Remember the podcast episode about Doctor Who from a few years ago? (Click here to listen) It featured a conversation with Lee Arnott, who is something of an expert on Doctor Who. He knows more about Doctor Who than most people in the whole universe.
Well, here is some language analysis by a very brilliant English teacher called Richard Gallen, who I used to work with in London. Richard analysed the conversation I had with Lee, and wrote the following text for you to read. You can use this analysis to learn more about descriptive language, and to understand in more detail the conversation I had with Lee about The Doctor.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you can use this as an excuse to get excited about the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who which is coming soon (not to mention the arrival of the 12th Doctor, played by the brilliant Peter Capaldi).
If you’re not a Doctor Who fan (or interested in linguistics) then scroll down to the bottom of the page. There’s a cat video for you to enjoy (I’m assuming you like cat videos. I mean, who doesn’t like cat videos?)
So, here is the language analysis by Richard Gallen:
Lee and Luke explain Doctor Who – language for explaining and describing
Luke: Right, if you imagine somebody who’s never heard of Dr Who before, right, how can you explain who he really is. So, so, if, what are the most important things that you should know about Dr Who if you’ve never heard of him before, basically.
Lee: Well, Dr Who is, err, a TV show that it’s main character, a character called The Doctor, who is in fact an alien, has a machine that can travel through time and space, which means that he is able to go anywhere in any planet, any point in the future, the past, whenever.
Luke: Erm, what’s the name of that machine?
Lee: It’s called The Tardis.
Luke : And can you just describe The Tardis? That’s like his spaceship, yeah? Can you describe The Tardis for us? Because in Britain here, everybody knows The Tardis, like, almost everybody knows it. It’s very familiar to us. It’s almost like an icon of British culture. But what is The Tardis? What does it look like?
Lee: Well, The Tardis looks like a 1960s police box, and in the days before mobile telephones and actually people having telephones in their houses, these blue police boxes were like an old phone box, and they also had a double function in that if a criminal caught a policeman [if a policeman caught a criminal] they would be locked up inside this police box, and they also had a phone, so they were a very common object in 1960s Britain, early 1960s Britain when Dr Who started.
Extra information clauses
Describing a film or book can be a little difficult. It’s quite hard to keep people interested. That’s why when we introduce a character we sometimes say something interesting or exciting about them
a character called The Doctor, who is in fact an alien
..then there’s Princess Leia who is fact Luke’s sister
In 1988 she met this man called Greenlee, who was in fact the top CIA agent in Bolivia at the time.
In the examples above ‘who’ refers to the noun before it (The Doctor/Princess Leia/ this man called Greenlee). In the example below ‘which means that’ doen’t only refer to the noun before, it refers to the whole clause before:
It’s a machine that can travel through time and space, which means that he is able to go anywhere in any planet, any point in the future, the past, whenever
The most common verb after ‘which’ in extra information clauses is ‘means’ .It often says something about the result of an event
I slept through my alarm clock which meant that I had to run like crazy for the train
Gilardino scored a goal very late in the match which meant that Italy qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
When Lee was describing police boxes in England he said:
they had a double function in that if a policeman caught a criminal they would be locked up inside this police box
we use ‘in that’ when we think we could be more precise about something we’ve just said : ‘in that’+example
He was quite reserved in many ways but he was also very sociable in that heliked entertaining,
It’s already old news (in that it was announced 6 hours ago…) but President Obama has been awarded the Nobel peace prize
The most common adjectives that come just before ‘in that’ are:
unique / unlucky / unusual/ fortunate
UNICEF is unique in that they are in countries, before, during and after emergency situations and humanitarian crises
Gordon Brown was unlucky, in that he became PM when we were on the edge of a disaster
She was fortunate, in that she had so much money she didn’t need to work
‘Like’ is very common when we describe:
And can you just describe The TARDIS? That’s like his spaceship, yeah?
Luke is trying to explain what the TARDIS is…. But he can’t find exactly the right words. This is very common in conversation and when we describe things because it’s difficult to be precise all the time
As the examples below show, sometimes we are imprecise because we want to exaggerate. ‘Like’ is very common to introduce an exaggeration:
It’s [almost] like….. an icon of British culture
Because in Britain here, everybody knows The TARDIS, like, almost everybody knows it
Some other examples:
..and it was so good, it was like, one the best meals I ever had.
..and for a few months he was like, crazy about me, he was calling me and sending me flowers
Notice how we pause just after ‘like’ when we use it in this way
Other uses of ‘like’
We use ‘like’ in questions to ask for a description:
But what is The TARDIS? What does it look like?
‘Like’ also means similar to:
These blue police boxes were like an old phone box
When ‘like’ means ‘similar to’ we use adverbs to make the comparison softer or stronger
a bit like /rather like / (to soften)
just like /exactly / a lot like (to strengthen)
Horse surfing is a lot like surfing, just with horses
The currents in the sea were really strong and, for a minute, it is was almost like a huge monster was sucking me under
The following ‘sense’ verbs are common before ‘like’ when we use it in this way.
feel/ taste/ sound/ look/ smell
It felt like I had been waiting for hours but it was in fact only 20 minutes
He smelt like he hadn’t had a shower for weeks
She looks like she’s been crying
Now here’s that cat video I promised you…