A Level English: Language Paper 2
Language Diversity & Change
A typical question, based on the reading of two texts, might be as follows, which was taken from an exam paper recently! The insert used in the exam concerned itself with the role of Standard English and the role of Political Correctness in our society now and how it is seen by some, as being wrong, divisive, or just illegal or immoral, as the writer claimed it went against our most basic of human right, to a voice and the freedom to use it freely!
These were the questions…..
Evaluate the idea that British Standard English is superior to other varieties of English used around the world. [30 marks]
Evaluate the idea that the English language has been decaying over time and continues to do so. [30 marks]
The thing is, how on earth do you answer such a divisive bruiser, as this? But the first question I ask, is which one would you do?
For me, the answer will always be to choose the one that allows you to write the most! By going for the Standard English one, you limit yourself to the subject matter itself, how it has changed over time, how accents and dialects are forever changing and how, since the 1950s, language change has also affected Standard English users.
You could use ideas from the media, for in 1957, we only had a single channel (I think) in the UK, (BBC1). I may be wrong, but by 1986, we had at least four, if not more, and how regional accents, in the news, were now starting to be used! All this plays into Standard English, which in essence, is a myth anyway, for it is a forever changing thing, as language changes every day, emerging into a consciousness in 2021 that is now as politically correct as it can be in an effort to appease those who get offended more than most.
But with question two, you get a much broader playing field in which to write! The question asks you to evaluate the idea that the English language has been decaying over time and continues to do so, which is an obvious thing to say, in a way! The question then arises as to how you are going to support your views! Yes, you use the two articles and I have purposely not added them into here, to keep my explanation more open, but let’s assume you agree, as I do, that the English language is forever changing!
Then let’s assume that you understand how such language change has taken place; invasions, immigration, new words coming into the language through technology, the media, the arts, Hollywood and the likes and use a framework to write an answer from. One way to do such a question is to choose three eras to write about! For example, a recent student of mine did an NEA on something from three different eras; 1957, 1986 and 2020. I suggested, when we looked at this one here today, that she adopt a similar method here.
So, what was the English language like in 1957? We had not seen Rock and Roll yet! We were just realising who Elvis Presley was. Cliff Richard had not even had his first hit! The Swinging Sixties as they were known, were a pipe dream and English was being taught in tightly clipped, RP tongues, across the world! The BBC had presenters dressed in suits and ties, presenting using as much RP (Received Pronunciation) as possible and dialect words were more or less banned. The BBC were saying “this is how we must speak to promote British life!”
But the truth of the matter was very different under the surface! Geordies said, “why aye man” and Yorkshiremen said, “Ayup our kid” (I still do) and yet, the normal working class voice was never heard! It was always middle class Britain who were shown off to the world. Watch any old newsreel or black and white news item to see what I mean! Words back in 1957 had their semantic meaning, as well as pragmatically! “Cool” meant relatively cold, until a year or two later, when “cool” suddenly meant “groovy baby” as some American singers once said. The Sixties and Bubblegum Pop was arriving in the world like a nuclear holocaust on the English language! The mushroom cloud would linger long into the 1980s.
Then jump to 1986 as your second example of how language has changed and is decaying and you use multi channel television, like cable TV in the 80s (that was a giggle) with presenters with regional accents. There were only a few and they were from Surrey, or Oxfordshire, rather than the typical Manc accent or dare I say it, “Scortish?” Yes, the English language was changing. Words like “moon landing” were commonplace whereas in 1957, it had not happened yet! If it happened, at all!
But so were words that you could use to argue that the English language was decaying! Standard English was no longer the dominant force it had been. The three percent RP speakers, the top three percent, were silenced by the wave of Beatles music and Liverpool comedians sounding off their Scouse accents, as glorious as they are! Just listening to Sir Ken Dodd or John Lennon at that time, was bliss on the ear! You could hear every nuance and syllable, but also the accent they grew up with! True representation of accent and dialect was coming, which is a great thing!
But you can also argue that for the clarity of the English language, it was losing its depth and clean cut image and instead, was being changed from within in ways that to some, who are the purists in life, would have said that this was all too intolerable! Once again, the media and the music industry paved the way and words began to enter the English language, like “Compact Disc,” a thing unheard of before that, when the world had Betamax and then, the greatness of VHS video tapes!
Those were the days! (That’s a song title, my friends)
Words that meant one thing in 1957 now took on other meanings. “Cool” was out and “Hip” was in. It was the age of the “Yuppy,” with his Filofax, leather wallet and briefcase, who wore the obligatory “Sony Walkman” on his head, all new words into the English language!
But take another quantum leap to 2020 and then see what we are now up to in terms of the decay of the English language! Suddenly, “cool” no longer means good, but the word “sick” means the same thing! Suddenly, it is “sick” to be so famous, or a new car can be “sick,” or a particular singer! No longer are the Americanisms of “groovy” heard, unless on old style TV shows.
Language is and forever will be, changing! That is a fact that we can never get away from! But, to fully answer the question, you have to go one side, or the other! You can argue both, but definitely, end up one side or the other! And don’t let your own strongly held views hold you back either! If you can say good and bad and then, slam dunk (there’s an Americanism for you) a really good point at the end, you have done the job!
Section B has two tasks. One is analytical, so how do you compare and contrast the two inserts read and studied for the exam? The answer has already been shown to you, by any good teacher! To use a Yorkshireism I use all the time, if your teacher hasn’t taught you to write using this framework, then they are “crap” at their job, full stop!
The framework should have been the first thing you did in Year 12. Or at the AS stage! It includes words like, “Lexis, Semantics, Pragmatics, Graphology” and a few more! Look them up and see! Get the AS book from Heinemann or the likes and see! So, whatever the task, your first paragraph answers the question! The next explains how, using ideas about Lexis. Then another paragraph about Semantics, and so on.
But then, you get the final task and here is an example, from the earlier paper!
Write an opinion article about politically correct
language in which you 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. [30 marks]
For me, this is where I would have fun!
Does that sound odd? It shouldn’t, because this is where you get the chance to really have a go at being creative! But what if you’re the analytical type? Well, that might be the case. But, it should not deter you from having a giggle either! For that task above, the chances to be creative are massive!
PC: The Stain On The Nation! That is what an American TV Pastor called it four years ago! You could go down that route, or the exact opposite! The choice is yours! If in this case, it was offensive, but written in purely Standard English, (with dialect words in brackets) then it would be perfect.
So, GO FOR IT!