Monday, June 02, 2014

ENGA3 - making your examiner happy

It's just one day until ENGA3, so here's a quick post to wish you luck and to offer a few suggestions to make your examiner look upon you favourably.

Quote helpfully 
You should be using quotations from the texts you're analysing in your answers, but make sure they're helpful quotations. What's the difference between 1 and 2 below?

  1. The writer uses the noun phrase "the foul degradation of our language continues apace" to support his prescriptive view of language change.
  2. The writer uses the noun phrase "the foul degradation of our language continues apace" to support his prescriptive view of language change.
In short, 1 is wrong and 2 is right. That's because the quote used in 1 isn't actually a noun phrase, but a whole simple sentence/independent clause, while the quote in 2 actually specifies which bit is the noun phrase. I don't doubt that the person answering in the first one knows what they mean, but they're not making it easy for the examiner to give them marks.

Use examples
It's good to know stuff, but it's even better to show you know stuff. While that's a good bit of advice for the exam tomorrow, it might not be great life advice: no one likes a know-it-all, so forget this after tomorrow. Right? Examples are important to developing arguments and showing a grasp of a topic. If a question on language change asks you about how and why language changes, the big picture is obviously very important, but the examples can be really significant too. Think about going off the beaten track to find a few examples of neologisms (try here for starters), or here for some discussion of South African English or here for Australian English. If everyone uses the same revision guides and textbook (however brilliant the latter might be, ahem) then the examiners will get used to them. Surprise them with a few exciting and original gems.

Keep up with the times, daddio
As with the advice on examples, try to find some recent news stories about language to help you offer a bit of originality and range. This may reflect poorly on my sad and empty life, but I was excited and delighted to read an answer a couple of years ago in which the student made reference to a recent news report on the apparent demise of the Queen's English Society. This was particularly good as the question on Language Discourses that year used extracts from the QES website. So, what news stories have there been recently? Maybe you could have a look at a few of these and see if you can find some interesting angles.

Anyway, that's it for revision tips for ENGA3 for this year. Good luck in the exam.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

ENGA3 June 2014 - revision tips part 5

Today's tediously titled top tips will focus on analytical frameworks for ENGA3, in particular the Section B Language Discourses question.

As I was saying in yesterday's post about Section B, the key difference between the two sections on the paper is that Section A deals with language as it's actually used - in different times, different places and by different people - while Section B deals with language as something to be discussed, argued about and debated. So, in terms of analysis, you can apply many of the same frameworks - word, phrase, clause and discourse analysis - to texts in both sections, but Section B really lends itself to a Critical Discourse Analysis approach.

In effect, this means that you're using language analysis to work out the ideological position a text producer is taking in discussing a language issue. So, this could mean you're using language analysis to work out how a writer is using the following:
  • pronouns to address the reader and position him/herself in relation to the ideal reader (direct 2nd person address, inclusive 1st person plural, maybe some synthetic personalisation)
  • lexical formality to suggest closeness to the ideal reader/distance and expertise
  • modality to suggest elements of certainty or doubt, sometimes in the form of modal verbs, but also modal adverbs
Norman Fairclough: the daddy of Critical Discourse Analysis
For example - and I've shamelessly nicked this from an article I did for emagazine last year - with last January's question on the supposed Americanisation of English, Matthew Engel positioned himself in particular ways: an article for The Daily Mail on Americanisms entering English, the columnist Matthew Engel, seems to humbly and self-mockingly position himself as out of touch by saying “Old buffers like me have always complained about the process, and we have always been defeated”. Should we take such a move at face value? Perhaps not. Engel goes on in the article to stridently berate the UK for adopting what he calls “ugly Americanisms”: “Nowadays, people have no idea where American ends and English begins. And that's a disaster for our national self-esteem. We are in danger of subordinating our language to someone else's - and with it large aspects of British life”. That doesn’t sound too much like the stance of a man who’s labelled himself an “old buffer”, but the words of a man who feels he’s still got battles to fight and wars to win (if not, home-runs to hit). His self-effacing positioning earlier on helps him appeal to his reader as a gentle, even rather defeated and pessimistic, sort of character, which his subsequent warnings and call to arms belie.
If you're still working on revision for this exam, you could do worse than look back through a few of the texts we've flagged up as being of Language Discourses interest and think about how you could analyse short chunks of them to see how the writers are positioning themselves through their language choices and how they're representing the particular language topic.

For example, this article by Lindsay Johns is fantastic for a bit of analysis, not only for the way he presents and positions himself but in the way he presents language to us as "an incredibly rich inheritance": a noun phrase that casts language as like a solid object passed unchanging from generation to generation. Is that the reality? Well, you might argue that it changes all the time and isn't something that is the gift of one person to give to another but something we should all share and contribute to.

In the simple sentence containing this phrase ("The English language is an incredibly rich inheritance.") there's no modality to suggest doubt, only certainty. This is the kind of analysis that can really help you in the first bullet point for Section B, because it links the AO1 language detail (words, phrases & sentences in this case) to the AO3 interpretation of meaning and discussion of representation.

There are plenty of good articles to practise this approach on, so have a look through the links here for a few examples.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Despicable Minecraft Minions in the Nether

And another quick link to a BBC Radio 4 Today clip about the changing language of children. Here, the OUP language expert Sam Armstrong and comedian & writer Charlie Higson discuss the influence of popular culture and video gaming on young people's language.

While the presenter is keen to get them moaning about young children using terms like minion, nether, LOL and OMG, the experts are good at seeing the benefits to young people of new forms of language and their ability to code-switch. Take that, Radio 4 curmudgeons!

Nice stuff on lexis, morphology, word formation processes and the joys of technology, too.

Beyond literally

Just a quick link to a potential Language Discourses argument about the use of literally and beyond (as in "It was beyond awful") from Radio 4's Today programme.

Warning! For listeners of a sensitive disposition and sound mind, Simon Heffer is featured.

ENGA3 June 2014 - revision tips part 4

To carry on the boring naming convention established earlier this week, this is part 4 of your ENGA3 June 2014 revision tips. So far we have looked at a bit of Section A Change and a bit of Section A variation, so now it's time for Section B Discourses.

One of the first things to remember is that Section B is different from Section A. In Section A the texts are based on language in use (language being used in different times and in different varieties) but in Section B the texts are about language. They will raise questions around how people feel about language and the way it changes and varies from time to time and person to person.

Last year's question was on Language and Gender, setting two extracts from a text which gave a very simplistic, difference model-style, interpretation of how women and men talk. It was there as a starting point for discussion, a springboard for offering a critique of such reductive models. If you 'd read Deborah Cameron's Myth of Mars and Venus, you'd have been laughing...

Back in January it was a question about American English and attitudes towards it. Again, the main text was provocative in its prescriptive outlook, giving students who knew their stuff a chance to argue against the author's anti-American views.

This time, it could be anything. All Change and Variation topics are fair game for this question, so make sure you have revised areas such as the following:
  • political correctness and language change: how "change from above" is implemented, theorised about and (sometimes) resisted
  • attitudes to different accents and dialects: the views people often have about different regional, social and national varieties
  • views about technology and language change: how people feel about social media and texting's influences upon language use
  • arguments about standard and non-standard English: what people say about slang, non-standard grammar and the social consequences of using non-standard forms
Of course, there could be plenty of others and we've covered a lot on this blog. Click here for all posts tagged as being to do with Language Discourses and you'll find plenty to mug up on.

The next post will offer a bit more focus on analytical frameworks for this question.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ENGA3 June 2014 - revision tips part 3

So... here's a post to help you revise for ENGA3 Section A Language Variation. And if you're wondering why I'm starting this post with so, starting everything with so is apparently undergoing a boom. Just look here for something on this from 2010 and here for something even more recent.

And how is this relevant to your ENGA3 exam? Well, the questions on Language Variation don't have to be about regional or national variation - or even variation according to class, ethnicity or gender - as they have been in the last few years; they can also be about the ways in which language varies in other ways, like rising intonation (uptalk or HRT), the use of vocal fry or even something like so, or innit, or this is me. All of these are recent variations in the ways people use language to communicate and what's interesting about them is that they represent the intersection between so many different factors.

We're no longer in a world of language study where we say that x speaks y because she's z, but that x speaks y in one situation because she's sometimes like z, but often like a, b or c, but might also want to sound a bit like d, e or f. But never u, k, i  or p. many ways, with Language Variation, what makes a good answer is an awareness that people don't just use language because of some accident of birth (born male/female, white/black/Asian, to poor/rich parents in Birmingham/Bermondsey/Jaywick) but that language identity is so much more fluid. Good answers to questions on Language Variation will always acknowledge this.

There'll be more on Language Variation tomorrow, including the topic as a Language Discourses question for Section B.

Monday, May 26, 2014

ENGA3 June 2014 - revision tips part 2

Today, we will have a quick look at Section A Language Change questions. The last two ENGA3 exams have used pairs of texts in this section of the paper. So, last June we had an advert from the 19th Century to look at alongside a Caffe Nero webpage*. The January paper of that year (the last time a January paper was set) had a rugby match report from The Scotsman in the 19th Century alongside a web version of The Scotsman reviewing a similar game.

While it's quite possible that such a question will turn up again, there's a chance it might be a different type of question, so be prepared. Political Correctness is an interesting topic for Language Change as it is the kind of "change from above" that we rarely see (or at least, rarely see working) in English. To revise this topic you might want to think about some of the reasons why words become viewed as offensive - how they pejorate and how changes in society lead to different meanings being viewed as offensive. A good case study of course is gay and the coverage of its changing meanings here might help. Elsewhere, there's a fair bit on the blog from years ago about words such as spastic, mad and coloured, so have a look through the old articles for some good ideas.

Another type of question might focus on how a more recent text uses language and how that reflects a changing aspect of modern language, perhaps technology, popular culture or youth fashions. Again, we've covered these areas in the past, so articles like this one on youth slang or this one on slang through through the decades might be worth a read. Remember, you're encouraged to use your own studies and knowledge on this paper, so come equipped with plenty of examples of language change in action; Kerry Maxwell's Buzzwords is a great place to look. Examiners like to see new and original examples, rather than the same ones year in year out.

Whatever happens, the chances are your second bullet point will be asking you to address ideas around how and why language changes, so you should be prepared to think about the big drivers of language change and the processes that lead to change taking place. This link from the I Love English Language blog is handy for some useful theories and concepts.

*For the benefit of any Daily Mail "journalists" reading this, that was a demanding 19th Century text alongside a modern webpage, not a question "simply asking students to analyse the language of the Caffe Nero website". Got that?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

ENGA3 June 2014 - revision tips part 1

There's just over a week to go before the ENGA3 exam, so my plan is to do a short post each day with advice about how to approach this difficult (but rather splendid) paper.

Seeing as there is still a whole week of half-term in which to revise, the first tip I'd offer is to read a couple of books. Yes, whole books.

First off, read Henry Hitchings' The Language Wars. It covers pretty much every Language Discourses question you could hope to get and it's a damn good read.

We've covered it here on the blog lots before (like here and here) and I did an interview with the author for emagazine a couple of years ago. Click here to visit the emagazine website and use your school/college log-in to find it under Language Topics: Attitudes to Language Change: At War With the Pedants.

Secondly, if you haven't already looked at it, Jean Aitchison's Language Change: Progress or Decay? is a fascinating read. It's got many of the things you'll no doubt have covered as part of your course (the crumbling castle, damp spoon and infectious disease models, for instance) but lots of other excellent stuff too, including discussion of how and why language changes, which is pretty much a staple of Question 1 on Language Change on the paper.

Tomorrow, we'll start looking at each question on the paper in turn and some ideas about how to prepare for them.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Depeche mode

Good luck to everyone doing tomorrow's ENGA1 exam*. Just a couple of quick things to remind you of for Language and Mode.

Mode can be both big and small: a tiny detail like a non-fluency feature (umm...errr) or a non-standard spelling are worth looking at and relating to mode, but don't forget the bigger picture of what each mode can offer (affordances) and how it can hold you back (constraints) .
E.g. think about why a particular mode (and technology?) might have been used: what does it offer that another mode doesn't? And how does it restrict what you can say or write?

Mode is for life, not just for Christmas: don't just talk about mode in your intro and then forget about it like that unwanted Christmas puppy. Weave mode into the rest of your answer.

Channel your thoughts: don't forget the concept of channel. You've got texts using the visual channel and/or the auditory channel.  Even fairly basic points about (say) graphology (in the visual channel) or emphatic stress (in the auditory channel) can become quite significant in a text when you relate them to mode.

Things mean things: don't forget meaning. One of your first jobs should be to work out the following:
  • What is each text about?
  • How is that topic being represented?
  • What views and perspectives are being presented to the reader/other speakers?
  • How can we tell?
Language analysis underpins everything: if you don't analyse (and give clear examples), you're not going to do very well. Remember the linguistic frameworks and think very carefully  about how you can get a few more marks by adding a touch more detail. Have you identified a noun? Is it an abstract, concrete or proper noun? Is it part of a longer noun phrase? Own those language features... err... girlfriend.

*or any other English exam