Changing English

Varieties of English

“A language is a dialect with an army and navy”

Aphorism, unknown (first published by Max Weinreich)
The Adventure of English is an eight-part BBC documentary written and presented by journalist Melvyn Bragg. In this, the fifth episode subtitled English in America, Melvin explores how American culture changed the English language in a variety of different ways.

The previous two sections have dealt mostly with English spreading and changing over time. Now we will explore how changes of space, place and regional variations have created amazing linguistic diversity around the Anglophone world. We all speak a variety of English that tells the world something about who we are, where we come from, whom we socialize with and what we aspire to become. In this section we will discover why people speak English differently by learning about the process of divergence. As you will see, people have taken the English language and made it their own.

Here you will be encouraged to research a variety of English (present or past) that interests you, and examine how the vocabulary, grammar, idiomatic flavour and other features make it a distinct ‘brand’ of the English language. My advice is to read at least two articles from the list below. Get started with English Around the World, then choose a place that interests you to continue your journey:

Class Activity 1:

Choose a variety of English (you can use the materials above or watch the Adventures of English documentary). Create a resource (such as a poster, leaflet or ppt) to introduce your readers to a non-standard variety of English. Include new vocabulary, slang, idiomatic expressions and a little history of your chosen dialect. Present your resource to your classmates.

Class Activity 2: so liddat lor

What is it in a language that makes governments and authorities try to suppress it? Take Singlish as an example. Although the Singaporean government justifies its clamp-down on Singlish by arguing it hampers people’s ability in English, is there a darker side here – akin to Orwell’s Newspeak, or the way in which indigenous languages have been suppressed in countries like Canada, Australia, and South Africa? Does language = identity, and non-official languages = an identity not sanctioned by the government?

After reading the embedded articles about Singlish, discuss these points: What is the difference between a language, a dialect, and slang? Why do authorities try to control the language we speak?

Learner Portfolio

Write the text for an imaginary blog post in which you describe a variety of English you know or have collected information about (eg Singlish, Chinglish, American English, Geordie, and so on), and argue that it is an expression of a particular character and culture.

You might like to read this example of a fantastic piece of another student’s writing to see what kind of work you can try to produce.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: tbc

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). *** Use the following resources to practice suitable responses to the kinds of text and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

  • tbc

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