Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When is a gang not a gang?

When it's a group, an anti-social gathering of hoodies, or a click/clique. That's what the Youth Justice Board are saying anyway, and they should know as they've been studying youth behaviour and crime and they think that labelling a gathering of youths as a "gang" actually makes the young people concerned more likely to see themselves as social outcasts and push them towards a genuine gang culture of organised crime, illegal cash and drug dealing.

And we all know where that leads, don't we? Rarely to the multi-million dollar incomes and uber-bling lifestyles of knuckleheaded gangstas like 50 Cent and The Game, but more often to Feltham, smelly stairwells in rundown towerblocks, crack pipes and the sharp end of another idiot's shank.

So, getting linguistic about this (and moving away from my pulpit) are the Youth Justice Board adopting a position of linguistic determinism? Is the label "gang" actually influencing young people's behaviour? Well, apparently it is. According to the BBC article about the YJB's report, they argue that "glamorising such offenders may encourage them to become involved in more serious criminal behaviour".

And it's a double-edged label too:

Young people themselves resent the way the word gang is used to describe any group behaving in an anti-social way. It suggests the term "group related" rather than "gang related" is a better way to describe their activities.

So, just a day after the ENA1 Language & Representation paper, why cover this? Well, I've always argued that English Language is for life not just for exams. Or was that dogs and Christmas... I get confused.

And if you want to read a genuinely well written account of London's gang/group-related culture then take a look at this article in today's Guardian.

And to find out more about the words "gang" and "clique", have a look at the OED online (if you use college computers, you'll be able to access it for free).

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates

Monday, May 21, 2007

Good luck!

Good luck to everyone taking ENA1 and ENA3 tomorrow morning. Remember to eat some breakfast (to feed your brain!), to get there early, and to read the question papers properly. Stick to your timings and remember that the first question on each paper is worth twice as much as the essay question, but that you should give yourself enough time to answer both fully and a bit of time at the end to check those pesky apostrophes, spellings and sentence boundaries.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mental, bonkers, one sandwich short of a picnic

Just a quick link here to an article in last week's Guardian (that I was too buried in coursework marking to see at the time). It's about the language used to label people who might otherwise be known as "mad" or "crazy". As the writer Jo Brand explains:
The liberal consensus is that the careless and flippant use of words such as "fruitcake" and "wacko" reveals a disrespectful ignorance towards people with mental health problems. The Guardian's own in-house style guide counsels against using such "clearly offensive and unacceptable expressions as loony, maniac, nutter, psycho and schizo". But if you want to talk about mental incapacity in English you will not find yourself lost for words. This is one of the richest areas of our language, and we seem to revel in the joyful creativity of coining words that skip around, compartmentalise and poke fun at the serious issue of mental illness.

Another social group for your answers on ENA1, perhaps?

Useful for:

ENA1 - Language & Representation

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Exams, exams, exams

The exams are approaching, but I’m not going to do loads of revision posts as in years before: not because I can’t be bothered, but because you can just click on the links to the other posts here and the advice remains the same.

Here are some little extra bits that might help you though, along with my top tips with what I think could appear (last year I was completely wrong about these, so whatever…):


Remember that question 1 is all about a mix of engaging with what the text is all about and how it represents its subject (be that a person being described like the Shaun Wallace text last year, a person being interviewed like the Peter Fox text of 2005, or a job/idea/product) and labelling word classes. We’ve done nearly all we can on this in class, so what you can now do yourselves is practise past papers (available as hard copies in the LRC, or via the AQA website linked off the side bar) and make a point of reading a few broadsheet style articles. You can revise word classes by using the Internet Grammar of English site here. But remember, you mustn’t go too far with grammar on this unit: you don’t need to cover clauses or sentence types (simple, compound, complex), but you must look for sentence functions, tense & aspect, active/passive voice and those lovely word classes.

My top tip for the type of text this time is a piece of instructional or advice writing. If I’m right I will award myself a packet of Haribos.

The essay questions should be very familiar to you by now, but remember to use the feedback sheets I’ve done for you and which are available on the w drive in college or from Teachit as pdfs here and here. Also, there is loads of stuff about CLA available from the ENA1 revision tips post last year, while for Language & Representation, I like this site. I also like this site, but that’s another story…


All the advice I can give on this comes from Beth Kemp’s rather splendid A Level site here so just go here and visit it.

All I’d add is that we’ve covered Deborah Cameron’s recent material on social constructionist theories of male female conversation for a reason, so make sure you use it, if you can find room for it in the gender essay question.

My top tip for the type of transcript this time is an extract of someone telling a story and the listeners’ interaction with the storyteller. If I’m right I will award myself another packet of Haribos. And a bottle of wine.


Once again, we’ve done loads on this in class and you have a mini-text analysis along with a copy of the mark scheme to help you revise. You’ve done 5-6 textual analysis past papers since November (more if you’re Angelica, Sherelle or Romaine!) but there are a couple more in the LRC that you might not have done. My tips for revising this are to use the brilliant British Library Texts in Context site here to take a tour of writing 1600 – 1945 and sample various genres such as recipes and travel writing, before looking at this bit of the site for a wider view on language change and the BBC Voices site for more on varieties and change.

For the essay questions, Raj has given you powerpoints on how to write essays on Varieties and I’ve done the same for Change. Check the w drive next week and we’ll make sure we’ve saved them all there for you.

My top tip for the type of text in the texts from different times is an example of a recipe. If I’m right I will award myself another packet of Haribos. And another bottle of wine. Hic!


The daddy of all exam papers and one that should suit the creative writers of you out there (hello Kwame) as well as the analysis heads too (bonjour Evelyn, Delphine and Joss).

We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the individual questions but maybe not quite as much time as I would have liked on actually writing the 2a answers, so there’s your top tip – do some writing for different audiences. My advice to some of you has been to use the blog and particularly the links to broadsheet articles about language issues such as attitudes to change, punctuation and accents, and to get hold of e magazine from the LRC (or the e mag website – see me to get the password). Look at the ways in which sometimes rather dry language topics can be injected with a bit of humour and accessibility.

My top tip for the topic on this paper this year is a hedged bet: either it’ll be language change and attitudes to it (prescriptivist/descriptivist debates) or recent accents and dialects (MEYD/MLE etc.). If I’m right I will award myself yet another packet of Haribos. And another bottle of wine. And a spell in rehab.

Good luck, anyway. Please post comments to the blog if you want help. I’m happy to take emails but it might be more useful to all students if you post any ideas, worries or questions here so everyone can chip in.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stop the cusswords in classrooms

Channel 4 on Monday night is featuring an episode of its Cutting Edge programme all about young people and swearing. Cunningly titled Mind Your F-ing Language, the programme will (according to the Channel 4 blurb) "reveal the rich and hidden world of the language that kids actually use, and look at one school's attempts to deal with swearing".

The programme is trailed by this article in today's Telegraph, which looks at the impact the swearing ban has had on the featured school.

A good idea or a load of bo****s - you decide.

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

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...