We're coming close to the end of our work on Accent and Dialect for the new Paper 2 of AQA AS specification and thinking a bit more about the kinds of questions that might appear and how to approach them. One area that we've considered is the issue of why certain dialects (and/or accents) seem to be valued more highly than others, so for this we have been looking at news stories from a few years ago about so-called 'slang bans'. You can find a load of them gathered here as links.
In response to the question, "Discuss the idea that some dialects are viewed more favourably than others" (which we came up with ourselves), we've used short extracts of data from different schools (such as Sacred Heart in Teesside and Colley Lane in Halesowen) for the AO1 part of the question and as a springboard into the wider issues and discussion for AO2.
In terms of how to structure an answer, we've worked on the principle that it's best to address the essay question straight away in the opening paragraph with something along the lines of "The idea that some dialects are viewed less favourably than others is probably true and this is often the result of some privileged forms of English - accents such as RP or a dialect such as Standard English - being valued highly by influential and powerful parts of the population..." before going into the data in more detail.
The data is there, I think, to provide you with the chance to explore different features of language and to be able to see examples that might link back to the wider question, but it's also there to help you get a few AO1 marks early on, so get linguistic on its ass. Use your understanding of language frameworks such as vocabulary, grammar and phonology to describe and label the features of dialect that are apparent, and think too of the wider implications of what the school is doing by presenting this in the way that they do.
[Edited after 2016 exams to add the following. AO1 is assessed a little differently on Paper 2 compared to Paper 1, so it's less about analysing the data than writing coherently and with a good linguistic register. By that, we mean using the right kind of specialist terminology to describe language (e.g. accent, dialect, idiolect, phonemes, being able to describe word classes etc.). Most of the marks for AO1 are from your ability to actually structure an answer that addresses the ideas in the question.]
Once you've worked on the data, the next job is probably to make some links from what's there to the wider question - the idea under discussion in the title - and from there into the range of knowledge about the topic that you have built up by studying it and reading about it.
AO2 isn't all about naming theorists and quoting case studies, but they are important and they often give you a peg to hang a bigger idea on. So, in a question about dialects, it makes sense to think about studies that have looked at non-standard English (Trudgill and Cheshire), studies that have explored different pronunciations (Petyt and Trudgill), studies and surveys about attitudes to accents (Giles, Ryan, ITV Com/Res, YouGov) and any particular examples you have found in your own research or experience. If you've done a study on the dialect of Manchester, Newcastle, the West Country, Essex or Birmingham, you'll have examples you can use of the features of the dialect but also media representations of it. Use them: they will help make your answer more individual and interesting. Equally, if you have a personal take on it - you have been judged for your dialect (and let's face it, if you're from Essex you probably have) or told to "put T-s, T-s, T-s in your mouth" as I was when I moved from school in London to Wiltshire - mention it and offer your considered linguistic perspective on it.
Another part of AO2 is to show an understanding of the wider language issues, so think about the role of Standard English and why it has such importance. Where is it from? Why does it have an important role to play? Does having a standard make us assume that everything else is sub-standard? These are all possible avenues to explore.
Anyway, that's a start, I hope and I'd be interested to see what others are doing for this.
[Updated on May 3rd 2017 to reflect feedback from AS Paper 2 in 2016.]