Wednesday, March 30, 2011

100 word vocabulary

Fabio Capello's claim that he only needs 100 words of English to communicate with his England footballers has sparked lots of silly (but fun) discussions about what those words might be. The BBC covered it here, The Guardian reckoned that beaten excuse quarter final, Germany, jagerbomb, lager and WAGs might be in there, while today's G2 extends the 100 words to other occupations including taxi drivers (Where left right lights immigration stop roadworks traffic not being funny but come over here free council houses bloody liberty politicians all same)  and teachers (You sit quiet please everyone now enough gum tie shirt homework yes today excuses no book open page talking stop discipline noise courtesy while others trying learn). But why stop there? George Osborne would only need 3 words (cut, gloat and slime) so that would be easy, but what about other jobs and professions?

Thinking of those 100 words that are used most frequently, is there a way in which patterns in their grammar could be discerned? Katherine Nelson's study of children's first words back in 1973 showed that one year-olds tended to favour nouns heavily among their first 50 words, but what would the pattern be for you?

Wikipedia uses data from Oxford Dictionaries to assemble the 100 most frequently used words in English, but this data is drawn from written texts primarily, making it very different from what a person would say in a normal day of speaking.

Perhaps an interesting language investigation at A2 would be to record a few minutes of conversation every hour and log the words used, their frequency and word class, to establish the patterns in your own speech and that of others.

My Little Pony must die

The language used to target young consumers (or children as we used to call them) is often designed to appeal to their developing sense of gender identity, and some would argue that many ads manipulate that identity to encourage boys and girls into thinking that certain toys and games are only for the other gender. I've seen it happen with my own kids who've left the protective cocoon of CBeebies and CBBC and entered the commercial wasteland that is ITV2 and the Cartoon Network.

This brilliantly simple piece of corpus analysis using Wordle (and flagged up by an anonymous person on the English Language list today) takes the language of TV ads and represents them in word clouds. The results based on gender are really striking:
boys' toys
girls' toys
The effects of this kind of polarised language are harder to gauge perhaps, but it's pretty stunning that in the 21st Century kids are still being sold a line that fighting is what boys do and love is what girls do. This pressure group - Pink Stinks - has done some good work in challenging gender stereotypes around children's toys and clothes, and is well worth a look.

For A level Language Investigations (AS ENGA2 projects into representation for the AQA A spec or ENGB4 for the A2 investigation in AQA B) this sort of work is ideal.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dictionary Flow

This is a neat little flowchart to explain how words enter dictionaries. Have a look here.

Anarchy in the UK

The 500,000-strong protests against the government's crippling cuts programme went ahead peacefully on Saturday, but to read the mainstream media you would have thought that the day was marked by an orgy of violence and destruction. Approximately 0.04% of those on the march were engaged in some sort of trouble, and even then 140 of the arrests have been for the outrageous crime of aggravated trespass, for sitting in a shop peacefully.

Chief among the media's targets are protesters whom they term "anarchists". In today's Evening Standard, the columnist Sam Leith takes issue with the label "anarchist" as a catch-all term of abuse for any violent protester. Radio 4's Today programme discussed the philosophy and political strands of anarchism earlier in the day too, from class war anarchism through to pacifist, pastoral anarchism.

One of Leith's more serious points is that the word "anarchist"  has become "an all-purpose boo-word for those who protest in ways we don't consider acceptable; and, cripplingly, a way of muddying and ignoring the actual political positions of the quarter of a million people who marched peacefully on Saturday" and it's a good one to make.

The word is being chucked around with little thought for what it really means and that's not very helpful. It seems to be an example of semantic broadening, where the label itself has expanded to cover an increasing range of connotations - thuggish behaviour, disorder, chaos - when the word's original denotation means none of those things.

Even more bizarre is the increasing obsession with what these "anarchists" will do when the royal wedding is on. Will they turn up and kick over old ladies' tables and upset tea urns at the street parties that literally...err... tens of people will be holding? Will they sip from tins of Special Brew and sneer as the happy couple tie the knot? What sick filth will these anarchists come up with next?

Whatever your views on violent protest and the need to oppose government cuts  - and personally I don't think smashing up shop windows and fighting with the police down side streets is a particularly clever or successful way of gaining support for the cause - the whole way in which language is used to represent protests and all those involved has got to be worthy of a bit of extra scrutiny, particularly when the media coverage of half a million marchers gets relegated to the inside pages while the actions of (at most) a couple of hundred people make the front page and set the news agenda.

Friday, March 25, 2011

TMI? New initialisms make it into dictionary

Can a dictionary ever have Too Much Information? Has the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gone too far in adding initialisms like LOL, OMG and FYI to its latest update?

Probably not, because even though these initialisms (initial letters sounded out as their letter names) and acronyms (initial letters sounded out as a complete word) aren't really words as such, they're increasingly frequent in their use and functionally very handy.

What's also interesting about them is that they often have a longer history than we might realise:

As is often the case, OED’s research has revealed some unexpected historical  perspectives: our first quotation for OMG is from a personal letter from 1917; the letters LOL had a previous life, starting in 1960, denoting an elderly woman (or ‘little old lady’; see LOL n./1); and the entry for FYI  [FYI phr., adj., and n.], for example, shows it originated in the language of memoranda in 1941.

Elsewhere in the same OED update, the use of the verb "to heart" is commented upon. We're no doubt all familiar with T-shirts bearing the I ♥ NY/LDN/your mum logo or something similar, but the expression "to heart" is now registering as a bona fide version of "to love":

From these beginnings, heart v. has gone on to live an existence in more traditional genres of literature as a colloquial synonym for ‘to love’

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The number you are calling has been disconnected...

Mother? Can you hear me, mother?
This article in today's G2 by Jess Cartner-Morley looks at the way in which the landline phone is dying a death. It's more a piece of cultural commentary than a linguistic discussion, but raises some quite intriguing ideas about the ways in which we communicate these days.

Coming from the generation in which we did actually dial a number by putting our pinkies in the dial and turning it round, then telling the person at the other end who we were, I can just about cope with caller display and mobile phones which use different ringtones for different callers. I can even cope with texting, even though I was taught to text by my Colchester students back in 1998 and then taught how to use predictive text by the boyfriend of one of my ex-students, embarrassingly for me quite recently... down the pub in 2008. But to me a landline was always a given, especially for having a chat to parents or siblings.

As Cartner-Morley tells us, it's all different now, even for people in their 30s and 40s:

My landline rarely rings these days. And even when it does, I usually don't answer it. It seems like an increasingly alien concept, picking up a phone without knowing who is on the other end, so as often as not I let the answerphone pick up. Oh, and I never, ever listen to landline answerphone messages. My reasoning is that a message left at a house when someone's not even there must by definition be so non-urgent that it doesn't need listening to. I assume that if anyone actually needs me, they will reach me on my mobile, or by text or email. And this, at the grand old age of 37. For millions of today's twentysomethings, who have had a mobile number since their teens and for whom a landline makes no practical sense during the transient years before they settle down, the moment of opting into landline-owning may never come if it becomes an expensive extra. My sister and my closest colleague, for instance, both have grown-up jobs and mortgages, but no landlines.
 She finishes the article by suggesting that it's probably not healthy or helpful to rely on texts, tweets and emails to conduct our lives:

It would be sad if, having crammed our lives full of texting, tweeting and status updates, we no longer have the energy to speak to people who want to talk to us. There are repercussions of cutting ourselves in or out of the loop as we please, because real community doesn't work like that. Interestingly, relatively new forms of online interaction, such as Twitter and BBM instant-messaging, have returned to a more conversational, back-and-forth style, rather than the hit-and-run approach of sending an email. Horror films have moved on from the snipped landline to the dreaded out-of-battery/low-signal plot device. But in real life, we're all running scared from a ringing phone.
 This article from the NY Times offers a similar take on the same subject, but contains the great summary "You pretty much call people on the phone when you don’t understand their e-mail".

To verb like no one has verbed before

The English language is always adding new words to its lexicon and it's also quite partial to using existing words in new ways: we're all aware of lexical and semantic changes and can probably point to several new words or new meanings that we've spotted every month, whether it's a charming new (?) word for stabbing someone or a knife used to do it (nank), a word to describe an attractive member of the opposite sex (reem, choong or boom) or an old word like optics used in a strange new context (to describe public perception of a war event) .

But English is also pretty flexible in its adaptation of a word from one class to another, something that's generally called conversion or functional shift, but which has often been called verbing too. It's probably worth being clear here that we're not talking about derivational morphology where a word is altered so it functions in a new word class (like walk - walker, run - runner, smile - smiler) but a straightforward shift from (usually) a noun to a verb without any extra bits (morphemes) being added.

On Radio 4's Today Programme this morning, a housing expert talked about the process of staircasing and referred to shared ownership buyers who staircase their share of a property. The process is probably familiar to lots of public sector workers (including me) who have found that shared ownership is about the only way they could afford to buy a house of their own, but clearly sounded a bit odd to the presenter, John Humphrys, who needed an explanation of this term.

Jonathan Marks on the MacMillan Dictionary blog has looked at other examples of this process in a number of posts about the subject and he provides lots of good illustrations. Have a look here, here and here to see what kinds of examples he cites.

It's also interesting to look up some examples in the OED and see if you can see which usage came first. I was under the impression that to ramp was a fairly recent verb ("to ramp up prices") and it may be fairly recent in its use as a phrasal verb (with the up particle) but its use as a verb predates its appearance as a noun by about 300 years, although the various different meanings of the word may slightly complicate that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

RIP Smiley Culture

It was really sad to hear of the death of Smiley Culture, the genius behind Cockney Translation and Police Officer, in really strange and disturbing circumstances this week.

The lyrics of Cockney Translation were some of the first to really address the ways in which Caribbean slang and dialect and home-grown varieties like Cockney were starting to come together to create what most of would recognise as Multicultural London English/ Multi-ethnic youth dialect  these days. While the song is all about differences in slang, it's the shared subject matter and the celebration of different words that make this such a great song, especially considering the time when it first came out and the social unrest and race riots that had been part of the landscape around the early 1980s.

Musically and lyrically Smiley Culture led the way for people like The Streets, Lethal Bizzle, Dizzee Rascal and many other performers who've been happy to mix and match words from different strands of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds to create a new form of speech.

RIP David Emmanuel AKA Smiley Culture

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tweeting and blogging and everything in between

I've just been to a lecture on Twitter and digital identity, delivered by Dr Claire Warwick of the Centre for Digital Humanities at UCL and it was interesting to hear different angles on how we create identities online and through microblogging resources like Twitter. Some of it is clearly linguistic - the words we choose to use that reveal something about who we are or the identity we wish to present to others - but other parts of the talk touched on areas that were a bit more sociological: who uses these new media forms, differences between digital natives and newcomers, gender and identity performance.

Claire Warwick mentioned that gender and language was an area they were keen to explore, but it was perhaps a bit disappointing that having been enlightened by Deborah Cameron's brilliant lecture on the Myth of Mars and Venus at the emagazine conference yesterday, I heard the old stereotypes about men doing x and women doing y - even if it is updated for a new medium like Twitter - being repeated.

There may well be some significant gender differences in whether we use @replies, or if we "chat" and/or "tell", but it's probably not helpful to reduce it all to broad generalisations in this way, and maybe more revealing to look at language and identity within genders too.

Anyway, this is only a minor gripe and one I'm sure they'll address when they start their research into the whole area. The lecture was really interesting, particularly for a relatively new tweep (tweeting person? Twitter person?) like me. The lecture is (or soon will be) available from here.

Eleshere, this blog post about the word blog is a good read. We all know about the noun blog being a blend of web + log, but did you know it's being used as an intransitive verb to blog and as a transitive verb to blog something? Here, you can find out more.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Emagazine Language conference is tomorrow!

Just a reminder that the conference I've been working on with Barbara Bleiman and the English and Media Centre is happening tomorrow at the Institute of Education, London. You can see the details here and the full programme of speakers is here.

If you're coming along, please say hi. If you mention Haribo and perform a secret handshake you'll get mentioned on the blog next week.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Baby Gaga

a view from one of the cameras
Deb Roy's longitudinal study of his own son's acquisition of language is the focus of this TED lecture. It's a clear explanation of how he went about gathering many hundreds of thousands of hours of data and some observations about what the data tells us about how his child's language developed over three years, particularly the social dimensions of interaction and acquisition. The idea of feedback cycles - caregiver speech and child's speech working together in an ongoing process of acquisition and influence - is a key point from the lecture.

One particular case study is his son's movement from gaga to water (from about 5 minutes in). The "wordscapes" created from the data are pretty amazing to look at and the tagging of particular words is a particularly fascinating way of mapping language to events. So, for example, Roy and his team have mapped the child's use of words to where he and other family members were in the house and who they were talking with. Here's the wordscape for water:

"water" wordscape, with peaks in the kitchen

You can also read more about the study in this pdf.

What's also interesting, as the lecture goes on, is Roy's team's application of this model to patterns of language usage beyond his own son and house and into the wider world, where mapping of language is linked very closely to national media events.

You say tomato; I say potato

The British Library's research into accents in the UK has attracted media interest, with some of the first findings being made public. This report in the Daily Mail takes a look at some of the results and offers the view that we aren't adopting American pronunciation as rapidly as some had assumed. Of course, this being the Daily Mail, they have to build in some kind of reactionary nationalism, stating that "many British English speakers are refusing to use American pronunciations" (my italics) which suggests that it's a conscious decision, when change often doesn't work like that.

Jonnie Robinson, curator of the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library (and speaker at the Emagazine Language conference this Wednesday) is quoted in the story:

British English and American English continue to be very distinct entities and the way both sets of speakers pronounce words continues to differ. But that doesn’t mean that British English speakers are sticking with traditional pronunciations while American English speakers come up with their own alternatives. In fact, in some cases it is the other way around. British English, for whatever reason, is innovating and changing while American English remains very conservative and traditional in its speech patterns.
John Wells looks at The Guardian's coverage of the study here and is a bit more sceptical about what the results tell us.

On a similar theme, but this time focusing on dialect and spelling, the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan writes in the Daily Telegraph about the influence of  the internet on spreading American English (rather than English English) around the world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

More is more

intensive reading?
There's a really good response by Melody Dye on the Scientopia blog to the Robert Lane Greene article in the NY times (which I blogged about here) this week.

Dye, who is a cognitive science researcher at Stanford University, argues that Greene's article doesn't go far enough in its attack on prescriptivist thinking and she makes several interesting points about reading as well as writing. She argues - quoting Joshua Foer - that people's reading habits have changed from "intensive" reading of a very few texts to "extensive" reading,  valuing quantity over "quality".

Dye's argument is that as we get more choice over what we read - increasingly being able to pursue our own niche interests in music, film, literature, TV - a bottom-up model of language change is exerting its power more than ever. If standardisation is all about imposing a top-down model then, she argues, what's happening now is that more "writers" (if we're calling texting, tweeting and Facebooking "writing", and I'm happy to) are writing more stuff and it's less standardised than ever before.

extensive reading?
But that does rely on the assumption that standardisation is designed to (as Dye puts it)  "conventionalize, and even ‘crystalize,’ our language according to certain norms, and to make it more uniformly patterned ". Straight after that she adds "Education is one forcible means of (attempting to) root out non-standard ‘grammars’ (such as African American Vernacular English) and of homogenizing usage"...all of which tends to sound to me like she's arguing that education can be a big bad force for social control, a viewpoint that's problematic for me as an English teacher (who wants to see everyone get a good education in a standard form of English) and as a politically left-wing person (who values non-standard forms too and sees them as part of a wider picture of language use), but for two very different reasons.

Does education really have to be like this? Does the teaching of a standard form necessarily preclude an appreciation and study of non-standard varieties? You could argue that the very existence of  Standard English means that all other varieties - and remember, Standard English was chosen very deliberately out of existing varieties of English - are treated as inferior.

You could equally argue though, that if we don't have a standard we have no shared language, no means of communicating with each other on a level playing field and that the ones who will really suffer are not those at the top of society but those at the bottom. In this case, Standard English might be seen as a democratising force, giving linguistic power to everyone in a society.

I suppose what I'd like to see* (and what I think is partly delivered in the English Language A level, if not elsewhere in the English curriculum) is a model like this that opens up the history and development of English as a language, and lets us look at how it became what it is now and where it's going. It should be a model that allows us to interrogate the idea of a standard and see how it's become important over time, while helping students develop their own grasp of that standard, and their understanding of all the non-standard forms around us - many of which like texting and tweeting are in fact changing what might be the Standard English of years to come.

Melody Dye develops her argument by looking outside the natural homes of English - the UK and the USA - too:
In broadening our picture of the forces at work in language change, we might also consider how English is being influenced from the outside.  According to one statistic, there are now something like three times as many non-native speakers of English as there are native speakers.  English is thus being reappropriated by foreign speakers, both on our shores (in the tides of immigrants that come to this country) and off it (in English creoles and pidgins, and in widespread lexical borrowing), and these reformulations are, in turn, shifting the normative space of what is acceptable.

Where this fits in to the study of Language Change and Language Discourses at A level is interesting, I think, and should allow you plenty of scope for discussion and exploration in your work. The English Language is clearly changing - it always has - but is it now changing so quickly, thanks to technology creating so many new users of English all over the world and spreading non-standard forms  - that what we know as Standard English is rapidly disappearing?  Perhaps a new standard is being formed even now, a type of English that we can all understand but which doesn't much resemble the Standard English we've seen before. And maybe that new standard is actually being created away from the places previously considered to be the home of the English language.

Edited 11.46 11/03/11
I'd also like to see world peace and international socialism. Is that not too much to ask?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

More is less?

This blog post on the New York Times opinion site offers a fairly convincing picture of increasing levels of literacy (in the USA, admittedly, but probably broadly comparable to the UK) between 1870 and the late 20th Century. It's a picture that backs up Robert Lane Greene's broader point that the people who say our language is in decline are basically just wrong.

His argument, one developed in his new book You Are What You Speak, is that the "sticklers" - those who say that we're less able to punctuate, construct "correct" grammatical structures and speak clearly - are missing the point that more and more people are actually writing than ever before. He explains: "We easily forget that this is something that farmhands and the urban poor almost never did in centuries past. They lacked the time and means even if they had the education".

It's a convincing argument in many ways and one that echoes much of what other descriptivists have said about the to hell in a handcart arguments of prescriptivists. But what's less certain is what is happening to the quality of the communication that many of us are now engaged in. Does more writing actually mean less quality?

If we include Facebook, texting and tweets as writing, we must be - as a world population - producing billions and billions of words every day, far outstripping what people wrote even ten years ago, let alone fifty or a one hundred. So, what of this sort of writing? Are we seeing a language in decline even as it grows? Greene thinks not, adding towards the end of his post, "We may be just be seeing more of language’s real-world diversity – dialect, nonstandard grammar and all – in written form, whereas a 150 years ago those same people would never write. That’s something to celebrate, not to complain about".

In saying this, Greene echoes an observation made by Henry Hitchings in The Language Wars about the Eighteenth Century prescriptivists, many of whom felt that educating the masses - making them literate - was actually a threat to the language itself. Their thinking seemed to be that more users meant worse language. But this thinking seems to demonstrate an underlying fear that democracy leads to disintegration.

Another factor to throw into this debate (and I have to be honest, I'm not quite sure what I think about this in the end) is a suggestion made by someone commenting on Greene's post that if writing is increasing, perhaps reading, of anything other than texts and tweets, might actually be falling. From this perspective, while the output is growing, there's a kind of feedback loop of broken, abbreviated English creating more and more mashed up language. The argument, I suppose, is that if you put crap in you'll get crap out.

It would be interesting to see what figures we have for how much people read compared to previous decades, and what it is they read. The to hell in a handcart brigade usually argue that we're in a near-permanent state of idiocy, which gets worse day by day. Grown-ups read Harry Potter and Twilight...English GCSE students watch Romeo and Juliet on DVD and read three passages of the original...etc. etc. but they tend to ignore the rise of reading groups, the impact of popularising programmes like the Oprah Winfrey show and even Richard & Judy's Book Club that have made a big impact on the reading habits of many thousands of people.

So, what is really happening and what should we say? Should we, as Greene does, celebrate the rise of writing, or should we bemoan the state of the writing that is now produced?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Texting: too many LOLZ, not enough R&J

As mentioned on here many times before, the USA has caught onto texting a bit later than us in the UK, so the moral panics about texting and literacy, texting and repetitive thumb injuries and texting and attention spans have hit their media fairly recently. I'm only saying this again to cling on to a deeply pathetic sense of superiority over this one tiny achievement when, in all other fields, the USA beats our increasingly rubbish country.

This article in the Seattle Times takes a look at the ways in which the language of texting is leaking into some students' written work and the concerns that have been raised about this. It's a good article because there's some attention given to less hysterical viewpoints, and even the students quoted are honest when they admit that sometimes they're just lazy and CBA 2 switch styles.

It's also quite a good style model for an ENGA4 Language Intervention or an ENGB4 Media Text, I think.

If you are looking for more articles about texting, click on the texting label at the end of this post and you'll find loads more.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Pigeons and Creoles

Stephen Kelman's debut novel about life on an estate in Luton, Pigeon English, gets some good coverage in today's Independent. The novel, which plays on the word pidgin - a simplified language often used to communicate between people who don't share a common tongue - in its title, is praised for its authentic-sounding slang and its 1st person narrative perspective, which views the often brutal world around through the eyes of a child. I've not read it yet, but it's getting good reviews all over the place and a book with language like this at its core sounds like a good read to me.

The Independent article mentions Gautum Malkani's Londonstani as part of its survey of other slang-driven narratives, and ex-SFX student and onetime blogger on here, Charissa King did a post on the language of this book while she was at university. South London writer Alex Wheatle also gets a name check in the article (as should Courttia Newland!) and of course Irvine Welsh, who was arguably one of the first to really capture and popularise the vernacular in modern fiction with Trainspotting, is referred to as well.

edited on 14.03.11 to add: now I've got the book, it looks like it's set in South London and not Luton. I think Luton is where Kelman grew up, but I might be wrong...

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

ENGA3: some tips for success (part one)

Last year we posted some top tips for the ENGA3 exam to help you out with final revision work near exam time, so this year we're going to start a bit earlier and give you a chance to mull over approaches that might take a bit longer to develop. Of course, you'll get plenty of good advice from your own teachers and from the exam board and text book (especially if you're at SFX where your teachers were recently described by an Ofsted inspector as possessing "bare skillz... and that ain't even a lie").

Now the paper's been examined three times (January and June 2010 and January 2011) you can probably get a clearer picture of the types of question that might appear and the approaches that will help you do well on it.

The Principal Examiner for ENGA3 doesn't want you to "question spot" or try to second guess what's going to be on the paper, because:
a) if you get it wrong you'll come a cropper in the exam and have to answer a question on a topic you know nothing about  - like George Osborne taking an economics exam;
b) many of the topic areas actually overlap, so knowledge from (say) variation could also apply really well to change. It makes sense to know as much as you can about all the topics. And anyway, as the great philosopher Dappy from out of N-Dubz once said, "knowledge is power". He also said "In The Slum Put Ur Hands Up Brap", so I'm not sure we can entirely trust him.

The top tips from last year still hold true and you can find them here, but here are some extra ideas that should help you do well if you get on the case soon. There's quite a lot to say, so I'm going to drip feed it in different blog posts over the next few weeks. And remember, these are just my own take on the paper taken from teaching it and marking it, not any secret inside information. You can take them or leave them and I'm happy to argue the toss about any of these, refine them or add new ideas if you have any of your own.

Think about the mark weightings and prepare accordingly
On this paper the assessment objectives (AOs) are very important. They always are of course, but the balance of them in A2 is different from AS. On each question, the marks are allocated as follows:
  • AO1 10 marks: linguistic labelling and application of language frameworks (plus some consideration of your written accuracy - spelling, grammar and structure)
  • AO3 15 marks: engagement with meaning (what the texts are about and how they represent their subject matter); how contexts influence the texts (time, speaker identity, place, mode, genre); how writers and speakers address and engage their audiences (positioning, address, audience assumptions)
  • AO2 20 marks: understanding of language concepts (your knowledge of change & variation overviews, your understanding of case studies, research, examples, theories and debates)

AO2 is the big one here and you can improve your mark on AO2 if you bear a few things in mind:

  • Knowing lots of things is good, but use them to answer the question. Don't try to cram in everything you've read about Samuel Johnson, William Caxton and Robert Lowth. Synthesise the key patterns from the past and see how they relate to the texts you're presented with in the exam.
  • Explain any case studies and research that you refer to. It's not helpful to an examiner for you to refer to something by the researchers' names only and then not to explain what their research showed or how it might be relevant.
  • Be clear about wider debates about usage. Mugging up on Jean Aitchison's characterisation of prescriptive models is helpful, but look elsewhere too.
  • Make sure you are aware of how language changes spread and the patterns of change that can be observed. The section in the A2 textbook about the wave model, s-curve, substratum and random fluctuation theories is important here. Think too about having a look at this post about the "heartbeat" model of change.
  • Have clear examples to illustrate theories. Try to keep up to date with examples of (say) new words, semantic changes to existing words and different supra-regional varieties of English. Here's where your textbook is less use. Try to find examples from posts like this and this and sites like this.
  • For question 3 on Language Discourses, it's a really good idea to get some wider reading done well before the exam. This well help you out a great deal. Try Henry Hitchings' The Language Wars, Deborah Cameron's The Myth of Mars and Venus and David Crystal's The Fight For English if you want to read accessible and interesting books about big debates in English Language. Use Emagazine too to supplement your reading. There are some articles in last year's editions aimed specifically at the Language Discourses question on ENGA3.
In the next post on ENGA3 exam preparation, I'll try to have a look at AO3 and how to pick up marks by actually talking about what the texts are about and how ideas are represented.

National Grammar Day

It's National Grammar Day in the USA on March 4th, and this webpage has lots more information about it is being celebrated. Among my favourites are the Correct the Celebrity classroom task in which you spot the grammatical errors in Justin Timberlake lyrics, Paris Hilton's blogs and various film titles, although I'm saddened by the fact that we can't just put a big red ring around Paris Hilton herself and fail her.

There are some good tips on writing clearly, some myths exploded about "bad" grammar, and overall it's good clean fun. It veers a little towards the prescriptive for my tastes (Why's there no discussion about dialect forms, for example?), but you can't win 'em all.