Back Wednesday 27 Apr 2022 1:28 pm

New and old frontiers in English Language A level

One of the (many) joys of teaching A level English Language is that it offers us the chance to be linguistic time travellers.
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At one end of the timeline, we can look back at the history of English and explore how it came to be, how it has changed over the centuries and what’s driven those changes; at the other end, we can look into the future of the language, where it’s going, how it’s spreading and how it’s shifting into new forms and varieties all over the world. 

As you have probably realised from teaching the course, we can look back at what’s happened to English in the past to map out its possible futures, while also keeping an eye out for ways in which new changes might be possible.  So, the ways in which the accents and dialects of English have ebbed and flowed show us a slower, bigger picture of change, while trying to keep up with the seemingly endless procession of new words (and old words with new meanings) into the lexicon can remind us of very rapid changes to language. And all these changes in English have happened - and continue to happen - outside the UK as well as within it. So, increasingly, the English that many speakers of the language make use of is developing away from these shores and continuing to establish a life and identity of its own. 

Whether it’s the rapid transformation of LOL (or just plain old lower case lol) from a genuine snort of laughter at a computer screen to a kind of multi-use interactive ‘pragmatic particle’, the many new and different uses of the humble full stop, or words like ‘aceboy’ and ‘acegirl’ joining the lexicon from Bermudian English, the change and variation we see in our language can take us in all sorts of interesting directions. 

But while this is exciting stuff, it can be quite daunting trying to keep up with it all. There are always new developments, new research studies being carried out and new media articles debating language to stay on top of.  There are lots of resources out there too – from textbooks to websites and podcasts -  but it’s often useful to have these contextualised and related directly to the courses we teach. 

How EMC can help

We put on courses and conferences for teachers here at the EMC in London and online, out there on the internet. Language change, language diversity and the global dimensions of English are areas we’ve concentrated upon a lot recently and we are developing that focus further this summer with input from a number of different linguists and lexicographers. 

Our online teacher conference on global Englishes on June 8th will feature three experts – Nicola Galloway, Li Wei and Danica Salazar – addressing some of the big ideas in world Englishes at the moment, ‘translanguaging’ being one of them, along with new resources that are now available to help teach the course. And then our language change teacher conference on June 29th introduces Helen Newsome, Robbie Love and Mary O’Neill, Senior Lexicographer at Collins Dictionaries, to discuss both new words and old texts. 

If in-person events are back on your itinerary, we have a re-run of our Language Diversity course for AQA taking place on 7th July and this is co-presented with Devyani Sharma whose recent work on accent bias has been making waves beyond the world of linguistics. We also have a slightly tweaked version of our popular Starting to Teach English Language course running on 7th June so if you are new to teaching the A level or just about to embark on it, this will offer you different ways in. 

And don’t forget that we also publish emagazine! New, shiny emagazine articles are always exciting – and we have ones coming soon on world Englishes in the OED and modern idioms, among others – but we also have a really big archive that includes pieces for every part of the course. Just in the last year, we have published articles on East Midlands English, the linguistics of popular culture, accent bias, children’s letters, dialect change in the South East of England, studying swearing changes in recent English, debates around ‘woke’ and pandemic metaphors. Go back over the years and you’ll find pretty much everything you need, not just for the exams that are coming up but the NEA investigations that you might well be starting with your Year 12 students very soon. In fact, many teachers have found that starting their NEA work with a browse through the emag archives can be a great way of getting students to do an accessible literature review that takes them beyond the usual suspects (Zimmerman, West and Lakoff, we are talking about you) and into new frontiers.  

Not a subscriber to emagazine’s website?

Subscribe to a print and web package now and your students and teachers can start to access all emagazine’s riches immediately – that's over four months web access for free at just the right time for both revision and summer holiday reading! Click here for more details and how to subscribe. 

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

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