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Time and Space 1: Changing English

The Tower of Babel; oil painting by Peter Bruegel the Elder (1563). Image taken from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

One of the core concepts that you will return to time and time again in your study of IB English is that Language changes in relationship to time and space. This concept is what makes language so intriguing – and admittedly, challenging – to study. In this section you will be asked to consider language that is familiar to you and varieties of English that might be unfamiliar or even surprising. At any given point in time, language can vary significantly according to place and person, just as it has throughout history and across different cultures.

The scope of this unit is incredibly wide and you will invariably encounter ideas and topics in which you have a personal interest, or which pique your curiosity. Are you interested in sport; why not investigate the use of jargon in sports reporting, or the use of metaphor in sports commentary? Are you concerned by LGBTQ issues; you might be interested to know about Pelosi, a gay dialect from Soho, London. Are you from America, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, India or a number of other Anglophone countries in which English is part of mainstream life? How about tracing particular uses of English (vocabulary, grammar, idiom, etymology) tied to your home country? If you are an environmentalist, investigate a range of current news media to find out how certain terms have come to represent certain sensitivities. The possibilities are endless, so don’t be afraid to speak to your teacher who can help point you in the right direction. 

 

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IB Learner Profile: Inquirers

“We nurture our curiosity, developing skills for inquiry and research. We know how to learn independently and with others. We learn with enthusiasm and sustain our love of learning throughout life.”

IB Learner Profile

Get yourself into good habits right at the start of the course by trying to read beyond the articles provided here or by your teachers. You could begin by browsing the OxfordWords blog, a repository of hundreds of articles about all things language-related, including how language is constantly changing and evolving. In the spirit of being an inquirer, why not choose an article that you enjoy and try leading part of a lesson using this as your starting point?

Lang and Lit Concepts: Culture

“Culture is a notoriously complex concept. Its meaning is contested and has been used to mean different things at different times and in different places. In the English A: Language and Literature course, culture may refer to contexts of production and reception, and to the interplay of values and beliefs that exist in and may influence how texts are written and received.”

IB Language and Literature Guide

Language is one of the ways by which different cultures can be defined and distinguished from one another. During this section, you will visit different parts of the anglophone (English-speaking) world and learn about various cultures. As you learn, consider how the changes to English over time and space can tells us things about the different cultures in which the language lives.

Guiding Conceptual Question: Time and Space

  • How does language represent social distinctions and identities?

Time and Space 2: Taboo

“Not one of them would sit down, or eat a bit of anything… On expressing my surprise at this, they were all taboo, as they said; which word has a very comprehensive meaning; but, in general, signifies that a thing is forbidden… When any thing is forbidden to be eaten, or made use of, they say, that it is taboo.” 

Captain James Cook, 1777
Slaying Holofernes; oil on canvas by Artemisia Gentileschi, Naples, 1610. Find out more about the daring Italian artist who followed in Carravagio’s footsteps and broke Counter-Reformation taboos at a time when women were confined to still-life painting.

The word ‘taboo’ derives from the Tongan word tabu meaning ‘set apart’ or ‘forbidden’, and was first used in 1777 by  Captain James Cook after he observed the eating habits of the people of the South Pacific Islands. Taboo subjects in all societies tend to involve religion, sex, death and bodily functions; things that frighten us and make us uneasy. The first taboo word in Proto-European languages was supposedly ‘bear’ – an animal so ferocious and fierce that people were scared to call it by its name. 

Taboos vary over time, and as they change, so do the words that are considered socially unacceptable. Several hundred years ago, the strongest taboos among English speakers were religious: you may remember hearing characters from Shakespeare shouting ‘Zounds!’ an expression that was vulgar as it was a shortened version of ‘God’s Wounds.’ This taboo has weakened over the 20th century, with words like ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ largely losing their offensiveness. Different societies have developed a multitude of words and expressions to deal with taboo subjects in a variety of ways, either to avoid mentioning a difficult subject at all or to deliberately use taboo words to shock, incense, hurt or offend.

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IB Learner Profile: Caring

“We show empathy, compassion and respect. We have a commitment to service, and we act to make a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world around us.”

IB Learner Profile

IB Learners care about others, and care about the impact they have on others. They don’t stand aside when they see injustice or cruelty, and seek ways to actively improve the lives of others. The notion of ‘action’ is tied intimately to caring; so at some point while you investigate the following topics pause and draw up a resolution. This could be as small as altering the words you use to describe others, or something larger like delivering a presentation in an assembly about the way the language we use can be culturally sensitive. 

Lang and Lit Concept: Perspective

The concept of perspective suggests that works and texts have a range of potential meanings. The potential can arise, for example, from authorial intent, reader bias, and from the time and place in which a work or text was written. You’ll discover that uses of language you might find offensive, from another perspective is inoffensive – and visa-versa. Part of being an IB student is learning to respectfully challenge received wisdom and the opinions of others, and to have your own preconceptions challenged in return.

Guiding Conceptual Questions: Time and Space

  • How does the meaning and impact of texts change over time?
  • How does language represent social distinctions and identities?

Time and Space 3: Other Times, Other Places

Reborn sounds of childhood Dreams I; Ibrahim El-Salahi, 1961-1965. Considered the father of African modernism, Ibrahim El Salahi has created over five decades of visionary, Surrealist artworks from mixed Arab and African origins.

The idea that a reader comes to a text with culturally learned preconceptions is an understanding central to this section of the course. To a certain extent we are all ethnocentric – that is that we all struggle with the ingrained idea that the way our own way life is the natural or ‘right’ way to live. We then use those norms to make judgements about other cultures or ways of living. In this section you’ll study texts from and about people who live in other places or lived at other times and, hopefully, be able to recognise how the meaning of some texts rely on making stereotypes which may be misleading or untrue.

Topics:

  • Stereotyping Africa
  • Constructing Racial Stereotypes
  • Travel and Tourism
  • The Victorians
  • Visions of the Future
  • Utopia/Dystopia

Learner Profile: TBC

Lang and Lit Concept: Representation

“Representation refers to the relationship between texts and meanings. In any given text, whether literary or non-literary – however one makes that distinction – the relationship between form, structure, and meaning is a central concern. Perspectives differ on the extent to which language and literature does, can, or should represent reality.”

IB Lang and Lit Guide

Conceptual Guiding Questions: Time and Space

  • How important is cultural or historical context to the production and reception of a text?
  • How do we approach texts from different times and cultures to our own?
  • To what extent do texts offer insight into another culture?

Readers, Writers, Texts 1: Words Words Words

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, (1948)
Thoughtcrime; ink on canvas by Liberty Maniacs, 2010

If we don’t have words for a concept or thing, then how can we conceive of a concept or thing? This is one of the key knowledge issues inherent to language, and needs thinking about in some detail. In this section you can explore ideas such as whether your knowledge is limited by the words you know, why what we call things matters, where the meaning of words resides, and whether you think in metaphors. In today’s political landscape, these ideas have arguably never been more relevant, as this article suggests.

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IB Learner Profile: Open-Minded

“We critically appreciate our own cultures and personal histories, as well as the values and traditions of others. We seek and evaluate a range of points of view, and we are willing to grow from the experience.”

IB Learner Profile

The ideas in this section are intimately tied to work you will do in your Theory of Knowledge course, as language is one of the “ways of knowing,” a primary means of engaging with knowledge and understanding. As you explore language and words as a sign system, keep in mind your own spirit of open-mindedness – especially when the theories and suggestions in this section might seem a bit bewildering, esoteric or obscure.

Lang and Lit Concept: Creativity

Creativity plays an important part in the experience of reading and writing. The concept is fundamental to analyse and understand the act of writing, and the role that imagination plays. When applied to the act of reading, creativity highlights the importance of the reader being able to engage in an imaginative interaction with a text which generates a range of potential meanings from it, above and beyond established interpretations.

IB Language and Literature Guide

The strange and esoteric nature of some of the concepts discussed in this section may require you to have an imaginative and creative response. When it all feels a bit much, remind yourself of the Lang and Lit guide’s definition of creativity: creativity highlights the importance of the reader being able to engage in an imaginative interaction with a text which generates a range of potential meanings from it.

Guiding Conceptual Questions: Readers, Writers, Texts

  • In what ways is meaning constructed, negotiated, expressed and interpreted?
  • How are we affected by texts in various ways?

Readers, Writers, Texts 2: The Media, Journalism and the Internet

“It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.”

Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1979
The Death of Journalism; acrylic on wood by Ruben Ubiera, 2010

When studying Time and Space, you learned how language is, to a large extent, a ‘grass-roots’ or ‘bottom-up’ phenomenon; flexible, mutable and changeable according to whoever uses it. In this section of the course you will study the reverse idea: ‘top-down’ processes, by which language is crafted and shaped in deliberate ways for deliberate purposes in order for powerful messages to be disseminated to ‘the masses,’ and also how new technologies are disrupting this process so that readers play a part in the authoring and creation of texts (to find out more about this, visit Intertextuality: Death of the Author).

Public opinion is a powerful force which can be used to decide who gets elected, how people should be educated, and how groups of people should be treated. The underlying concept on this page is how public opinion is managed through channels of mass communication, also known as the media. This unit also fulfils one of the IB Diploma wider aims, which is to promote media literacy: the understanding of how language is used as a tool to mould public opinion. 

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IB Learner Profile: knowledgeable

We develop and use conceptual understanding, exploring knowledge across a range of disciplines. We engage with issues and ideas that have local and global significance.”

IB Learner Profile

– IB Learner Profile

How do you get your knowledge of the world? Which newspapers do you read, or news programmes do you watch, if any? How wide or narrow is the range of sources you use to keep abreast of current affairs?  An IB Learner should strive to be knowledgable about ideas of global significance, and watching or reading the news from a variety of sources can help you widen your knowledge in this regard. 

Lang and Lit Concept:

TBC

Guiding Conceptual Questions: Readers, Writers, Texts

TBC


Readers, Writers, Texts 3: The Language of Persuasion

V.I. Lenin and a Demonstration; oil on canvas by Isaak Brodsky, 1919

Have you ever experienced goosebumps whilst you were listening to someone speak? Chances are this response was the result of persuasive language. Persuasive language comes into all kinds of text, from presentations in school assemblies, to political pamphlets, to adverts persuading you to buy something you didn’t really need. In this section you will explore important aspects of persuasive language including propaganda, rhetoric and public speaking (another important application – advertising – is even more deeply enmeshed in our everyday lives and is covered in the next section). 

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IB Learner Profile: Thinker

“We use critical and creative thinking skills to analyse and take responsible action on complex problems. We exercise initiative in making reasoned, ethical decisions.”

IB Learner Profile

Many of the articles and discussions you will have in this section will challenge you to think more critically about sources of information, and the methods with which the ‘real world’ is presented to you through the mass media. You may have to swallow some of your assumptions about the purposes of those creating, programming and writing content for mainstream consumption. Being able to recognize when you are being covertly persuaded, for example, relies on you being media literate, and critically aware. 

Lang and Lit Concept: Communication

“The concept of communication revolves around the question of the relationship that is established between a writer and a reader by means of a text. The extent to which writers facilitate communication through their choices of style and structure may be an aspect to analyse in this exploration. The writer may also have a particular audience in mind which may mean assumptions have been made about the reader’s knowledge or views which might make communication with some readers easier than with others. Alternatively, the amount of cooperation that a text demands from a reader for communication to take place, and the readiness of the reader to engage is also important as a topic for discussion. Even with cooperative readers, the meaning of a text is never univocal, which makes the concept of communication a particularly productive, and potentially problematic one in relation to both literary and non-literary texts.”

IB Language and Literature Guide

Because speeches are inherently a communicative task, these sets of resources have been placed under the concept of communication.

Conceptual Guiding Questions: Readers, Writers, Texts

You should use these questions, where appropriate, to self-assess your understanding of issues underlying the Language and Literature Area of Exploration: Reader, Writer, Text. They can be used as discussion questions in class, the heading for a learner portfolio entry, as reflection questions at the end of the unit, or as issues you want to explore in your Individual Oral. Questions that are particularly suited to this section are:

  • How are we affected by texts in various ways?
  • How does the structure or style of a text affect meaning?

Readers, Writers, Texts 4: Advertising and Representation

“Everyone always feels personally exempt from the affects of advertising. So, wherever I go, what I hear more than anything else is: ‘I don’t pay attention to ads, I just tune them out. Ads have no effect on me.’ Of course, I hear this most often from people wearing Abercrombie T-Shirts, but there you go.” 

Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly, 2007

Advertising today takes a surprising number of forms. While print advertisements, television commercials and roadside billboards are still prevalent, advertising agencies are always looking for creative ways to sell products. Current advertising takes advantage of the viral networking possibilities of social media, the alternative quality of place-based or installation art, and the potential to exploit other media such as the television news programme or the article format (using infomercials and magazine supplements). One of the most important skills a critical consumer of advertising can have today is firstly the ability to recognize advertising wherever it may be hidden! Even then, advertising still has the power to seduce and persuade.

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IB Learner Profile: Principled

“We act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice, and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere. We take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.”

IB Learner Profile

When studying Time and Space, you learned how language is, to a large extent, a ‘grass-roots’ or ‘bottom-up’ phenomenon; flexible, mutable and changeable according to whoever uses it. In this section of the course you will study the reverse idea: ‘top-down’ processes, by which language is crafted and shaped in deliberate ways for deliberate purposes in order for powerful messages to be disseminated to ‘the masses,’ and also how new technologies are disrupting this process so that readers play a part in the authoring and creation of texts (to find out more about this, visit Intertextuality: Death of the Author).

Public opinion is a powerful force which can be used to decide who gets elected, how people should be educated, and how groups of people should be treated. The underlying concept on this page is how public opinion is managed through channels of mass communication, also known as the media. This unit also fulfils one of the IB Diploma wider aims, which is to promote media literacy: the understanding of how language is used as a tool to mould public opinion. 

Lang and Lit Concept: Representation

The way in which language and literature relate to reality has been the subject of long running debate among linguists and literary theorists. Statements and manifestos by writers have made claims about this relationship which range from affirming that literature should represent reality as accurately as possible, to claiming art’s absolute detachment and freedom from reality and any duty to represent it in the work of art. Irrespective of such a discussion, the concept is a central one to the subject in connection with the way in which form and structure interact with, and relate to, meaning.

IB Language and Literature Guide

TBC

Guiding Conceptual Questions: Readers, Writers, Texts

For each Area of Exploration there are a number of prescribed guiding questions that you should consider and reflect upon. Your ability to answer these questions will help you measure your mastery of the principles that underpin your IB Language and Literature studies. At some point (perhaps at the end of this unit) write your thoughts and reflections about one or more of these conceptual questions in your Learner Portfolio:

  • In what ways is meaning constructed, negotiated, expressed and interpreted?
  • How do texts offer insights and challenges?

Intertextuality 1: Making Connections

Intertextuality is a term coined by Julia Kristeva in 1966 explaining that there are two relationships going on whenever we read a text: there’s the relationship between us and the author (the horizontal access) and between the texts and other texts (the vertical axis). It’s the vertical axis that gives us our definition of intertextuality.

Follow Your Dreams; spraypaint and mixed media on paper by Mr Brainwash, 2012

Literary texts possess meaning, and that is why readers extract meaning from them. The process of extracting meaning from texts is called interpretation. However, in contemporary literary theory such ideas have been radically changed. It is now believed that works of literature are built from systems, codes, and traditions established by previous works of literature and other art forms such as films and television, and culture in general. Therefore the act of reading one text, rather than the interpretation of one work, engages the reader in discovering a network of textual relations. Tracing those relations is the way of interpreting the text and discovering its meanings. Reading is like traveling around the world, a process of ‘touring between texts.’ In this section, you’ll learn how to conduct this process of ‘textual tourism.’

Although this piece may be quite challenging to understand in its entirety, you could begin by reading V.M Simandan’s Introduction to Intertextuality. Don’t worry about understanding everything – talk with your teacher about ideas you do understand and ask about one or two more, just to get you started.

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IB Learner Profile: open-minded

“We critically appreciate our own cultures and personal histories, as well as the values and traditions of others. We seek and evaluate a range of points of view, and we are willing to grow from the experience.”

IB Learner Profile

This part of the course could have been tailor-made by somebody with the value of open-minded in mind. In order to fully understand and appreciate the concept of Intertextuality, you will have to be open to all kinds of texts, and even open to the idea that, in order to understand and appreciate one text, you have to have read many other – possibly unrelated – texts first!

Lang and Lit Concept: Creativity

TBC

Guiding Conceptual Questions: Intertextuality

  • How valid is the notion of a classic text?
  • How do conventions and systems of reference evolve over time?

Intertextuality 2: Hybrid Genres and Hypertexts

“Meaning becomes something which exists between a text and all the other texts to which it refers and relates… a network of textual relations.”

Graham Allen, Professor of Modern English, University of Cork

“There’s a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.”

Roland Barthes

Intertextuality 3: The Death of the Author

TBC

Topics:

  • Alternative Advertising
  • Plagiarism or Intertextuality?

Poetry Study: William Wordsworth

The principal object, then, which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement. 

William Wordsworth defines his literary agenda in the Preface of his Lyrical Ballads, 1798William Wordsworth,
Wordsworth in 1798 by William Shuter

William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in a town called Cockermouth in Cumberland. He came from a relatively well-off middle class family, but his early years were severely disrupted by the death of his young mother when he was eight years old and then of his father when he was just thirteen. Until he inherited his parents’ wealth, his formative years were full of uncertainty. He was raised by members of his family and teachers at school. His childhood was marked by a rural education in Hawkshead School in the Lake District, and his childhood differs from many of his contemporaries in that it was exclusively rural and Northern. He began writing poetry when he was a teenager, and was noted by his teachers as a promising poet, publishing his first poem when he was just 16.

Poems for Study

IB Learner Profile: Reflective

We thoughtfully consider the world and our own ideas and experience. We work to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.

IB Learner Profile

Appreciating the natural world is a sort of therapy for Wordsworth. It is a prescription designed to cure the alienation modern man feels in the industrialized, urban environment, so much so that, in The World is too much with us, he would abandon orthodox religion just to catch a ‘glimpse’ of nature which would ‘leave him less forlorn’ (lines 12-13). Wordsworth accuses us of being ‘out of tune’, but offers a sort of salvation through reflection. This tenet, that forms a major part of his personal philosophy, is arguably more important in today’s world as it was in Wordsworth’s time. While reading the poems, take a moment to reflect on the current condition of the natural world, your place within it and the actions you might take to mitigate the widespread destruction of wildlife and wild places that modern societies and economies depend upon.

Lang and Lit Concept: Creativity

“There will also be found in these volumes little of what is usually called poetic diction; I have taken as much pains to avoid it as others ordinarily take to produce it; this I have done for the reason already alleged, to bring my language near to the language of men, and further, because the pleasure which I have proposed to myself to impart is of a kind very different from that which is supposed by many persons to be the proper object of poetry.” 

Wordsworth’s explains his concept of poetry.

Creativity is central to the activities of reading and writing. Writing is, very obviously, a creative act of imagination. In reading, too, creativity is required to interpret and understand a text, and to explore its range of potential meanings. When people first read Wordsworth, they sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about! His poems seem so straightforward compared to the convoluted structures and elevated diction employed by earlier poetic traditions. Nevertheless, at the time his poems were thought to be creative, daring and even revolutionary. As you read Wordsworth, try to come to a clear understanding of the ways he is a creative writer.


Dramatic Study: The Merchant of Venice

Merchant of Venice ranks with Hamlet as one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed dramas. Written sometime between 1594 and 1598, the play is primarily based on a story in Il Pecorone,a collection of tales and anecdotes by the fourteenth-century Italian writer Giovanni Fiorentino. There is considerable debate concerning the dramatist’s intent in The Merchant of Venice because, although it conforms to the structure of a comedy, the play contains many tragic elements. One school of critics maintains that the drama is fundamentally allegorical, addressing such themes as the triumph of mercy over justice, New Testament forgiveness over Old Testament law, and love over material wealth. Another group of commentators, observing several ambiguities in the play’s apparent endorsement of Christian values, contends that Shakespeare actually censures Antonio and the Venetians who oppose Shylock. In essence, these critics assert that the Christians’ discrimination against Shylock which ultimately results in his forced conversion from Judaism, contradicts the New Testament precepts of love and mercy. Other commentators suggest that Shakespeare intentionally provided for both interpretations of the drama: although the playwright does not entirely support Shylock, they contend, neither does he endorse the actions of Antonio and the other Venetians in their punishment of the Jew.

IB Learner Profile: Caring

We show empathy, compassion and respect. We have a commitment to service, and we act to make a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world around us.”

IB Learner Profile

IB Learners care about others, and care about the impact they have on others. They don’t stand aside when they see injustice or cruelty, and seek ways to actively improve the lives of others. In many ways, The Merchant of Venice is a play about the way people choose to treat each other: why does Antonio abuse Shylock on the Rialto? Why does Shylock doggedly pursue his ‘pound of flesh’? Pause at one or two moments in the play and reflect on what may have been different if characters had shown each other more empathy, compassion and caring.  

Lang and Lit Concept: Perspective

The Merchant of Venice has a reputation as a ‘problem play’, the problem being it seems to fall back on stereotypes of Jewish people in order to satisfy the expectation of a 17th century audience. As a Jew, Shylock would have been an archetypal villain, incapable of human emotion such as pity, mercy or kindness. At several points in the play other characters level this charge against Shylock. However, the way the play is written allows for other interpretations of Shylock’s character, and the viewer is left to wonder whether Shakespeare was trying to represent Jewish people in a more progressive way than his culture would normally accept. During your reading of The Merchant of Venice, keep track of the possible perspectives one might have on Shylock’s character.

Areas of Exploration: Time and Space

  • How do we approach texts from different times and cultures to our own?
  •  To what extent do texts offer insight into another culture?

Dramatic Study: Pygmalion

When George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1925, he was praised for turning “his weapons against everything that he conceives of as prejudice.” This is clearly true of Pygmalion, which was premiered in German in Vienna in 1913. The play is a modern interpretation of an ancient myth, the tale of Pygmalion and Galatea. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pygmalion, an artist, falls in love with Galatea, a statue of an ideal woman that he created. Pygmalion is a man disgusted with real-life women, so chooses celibacy and the pursuit of an ideal woman whom he carves out of ivory. Wishing the statue were real, he makes a sacrifice to Venus, the goddess of love, who brings the statue to life. By the late Renaissance, poets and dramatists began to contemplate the thoughts and feelings of this woman, who woke full-grown in the arms of a lover. Shaw’s central character—the flower girl Liza Doolittle—expresses articulately how her transformation has made her feel, and he adds the additional twist that Liza turns on her “creator” in the end by leaving him.


IB Learner Profile: Balanced

“We understand the importance of balancing different aspects of our lives – intellectual, physical, and emotional – to achieve well-being for ourselves and others. We recognize our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live.”

IB Learner Profile

Your study of literature will be assessed in two ways: Paper 2 (at the end of the course) and in an oral examination called the Individual Oral. You are allowed to choose the literary text that you want to prepare for the Individual Oral. Pygmalion is a great text for you to think about using, as it contains many passages that connect to concepts you will have studied in other parts of the course. Some students enjoy this activity as it does not require spending lots of time writing essays, and allows you space to work on other aspects of the IB; this is called having intellectual balance in the learner profile. Other students find the Individual Oral stressful and even a little nerve-wracking (affecting what the learner profile calls emotional balance). The important thing to do is to remain balanced: if you gather your thoughts regularly throughout the course and record them in your Learner Portfolio, and hone preparation techniques that work for you, you’ll find this is a great way to boost your internal assessment score.

Lang and Lit Concept: Transformation

Transformation is a central theme of Shaw’s play: Pygmalion‘s all about turning a poor girl into a duchess! Eliza’s metamorphosis is indeed stunning. You could even go so far as to call it a ‘Cinderella story.’ But remember: Cinderella turned back into a poor girl before she finally found her prince. Pay attention and you’ll notice that not all the attempts at transformation here are successful. There are plenty of false starts and false endings. By play’s end, Shaw’s made one thing very clear: be careful what you wish for.

Areas of Exploration: Intertextuality

  • How can texts offer multiple perspectives of a single issue, topic or theme?
  • How do texts adhere to and deviate from conventions associated with literary forms or text types?

Prose Study: Nervous Conditions

Untitled; sketch by Samuel Rodriguez, 2013

Tambu often thinks of her mother, “who suffered from being female and poor and uneducated and black so stoically.” Yet, she and her cousin, Nyasha, move increasingly farther away from their cultural heritage. At a funeral in her native village, Tambu admires the mourning of the women, “shrill, sharp, shiny, needles of sound piercing cleanly and deeply to let the anguish in, not out.” In many ways, this novel becomes Tambu’s own cry – a resonant, eloquent tribute to the women in her life, and to their losses.

Fiction Book review, Publishers Weekly

Tambu, an adolescent living in colonial Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe) of the ’60s, seizes the opportunity to leave her rural community to study at the missionary school run by her wealthy, British-educated uncle. Like many heroes, Tambu, in addition to excelling at her studies, slowly reaches some painful conclusions – about her family, her role as a woman, and the inherent evils of colonization. 

IB Learner Profile: Balanced

“We understand the importance of balancing different aspects of our lives – intellectual, physical, and emotional – to achieve well-being for ourselves and others. We recognize our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live.”

IB Learner Profile

In this novel, Tambu finds herself caught between conflicting forces: progress and tradition; between her admiration for her uncle Babamukuru and her gradual realisation that he is a flawed man; between her own ambition and her duty to her family. She will face many challenges, and be forced to confront her prejudices about different people. You might like to consider how balanced Tambu is in the face of all the things she has to come to terms with, and ask yourself how you might act in her place.

Lang and Lit Concept: Identity

“The concept of identity is central our lives and to the study of the English A: Langauge and Literature course. In the study of the course, students will encounter many characters and voices in the works and texts they study. Hopefully, exposure to a variety of perspectives ranged across time and space will both confirm and challenge the views of students.

IB Language and Literature Guide

When selecting literature works to teach on an IB course, teachers have to consider works of different genres, by different authors, written in different times and places. At least one work must be written in another language. Nervous Conditions was Tsitsi Dangarembga’s first novel, and also the first to be written in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe. It was named as one of the top 100 books that have changed the world. When asking yourself why you might want to read this book, remind yourself of one of the aims of the course: “hopefully, exposure to a variety of perspectives… will both confirm and challenge the views of students.”

Areas of Exploration: Time and Space

  • To what extent do texts offer insight into another culture?
  • How do we approach texts from different times and cultures to our own?