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Department of Linguistics



Volume 18 No 2   December 2011


Pam Peters, founder and convenor of Style Council, reviews last year's conference.

The seventeenth in the long tradition of Style Council conferences was held in Sydney on September 10, back to back with the National Editors conference.  It drew the largest crowd ever for a Style Council with 115 participants. The program featured two panel discussions and a variety of individual presentations on issues of language and communication. 

The opening panel of the morning  focused on the Australian Government Style Manual, with inputs from three people who worked on the 6th edition (2002): Loma Snooks  (the project manager), who saw the project through challenging times;  David Whitbread (director of art and design), who demonstrated how the Manual’s design anticipated the multimodality and interactivity of documents designed for the web;  and Pam Peters (researcher on language usage), who showed how changes to the style recommendations in successive editions of the Manual reflected Australia’s changing culture and society over the last five decades. In the discussion that followed, members of the audience affirmed their keenness to see the updated (7th)  edition of the Style Manual to appear, and their readiness to contribute to it.

A bracket of papers followed on diverse aspects of C21 communication, with Judy Knighton (from NZ) speaking on the “transliterate scribe” and inviting editors to consider working in and between the many new media;  Jennifer Blunden (of UTS) who demonstrated graphically how passionate people can be about matters of punctuation; and William Laing (presenting a joint paper with Juliet Richters), on the demands of writing and editing telephone survey questionnaires on sensitive questions of public health.
The afternoon session began with two papers on plain English: by Susan McKerihan (Price Waterhouse Coopers) on structural approaches to designing more accessible corporate documents, and Howard Warner (from NZ) on “smart sentences”.

The climax of Style Council 2011 was the afternoon forum on changing English usage and the impacts of the different media on it.  The discussion was sponsored by the CAL Cultural Fund, and supported by the ABC “Big Ideas” programs on radio and TV, on which it was subsequently broadcast (follow links to download the programs). Three distinguished panelists spoke on the importance of one of three mass media: Julian Burnside QC on newspapers, David Astle (of Rubicon fame) on television, and Professor Kate Burridge on the social media.  Alan Sunderland of the ABC’s Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) provided lively chairmanship, ensuring that all references to broadcasting and the ABC itself were laudatory. The discussion that followed took in burning issues raised by the public – when do alternative and new usages begin to be standard English?  How do we reconcile the demands of different registers that impinge on the news, e.g. econospeak?  policespeak?   In the people’s choice vote at the end, it was David Astle who won out with his eloquent advocacy of the power of television talk on people’s lives, with all those odd words from sitcoms, game shows  and cartoons which somehow become common parlance (like D’oh) – at least for a while.


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