Wednesday, May 26, 2010

ENGA1 - good luck for Thursday

Good luck for ENGA1 on Thursday. Any last minute queries can be posted as comments here and I'll try to answer them as best I can (if I can tear myself away from my Sookie Stackhouse novel).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Glad to be gay

Polari - the slang used by a subculture of gay men for much of the twentieth century - is the focus of a really excellent article by top linguist and author, Paul Baker.

The A2 textbook mentions both Polari and Baker's work on this slang variety, but there's more good stuff to have a look at here, including the ways in which the slang evolved in different ways through its widespread but unstandardised usage. Baker also makes the point that the conditions that gave rise to Polari - draconian legislation against gay people, disapproving public attitudes and widespread prejudice and violence (just like Uganda, Zimbabwe and several other African states these days) - no longer exist in the same way in this country these days. And while that's got to be something to celebrate, the language (or anti-language) spawned by the repressive social climate is now nearly extinct, which is sad.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The glamour of grammar

This is just a quick plug for a course we're putting on at UCL for teachers of English (primarily...others would be welcome too). It's called the Glamour of Grammar and it's all about grammar, obviously.

More details can be found here on the workshop's webpage.

The Glamour of Grammar - Thursday 8th July 2010

Grammar is seen by some as a set of dreary rules, by others as hoops to jump through on the way to assessing pupils’ progress in English and by many others as something that is joyless and difficult. We hope to show you that while describing it as “glamorous” might be pushing it a bit, grammar can open up different ways of thinking about language, give you new approaches to teaching and equip your students with analytical and problem-solving tools that can help in all sorts of ways.

The day is designed to offer teachers of key stages 3-5:

·         sessions which will consolidate your own knowledge of grammar

·         resources that can be used with classes from year 9 to A level

·         ideas and practical approaches to teaching spoken language

·         examples of investigative approaches to language study

·         illustrations of actual language usage, drawn from the ICE-GB corpus

Instant death...MSN RIP

Instant Messaging is on the wane, if this article in the BBC News magazine is anything to by. Apparently, sitting at a computer screen using MSN and the like has been ditched, with a move towards social networking via Facebook and Twitter and messaging via the the phone.

The article is a good read if you're revising for ENGA1 this week (and you blinking well should be) as it will remind you of some of the key aspects of language and mode: synchronous vs. asynchronous communication, formality, distance and one to one conversations vs social networking conversations that go out to many more conversational participants.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Talk (seriously) to me, baby

There's a nice bitesize piece of research here for anyone who wants to impress their ENGA1 examiner this summer with an up to date reference. According to Lotte Henrichs, a Dutch researcher, verbal interaction with young children (3-6 year olds) can have a positive impact on their language skills, especially if they are approached as intelligent conversational partners. According to her research, if we talk to children in a way that is similar to the "academic discourse" they hear at nursery and school, their language development will be helped.

In ur fridge eatin ur foodz

OK, this may or may not help you with your ENGA3 language change topic, but it's a great article nonetheless. In it, David Bamman writes about what the data Twitter produces tells us about language usage in the USA and some of the pros and pitfalls of analysing it. As he points out, while there's lots of information stored about each tweet and about each twitter user, some of it isn't easy to pin down:

The user-defined geographic information is noisy data: while "Boston, MA" can be automatically disambiguated relatively easily to a physical location on the earth (corresponding to coordinates 42.35843, -71.05977), others ("Springfield") are more difficult (there are many Springfields); others still are nearly impossible ("home of that boy Biggie," a reference to New York City quoted from Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind"), and some ("in ur fridge eatin ur foodz") don't map to any space in physical reality. The sheer volume of data, however, gives us the flexibility to focus more on precision than on overall accuracy - we can throw away all tweets where we aren't over 99% sure of the physical location.

What I like about the article and the research connected to it is that instead of talking about the technology (Is it bad for our language? Is it destroying our ability to talk to each other?) it just gets on and uses it to find out interesting things about the language around us.

It's linked to this site, The Lexicalist, which calls itself "a demographic dictionary of modern American English"

Top tips for ENGA1 - part 2

Part 2 Language Development (question 2b)

Again, here are some quick pointers gleaned from my marking experiences over the years about what to do and what not to do when answering essay questions on child language acquisition.

Do these:
  • Answer the question! This is an obvious point, but one which about 20-30% of students don't do. You have to think about what the question is actually asking you and write your first paragraph in response to the question itself. Don't launch into a generalised "Children make their first sounds straight after birth and move through three different stages..." when the question is asking you about grammar, interaction or imitation.
  • Make sure you use plenty of real examples of child language, either from your text book, your own research and experience, or from the data given to you in question 2a. Explain what the examples show and try to make sure you're linguistic in your approach (i.e. using technical terminology to describe the processes shown by your data).
  • Link in research and theory to your arguments, but don't just wheel out the old Chomsky versus Skinner battle at every opportunity. Examiners get very bored of seeing the same old arguments in the same old words. Try to think of a clear way of explaining the problems different theoretical positions have when accounting for how children acquire language.
  • Try to conceptualise your answer: think of the bigger picture. What is actually happening when children say things like "I runned" or "She falled over"? Yes, they're overgeneralising, but why?
  • Think about your structure and guide your reader. Try to use paragraphs and discourse markers to make your answer fluent and easy to follow.
For a list of (nearly) all the past questions set on language development on the old spec (which is very similar to your spec) look here.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Top tips for ENGA1 - part 1

    Part 1 Language & Mode

    Here are some quick pointers as to what might work with Language & Mode answers (and what might not).

    Do these:
    • Make sure you talk about MODE: you should be explicit about where on the mode continuum you would place the 2 texts and explain your thinking. I marked loads of answers last year which didn't mention mode at all, or very much. 
    • Make sure you give precise, contextualised examples of language. It's not very helpful to say "the 2nd person pronoun you is used in text A" unless you tell us where it's used and why it's important in that particular place.
    • Always relate language to meaning. You can pick up lots of marks for identifying and labelling language feature, but you'll get even more if you explain the effect a language feature might have in its context, or how it links to the mode of the text. For example, "The text uses a number of minor sentences ("Why not?" and "True.") to imitate the structure of spoken language and achieve a more casual relationship with the ideal reader." is better than "Text A uses many minor sentences."
    • Try to structure your answer in a way that helps you use your writing time effectively. You don't have to compare the texts, but it's sensible to point out key differences and similarities. Comparison might save you time.  Then again, if you don't feel confident, don't compare.
    • Use linguistic terminology all the way through your answer and remember that the only way to get into the top band (13-15) is to discuss sentences, clauses and structures. Try to find at least one example of a simple , a complex and/or a compound sentence. And even better still, give an example that is accurate!
    • Always think about the audience, the purpose(s) and the positioning of the author/s. Who are they and what relationship are they trying to create with their reader/listener/conversational partner?

    OK that's enough top tips for ENGA1 for today. If you want to ask questions, or add your own ideas, please add comments and I'll try to respond.

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    ENGA1 Language & Mode revision help

    If you're looking for practice papers for the Language and Mode part of the ENGA1 exam on May 27th, you could do a lot worse than visit this blog, where there are two questions:

    Keira Knightley texts
    Obama vs Guardian

    I'll post some more stuff on ENGA1 in the next few days.

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    Throw another shrimp on ye olde campfire

    The new Robin Hood film, starring Aussie actor Russell Crowe, is featured on this morning's Radio 4 Today programme. Crowe has tried to adopt a Northern - he reckons a Yorkshire - accent, but has been criticised by some for getting it wrong. The Today programme features an interesting interview with an expert on accent, Andrew Jack (I think that's his name) talking about the differences between various accents. If you click here (before the end of Friday 21st May) and move the slider to about 1:43:52 you'll get the interview.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Conrats? Condemnation? Tory Party?

    The sickening sight of David Cameron's smug old-Etonian-never-had-a-proper-job-where's-my-duelling-sword-butler mug peering out of the doors of Number 10 is still upsetting me, so have a look at this piece in today's Guardian about what we should call the new Tory Lib-Dem coalition.

    Are they the (very appropriate) blend, Conrat (Conservative + Liberal Democrat)?
    Or should we call them the Daily Mirror's nice rastaman-reminiscent, Condemnation? Closing stations fi cause deprivation inna de nation.
    Or how about the Guardian's own witty one, which reflects the true nature of the coalition: The Conservative Party (taking Conservative from the Conservative Party and Party from the Liberal Democratic Party)?

    Global Englishes and the future of English

    One of the big language debates currently raging around the world is about the ways in which English, as it spreads into new territories, changes to become something different from the English English we native speakers are used to.

    Is this stripped down language actually English anymore? Should we be talking about Global Englishes instead - different varieties of English spoken around the world - or insisting that Standard British English be taught as an international language? And then, there's a more recent movement (ELF) which suggests that English is increasingly becoming a Lingua Franca, being used by speakers for whom English is not their first language, and that English as a Lingua Franca should be the umbrella term that covers this mode of communication, that basically (and I hope I get this right) anyone whose first language is not English and who is talking to someone else whose first language is also not English, will be using ELF, whatever variety they choose to speak in. In other words, while Global Englishes are specific varieties around the world (Singaporean English, Chinese English, Australian English etc.), ELF covers the broader function of the language being used.

    Anyway, a recent book by Robert McCrum called Globish, takes a look at some of these arguments around English  and a lengthy extract appeared in last Sunday's Observer. Among some other interesting points, this one is probably worth a bit more consideration:

    Today there is almost no limit to the scope of this subject. The world's varieties of English range from the "crazy English" taught to the Chinese-speaking officials of the Beijing Olympics, to the "voice and accent" manuals issued by Infosys and Microsoft at their Bangalore headquarters. Thus, English today embodies a paradox. To some, it seems to carry the seeds of its own decay. In the heartlands of the mother tongue, there are numerous anxieties about its future: in the United States, language conservatives agonise about the Hispanic threat to American English. But simultaneously, and more stealthily – almost unnoticed, in fact – the real challenge to the English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible comes less from alien speech than from the ceaseless amendments made to English in a myriad daily transactions across the known world. Here, global English, floating free from its troubled British and American past, has begun to take on a life of its own. My prediction is that the 21st-century expression of British and American English – the world's English – is about to make its own declaration of independence from the linguistic past, in both syntax and vocabulary.




    Tuesday, May 04, 2010

    The Twitter police

    New technology is often blamed for a general decline in literacy standards: we've all seen texts and message board posts which feature appalling spelling and grammar ("just wandering wot your doing") and some of us might even have made these horrendous mistakes, but an expanding group of Twitter users have been policing others' language usage, as revealed in this article from the New York Times.

    Uptalk upsurge upsets

    You've probably looked at High Rising Intonation, or what's often called uptalk, as part of your ENGA3 Language Variation work, so this brief article in yesterday's Guardian about its recent reported growth is quite timely. The article itself doesn't really tell us much new, but it contains some good links to previous, more detailed articles which should prove helpful. It's worth remembering that this accent has previously featured on an AQA A Language paper, so it's clearly fair game for the ENGA3 paper.

    You might also find this link to the Word of Mouth Radio 4 message board interesting for different views people have on the accents and/or pronunciation of others. I can see an infectious disease and a damp spoon response in just the first 5 or 6 posts!