Thursday, April 27, 2006


My first contribution to this site: thanks for inviting me.

After Arsenal's (lucky?) passage through to the European Cup Final the other night after a less than inspiring performance against plucky Villareal (Spanish for 'royal villa', not 'real villa'), their French manager was interviewed on tv.

He began by acknowledging that his team had not played well. The way he said it was wonderful; it was something like, 'Footballistically we didn't play well'. A delightful new word; how have we survived so long without it?

Btw, isn't it curious that his first name is French for arsenal (well, almost).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Unlikely to make the front page of The Daily Mail...

Those of you who remember the case of the 10 year old boy who was being prosecuted for racially abusing a schoolmate, may be interested to know that the case has been dropped by the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service). But the details of the case have also turned out to be more serious than was widely reported at the time, particularly in the right-wing papers which love to attack Political Correctness at every opportunity. But don't expect to see a Daily Mail front page tomorrow apologising for its reporting of the original story...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Top tips for ENA3

During the holidays I put together a list of top tips for approaching the ENA1 unit, so I'd like to do the same for ENA3. However, someone has beaten me to it and done it much better than I could manage, so I'm going to use hers instead and let you peruse this excellent site for help with all areas of this unit.

The dying art of conversation

The BBC website magazine featured an interview last week between Ron Carter (top linguist) and Ros Taylor (psychologist and business advisor) about the supposed death of "proper" conversation.

It's worth a read , I think, for a couple of reasons: firstly, it offers a broad discussion of what makes conversation work (good for ENA3 essay questions); secondly, the format of the interview could be of help to those of you working on radio scripts or web site articles for ENA6.

Have a look here for the article and here for another article about what we talk about in the office. Well, I don't work in an office. And you probably don't either... so I suppose it's what people in offices talk about then...

Friday, April 21, 2006

HRH Speech (literally)

Just watched the Prince's speech (sad I know, but somewhat justified in that I was actually waiting for the news to come on afterwards...*cough cough*)- and wanted to know if everyone agrees on HRH's accent as RP, or if we possibly have a case for a watered down version.

To put it more sensibly, is it only me (or should this pronoun be 'I'?) who found non-standard/non-RP features in the way he spoke? Discuss...


Thursday, April 20, 2006

More on jafaican/jafaikan...

The whole "Jafaikan" / "Jafaican" issue seems to have caught the media's imagination, so here are some links to other features on it:

Daily Mail - Jafaican is wiping out inner-city accents
Daily Mail - Understanding Jafaican
Evening Standard - Why we is all talkin like Ali G

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change & Varieties

Thanks to Helen, Opey and "The Library Skets" for some of these links.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Language & Liberty

In response to the Judge Feinstein outburst about "political correctness gone mad", ex-deputy Labour Party leader Roy Hattersley has made a vigorous defence of PC. He stops short of supporting prosecuting the child at the centre of the furore, but argues that
We think in words. If we use words that suggest there is something reprehensible about gays, women or ethnic minorities, that is how we come to think about them. What is more, our bad example can cause prejudice in others. Political correctness has helped change the world. It is at least in part because decent people denounce talk of poofters and queers that something approaching legal equality has been afforded to gay men. And it is because such language is still defended in the name of liberty and plain English that there are still some dark corners of society in which they are regarded as inferior.
Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Favourite words

Rather like Charissa's post about Moving Words last week, this is one about people's favourite words. In yesterday's Independent a range of writers and lovers of English chose their favourite and least favourite words, explaining why.

So what's your favourite word and why? And your least favourite?

Jafaikan demeans women

In a response to the article mentioned in the "Can you speak Jafaikan?" post, Zoe Williams argues that we shouldn't be celebrating such slang developments but looking at why they disproportionately label women rather than men. She makes the point as follows:
What all these words in fact have in common is that they define women by sexual function - denigrating them if they show any interest in sex themselves, ranging them according to their physical attributes and dismissing them once their physical peak has passed.
It's an interesting response and one that I feel a degree of instant sympathy for, but having said that, when hasn't slang denigrated women? Julia Stanley's research in the early 1970s found over 200 terms used to derogate women, and only about 20 for men. Others have contested these figures and carried out their own research using online databases , but the pattern holds true for the most part: there are more terms around to label women than there are for men.

Is this because - as many feminist linguists suggest - men dominate language as they do society (Dale Spender's Man Made Language being a good example of this view)? Or is it down to the nature of slang itself?

Slang tends to serve many functions in society, but one of its main ones is to put other people down, so it's hardly surprising that new slang developments do that too. But Zoe Williams has a good point - if we uncritically embrace all new language just for the sake of appearing cool, hip, nang or whatever new word means "up to date and fashionable" then we might miss some of its nastier influences.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Can you speak Jafaikan?

A piece in yesterday's Guardian looks at the influence of Jamaican English on London dialects. Referring to Sue Fox's research on changing London accents and dialects, the article brands such a dialect "Jafaikan" (fake Jamaican, geddit?). The author, Emily Ashton (a ghetto name if ever I heard one) then gives us a quick slang glossary before heading back to her ends for a cup of rosy lee.

Like a lot of articles about changing language, this one takes a fairly superficial view of what's a very complex pattern of subtle shifts and influences, but it's not a bad read and you can have a laugh at the definitions. In fact, Sue Fox's research will be given a more thorough explanation by the woman herself at next week's SFX Language Conference (plug).

Edited on 06.02.13 to add:
If you're coming here from The Guardian Society link then you can find some better discussions about Jafaican/Jafaikan, Multicultural London English (MLE) and Multi-ethnic Youth Dialect (MEYD) here and here.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties and Change

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"Playing like a spaz"

Tiger Woods, the golfer described his own performance the other day by saying, "I played like a spaz"... and I had typed a very long piece about this, full of references to negative semantic space, historical tributes to an icon of my teenage years (Joey Deacon) and Language & Representation, but some s*d just blew a fuse in our house, so it's all gone. Curses!

So have a look at this article about the words "spaz" and "spastic" from the BBC news website and its disability issues site, Ouch,and I reckon you can work out why it's interesting and how it might help you with your work on ENA1 Language & Representation.

And check out the top 10 most hated words as voted for by Ouch's readers. What's interesting to me is how different the two sets of charts are: the words hated by disabled people are quite different to those voted for by non-disabled people. Why might this be?

More grammar

Michael McCarthy, whose views on grammar and language have been mentioned here previously, has another article on the subject in yesterday's Guardian. In it he defends the use of certain types of more convoluted grammar in certain texts, mostly academic texts, and makes an excellent argument for viewing all grammar within its context: not judging the grammar of spoken English as poor, or criticising the grammar of academic texts as too complicated. It's a good, descriptivist argument and one that should help with A2 topics on ENA5 and ENA6.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Playground insults

The story of the 10 year-old boy who called his classmate a "paki", "nigger" and "Bin Laden" and ended up in front of a judge, has been the lead story in several newspapers today. So, is this "political correctness gone mad" as the judge in the case himself claimed, or a reasonable attempt to clamp down on racist bigotry?

The judge, Jonathan Finestein argued (according to The Telegraph) that "he used to be called fat at school and said that in the old days the headmaster would have given the children "a good clouting" and sent them on their way".

Aah, those good old days when you could beat children and call a spade a spade, or a darkie, or whatever else you fancied... Err, racism aside, is it such a great idea to beat 10 year-old kids (or any kids for that matter) for things they say? And is calling someone "fat" really the same as calling someone deeply unpleasant racist names? There aren't gangs of demented murderers rushing around killing people because they're "fat", but there certainly are if they're black; you only have to look at the horrific cases of Anthony Walker this year, and Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks over ten years ago, to realise that people still get killed for the colour of their skin. So, "fat", "paki" and "nigger" are hardly equivalents, your honour...

But might taking this language to court be a step too far? Can't the school punish the child and deal with it sensibly? Looking through the various stories in the press highlights each paper's political agenda and what they choose to report, or not. For example, Channel 4 News' website reveals that the child had refused to accept a "final warning" while Sky News tells us that the child accused his alleged victim of calling him "white trash" before he himself insulted him. Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror, which has had a more progressive anti-racist attitude than many papers, adds more detail to the insults offered.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation

Seeking out new words and new civilisations...

The latest edition of Macmillan English Dictionary update has a brilliant feature on how new words are created, which is perfect revision for A2 students looking at Language Change. It explores processes like blending and compounding as well as looking at completely new words. Have a look here for more.

On the subject of Language Change, Beth Kemp's English website for
King Edward VI College, Nuneaton. has some good revision material for this topic (and others) and has recently been updated. You can find it here.

Useful for:
ENA5 Language Change (Contemporary Language Change essay question)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The grammar debate revisited

This is just a quick follow up to last week's post "To boldly get it wrong" in which Linguistics Professor and co-editor of the Cambridge Grammar of English, Michael McCarthy argued that grammar rules are only as useful as we make them.

In this response to the Cambridge Grammar, "Dot Wordsworth" (a pseudonym, apparently) in the Telegraph attacks McCarthy's descriptivist attitude:
Without a knowledge of grammar, the young will be no more able to write down their thoughts coherently than they could text-message without knowing how to use a mobile phone. This will frustrate them, and relegate written English to the same kind of ghetto of incompetent self-expression with which we are familiar from graduates of art schools who have never learnt to draw.
Meanwhile, the whole issue was debated last week on Radio 4 and should be available to listen to again here

Useful for:

ENA6 - Language Debates

BBC English: Moving Words

Check it out- the BBC World Service (English divison)'s exhibition of 'Moving Words'
(-which to me is more like a memorable quotes site.)

They're voting for the most moving quote under the heading of ''Which Words in English have Moved you?" I assumed you could suggest your own quotes but it seems that 'language God' (not my term I can assure you...) David Crystal has selected for us from hundreds of our nominations.

The US Declaration of Independence is amongst the selected gems of the English language... (need I say more...)

Vote, post, reply, cuss...ok maybe not too much cussing, but response and interest is welcome.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Lazy frogs & bullsh*t

Two articles in the media over the last couple of days look at offensive words from different perspectives. In the first, Jeff Jarvis looks at the banning of the word "bullshit" from the American airwaves and what he sees as the political agenda behind such an act, while in the second an airline boss gets into trouble for labelling striking French workers as "lazy frogs". It's easy to criticise strikers from the comfort of your exec suite though isn't it?

With language investigation coursework coming up after the exams (oh joy!) these might be potentially good areas to start looking at now.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
EA4C - Language Investigations

Yet more top tips for ENA1

Indeed, these are tips, and lo they shall be top. Or something like that.

I covered textual analysis a couple of days ago and CLA yesterday, so now it's the turn of Language & Representation. Again, the stuff here isn't comprehensive: it's just a few ideas gleaned from previous experience of teaching the paper and marking it. Any other suggestions or questions would be very welcome.

Language & Representation
This essay question deals with the links between language and thought - whether we control language or it controls us - and the ways in which language is used to label different groups in society.

First off, it's important to be clear that this topic has nothing to do with how different groups in society use language varieties such as accent, dialect or sociolect (that's on ENA5 in the second year) so don't start writing at length about Black British English, Cockney, restricted codes etc.

Secondly, you need to be clear that when the question talks about "social groups" (as it often does) , it's referring to ethnic groups, the different genders, social classes, age groups, or even what people often term subcultural groups like grungers, goths and rap fans. You can also add to that list groups defined by their sexuality, and disabled people. Of course, some of these labels themselves are problematic and you can talk about how they define individuals as parts of larger groups, removing their distinct identities and generalising about them, if you wish in your answer.

Thirdly, you could (for revision purposes only of course - it's not a good idea to do this for fun) write down as many unpleasant words you can think of for each of those social groups and start to look at the common threads that emerge. We might find that words used to label gay people focus on their difference from the norm ("queer", "bent"), their supposed sexual practices ("batty man", "shirtlifter") or throw up some words which you'll have to explore more etymologically (Where does "faggot" come from? What did "gay" used to mean? What's a "chi-chi man" when he's at home? Well, probably still a homosexual, but you get the picture...).

For women, many of the words that emerge are used to trivialise females as sweet, edible, consumable items, usually a bit decorative, but certainly not there to be taken seriously ("tart", "crumpet", "sweetie", "cupcake"), or again focus on a particular body part to define a woman solely by her appearance/sexual function to men ("the club was heaving with fanny", "oi, big jugs!").

Ethnicity and the words used to label different ethnic groups allow us to explore the etymology of terms like "nigger", "paki", "pikey", "cracker", "coon", "half-caste", "taffy" and "gyppo". A quick look at the OED online or online etymology should help you track how these words have originated in racist attitudes (or not, as the case may be) and developed over time. And remember, white people are an ethnic group too! Have you ever met a black chav?! Actually, Croydon readers need not answer that rhetorical question... But of course, words like "black" and "white" can be explored in themselves for their negative and positive connotations, the words they tend to collocate with, and indeed the word "chav" is interesting as it is believed to has its roots in Gypsy slang for "child" or "lad" but has been used against Gypsies (and now any working class white person who dares to sport Burberry, Reebok Classics or sovereign rings).

The next step is to look at some of the linguistic concepts and terms that can be used to explain these words and the patterns we notice. This sheet on the SFX Resource site should help. You could also look at research/texts by linguists such as Dale Spender (Man Made Language), Deborah Cameron (Verbal Hygiene), Muriel Schultz and Mary M Talbot whose work on gender is pretty interesting. There have been loads of blog posts about racist language so you could do a search on here using keywords and find material to bolster your knowledge.

In terms of theory, it's important to understand linguistic reflectionism, determinism and wider concepts such as relativism and universalism, so an article in December's E Magazine by a strange looking white skinhead with a lop-sided mouth should help you. If it's not on the E Magazine site, it's certainly in the library. Alternatively, you could use Wikipedia and look up "Sapir Whorf" and find out where this bald man drew his "inspiration" from. While you're at it, you could search for "Political Correctness" as key words and have a look at why there has been a move to change language.

The trickiest part is linking this together, but good answers can take many forms. You could explore the links between offensive words and the attitudes that create them - or even the language that shapes these attitudes - or you could take a range of examples and look at why they've changed over time and what this tells us about the society we live in. There are plenty of good, model answers we can give you too.

I've probably missed lots of things out here, but you can fill in the gaps...

Monday, April 03, 2006

More top tips for ENA1

Now for the rest of ENA1, which consists of Child Language Acquisition (and Language and Representation which will follow tomorrow).

You can check the past questions on the AQA website or have a look at the SFX Resource Site for a downloadable document with previous questions and essay planning sheets, before doing any revision, and that should help you realise that there are several key things you need to know whatever the question.
  1. You need to know the language framework and how each element is acquired (e.g. grammar, phonology, lexis, semantics, pragmatics).
  2. You need to know the competing theories and how they offer competing explanations for the CLA process.
  3. You need to have a grasp of relevant terminology (eg overextension, overgeneralisation, morphemes, consonants etc.)
  4. You need to have a good range of examples of child language data.
  5. You need to have a good grasp of the stages of CLA.
  6. You need to have a knowledge of case studies that provide evidence for/against certain theories /positions.
  7. You need to have your own view!

Looking at the previous essay questions should alert you to the fact that the questions follow one of three styles:
  • they pick out a framework element and ask you to explore how that element is acquired (eg "how does grammar develop?"/ "how do children acquire words (lexis) and meanings (semantics)?"
  • they pick out a theoretical position and ask you to explore its pros and cons (eg "to what extent do children learn by copying/applying rules/ interacting?")
  • or they offer you short extracts of data and ask you to analyse it and relate it to theory.

Whatever happens, you should never uncritically accept either Chomsky's Nativist or Skinner's Behaviourist theory as the holy grails, but offer an open-minded approach to the reasons behind CLA.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Top Tips for ENA1

As many of you are now revising for your AS and A2 exams, I thought it might be handy to give some advice on what to revise and how to get yourself primed for each exam. So, every few days I'll try to post material on each unit (ENA1,3 5 & 6) to give you a bit of extra help, some of which is delivered with my examiner's hat on (it's a black and white cowboy hat, if you're interested). If you have any suggestions of your own - or questions - just add them through the comments icon.

The paper consists of a written textual analysis question worth 40 marks, and a choice of essay questions on either Child Language Acquisition or Language & Representation worth 20 marks. A further 10 marks are allocated across the paper for AO1, which is your own written accuracy (punctuation, spelling, linguistic register and structure etc.).

Question 1 - types of text.
There's been a range of different written texts set for this question: newspaper interviews (Peter Fox last year), comment pieces (Vanessa Feltz on Miss World), reviews (film review of Moulin Rouge), obituaries (Joe Strummer in The Guardian); advertisements, both charitable (National Blood Service & Woodland Trust), educational (How to Become an Environmental Health Officer) and commercial (Nokia and Virgin phones).

To answer this question well, you'll need a combination of engagement with the text and a good grasp of language frameworks. For AO3, you are awarded marks for your ability to find significant language features (rather than just count random features and hope you'll pick up marks) such as word classes, verb tenses, verb aspects, verb forms and moods, and significant patterns.

So, looking at the mark scheme should tell you that if you start generally at pronouns and then gradually work your way through types of pronoun (first, second, third, plurals, reflexives etc), up to adjectives, nouns and adverbs and then up to types of noun (abstract, concrete, proper etc.), adverb types (time, manner, place etc.) you should be heading up to the 15 or 16 out of 20 area. If you can then explore tenses and aspect (e.g. present progressives, past tenses), modal verbs, types of adjective (superlative, comparative, evaluative etc.) you'll be hitting the top of the mark scheme.

You don't need to look at clause structure or types of sentence on this unit (so don't waste time looking at simple, compound, complex and subordinate or coordinaate clauses) and no marks are awarded for doing this.

Revising this part is fairly straightforward and you should try to look back through the early pages of your text book and class notes, making sure you're clear on how different word classes function in sentences and how they can affect meanings in different ways. The knack then is to pick out the features in the text that have a significant impact on the way the text works, and explain those effects.

Your model should be the "analytical sentence" in which you pick out a feature, illustrate it, linguistically label it and then explain its possible effects. An example might be as follows: The use of a modal auxiliary verb in the second paragraph ("He could have been very successful in this field") demonstrates the potential that Gary Barlow failed to achieve, linking to earlier points about his ever-decreasing chart positions.

For AO5 it's a less exact science, but you should try to read a range of past papers to get a feel for the nature of the texts set. Get used to the broadsheet register and try to build up an understanding of the vocabulary that's often used. Try to engage with how an idea is presented and the ways in which writers express their own attitudes towards their subject matter. At its simplest, AO5 is all about interpreting the material in an intelligent way and engaging with meaning.

The next time round, we'll have a look at the essay questions.