Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ENGA3 exam - good luck

ENGA3 is coming up as you already know, so good luck with it. It's a tough paper and it's really important to know exactly which skills to use on which part of it, so think carefully about how you plan your answers.

The January paper had the following questions:

A quick look at Question 1 should tell you that it's a language change question , but not one of the "old texts" ones that could crop up on Thursday. Here you're being asked to do different things in different bullet points. The first bullet point is about analysing the texts linguistically (identifying and discussing the effects of  language features such as nouns, verbs, tense, sentence types, functions, clause structures etc.) and the second bullet point is much more to do with explaining what you know about language change and how the examples in the texts given to you are part of this (or not). The second bullet point is much more like an essay on language change where you can show your understanding of key theories, major processes of change and what you think of it all.

Question 2 is a language variation one, and you have to be really careful to read the question! On question 1 you were asked to analyse both texts in the first bullet point but on this question you were only asked to analyse the first text. It might not be the same this summer, so read the question carefully. For this question you were being asked to do much the same as you were in question 1 but with a focus on language variation (dialect etc.) rather than change. The other key thing is to think not just about the features of the extract (its non-standard grammar, lexis etc.) but also the views the guy is putting forward - what he means and how he conveys his ideas. The second bullet point is then asking you to do a more essay based answer on the different attitudes towards regional dialects and accents.

Question 3 is very different and you need to have a clear sense of how it's different. Whereas you had a choice of answering either 1 or 2, you get no choice here and anything from A2 could turn up - regional variety, language change, male female variation, age-related variation, social groups and language use, even world Englishes. You have to have covered all the bases just in case (or be very lucky).

The texts you are given for question 3 will be aimed at a non-specialist audience: they're not written for linguistic experts but the general public, so they will often over-simplify, misrepresent or just rant about a language issue. You're being asked on question 3 for your expert opinions as A level Language students (OK...I know...) on what these writers have said. You must pull what they say apart linguistically (breaking down word choices, sentence choices, clause structures just like you did on the first part of the paper) and then evaluate what they have said in the light of what you and others know about the issue. It's supposed to encourage you to put your own ideas forward and take part in a debate about language, so don't be afraid to offer your own views or those of other relevant experts. The topics are usually chosen to give you something to talk about, not to catch you out.

So, in the case of the January paper, the two texts present men and women as homogenous groups. Men pretty much always do this and women pretty much always do that. But that's not right, is it? Most linguistic research (and especially the most recent work by people like Deborah Cameron) suggests that while differences may occur between men and women, there are also huge differences between men and men and women and women. Gender is only one factor in a range of other ones and to claim it's all biologically determined is a load of cobblers. There are many other approaches to take too and these will depend on the topic you're given:

Texting is destroying language! No it isn't.
Political correctness is changing language for the worse! Err, no...
English is the language of the world! Kind of...but think about this too

Anyway, if you have any questions, add them as comments and I'll try to help you (unless it's between 3pm and 5pm tomorrow in which case I will probably be weeping into a can of Stella).

 My top tips for Thursday (blind guesswork only, it has to be said):
Question 1: two texts from different times to compare and a discussion about language change over time
Question 2: gender related variation with some data
Question 3: texting and how it's destroying our language.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Swear down

Swearing on TV and radio is the subject of a new report by OFCOM, which takes a very detailed look (300 pages) at the attitdues of different sections of British society to a range of potentially offensive words. It's not just traditional swearwords like f***, sh*t and b*llocks that they focus on (beeped out here to avoid school and college nanny-filters banning the blog) but racial epithets and terms for disability.

The report itself (although I haven't read all 300 pages of it) seems very interesting, with some quite subtle distinctions made between audiences, based on age, ethnicity, gender, whether or not they're parents, etc. and it shows that attitudes are generally softening to some swear words, while for some age groups certain swear words no longer carry much sense of taboo.

The Guardian covered it here yesterday and The Daily Mail got really p*ssed off here, starting  a heated debate here too. While swearing is clearly neither big nor clever, it's often lots of good fun and educational too. Looking at changing attitudes to swearing is a good way of looking at language change and thinking about the main reasons for why social changes are reflected in language usage.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Texting and literacy - radio debate

This was broadcast a few months ago, but I've only just come across it through this rather splendid blog.
If you click on this link and scroll down to 8.43 you'll get an interview between Dr Clare Wood from Coventry University and the so-called Communications Tsar, Jean Gross all about the impact of texting on young people's literacy.

We've covered lots of this here before (and you can do a quick search through the tags for this post or in the search bar at the top to find them) but it's a good one to listen to if you're revising ENGA3 Language Discourses or Language Change, or even if you're an AS B spec person doing Language and Technology for ENGB1.

I could care less

Thought I'd better post this very funny David Mitchell rant about American English here rather than leave it as a link on a comment squirreled away under a post. Thanks to the anonymous A level student who recommended it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

L'Academie Anglaise

The Queen's English Society - an organisation that prides itself on its prescriptivist stance over language change - has set up what it calls an "Academy" in order to regulate our language, and it's hoping to gain some form of official status if this report is anything to go by. Their belief is that English is going to the dogs, and even worse, to the damn yankees. Martin Estinel of the QES is quoted in The Times as saying “At the moment, anything goes. Let’s set down a clear standard of what is good, correct, proper English. Let’s have a body to sit in judgment”.

Oh dear. It's clear that they don't really know much about language or language change if they seriously think they can regulate English. More arguments are put forward in this Times article, and the issue was also debated on yesterday's Radio 4 PM programme, which you can find 53 minutes into this link (or if you're an SFX A2 student, it'll be in a link on Moodle) and my (ahem, namedrop alert) esteemed UCL colleague Professor John Mullan has penned a suitably descriptive response in today's Guardian, which you can find here.

Elsewhere, Gerald Warner of the Telegraph blames "trendy educationalists" and "illiterate teachers" (wot's he chattin abaht, bruv?) for promoting a laissez-faire attitude towards "spelling, grammar and syntax".

D'oh! Not only does Warner lapse into French to discuss English, but even this illiterate teacher knows that syntax is part of grammar. Nil points to you, Gerald for your silly error. With a spectacular and possibly frothing-at-the-mouth flourish, Warner then concludes by telling us this:

In this climate of anti-aestheticism it is unsurprising that even an attempt to preserve the beauty and coherence of the English language should meet with opposition by those who claim that it needs to “evolve” unimpeded. There is nothing wrong with a language evolving – English has always done so; but what is happening now is not evolution but nihilism. It must be resisted and the Queen’s English Society is to be congratulated on its initiative. All champions of literacy will wish the society success in establishing a much-needed Academy of English.
Luckily, not all Daily Telegraph readers are as narrow-minded as Mr Warner, and if you scroll down to the comments below his article, you'll see some interesting defences of language change.

The good thing for all A2 English Language students is that whatever your views on this issue, it's all excellent material for your Language Discourses section on the ENGA3 paper. This is exactly the kind of debate that will be appearing on the exam paper, so get reading and analysing!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Cameron on Globish

No not that Cameron, the good one, Deborah Cameron, who starts her review of Robert McCrum's Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language with some nice scene setting:

Last month, as volcanic ash drifted across the skies of Europe, I found myself in a van travelling from Dubrovnik to Antwerp with a Belgian, a German, a Turkish couple living in Holland, a Russian studying in Dublin, a Chinese woman heading to Beijing via Amsterdam, and two Croatian drivers whose services we had hired. How did we communicate? In English, of course. That "of course" is the starting point for Robert McCrum's book, an account of how English achieved its present status, framed by an argument about the present and future consequences.

She goes on to discuss whether McCrum's book is just another addition to the flag-waving and patriotism that appears in some other accounts of English's rise to international power and decides that it probably is. More important to Cameron  is what McCrum doesn't talk about: the unequal access to English around the world and the different values placed upon different varieties of the language. This last point chimes in with many other arguments about English as a Lingua Franca and/or English as a World Language, and it's an area that's worth a look if you're an A2 student thinking of Language Discourses around this topic for your ENGA3 exam in a few weeks.