Thursday, October 23, 2014

F-Bombs for Feminism

With more f-bombs than an English teacher getting a paper cut from a late, U -grade essay, this video from FCKH8 comes with a Parental Advisory sticker as big as your mum. If we'd still been looking for an F in our A-Z of representation, this would have been there.

Fantastic stuff for representation of women, girls and little sparkly princesses in need of rescue...

Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism by FCKH8.com from FCKH8.com on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Representation alphabet

Are you planning your ENGA2 Investigating Representation coursework? Here's an A-Z of ideas for potential topics put together by various members of the English department at Colchester Sixth Form College.

·         Amal Alamuddin’s and George Clooney’s  wedding as an event, or Amal Alamuddin as an individual.
·         British Muslims: how are Britain’s Muslims represented in the media and how do they feel about it, especially with IS claiming to represent their faith?
·         Calypso. What the flip? You’ll be even more gobsmacked when you hear the UKIP Calypso. But have a look at the debate and responses created by this appalling song. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/mike-reads-calypso-car-crash-for-ukip-campaign-9807020.html
·         Disability: are some people with disabilities not worth the minimum wage? How are disabled people represented in the media?
·         Ebola: coverage of the spread of the disease around Africa, Europe and USA.
·         Ferguson (or #Ferguson). The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in the US state of Missouri sparked protests and violence. It raises questions about racism, policing and social cohesion http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/michael-brown-shooting
·         Gamer Gate: sexism and misogyny in the world of gaming. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/20/gamergate-internet-toughest-game-woman-enemies
·         Hong Kong: representation of pro-democracy protests and the government’s  response
·         I   Immigration: a political hot potato but often used to whip up prejudice and resentment to gain votes. How is it viewed by those who move to Britain, those already here and why do people think there are far more immigrants than there really are?
·         J   Jennifer Lawrence: how has JenLaw been represented around the great Fappening scandal?
·         Kobane: the Syrian town defended by Kurds against IS. How has the battle been represented? What about the Kurdish women soldiers at the forefront of the fight against IS or the Turkish anarchists who have joined them?
·         Linda Bellingham: coverage of the actor’s illness and death
·         M Marriage: gay marriage and equal marriage. An institution under threat or one being redefined for a new century?
·         Nigel Farage: how did a privately-educated, millionaire, ex-banker manage to cast himself as an outsider voice to the Westminster establishment?
·         Oscar Pistorius: coverage of the athlete’s rise to fame and the trial for shooting his partner, Reeva Steenkamp.
·         P  Kevin Pietersen: cricket scandals are over the newspapers again with Pietersen’s autobiography bowling googlies at his former team-mates.
·         Q Queer politics: how are gay people responding to discrimination against them? The recent kiss-in at a Sainsbury’s in Brighton and the homophobic abuse suffered by two men on a bus in London highlight different social attitudes towards LGBT people.
·         Reeva Steenkamp: how has the woman killed by Oscar Pistorius been represented?
·         Sex education: it’s being discussed again by MPs. When should young people get sex education and will it save their lives, protect their health or turn them into leering, sex-crazed perverts?
·         Trolls: sad, lonely people in need of a hug (https://twitter.com/OwenJones84/status/523909281448755200), or dangerous criminals in need of jail?
·         UKIP: their political rise and the different perceptions of them. Unprincipled Knuckledragging Incompetent Parasites or angry voice of the silent majority?
·         Videogamers: representation of them as a social group
·         W Weather events: storms, hurricanes, climate change and natural disasters
·         Xenophobia: with the rise of UKIP and online halfwits like Britain First, why is fear of foreigners fast becoming such a political issue? Does it reflect genuine hatred of different people around the world or a time of insecurity and confusion in British identity?
·         Y  Malala Yusafzai: Nobel Peace Prize winner, girls’ education campaigner and victim of a Taliban shooting
 Z-list celebs: pick any recent vaguely famous non-entity from a reality show and see what’s happened to them in the press since their moment of glory.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What's proper?

Language debates are all over the media again and rarely seem to be too far aware, which is great news if you are an A level English Language student and looking for material to analyse, ideas to glean and references to add to your notes.

This article from Christian Rudder in The Huffington Post offers an analysis of Twitter language in response to the perception that social networking is degrading and/or destroying the English language. It's a common argument and one that has been knocking around for centuries. Ever since there has been technology to communicate - the pencil, the printing press, the mobile phone - there has been someone complaining about its disastrous effects on English.

This article challenges the declinist discourse and suggests that far from dumbing us down and forcing us to communicate very little in 140 characters, Twitter is not that different to other forms of communication:

A team at Arizona State was able to reach beyond word count and length, and into the sentiment and style of the writing, and they found several surprising things: first, Twitter does not change how a person writes. Among the many examples they tracked, if a writer uses “u” for the second person in e-mails or text messages, she will also use it on Twitter. But, likewise, if she generally spells out “you,” she does so every-where -- on Twitter, in texts, in e-mail, and so on. The decision to refer to the first-person singular as "I" or "i" follows the same pattern. That is, a person’s style doesn’t change from medium to medium; there is no “dumbing down.” You write how you write, wherever you write. The linguists also measured Twitter’s lexical density, its proportion of content-carrying words like verbs and nouns, and found it was not only higher than e-mail’s, but was comparable to the writing on Slate, the control used for magazine-level syntax. Everything points to the same conclusion: that Twitter hasn’t so much altered our writing as just gotten it to fit into a smaller place. 

Elsewhere, Ammon Shea, whose new book Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation looks well worth a read, has also written a piece for The Huffington Post, considering what's happened to the meanings of the words that were being worried about a hundred or so years ago. Shea finds that words like awful and talented rarely attract complaint these days, but were viewed by some as being totally unacceptable in the past. Meanings change: get over it, seems to be the key message here.

And if you want to help somebody who is actually researching attitudes to "proper" English for a PhD project, Carmen Ebner is collecting views through this link to her online questionnaire, so please take part and give your views. It's particularly good if you are an A2 English Language student and starting to look at language discourses and attitudes to change and variation as part of your second year work.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Welcome to EngLangBlog

With the new term underway, I thought I'd say welcome to the blog and introduce you to some of its main features.

First of all, the blog is designed to help you with your English Language A level. It's primarily aimed at the AQA A specification (as that's what I mostly teach and if you're a Colchester Sixth Form College student, that's the spec we do with you) but you'll find material here to help with AQA B, WJEC, EdExcel and OCR.

Most of the time, there will be posts on here about language in the news, so these will help you read around the subject and perhaps give you a few interesting angles and examples to get you thinking about different topics. At other times, there are longer posts which are tied to specific exam papers and questions. At exam time, I put up a lot of tips and hints about how to approach particular questions and topics for both AS and A2. There's already a big archive of these from previous years, so if you are looking for exam advice, try those. I'm an AQA examiner and moderator, but obviously I don't know what appears on the papers until you do, so none of this is inside information, just the ramblings of a sad language nerd.

If you've not used the blog before, you might find some of the following features helpful:

Labels
Labels can be found on each post and in a cloud on the right sidebar. If you are looking for all the posts on a particular exam paper, coursework topic or issue, just click on the label and you will be taken to all the posts with that label. So, if you're looking for Language Change, Child Language or Language Discourses, that's where you want to go.

Links
The links bars take you to some good sites for English Language study. Emagazine and Babel are aimed at A level students and are both excellent reads. If you're a Colchester student, get the log-in details from your teachers.









Tweets
The blog's Twitter account @EngLangBlog has lots of links and good ideas from linguists, students and other teachers, so it's a good idea to follow it. I've been posting short news items via Twitter more than the blog recently, so that's where to look for the latest news.

Finally, please contribute your own ideas, either through comments on blog posts or via Twitter. I'm always interested in hearing other points of view, finding out about language stories that I've missed or being shown links to interesting examples of language in use.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Feisty sluts being abrasive

There's been lots of good material in the papers recently about language and gender, so it's useful for anyone thinking of investigations at AS into representation of social groups & individuals.

The Telegraph looks at words which only seem to be used to label or describe women, while The Guardian has its own take on the issue. Fast Company also has a look at the ways in which language is used differently for men and women in their performance reviews, with abrasive being used to describe women much more than men.

Elsewhere, the discussion about what slut and sluttish mean - or has meant in the past - is picked up in The Guardian.

Monday, June 02, 2014

ENGA3 - making your examiner happy

It's just one day until ENGA3, so here's a quick post to wish you luck and to offer a few suggestions to make your examiner look upon you favourably.

Quote helpfully 
You should be using quotations from the texts you're analysing in your answers, but make sure they're helpful quotations. What's the difference between 1 and 2 below?

  1. The writer uses the noun phrase "the foul degradation of our language continues apace" to support his prescriptive view of language change.
  2. The writer uses the noun phrase "the foul degradation of our language continues apace" to support his prescriptive view of language change.
In short, 1 is wrong and 2 is right. That's because the quote used in 1 isn't actually a noun phrase, but a whole simple sentence/independent clause, while the quote in 2 actually specifies which bit is the noun phrase. I don't doubt that the person answering in the first one knows what they mean, but they're not making it easy for the examiner to give them marks.

Use examples
It's good to know stuff, but it's even better to show you know stuff. While that's a good bit of advice for the exam tomorrow, it might not be great life advice: no one likes a know-it-all, so forget this after tomorrow. Right? Examples are important to developing arguments and showing a grasp of a topic. If a question on language change asks you about how and why language changes, the big picture is obviously very important, but the examples can be really significant too. Think about going off the beaten track to find a few examples of neologisms (try here for starters), or here for some discussion of South African English or here for Australian English. If everyone uses the same revision guides and textbook (however brilliant the latter might be, ahem) then the examiners will get used to them. Surprise them with a few exciting and original gems.

Keep up with the times, daddio
As with the advice on examples, try to find some recent news stories about language to help you offer a bit of originality and range. This may reflect poorly on my sad and empty life, but I was excited and delighted to read an answer a couple of years ago in which the student made reference to a recent news report on the apparent demise of the Queen's English Society. This was particularly good as the question on Language Discourses that year used extracts from the QES website. So, what news stories have there been recently? Maybe you could have a look at a few of these and see if you can find some interesting angles.

Anyway, that's it for revision tips for ENGA3 for this year. Good luck in the exam.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

ENGA3 June 2014 - revision tips part 5

Today's tediously titled top tips will focus on analytical frameworks for ENGA3, in particular the Section B Language Discourses question.

As I was saying in yesterday's post about Section B, the key difference between the two sections on the paper is that Section A deals with language as it's actually used - in different times, different places and by different people - while Section B deals with language as something to be discussed, argued about and debated. So, in terms of analysis, you can apply many of the same frameworks - word, phrase, clause and discourse analysis - to texts in both sections, but Section B really lends itself to a Critical Discourse Analysis approach.


In effect, this means that you're using language analysis to work out the ideological position a text producer is taking in discussing a language issue. So, this could mean you're using language analysis to work out how a writer is using the following:
  • pronouns to address the reader and position him/herself in relation to the ideal reader (direct 2nd person address, inclusive 1st person plural, maybe some synthetic personalisation)
  • lexical formality to suggest closeness to the ideal reader/distance and expertise
  • modality to suggest elements of certainty or doubt, sometimes in the form of modal verbs, but also modal adverbs
Norman Fairclough: the daddy of Critical Discourse Analysis
For example - and I've shamelessly nicked this from an article I did for emagazine last year - with last January's question on the supposed Americanisation of English, Matthew Engel positioned himself in particular ways:
...in an article for The Daily Mail on Americanisms entering English, the columnist Matthew Engel, seems to humbly and self-mockingly position himself as out of touch by saying “Old buffers like me have always complained about the process, and we have always been defeated”. Should we take such a move at face value? Perhaps not. Engel goes on in the article to stridently berate the UK for adopting what he calls “ugly Americanisms”: “Nowadays, people have no idea where American ends and English begins. And that's a disaster for our national self-esteem. We are in danger of subordinating our language to someone else's - and with it large aspects of British life”. That doesn’t sound too much like the stance of a man who’s labelled himself an “old buffer”, but the words of a man who feels he’s still got battles to fight and wars to win (if not, home-runs to hit). His self-effacing positioning earlier on helps him appeal to his reader as a gentle, even rather defeated and pessimistic, sort of character, which his subsequent warnings and call to arms belie.
If you're still working on revision for this exam, you could do worse than look back through a few of the texts we've flagged up as being of Language Discourses interest and think about how you could analyse short chunks of them to see how the writers are positioning themselves through their language choices and how they're representing the particular language topic.

For example, this article by Lindsay Johns is fantastic for a bit of analysis, not only for the way he presents and positions himself but in the way he presents language to us as "an incredibly rich inheritance": a noun phrase that casts language as like a solid object passed unchanging from generation to generation. Is that the reality? Well, you might argue that it changes all the time and isn't something that is the gift of one person to give to another but something we should all share and contribute to.

In the simple sentence containing this phrase ("The English language is an incredibly rich inheritance.") there's no modality to suggest doubt, only certainty. This is the kind of analysis that can really help you in the first bullet point for Section B, because it links the AO1 language detail (words, phrases & sentences in this case) to the AO3 interpretation of meaning and discussion of representation.

There are plenty of good articles to practise this approach on, so have a look through the links here for a few examples.