Saturday, May 28, 2005

Resources for ENA5

Several people have asked for more help with ENA5: Language Change and Language Varieties, so I've trawled around for useful resources and come up with a few. If you can use the intranet in college (the LRC is shut during half-term, but there will be some computers available in college) you can access my folder on Language Change for tests and worksheets, but if you want to look at other people's ideas, try these:

AQA's guidance on this unit - pages 33-37 are worth a read

Language Varieties

BBC Routes of English
BBC Voices project

Language Change

British Library language resources - very good material on word formation processes, loan words and the history of the language
Andrew Moore's English Language pages - student guides on most main unit

I'll try to add more as I find them, but these should make a good start. It's also worth remembering that on the first question, texts from other times, that you need a decent grasp of the framework, and in particular grammar, to get a grip on the way language is used to create meaning. The internet grammar of english link on the main page is a handy revision tool for this, but don't get too hung up on non-finite verb clauses !

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Colours cross the language barrier

Research reported in today's Guardian seems to contradict one of the main planks of the linguistic determinism theory (the strong version of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis that suggests language controls the way we think). According to the report, it doesn't matter which language you speak, you'll probably have the same perception of colour. A fundamental plank of linguistic determinism was a belief that if colour terms were missing from a language the speaker's perception of colours would be different: in other words, speakers of different languages may indeed see the world in different ways.

But according to Paul Kay, a believer in "universalism" and the author of the research used in The Guardian article:

"people perceive colors the same way around the world, no matter what labels they attach. Every culture tends to partition colors into dark and light categories and come up with names in a fixed order."
(quoted in an article from The Baltimore Sun last year)

In the latest research The Guardian tells us that "scientists asked people from 100 societies to name the colours on 330 different-coloured chips. Regardless of the language spoken or the society they lived in, they all grouped the colours into an average of six basic groups that clustered around the colours English speakers identify as black, white, red, yellow, green and blue".

So is that the end of linguistic determinism? Well, not really. A report in New Scientist last year offered some support for the theory:

"Hunter-gatherers from the Pirahã tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration, revealed the study.

"Experts agree that the startling result provides the strongest support yet for the controversial hypothesis that the language available to humans defines our thoughts. So-called “linguistic determinism” was first proposed in 1950 but has been hotly debated ever since."

In this experiment, it would appear that not having terms for numbers above two does affect thought. But as the article goes on to say:

"...scientists are far from a consensus. One points out that there could be other reasons, aside from pure language, why the Pirahã could not distinguish accurately for higher numbers including not being used to dealing with large numbers or set such tasks.

“The question remains highly controversial,” says psychologist Randy Gallistel of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. “But this work will spark a great deal of discussion.”

Useful for:
ENA1 Language and Representation
ENA6 Language Debates

Keeping the patients in their place

There's often a thin line between what constitutes slang, jargon or what some term "argot". Many people look at slang as a means of expressing solidarity within a group ("in-group" language) but what of the language that keeps outsiders out ("out-group" language)?

this article, doctor's jargon is looked at. Have you suffered a UBI or got a GLM? Perhaps we could also think about the jargon used by teachers to mystify their students (AO3, lexeme, interrupted constructions?!) or that used by OFSTED to mystify teachers.


For those of you neeky enough to enjoy the study of slang, here’s a whole load of links to articles about it.

First off, there’s a piece about Lilian Baylis school which claims to have banned slang in its classrooms in an attempt to make Standard English the norm for its pupils. The second article includes quotes from Bill Cosby, superannuated African-American “comedian”, bemoaning young black people’s reliance on slang.

It’s an interesting debate: is using slang or other non-standard forms, holding back already marginalised groups in society? Put more bluntly, is “talking black” holding back young black people?

It’s ironic that one of the aspects of what we might lazily term “black culture” (which is about as meaningless as talking about “white culture”) that seems so attractive to many young white people could be the thing that actually keeps black people in a lower social position. The third link looks at young people’s slang more generally but asks a similar question: is it making young people unemployable?

Should we be teaching Standard English in schools and treating it as the *only* acceptable form of classroom discourse?

Another article looks at how young Americans have developed a taste for British slang (or “Brit-speak”, if you will) thanks to the fictional diaries of a 14 year-old. I think I might stick to Adrian Mole...

Finally there’s a link to one of those horrendous test yourself pages where you can check whether you’re a real teen or just a balding 35 year old, clinging desperately to their rapidly disappearing youth … or whatever.

Useful for:
ENA5 Language Varieties (accents, dialects, sociolects)
ENA5 Language Change (prescriptive/descriptive attitudes to language, the Standard English debate)
ENA6 Language Debates

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Got any craic?

No, not some dodgy-looking bloke in a "hoodie" (copyright Tony Blair and other assorted politicians) dishing out bits of chalk to unsuspecting crackheads at Stockwell tube, but the Irish word for "fun" (or something similar).

According to a report on the BBC website, linguistic experts have been drafted in to help internet search engines recognise Northern Irish dialect terms that might be entered.

Just goes to show how many words there are for the same thing when you look around...

Useful for:
ENA5 Language Varieties (dialects)
ENA6 Language Debates

Don't be a phoney

Accents are often under scrutiny when you study English Language: Howard Giles's "matched guise" experiment showed that even read the same script, many people will find certain accents more believable or trustworthy. Here an article from the Independent earlier in the month, suggests you shouldn't try too hard to sound posh as you might not get the response you're after...

Useful for:
ENA5 Language Varieties
ENA6 Language Debates

Cultivating a phone voice is all well and good, but stay true to yourself, says Andrea Wren
from the Independent from 05 May 2005

As if there's not enough to think about when you are stepping out into a brave new world after graduation, you can add your accent into the equation. You may have laughed at your mother for answering calls in her "phone voice", but you could find yourself doing it as well.

Posh is passé. A recent survey from independent communications consultancy The Aziz Corporation said that almost half of UK company directors and senior managers believe that a plummy or posh upper-class accent is now a hindrance rather than a help when it comes to succeeding in business. "The days when speaking with 'the right accent' was a prerequisite to rising in the business world are all but gone," says chairman Khalid Aziz.

But this doesn't mean that a broad, regional brogue is any better for business: the survey found that having what it described as a "working-class" accent is considered even worse than a plummy one, with 86 per cent feeling that it is a disadvantage in business.

In fact, those who fare the best, according to the report, are the people with a "neutral" accent, with 64 per cent of respondents believing it to be a strong advantage. So should it be, then, that graduates attempt to change the twang they've grown up with and start neutralising their tones? Well, it might depend on the type of career they are looking for.

Stuart Baddley, careers adviser for Select Appointments, thinks there are two main issues graduates must think about when considering how accents impact upon their career. "There are accents that fit, such as local ones which are identifiable with their audience; and accents that don't, because they are connected with class or culture." So, while you may speak the Queen's English, if you are working on an inner-city youth project, it might take time to gain trust from the people you are working with.

Jan Murray's experience reflects this. She edits a magazine for young people in care and having had elocution lessons at an early age, her Liverpool roots are impossible to detect. Murray says, "I've had young people start off very hostile towards me who have later admitted they thought I was too 'posh' to understand what they were going through. I notice that lots of the social workers I work with have quite strong south-east accents and that seems to break down barriers with young people."

However, Karen Todd, a local sourcing manager for Asda, feels that her Tyneside accent helps in her dealings with local farmers. "Some of the customers I meet may never have dealt with a large retailer before. Having a Geordie accent means I can win their confidence and trust." So, while the survey claims that in the business world we should be opting for neutral tones rather than posh or working class, some career sectors beg to differ.

International voice coach Janet Howd (, who trains actors and non-native speakers, says, "What is important is whether people understand you. In public speaking, for instance, the audience is the centre of attention. We should be placing the emphasis on pronunciation, rather than accent, to make our voices clear to others."

If you work internationally, this is important. Of her last job, Neamh Whorley says, "I worked with clients from Europe and was aware that my Yorkshire accent and dialect would not be understood by them. I had to train myself to not slip into slang so I would not confuse people."

Baddley's advice to graduate job-seekers is to do your research about the culture of the organisation you are applying to. Ask yourself, "Will I fit?" At interview, think about your "sitting down presentation skills", which includes your verbal communication. Though he doesn't suggest you should try to change your accent, nor cultivate a phone voice reminiscent of your mother's, Baddley does feel that you might need to tone it down if it's particularly strong, so that other people know what you are talking about.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Slangsta Rap?

I know this is old news to you old lags who've been doing A2 English Language here, but I thought I'd try to show you what I hoped this blog could be like.

Here's a link to a Guardian article called Slangsta Rap which looks at the slang used by young peeps (ha ha) in south London. What do you think about the way in which this article is reported, the ways in which the slang is defined or even the whole issue of what slang means to different groups of people?

Useful for:
ENA5 Language Varieties and Language Change
ENA6 Language Debates

Post your comments to this article below.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Welcome to English Language @ SFX

This is a new blog set up for A Level English Language students at St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College (and anyone else interested in English Language issues).

Black British English vs MLE

The latest episode of Lexis is out and it features an interview with Ife Thompson about lots of issues connected to Black British English, i...