - both are immensely powerful and scarily topical.
Deryn Rees-Jones is a poet, an editor and a critic, as well as a professor of creative writing at the University of Liverpool. In 2004, Deryn was named as one of Mslexia’s ‘top ten’ women poets of the decade. In 2010 she received a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors. Deryn’s most recent book of poems, 'Erato', published in 2019, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and shortlisted for The Welsh Book of the Year and the TS Eliot Prize in 2019.
You can find her poem ‘The Cure’ here
You can read ’14 Little Pieces on Love’ here
‘Drone’ is one of the poem in ‘Erato’
Alice Roberts - Stories of Humanity
Starting from Ancestors, the latest book by Alice Roberts, we chat about storytelling and the excitement of embarking on science projects. We hear about some of the protagonists in Ancestors, including stories around gender and the role of women in stories and in science. Using her experience as an anatomist, Alice tells stories of human and bodily experience. She reminds us: “The body doesn’t make sense without the environment around it”. You will hear an extract from Ancestors that illustrates this point vividly. The stories that Alice tells show how the past is here in the present. One of the examples we discuss is the histories of diseases and what we know about viruses. In very practical terms, Alice shares some of her own experience of working with words, how teaching has affected her TV work, and what it means to write for children. She explains her specific approach to producing documentaries, and how conversation is a way of learning: stories are created through conversations. We chat about different types of evidence and how there is a place for fiction, too, as an important source of historical knowledge. I ask Alice about her views on the future of universities – and you will also get a bit of a preview of one of Alice’s next books!
Alice Roberts is an academic, writer and broadcaster. She’s written numerous popular science books. She was the first recipient of the Royal Society’s David Attenborough award for Public Engagement in 2020. She is professor of Public engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham.
Mary Ann Sieghart - The Authority Gap
Mary Ann Sieghart’s book “The Authority Gap” raises awareness of unseen bias and suggests ways to tackle systemic sexism. In this episode, we talk about how Mary Ann’s experience as a journalist enabled her to write this book, she shares plenty of examples from interviews and research studies. We talk about women finding their strengths, gender and the climate crisis, the profound effect of fiction, films and TV on how we see the world, and the accumulation of small solutions needed to change the situation for women. You will also get a glimpse of Mary Ann’s next book.
Mary Ann Sieghart is a journalist, she worked for 20 years as Assistant Editor and columnist at The Times, she is a broadcaster (you might know her from programmes on BBC Radio 4), she is a non-executive director, and a visiting professor at King’s College London.
Sita Brahmachari - Water Stories
In this episode, I want to find out about ‘water’ in stories – and especially in stories for children and young adults. Who better to chat to about this topic than the wonderful Sita Brahmachari. Sita is an award-winning author of children's books, young adult novels, and short stories. As you will find out, water plays a special part in Sita’s stories. She tells us about and reads from her books, including 'Where the River Runs Gold', and you will be treated to poetry, too! Fiction is never just fiction though. We talk about storytelling, science, politics and activism. Water is a profound reflection of what it means to be human - diving, surfacing, living rivers, water pollution & climate chaos. In the climate crisis we need creativity more than ever.
Sita Brahmachari’s first book, 'Artichoke Hearts' won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2011. 'The River Whale' was one of the best-selling World Book Day stories in 2021. 'Where The River Runs Gold' and 'When Secrets Set Sail' were Waterstones and Blackwell’s Books of the Month. 'Tender Earth' won an Honour from the International Board of Books for Young People. Her latest book 'When Shadows Fall' is out in November 2021. Sita is an Amnesty Ambassador for children's rights.
Steffen Kuehr - Talking Sustainability
Steffen is the Founder and CEO of the California-based TekTailor – a green business! Learn what it means to run a benefit corporation, make real change, and turn things like decommissioned fire hose into products with a truly heroic past. Steffen is a sustainability advocate. It is absolutely amazing to hear about his experience working in the textile manufacturing sector and supporting the maker movement. He talks about his vision for rethinking waste, his work in education, teaching new concepts like repurposing and upcycling, and the need to create new stories. Be inspired! You’ll get some tips for saving waste this Christmas, too. And if you are wondering, yes, Steffen and I went to school together.
Ryan Heuser - Distant Reading
Ryan explains how computers can help us overcome the human constraints on reading time. The distance of distant reading brings out the scale of history. We chat about the computational study of culture and literary history, and what computers have got to do with creativity. Ryan gives plenty of exciting examples from his research. He talks about telling the history of words like ‘culture’, capturing a geography of emotions of London, and the question of what Jane Austen really tells us about what Mr Darcy looks like. We also hear about Prosodic, a tool Ryan developed for metrical-phonological annotation (give it a try on one of Shakespeare’s sonnets – or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!).
Dr Ryan Heuser is a research fellow at King’s College at the University of Cambridge.
Deborah Cameron – On Being a Feminist and a Linguist
Deborah Cameron explains how feminism and linguistics work together and we learn about her experience as a stand-up comedian, too. We chat about the importance of stories and narratives as a powerful way of human thinking. Deborah reminds us to critically look at how repeated narratives get normalised, as in the influence of folklore on crime reporting.
We talk about equality, training targeted at women, and systemic challenges for feminism. Deborah shares advice on public engagement, the impact of linguistics, and the value of writing textbooks. She describes linguistics as an eye opener of culture and social relations. It is a way to think about lived experience – which sometimes can include a man in a potato suit.
Deborah Cameron is Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication at the University of Oxford. Her books include The Myth of Mars and Venus.
Stephen Mumford - Talking is Real Work
Stephen explains the basic structure of reality in simple terms. We chat about how knowledge is created collectively and how talking and debate are part of the process. Words and actions are closely related, which becomes very clear when Stephen likens certain forms of debate to a blood sport! He shares fascinating examples of the relevance of philosophy to many areas of life, from public health to football. It’s clearly always useful to have a philosopher as a critical friend! Stephen also tells us about his experience as a novelist and his views on systemic historical injustices. When we talk about equality and diversity, I test some very tough questions on him!
You don’t want to miss this!
Julie Sanders – On Shakespeare and University Leadership
Julie talks about Shakespeare and adaptation, how he gets used by different times and cultures and what we can learn from his plays about everyday practices. She shares her experience of teaching Shakespeare in the pandemic, where the closure of theatres was not only a historical moment but had become “now”. We chat about the need for languages of the humanities to talk about the climate crisis. We discuss challenges of equality and diversity, and the need to demystify how institutions work. Julie powerfully talks about stories of grief and love, languages of hope, and how theatre is about making things new. She shares with us her own story of getting into Shakespeare, what she learned from travelling the world, and why it’s important to find the longer horizon. She encourages us to use the tools that language offers and to take the opportunity of literature as “a way of thinking it through”. Tune in and give it a try!
Julie Sanders is Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at Newcastle University, and Professor of early modern literature and drama.
Ganna Pogrebna – Data Science and Decision Making
Ganna explains how data science can help us understand human behaviour. She talks about different types of biases that affect human behaviour (like when we tend to think we are better drivers than we actually are), how data is biased, too, and how building algorithms needs insights from qualitative research. Ganna gives us lots of examples, including from her work on movies and supporting scriptwriters. She shares her thoughts on diversity in tech, positive change, and powerful story telling. As a behavioural data scientist, Ganna combines economics, psychology and computer science. She is co-author of The Big Bad Bias Book and has just written her first children’s book The Smartest Animal of them All.
Philip Davis - Reading for Life
Phil shares his thoughts on reading as an aid to living. He talks about the vitality of reading aloud and together in a group. We learn about his work in Liverpool and activities of the Reader. Phil is Emeritus Professor of Literature and Psychology at the University of Liverpool. His most recent books are Reading for Life (OUP, 2020) and with Fiona Magee, Arts for Health: Reading (Emerald, 2020).