Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Revision round-up part 1

Apologies for the lack of posts on here this year. The new job and various other commitments (not Fortnite, honestly...) have meant that most of the A level Language stuff I've done has been via the @EngLangBlog Twitter account or for books and revision guides (coming soon!).

Anyway, I'll put a few short revision posts up in the weeks to come, focusing on areas to do with the A level. First off, some Language Discourses material and what to make of the whole idea of discussing how language is viewed and written about.

One of the first things to realise is that 'Language Discourses' can be relevant for all of Paper 2, not just Section B. Arguments about language diversity and language change apply just as much in Section A in the essay questions and if you've seen last year's paper (which you should have done by now), you'll see that arguments over the control and direction of English are central to one of the questions.

Don't be afraid to discuss attitudes to language change in the change question or even in ones about language diversity, because there are lots of reasons why they are a relevant part of the debate.

For example, articles and news items about regional accents or world varieties of English that claim some varieties are looked down upon or seen as 'ugly' are often part of the reason why people feel uncomfortable about their own accents. If Brummie or Scouse are reported as being viewed less favourably than other accents, that's bound to have some sort of impact on people with those accents, isn't it?

In some cases, it might mean that people try to lose or soften those accents. In other cases, and this tends to match what Kevin Watson found in his work on the Scouse accent, it might mean that people strengthen their accent to resist this negative representation and express a stronger sense of pride and local identity.

Attitudes to language can shape language use. The same is true for language change. Much of the debate over things like text messaging, online communication and the use of emojis is tied up with a sense on one side that language is changing too rapidly and on the other that these changes are perfectly natural and inevitable in any living language. The tension between those two positions - between the powers of innovation and conservatism - helps to keep language in the spotlight and might even affect the rate at which a language changes.

I think it's always been like this as well. When we look at the history of standardisation in English we can see a constant struggle between different forces - new words being welcomed by some and rebuffed by others, for example - and that struggle is what shapes how a language is used and how comfortable people feel with the language they are using.

The other part of Language Discourses is of course what you do in Section B, which is to analyse and discuss the ways in which people write about and view language change and diversity, so that's what I'll pick up in the next revision round-up post with some ideas about the kinds of metaphor used to describe language and some ways into the kinds of texts that are good for this sort of discussion.

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