Wednesday, June 28, 2006

ENA6 then it's all over...

I know it's late, but here are some last minute tips for the ENA6 exam. I wouldn't normally bother as it's so close to the exam but I know that people have been using this blog for their exams right up to the last minute: in fact there was someone searching for ENA5 stuff on Monday at 12.30 which was an hour before the exam started. Stop it! Sort your life out! Have some lunch!

Anyway, the secret of doing well in this exam is a bit like the secret of good comedy................... timing.

There are 5 very different questions and if you stick to giving the short, 5 mark questions the time they deserve, and use the rest of the time to plan and write detailed answers to the big two questions (1c and 2a) you'll probably do yourself a favour. If you have the right technique on 1a, 1b and 2b you should be able to have them out of the way in no time at all (15 minutes maximum).

So, looking at them how do you do that? Question 1a requires a 3 sentence answer. Use linguistic terminology to label the 3 features/processes you're asked to find and give a brief explanation. That's it...

Question 1b requires a 5 point approach. You have to have some sort of aim, a method of collecting data, a framework to analyse that data, an awareness of extra linguistic variables and issues of ethics and validity, and an idea of what you will find and what it means. There is more detail on this available on the AQA site here (aimed at teachers but useful for students if you know what you're doing).

Question 2b can almost be done as you do 2a. If you build in 3 linguistic features to comment upon, you'll be able to refer back to them in your 2b answer. Remember to quote specific egs and label them linguistically before explaining your intended effect.

Question 1c is a textual analysis but requires an added level of evaluation from what you did in ENA1. Try to respond to the ways in which the writer makes his/her material accessible and interesting to the non-specialist audience. There's more to this question, but it's too late to go over the frameworks now and you should already be secure on these.

For question 2a, all I can really advise is be engaging and creative. Examiners will read loads of scripts that re-hash the source material in various ways, but will be happy to come across scripts that take risks and make reference to other sources of information and language debates. It's a synoptic unit, so try to show your grasp of the links between the different topics you've studied and your engagement in the language debate that the paper is focused on.

Good luck!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Don't tupac your WAGs

With ENA5 coming up tomorrow (Monday) here are two new words for your delight and delectation: the verb "to tupac" and the acronym W.A.G.

The first is a conversion from proper noun to verb, of the rapper, Tupac's name. It was used ironically by hip hop supremo Rick Rubin to refer to flogging new versions of tracks on CDs long after the death of the artist, something that Rubin himself has been happy to do with the work of Johnny Cash recently. Cashing in, if you will. Ha ha. Not my joke, but one from today's Observer.

And then to the acronym. Never have more fake plastic cleavage, dodgy lip gloss and stupidly priced handbags been seen than among the Wives And Girlfriends (WAGs) of the England football squad. Well, maybe not since last night in various Romford nightclubs...

But what's our favourite word of the moment? Well according to the OED it's the noun "time".

Anyway, new words and old words aside, good luck tomorrow with your ENA5 exam.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Celibacy and gradable adjectives

So from one form of sexuality to another, or rather lack of any sexual activity... don't worry: it's not another autobiographical posting. A piece by Lucy Mangan in today's Guardian (That long Victoria line trip from Walthamstow to Stockwell is great for reading the papers!) looks at Robbie Williams' use of the adjective celibate, when he describes himself as almost celibate.

As Mangan puts it:

If we take the Shorter OED definition of celibacy as "the state of being unmarried", the man is clearly barking. He has, as many a recent interview attests, never found a woman with whom he could contemplate submitting to the bonds of holy matrimony and therefore cannot be almost unmarried. So one must conclude that the Robster is using the word in its more modern sense of sexual abstinence. Robbie, it seems, ain't gettin' any. Or rather, he almost ain't gettin' any.

One could phrase the pertinent question in the abstract: can one be almost celibate or is it an absolute state, an abstemious wasteland sharply delineated by the carnal woodlands abutting every border? Or one can put it more individually: is one man's "almost celibate" another man's "five-year period of being linked to some of the most desirable women in the world, including Kylie, Nicole Kidman and erm, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, but not having quite as much sex as you would like"?

Prurient interest in Tara Palmer-Tomkinson aside, it's perhaps interesting to look at the use of adjectives like celibate, certain and unique (but probably more interesting to look at posh Tara...sorry). Can we premodify these adjectives with adverbs - almost celibate, completely unique, virtually certain - when the adjectives themselves mean something in an absolute state? In other words, how can you be almost celibate when the word celibate means "completely free of sexual activity"? You either are or you aren't... or are you?

Traditionally these adjectives are referred to as non-gradable, as opposed to adjectives like lucky and happy which are gradable (really lucky, very happy etc.), but perhaps the point is that when we use adverbial modifers in front of non-gradable adjectives we're actually saying something about our own attitude to the thing being described.

An example in the recent ENA1 exam is the adjective British which you might think was an either/or description, except it's not that simple. A quick look at the press conference yesterday when the brothers arrrested for suspected terrorism offences in east London talked about their love of London and their country, might tell us that there are clearly different notions of Britishness (a clumsy abstract noun) depending on who you are and what you believe: some would say (wrongly) that you can't be British if you're a Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, while others claim a much broader definition that encompasses Owen Hargreaves, Greg Rusedski and anyone who is born here. So if we can't decide on what British means how can we say the adjective is non-gradable?

Perhaps it's not a case of being grammatically inaccurate, but of adding a subtle nuance to what we feel about the idea being described. So maybe when Robbie Williams talks of being almost celibate he perhaps means that he's only one (ahem) snog away from the barren wasteland of celibacy, close to the edge. Or maybe he just can't use grammar properly.But that isn't completely unique, is it?

Useful for:
ENA1 - Textual Analysis language frameworks

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More gayness!

The discussion about the word "gay" caused by Radio One presenter Chris Moyles' comment about a "gay ringtone", has been picked up more widely and caused some friction between those who see "gay" as a harmless example of language change in action, and those who still see it as a word loaded with negative connotations.

Here's a link to yesterday's Guardian which ran a front page G2 feature on the word "gay", while here's a link to three letters in today's Guardian responding to that article. Underneath, I've cut n pasted some comments from contributors to Urban 75, a Brixton-based discussion site ( I can't link to the actual posts as you have to be a registered user to access the boards). These responses give you some sense of the issues at stake and the range of viewpoints:

EquationGirl: You may think you're not using it as a homophobic statement, but you're linking a word used to describe homosexuals as a slur, a derogatory statement, to mean something bad. In time, the word 'gay' just means something bad.You should stop, you know. I personally find it offensive, whether or not it's meant. It sends out the message that it's ok to use 'gay' to mean something bad, when it isn't.

Xes: Can I just say,that as a gayer,I'm not offended by the term "that's gay" I even use it myself.cos some things,just,are.

Wookie: I went through a lot of pain in order to be able to say 'I am gay' and be proud of it. To hear the word used to mean something shit, lame and defunct is hurtful in the extreme. It has nothing to do with inverting the meaning of 'gay' from 'happy and carefree' to something which is bad. It has everything to do with equating gay people with disfunctionality, and it's utterly unasseptable from people wishing be in the same room as me.Say it if you want by all means. But please stop kidding yourself that you aren't replicating homophobic ideals, because you are. And don't do it within arm's reach of me unless you have a comprehensive dental plan.

JHE: I don't like this use of 'gay' as a term of disparagement, but I suppose my dislike is partly generational. It strikes me as a silly schoolchild's usage.However, it's also an interesting reminder of the limits of attempts to reform language. 'Gay' was deliberately adopted (by the GLF?) to mean homosexual, because the term 'homosexual' sounds very clinical or scientific and all the other terms ('queer', 'poof' etc) were pejorative. It worked to a large extent. It is rare nowadays to find anyone who moans about (what many used to claim was) the misappropriation of the word. Yet the 'positive' word is now also used in a pejorative way - and its meaning, insofar as I understand it, is often similar to 'poofy'.

Your views would be most welcome!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Is your ringtone gay?

Well mine certainly is, but what about yours? Obviously I don't mean homosexual, but "lame", "crap" and "sad". According to the BBC Board of Governors, these are the modern meanings of the word "gay" alongside its other more traditional ones of "happy" and "carefree", and of course "homosexual" (which has been one of the word's other meanings for longer than many might expect).

In articles, here in The Times and here in the Daily Mail (spit), the BBC explain their position on the word "gay" and their decision that Chris Moyles' use of it to describe a ringtone was acceptable and not homophobic (compared to rapper, The Game's use of the term "faggot" to describe gay men which was labelled unacceptable and led to a ban on further interviews).

All of this raises interesting issues about language change and the processes that drive it, but also the decisions that lead to the acceptability or otherwise of particular words. It's not as if any of this is set in stone either: changes in meaning aren't decided by committees and then imposed on us, but rather certain groups of people and organisations tend to have more power to influence opinion and usage.

So, can using "gay" really not be homophobic? Or is the fact that it's now broadened to mean "rubbish", "lame" and "crap" just a symptom of a homophobic society?

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

Monday, June 05, 2006

Voice of the people?

We all know that these days politicians strive for that common touch (and I don't mean John Prescott yearning for desk action with a secretary) but how far are they prepared to go to reach out to the masses in their own language?

A report in yesterday's Observer tells us that "David Cameron, the somewhat posh Old Etonian leader of the Tories, comes over as a more credible 'man of the people' than Gordon Brown, the 'down-to-earth' Labour Chancellor and probable next Prime Minister, according to a new study of top politicians' vocabulary".

The report goes on to explain that the criteria used to ascertain this "common touch" come from a programme called "Everyday English" which monitors sentence length, the use of core vocabulary and teh number of syllables used.

"All of which, it turns out, favours Cameron over Brown. The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, lags behind them both. Tony Blair finishes slightly in front of Cameron, though John Major registers more convincingly as 'one of us' than any of them. And none can hold a candle to an EastEnders script that was fed through the computer filter."

So, does this mean that Blair and Cameron genuinely speak the language of the streets ("Wahgwan Gordon, dat rave was heavy, blood") or just that they have mastered the art of accommodating towards what they see as their target audience? And what does this tell us about their perception of the language and identity of their target audience - i.e. the swing voters who might switch allegiances before the next election - that they are aiming their language at?

The danger (as we've seen with Labour moving into political ground once occupied by the Conservatives and the Conservatives desperately trying to recapture that ground) is that the politicians speak a language they think we want to hear but in the process have no distinct voice of their own. The upshot of this is often to give us smooth soundbites in easily digestible language, which mean absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, those with an identifiable voice (however objectionable) become more attractive as they appear to be speaking from the heart (witness the growth of nazi nutters, the BNP in Barking & Dagenham and other areas across the country).

You can find out more about the programme used to analyse the language and its uses here.

Useful for:
EA4C - Language Investigation