Saturday, May 31, 2008

Language change gets owned

New words reflect new values, and language change often feels insidious rather than enabling.

So says Henry Hitchings in a review of a new book, The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English by Mark Abley in today's Telegraph. According to a quick check of Google definitions, it's a battle between language change "working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way" (insidious) and language change making things possible or allowing them to take place (enabling). So, it's basically down to the age old debate about prescriptive versus descriptive views.

According to Abley's book,
"words seem unusually volatile" at the moment and change is taking place at an incredibly rapid pace, driven in part by the spread of electronic communication. He looks at the growth of virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft and the influence they have had on mainstream language, along with the ways in which "plastic words" are used by governments and business to obscure meaning.

The review makes the book sound like good reading for any A level Language student, and it would also be good preparation for next year's new A levels for any teachers looking at the growth of hybrid languages such as Hinglish and Spanglish, as English spreads around the world and is put to use by locals in combination with their own native languages.

If you're revising for ENA5 Contemporary Language Change, have a quick look at the review and see if you can identify the prescriptive vs. descriptive positions noted above. You might also find this link to language change and technology helpful.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENGA3 (new spec) - Language Explorations

Monday, May 26, 2008

ENA6 - Writing In a Particular Form

I had meant to cover this at some point before the exam, but a comment from a student on a different thread spurred me into action (thanks, Jack).

First of all, question 2a is one of the two big questions on ENA6: question 1c is a fairly straightforward textual analysis worth 20 marks, while this is a creative/ editorial piece that can yield 35 marks if you get it right.

You'll be asked to write in a particular form on a language issue. The idea is that you're expected to write about a linguistic idea - maybe new words, political correctness, how people feel about local dialects dying out, how women and men use language, whatever the topic of the paper is - for a mainstream, non-specialist audience. The question paper will give you 3-4 texts to use as source material but you don't have to limit yourself to these texts; you can use your own ideas too, but it's probably daft not to use what you're given.

The AQA A spec says this about the forms that you might be asked to write in:

This type of task requires candidates to write about language issues in some common forms where debate about language often occurs, e.g.
• letters to the editor
• articles
• editorials
• scripted radio talk

Candidates are being tested on their ability to communicate their knowledge and understanding of language to an audience beyond the examination.

The topics and forms set up until now are listed in this word document.

Some top tips for this question:

  • Make sure you read and annotate the question paper fully before starting any of the questions, but think about using coloured highlighters to select crucial info and quotes for Qu 2a.
  • Don't rely too heavily on the text you've just analysed for question 1c. If you make your 2a answer too similar to the 1c text you will not have much original to say.
  • Try to use short quotations and paraphrased ideas from the source texts, rather than epic quotations.
  • Try to explain linguistic concepts in a clear fashion for your audience: don't assume that they'll know what the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis postulated or who Steven Pinker is.
  • If appropriate, write with a light touch and try to engage your reader with humour and style.
  • Don't patronise. Did you hear me? Do. Not. Patronise. Did you see what I did there? Ha.
  • Use information and ideas from the full range of texts: the mark scheme rewards candidates who make use of the trickier texts/data from the question paper.
  • Write accurately: many of the 15 marks for style depend on clarity and accurate expression.
  • Read lots of examples of different forms between now and the exam so you're familiar with forms like editorials and letters to the editor.

There are no doubt loads of other things to think about, so if you have extra tips, comments or questions please add them below.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

ENA6 - Feature Spotting

You've had the chance to practise lots of 1b questions over the last few weeks, now it's time to practise the other 5 mark question in question 1. This is pretty simple: you're asked to "comment linguistically" on 3 different language features (the nature of which depends upon the topic of the paper). This basically means that you pick out 3 interesting language features and label them accurately (2 marks per feature up to a total of 5). It's that simple. You don't need to explain the features, or who has researched them: just label them. You can - if you feel a bit insecure - say a little more about them to clarify what you mean.

An example might be the one below:

Comment linguistically on 3 features of child language in the following extract.

Parent: Did you have a nice day at nursery?
Child: It was good. Some childrens from big school came and play guitars for us.
Parent: That sounds fun.
Child: My hurted my knee at nursery.
Parent: How did you do that?
Child: My falled over.
Parent: Where did you hurt it?
Child: On my knee, I telled you dat.
Parent: But where were you. Inside or outside?
Child: At nursery. I was riding bike.

So, for one feature you might say "The child has used overgeneralised past tense endings on the verbs hurted, telled and falled". And that would get you 2 marks out of the 5 you need.

What else could you pick out and label to get you the full 5 marks?

ENA6 - Investigating New Words

So back to ENA6 question 1b practice. There'll only be one more after this and I'll also add some 1a practice questions later today. If you're an SFX student, please check Moodle as there is now a new section on the ENA6 area with texts and advice on this unit.

This week's question is:

How would you go about investigating how new words are formed in the English Language?

The format I'd like you to follow in your answer is outlined here, so you need to give a 5 point answer which outlines your:


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Programming the brain

Two articles from the Daily Telegraph shed some light on how our brains are programmed for language.

In the first, researchers at Bristol University have found that babies exposed to foreign languages when young, show more alertness to different sounds of languages in later life. So, children who have been exposed to the sounds of French before they are one, will be able to distinguish between a wider range of phonemes at a later stage, while children who aren't can't hear any difference.

This is linked to what is called phonemic expansion and contraction: children are "born universal" and can produce and discern any sound of any world language when young, but as they become more acclimatised to their native language, their range of phonemes contracts and they lose the ability to pick out the other sounds. What this research suggests is that exposure to other languages actually helps programme the brain to be more flexible and alert to other sounds, perhaps making it easier to learn languages in later life.

The second piece of research is a weird experiment in which powerful magnets are used to disrupt a reporter's speech. By finding Broca's area, a part of the brain that is responsible for aspects of language, scientists can "disable" speech. Strangely, the reporter could still sing but couldn't speak. Read on for more about what this tells us about our brains and language.

Useful for:
ENGA1 (next year's AS spec) - Language Development

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Electronic renaissance

Thanks to Mr G for this one; it's a report about research into instant messaging, a blended mode of communication like text language that's somewhere between spoken and written. Parents, teachers and prescriptivists have long been concerned that this sort of electronic communication will lead to falling literacy standards, poor spelling and sloppy communication. But as the report in New Scientist tells us, this panic seems unjustified: young people seem to be much more standard in their IM language than might have been expected. They use fewer abbreviations than the stereotype of lazy teens might suggest: LOL, TTYL, KMT, OMG only making up 2.4% of the vocabulary studied.

Perhaps this shouldn't really come as a great surprise. As we've studied in the Language Change topic, many prescriptive views about falling standards have little basis in fact and have been floating around for centuries in one form or another. Have a look at Julie Blake's excellent Bilious Pigeon article in emagazine for a survey of such attitudes and how they're often founded in prejudice and snobbery.

So, as one of the Toronto University researchers puts it, IMing is "an expansive new linguistic renaissance" rather than a slide into illiteracy, short attention spans and moral depravity.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENGA1 (next year's AS spec) - Language and Mode

ENA5 - Language Change

Now the AS exams are done and dusted, let's have a look at the A2 units. You should still have a good few weeks to revise for ENA5 and ENA6, so there is plenty of time to plug holes and think about the wider issues for each paper and each topic. I've uploaded quite a few files - worksheets, powerpoints and audio - to a separate website (and if you're an SFX student it should all be on Moodle) so you can access various online.

With the first question on ENA5 texts from a different time, there's no real substitute for wide reading. But if you can't face wading your way through long texts, try this link* to shorter extracts.

One idea is to apply the same basic GASP (Genre, Audience, Subject, Purpose) framework to each extract and then use this as a starting point for more detailed study of meaning, attitudes and how the text reflects the period it was written in. This is more complicated at A2 because you might not be as familiar with some of the genres: diary entries were very popular; travel writing was common; sermons, treatises and homilies found their way into print. But as with any genre, there are certain language features you would expect to find, so start looking for things like 1st person pronouns, past and present tense, modal auxiliaries, ellipsis, sentence type variation and sentence functions.

Another complicating factor is that your grammatical labelling must be more in depth: at A2 you're expected to know about tense and aspect (present, past, progressive, perfective), clause and sentence types: simple, compound, complex sentences; subordinate, coordinate and relative clauses, as well as the more basic word classes from AS. You're also being asked to look at the text is an historical document and to place it somewhere along the language change continuum.

So to revise grammar, use either this link or this one.
To get a sense of how language has changed over time, try these language change time lines, but remember that the earliest period you will be assessed on is 1600 (Early Modern English).

*Edited 24.11.10 to fix broken link

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Good luck!

Good luck to everyone taking ENA1 and ENA3 tomorrow morning.

Remember to have a good night's sleep, eat some breakfast to feed your brain and get to the exam hall by 8.45am at the latest!

See you there (grisly daughter permitting).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ENA1 child language acquisition revision

Child language acquisition might seem tricky but if you've got the basics of the linguistic framework - lexis, semantics, syntax, morphology, phonology and pragmatics (you know it really) - and some idea about the stages and theories, you'll be laughing. Oh, and make sure you have plenty of examples of what children say.

Here's some stuff from the blog 2 years ago about preparing for this topic. The same things apply, but it's probably worth noting that there's been a more recent focus on data-based questions; these are ones that give you some child language data and ask you to comment on what it tells you about "the nature of child language acquisition". It's therefore a good idea to look carefully at the data and think about what it might reveal about issues like imitation, interaction, cognitive and . Check the feedback sheet here for some ideas about the data from a year or two back. Also, check the feedback sheets that I put together for 2 other questions here and here if you want some more detail.

There's also more feedback and some data examples in this powerpoint.

Top tips for ENA3 transcript analysis

Following on from yesterday's quick tips for ENA1 textual analysis, here are some for the transcript analysis on ENA3. I'm not an examiner for this unit, but have picked up advice from those who are, so hopefully this will help. If you want more detail, check Beth Kemp's excellent site.

  • Read and annotate the transcript carefully at the start of the exam.
  • Use highlighters to mark out different speakers' turns if this helps you see patterns more quickly.
  • Label word classes, sentence functions and sentence types (e.g. The use of the noun phrase acting as a minor sentence "stupid men" by speaker x is a humorous utterance which serves to draw the speakers together.).
  • Discuss and label the features and effects of interaction (e.g. The use of a tag question by speaker y when she says "we studied this text last week didn't we" helps to facilitate a response from the other students in the class.).
  • Think about context all the time - much of what the speakers say will be linked to the type of talk they are engaged in and what they are doing.
  • Use the bullet points on the question paper to help cover all the assessment objectives.
  • Take an overview of the whole interaction and discuss patterns that you see across the transcript.

  • Discuss the transcript line by line; this is usually boring and unhelpful.
  • Make "deficit judgements" about spoken language with comments such as "this is bad grammar", "speaker x uses broken English" or "no one really speaks like this".
  • Try to apply theory to everything, especially if all you're doing is talking about Grice's (bloody) maxims; if you see accommodation, patterns of female/ male converstaional behaviour, face threatening acts, by all means mention them, but don't write too much.
  • Forget the context; context is everything in spoken interaction.
  • Assume every micropause or non-fluency feature is a significant hesitation; we all use micropauses and false starts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

ENA1 textual analysis top tips

Just a quick one this time to flag up a few reminders for the ENA1 textual analysis.

  • Make sure you read the text properly and make notes as you read it.
  • Think about GASP (Genre Audience Subject Purpose) and address these in an intro paragraph.
  • Try to pursue at least one of these in your first paragraph proper e.g. look at the ways in which the purpose of the text is reflected in certain lexical and grammatical choices (imperatives in a recipe, modals in an advice column, 1st person pronouns and past tense verbs in an autobiography).
  • Label word classes wherever possible, with as much detail as you can: a proper noun gets you more marks than a noun.
  • Try to look at how the subject of the text is represented by the writer, be it an issue, a person, a film etc.
  • Think about how the audience is positioned in relation to the subject matter.

  • Waste time talking about clauses and sentence types (simple, compound, complex): these are not assessed on this paper.
  • Go on about graphology: graphology is for losers. If you spend more than 1 sentence talking about graphology draw a big L on your head, remove your clothes and leave the exam hall claiming mental feebleness.
  • Talk about how alliteration "makes the text flow": texts don't flow; rivers do.
  • Misspell common words: alot, grammer, sentance, writter. Get these write. I mean right.
If you have any more ideas or suggestions, please add them as comments!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Thieving and promiscuous

Thieving and promiscuous: a description of binge-drinking, ASBO-served British teenagers? No, it's a description of our beloved English language as discussed in this review of a new book called The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English. I'm reading it at the moment and it's an interesting survey of where our vocabulary comes from. Then again, I'm only 15 pages into it, so what do I know?

The review is very useful reading for ENA5 revision, as it gives lots of reminders about processes such as borrowing and coining. As the review of this book points out, English has always been an acquisitive language, trading words (mostly nouns) with foreign countries (often the French, it has to be said) and exporting our language and culture around the world in the process.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change

Back to beige

No, beige it is. That's it, no more fiddling.

That's settled...

I'm going to stick to this template, so sorry for the psychedelic/ beige nightmare yesterday.

Language & Representation revision

For those of you working on ENA1 revision for next Friday's exams, here are some top tips for Language & Representation that I originally posted in 2006, which I've updated for this year.

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 men and women speak (that's on ENA3) so don't start writing about interruptions, overlaps 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 people with disabilities. 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", "arse bandit") 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!", "gash").

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 check the article I did for December 2005's E Magazine which should help you. If it's not on the E Magazine site (log in details are in the LRC), it's certainly in the periodicals section of the LRC. Alternatively, you could use Wikipedia and look up "Sapir Whorf" and find out where my (ahem) "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. Have a quick look at this planning sheet and this one too if you're after a more detailed model for your writing. And for more on arguments about Political Correctness, try this link.

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

Thursday, May 08, 2008

ENA6 Question 2a - editorials and letters

Here are two texts that might help you revise for the 2a) part of this paper. The first text is an editorial from The Guardian which should give you some idea about how to put together a piece of writing like this. Note the lack of first person pronouns (no I or we) and the emphasis on strong opinion expressed through modal auxiliaries, in the last paragraph particularly. If you’re asked to write an editorial, remember that you’re expressing the newspaper’s own view on the issue and that while you should look at both sides of the debate (arguments about male female talk, political correctness going too far, language change being a bad thing etc.) you should always come down one side of the debate more than the other (e.g. “texting can be a useful tool, but if it is allowed to spread into the written language of this country’s young people, standards will fall…” or something like that).

The second text is the nearest equivalent to a letter to the editor that I could find. On the exam spec a letter is mentioned as a possible form for this question, but most letters in broadsheet newspapers are pretty brief. This personal response is structured a little like a letter. It responds to a previous article (so you might be responding to one of the texts in the exam paper); it refers back to the original article by paraphrasing a few points and quoting briefly from it; it then constructs an argument against the original article, using personal observations and statistics. This is exactly the sort of structure you could use if you were set a question like this.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

ENA6 - Investigating Male & Female Speech Styles

Thanks for all the responses, questions and follow-up discussion for last week's snappily titled "ENA6 question 1b challenge". Ufuoma, Lisa and Adesola win the Haribo.

This week, the question is about gender and conversation styles: how would you go about investigating similarities and/or differences in the ways men and women use language to interact?

Remember to follow the 5 point plan as laid out below:
On your marks...get set...Haribooooooooooooooooo