Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Planning and writing Paper 2 essays

Recent appeals for help and discussions on Twitter have prompted me to think a bit more about Paper 2 Section A essays and how they can be approached, so I’ve put together a few thoughts here. I can’t claim any great originality or insight but you might find a few of these things useful.

I’ve had a look back through older blogs for this specification and highlighted a few areas that you might want to look at alongside this one, so they are listed here:

What's the difference between discuss and evaluate? 

Understanding the links and connections between change and diversity

Topics, areas and overlapping on Paper 2

What to do with your knowledge for AO2

I think one of the first things to work out is what you are being expected to do for this part of the paper. You’ve got about 45 minutes to plan and write an essay on either Question 1 (Diversity) or Question 2 (Change) where there’s also a fairly good chance there will be overlap between the two topics areas (after all, diversity and change are intertwined). That’s not a huge amount of time, but it should be plenty to show what you know and – more importantly – to answer the question that’s been set.

You are being given an idea to evaluate. That means you’ll need to do more than just offload everything you know about everything to do with change or diversity; you’ll need to focus clearly on the idea you’re being presented with, assess its merit, discuss different positions, select the most helpful examples and evidence for those positions and come to a conclusion.

Unlike questions where there’s data (ie texts to analyse – Paper 1, Qs 1&2, Paper 2 Q3 - or data sets to discuss and link to an idea – Paper 1 Qs4 &5) the AO1 is mostly assigned to the structure and clarity of your essay, so it’s not about labelling and describing language, although you do need to use a ‘linguistic register’ in your answer. To my mind, that means subject specific terminology eg sociolect, dialect levelling, RP, descriptions of sounds and grammar features in your examples. You need to guide the reader and have a structure to do well with AO1.

Ideally, you’ll use your planning time to work out a roadmap for your answer and that will mean having a clear end point in mind. I don’t think it’s a good idea to just ramble through different ideas and then chance upon a conclusion; it’s really important to have a clear destination in mind and guide your reader through the arguments to get there. As you’re being asked to evaluate, you are being asked to decide for yourself – based on the linguistic knowledge you have and the evidence you produce – what you make of the idea. And yes, I think that involves offering an opinion. How else do you evaluate something?  You will need to make a judgement.

So, what will your roadmap look like? You’ll need to look at different ideas along the way (that’s what Level 4 of AO2 requires you to do), so that means thinking of the most appropriate arguments and examples to explore. One useful tip might be to think of examples that can be used to argue both sides of a debate and illustrate different perspectives on the idea being presented.

For example, in the 2019 question ‘Evaluate the idea that language variation has decreased over time’, you could consider the role that technology has played in language variation. On one side, it could be argued that technology has led to a huge upsurge in variation: groups of people – gamers, bird watchers, hackers, conspiracy theorists and music nerds - find new communities online, spend more time in those virtual communities and, as a result, their language diverges more from the norm. That’s an increase in language variation.

On the other hand, technology has also reduced variation by putting more of us in touch with each other than ever before and allowing us to converge in our language styles with people whose language styles might in the past have been very different. That’s a decrease in variation, but both of these have been brought about by technology.

You will need to do more than just discuss ideas broadly, so where will the language knowledge, the theory, the case studies and the examples come from?

Well, you could look at what Susie Dent talks about in her Modern Tribes book about the in-group language of different occupations and social groups to discuss the first point. You could bring in ideas from Lave and Wenger to discuss ‘Communities of Practice’ and you could explore the ideas of jargon and slang from linguists like Julie Coleman, Tony Thorne and many others. What about examples? Modern Tribes is jampacked with them and I’m sure you’ll have a few too, from your own work on language varieties.

And that’s just one aspect that you could explore. Language variation is a really broad area and you might decide that it would be interesting to look at gender variation changing over time. Were those stereotypes about male and female language ever true? If so, how have they changed as social roles have changed? What about the increased focus on non-binary and trans identities in recent years?

You could bring in age-related variation, dialect levelling, accent change and even – because the world is quite literally your oyster - world Englishes. So, as you can see, selecting the most useful material is a big part of doing well in an essay like this. And that will be different material depending on what you’ve been taught and what you’ve researched and studied yourself. Not everyone will answer the question in the same way and there will be loads of different ways of doing well.

In the next post, I’ll suggest a few ways of ‘guiding the reader’ and showing that you’re evaluating. 

Accent attitudes: lessons in discourses

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