Don’t call Judy Maddren a language cop. CBC’s media language advisor insists such work is both “not in her job description” and pretty near impossible. In an interview with Ryerson Review of Journalism, she discusses the complexities of setting standards for the way Canadian journalists use words.
While some of her work sounds an awful lot like policing—like writing memos on the difference between ‘number’ and amount’ or the correct pronunciation of ‘espresso’—much of it also depends on tricky judgment calls. Even simple phrases carry political weight. Maddren offers ‘oil sands’ and ‘tar sands’ as an example. The terms describe the same thing, but are used by opposing sides in a contentious mining debate: The mining industry employs the former, while environmentalists favor the latter. Her job, in cases like these, is to gather the best information she can and make recommendations when appropriate.
It’s a monumental task, if the CBC language file is any indication. The usage guide, which Maddren alone maintains, currently holds over 12,000 entries. Check out the interview to learn more about the purview of a language advisor and to read her thoughts on why it’s such an important position.