Friday, May 15, 2009

Attitudes to accents

Now the AS students have done their exams, we'll concentrate on the A2 units and here's a piece from The Guardian on Wednesday which looks at people's attitudes to regional accents. It's no great surprise that we all have different preferences and dislikes when it comes to accents, but what might be surprising is how little some people like their own accent.

Basing their research on government-funded radio and TV advertising, the Central Office of Information has found that respondents in some regions dislike the sound of their own regional accent when used as a voice-over, preferring other regional accents or even Received Pronunciation. In other areas, there's more warmth towards the local variety.

Tynesiders appear to be proud of their accents, according to the findings, but Brummies responded negatively to hearing their vowels on TV and radio, partly because they recognise they are ridiculed for them by some of their compatriots.

"The research clearly shows that the accent used in radio and TV advertising can have an impact on how the ad is received," said Brian Jenkins, the head of radio at the COI. "Regional accents can make a difference but not necessarily a positive one. There was quite a negative reaction from people in Birmingham and Bristol to their own accents," he said.

Jenkins added respondents in both cities were "very proud" of the way they spoke, but seem to have been affected by "other people's perceptions of their accent".

And it's this last point that's quite interesting as an explanation: that people perhaps internalise others' ridicule of their accent and feel less secure about their own voices as a result.

An article in The Guardian some 10 years ago (which I stumbled across while clearing out English Language coursework from 1999 in my classroom) sheds some light on historical attitudes to regional accents. In one part of the article, the link is made between region and social class:

Academic studies confirm that, socio-linguistically, Cockney has shared the bottom rung with Scouse, Glaswegian, West Midlands and Belfast. Almost certainly this is because, historically, they have all been essentially working-class accents - unlike Yorkshire, say, which might be middle class. This is one reason why Scots voices, and to a lesser extent Irish and Welsh ones, are different. A middle-class Scottish accent can signify a good education (lawyers, doctors).

So, how does this help with A2 English Language? Language variation is part of ENA5 and could also be a topic for ENA6 (Language Debates), so it's worth having a think about why certain accents give rise to certain attitudes, but it's also important to think about how regional varieties are changing and attitudes towards previously prestige forms (such as RP) are altering. In the COI survey above, it was noted that older respondents, and those who weren't "positively engaged with authority" (i.e. a hardened criminal or a junior gangbanger from some dodgy endz) had very different attitudes to RP:

Older people tend to be more accepting of ad campaigns featuring received pronunciation, perhaps because they grew up listening to the "cut-glass" English accents that featured on public information films of the past.

Younger people were more engaged by local accents, it found, but sometimes a more authoritative voice is more appropriate, according to the research.

Advertisements which encourage the public to comply with deadlines, including filling in tax returns, "need to impart trust and authority" the COI said, and are more effective when a Home Counties accent is used.

Local accents proved more persuasive in campaigns which include "credible real-life experiences" to try to change people's behaviour, perhaps to prevent drink driving or encourage homeowners to fix faulty smoke alarms.

The study also found that people who were already "positively engaged with authority" were more likely to absorb the message of campaigns using RP, while those who are not prefer to hear local accents.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Synecdoche SW12

Fancy stretching your vocabulary a bit further? Like a bit of lexical flexing? Try this 7 question quiz on the BBC website, inspired by the troublesome title of the latest Charlie Kaufman film, Synecdoche, New York.

There's also a brief article in today's Guardian about the word synecdoche, a term we've used in A2 lessons this term when looking at how some words and phrases used to label social groups have been formed ("Nice bit of ass" = an attractive woman etc.). Then there's metonymy, a similar process in which a metaphorical link is made between an object and the thing associated with it (e.g. "hoodie" becomes the person wearing it)

These are words that Sean and Gilberto already use with great perspicacity and aplomb, so see if you too can elevate your lexical performance to match their verbal gymnastics.

ENGA1 Language Development essay questions part 3

And here's another one we prepared earlier. It's a suggested approach to the phonology question (question 2 on the list below).

To use Teachit links you'll have to register on their site first, but it's still free. Go here, register, log in then follow the link above.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ENGA1 mode exercise 3

And now try analysing this text, which is also about the singer mentioned in mode exercise 2, Regina Spektor. This extract is taken from a Guardian newspaper review of one of her live performances, written by Maddy Costa. If you feel brave, you could even have a go at comparing the two extracts...

What a canny operator Regina Spektor is. She scuttles on stage every bit the little-girl-lost, her bashful expression and cute outfit (sparkly top, puffball skirt, flat shoes) creating the impression that this venue is too big, too daunting for her. So daunting, in fact, that she must sing as if no one else is in the room, unselfconsciously burbling notes the way one might in the shower, barely saying a word between songs. Which just serves to underscore how capable she is of mesmerising an audience: her voice is so pure, so vital, she could play a venue four times this size and still have everyone rapt.

But everything Spektor does is poised between extremes. She is at once artful and artless, mannered and unmannerly. Her eccentricity can seem contrived: Poor Little Rich Boy, which Spektor plays with one hand on the piano, the other bashing at a chair with a drumstick, has an air of party piece about it. But the eccentricity can also seem wholly natural: in songs like Music Box and Baby Jesus, her voice flutters like a hummingbird, her melodies are staccato and forthright, and her lyrics inject barbed social commentary into fairytale flights of fancy. This oddball theatricality is not adopted; it is part of her Russian-Jewish-New-York-immigrant heritage.

There is canniness, too, in the way Spektor marries outlandishness with the kind of sentimental gush you would associate with Celine Dion. Watching her is a game; it is never clear what is coming next. A trickle of syrup or a dash of salt? An irritating, unnecessary scat vocal line, or a melody of such beauty you catch your breath? That ability to create wonder, in both senses of the word, is Spektor's smartest trick of all.

ENGA1 mode exercise 2

Here's another extract for a bit of mode analysis. It's taken from a discussion forum on a music festival website. See what you make of it. If it's a bit blurred, click on the image to get a better picture. Try applying the same questions as the last revision post:
  1. Where would you place this extract on the mode continuum?
  2. Why?
  3. What language evidence can you produce for your decision?

ENGA1 Language Development essay questions part 2

And here is a link to an approach to question 5 from the Teachit site. That's the one that asks you "To what extent do children acquire language by actively working out its rules?".

To use Teachit links you'll have to register on their site first, but it's still free. Go here, register, log in then follow the link above.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

ENGA1 Language Development essay questions

As this is the start of a new specification, there has only been one "proper" essay question set on this topic so far, but many of the old spec's child language questions might be reworked (or recycled - it is the 21st century) into something suitable for the new spec.

Here's a list of loads of previous questions from the AQA A spec and in days to come we'll have a look at how you might approach these if they were set on the ENGA1 paper.

  1. Discuss the ways in which young children up to the age of four learn words and their meanings.
  2. Give examples of how children develop their ability to use the sounds of English. What do your examples reveal about the nature of children’s language acquisition?
  3. To what extent do children learn language by copying the language that is spoken to them?
  4. Give examples of how children learn to use the grammar of English. What do your examples reveal about the nature of children’s language acquisition?
  5. To what extent do children acquire language by actively working out its rules?
  6. To what extent is it appropriate to describe children’s early uses of language as wrong or incorrect?
  7. To what extent do children learn language through imitation? Give examples of sounds, vocabulary, grammar and meaning.
  8. How important is the interaction between children and adult speakers in the process of children’s language acquisition?
  9. What have you discovered about the nature of language acquisition from the ways children develop their grammatical skills?
  10. It has been suggested that children’s language acquisition is a more interesting process than the simple imitation of adult speech.
  11. What have you found interesting about the ways children acquire language?
A plan for answering question 4 (grammar acquisition) can be found here on the Teachit website, if you want to have a look at some approaches to it.

To use Teachit links you'll have to register on their site first, but it's still free. Go here, register, log in then follow the link above.

ENGA1 mode exercise 1

Here's a quick revision exercise you can do using the mode continuum (see yesterday's post if you want to open a copy of the graphic).

The following is an online comment to The Daily Mail's website in response to a story about Chelsea's defeat at the hands of Barcelona last week.

  1. Where would you place this extract on the mode continuum?
  2. Why?
  3. What language evidence can you produce for your decision?

Post your response as a comment, or just use it as a way of thinking about how you would approach an extract like this, if you prefer.

Chelsea have only got themselves to blame,they went to barcelona and were a total embarassment and were very lucky to come away nil nil,they made no attempt to play football and went there to get a draw.If you score goals you go through if you don't your out,it's as simple as.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

ENGA1 mode continuum

Here's a quickly cobbled together graphic of the mode continuum which might help a bit with revision. In the next few days, and in the run-up to Friday 15th's ENGA1 exam, I'll add some short extracts of texts for you to place onto this continuum.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The millionth word

Today's Daily Mirror has a page dedicated to the English language and the story from the Global Language Monitor about English approaching its millionth word. According to the site today, the English language will reach its millionth word on June 10th. How they work this out, I'm not sure, and it's clear that proper, qualified linguists are sceptical too. Language Log calls it the "million word hoax" and criticises it as a publicity stunt to promote a book by Paul Payack the boss of GLM.

Whatever the pros and cons of the claim about a million words, the article in The Mirror gives a neat, potted account of the development of English and quotes language guru (and future SFX speaker) David Crystal which is always a good thing. It also mentions lots of new words that have entered the language through social networking, online games and gloomy economic conditions, so it's a very handy article to refer to if you want some examples for your language change essays on ENA5.

It's also got lots of fascinating language facts such as the most commonly used words in English, the longest words without vowels and much much more!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sociable networking

Today's Guardian Technology has a good article about the language of social networking sites, based on research by Professor Mike Thelwall at Wolverhampton University. He's currently researching the language of MySpace and looking specifically at how sentiment is expressed, and how emotions are conveyed through creative grammar, puctuation and spelling. He's previously worked on swearing and gender on MySpace (covered in a good article in emag) and will be speaking at the next SFX teacher conference (he's appearing on the afternoon of Thursday 18th June, along with Bev Plester) about his research.

The article is a good read for anyone looking at technology and Language Change in A2, but it's also interesting from an AS Language & Mode perspective because it covers many of the features of computer-mediated communication and how orthography can be used to convey some of the patterns of spoken English.

The research is presented here in more detail and the previous work on swearing and MySpace is here.

As the article points out, MySpace is no longer the "top dog in social networking", having been superseded by Facebook and maybe to some extent Twitter, but the open nature of MySpace and the accessibility of its data makes it an attractive proposition for researchers. And who's to say that the patterns apparent in MySpace data won't be pretty much identical to those in other social networking applications?

The table here gives a quick rundown of some of the main non-standard features found in MySpace comments and should give you a chance to think about how this kind of thing might link to your ENA5, ENA6 or ENGA1 exams.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A new word every 98 minutes

The English language is heading towards its millionth word, according to an organisation called the Global Language Monitor who say that a new word is created every 98 minutes. It's a hotly contested claim and one that top linguistics blog Language Log takes issue with. But whatever the pros and cons of this claim, there's not much doubt that our language is rapidly expanding. This edition of the BBC News Magazine has a good article about new words, our own personal vocabularies and recent claims that young people are suffering from "word poverty" and need a boot up the lexical arse.

One interesting point for A2 Language Change students is the question of when a word is actually a "proper" word. For example, do these new words count: Obamamania, noob and airline pulp? And what about d'oh and meh, or even teh and pwn? See this post for more on some of these terms and the million words "hoax".

Will they last and should they be entered into dictionaries, or are they just silly expressions that no one will remember in 20 years?

OMG!!!! I hate exclamation marks!!!!!

"An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes," according to the late, great F.Scott Fitzgerald. Well, as someone who is sometimes lucky just to have an audience of one (myself) laughing at my "jokes", I know where he's coming from. He's so right!!!

Apparently, these days we're seeing more exclamation marks than ever before in written and - especially - blended mode communications. In this article from The Guardian, earlier in the week, Stuart Jeffries looks at the exclamation mark and what it means, and how it's changing. Interestingly, he makes the point that 30 years ago, some manual typewriters (those things that existed before word processors and PCs) didn't even have exclamation mark keys:

It is important to realise that advances in technology (if that's what they are) affect how we write. And how we write includes how often we deploy the beloved gasper. Before the 1970s, few manual typewriters were equipped with an exclamation mark key. Instead, if you wanted to express your unbridled joy at - ooh, I don't know - the budding loveliness of an early spring morning and gild the lily of your purple prose with an upbeat startler, you would have to type a full stop, then back space, push the shift key and type an apostrophe.

He goes on to look at how women and men use the exclamation mark in computer-mediated communication and refers to research that suggests women use them more than men:

But technological change is not the only reason for variations in the use of exclamations. Carol Waseleski's unexpectedly diverting paper, Gender and the Use of Exclamation Points in Computer-Mediated Communication, found that women used more exclamation marks than men. But why was this? Are women more excitable? Some theorists (notably D Rubin and K Greene in their paper Gender-Typical Style in Written Language) had argued that the exclamation mark was often a sign of excitability, and that "a high frequency of exclamation points can be regarded as sort of an orthographic intensifier signalling 'I really mean this!'" They also argued that this might convey the writer's lack of stature; that, in fact, a confident person (read: man) could "affirm their views by simply asserting them". Perhaps then the use of multiple exclamation marks is not simply a sign that someone is wearing underpants on their head, but of deeply unmasculine insecurity about expressing one's thoughts. Or maybe that's just my theory!

Waseleski found otherwise. She concluded that exclamation marks were not just marks of excitability but of friendliness, and suggested that one reason women use them more than men is because they were, as a gender, less likely to be socially inept, funless egotists - which isn't quite how she put it. Instead, she wrote: "The results point to the need to reconsider the negative labels that have often been associated with female communication styles, and to investigate [their use] as they relate to email and other forms of computer-mediated communication."

The rest of the article is a good read for anyone interested in language change - especially orthographic change - over the centuries. So read it!!!!

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...