Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wrath of the grammarbot

Yesterday's Independent features a story about grammar rage on the net which is well worth looking at if you're studying language change, technology and/or attitudes to change.

Outraged at the apparent upsurge in grammar errors on the web, grammar nerds have programmed deadly (ish) attack bots to roam the Twittersphere looking for mistakes and immediately punishing them with sarcastic replies. Basic homophone errors like their/there, your/you're and where/were are the prime targets, but others are facing the wrath of the grammarbot too, like the overuse of CAPS LOCK or the misspelling of sneak peek as sneak peak.

But are Twitter and other forms of digital communication making us worser and worser with are grammer and spelling? Apparently not, if recent linguistic research is to be believed.

In fact, (Tim) Stowell says there is no evidence that any form of "specialized speech" has corrupted spoken or written English, and plenty of recent studies have come to the same conclusion. In September, researchers at Coventry University in Britain ruled that there's no link between text-message conventions, which are also used on Twitter, and bad spelling or grammar in other forums. A 2009 study from the University of Alberta concluded that text-speak should be viewed as a dialect that people can switch into and out of.
Others disagree - sometimes quite violently - and the whole debate is one that we look at when we study the Language Discourses part of ENGA3. There are masses of posts about this very topic here on the blog, so have a look and fill you're boots.

And on the sixth day He made meggings

Can these ball-crunching jodhpur variants really be the next thing in male fashion, I ask Albus, a balding builder from Lithuania?
Nah. "I don't like them," says Albus. "I like more traditional designs. Jeans. Combat trousers. Military stuff. It's a personal choice."
As if jeggings (jeans + leggings) wasn't a blend too far, we now have meggings (men's leggings). I'm reliably informed that treggings (trousers + leggings, or tramp's leggings, if you prefer) also exist. Blends are nothing new, but what differentiates a man's leggings from a woman's leggings? In other words, why can't a man just wear jeggings? It's something that Patrick Kingsley asks in his short piece on meggings and one that applies equally to other man-words like manbag (a man's handbag), mankini (see below) and mantyhose.

Perhaps, given that these items are generally seen as being the preserve of women, men feel more self-conscious about wearing or using such items unless they've been rebranded and renamed as manly clobber. Stan Carey, blogger and contributor to MacMillan Dictionaries excellent language blog, has written about Manguage here and it's worth a read if you're into new words or just fancy some tight-fitting full-length budgie-smugglers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Filth and fury

We've often looked at attitudes to language change and variation on this blog, and this post on the excellent Linguistics Research Digest refers to some work done in Australia by the linguist, Kate Burridge (whose books on the topic are a very good read and highly recommended for those of you studying ENGA3 for the AQA A spec).

Burridge is interested in how people feel about language and where their views come from, so as well as surveying  national media for letters, online comments and opinion pieces, she has used questionnaires with university students and found that - even among younger people brought up on social media, texting and a curriculum that supposedly teaches that non-standard usages of English are valid - attitudes are pretty firmly against change and variation, especially when it comes from the USA.

On a related note, if you're interested in contributing to debates about language, this competition is now running as part of the  build up to the emagazine English Language conference. Go on, have a go.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Say 'Hi' to Hinglish

For those of you doing the AQA A spec, World Englishes is a fairly new topic which appears as part of the ENGA3 exam. Today's BBC News Magazine has a story on the spread of English in India and the growth of what has been termed Hinglish, a new form of English, spoken there.

If you want to find out more about English around the world and issues around how it's viewed, differences in how it's spoken, arguments over intelligibility and influence,  I'd recommend Jane Setter's chapter on it in the EMC's Language Handbook (available here and here and currently helping contribute to my kids' xmas list) and to have a look at some of the other World Englishes links from the last couple of years.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Urban tweetz

As we saw last week, Twitter is proving to be a great way of tracking language change and variation, admittedly with a few limitations about tweeters' real identities and the like. This week, New Scientist reports on research by Jacob Eisenstein and his team at Georgia Institute of Technology which seems to indicate that new word formations and abbreviations of older ones are more likely to spread via Twitter from US urban areas with large African-American populations.

Slang - and some of these formations like CTFU (Cracking The F*** Up) and bruh (brother) probably fit under that umbrella term - has long had deep links with the black community. Julie Coleman's excellent book, The Life of Slang looks at how some forms of slang have been created and kept alive in African-American culture, so it's not a great surprise to find that this ethnic group is still leading the way in lexical innovation where a new technology is concerned.

There's more here too. 


Friday, November 16, 2012

The geeks shall inherit the earth

Sheldon Cooper - reclaiming 'nerd' and 'geek'?
In good news for nerds and geeks and those caught somewhere in the middle - neeks - Big Bang Theory has returned to E4's screens. But in even better news, the words themselves seem to have gone through a process of amelioration, gaining positive semantic associations from their initially rather negative origins.

In this piece for the BBC News Magazine, the history of the words is outlined and examined by lexo-boffins and neologo- nerds, who tell us that the words are subtly different in their meanings and even carry different connotations depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on:

It's easy to argue that "nerd" and "geek", with their very different roots, retain different meanings, arguably with the former still more derogatory than the latter. And some see a transatlantic divide, with "geek" used in US and UK, but "nerd" somehow feeling less British.

And as the writer of the article, Kathryn Westcott, goes on to say, the gradual shifts in meaning are not a new occurrence in language. Yesterday, we looked at the word yid and its changing meanings to Jews and non-Jews, and in other posts over the years, we've considered queer, the n-word, slut and bitch. Are geeks and nerds now reclaiming these once-negative labels and marching proudly under their new banner out of the labs and libraries and into the mainstream?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tracking tweets

Twitter is proving to be a fantastic resource for linguists and you can see several examples of what's been done with it in these previous blog posts.

More recently, researchers at UCL have been looking at what tweets in London reveal about patterns of language use. The people looking at it, Ed Manley and James Cheshire, aren't linguists but an engineer and spatial analysis lecturer (eh?) so they're more interested in where things happen rather than necessarily exploring why - which might be more interesting for English Language students - but it raises good questions about why certain languages don't appear as often as might be expected- Bengali and Somali, for example - while others do make an appearance - Haitian Creole, Basque and Swahili -among them.

But what might be of even greater interest to A level English Language students is how Twitter is proving to be a source of fantastic data on gender and language, and what we might term communities of practice: groups of people that you "do" language with in your various day to day activities and whose language styles influence your own.

This excellent article by Ben Zimmer in the Boston Globe gives you a clear introduction to what Twitter is offering linguists and you can see more of the work of Tyler Schnoebelen and his colleagues in this powerpoint of their presentation to #nwav41 (Warning! Contains advanced statistics to boggle the mind).

In other Twitter-related research, this link to a paper by Rebecca Maybaum  gives you a glimpse of how Twitter can be used to track evolving slang: in this case, the words used to describe people on Twitter. Tweeps? Twiends? Tweethearts?

Getting rid of 'Yid'

Football supporters aren't renowned for their delicacy when it comes to the chants 'sung' (or in Millwall's case, grunted) at games, so it's not much of a surprise to find that homophobic, sexist and racist abuse often plays a part in many of them.

Recent events involving Chelsea supporters monkey chanting at black Man Utd players, Leeds Utd supporters singing songs about Sheffield Wednesday's manager Dave Jones and (unfounded) allegations of child abuse against him, and Sheffield Wednesday supporters goading Leeds' fans with references to two murdered Leeds fans have been in the press recently, but another element of racist chanting is picked up in this great article by Anthony Clavane on the use of the word yid.

Clavane has written extensively on Jewish involvement in football, most recently in his book Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?, but previously as part of his excellent book on the mighty Leeds United, Promised Land, so he knows his stuff. Clavane points out that there's a clear difference between non-Jewish rivals using the word yid, - as he puts it "a term of opprobrium equivalent to words like the n-word and “P*ki”" - and the Spurs fans themselves claiming the term as a badge of pride.

What makes this such a good topic for discussion within the English Language A level is that it's all about words, meanings, identity and context. Words themselves are rarely - ever? - bad in and of themselves, but some words can pick up such negative connotations that they rarely escape disapproval. With yid being a term used for so long by anti-Semites - Moseley's fascist blackshirts in England, Hitler's nazis in the 1930s and 40s and Chelsea's neo-nazi supporters in the 1980s and early 1990s - can it ever be used without carrying associations of prejudice and genocidal hatred?

Well, if the n-word is anything to go by, then yes. But only with some heavy qualification. Who is using the term? What do they intend by it? What position are they adopting when they use it - solidarity or opposition? What context is it being used in?

Spurs - a football club with a long history of Jewish involvement, but arguably as much a Jewish club these days as any other - has fans who may well see the word yid as their own and describe themselves as yiddos or the Yid army, but the chucking around of terms like this by a now largely gentile fanbase runs the risk of making the term seem acceptable for general use.

That's why, as this Mirror article explains, the Society of Black Lawyers has called for those chanting it to be prosecuted. But is the case as cut and dried,  as simple, as they say?  The Mirror reports that Tottenham Hotspur have released a statement which sounds more nuanced and intelligent than many of the bland club releases that generally reach the press:

"Our guiding principle in respect of the 'Y-word' is based on the point of law itself - the distinguishing factor is the intent with which it is used ie if it is used with the deliberate intention to cause offence. This has been the basis of prosecutions of fans of other teams to date.

"Our fans adopted the chant as a defence mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-Semitic abuse. They do not use the term to others to cause any offence, they use it as a chant amongst themselves."
But how do we deal with this? Could, potentially, Jewish Spurs fans end up in court accused of racial chanting against themselves? That would seem ridiculous.

As Clavane points out, "In a perfect world, the Y-word would not be used. But it would be idiotic to report to the police any anti-Semitic chants heard at White Hart Lane. The real evil emanates from the anti-Semites who taunt Spurs – and, it should be noted, Jewish players and fans from other teams."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


It's reaching that time of year when the dictionary publishers and lexophiles start assessing the new words that have popped up and bobbed around in the public's consciousness over the last 12 months and select their favourites. There's often a difference between the ones that the UK and US dictionaries go for and so far we've had the following:

The Oxford English Dictionary has gone for Omnishambles which is also considered here on the BBC site.

Oxford Dictionaries USA have plumped, controversially and rather strangely, for the verb 'to gif' (an acronym to noun to verb conversion, apparently) which is a choice criticised here on Slate's website.

Meanwhile, the American Dialect Society get very serious about this (while enjoying the silliness too, I'm sure) and vote for their WOTY at a big ceremony/party. Last year they chose Occupy, and this year the contenders might be frankenstorm, romnesia and robama, among others.

Soon, we'll have plenty of lists appearing in the papers, so have a think back to the words (and by words we can actually include noun phrases like squeezed middle and fiscal cliff) that have made an impression on you. Perhaps it's going to be gangnam style or even an old word that has been made popular again, pleb.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The rise of the regions

A research project based at Aston University is finding that local varieties are on the up. This follows years of concern that local accents and dialects have been in decline as a result of people's increased mobility, the spread across regional and national boundaries of new media and technologies, and the belief that such changes might lead to dialect levelling (more here and here).

You can read more about it in The Daily Mail or go straight to the source at Aston University through this project site* or through Urszula Clark's summary, You Are What You Speak which raises lots of good points about accent, identity and class in the UK.

And for a lighter look at West Midlands accents, have a look at this piece from The Guardian**

(*Thanks to Jon H @ruchbah for this one and for doing it in the first place)
(**Thanks to Nicky W for link to this)

Emagazine English Language conference 2013

happy language students and teachers with the big DC last year

The details of February's 2013 English Language conference put on by emagazine at the Institute of Education in London have just been made available.

The speakers are David Crystal, Ron Carter, Sylvia Shaw and Marcello Giovanelli and it's set to be another great event.

The conference website is here and I'm running a supporting blog to offer teachers and students material in the run-up to the conference. There'll be a really good competition this year, with the prize presented by the great man himself, David Crystal.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Make yourself better with slang

This quick link (with more discussion on the audio link) gives some good reasons why we should treat slang as a positive, creative form of language use.

Michael Adams' book, Slang, The People's Poetry, is a damn good read, as is Julie Coleman's The Life of Slang, which focuses a  bit more on UK slang.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Redefining misogyny

There's some good discussion about sexism and language in the aftermath of the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's attack on her male rival for his dodgy attitudes to women. Here, several feminists look at gillard's use of the word misogyny and the Macquarie Dictionary's decision to update their entry for the word in the light of Gillard's use of it.

They are now adding a definition of it, according to this piece from the Australian Financial Review,  so it changes as outlined here:

While this is good material for language and gender, it's also interesting to think about how dictionaries work these days and the ways in which they respond to changing usages. We all know that language changes, but there are different positions adopted by commentators about how much a dictionary should change and respond to - what some might describe as - mistaken or just plain wrong usage. And when you introduce sexism and political correctness to the mix, you have a recipe for some heated debate, like you'll find here and in the comments that follow this piece in The Guardian.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Media stereotypes

The Guardian has been running some really useful material for ENGA2 recently. The links here relate to their coverage of research into newspaper front pages and how women are both represented in terms of their construction and depiction in news stories, but also in terms of their representation in the workforce of newspapers as journalists writing front page stories. To cut a long story short, it's pretty bad representation for both...

In this piece, the headline figures are that 78% of front page stories are written by men and 84% of those mentioned or quoted are male.

In this piece, the study by Women In Journalism is looked at in depth. They address the methodology used, the details of their findings and the bleak picture for women in the UK media.

*Thanks to Nikolai for the links.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Giving the old folks airtime

Habits of telephone use are changing, according to research carried out by the US media research organisation, Nielsen and covered in The Washington Post.

On the whole, the number of voice calls made and the length of the calls themselves, particularly among younger age groups (late teens to not me any more), are falling. Meanwhile, the older generations still seem to prefer the phone to the text message, but for how long?

Language is clearly being affected in different ways by advances in technology, with many arguments raging about the effects (positive or negative) of text messaging on literacy levels, but as with so many other things, phone use is a type of technology too. Perhaps it's because it's been around for so long that we forget it too caused genuine concern about what would happen to people's relationships and even the language itself.

Of course, mobile phones have changed the way we used to talk on landlines, because a) we know who is calling us (and therefore can avoid all the old-fashioned rituals of "Hello, you are speaking to Bartholomew Smythe-Gherkin; to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?") and b) we can talk nearly anywhere we like (apart from in Norfolk, where mobile phone use is viewed as akin to witchcraft).

But if mobile use is now changing too, what is it about voice calls (and that expression itself didn't really exist, as far as I'm aware, until video calls came along, since all calls were voice calls back then) that puts off younger people? Some talk about them as being more intrusive than a text message, others that they're less convenient. I know that I've never really liked talking on the phone, conference calls give me the shakes and I don't even want to start talking about Skype because it drives me to despair, but is this down to a lack of social skills or a justified belief that words come out better when texted on a phone? I don't know. Perhaps, in the near future, very few of us will talk at all on the phone and all communication will be via messages. Anyway, go to go now as I need to give my mum and dad their weekly call.


There's more discussion of the two-way traffic between British and American English in the New York Times this week, including some insightful comment from linguists. Anglocreep is a word for the gentle drift of British English terms into the US English vernacular - words like cheers for thank you, mate for friend, ginger for redhead - and it's viewed with the same ambivalence and sometimes outright hostility as American English is in the UK.

We looked at the rising phenomenon of Britishisms here, but it's also been covered since then by The Sun and The Daily Telegraph. This is all good stuff for AQA A's ENGA3 unit, especially the World Englishes section. Have a look at other releavnt blog posts by clicking on the labels below (e.g. ENGA3, American English and World Englishes). Toodle pip, old beans.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Everyday sexism

In looking at language and representation, we've started to think a bit about the links between language and gender: how language often reflects historically sexist attitudes while also constructing (or reconstructing) those same attitudes. Many of the comments in class along the way have treated sexism or patriarchal attitudes as things of the past, old-fashioned views held by long-dead men, but this disturbing article about the kind of everyday sexism experienced by university students shows that while the sexism still exists it has just shifted its frame of reference.

It's the almost normal way in which slut-dropping, rape and hoes are talked about that makes this so wrong. If the words are treated in such a casual way, doesn't that also suggest that the attitudes are pretty casual too?

There's more about this on the Everyday Sexism Project's site.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Help make the dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary is appealing for help from the public in tracing the earliest appearances of words. What they're looking for is documentary evidence of when a word was first used, so at the moment they're after evidence that disco appeared before September 1964, FAQ earlier than 1989 and a few others.

You can read more on the OED blog or follow them at @OEDonline to find out how it is progressing. Apparently, they've already found an earlier appearance of FAQ just today.

Over two and a half million 'faggots'

We've started to look at language and representation in AS Language recently, so this link might be of interest to you. It uses Twitter to track the use of potentially homophobic language items, such as dyke and faggot.

It's pretty shocking that so many casually abusive words are chucked around so frequently, but is it the whole story?  As we've been looking at with racist and sexist terms, part of the consideration we need to give to some of these words is the context they're used in. For example, slut might mean one thing when shouted across a street or posted by some sleazy internet troll, but might mean something completely different when used in banter with another female.

We've already seen that the n-word (or nigga) mean different things to different people in different contexts, so is a blunt tool like counting the number of times a word is used really going to reveal much abut homophobic attitudes? It's a start, at least, so might then allow a more detailed analysis of the contexts and meanings in each case.

There's more about the real-time Twitter feed here, where you can really look at each tweet as it appears, and yes, most of them are from teenage boys abusing each other or talking rubbish. The questions then might be, does it matter? Is anyone really offended by it? Why is it seen as acceptable for these words to be chucked around with such gay (sorry) abandon by some of these people? Does it reflect a deeply ingrained anti-gay attitude, or just a casual attitude to what words mean and how they can harm?

Some of these questions are addressed here on the No Homophobes site, and it makes for a provocative and interesting read.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Teenage dirtbags

The representation of social groups is an area that we're starting to look at in AS English Language this week, so I've been gathering together texts and extracts on different groups to start some discussion. One good area of study is how young people are represented in the media, so this piece in today's BBC News Magazine on the death of the teenage rebel is a good read.

Apparently, recent studies suggest that young people are now less likely to smoke, drink and take drugs than ten years ago. So, why are young people still almost universally slated in the mainstream media?

A study by the children's charity Barnardo's back in 2008 addressed some of these concerns and you can find some of the relevant blog posts about their study and campaign here (along with some older posts about attitudes to young people).

You'll also find these articles, which we'll be looking at in class over the next few weeks, go some way towards answering that question and are worth a read if you're planning ahead and thinking about your potential coursework project.

"Thugs consider ASBOs a diploma" - Daily Mail article
"We see young people as pestilent" - Tanya Byron in The Guardian
Tony Parsons on attitudes to young people

A noun phrase to end all noun phrases

Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour Party conference (of which there'll be more on this blog tomorrow), featured a cracking example of a super-long noun phrase for those of you who like that kind of thing.

Here we go... "Have you ever seen a more incompetent, hopeless, out-of-touch, U-turning, pledge-breaking, make-it-up-as-we-go-along, back of the envelope miserable shower than this prime minister and this government?".

For this week's Haribo prize, what's the head word in the highlighted noun phrase? First person to post the right answer in a comment gets the prize.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Rules" rule, OK?

For those of you doing A2 English Language, the big debate between prescriptivist and descriptivist attitudes to language is a central plank of the course. The terms themselves are a little problematic, as you'll no doubt see for yourselves as the course goes on, but in this article from the New York Times last week, two writers from opposing sides - Robert Lane Greene and Bryan A. Garner - slug it out, arguing about the "rules" of English and how we should  talk about usage. Can a native speaker ever really be "wrong", or should the "rules" always reflect the usage?

It's a well-argued piece, on both sides, and offers plenty of ammunition for those of you putting together Language Interventions for coursework, and material for discussion in class as we move into ENGA3 exam topics later in the year.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bitch bad, woman good

Rap's never really had a good reputation for its representation of women. Bitches, hos, big booties bouncing and lollipops getting licked seem to be where it's at for a lot of rappers. But Lupe Fiasco isn't your average rapper and his latest album features a track called Bitch Bad, which pulls apart the construction of the word, its representation of women, its reflection of a materialistic society and its influence on malleable minds.

You can see the video here if it's not embedded above, and read the lyrics here. It's worth looking at how he pulls apart the assumptions and associations around the word, as it's a key part of what we do on ENGA2 when we look at the Investigating Representation task for coursework. Areas like how gender, ethnicity and sexuality are constructed and reflected through language are central to the unit, and it's worth spreading your net wide to gather language examples to focus on and write about.

If you're interested in other areas around words related to gender, try looking for material on this blog last year about Slutwalks. If the language used to describe disability is more your thing then you may want to look at the arguments here about the words mong and spastic.

The Brits are Coming

The language traffic between the USA and UK is often portrayed as only working in one direction. We get hos, feds, bling, couch and candy while they get Harry Styles and his semi-pubescent chums. But is it really one way traffic? Not really, according to various linguists and language watchers.

The BBC has just run a feature on what they call the Britishisation of American English (note the stiff upper lipness of their -isation rather than limp yankee -ization) and it would appear that some speakers in the USA are picking up terms from here and sprinkling them into their vernacular, without so much as a by your leave or missing you already. So words like snog and ginger have crept up the usage charts (and may even rival 1D's chart positions soon) and fixed expressions like go missing and chat up are also gaining popularity.

The usage graphs themselves are interesting things to have a look at because they show the increasingly scientific approach taken to language study that the digitisation of newspapers and books has given us. Plus, they reflect the influence of UK cultural exports like Harry Potter (and perhaps more precisely, in the case of ginger, Ron Weasley).

Of course, the media love to stoke friendly rivalries between the old colonial masters and their upstart offspring, with articles like this by Matthew Engle kicking off some hardcore peeving over the infectious disease of American English (which we covered on this blog here), but the picture has always been more varied than the caricatures suggest, and with linguistics now taking a much more nuanced turn towards language as performance and a marker of identity rather than simply reflecting fixed categories we fall into (British, American, male, female, working class, posh etc.) it's clear that more attention can be given to individual reasons why some British words might take off in the USA and others not.

All of this is a topic that we'll cover in ENGA3 as part of World Englishes and Language Discourses, because it's a debate about language use and its users that provokes so many different opinions. In the meantime, before we get to studying this in class, I'd recommend Lynne Murphy's excellent blog Separated by a Common Language and reading a bit of David Crystal's Encyclopedia of the English Language to see how American English developed its own distinct identity and continues to be the dominant English form spoken all over the world.

Edited on 28th September to add:
The Guardian have also run a comment piece on this topic today.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Say Yah to the Rahs

It's that time of year again, when new students are starting to flock to universities for their two weeks of seminars before it's reading week and then Christmas holidays, so it must also be time for the student-friendly Guardian to run its dictionary of student slang. So, here it is.

Given that today's students are from a much more representative demographic than twenty or thirty years ago, the slang is not really limited to just the upper middle classes any more, and now draws on much more eclectic influences - Caribbean patois, US teenspeak and TOWIE - so it could be argued that what students speak isn't really their slang at all. Then again, there are some examples - BNOC and chundergrad - which seem fairly restricted to campus life, so do seem to fit a strict definition of student slang.

And while we're on the subject of slang, a really excellent new book called The Life of Slang: A History of Slang by Professor Julie Coleman of Leicester University, is definitely worth a read for anyone thinking of investigating the topic further. It's funny, informative and frankly possesses a level of bare teckers that is hard to match in this field.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tory toffs, plod and plebs

Tory Minister, Andrew Mitchell is in hot water over his alleged outburst to police officers at the Houses of Parliament. It is reported that he swore at them, using the dreaded f-word, but much worse than that for a Tory government consisting largely of ex-public schoolboys who are generally seen to be aloof, arrogant and out of touch (even by their own nannies), he called the police plebs. Worse than the f-word? Really? Well, it depends on what you think of its significance. Some describe it as "politically toxic".

Plebs is a back-formation from a Latin word plebeian used in ancient Rome, basically meaning "of the common people" as opposed to being from the ruling aritocracy. As this BBC News Magazine article explains, the word gained currency in British public schools which often modelled themselves on ancient classical tradition and in the class divide that such an education created.

Given the timing too - in a week where two police constables were shot dead in what appears to have been an ambush in Manchester - it's not really a great week for a Tory MP to belittle the men and women who are protecting them and shows again the power of language to reflect social attitudes when it's used.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

#TOMA, ITKers and WUMs

If you are unlucky enough to be a fellow Leeds United supporter, then this summer will have introduced you to a whole new world of anxiety, anticipation and moments of near-euphoria followed by crushing disappointment. And that's before you even go to a game, watch Ross McCormack get scythed down,  or see the "highlights" of another dreary defeat on TV. For this summer has been #TOMA summer.

TOMA? Yes TOMA. Take Over? My Arse. With the proposed takeover of Leeds United by a Bahraini/Saudi Arabian consortium now into its well over one hundredth day of negotiations and no deal with megalomaniac owner Ken Bates yet signed, Leeds fans have become used to TOMA fever. It consists of dripfeeds of information from ITKers (In The Know people) on WACCOE (We Are the Champions Champions Of Europe chat forum) who often turn out to be WUMs (Wind Up Merchants), campaign updates from LUST (Leeds United Supprters Trust) and the constant hitting of F5 (refresh).As well as nail-biting tension (and inevitable despair) it's been a hotbed of linguistic innovation.

The flexibility of initialisms and acronyms gives language the chance to express ideas very quickly and it's a really productive area of word formation. What's also interesting from a linguistic point of view is the ones which stay in use and the ones that don't. Will we still be ROFLing and LOLing in ten years, for example? Do we even realise that Radar, Laser and Scuba were once acronyms? And will we ever find out who was really ITK and who was just a WUM?

A f**king swearfest

As mentioned a few weeks back, Lexicon Valley is a regular language podcast from Slate magazine. The latest edition is great if you're a fan of profanity, obscenity and vulgarity. And let's face it, if you aren't, you really should be, you dumb fu....sorry, getting carried away there. In this edition, the guest linguist is Geoff Nunberg who talks at length about the word asshole: where it comes from, what it means and who can be one.

He argues that a child can't be an asshole; only a person who knows better can be one. But what is an asshole? It appears to be a term applied to someone (almost always a man) who is arrogant, unpleasant, and showing an overblown sense of entitlement. Does it really have anything to do with the body part it refers to? Well, yes and no. And that's why the word is so interesting, because like so many other swear words, it appears to have slipped its mooring and drifted into completely new territory, referring to things it never used to.

But does it have the same meaning in the UK? To me, it seems to be a specifically American term and  - as this article makes clear - ass and arse aren't quite the same thing, meaning that asshole and arsehole aren't necessarily the same thing either. After all, why say asshole when you can say dickhead, which is a much more British word?

Anyway, swearing aside, the interview sheds plenty of light on how swearing is used, its roots in culture and society and people's attitudes to it. Go on. Don't be an asshole. Give it a listen.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

ENGA2 Investigating Representation

I'm going to be teaching the investigation coursework part of the AS course for the first time in a few years, so have been looking around for ideas that might work. What I am hoping is that this post can become a bit more collaborative than the usual ones, with students and teachers suggesting topics and approaches that have worked for them. So, if you are an A2 student who did an interesting topic last year or a teacher of the A spec who has some good ideas about topics from work you've set/seen, please add your comments.

Conscious of the fact that lots of students have gone for celebrity profiles in the past (representation of individuals) and that these are often a bit pedestrian, I've tried to suggest a couple of issue-based topics below, so any other ideas would be very welcome.

Page 3
Institution: is it an institution? Should it even exist?
Issue: sexism, pornography
Social group: women and representation of gender
Suggested text to start off with: Deborah Orr in The Guardian

Event: comparison of reporting on event then and now, with The Sun's coverage being of particular interest.
Social groups: football fans, Liverpool fans/Scousers (regional stereotyping)
Institution: the police
Suggested texts to look at: Neil Warnock on memories of the disaster, The Sun's front pages then and now:

Football fans
Following on from coverage of the Hillsborough inquiry, it could also be worth looking at changing representations of football fans, from the hooligans of the 1970s and 80s through to the prawn sandwich munchers of the 2000s.
Social group: football fans
BBC News magazine article on this
Football Supporters Federation - representing fans

Some other possibilities (updated Friday 28th September):

Pussy Riot
Event: jailing of the band
Individuals: as band members
Issue: protest, feminism
Social group: women, activists
There are some sharply contrasting representations of them in the media too.
The Economist covers it here.
Guardian comment piece.
NME interview with jailed band members
Bad taste tweets?

Jeremy Forrest and Megan Stammers
Perhaps a bit too soon to look at this dispassionately, but now they've been found (apparently alive and well), this case and its coverage - particularly the representation of Forrest in the tabloid press and in interviews with his parents - could be a very interesting one to explore.
This link to the press conference where his parents spoke might be a good place to look.
The Sun's coverage a few days into the story.
Event, Individuals, Social groups, Issues could all be covered here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tweeps, LOLZ and the continuing bastardisation of English

Following on from the Collins new words post earlier today, here's one on August 2012's new additions to Oxford Dictionaries.

While the words aren't a great surprise to anyone who has kept their eyes and ears open over the last year or two (tweeps, ridic, hat tip and Essex's very own, vajazzle) the discussion that follows them in the comments section provides a nice snapshot of some of the arguments that rage about language usage (arguments we will look at when we do ENGA3 Language Discourses and ENGA4 Language Interventions).

Doughnut Guy is upset about the continuing "bastardisation" of the English language, while John List sees it all as part of language evolution, and the role of the dictionaries as being to reflect what's being written, said and tweeted out there in the real world.

So, in weeks to come we'll start this year's Heated Debates and kick off with the topic of new words, dictionaries and the changing face of English...

No, Chomsky

For a long time, Noam Chomsky has been viewed as one of the big hitters in linguistics. It's probably fair to say that he's one of its most influential thinkers, widely admired for his groundbreaking ideas on language acquisition and what he came to term Universal Grammar. But in recent years there's been a growing body of research to suggest that his nativist approach to language acquisition - that all children acquire language through an inbuilt ability to relate universal rules of grammar to the language that is used around them - is on shaky ground.

The argument gets quite heated (and frankly, for me at least, almost completely unfathomable) in some places (like the comments that follow this Geoff Pullum THE review of a recent Chomsky publication) and I don't have the intelligence to follow most of it, but this is an interesting and readable account of some of the recent criticisms of Chomsky's approach by Dorothy Bishop on her blog and worth a read if you've already studied child language acquisition at AS/A level or are interested in finding out more.

There's also a really good chapter in the forthcoming EMC Language handbook, written by Paul Ibbotson of Manchester University, on new approaches to child language research.

Dollops of proper rustic hipsters

Here are two quick links to things which might tickle your fancy. First, here's a list of words nabbed from Luke Wright's twitter feed, allegedly promoted in Jamie Oliver's restaurants to sell his food. Now, I'm a big fan of Jamie - to my mind, he's a national treasure with his fight for decent school meals and his obvious dislike of Michael 666ove - but aren't these words a bit daft? Presumably they fit with his image of effortless, commonsense cooking, but "proper rustic" sounds a bit like a dry biscuit or a six-fingered Norfolk farmer.

The second link is a Hipster translator. We may admire their Hoxton fins from a distance and their ridiculous trousers, but hipsters speak the same language the world over: and here you can learn what it means.


Sorry for the lack of regular blog updates since June. I spent most of June and July marking exams and moderating coursework, went on holiday to Italy (lovely, thanks) and then was busy writing and editing some stuff. If you want to read/buy any of it, check the sidebar "Books wot I have writ" and you can help feed my family (and keep me in red wine and Dime bars).

Regular service now resumed, I hope :-)

Texting does/doesn't affect* kids' language skills

*Delete as appropriate

Two conflicting studies have been published about the perils or potential of texting. In one US study, it is reported that "Tweens who frequently use language adaptations - techspeak - when they text performed poorly on a grammar test", and the summary on Science Daily suggests that this might be down to young people's exposure to, and then imitation of, abbreviated grammar and spelling in texts. There's more on the study here and here.

Elsewhere, it was reported in The Daily Telegraph that researchers from Coventry University (who have been studying texting and literacy for a good few years now) had looked at "the spelling, grammar, understanding of English and IQ of primary and secondary schoolchildren and compared those skills with a sample of their text messages" and found "no evidence of any significant relationships between poor grammar in text messages and their understanding of written or spoken grammar". This ties in with their previous findings (search under texting labels on this blog for links to their work) and seems to flatly contradict the findings of the Penn. State study above.

Bang tidy and totes amazeballs

Collins Dictionaries have been looking for innovative ways to develop their dictionary and have taken to crowdsourcing new entries over the last few months (as reported back in July in The Guardian). The latest version of their online dictionary can be seen here and includes 86 new words (or word senses) out of about 4000 entries submitted. Among the new words are amazeballs, hangry and K-pop, terms that we never knew we needed, but that will go on to become massive (or not, if you believe this cartoon)

You can still submit suggestions to them through this link. I'm waiting for my suggestion of wi-five to be approved.

The mainstream press have responded with various articles, including this one from The Daily Telegraph and this one from The Huffington Post which also poses the question, which words do we want to get rid of? You can submit your suggestions after the article.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Lexicon Valley podcasts

While I'm planning some longer posts to cover lots of different English Language stories that have happened over the summer, here's a quick link to a really great resource from Slate magazine in the USA. It's a regular podcast called Lexicon Valley and it covers different areas of English usage and debate, with discussions about Black English, forensic linguistics, gender and many other topics. They're definitely worth a listen and could be a handy teaching resource too.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Normal service will resume soon

Apologies for not updating the blog since the A level exams. It's been a very busy summer with lots of work and children to look after, as well as an enforced period of no wifi access (aka a summer holiday). I'll start posting again regularly when the new term begins.

Monday, June 11, 2012

ENGA3 June 11th - good luck

Good luck to all of you taking the ENGA3 paper today (and to any ENGB3 B spec people who also use the blog).

Here are some final tips:

  • If a topic comes up that looks unfamiliar, don't panic. Use the approaches and frameworks you would normally use on the texts that you're given and make use of the material within them.
  • Remember to evaluate and critique different models. The top bands of AO2 (20/45 marks on each question) require you to weigh up the different concepts, theories and case studies, rather than just report them.
  • You can talk about attitudes to language in both sections of the paper, but remember that in section B ideas about language are being foregrounded in the texts themselves (i.e. section A often shows you language being used, while section B shows you language being discussed and debated).
  • The more detail you offer in your analysis the higher your AO1 mark. If something is a noun, think about the type of noun. If something is a clause or phrase, try to add more about the type and/or function.
  • Ideally try to follow an analytical sentence model: identify something to discuss; label it linguistically; illustrate it precisely; explain its effects; link it to wider patterns in the text and to what the rest of the text is about.
  • Always remember to read the texts carefully before you start writing. Think about what each text is about and how it is addressing the subject matter. Particularly in section B, think about writing a short (two sentence) summary of the texts in which you tell us what the texts are about, the ideas they are putting forward and the stance of each writer.
  • Make sure you use your time effectively. AO2 is worth 40 of the total 90 marks on this paper, so don't run out of time before hitting the second bullet point of each question.
Good luck.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

ENGA3 June 2012 - revision pointers

There's plenty of material on this blog about how to approach the ENGA3 English Language exam, so I won't be putting much new material on here before Monday's paper. Instead, I'll link here to the previous posts and just add a couple more things about possible topics and what can be done to revise them between now and Monday.

Here's last June's post about Language Discourses. Since then, we've had two more ENGA3 papers.

  • June 2011: A problem page response by Virginia Ironside to a worry about class and accents, and an advertisement for an “accent reduction” company.
  • Jan 2012: Newspaper articles about Political Correctness.
Using last year's revision post as a starting point, here are the topics that are likely contenders, but remember that anything could appear - even a topic that's just been set - so it's always best to make sure you're covered on every topic!

World English/es. This hasn’t cropped up yet and could appear as it’s on the spec. What could be asked about this? Well, there have been quite big debates around the world about the role of Standard English and whether we should be imposing World English (one variety) or showing awareness and understanding of different varieties (World Englishes) and how English changes thanks to local language and culture. There are also several interesting historical angles about why English has spread and whether this will continue in the same way. A particular variety might be looked at – American English, Australian English etc. – so be prepared to discuss specifics too. World Englishes have cropped up in Section A - a South African newspaper, some Jamaican-influenced English and a Hinglish text - but not in Section B.

Gender and variation. This has appeared once, but only in a January paper (where the number of students sitting the paper is very small). The big debates recently have focused on those who argue men and women are hard-wired to use language in certain ways and those, like the mighty Deborah Cameron, who argue that gender is just one factor among many many others. We've covered this topic in detail on this blog, so try some of these links for help:

Changing varieties of English. There’s been quite a lot of discussion about how regional accents are thriving and local accents dying out, as well as new ones (like MLE/MEYD/”Jafaican”) emerging, and whether this is a good or a bad thing. Dialect Levelling might be an interesting one too, because there have been many articles about the supposed death of cockney and the rise of regional super-dialects.

The Queen is Dead

Just as the British monarchy celebrates another milestone, with Her Maj reaching 60 years not out, the society that claims to defend her English - the Queen's English Society - pops its clogs. And of course, being her subjects, it's our language too. A bit like Buckingham Palace...which we're not allowed into and all those Crown Estates...hmm.

So, should we be worried about the language now that it's not protected by the QES? Well, no. And Paul Kerswill explains why, in The Sun (of all places). Kerswill talks about the changing English language and the role of prescriptivists or preservationists like the now-defunct QES, and comes to the conclusion that while the individual members might have been well-meaning, the society itself has outlived its usefulness.

Elsewhere, you can see arguments from the following:

  • Margaret Reynolds in The Guardian who says that "cultural policing (even of this kind) is always dangerous, because it says that I am right and you are wrong"
  • Geoff Pullum on Language Log who rips apart the QES's own use of English, saying "These people cannot competently punctuate their sentences according to the standard rules. Why were we supposed to take them seriously as guardians of our native language?"
  • Guy Stagg in the Daily Telegraph who is sad about the QES's demise and says that organisations like them are "...are not trying to limit the language, but enrich it". 
  • The professional contrarians over at Spiked Online, led by Brendan O'Neill argue that standards are good, because they allow you to communicate with more people in order to overturn the system: "There is revolutionary potential in having everyone adhere to the same linguistic rules; there is only the dead end of division and parish-pump platitudes in the promotion of a linguistic free-for-all in which eevn spleling doens’t matetr".

As well as being an interesting story in its own right, it's great material for ENGA3 Language Discourses (and for ENGB3 Language Change).

Edited on 07.06.12 to add Spiked Online link.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Totes droolworthy new words

Lots of new words have been added to Oxford Dictionaries Online. You can look them all up here and find out more about what they mean and where they come from. But why no Amazeballs?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Texting style

Today is a great day for English Language stuff in the news and on the web. Then again, maybe every day is a good day for this kind of thing, but I've got some time to read about them now my AS students have gone.

Anyway, here's Stan Carey posting about text language and describing it, interestingly, as "an ‘active frontier’ and the innovation and flux it illustrates is a sign of linguistic health So long as communication is effective and young people learn or are taught when texting style is inappropriate there is no call for alarm Despite occasional panic texting is not ruining language – it’s just another way for social creatures to be social".

Slamming the door on -gate

The suffix -gate has been added to random words to suggest a scandal for some time now - 1972, to be exact - and some people have had enough. For me, pastygate was a gate too far, but for others it might have been bigotgate or cablegate (covered here in 2010).

This article in the Chicago Tribune argues that it's time to shut the gate for good and find new ways of labelling scandals.  It's also good for those of you looking at Language Change and how new words enter the language, so helpful for ENGA3 revision.

Children's language reflects cultural shifts

In a gift to all ENGA3 (and ENGB3) students everywhere, today's Guardian runs a story about the changing language of Britain's tweenagers, and it includes references to not only change but gender and age-related variation and the influence of American English.

Read more about it here.

Edited on 29.05.12 to add:

When posting this I didn't realise that the Daily Mail had also covered the story in a much less nuanced way. Their feature- by Matthew Engel, a man with anti-American form - can be found here and is a great (as in deranged and crap) example of prescriptivist griping. It doesn't bode well that the headline uses the verb "swamping" to describe the supposed spread of American English into the UK.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ENGA3 revision: some links

Here are a few links to recent articles about different topics relevant to ENGA3.

@backwellengdept have provided this link to an article about World Englishes.
Professor Julie Coleman (whose book The Life of Slang is on my summer reading list) has written this short piece about 7 slang words.
Autocorrect is making us bad spellers, apparently from this article...
...or not, if you believe this take on the same story.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Goodbye ENGA1, Hello ENGA3

Now the AS exam paper is done and dusted (a decent paper? I think so...) we'll devote the time between now and June 11th to ENGA3.

I'll start posting some new revision material for this unit early next week.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

ENGA1: good luck

Good luck to anyone taking (or retaking) ENGA1 tomorrow.

If you have any last minute questions or worries that aren't addressed in the previous revision posts, post a comment here and I'll see if I can help. I can't promise an instant reply, but will try to respond today at some point.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

ENGA1 Language Development: quick revision ideas

There's not really much time to go until the exam, so I'll concentrate on a few pointers to help with this section and then point you towards relevant resources and previous posts.

First things first:
  • Only spend 5-10 minutes on the data question. It's worth 10 marks and what you need to do is pick out, quote and label 5 different features. That's explanations, no theories, no extra waffle. Make sure your 5 points are sufficiently different to allow you to get 10 marks (e.g. don't identify two examples of substitution and then label the other three as virtuous errors).
  • 5 bullet points/short sentences is enough!

Essay tips:

  • Answer the question! Don't expect to be able to roll out a prepared response and get good marks. Try to grapple with what the question is actually asking you: maybe define the terms of it in your own words, early on in your opening paragraph.
  • Use examples: you can even use the data from the first question if you can't think of other examples, but it's better to have a few of your own.
  • Integrate and evaluate different theoretical models. Examiners are keen to see students thinking about the pros and cons of different theories for the question that's been set.
Resources that might help:

Last year's (and 2010's) revision tips can be found here. They still stand.
Some helpful links to various snippets.
And some stuff on new approaches if you're feeling brave.

If you look down the right sidebar you can also download 4 theory sheets from my Twitpics.

Monday, May 14, 2012

ENGA1: quick revision tips 4

Today's post on ENGA1 (coming up this Friday - yikes!) is about addressing meaning in the texts you analyse.

Recent principal examiner reports have made the point that as students get better at discussing language features and mode, meaning still seems to be a problem for many people. And that's not necessarily a big surprise. Given that you're probably primed and ready to pick out lots of language details and link them to mode, it's often easy to forget that the texts themselves mean something and represent ideas, people, events in particular ways. In many ways it's less easy to prepare for this AO.

But some ideas that might help are as follows:

  • As you're using your 15 minutes of reading and annotating time, try to summarise, in 25 words or fewer, what each text is actually about and what it is saying about that topic. Imagine you were being asked by someone "What have you just read?": try to think of what you would say. "Oh, it's an article about higher education that's trying to persuade you that university is a good thing," might be your response.
  • How is the subject matter being represented? You will also have done the ENGA2 unit in your AS year. Think about what you have learnt about representation. Language choices shape our perception of issues, events, individuals and institutions. What clues are there in the language about the viewpoint or perspective being taken? This could range from quite obvious points about adjective use to more subtle points about the passive voice being used to hide agency (e.g. "The use of mobile phones has been banned in this college." Banned by whom?) or nominalisation being used to turn a  verb process (e.g. dropping out of university) into a state of affairs or even a person, i.e. a noun (e.g. someone who has dropped out is referred to as a dropout).
  • Texts also reflect a degree of positioning on the part of the text producer (the speaker/s or the writer). How are the text producers representing themselves? How are pronouns used to position speakers or writers? 
  • If there is more than one speaker or writer, do they offer different perspectives? How do Text A and Text B differ?

If you're smart, you can weave points about meaning into your analytical sentences, rather than saving big chunks of your answer to deal with meaning, but it's also a good idea to allocate at least one paragraph to addressing meaning on its own and how the texts handle it in similar or different ways.

Tomorrow, it's time for some quick Language Development tips.

Friday, May 11, 2012


If there weren't evidence enough already that David Cameron is a prize chump - privatisation of the NHS, steering us into a double-dip recession, having a face like Iggle Piggle - the report on the BBC News site today that he thought LOL stood for Lots of Love should be the final nail in his coffin.

In his texts to former News of the World editor, Rebekah Brooks, it is claimed he signed off with LOL until it was pointed out by a flunky that it meant Laugh Out Loud.

And this man is supposed to be running our country. ROFLMAO.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Language Wars - more skirmishes

As previous posts on this will no doubt reveal, this blog is a big fan of Henry Hitchings' The Language Wars. It's a great read for any student or teacher of English Language because it covers the areas we study and offers an erudite debunking of prescriptivist myths and pronouncements.

It's recently been published in the USA and has had a bit of stick from The New Yorker's Joan Acocella, who basically describes Hitchings as a hypocrite because he uses the "rules" in his own writing that he derides in the preachings of others. She says of the author, "Hitchings went to Oxford and wrote a doctoral dissertation on Samuel Johnson. He has completed three books on language. He knows how to talk the talk, but, as for walking the walk, he’d rather take the Rolls. You can walk, though".

It's a pretty flawed argument, as John E. McIntyre explains here when he says "Identifying a usage does not equate to endorsing it; and even if a usage is endorsed, that does not make in compulsory".

Whatever your take on The Language Wars, the whole spat is very much at the heart of the Language Discourses section of the ENGA3 paper, so well worth a look because of that.

Edited on 14.05.12 to add:
Language Log provides a great response to all of this (with some really good comments afterwards).

ENGA1: quick revision tips 3

Mode is the name of the game in this quick revision post.

The first section on ENGA1 is called Language and Mode, so you'd have to be a mug not to mention it, but what is it? At its simplest, mode is basically the way language passes from text producer to text receiver. So, that can be via the visual channel in the form of written texts, or the aural channel in the form of spoken texts.Simples, no?

But mode is also quite a slippery concept in that it relates to the ways in which we understand other ideas about how texts are produced and received, so we use the notion of the mode continuum to talk about different dimensions along which we can place texts. The clickable graphic of this can offer you a few pointers as to which dimensions are most relevant at this level. You might have used different terms for some of these (e.g. asynchronous for delayed, or synchronous for immediate) but it's all the same really.

How do you address mode in the exam? I'd suggest tackling it head-on at the earliest stage. You've probably been told how to structure an essay for this question already, but an approach I always like is to use the acronym GASP: Genre, Audience, Subject, Purpose. This allows you to think about the type of texts, who they're aimed at, what they're about, and what purposes they serve; so I'd suggest that mode is dealt with as a concept as part of Genre. For example, you could talk about Text A or B being an example of a spoken mode anecdote, a written mode piece of fiction, a blended mode Twitter timeline, etc..

The other thing about mode is that examiners are keen to reward students who see the subtleties of mode across different texts, or even within the same ones. I'm always banging on at my students about not treating texts as "uniform blobs" - homogeneous, unchanging, fixed and straightforward - but as places where different things can happen.

For example, in a spoken interaction it would be daft to assume that each speaker used the same degree of standard/non-standard language or to assume that a speaker was always being interactional rather than transactional, so the same is true to an extent for written texts: they may exhibit some features of one mode dimension at one point and then another aspect of that mode dimension at another point. A written text might start as a formal and transactional piece, but develop into something more informal and interactional. Look for shifts within texts, but also of course between them. Always provide evidence for your observations though, because you need to show the examiner that what you are saying is linked to actual examples of language in the texts, rather than vague generalities plucked from thin air.

The other interesting area of mode is, I think, that of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) where we see texts which are primarily visual in their channel, but quite spoken in their style: tweets, emails, online chat and message forums, and text messages perhaps. However, these texts pose their own questions and again examiners like to see students who can respond to what's put in front of them, rather than make blanket judgements about CMC texts always being (say) non-standard, informal and instant.

We see, for instance, a huge range of language styles in emails, depending on who has sent them, to whom they've been sent and what they're about. If you're a Colchester Sixth Form College student you'll soon be able to look on Moodle to see the excellent presentations done by AS classes where they pulled apart different emails to see how they varied in style and structure. If not, bad luck, but you can easily find a few examples of your own.

Overall, I think mode is a really interesting area of language to look at and one that allows you to open up texts for really careful scrutiny. It helps if you can combine discussing it with other ideas about the texts' contexts - very much as Marcello Giovanelli explained at the recent EMC Language conference - but it's also something that can be linked neatly to specific language features for AO1:

  • minor sentences used as a form of elliptical, abbreviated, rapid writing/typing (e.g. "Well done!" used in an email from parent to son about a new job)
  • syntactical reordering of spoken language to put emphasis on particular bits of a sentence (e.g. "That one I really like, that one I don't")
  • inclusive first person plural pronouns being used in written texts to create synthetic personalisation and position the text producer as a friend or ally ("It seems that we can't get enough of Kirsty Allsop")

The next post will be on meaning...

Omnishambles and others

We've already had plenty of new words appear this year and if you're looking for a few contemporary ones to spice up your ENGA3 Language Change/Discourse answers (should the need arise), here are some to think about.

What do they mean and what word formation processes have created them? Kerry Maxwell's Buzzwords on the MacMillan Dictionary site is always a good source of information on new words, so there are links to a few of them here:

Omnishambles (already consists of Granny Tax and Pastygate among other ConDem disasters)

Can you think of any other new words which have appeared this year? Add them as comments if you can.

Edited on 14.05.12 to add:

Here's Zooey Deschanel. She's adorkable, apparently. I tend to agree.

Chatterboxing has also had an impact this year: it's when you tweet while you watch something on TV. For example #TheVoice Why is Danny standing on a chair and pumping his fist? It's only the title music.

ENGA3 revision tips: dialogue and variation

Recent ENGA3 papers have included extracts of dialogue from novels such as Victor Headley's Yardie and B.K. Mahal's, The Pocket Guide to being an Indian Girl (as well as the usual transcripts, blogs and newspaper extracts) so it's perhaps a good idea to think about how non-standard English is represented in fiction. it's not only useful to acquaint yourself with the features and functions of different varieties of English but also some of the literary uses of it.

Beth Kemp, who has written lots of great stuff for this course and examines it too, has posted a few suggestions to her blog about texts that feature teenspeak, so you can have a look here at what she offers, but you could also have a look at texts like The Scholar or Society Within by Courttia Newland, East of Acre Lane by Alex Wheatle, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh or The Afterglow by Antony Cartwright, which feature (respectively) London and Black British English, MLE (with a touch of Ghanaian), working class Edinburgh English and Black Country (West Midlands) dialect. And they're all darn good reads.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

ENGA1: quick revision tips 2

Today's top tip post is a very quick one connected to AO1.

This AO assesses two things: your ability to use language frameworks and your ability to write accurately*. In this paper, you can be rewarded for simply picking out a feature and giving it the right label, and I think that's a good thing. Knowing stuff is important, and being able to apply your knowledge deserves reward. So, feature spotting language in the texts can actually get you quite a few marks for AO1 (which is worth 15/45 marks in the Language and Mode part of the exam).

In an ideal world, you would then make links between the language features you've noted and the modes of the texts, and their meanings, but picking out a few key language features which always get rewarded highly can help you score a few more marks. One really good thing about the ENGA1 mark scheme is how transparent it is. If you correctly identify a noun, that'll put you in the 5-8 band, but if you add more detail and label it as an abstract noun, that bumps you into the 9-12 band. The more detail you offer, the more marks you long as you are accurate.

Here are a few to look out for:

Modal auxiliary verbs. There are only 9 of these, so they are easy enough to remember. If you're not sure what they are or what they do, look here. The good thing about modals is that they often have a very clear effect, helping you link to AO3ii (meaning).

Minor sentences. These are sentences which aren't really sentences. They are often fragments of speech or elliptical structures like noun phrases that are punctuated like sentences (e.g. Nice one.) or clauses missing a subject (e.g. Going out later.). Again, these can be pretty easy to spot and are often good for linking to mode, be it CMC texts like Tweets, emails or text messages, or spoken texts in which utterances rather than sentences are the basic unit of meaning.

If-clauses (clauses of condition) and because-clauses (clauses of reason). Even if you're not entirely clear about clause level analysis, these types of clause are quite easy to spot and again, while they can give you lots of AO1 marks, they often link to meaning nicely too. If you want to find out more about these, check here.

 Next time, we'll look at Mode and why it's so important.

(*It's a bit of a silly combination, because they aren't really the same thing at all. For example, you could write really well, but say nothing interesting about the language of a text, or write really badly yet be full of insightful language points. But anyway, that's not AQA's fault; it's the fault of the people who made the awarding bodies jump through hoops to create new specifications.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

ENGA1: quick revision tips 1

This is the first in a series of very short revision tip posts on the AS exams for AQA A spec English Language.

Today, it's how to pick up marks by writing analytical sentences on the Language and Mode question.

This question is assessed using three Assessment Objectives (AOs):
  • AO1 Language analysis and written accuracy
  • AO3i Mode
  • AO3ii Meaning

If you develop a basic template for most of your sentences, you can get marks in all three AOs each time you say something. As you develop your approach, you can mix and match and start changing the order round a bit, adding a touch of stylistic variation.

The simple template is:
  • Identify a language feature to discuss (e.g. "Oh look, there's a modal verb...")
  • Label it accurately ("This is a modal auxiliary verb...")
  • Exemplify it ("The modal verb "must" is used in the first sentence of the article...")
  • Explain its effect and significance ("It is used to place responsibility and pressure on the reader of the text...")
  • Link to context and mode, if possible ("The genre of the piece - a written charity advertisement - lends itself to this use of modals. The text is designed to address the reader directly and place responsibility on the them to take action...")
The Principal Examiner's report for this unit often flags up points that need improvement each year, and one that is clearly important is how you talk about meaning, so when you analyse the texts for Language and Mode, try to think about what it is that is actually being talked about/written about in each text.

What is the subject matter and how is it being represented?
What language choices are being made to create this impression?
How are the writers/speakers in the texts positioning themselves in relation to the subject matter?
How are they positioning themselves in relation to the other participants/speakers or audience?

In other words, are there language choices being made which tell us something about what the writer/speaker thinks about (say) university, childcare, graffiti or (as in January 2012) the "Cultural Olympiad" (no, does exist)? Perhaps these language choices also tell us something about how we're being addressed and how the text producer/speaker wants us to view them.

We'll come back to this in a day or two as we move on to language featuresmode and meaning as separate AOs, but I hope that's at least a start for thinking about this question and how to answer it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

ENGA3 revision planning

I've also had several requests for help with revision for ENGA3, so I'll be running a few blog posts on this unit in the weeks to come.

But, given that you still have a good 7 weeks until the exam (11th June, I think) a couple of things you can do now are:

Read Henry Hitchings' The Language Wars (accessible, packed full of knowledge for your exam, and very funny too)!
Read Deborah Cameron's The Myth of Mars and Venus (as above)!

Go on: I guarantee you that these will help.

I'm also happy to take questions about this unit if you have anything you want to ask. I'll try to answer... 

ENGA1 revision run-in

With ENGA1 only a couple of weeks away, I'll be running a few revision blog posts to help students focus their minds on the exam and what's involved.

First off, we'll look at Language and Mode and some of the ways to pick up plenty of marks across all the AOs, through using analytical sentences. Then we'll have a think about the notion of mode itself - what it is and what to say about it - before moving on to AO3ii's focus on meaning and how to deal with it.

We'll get cracking on these tomorrow...

I'm also happy to take questions about this unit if you have anything you want to ask. I'll try to answer...

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...