These are the media stories about MLE that have been covered in 2016, 2022 and 2023.
I've not updated the links on here for a while but I'll get round to that soon as there are some really excellent resources available for the A level now and more on the way.
One great resource that I would recommend is Heddwen Newton's English in Progress Substack, which you can find here. Heddwen curates a regular newsletter full of links to interesting stories about language, many of which are perfect for the A level course. We spoke to Heddwen in the second half of this episode of Lexis too so have a listen!
With Twitter (X... lol) going down the pan, I've set up a Bluesky account for @EngLangBlog so you can access that here if you're on that app. It seems to be growing nicely with more and more linguists on there, so I have some hope that it will be a useful resource. In the meantime, the Twitter account will stay posting but I'll be cross posting everything there to Bluesky.
Question 3 on Paper 1 has often been a bit of a low-scorer for students and you can maybe see why. It comes an hour in to the exam, and you’ve still got all your knowledge about child language to unleash, so perhaps you treat this one as a bit of a stopgap question. On top of that, you’ve already rinsed Text A in Question 1 and Text B in Question 2 for all the inspiration you could find and now you’ve got to go back and compare them. Why not just do that in the first place? Well, that’s a good question but have a look at Question 3 on Paper 2 and you can see that’s actually quite a tough thing to do. What you’re doing here is a slightly more staged process of exploring the two texts and actually a bit more straightforward.
So, what can you talk about in Question 3? The question is marked using AO4 which is the connections AO (you’ll see it in Question 3 on Paper 2 and in the NEA commentary too) so it’s important to think about the kinds of connections you can make between the two texts and how you can do that.
If Questions 1 and 2 are largely about avoiding too much unnecessary contextualising and cutting to the chase to analyse what the texts are about and what they are saying (and I think that’s the usual message about them), then Question 3 is a chance to talk more about some of those other contextual things. In other words, if the topic is broadly similar (and both texts are always on the same theme) then how and why do the two texts handle that theme in similar and different ways? What is it about the types of texts they are, the modes they are in, the purposes and audiences that they have, the time that they were produced in, that makes them do that differently. And how does their use of language show that?
While there’s bound to be some discussion of context in your answers to Questions 1 and 2 (because the AO3 requires you to talk about meanings in context), there’s more chance to develop that focus here. And as long as you use specific features of language to do that, you should be able to hit Level 3 or above.
A quick look at the mark scheme should reveal that Levels 1 and 2 are largely about spotting and identifying quite implicit and basic (Level 1) or quite literal (Level 2) connections without focusing on the language itself. This will probably be quite descriptive, so perhaps saying that a text is written and formal without identifying an example of this, or noting that the texts have different audiences but not illustrating how you can tell or how the address to those audiences is different in the language choices being made.
Levels 3 and above require you to discuss language, “compare use of xxx” being the key descriptor here, where the xxx will be the specific language features that you think are relevant. And here it’s about linking these to a specific aspect of context such as how an adjective helps describe flat-sharing/the rules of boxing/goths/how a runner missed her lane, or how a sentence function is used to engage or address the audiences. Comparison is important too because that’s what AO4 is all about, so make sure your language points are ones that can be used to discuss similarities and differences across the two texts.
For example, if you think pronouns are being used in a way that strikes you as interesting – lots of direct address in one text but often quite impersonal address in the other – that’s a good AO4 point to base a paragraph around. Equally, there’s this semantic field used in one text and that one used in the other – to describe the same topic – so that could be another good comparison. This text has been scripted to be spoken so there are frequent discourse markers to structure it, while that one has been laid out as a webpage so the structuring comes from its subheadings as part of its graphology.
At Levels 4 and 5 you’re taking this further. Level 4’s buzzword is connect and Level 5’s is evaluate so you’re engaging much more here with the ways that language is linked to mode, genre, purposes and audiences, and the historical and social contexts to each text. I’ve often reminded my students that it’s not just the older text that has historical context; the contemporary one does too and that’s also worth focusing on, even if that history feels very ‘now’. This doesn’t mean just offloading a lot of historical knowledge or trying to summarise all the social movements of the last 100 years, but instead it means discussing ways in which the texts themselves have been produced and consumed within a historical and social context and how that might have affected or even shaped them.
What is there in the text about student flat shares that makes you realise that going to university has only become an opportunity for a large minority in the last 30-40 years? What tells you that while vegetarianism has been around for well over a hundred years, it’s still treated as something of a food fad? What tells you that in 1743, boxing was relatively new to the public and therefore had to have its rules explained? These things could all be relevant to the contexts of the texts and to the language used within them and what that language is used to do.
But the other thing to notice is that as you work your way to the top of the mark scheme you’re expected to think less literally and more holistically. What’s the significance of these connections that you’re starting to see? Why are these texts treating the same material in different ways? By the time you hit Level 5 you should be evaluating all of that and also placing these texts within their wider discourse, taking the AO4 beyond just the connections between the texts themselves and into the texts’ connections to the wider world.
If you’re looking for a few ways to do this as practice for Paper 1, then this post from 2021 should offer you a few ways in.
When I'm teaching students how to approach text analysis questions (like Paper 1 Questions 1 and 2 and Paper 2 Question 3), I often advise them to take a look at the bigger picture first, before diving into the analysis. So looking back at yesterday's blog about tackling the In Defence of Good Grammar article, I probably should have taken my own advice as I have definitely dived into that before discussing what it's actually about.
One way of doing this is to have an initial read and just ask yourself a few basic questions:
If you start with a few questions like these, then the analysis can actually be pinpointed a bit more closely on the really important parts of the text/s. I've tended to adopt a hotspots approach with these questions (and those on Paper 1) and having that bigger picture and sense of what's going in is vital when you're trying to build an analysis of the whole text rather than just isolated moments.
Another way to do this is to produce a summary of the text. Imagine that you've just read the article and someone says "What are you reading?". You've got two or three sentences at most to explain what it is and what's being said. If you can't do that, then you probably need to go back and read again to unpick the information you need.
So, why not go back to this post from a couple of days ago and try these approaches on the three texts I've suggested there?
One of the text extracts that I linked to in this post, was a piece called In Defence of Good Grammar, written by James Innes-Smith for The Critic website, which bills itself as a "monthly magazine for politics, ideas, art, literature and much more".
The language pieces on there are not very frequent but, when they do appear, seem to me to be a mixed bag. Some of them recycle quite common prescriptive positions. So there's this one from April 2023 which starts off by complaining about supposed Americanisms in the English language before firmly aiming its fire at just Americans more generally. It even manages to include a language discourses greatest hits in this paragraph:
Turn on the wireless at any hour, and you may think this country has been infected by a linguistic virus. Words and phrases that were once regarded as intrusive Americanisms have become commonplace. Curveball (what’s wrong with bouncer?) and stepping up to the plate (taking a fresh guard?) are daily horrors which merit six firm strokes of the cane.
Then there's this one which focuses on language and class through the lens of Angela Rayner's non-standard grammar. But then you also see a few others - like this one on accommodation, class and downwards convergence - which are a bit more linguistically descriptive in their outlook.
But it's the other article on Angela Rayner and language 'standards' that I want to focus on here, so what follows is an attempt to offer a few things: a bit of analysis, some discussion of some of the techniques and language choices being used and a couple of suggestions about where this article and some of its ideas might sit within wider discourses about language.
You can probably tell that I've taken quite a critical stance towards it but you may well want to look at it from other perspectives and see if some of its arguments can be supported linguistically or if they might be seen as being more coherent and well-supported than I thought. Towards the end, there are also a few suggestions for other extracts in the article that you could analyse and evaluate. Anyway, here goes...
Title immediately suggests a discourse of conflict: a defence is being made against some kind of attack.
The standfirst presupposes that Angela Rayner is torturing our language and the only question up for debate is why she needs to be stopped.
Interesting choice of verb in ‘torturing’: language is being represented as the victim of a painful process.
Who is the ‘we’ in ‘our language’ and why has this possessive determiner been chosen? What might be the implications around the portrayal of those who are not part of the 'we', 1st person plural, group?
The image (from 1954) is in black and white and presents an elocution lesson.
Is this the era the writer wants us to return to? A post-war utopia where people were happy to be taught how to speak ‘properly’? A simpler time when rules were rules and everyone followed them?
…and yes, I do believe “speaking well” has value however unfashionable that may sound.
In the UK there remains an underlying sense that speaking well is the sole preserve of a posh elite, which may explain the lack of educational rigour when it comes to teaching the language.
You may have noticed the extent of adolescent inarticulacy when listening to school leavers struggling to construct a coherent sentence without having to fall back on verbal ticks such as “like”, “innit” and “you know what I mean?” Yet this pummelling at the foundations of communication is by no means limited to the less well educated.
Instead of lowering standards to meet ideological whims and cultural and class sensitivities we should be lifting young people out of the prison of low expectation and equipping them with the tools they need to live a rich and communicative life.
What language deconstructionists fail to acknowledge is that without these vital literacy skills, children will always struggle to find purpose and meaning. By allowing language to become part of the culture war we deny children access to the great works of literature as well as limiting their chances of gainful employment.
Angela Rayner may have lucked out but millions of working class people remain trapped in systemic disadvantage brought about by a lack of will on the part of teachers and parents to instil a love of language.
...without fluency of language, they will remain trapped in a cycle of ignorance and poverty...
While I'm doing posts about Section B of Paper 2, I'd better mention the kinds of texts that appear here and that you have to analyse and respond to. They're often (but not always) articles from newspapers and online sources, but can also be book extracts or something like, as was the case of the 2019 paper, an article from an accent tutoring website. I've summarised a few of the others below:
What you'll probably see from these texts is that many of them come from a position of criticising or complaining about an aspect of language change or diversity, often with a prescriptive slant to them, and that they are often open to linguistically-informed criticism and challenge. Not all of them are totally unreasonable rants; in fact some of them are carefully assembled to foreground opposing and contrasting views. The 2022 paper even had a text that included a 'head to head' style article as one of its texts, where two opposing language commentators argued their cases.
Bear in mind too, that you're being assessed using 3 AOs in Question 3, so you'll need to be approaching these texts from a few different angles, such as:
Yesterday, I posted a few links to articles that I thought were pretty good examples of opinion pieces about language. There's always a bit of a caveat with this kind of advice though, because the activity you're engaged in during the exam is basically an exercise to secure marks from the available assessment objectives, rather than actually write something for publication and payment.
That's why you need to be a little bit careful about using anything as an exact style model; while there are really informative and linguistically-informed pieces out there (and I think there's lots of good stuff in the ones I posted), they can also be a little bit thin on language detail and you need to provide that to get your 20 marks from AO2.
What you might want to do - as well as looking at how those opinion pieces work - is have a mosey on over to The Conversation website, where linguists (and psychologists and many other experts) write about their research for non-specialist readers. What you'll be able to see from many of the excellent articles there is how complicated and technical ideas can be explained clearly to people who don't necessarily work in the field.
Some of my favourites also happen to be from some of my favourite linguists...
As you get ready for the exam season this summer, it's a good idea to read lots of opinion pieces to soak up the features of the genre: the style, structure, sub-editorial choices and the ways that arguments are constructed, among them.
It probably helps too to focus most of that reading and preparation on opinion pieces about language, because that's the course you're studying and what you're going to be writing about. So, here are a few suggestions for recent pieces about language that you might find useful.
It's worth bearing in mind that in your exam, AO5 is worth 10 marks and AO2 20 marks, so you probably want to err on the side of caution with the language content and maybe offer a little bit more knowledge about language and ideas from language study than a few of these, while also making sure that every bit of language knowledge and research that you introduce is made accessible to your target readers.
Next time round, I'll suggest a few recent pieces that could be useful for a bit of analysis for Question 3 on Paper 2.
These are the media stories about MLE that have been covered in 2016, 2022 and 2023. Links here: