Thursday, May 31, 2012

Totes droolworthy new words

Lots of new words have been added to Oxford Dictionaries Online. You can look them all up here and find out more about what they mean and where they come from. But why no Amazeballs?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Texting style

Today is a great day for English Language stuff in the news and on the web. Then again, maybe every day is a good day for this kind of thing, but I've got some time to read about them now my AS students have gone.

Anyway, here's Stan Carey posting about text language and describing it, interestingly, as "an ‘active frontier’ and the innovation and flux it illustrates is a sign of linguistic health So long as communication is effective and young people learn or are taught when texting style is inappropriate there is no call for alarm Despite occasional panic texting is not ruining language – it’s just another way for social creatures to be social".

Slamming the door on -gate

The suffix -gate has been added to random words to suggest a scandal for some time now - 1972, to be exact - and some people have had enough. For me, pastygate was a gate too far, but for others it might have been bigotgate or cablegate (covered here in 2010).

This article in the Chicago Tribune argues that it's time to shut the gate for good and find new ways of labelling scandals.  It's also good for those of you looking at Language Change and how new words enter the language, so helpful for ENGA3 revision.

Children's language reflects cultural shifts

In a gift to all ENGA3 (and ENGB3) students everywhere, today's Guardian runs a story about the changing language of Britain's tweenagers, and it includes references to not only change but gender and age-related variation and the influence of American English.

Read more about it here.

Edited on 29.05.12 to add:

When posting this I didn't realise that the Daily Mail had also covered the story in a much less nuanced way. Their feature- by Matthew Engel, a man with anti-American form - can be found here and is a great (as in deranged and crap) example of prescriptivist griping. It doesn't bode well that the headline uses the verb "swamping" to describe the supposed spread of American English into the UK.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

ENGA3 revision: some links

Here are a few links to recent articles about different topics relevant to ENGA3.

@backwellengdept have provided this link to an article about World Englishes.
Professor Julie Coleman (whose book The Life of Slang is on my summer reading list) has written this short piece about 7 slang words.
Autocorrect is making us bad spellers, apparently from this article...
...or not, if you believe this take on the same story.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Goodbye ENGA1, Hello ENGA3

Now the AS exam paper is done and dusted (a decent paper? I think so...) we'll devote the time between now and June 11th to ENGA3.

I'll start posting some new revision material for this unit early next week.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

ENGA1: good luck

Good luck to anyone taking (or retaking) ENGA1 tomorrow.

If you have any last minute questions or worries that aren't addressed in the previous revision posts, post a comment here and I'll see if I can help. I can't promise an instant reply, but will try to respond today at some point.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

ENGA1 Language Development: quick revision ideas

There's not really much time to go until the exam, so I'll concentrate on a few pointers to help with this section and then point you towards relevant resources and previous posts.

First things first:
  • Only spend 5-10 minutes on the data question. It's worth 10 marks and what you need to do is pick out, quote and label 5 different features. That's explanations, no theories, no extra waffle. Make sure your 5 points are sufficiently different to allow you to get 10 marks (e.g. don't identify two examples of substitution and then label the other three as virtuous errors).
  • 5 bullet points/short sentences is enough!

Essay tips:

  • Answer the question! Don't expect to be able to roll out a prepared response and get good marks. Try to grapple with what the question is actually asking you: maybe define the terms of it in your own words, early on in your opening paragraph.
  • Use examples: you can even use the data from the first question if you can't think of other examples, but it's better to have a few of your own.
  • Integrate and evaluate different theoretical models. Examiners are keen to see students thinking about the pros and cons of different theories for the question that's been set.
Resources that might help:

Last year's (and 2010's) revision tips can be found here. They still stand.
Some helpful links to various snippets.
And some stuff on new approaches if you're feeling brave.

If you look down the right sidebar you can also download 4 theory sheets from my Twitpics.

Monday, May 14, 2012

ENGA1: quick revision tips 4

Today's post on ENGA1 (coming up this Friday - yikes!) is about addressing meaning in the texts you analyse.

Recent principal examiner reports have made the point that as students get better at discussing language features and mode, meaning still seems to be a problem for many people. And that's not necessarily a big surprise. Given that you're probably primed and ready to pick out lots of language details and link them to mode, it's often easy to forget that the texts themselves mean something and represent ideas, people, events in particular ways. In many ways it's less easy to prepare for this AO.

But some ideas that might help are as follows:

  • As you're using your 15 minutes of reading and annotating time, try to summarise, in 25 words or fewer, what each text is actually about and what it is saying about that topic. Imagine you were being asked by someone "What have you just read?": try to think of what you would say. "Oh, it's an article about higher education that's trying to persuade you that university is a good thing," might be your response.
  • How is the subject matter being represented? You will also have done the ENGA2 unit in your AS year. Think about what you have learnt about representation. Language choices shape our perception of issues, events, individuals and institutions. What clues are there in the language about the viewpoint or perspective being taken? This could range from quite obvious points about adjective use to more subtle points about the passive voice being used to hide agency (e.g. "The use of mobile phones has been banned in this college." Banned by whom?) or nominalisation being used to turn a  verb process (e.g. dropping out of university) into a state of affairs or even a person, i.e. a noun (e.g. someone who has dropped out is referred to as a dropout).
  • Texts also reflect a degree of positioning on the part of the text producer (the speaker/s or the writer). How are the text producers representing themselves? How are pronouns used to position speakers or writers? 
  • If there is more than one speaker or writer, do they offer different perspectives? How do Text A and Text B differ?

If you're smart, you can weave points about meaning into your analytical sentences, rather than saving big chunks of your answer to deal with meaning, but it's also a good idea to allocate at least one paragraph to addressing meaning on its own and how the texts handle it in similar or different ways.

Tomorrow, it's time for some quick Language Development tips.

Friday, May 11, 2012


If there weren't evidence enough already that David Cameron is a prize chump - privatisation of the NHS, steering us into a double-dip recession, having a face like Iggle Piggle - the report on the BBC News site today that he thought LOL stood for Lots of Love should be the final nail in his coffin.

In his texts to former News of the World editor, Rebekah Brooks, it is claimed he signed off with LOL until it was pointed out by a flunky that it meant Laugh Out Loud.

And this man is supposed to be running our country. ROFLMAO.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Language Wars - more skirmishes

As previous posts on this will no doubt reveal, this blog is a big fan of Henry Hitchings' The Language Wars. It's a great read for any student or teacher of English Language because it covers the areas we study and offers an erudite debunking of prescriptivist myths and pronouncements.

It's recently been published in the USA and has had a bit of stick from The New Yorker's Joan Acocella, who basically describes Hitchings as a hypocrite because he uses the "rules" in his own writing that he derides in the preachings of others. She says of the author, "Hitchings went to Oxford and wrote a doctoral dissertation on Samuel Johnson. He has completed three books on language. He knows how to talk the talk, but, as for walking the walk, he’d rather take the Rolls. You can walk, though".

It's a pretty flawed argument, as John E. McIntyre explains here when he says "Identifying a usage does not equate to endorsing it; and even if a usage is endorsed, that does not make in compulsory".

Whatever your take on The Language Wars, the whole spat is very much at the heart of the Language Discourses section of the ENGA3 paper, so well worth a look because of that.

Edited on 14.05.12 to add:
Language Log provides a great response to all of this (with some really good comments afterwards).

ENGA1: quick revision tips 3

Mode is the name of the game in this quick revision post.

The first section on ENGA1 is called Language and Mode, so you'd have to be a mug not to mention it, but what is it? At its simplest, mode is basically the way language passes from text producer to text receiver. So, that can be via the visual channel in the form of written texts, or the aural channel in the form of spoken texts.Simples, no?

But mode is also quite a slippery concept in that it relates to the ways in which we understand other ideas about how texts are produced and received, so we use the notion of the mode continuum to talk about different dimensions along which we can place texts. The clickable graphic of this can offer you a few pointers as to which dimensions are most relevant at this level. You might have used different terms for some of these (e.g. asynchronous for delayed, or synchronous for immediate) but it's all the same really.

How do you address mode in the exam? I'd suggest tackling it head-on at the earliest stage. You've probably been told how to structure an essay for this question already, but an approach I always like is to use the acronym GASP: Genre, Audience, Subject, Purpose. This allows you to think about the type of texts, who they're aimed at, what they're about, and what purposes they serve; so I'd suggest that mode is dealt with as a concept as part of Genre. For example, you could talk about Text A or B being an example of a spoken mode anecdote, a written mode piece of fiction, a blended mode Twitter timeline, etc..

The other thing about mode is that examiners are keen to reward students who see the subtleties of mode across different texts, or even within the same ones. I'm always banging on at my students about not treating texts as "uniform blobs" - homogeneous, unchanging, fixed and straightforward - but as places where different things can happen.

For example, in a spoken interaction it would be daft to assume that each speaker used the same degree of standard/non-standard language or to assume that a speaker was always being interactional rather than transactional, so the same is true to an extent for written texts: they may exhibit some features of one mode dimension at one point and then another aspect of that mode dimension at another point. A written text might start as a formal and transactional piece, but develop into something more informal and interactional. Look for shifts within texts, but also of course between them. Always provide evidence for your observations though, because you need to show the examiner that what you are saying is linked to actual examples of language in the texts, rather than vague generalities plucked from thin air.

The other interesting area of mode is, I think, that of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) where we see texts which are primarily visual in their channel, but quite spoken in their style: tweets, emails, online chat and message forums, and text messages perhaps. However, these texts pose their own questions and again examiners like to see students who can respond to what's put in front of them, rather than make blanket judgements about CMC texts always being (say) non-standard, informal and instant.

We see, for instance, a huge range of language styles in emails, depending on who has sent them, to whom they've been sent and what they're about. If you're a Colchester Sixth Form College student you'll soon be able to look on Moodle to see the excellent presentations done by AS classes where they pulled apart different emails to see how they varied in style and structure. If not, bad luck, but you can easily find a few examples of your own.

Overall, I think mode is a really interesting area of language to look at and one that allows you to open up texts for really careful scrutiny. It helps if you can combine discussing it with other ideas about the texts' contexts - very much as Marcello Giovanelli explained at the recent EMC Language conference - but it's also something that can be linked neatly to specific language features for AO1:

  • minor sentences used as a form of elliptical, abbreviated, rapid writing/typing (e.g. "Well done!" used in an email from parent to son about a new job)
  • syntactical reordering of spoken language to put emphasis on particular bits of a sentence (e.g. "That one I really like, that one I don't")
  • inclusive first person plural pronouns being used in written texts to create synthetic personalisation and position the text producer as a friend or ally ("It seems that we can't get enough of Kirsty Allsop")

The next post will be on meaning...

Omnishambles and others

We've already had plenty of new words appear this year and if you're looking for a few contemporary ones to spice up your ENGA3 Language Change/Discourse answers (should the need arise), here are some to think about.

What do they mean and what word formation processes have created them? Kerry Maxwell's Buzzwords on the MacMillan Dictionary site is always a good source of information on new words, so there are links to a few of them here:

Omnishambles (already consists of Granny Tax and Pastygate among other ConDem disasters)

Can you think of any other new words which have appeared this year? Add them as comments if you can.

Edited on 14.05.12 to add:

Here's Zooey Deschanel. She's adorkable, apparently. I tend to agree.

Chatterboxing has also had an impact this year: it's when you tweet while you watch something on TV. For example #TheVoice Why is Danny standing on a chair and pumping his fist? It's only the title music.

ENGA3 revision tips: dialogue and variation

Recent ENGA3 papers have included extracts of dialogue from novels such as Victor Headley's Yardie and B.K. Mahal's, The Pocket Guide to being an Indian Girl (as well as the usual transcripts, blogs and newspaper extracts) so it's perhaps a good idea to think about how non-standard English is represented in fiction. it's not only useful to acquaint yourself with the features and functions of different varieties of English but also some of the literary uses of it.

Beth Kemp, who has written lots of great stuff for this course and examines it too, has posted a few suggestions to her blog about texts that feature teenspeak, so you can have a look here at what she offers, but you could also have a look at texts like The Scholar or Society Within by Courttia Newland, East of Acre Lane by Alex Wheatle, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh or The Afterglow by Antony Cartwright, which feature (respectively) London and Black British English, MLE (with a touch of Ghanaian), working class Edinburgh English and Black Country (West Midlands) dialect. And they're all darn good reads.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Wong, wong, wong?

The appointment of Roy Hodgson to the post of England manager - a cursed job at the best of times - has allowed The Sun to poke fun at the former West Brom boss's apparent speech impediment. In a story about Hodgson, they quipped that "Woy" would be fine with Sweden but might struggle with "Ukwaine and Fwance".

Is this playful banter or another example of tabloid bullying? The BBC looks at it here, while the esteemed phonology expert, John Wells, looks at it in detail here and all-round language buff and good guy, Michael Rosen offers his view on the story and its wider significance here.

Frankly, I don't care how Roy Hodgson speaks, just so long as he can whip a bunch of pampered premiership primadonnas into shape and make them play better than they have for last 45 years.

ENGA1: quick revision tips 2

Today's top tip post is a very quick one connected to AO1.

This AO assesses two things: your ability to use language frameworks and your ability to write accurately*. In this paper, you can be rewarded for simply picking out a feature and giving it the right label, and I think that's a good thing. Knowing stuff is important, and being able to apply your knowledge deserves reward. So, feature spotting language in the texts can actually get you quite a few marks for AO1 (which is worth 15/45 marks in the Language and Mode part of the exam).

In an ideal world, you would then make links between the language features you've noted and the modes of the texts, and their meanings, but picking out a few key language features which always get rewarded highly can help you score a few more marks. One really good thing about the ENGA1 mark scheme is how transparent it is. If you correctly identify a noun, that'll put you in the 5-8 band, but if you add more detail and label it as an abstract noun, that bumps you into the 9-12 band. The more detail you offer, the more marks you long as you are accurate.

Here are a few to look out for:

Modal auxiliary verbs. There are only 9 of these, so they are easy enough to remember. If you're not sure what they are or what they do, look here. The good thing about modals is that they often have a very clear effect, helping you link to AO3ii (meaning).

Minor sentences. These are sentences which aren't really sentences. They are often fragments of speech or elliptical structures like noun phrases that are punctuated like sentences (e.g. Nice one.) or clauses missing a subject (e.g. Going out later.). Again, these can be pretty easy to spot and are often good for linking to mode, be it CMC texts like Tweets, emails or text messages, or spoken texts in which utterances rather than sentences are the basic unit of meaning.

If-clauses (clauses of condition) and because-clauses (clauses of reason). Even if you're not entirely clear about clause level analysis, these types of clause are quite easy to spot and again, while they can give you lots of AO1 marks, they often link to meaning nicely too. If you want to find out more about these, check here.

 Next time, we'll look at Mode and why it's so important.

(*It's a bit of a silly combination, because they aren't really the same thing at all. For example, you could write really well, but say nothing interesting about the language of a text, or write really badly yet be full of insightful language points. But anyway, that's not AQA's fault; it's the fault of the people who made the awarding bodies jump through hoops to create new specifications.)