Monday, September 15, 2014

What's proper?

Language debates are all over the media again and rarely seem to be too far aware, which is great news if you are an A level English Language student and looking for material to analyse, ideas to glean and references to add to your notes.

This article from Christian Rudder in The Huffington Post offers an analysis of Twitter language in response to the perception that social networking is degrading and/or destroying the English language. It's a common argument and one that has been knocking around for centuries. Ever since there has been technology to communicate - the pencil, the printing press, the mobile phone - there has been someone complaining about its disastrous effects on English.

This article challenges the declinist discourse and suggests that far from dumbing us down and forcing us to communicate very little in 140 characters, Twitter is not that different to other forms of communication:

A team at Arizona State was able to reach beyond word count and length, and into the sentiment and style of the writing, and they found several surprising things: first, Twitter does not change how a person writes. Among the many examples they tracked, if a writer uses “u” for the second person in e-mails or text messages, she will also use it on Twitter. But, likewise, if she generally spells out “you,” she does so every-where -- on Twitter, in texts, in e-mail, and so on. The decision to refer to the first-person singular as "I" or "i" follows the same pattern. That is, a person’s style doesn’t change from medium to medium; there is no “dumbing down.” You write how you write, wherever you write. The linguists also measured Twitter’s lexical density, its proportion of content-carrying words like verbs and nouns, and found it was not only higher than e-mail’s, but was comparable to the writing on Slate, the control used for magazine-level syntax. Everything points to the same conclusion: that Twitter hasn’t so much altered our writing as just gotten it to fit into a smaller place. 

Elsewhere, Ammon Shea, whose new book Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation looks well worth a read, has also written a piece for The Huffington Post, considering what's happened to the meanings of the words that were being worried about a hundred or so years ago. Shea finds that words like awful and talented rarely attract complaint these days, but were viewed by some as being totally unacceptable in the past. Meanings change: get over it, seems to be the key message here.

And if you want to help somebody who is actually researching attitudes to "proper" English for a PhD project, Carmen Ebner is collecting views through this link to her online questionnaire, so please take part and give your views. It's particularly good if you are an A2 English Language student and starting to look at language discourses and attitudes to change and variation as part of your second year work.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Welcome to EngLangBlog

With the new term underway, I thought I'd say welcome to the blog and introduce you to some of its main features.

First of all, the blog is designed to help you with your English Language A level. It's primarily aimed at the AQA A specification (as that's what I mostly teach and if you're a Colchester Sixth Form College student, that's the spec we do with you) but you'll find material here to help with AQA B, WJEC, EdExcel and OCR.

Most of the time, there will be posts on here about language in the news, so these will help you read around the subject and perhaps give you a few interesting angles and examples to get you thinking about different topics. At other times, there are longer posts which are tied to specific exam papers and questions. At exam time, I put up a lot of tips and hints about how to approach particular questions and topics for both AS and A2. There's already a big archive of these from previous years, so if you are looking for exam advice, try those. I'm an AQA examiner and moderator, but obviously I don't know what appears on the papers until you do, so none of this is inside information, just the ramblings of a sad language nerd.

If you've not used the blog before, you might find some of the following features helpful:

Labels
Labels can be found on each post and in a cloud on the right sidebar. If you are looking for all the posts on a particular exam paper, coursework topic or issue, just click on the label and you will be taken to all the posts with that label. So, if you're looking for Language Change, Child Language or Language Discourses, that's where you want to go.

Links
The links bars take you to some good sites for English Language study. Emagazine and Babel are aimed at A level students and are both excellent reads. If you're a Colchester student, get the log-in details from your teachers.









Tweets
The blog's Twitter account @EngLangBlog has lots of links and good ideas from linguists, students and other teachers, so it's a good idea to follow it. I've been posting short news items via Twitter more than the blog recently, so that's where to look for the latest news.

Finally, please contribute your own ideas, either through comments on blog posts or via Twitter. I'm always interested in hearing other points of view, finding out about language stories that I've missed or being shown links to interesting examples of language in use.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Feisty sluts being abrasive

There's been lots of good material in the papers recently about language and gender, so it's useful for anyone thinking of investigations at AS into representation of social groups & individuals.

The Telegraph looks at words which only seem to be used to label or describe women, while The Guardian has its own take on the issue. Fast Company also has a look at the ways in which language is used differently for men and women in their performance reviews, with abrasive being used to describe women much more than men.

Elsewhere, the discussion about what slut and sluttish mean - or has meant in the past - is picked up in The Guardian.