Monday, June 20, 2011

ENGA3 Language Discourses: some pointers

With ENGA3 coming up at the end of this week and several requests for help with section B of the paper, here are some pointers about the topics and what to revise. 

There have been three ENGA3 papers set so far, and the topics for language discourses have been as follows:

Jan 2010
Popular psychology/ linguistic self-help books looking at male and female communication
Jun 2010
John Humphrys arguing prescriptivist views about language change
Jan 2011
Will Self and Lynn Truss discussing their attitudes to texting and txt language

There’s no point trying to “question-spot” and putting all your eggs in one basket, by proclaiming that as regional accents haven’t turned up yet it’ll definitively be that topic, but it can be useful to think about the types of questions that have been asked and those that haven’t yet.

So, the topics that haven’t cropped up yet are:

Changing varieties of English. There’s been quite a lot of discussion about how regional accents are thriving and local accents dying out, as well as new ones (like MLE/MEYD/”Jafaican”) emerging, and whether this is a good or a bad thing.

World English/es. This hasn’t cropped up yet and could appear as it’s on the spec. What could be asked about this? Well, there have been quite big debates around the world about the role of Standard English and whether we should be imposing World English (one variety) or showing awareness and understanding of different varieties (World Englishes) and how English changes thanks to local language and culture. There are also several interesting historical angles about why English has spread and whether this will continue in the same way.

New words and attitudes to them. While language change has cropped up before in the form of John Humphrys bemoaning the state of our common language and Truss and Self talking about texting and its impact on language, there is also scope for something on new words. Many new words have entered dictionaries in recent years and some commentators find this deeply discombobulating. “How can OMG and LOL be “words”? “ they cry. Dictionary compilers have argued in response  that they’re reflecting the changing nature of our vocabulary and that they have a duty to record new words.

Political correctness and Linguistic engineering. The need (or otherwise) to impose changes on language and remove offensive terms is a very good topic for debate and leads to some very polarised opinions. One man’s throwaway remark about chavs is another’s systematic demonization of the working class. Likewise, terms for gender, race and sexuality have been discussed recently in regard to the changing roles and status of different groups in British society.

Variation that isn’t gender or region-related. The topic of language variation doesn’t just have to cover females and males or regions; other areas on the syllabus that could appear are age-related variation, work-related variation and what might broadly be termed “communities of practice”.

Technology and changing language. Texting cropped up recently, but other technological advances and forms of Computer-Mediated Communication, like Facebook and Twitter, could be a focus for debate. 

Knowing something about the topics is only part of the knack to doing well in this exam. Equally, if not more, importantly, you need to know about how to analyse the language used to construct the debates. What are the writers saying and how are they expressing their views? What kinds of wider debates are these discussions tapping into?

Over the next day or two, I'll add some points about what often works on this paper and give some examples of how good students have approached language discourses.