Sunday, March 28, 2021

Paper 2 Section A: marrying AO1 and AO2 in an 'evaluate' question for language change

In this new guest blog, Donal Hale takes a look at how he and his students deal with both the content and linguistic register needed for good 'Evaluate the idea...' answers in Paper 2 Section A. Donal is Assistant Subject Leader i/c KS5 English at Huntington School, York and can be found on Twitter here.

One of the issues that many students appear to face with the ‘evaluate the idea that’ question is: how do you ensure students still develop an argument, and sound like a linguist as they do so, when evaluating a viewpoint of language change, for instance? Especially without a data set to draw from (like in Child Language Development). Whilst the primary use of AO1 is to assess the structure, fluency and shape of the argument in this section of the exam, rather than analysing data, we do need to also ensure students are using subject/topic-appropriate vocabulary as part of this linguistic register to create a more convincing argument.

Although the majority of marks for this question (20/30) are for AO2, AO1, like much to the AQA Language specification is the bedrock to any decent evaluation of language study. So, how can we support students in a happy marriage of AO1 and AO2?

Perhaps a specific example might be useful to illustrate some hints and tips, so I will use the following question as the basis of my approaches to this section of the exam:

Evaluate the idea that language is decaying slowly.


Keeping evaluation at the forefront of all ideas

My first tip, which albeit may appear to be a very simple one, is to evaluate the proposed viewpoint very concisely, in a single sentence, before students zoom off and bring in the concepts and references (AO2) for their line of argument – in essence, ensuring they guide the reader in their development of an argument for AO1. For the question above, I may offer the following as an example of how they do this and ask them to reflect on how this aligns with their own views:

I maintain that language change is a neutral process, rather than a process of slow decay, that neither indicates evolution or deterioration. 

We then spend time unpicking what argument is being put forward here, and shaping their own argument around this (whether they agree or disagree!).

The next step concerns exemplification of this key line of argument i.e. what supporting evidence will we use to “prove” these ideas. To do this, I might offer some support to students’ thinking in the form of frontloading the ‘indicative content’ might be useful for this question, to act as a springboard for them to judiciously select what knowledge of language study can be drawn into this question. For example:

Students are likely to:

conceptualise nature and causes of language change as a process

explore views of language change (e.g. decay metaphors, evolution views, progress, functional theory etc) using specific examples

evaluate and challenge descriptivist stances

evaluate and challenge prescriptivist and decay views 

Students use this to then explore their class notes, and select what is most relevant in supporting them to answer this question – this, in essence, formulates their planning of their responses.

The missing bits: linguistic register

When I ask students to feedback their ideas based on what we have planned so far, it is always AO2 focused and centred on concepts and references that help shape of the debate, and it is rare that students support these ideas of, let’s say Aitchison’s ‘crumbling castle’ metaphor, with what we might term a linguistic register to reinforce their argument. This is fine, for now, I say, before I present this introduction that expands upon our singular sentence evaluation from earlier (which I underline below):

The English language is an entity that is continuously changing, and the notion that this process is one of decay is not new to discussions among linguists. The use of language can be an emotive issue, and those harbouring prescriptivist attitudes often attribute ‘language decay’ to societal changes, such as the behaviour of the younger generation and technology. Aitchison (1996) has categorised these prescriptivist views into three categories: the damp spoon syndrome, the crumbling castle view, and the infectious disease assumption. The crumbling castle view resonates most closely with the idea that language is decaying slowly, comparing English to a beautiful old building that is collapsing. Conversely, descriptivists may argue that language is evolving, and that changes only enrich it. However compelling either argument may seem, I maintain that language change is a neutral process, rather than a process of slow decay, that neither indicates evolution or deterioration. 

Students, broadly, are happy with this, and confident, until I ask the question:

How do we develop this argument cogently and still maintain a linguistic register?

Errrrr…

A happy marriage

I use my own metaphor to introduce a model paragraph regarding a ‘marriage’ of AO1 and AO2 to signpost to the students that they are not separate entities in evaluative questions, nor do you need a data set to develop a linguistic register (AO1) when shaping a critical debate using theories (AO2).

I use this model for this question, which I explain will be a main body paragraph within the whole essay response:

Moreover, a change that is occurring within the vocabulary of the English language is the use of portmanteau. For example, the blending of the proper noun ‘Britain’ and the simple present tense verb ‘exit’ forms the term ‘Brexit’, which expresses the idea of Britain exiting from the EU. This term has emerged as a neologism in recent years, after first being coined by Peter Wilding in a blog post (2012). The crumbling castle view dictates that portmanteaus indicate laziness, as they shorten a concept to make it easier to say. However, it has been suggested by linguists that ‘Brexit’ was central to ensuring the success of the Leave Campaign in the 2016 referendum; in this way, the portmanteau can be regarded as a powerful tool that helped to shape decisions of society. This concept is supported by Halliday’s Functional Theory (1975), which states that language changes to meet the needs of its users. The blend ‘Brexit’ was used by the Leave campaign as a psycholinguistic technique to attract support from voters, showing how it has functioned to meet the needs of the Leave campaign. Therefore, language change can be seen as catalyst of social change, rather than a sign of languor. 

AO1

AO2

We unpick this model and consider not merely what aspects of linguistic register the paragraph covers, but more importantly, how it connects and reinforces the AO2 ideas. Students pick out the moments they feel this occurs and we examine the relationship in greater detail. This helps sharpen their focus ensuring the fluency of their argument is inextricably linked to a linguistic register, rather than examining ideas as a psychologist or sociologist might do.

As you would expect, students then use the model as a style model to create their own paragraph that marries these two elements effectively. Before they submit this for feedback, I ask them to underline where the relationship occurs in their writing, and I focus my feedback on how happy the marriage is! 

Note: feel free to use your own metaphors for this.

Whilst deceptively simple, some might say, I have always found this highly effective. Indeed, as teachers this is fundamentally how we ensure learning takes place – making complex cognitive process seem simple and manageable to allow students to write essays with success.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Finding the ‘Meaning’ in Meanings and Representations!

In this second guest blog of the week, Mr McVeigh takes a look at how he approaches Paper 1 Questions 1 & 2 with his students. 

As a Linguistics graduate, I loved the part of my studies where you started to acknowledge language around us. I could no longer sit at a train station people watching. I was consumed by the way that words encapsulate our everyday lives, connect with us on so many levels and shape our thoughts and attitudes.

To me, Meanings and Representations is the aspect of A Level English Language that helps students to see the power of words; the careful construction of texts and the ability to influence society.

Within this short blog post, I am going to outline some of the approaches to single text analysis of the construction of Meanings and Representations that I have found useful over the past few years.

When I first begin teaching Meanings and Representations, towards the start of their A Level journey, I try to encourage students to reflect on the construction of texts. Simply by making judgements on the way that a range of different texts impact and influence the students, we start to explore the connection between our attitudes towards a text and the language used to convey that.

The main aspect of the single text question is to understand what is meant by Meanings and Representations. I define this as; what is demonstrated or highlighted from a text (Representations) and what can be inferred from the text/ what that text wants you to do (Meanings). Introducing this terminology is essential as I ask students to ensure they use both words within their written responses to clearly demonstrate to an examiner that they are reflecting the assessment expectations.

Students then need to understand language frameworks and levels. This aspect of Meanings and Representations is the most complex aspect of this question: students often feel overwhelmed with the precision of terminology required to reach the top band in their answers. To begin to introduce language levels, I tend to start by setting students a SATS test. This gives them an understanding of some of the expectations needed when analysing texts and also gives me an indication of support needed. 

Graphology, as a language level, tends to be something that students fall back on as a support. Although, I stress its importance, I encourage students to apply more grammatical and pragmatic comments to their essays to try to show a greater control over their analysis. Recently, I taught a lesson on clause types. We spent the whole lesson trying to familiarise ourselves with the way that different clause types are used within journalism. I can’t say we all had fallen in love with grammar at the end of the 60 minutes but it certainly has helped to see an increase in grammatical points being expressed in writing.

Once students have grasped language level analysis (this is by no means something that happens overnight!) I begin to teach the construction of analytical paragraphs. Often, I have to do a layered approach to language levels, building confidence throughout the units we study in Year 12, connecting meanings and representations-style texts to language discourses.

Prior to annotation and beginning the writing process, I ask students to contextualise the text by identifying the purpose, audience and form of a text (PAF). I then ask students to have this as their introduction to a Meanings and Representations question. This helps to strengthen the overall structure of writing.

My approach to Question One and Two for Meanings and Representations has been refined over the past few years of teaching. I like students to identify at least three representations. I normally say that the author is always represented within a text so that is always a good starting point. I then say to focus on layers within the issue being discussed in the text. E.g. if the text talks about the representation of women in an old advert you may talk about both how women are represented and how men are represented with strong contextual connections and comments.

To clearly demonstrate an understanding of representations, I ask my students to begin each paragraph with “the representation of ‘x’” and apply language levels to that representation. Originally, I used to ask students to take a language level per paragraph but felt that, by fronting representations, students had a tighter control over their overall structure and were able to be more precise with their language level analysis. 

I also encourage students to apply a range of language levels throughout. As mentioned previously, I place emphasis on inclusions of grammatical and pragmatic references but also encourage lexis and semantics for students who may not feel as confident applying more grammatical terms.

Having applied language levels to support the representation, students need to mention audience positioning. This is where they can connect the representation to the meaning. I ask students through questioning the following questions: “How does the writer position a reader to connect with this representation?” and “What meaning do you think they are conveying?”. This then builds the deeper analytical points needed to hit the top band answers. Audience positioning is also something that is frequently written in the AQA mark scheme so I try to encourage this phrasing being written alongside representations and meanings.

The last component of the paragraphs needed is to contextualise their exploration and connect back to the PAF stated previously. When exploring the older text, students can reflect on society at the time, similarly with the more modern texts, students can reflect on more pragmatic viewpoints that help to justify the meanings established.

Now that I am in my fifth year of teaching A Level English Language, I feel confident in this structure. My students have found the methods logical and apply these to essays and show a willingness to apply more complex linguistic features. I only hope that the next time they are sat at a train station, they too can no longer people watch!

If you wish to find out anymore from this strategy, please do have a look at the Teacher Guidance Pack shared on my Twitter account which provides an example paragraph to support.


Monday, March 22, 2021

Paper One: Section A - Trying Something Else

This is the first of a few guest blogs coming up this week, so thank you to all those teachers and linguists who have contributed their ideas and time. This one is by Neil Hutchinson, a teacher at Kirkbie Kendal School in the Lake District (on Twitter as @Hutchinsonnet). Thanks Neil!

In what has been a surreal and tumultuous ‘Endgame’ lead up to exam preparation with Year 13, like most schools across the country we are having to find our own way to assess our students in the face of cancelled exams. As a result of this we decided to make Paper One an integral part of this, as it does seem the bread and butter of English Language: the analysis of language and structure in unseen written texts has been something these kids have been working towards all of their lives in our subject. 

It is so important then that we constantly revise our practice to help them practise this skill. Twitter has a knack of placing you in the middle of a number of converging narratives when it comes to resources. Think of a shared universe of linguistic superheroes teaming up in one megablockbuster. So at the same time Dan posted this thread containing an article about an assault on a woman “on a path” (we’ll come to that later), another fantastic member of the linguistic twitter Avengers, Mr Crawford, whose superhero moniker is @MrCrawford9, posted this excellent entry on his own blog about a method of analysis he calls “Try Something Else”. 

I shamelessly adapted Mr Crawford’s idea in combination with the article posted by Dan, and so, like a low rent linguistic Thor (let’s face it I’m more like Falcon hanging on the cape tails of the enhanced) I am answering Dan’s call to assemble and sharing the outcome of this combination of ideas. 

I do encourage you to read Mr Crawford’s blog for a more detailed breakdown of the method but in short, I found that if you have students who want for a way in to the analysis of lexis and grammar (particularly grammar) in a given text, this works perfectly. If you have students who struggle to move beyond the obvious in terms of audience positioning, representation i.e. pre-modification and specific adjective choices writer’s make, this works perfectly. What Mr Crawford advocates is taking what, on the surface, seems a fairly innocuous sentence and making changes to it in order to draw attention to what was there in the first place. For example:

The text was taken from The Guardian, and was about the writer’s attempts to overcome her addiction to Diet Coke. I asked them to focus their analysis on the grammatical features of the text. We focused on the text’s sub-heading (known as a 'standfirst' in the media), which read:

 “I have been obsessed with the sugar-free soda since I was four, spending £500 a year on up to seven cans a day. This is what happened when I tried to quit.”

The students said that they had been able to identify grammatical features, including the use of present perfect tense, and adverbial and non-finite clauses, but that they did not know what to say about the text’s use of these features.

So, I asked the students to try something else. We swapped one of the words in the sub-heading:

“I had been obsessed...”

Now, instead of present perfect tense, we were looking at past perfect tense.

By focusing on the altered meanings, the student’s are now well placed to consider the original in a way which they may not have seen first time round. Aside from the advantages of this approach, I found it was also an excellent way to revise subject terminology, spot linguistic and thematic patterns and crucially to write a lot about a little - all essential AO1 goodness. 

So what I did was take the original headline in the article:

Teenage girl headbutts man after being grabbed on path

Not innocuous by any means, I know. In fact it was the justifiable criticism posted in response to this headline that makes this an essential piece of journalism for practising analysing representations. 

The first thing I had the students do was split their page into four quarters, putting this piece of text in the centre of the crosshairs. I then proposed the students re-write the headline in four different ways. At this juncture you can suggest they focus on using language to alter the representations or simply leave it as vague as “change the headline”. I did suggest they have a go at changing the grammar in at least one of their examples, again to move away from simply looking at lexical choices. 

 

Next I simply put some of their examples on the interactive whiteboard and modelled annotating and analysing. 

One example of a change was:
Man tries to grab teenage girl on path, receives headbutt

The first strikingly salient point in this student’s example (thanks Millie!) was the overall grammatical structure carrying a very “online” tone. The omission of a final coordinating conjunction in place of a comma followed by a final verb (receives) and indirect object (headbutt) is something we’re used to seeing pop up on our phones. But instead of dwelling on this we focused more on agency in this construction. The students suggested that in the first clause, the fact that the man is the agent of the verb phrase shifted the story to being about his crime and represented him as the wrong-doer. This formed a pattern with that second clause as “receives headbutt” almost removed the teenage girl as the subject and agent of the headbutt through the passive construction. The student in question said definitively she didn’t think the girl had done anything wrong and therefore wanted to suggest this in the headline. At this point we were able to go straight back to the original and looked more specifically at the agency. The students suggested that “Teenage girl headbutts man”, placing her as the agent seemed to represent her as the criminal in the story. And coupled with the violent nature of the verb “headbutt” this painted a very ugly picture of a young woman who had been attacked. Further to this, they similarly went straight to the second subordinate clause, like they did in the changed example, and suggested that “after being grabbed” similarly removed him as an agent in this assault, once again through its passive nature.

I mentioned pattern spotting was an area we wanted to revise and this method unlocked this perfectly. We went next to terms of address. Sticking with the changed example I asked why they stuck with “teenage girl” as the original did. The rest of the class suggested that in the changed headline the pre-modification of the noun with the adjective “teenage” in the changed headline represents her as brave and courageous in the face of the man’s assault. Indeed the juxtaposition between “teenage girl” and “man” demonstrates an unpleasant imbalance of power again representing him as an older criminal and she as a child victim. However, because the original seemed to offer a polar opposite set of representations, this pattern didn’t hold up in the original. Instead because the girl was being held up as the instigator of the incident by the BBC, “teenage” carrying now the socially negative connotations of “chav” or “delinquent”. This was a gift in revising pinning our analyses down to audience pragmatic awareness. They even paired these negative connotations with the traditional newspaper headline format (as opposed to the online style in the changed version) and suggested the target audience would be your older, more conservative reader of BBC news stories, who may hold more negative views about women. All agreed the BBC had a wide ocean of fans, so they let the linguistic construction of the headline guide them as to who, in that vast sea, would be drawn to the line cast by this headline. Going back to terms of address they were also able to suggest that the noun “man” in the original did not suggest an imbalance of power, as in the changed version, but instead through its lack of modification and dispassionate, bland and unemotive tone pointed towards his innocence rather than guilt. 



I think this was one of the more illuminating discussions in the lesson. The fact that the same set of lexemes can have polar opposite connotations depending on their position in a sentence and crucially, their presentation through the prism of contextual factors is AO1 and AO3 gold. 

Want more? Well let’s turn our attention to the verb phrase the student added. “tries to grab” rather than well...his possible role in her being “grabbed” in the original threw up some interesting discussion. Many said it makes the headline almost funny. I asked them if that would be true if it simply said “man tries to grab teenage girl”. They all agreed no. We go back to the pattern of the online tone that comes about with the inclusion of the last clause, “receives headbutt”. They suggested that because the “tries to” is there it makes him seem incompetent and someone who bit off way more than he could chew. Again emphasising her strength, her bravery. Celebrating her as a hero, not a victim. Placing it at the beginning gives the reader permission to laugh at this incident before we even find out about the headbutting, which arrives with a clunk at the end like the punchline to a very funny joke. How online in its patterning! These ideas are implied in the original. The story hasn’t changed. He tried to grab a girl, didn’t succeed and got his comeuppance. The class were actually horrified that the BBC didn’t have the nouse to take the same angle. 

So why didn't they? Well they decided, because it is 2021. And many still believe uppity women are perhaps getting a little ahead of themselves in calling for change. Remember contextually this story appeared in the same week as vigils were to be held in opposition to violence against women as a result of the Sarah Everard kidnap and murder. And we all saw how the status quo reacted there. Instead of seizing upon that and using this story as an opportunity to chime in with the chorus of women who have decided to stand up against injustice, the writer of this article instead simply replicated a thematic pattern when representing women: that they are to blame for their own abuse at the hands of men. Remember that’s men. Not “attacker”, a noun the BBC could have used. 

Finally in this changed headline, the student kept “on path”. Exploring this prepositional phrase in close detail revealed that both headlines seemed to highlight that these incidents of violence were occuring in open spaces, in public. Typical genre fair in newspapers is to feed into moral panics. The key difference being in my forward thinking student’s headline the message is clearly ‘women, watch out for men’ whereas the BBC seemed to be saying ‘men, watch out for teenage girls’. 

This wasn’t the end of the lesson. In fact this wasn’t the only headline we looked at. We then explored a couple more, constantly going back to the original and making informed judgements about the language used to create meanings and representations. 

The irony is if you click that link in the article now, the headline you actually get is:

Teenage girl fights off man who grabbed her on canal path

The next part of my lesson was focused on analysing what the BBC had changed it to and why. How they were now positioning us to feel about the girl (removed “teenage” eh? Hmm) and how they were positioning themselves as a voice in this debate. 

The first thing they noticed? The subordinate clause has been changed to a relative clause. Now the BBC were laying the blame squarely at his feet and coupled with the more politically motivated “fights off” as opposed to the violent “headbutts” (I know some still have issues with “fights” but that is a debate for a sequel perhaps), seemed to be reading the same script as the countless women protesting for the basic human right to walk down a canal path without the threat of being assaulted. The linguists won. Would my students have noticed a relative clause first time round? Honestly, I doubt they would have. Thank you Dan and thank you Mr Crawford. I encourage you all to try something else. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

More on MLE, MUBE and MBE

Just as a quick follow-up to the post on MLE discourses, you might find some of the following discussions helpful for the wider AO2 part of Section B Question 4. This is where you'd use ideas from language study - concepts, theories and research - to respond to the ideas raised in the opinion pieces you'd been analysing in Question 3. 

Rob Drummond on 'Multicultural British English'

QMUL's Linguistic Research Digest on MLE

I thought this was quite a useful paper too. It looks at students' attitudes to MLE and media representations of it. 



Discourses around MLE and youth language

 

We’ve been doing some work recently on possible Section B questions around Multicultural London English and attitudes to changing youth language and it’s a really productive area to focus on. One of the things that you might have noticed about Paper 2 is that the dividing line between the topics of Language Change and Language Diversity is fairly porous. I did a blog on the overlaps here and you might find it helpful to look back at that to see what I mean. 

MLE, you could argue, is both a change and a diversity topic. It’s a variety (well…there’s debate about that… maybe somewhere between a variety and a style) that’s happened/happening because of social change but it’s also something that’s changing all the time. In some ways, we might even argue that MLE is rapidly morphing into something new: Multicultural Urban British English, or just Multicultural British English. 

What makes MLE interesting as a Section B focus is that many of the discussions about it embody the discourses we often find around those for change and diversity in other areas – those of decay, pollution, invasion and decline – but the focus is intensified because of MLE’s very essence: it’s hybridity, its use by younger people and its multicultural nature. Even it association with London – increasingly seen by some on the ‘anti-woke’ right as being a kind of metropolitan city state, mired in immorality, crime and decadence and unmoored from the country it’s supposed to be the capital of – leads to some let’s say ‘interesting’ takes on it. 

If you’re looking for texts that represent MLE, Paul Kerswill – one of the linguists involved in tracing its development and coverage – has written this really excellent overview of how ‘Jafaican’ (MLE) came to be covered in the UK press. You can see more about this on the project page on MLE on the University of York’s English Language Toolkit pages. 

For suitable texts for Section B on MLE, here are a few that have worked well in the past and a few that could be edited to fit the wordcount:

Big Up MLE (New Statesman, 2017)
Is MLE ‘Bangin’ and ‘Greezy’ or just Jafaican? (Opportunistic website, 2020)Ghetto grammar robs the young of a proper voice (London Evening Standard, 2011)
Laziness is killing the magnificent English language, says James Delingpole (Daily Express 2016)

For linguists' input on MLE, some of these links should be helpful:


I'll add a few more suggestions over the next week or so, along with a question (or two) based on a few of these texts.



Friday, March 12, 2021

Analysing language change discourses for Questions 3 & 4: changing punctuation

While I'm on a roll, here's another pair of Section B questions based on some different texts. This time, the focus is on the changing meanings of punctuation and attitudes towards change. Like a few Section B questions, this straddles both diversity and change, so I think it's an interesting one. The use of online comments in response to the article as a Text B isn't a feature of any previous 7702/2 papers but was used once on an old ENGA3 paper on the previous AQA A spec, so I've considered it a suitable text for these purposes. 


There aren't any student responses to this question but if I get time I'll suggest a few angles that might be useful.


Text A is an article by Susie Dent from The Daily Telegraph in November 2020


Text B is a selection of online replies to the article posted on the same day.



Q3

Analyse how language is used in Text A (The Twitter row over full stops...) and Text B (online comments in response to Text A...) to present views about language change and punctuation. 

In your answer you should: 

• examine any similarities and differences you find between the two texts 

• explore how effectively the texts present their views.


Q4

Write an opinion article on views about language change. In your article you should assess the ideas and issues raised in Text A and Text B

You should refer to ideas from language study and argue your own views.

Responding to accent attitudes

This post follows on from this one where I set a Paper 2 Section B pair of questions based on the two texts here. My current Year 13 students did the Question 3 as a homework task and have given me permission to share extracts of their work, so thanks to them for writing such good answers and for agreeing to share their work. 





I’m not sharing their full answers as I think that’s a) a bit extra and b) slightly risky when there are centre-assessed tasks round the corner. So, I’ve selected what I thought were useful extracts to illustrate various aspects of the question. As ever, the comments I’m making are my own views and shouldn’t be taken as being official marking policy (whatever that is) or anything remotely ‘right’. I hope they’re helpful though and I’m happy to discuss them further via the EngLangBlog Twitter account.


Quick reminder:

Text A: Oh Come off it, France. Laughing at Accents is a National Sport - David Mills, The Sunday Times, November 2020

Text B: Life Has Been So Much Smoother Since I Adopted a Posh Accent - Susan Gray, Daily Telegraph, February 2020


We used the 2019 mark scheme for this as it was the closest to the task set, so you might find it helpful to refer to that.


Openings

Let’s think about what makes a good opening to an answer on these texts.

 

Remember that you’re dealing with two texts together, so it makes sense to compare and contrast the two texts throughout your response and you can start that in your opening paragraph. You could start with one of the following points (or some combination of them), for example:


  1. Both texts are about social attitudes to accents.
  2. Both texts draw on personal experiences and testimony to paint a broader picture of collective experience.
  3. Both texts are op-eds published in right-wing/right of centre British newspapers and advance arguments that linguists might consider prescriptive.
  4. Both take a recent news event to launch into a wider reflection on the role of accents in British society (Text A responds to calls for a new law in France & Text B picks up a call from a Yorkshire poet that Northern accents should be more widely represented in the media.).


It’s probably a good idea not to write too long an intro - and definitely avoid just being too generic and listing where they were published, broad comments about the supposed age and politics of the readership - but it’s also a good idea not to leap into too much close analysis of language right at the start. 


These examples below work quite well, to my mind, but in different ways.


Both text A and text B are opinion pieces on the importance of being able to code switch between regional accents and the possibilities it can open up for speakers. Whilst text A is a Sunday Times article and text B is a Telegraph article, they both use personal testimonies to portray reasons as to why their own original regional accents get put to the side from time to time to propel themselves forward.


  • Quite concise and to the point.
  • Makes connections between the texts in terms of style and content.
  • Could perhaps offer a more developed view of what arguments are being made.


Text A is a newspaper article from The Sunday Times, which is widely read by a lot of right leaning, middle-aged adults. The language is written with a conversational tone, in a relatively accessible register. The primary purpose of the article is to entertain the readers, but also inform them of the recent French legislation proposal, to illegalise Accent Discrimination in France. Text B is a newspaper article from The Telegraph, which is mostly read by a similar demographic to that of the Sunday Times- middle aged, conservative, and those who are middle class. The register of Text B is colloquial and similar in style to Text A, and there is an anecdotal nature with a few contextual references, specific to Britain. The primary purpose of text B is to entertain the reader and provide the audience with the author’s personal experiences, as an individual who has upwardly converged their language for the sake of their professional success.


  • Covers more ground: content, audiences, style/register, purposes.
  • Connects the two texts but at different parts in the paragraph.
  • Could be edited down a bit by combining reference to both texts from the start.
  • We probably don’t want to see lots of specific examples in an opening paragraph (they should come later) but is there a risk that the comments about register and style might sound too general?


What’s the best way to proceed after the intro section? There are different options here.

 

  • You could choose to focus on one text in more detail to begin with and then start linking it to the second text.
  • You could plan topic paragraphs where you discuss both texts together throughout.
  • You could concentrate on the ways accents are being represented in each text before moving on to consider author positioning and wider discourses.
  • You could start with the wider discourses and then zoom into the details of each text.


Somewhere along the line, you’ll need to do most of these things, but the order is up to you. Remember that for AO4, you’ll need to make language connections across both texts to hit level 3 and to make links to meanings and wider discourses to hit levels 4 and 5, so it does make sense to link the analysis of the two texts where you can.


Looking at how accents are represented in the texts


Here’s an example of where someone has focused on how Text A represents an accent. What would you credit here and why? What could you add to take this a little higher?


The extended noun phrase of ‘the high, constrained whining of the Brummie’ is foregrounded to show the writer's clear distaste for the accent. The premodifying adjectives ‘high’ and ‘constrained’ are used to present the accent as feminine and wrong - attributes particularly not desired by most men who are encouraged by society to fulfill their gender role. Mills describes their speech as ‘whining’ in order to show that his opinion matches that of the stereotype - which enables him to distance the Wolverhampton accent from it.



Good things to credit:



Things to develop:




This next example focuses more on how accents and dialects, more broadly, are represented in one of the texts.


In text B, the writer states that: “Tying people to their dialect of origin is not a social mobility springboard but a trap.” The pre modified noun phrase ‘social mobility springboard’ is interesting here as the implication is that using standard English will facilitate social mobility, and potentially be a door opener to opportunities in the field of work. The use of the concrete noun ‘trap’ carries connotations of imprisonment and perhaps even deception.


Have a quick look back at the mark scheme (levels 3 and above) and see what you might credit in just this short extract. While AO4 is normally about connections between texts, it can also be about connections between one text and the wider discourses around the issue, so you might find some AO4 to credit here as well. I’ve completed this one for you.


AO1 to credit: 

pre modified noun phrase 

concrete noun

connotations

AO3 to credit:

Engages with what the noun phrase represents and means (its connotations and implications)

AO4 to credit: 

Discourse of opportunity - but room to further explain this and go into more depth.

Discourse of entrapment suggested - scope to develop this too.



Here’s a different take on that same part of the text.


Finally, her most compelling statement is: “Staying loyal to your regional dialect is not a social mobility springboard, it’s a trap.” The phrasal verb ‘staying loyal’, presents the idea that maintaining your regional dialect as an ongoing battle. By using the gerund of the dynamic verb ‘to stay’, it makes it appear that loyalty is a continuous action and therefore more of a commitment. Furthermore, the second independent clause ‘it’s a trap’, again makes reference to the idea of entrapment and how using specific dialects will restrict you. The concrete noun ‘trap’, implies that there is a sense of deception for people who use certain dialects, and perhaps ‘trap’ acts as a form of metonym which represents the entire hierarchy of class.


Again, have a look at the mark scheme and see what you might credit here,


AO1 to credit:


AO3 to credit:


AO4 to credit:




Here’s another example where someone has written about how an accent is represented. I’ve highlighted in red what I think are some of the strengths of this extract and in blue what I think could be developed or queried. 


Although Text B has a negative view of regional accents, her opinion is not as direct. Instead Susan Gray presents RP as superior: ‘Life is unquestionably smoother if you are well spoken.’ The noun phrase and collocation ‘well spoken’ implies that speakers of RP are on a linguistic pedestal compared to those with regional accents. This is a common belief in the UK, with projects against instances of ‘accentism’ whereby people are faced with hardship in the workplace due to accent prejudice. The sentence is a declarative, which therefore presents her opinion and personal experience as a fact. The conditional clause ‘if you are well spoken’ implies that the only way to make your life easier is if you speak in this way, which encourages you to take the same changes that she has. Additionally the adverb ‘unquestionably’ acts as an intensifier (in the same way as Text A) to exemplify her point and persuade the reader to follow her view.


  • What would you say about each highlighted bit here?


Looking at how the writers position themselves in the texts

This is quite a neat example of looking at how an accent is represented in the text and how the writer is using that to address and position the reader. 


In text B the writer states that having a regional accent, “doesn’t mean you have to be lumbered with the accompanying dialect for the rest of your life.” The verb “lumbered” deliberately uses an informal register to enable the writer to align himself with his readers and create a relationship to then offer advice. However, this may not be an effective choice of lexis as the connotations of “lumbered” insinuates that many are hindered and burdened with an accent. Hence, this may have the effect of readers feeling disadvantaged due to them not having a ‘posher’ accent. 


Another example where positioning is looked at effectively:


Text A differs from Text B in this way as the writer consciously makes an effort to distance himself from his background and others with an accent. However, the texts are similar in that this is an effective line of argument because it conveys the idea that we all have the knowledge and skill to code-switch and consequently all opinions could be treated equally as importantly as those with ‘posh’ accents. This is especially clever as many of the readers of the Telegraph may have experienced accent discrimination and this offers advice on how to deal with it. The writer says “I haven’t once regretted ditching my London Irish accent...”. The use of the contraction “haven’t” as well as the material verb “ditching” creates an informal tone which therefore uses synthetic personalisation.


Looking at wider discourses

This is an area that I think could have been developed for everyone (a little bit, at least). Specifically mentioning the word ‘discourses’ can help, I think. And having some named discourses to refer to can also be useful. The linguist Jane Sunderland says that there isn’t really a ‘dictionary of discourses’ and she’s right, but if you can name and describe the discourses you see, you can construct your own dictionary of them. 


For example, accentism often taps into discourses of restriction/freedom, burden/benefit, advancement/hindrance, good/bad language (morality?), local/(in)ternational, etc.


Where do we see the discourses appearing in the texts?

 

Nice example here


Gray also feeds into this discourse, slightly more subtly, in her extended metaphor where she compares adopting a new accent to owning a ‘really good fake painting’. On the surface this seems like a good comparison, however more pragmatically, when one thinks about the world of art and paintings, it is often an industry associated with the upper class. Owning expensive paintings is a symbol of wealth. Therefore she presents the idea that RP is the ‘real’ painting, people who mimic RP are a good ‘fake painting’ which means that non-RP speakers must be a bad ‘fake painting’. In the world of art, a real painting is more valuable and treasured than a fake painting, therefore you could argue that she presents the idea that RP is the ideal and most valuable variant of English.


Bits that not everyone looked at

There were one or two answers where someone looked at aspects of the texts that others didn’t talk about. 


He creates a sense of nationalism within this article through the use of his references to France and the negative connotations he attaches to Parisians. The simple modal sentence “Parisians could soon be sneering a lot less.” By using the post-modifying comparative adjective ‘less’, is humorous because it implies that Parisians will always be sneering, but reducing accent discrimination will reduce this. This is an effective choice because the writer is aware of the target audience and what misconceptions they may have, one being that all French people look down on those around them. However, on a deeper level it also feeds into the ongoing competition between the French and British people, and the hostility they have had with one another for centuries. By referencing the French in the first and last paragraph of this article, not only is structurally cyclical - which is a stylistic feature, but also is a method of encouraging the reader to agree with the points the writer is making because if they are in agreement with his perception of French people, than they may hold perceptions of other societal issues. Therefore it is an effective way of presenting his argument because before mentioning his main points within the article, he has already generated reader support.



What I liked here:

Bits to check/develop:

  • The focus on the references to the French and how these are used to align to the readers’ supposed values
  • The linking of discourses of nationalism to prescriptive attitudes towards language
  • The focus on the references to the French news story as part of a cyclical structure to the text
  • Not sure I’d use the term ‘modal sentence’
  • ‘A lot less’ is working as an adverb here (postmodifying the verb ‘sneering’)


This second example picked some good things to look at but could have been developed a bit more.


Mills states that the Wolverhampton accent ‘leaves the seat up, doesn’t wash its hands and calls a spade a shovel’. By personifying the accent via the third person pronoun ‘it’, Mills is implying that the way of speaking is directly associated with the stereotypes of people from that region. The triplet structure enables Mills to paint a picture and create a stereotypical image in the reader’s minds.

Within the clause, the phrasal verbs used describe failing to do the basic actions of going to the toilet, washing your hands and labelling objects. This implies that the typical Wolverhampton citizen is unhygienic and lacking in intelligence. Therefore Mills is stating that using a Wolverhampton accent portrays you as being a certain type of person.



What I liked here:

Bits to check/develop:

  • The focus on personification as a technique to represent the accent
  • Linking this to stereotypes about the users of an accent
  • The description of phrasal verbs
  • Why does he create this image of fellow Wolverhampton speakers? What does he hope to achieve by representing them in this way?
  • Are any wider discourses about accentism signalled here?
  • What about this ‘calling spade a shovel’ expression?!



"Call a spade a spade" or "call a spade a shovel" are both forms of the figurative expression which state that the speaker should call, or has called, a noun by its most suitable name without any reservation to the strained formalities that may result. The implication is telling the truth regarding the nature of the thing in question, speaking frankly and directly about it,even if it is considered coarse, impolite, or unpleasant. (Wikipedia)


So, what's he saying here? Is he trying to represent the speakers of the Wolverhampton accent as simple, straightforward and perhaps rather unsophisticated people? It appears so. Perhaps there's an element of admiration in there too for their authenticity, but it all sounds a bit unhygienic, especially during these hand-sanitised times. 


Anyway, I hope that provides some ideas for how you might approach texts like these. I’ve not covered everything and I think there’s more that could be said about the wider discourses, the links to other news stories about accents and perhaps more about the genres and expectations of op-eds like this but that leaves you with some things to think about. 


Thanks again to the students who have shared their work here.

Analysing accent attitudes for Questions 3 & 4: an example question

 

We’ve been doing some work on Paper 2 Questions 3&4 recently as we wait (and wait) to see what Ofqual and the exam boards tell us about how centre assessed grades will be worked out this year. And as part of this, I’ve been putting together a few Question 3 and 4 text pairings on different topic areas. As accentism and attempts to challenge it have been in the news a lot, it seemed like a good idea to focus on that. 

There have been loads of stories about it (I mentioned a few in this post) and plenty of interesting articles for analysis, so it’s ripe for discussion. It’s also quite close in theme to the paper that was set in 2019, so the mark scheme for that paper can come in handy. Do you remember 2019? When exams were a thing and examiners got paid for marking them, rather than teachers being expected to mark them for nothing. Not bitter, honestly… just sad and quite a lot poorer. 

Anyway, all that aside, here’s one that I put together based on these two articles.
Text A is by David Mills in The Sunday Times (November 2020).
Text B is by Susan Gray in The Daily Telegraph (February 2020).  
(Trigger warning: there is a picture of Margaret Thatcher.)
Q3 
Analyse how language is used in Text A (Oh Come Off It...) and Text B (Life Has Been So Much Smoother...) to present views about accents. 
In your answer you should:
• examine any similarities and differences you find between the two texts 
• explore how effectively the texts present their views. 

Q4 
Write an opinion article on views about accents. In your article you should assess the ideas and issues raised in Text A and Text B. 

You should refer to ideas from language study and argue your own views. 


Even better, I’ve got a few nice extracts from student responses for this that I thought I’d share, along with my commentary on why I thought they were good (and in a few cases, what might be developed a bit more). I’ll put that in a second post along with some activities you might want to use to go with it.

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