Thursday, June 25, 2009

A2 coursework & contributions to the blog

Exams may be over but we're going to focus on A2 coursework projects in this blog from now on, as well as all the usual links to language stuff in the media.

If anyone who has been using the blog would like to become a contributor to it, please email me on d.clayton at (swapping the at for @). This would be especially good if you are planning to go on to university to study language or linguistics!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

ENA6 - good luck

There's been nearly 1000 views of this blog today (not that I check...ahem), so I hope it's been of some use to you if you're revising for ENA6.

It's probably worth saying that even though I teach the unit and mark it, I have as much idea as you about what will turn up on tomorrow's paper (honestly!), so even though I've suggested various topics, if they don't come up don't get stressed: just make sure you read the material properly, annotate it sensibly and know exactly what's required on each part of the paper.

Here's what i put on the blog this time last year about what to do...

There are plenty of tips on this blog for how to approach this paper, but remember that reading carefully, annotating well and thinking about the specific demands of each question are the keys to success.

Don't spend too long on parts 1a and 1b: you should be able to get 10 marks for these in about 10 minutes maximum, leaving you about 50 minutes to analyse and evaluate the text for 1c. Remember that you're not just feature spotting (although that is part of your job), but you're supposed to be evaluating how the writer of the text represents the issue he or she is talking about. In the texts we've looked at in class (the ones that haven't been past paper questions), think about how the rabidly anti-PC David Gelernter constructed his attack on the feminist "language rapists" as he termed them, or how Michael McCarthy in his "I'm Happy to Boldly Get it Wrong" argued against prescriptive views in grammar and language change. The title of the paper is Language Debates and you will get more marks if you write like you're contributing to , and care about, the debate.

With part 2a, selecting your relevant sources is important: use a range of texts from the paper (and your own ideas and other study) and don't rely too much on the one you've just analysed for 1c. If you feel confident, tie this debate into that of other language topics. PC and Language Change are closely linked. Accents and dialects are changing too - they could be linked into Language Change. It's a synoptic paper, so look for links with other areas. But, be careful not to confuse your reader. You will be writing for a non-specialist audience, so take care to explain technical ideas and don't assume they will know who particular linguists are.

As for my top tips for which topic it might be, I suspect (based on previous papers and topics, not any inside information obviously) it will be either Political Correctness/ Language and Representation or something about Accent and Dialect. For the latter, I'd say look at ideas like dialect levelling and the ways in which new varieties of English have grown - MEYD, Estuary English etc. I got it right last year (attitudes to Language Change) but hopelessly wrong the year before (the speech of chipmunks and cheerleaders) so don't bet everything you have on my predictions.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Child Language Acquisition - mini-investigation

And here's a quick one in a 1b style for CLA.

Explain the methodology you would use to investigate how children acquire the sounds of English.

Remember to follow the 5 point plan as laid out below:

Child Language Acquisition - data set

And just to be on the safe side, here's a quick 1a style question on CLA. All you have to do is identify and label 3 "interesting" features from the data set below:

Data set:

  1. I readed that book yesterday.
  2. What that man doing?
  3. Dat's gusting. I not like that dinner.
  4. My tooth is hurty.
If you give your points as comments, I'll try to give you some feedback (my own child language data providers permitting).

ENA6 - revising dialects

Here's some stuff to help you revise dialect and accent.

Andrew Moore's pages on dialect levelling, Estuary and recent change
Features of traditional dialects
Features of modern dialects
Peter Trudgill on Language and Place

Monday, June 15, 2009

ENA6 - some language variation data

Here's a quick 1a style question for ENA6 using some examples of regional/social variation. The question (in the usual style) is "Comment linguistically on three features of non-standard language use in the data list below".

Data list

She were wearing a mask.
What are yous guys up to?
Second prize don't exist.
What's tha been doing?
There was bare mans.

If you post your 3 features as comments below, I'll give some feedback.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


This is a bit of a weird one, but if you're looking for examples of how different social groups use language to cement their in-group status, then have a look here for expressions used by fans of science fiction and fantasy.

It's quite interesting stuff from a Language Variation perspective (like how different social groups use language in their own communities of practice) and could also be useful for Language Change when thinking about how words go through processes of abbreviation in contexts like this. A good example of this is the suffix -zine, which itself derives from a clipping of magazine, but is now used in all sorts of contexts (fanzine, e-zine, crudzine).

Communities of practice
A community of practice is an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in some common endeavor. Ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values, power relations - in short, practices - emerge in the course of their joint activity around that endeavor. A community of practice is different as a social construct from the traditional notion of community,primarily because it is defined simultaneously by its membership and by the practice in which that membership engages. And this practice involves the construction of a shared orientation to the world around them - a tacit definition of themselves in relation to each other, and in relation to other communities of practice. The individual constructs an identity - a sense of place in the social world - through participation in a variety of communities of practice, and in forms of participation in each of those communities. And key to this entire process of construction is stylistic practice.

And it also gives me an excuse to use a picture of a cylon.

A post about the post

I've nicked this link from the Teachit Language sputnik (which is available to Teachit Language subscribers) as it's excellent material for revising the ENA5 Language Change texts from different times question. If you click here, you'll be taken to the British Postal Museum and Archive site from where you can download letters from different time periods - perfect for helping you see how similar themes are dealt with over the centuries.

For example, the 1750 - 1900 link has these letters: an early Valentine card, a letter from a slave owner in Jamaica and a soldier's letter from the Crimean War.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

ENA6 - the topics so far

It's always a fun way to pass an evening, guessing which topic will be on ENA6, but this year will be the last chance we have as it's the end of the AQA A spec as we know it. Here's what's been featured so far...

June 2008

Political correctness and slang

1c. Zoe Williams Guardian article on slang that demeans women

2a. Article for online newspaper responding to Zoe Williams

June 2007

Attitudes to Language Change

1c. Kate Burridge article

2a. Broadsheet editorial on views about Language Change

June 2006

Male/female conversation

1c. John and Barbara Pease self-help book

2a. Radio script on male female conversation

June 2005

Child Language Acquisition

1c. Baby and You magazine article

2a.Magazine article

Feb 2005

Language and Representation

1c. George Orwell extract from Politics and the English Language

2a. Broadsheet feature article on language and its effect on attitudes

June 2004

Development of new accents

1c. Daily Telegraph article

2a. Broadsheet feature article on high rising intonation

Jan 2004

Language of texting and emails

1c. Guardian article Cn u txt?

2a. Radio script on texting and email language and attitudes to these forms

June 2003

Political Correctness in Language

1c. Terry Deary extract from Wicked Words kids book

2a. Broadsheet editorial on PC and attitudes to it

Jan 2003

Child Language Acquisition - interaction

1c. extract from Baby Talk advice book

2a. Magazine article on role of verbal interaction

June 2002

Male/female conversation

1c. Extract from John Gray Men Are From Mars, Women From Venus

2a.Broadsheet newspaper article on male/female conversation styles

My guesses for this year’s paper:

Language Varieties and Slang - perhaps something looking at the changing face of Britain’s accents and dialects - Estuary English, MEYD, development of new slang, dialect levelling.

Language Change & Technology* - perhaps something about text messages, emails, social networking and language, and attitudes towards these forms.

Child Language* - hasn't turned up since 2005, but has been set twice before. I suspect it won't appear, but be ready just in case!

Form of question in 2a? Be ready for anything, but letters to the editor and website articles haven’t turned up yet and might do this year.

*Edited to change from my publishing last year's advice - sorry!

ENA5 revision reminders

Just in case you're revising for Friday's ENA5 exam, have a quick look at advice for this paper in these older blog posts from last year and the year before:

ENA5 advice from 2008
ENA5 Language Change timelines
Top tips for ENA5 & ENA6
And don't forget Beth Kemp's website which has loads of stuff for this unit here.

T-weet t-who?

Twitter has been big news for a while among media folk, with lots of celebrity tweeters singing its praises. If you're unfamiliar with what Twitter is and what it allows you to do, check here. And if you want to see how it's relevant to your study of language, have a look at this blog post from earlier in the year.

But a report on today's BBC news website, casts into doubt some of the hype around Twitter. Who' s actually tweeting who(m)? According to the Harvard research quoted in the article, 10% of Twitter users generate 90% of the content and most people who sign up only ever tweet once:

"Based on the numbers, Twitter is certainly not a service where everyone who has
seen it has instantly loved it," said Bill Heil, a graduate from Harvard
Business School who carried out the work. On a typical online social network, he
said, the top 10% of users accounted for 30% of all production. This implies
that Twitter's resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more
than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network," the team wrote in a blog

So, what are the implications of this research on our study of the language of Tweets and Twitter users? If it's less of a conversation and more of a broadcast or publication, then does this mean that it's more like a blog and less like email, text or MSN? In other words, is it less of a conversation and more of a series of monologues?

Perhaps more importantly, if it's all about numbers - as so much language change often is - and there's a limited core of Twitter users generating most of the content, will there be much of an impact on the language styles of the majority of Twitter users who don't tweet? In other words, will Twitter have much of an impact on the language styles of most of us? Probably not...

Sling some snout into the chokey

If you love slang and you love prison (and what south Londoner doesn't one day dream of slinging slang inside the glorious environs of Brikkie Pen?), then this is the story for you. It might also help you if you're looking for interesting examples of contemporary language change for Friday's ENA5 exam.

Yesterday's Daily Mail and today's Guardian feature articles on an apparently growing trend of prisoners reviving Early Modern English thieves' slang (or cant, as it's often called) to hide their illegal practices (mostly taking drugs and smuggling sim cards) from the ears of prison officers. As the Daily Mail explains, "The dialect, thought to originate from medieval gipsies, was used by all manner of villains in Shakespeare's England, becoming known as thieves' cant or rogues' cant. But it was thought to have become obsolete until its unexpected revival, believed to have been led by criminal members of the travelling community".

The Mail tells us that words like those featured on the list at the top are being used as code, while The Guardian goes into more detail about other types of slang (pig Latin and backslang) which help both exclude outsiders and foster in-group identity. What The Daily Mail doesn't really explain is how Elizabethan slang had words for crack cocaine and sim cards. Hmm...

As it happens, I'm reading a really excellent book on slang at the moment by Michael Adams, called Slang: The People's Poetry, which has some fascinating ideas about what slang is, how it's perceived and what it's used for. As Adams points out, slang has social value and he is concerned with finding out "how it marks groups off from one another and indicates group membership, its use among different races and genders, the extent to which it belongs to the young and eludes the old, and how we use it as social currency to negotiate our way through problems of living with others".

In this particular case, it would seem that an old form of slang has been revived as a means of eluding prison officers and fostering group identity among prisoners and their contacts on the outside, but also perhaps as a means of keeping a tradition alive. If, as the Daily Mail speculates, the slang being used has its roots in thieves' cant of the Sixteenth Century, perhaps it's part of a means of preserving a culture too.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Some more stuff on new words

Just a couple of quick things that might help with ENA5 Contemporary Language Change (or ENA6 if this topic turns up).

First up is glamping (glamorous + camping), a phenomenon of recent years in which people who wouldn't normally go camping (poshos) slum it with the rest of us and do it in typical middle class style (pink camouflage tents, flower design welly boots, wine cooler etc.).
So which word formation process has created this word?

Next come J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez), BoJo (Boris Johnson) and SuBo (Susan Boyle). There's been a trend to shorten celebrity names to these clipped versions, but the most recent one has to be rather ironic (and cruel, given her recently reported collapse). Any ideas what processes might be involved here?

And how about these words, all derived from the recent economic collapse (and found here): bailout, dead mall and green shoots. Could the first be a conversion from the verb phrase "to bail (someone) out"? What about the processes involved in the other two?

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...