Friday, May 22, 2015

Everybae People

The recent news stories about Scrabble are a gift to A2 students revising Language Change and Discourses, so have a look at these links for some good stuff on new words, and lots of "OMG, how can that even be called a word?!" reactions.

Here's Ben Farren of The Guardian listing lots of them.
Here's The Daily Telegraph looking at both sides: from Sue Bowman of the Association of British Scrabble Players who reckons it's "an abuse of the English language" to Gyles Brandreth, founder of the National Scrabble Competition who says "hang loose and get down on the street". Yeesh!
Meanwhile, Elaine Higgleton offers a staunchly descriptive defence of the new entries in this Radio 4 clip.

Language change hit the headlines a little while ago too in the aftermath of a thinly-disguised marketing exercise for a new Samsung phone, with several articles looking at how older generations claim to feel completely bamboozled about young people's new slang.

Here we have The Guardian explaining how language is changing faster than ever before.
Then, there's The Daily Telegraph saying the same thing in a slightly older and more baffled way.
The Daily Mail reckons it's all the fault of trades unions, gay marriage, Red Ed and immigrants (probably).
The Huffington Post keeps it fleek.

But just to prove that older people have always struggled with young people's language, here's Ben Zimmer looking at an American newspaper from 1911 saying nearly the same thing.

Thanks to various Twitter people for the links (@languagepigeon @agwilliams9 @tonythorne007 @bgzimmer)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Language Change: political correctness and technology

Recent Language Change questions on ENGA3 have featured pairs of texts (one old, one contemporary) on the same topic and offered you the chance to analyse how they use language to create different representations of whatever it is they are focusing on: rugby matches, the city of Bradford or coffee, in recent years. You are also expected to think about how the times the texts are from might have influenced their language. It's worth remembering though, that this isn't the only type of question for ENGA3, so you might want to think about some others. Remember too, that any topic that turns up in Section A of the paper can also appear on Section B as a Language Discourses question.

Political correctness (PC) is worth a look at as a language change topic. It's a movement to change language and redress some of the perceived inequalities in how language represents traditionally less powerful groups in society, but it's always controversial. A question on PC could offer you examples of words that have been changed to make them more inclusive and/or less discriminatory (like this) and perhaps extracts from a text like this one which offers a range of opinions and arguments about how homophobic language can affect people.

Even in Section A, it would be hard to avoid addressing attitudes to PC and there's no reason to steer clear of this kind of debate, because it is covered in the mark scheme. However, what you need to bear in mind is that it's Section B where you will find texts that offer opinions and discussions about language and this is where you can engage more fully with debates and discourses.

The following texts are worth a look to help you think about the arguments.
Gender-neutral language and arguments around PC
Simon Heffer gets wound up about PC (from this page)

Feminist academics upset the Daily Mail and its readers by suggesting that 'Miss' is less respectful than 'Sir'. Full story here.

The other kind of question that has cropped up before is where texts show evidence of the use of new language. Back in June 2011 the paper had an extract from a review of a digital camera. Here you would be looking at how new words are being used and how they reflect technological change (amongst other things), but as with any question on this paper, you're also looking at how language represents the topic, in this case, how the reviewer represents the digital camera. Don't forget either, that - as with the PC questions above or the ones on pairs of texts in recent years - any analysis of the text is also expected to cover how the writer represents him/herself and how s/he addresses the ideal reader. These ideas around positioning and stance are always worth mugging up on to help you secure AO3 marks, whatever kind of text you have to analyse.

It would be quite possible to get a question that had a text featuring a lot of slang and/or new words from popular culture, so you would apply the same analytical skills but perhaps focus in BP2 on a few other areas of language change. Have a look at these examples of news pieces on emojis for some ideas about this.
Emojis on the up
Emoticons are changing the language

As with PC, it's quite possible you could get a Language Discourses question on Technology and Language, so here are a few pieces to have a look at.
Is the internet destroying English?
A similar one from Steven Poole in The Guardian
Robert McCrum updates George Orwell's famous attack on poor English to cover the internet

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mode mini-moments mark 1

In the run-up to the ENGA1 exam in a couple of weeks, here's the first in a short series of short posts on Language and Mode. Today it's about Mode...

What is mode? If you can't answer that question by now, I'd respectfully suggest that you should do some basic work on the topic. After all, the first part of the paper is called "Language and Mode", so you might be advised to understand what it's all about.

So, what is it? Mode, on a really basic level, is how a text producer conveys something to a text receiver. The text producer could be a person writing, texting, tweeting, talking face-to-face or telephoning and the text receiver could be one person or a much bigger audience. So, the mode part of this is what is in the middle - how it gets from A to B. Historically, mode has been separated into spoken and written forms, based upon the channel through which the text is received (visual - i.e. read or auditory i.e. heard) but that's too binary, so the way we generally conceptualise mode for this course is along a continuum. This approach owes a lot to the linguists Doug Biber and Dick Hudson who have both written about the ways in which certain texts exhibit particular mode characteristics or dimensions.

Jarvis Cocker demonstrates his knowledge of 2nd person
pronouns & multi-modality through gesture
More recently, a wider view of mode has been suggested (by, among others, Gunther Kress) in which mode does not apply simply to speech and writing but to other forms of meaning making too, such as gesture and images. This means that a written text with pictures might be seen as multi-modal, as would a spoken lecture accompanied by a power point and gestures (not the kind of gestures I am fond of making to my students to demonstrate first and second person pronouns).

So, if you think about mode early on when addressing the texts you are given in the ENGA1 exam, you can start to make some useful observations about the nature of each text before you start considering more familiar elements such as genre, audience, subject and purpose.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

General Dejection

You might have missed it, but there was a General Election last week. While many of us in Sixth Form Colleges are still weeping, wailing and gnashing our teeth - not to mention drowning our sorrows in red red wine - at the prospect of another 5 years of underfunding and fragmentation, at least the election gave us some good stuff to look at for language analysis. Every cloud has a silver lining...

Anyway, here's a quick round-up of things that you could look at for English language A level related to the recent campaign.

First off, it's the rise of the hashtag #Milifandom. For a while, it looked like people might actually vote for Miliband, and the rise of the Milifandom hashtag seemed to crystallise the feeling among a (clearly deluded, in hindsight) minority that the time of the geek had come. Obviously, it hadn't...

Accommodation was also under the spotlight: not the kind of accommodation that we need - you know, houses and stuff - but accommodation in the form of Howard Giles' Communication Accommodation Theory. A year or two ago, we looked on this blog at George Osborne's attempts to converge to working class speech but this time round it was Ed Miliband who was mocked for his apparent convergence to Russell Brand's Essex/mockney style.

Have a look at this piece which explains some of the background to the Milibrand interview and the ways in which such convergence can happen and is often viewed.

And in a separate article, David Shariatmadari looks at the glottal stop and its stigmatisation, making the following observation:

The glottal stop (more specifically, the glottalisation of “t”) is a feature traditionally associated with male, working-class speakers. But even as far back as 1982, linguist John Wells noticed it being picked up by young speakers of “prestige” British English – otherwise known as received pronunciation. It’s difficult to say exactly why that happened, but Labov’s idea of “covert prestige” makes intuitive sense. Some sounds, even though they’re generally regarded as markers of an “inferior” dialect, are nevertheless used to signal group membership, solidarity or cool.

Away from the two main male players in the General Election, Cameron and Miliband, the three female party leaders of the Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP attracted much media coverage. Was this the first election since Thatcher's in 1979 that would see women making a splash? Well, yes and no, Sturgeon's splash appears to have seriously dampened Miliband's chances of taking power or exerting any influence on a hung parliament, with the SNP butchering Labour in Scotland and then Labour failing to make gains in England.

But what about the speech styles of the female party leaders? Were these women breaking the mould of adversarial Punch and Judy politics by injecting some much needed co-operation and civility into the debates? 

Deborah Cameron, ace linguist and author of The Myth of Mars and Venus, looked at this with a sceptical eye in this really interesting piece about gender and the debates, arguing that much of the coverage of the three female party leaders has succumbed to tedious stereotyping:

The specific ways in which women are said to differ from men (more supportive and less aggressive, more into consensus and less into point-scoring, etc.) could come straight from the pages of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. These are hoary old gender stereotypes, which in other contexts feminists would decry as crude and sexist. Yet in the context of the election campaign they are being dusted off and trotted out as if they constituted a feminist argument. ‘Look, women are different from men, that’s why we need more of them in politics’. There is an excellent feminist case for equal political representation. So why use an argument whose basic assumption is that women deserve a place because they’re from Venus rather than Mars?

As she points out elsewhere in her article, female speakers aren't all the same:

Some differences among women are produced by the intersection of gender with other social divisions like ethnicity and class; others reflect variation at the level of individual personality or life experience. It’s true that ‘female politicians’ is a much smaller and less internally diverse category than ‘women’. Even so, it cannot be assumed that they have a single style of speaking. In fact, it’s obvious they don’t: even among the three female party leaders I've been discussing there are clear individual differences.

Perhaps what has shaped so much of this coverage of the female party leaders and their 'female language style' is the sheer novelty of seeing women in power, and that is hugely depressing in 2015. As much as I detest pretty much everything Margaret Thatcher ever did, I can still recognise that having a female Prime Minister was still a pretty big moment in history, but 36 years later there still hasn't been another woman PM and we are still short of equality for the sexes in parliament. 

So, even when things look apparently very different, they actually stay the same. Or get worse...

Women lead the way

Yesterday's Word of Mouth on Radio 4 had a really good discussion of how language change around the world - and not just in English, but other languages, including Arabic - is being led by young women. It's definitely worth a listen if you're revising gender for ENGA3 Language Variation or even Language Change and reasons for change.

You can find it here.

The focus on women as linguistic innovators is also picked up in this 2012 New York Times article, which suggests that features as diverse as vocal fry (or 'creaky voice'), high rising terminals and new slang are all driven by young women. It's not just in spoken language that women are having an impact; in this Slate piece from 2013, Amanda Marcotte looks at how language styles on Twitter are often related to gender and speculates on how this might lead to men adopting a more 'female' style (more emojis, ellipses and exaggerated punctuation).

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...