Friday, March 26, 2010

Exam revision - getting started on Language Variation

So, yesterday we looked at Language Change and some suggestions for links to look at and articles to read, and today we'll have a quick look at Language Variation. It's worth remembering that this is more than just accent and dialect (although they are a major part of this topic) and that gender, sexuality, age, workplace and communities of practice can also come into this, along with global English.

A good starting point is the BBC Voices website, which has some excellent resources on regional variation. The British Library has various archives and learning resources available online too, so have a listen to the Archival Sound Recordings here and a read of the Sounds Familiar material here.

For gender and variation, these notes on Teachit, written by the late Andrew Moore, are really helpful. Concentrate on the sections from Lakoff to Cameron for this exam. The best way to do well on a gender variation question is to read Deborah Cameron's Myth of Mars and Venus, but if you can't be arsed (that's CBA to you, you babylon yoot) then you can find good summaries and extracts from this link.

More soon...

Interaction satisfaction

Here's another way of using timelines to help you with the topic of Language Change. Ant Heald, who teaches English at McAuley Catholic High School, Doncaster, has got some of his students to create their own timeline and you can add key dates too, or contribute to the content of existing dates if you want to. To join, just go to the link above and sign up for an account, click on become an editor. You'll get a reply from Ant at some point and will then be able to add content.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Exam revision - getting started

It's getting near that time again, with exams looming ever closer. If you are starting to think about revising for your exams then here are some pointers as to where you can look and what you can do. This post is designed for A2 students and there'll be one for AS students to follow soon.

ENGA3 consists of three parts: Language Change, Language Variation and Language Discourses. Your paper is 2 hours and 30 minutes long, which is nice. You get a choice of question 1 or 2 (Qu 1 is on Language Change and Qu 2. is on Language Variation) and then just one question 3 which you have to do. The first bit of advice is don't just revise either Change or Variation. Because you don't get any choice with question 3, it's a very good idea to make sure you're rock solid on both Change and Variation, so that you're ready to answer a language Discourses question on whatever crops up, be it debates around Political Correctness (change), male female talk (variation) or attitudes to accent (variation).

The next bit of advice is to think about the different types of question you'll get. Language Change questions may have a focus on older texts, in which case you'll be asked to analyse them for what the writers are saying, how they are saying it and how the language of each text represents the time period it's from. So to revise this, try looking at plenty of older texts from different genres. Go to the British Library texts in context site and browse through texts from Early Modern English onwards. Mug up on your language frameworks too,  by checking Beth Kemp's A level site. Don't forget to use the emag site (with your SFX log in that can be obtained from the LRC) and Kerboodle (log ins are on Moodle).

Another type of Change question could presentyou with new words, or old words with new meanings, and use these to stimulate discussion about how and why language changes and where new words come from and how they are formed. There's masses of stuff out there about new words and you should have a look at the MacMillan Dictionaries Buzzword pages for lots of good examples of new words. Also, try this link to a page full of old blog posts about new words. Don't forget that you may also be presented with numerical data, perhaps in the form of charts and graphs showing you how frequently a word might have appeared over time and in different places. Make sure you mug up on wave theory and other processes of language change from your A2 textbook.

Next time, we'll look at ENGA3 Language Variation and then at Discourses. If you have any questions, please post them as comments and I'll try to answer them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is just one new expression covered in detail on Kerry Maxwell's Buzzwords page on the MacMillan Dictionaries site. It's a really excellent resource for Language Change at A level and has a very handy subject index which can show you the fields from where many of the new words have been derived: technology, business, health and leisure being particularly big areas of lexical innovation.

The Buzzwords archive is also very handy for looking at new words and phrases over the last few months, so have a look here for more. And remember, your examiners are human (at least for the time being) and like to see new examples of word formation rather than the same 10 examples from your text books and revision guides (apart from the brilliant examples in the fantastic Nelson Thornes book - ahem).

Kerry's powerpoint on new words, from her presentation to teachers at SFX in June 2008 is still available here if you're looking for some good revision material.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

British Library interactive timeline

This new British Library interactive timeline is pretty spectacular. It needs a fairly high speed internet connection and good computer to run properly ( I think) but once it's going you'll see what a great resource it is: ideal for revising Language Change ENGA3.


British Library interactive timeline

And here's a link to some other timelines that might help too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Audio and video clips

The BBC website has got some good material archived, including clips of audio and video about language. Here are some that might help:

David Crystal interviewed on Radio 4 about texting and language change
The Essex accent is dying out - Radio 4 feature about accent change
Changing East London accents
The Queen's changing accent

More teen slang

The BBC News School Report project included some interesting and funny clips of teen slang from around the British Isles. This one's excellent: just wait for the "proper English" translation at the end - it proper craiced me up.
Say What?

The house/arse interface

Regional variation in English is something that many people celebrate: diversity and slightly different cultural nuances are healthy after all. Others find variation unsettling and long for uniformity. Luckily, Ian McMillan is in the former camp and he's written a piece for today's Guardian about the ways in which accent and dialect can be radically different over just a small distance.

One distinction he makes is the difference in pronunciation you can encounter of the word house, pronounced as it's spelt in some areas (with a sounded "h" and diphthong "ou") and pronounced "arse" just down the road. If you've ever read Jim Shelley's TV column in the Daily Mirror you'll probably be aware of the potential for humour of this house/arse interface when referring to Eastenders ("You're never comin' round my arse again!"), but McMillan's more interested in the Yorkshire/Derbyshire divide.


It's a good read and the comments posted online after it, show the divide between those who celebrate diversity and variation and those who lament it. Just take a look at George Ball's nasty dig about regional accent for an idea about how discussions about accent quickly turn into something much more personal.

Have a look too at this November 2009 BBC Magazine story about Collins Dictionary's attempts to trace the meanings and usage of old dialect terms, if you want to see a bit more about where some terms are derived from and how they developed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Scots: not slang but a dialect

A new initiative in Scotland to educate people in the history of the Scots dialect (or language if you're being nationalistic about it) is reported on in today's Herald. While Scots may seem a bit distant from south London, it's always good to look at  different varieties of English to build up a better understanding of the whole topic of Language Variation in ENGA3, plus many of the same issues crop up whatever variety you look at.

Is Scots just a broken, slang form of Standard English? No, and if you say that in Scotland you'll probably get a purple tin of Tenants Extra smacked in your face. Is it a dialect or a language? Well, that's trickier and it depends on what you define as a dialect. These questions and others are addressed on a new website from Learning and Teaching Scotland which looks at the history of Scots, attitudes to its use and examples of it being used. It's a very informative site and you can find it here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Using the internet to research new words

Here's a very neat website called WebCorp that allows you to search for words across the internet to see where and when they have appeared. There are probably loads of language uses for this, but one that springs to mind is to see how long ago new words might have first appeared in print for work on ENGA3 Language Change.

So, you could try a search for recent faves such as staycation, frenemy, moobs, credit crunch and gas sipper....go on give it a go. Then do what everyone else does and search for your own name and some rude words.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Slang: the dark side of the force?

There are two quick snippets of articles here about slang which show how it's viewed on one hand as light, frothy and fun, and on the other hand seen as a darker marker of criminal behaviour and gang affiliation.

In the first article, on a BBC News School Report webpage, regional variation in slang usage is looked at and different words for "attractive" and "good" discussed. They quote the linguist Paul Kerswill, one of the key researchers into multi-ethnic youth dialect/ multicultural London English and mention a quick unscientific slang survey that they carried out.

In the second article, from The Daily Telegraph, slang use is one of many different behaviours flagged up as a sign that young people might be getting involved with gangs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Shiver me timbre

It's a question that's on everyone's lips: are all pirates from Bristol? Oo- arr!

Here, The Guardian's Notes and Queries section sets out to look at this pressing question.

One reader, Nader Fekri makes an interesting observation about where pirates came from and how they spoke:
For many people, myself included, the archetypal pirates' accent was that popularised by Robert Newton, who appeared in more than 50 films, most notably as Long John Silver in Treasure Island, a role he reprised on TV in the mid-1950s.

Newton was born in Shaftesbury, Dorset, and spoke with a distinctive West Country accent. Aboard most English/British ships, there were significant numbers of Scots (William "Captain" Kidd), Irish (Walter Kennedy), and Welsh (Admiral Sir Henry Morgan) sailors. It seems, however, that the largest group of sailors came from the south-west of England (Edward Teach, AKA "Blackbeard" was a native of Bristol and Francis Drake was from Tavistock in Devon) than anywhere else, which is unsurprising, given the pre-eminence of Bristol as the main trading port with the West Indies. So Newton's accent may well have been historically accurate.


All of this may seem silly, but it's got relevance to your study of Regional Variation on ENGA3, so read well me hearties and look out for the hidden treasure.

(Alternative titles to this post were:
Pieces of h-dropping
To err is human, to arrrrr is pirate
X marks the glottal stop)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Hip hop slang and the demise of Standard English

Here's just a quick follow up to last week's piece on Professor Maurice Martinez and his teaching of "black English" as a non-standard variety in his university classes. In an op-ed in The Bulletin ("Philapdelphia's Family Newspaper", apparently), Jane Gilvary (who styles herself as "a red, white, and blue American from the City of Brotherly Love (who) loves Jesus, Johnny Cash, and the U.S. Constitution"... oh well, I like Johnny Cash so 1 out of 3 aint bad) attacks anyone trying to teach ebonics or black slang as doing education a disservice.

As a long-time English teacher I would concur with Professor Williams’ assertion that teachers who endorse any kind of slang in their classrooms, including hip-hop lyrics, do their students a great disservice and only sustain illiteracy. There’s an undercurrent to hip-hop slang and Ebonics that oppresses the people who use them to communicate — black or white.

Again, this kind of argument is useful material for ENGA3 Language Discourses and offers you another good style model for op-eds, as well as a more conservative take on the debate than you'll get from your average commie/liberal/descriptivist English language teacher.Personally, I think she's talking cobblers, but there you go.