An a level in linguistics
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An A-level in linguistics?. Dick Hudson, Billy Clark Tim Shortis, Judith Broadbent Graeme Trousdale LAGB September 2005. 1. Background. Who thought of it? Tim Shortis, chief examiner for Eng Lang Keith Brown, then chair of Subj Centre Lingx. Will it happen?

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An a level in linguistics

An A-level in linguistics?

Dick Hudson, Billy Clark

Tim Shortis, Judith Broadbent

Graeme Trousdale

LAGB September 2005

1 background

1. Background

  • Who thought of it?

    • Tim Shortis, chief examiner for Eng Lang

    • Keith Brown, then chair of Subj Centre Lingx.

  • Will it happen?

    • Maybe - circumstances are favourable

    • But at present no-one wants new A-level subjects

    • But A-level is due to be reorganised so ...

  • Linguistics? Language?

The educational context

The educational context

  • Knowledge About Language in English

    • English 21

    • A-level English Language

  • KAL in Foreign Languages

    • Specialist language colleges

  • Othercountries:

    • the Linguistics Olympics

    • Linguistics A-level

Kal in english

KAL in English

  • KAL already includes parts of linguistics:

    • Grammar

    • Varieties

    • Spoken

  • QCA’s “English 21” inquiry allows fundamental rethinking

  • A-level English Language thrives

Kal in foreign languages

KAL in Foreign Languages

  • Increased stress on understanding

    • How the target language works

    • How to learn a language

  • Explicit links to KAL in English

  • 213 specialist language colleges

Other countries

Other countries

  • Linguistics as a high-school subject

    • Serbia, since 1990, based on Belgrade Linguistics Dept (Bugarski)

  • Third International Linguistics Olympiad

    • for secondary school students,

    • 8 to 12 August 2005

    • in Leiden, The Netherlands.

    • Well-established in Russia and Bulgaria

    • e.g. ....

E g lithuanian diminutives

E.g. Lithuanian diminutives

Task 1. Fill the gaps.

Task 2. What can you say about the pronunciation of uo in Lithuanian? Explain.

We need to satisfy

We need to satisfy:

  • Teachers

  • Pupils

  • Schools

  • Examination boards

  • QCA

  • Universities

2 the modules

2. The Modules

  • Four modules

    • which could form an independent A level (AS + A2) or fit into a diploma

  • Focus

    • active data collection and analysis,

    • comparing different languages.

    • develop a ‘toolkit’ of techniques for investigating language

    • looking at a number of languages

The modules

The Modules

  • Investigating Language

    2. Structure in Language

    3. Variation in Language

    4. Language Research Project

Module 1 investigating language

Module 1: Investigating Language

Main aims:

  • introduces language and language study

    • what language is and ways of studying it

  • prepares for modules 2 and 3

    Topics include:

  • language evolution/change/families, typology, variation, acquisition

  • methods, data, analysis

  • analytical frameworks

    • sounds, word-structure, sentence-structure, meaning, lexis, texts

Module 2 structure in language

Module 2: Structure in Language

Main aims:

  • exploring language structures

  • comparing structural patterns across languages

    Topics include:

  • typologies of: writing, sound, morphology, syntax, meanings and texts

  • technical apparatus needed for each of these areas

Module 3 variation in language

Module 3: Variation in Language

Main aims:

  • exploring variation

    • in specific languages and across languages

  • looking at language change and the effects of contact

    • between speakers of different varieties

      Topics include:

  • standard languages and local varieties

  • characteristics of contact varieties

  • multingualism and the status of minority languages

  • the doctrine of ‘correct’ language

  • patterns of linguistic change

  • register and formality

Example activities

Example Activities

Investigating linguistic behaviour:

Students explore and record facts about the linguistic behaviour of themselves or people close to them, e.g. exploring how and/or why speakers switch between different varieties and issues relating to language contact

Textual analysis and comparison

Textual analysis and comparison:

Students look at particular texts and identify features within them which are significant in terms of what they tell us about the nature of language, or which illustrate differences between different types of language, e.g. about what counts as polite in different varieties, about differences between speech and writing, about differences between different genres

Cross linguistic comparison

Cross-linguistic comparison:

Students analyse a data-set from an unfamiliar language illustrating some aspect of its phonology, morphology or syntax, leading to students supplying specified translations

Module 4 language research project

Module 4: Language Research Project

Main aims:

  • applying methods and knowledge to a topic and focus of their own choice

  • experience of research including:

    • generating research questions, methodology, ethics and confidentiality, supervision and writing in academic genres

  • Any topic

  • 2,000-4,000 word report

Language research project

Language Research Project

  • Similar to the module in use in A Level English Language since 1985 (see

  • Linguistics A Level topics are more likely to include comparisons between varieties and between languages, with a greater attention given to descriptions of language forms and structures.

Sample topics for the language research project

Sample topics for The Language Research Project

  • An investigation into the lexical and grammatical features of a Hong Kong Cantonese mother tongue speaker in her use of English in service encounters in a Bristol Chinese Takeaway.

  • An investigation into the reported hearing of and use of the so-called Bristol L feature among a sample of Sixth Form Students and their families.

  • An investigation of the contemporary understanding and use of the word ‘cordial’ by comparison with its dictionary-defined meanings.

  • An investigation of code switching behaviour in a bilingual Bristol Sikh family.

3 pedagogical issues

3. Pedagogical Issues

Who will teach these modules?

English teachers

MFL teachers2020

Training for

existing teachers

Linguistics graduates



1. Books

2. University support for teachers

  • Short courses

  • Buddy system?

  • On-line materials e.g. corpora

    3. Materials from other sources



Http www collectbritain co uk collections dialects

The way we speak

  • Listen to England's changing voice. Extracts from the Survey of English Dialects and the Millennium Memory Bank document how we spoke and lived in the 20th century. There are nearly 700 recordings here. Find even more at the BBC Voices website.

    Curator's choice

  • You can choose from the curator's favourites shown on the left, or click the links below to browse the whole collection, to read more about it, or select a different collection.

  • View whole collection

  • Text introduction

  • Choose another collection

Pgce for linguistics graduates

PGCE for Linguistics Graduates

  • Access to PGCE courses

  • 6 universities currently offer PGCE places in English with no literature background:

    1. Bristol

    2. Institute of Education

    3. University of East London

    4. University of Hertfordshire

    5. Edge Hill

    6. Reading



Changes to assessment following the publication of the Government’s white paper:

  • The introduction of an ‘extended project’;

  • Teenagers may be allowed to take HE modules whilst still at School;

  • Assessments will be reduced from 6 to 4

4 language in scottish schools the political context

4. Language in Scottish Schools: the political context

  • National Statement for Improving Attainment in Literacy in Schools, and investment in MFL teaching in Scottish primary schools

  • The 3 – 18 Curriculum for Excellence and the relationship between English and MFL

  • Increased dialogue between academics and SEED

Liss the educational context

LiSS: the educational context

  • Scottish and UK qualifications: Standard Grades and Highers vs. GCSEs and A-levels.

  • Recent(ish) reforms: the Advanced Higher

  • The Advanced Higher does provide the opportunity for a focus on linguistic issues

  • Uptake is very low: why is that?

    • Teachers lack resources.

    • No embedding of this subject in earlier years.

    • Students aren’t interested: language is boring, and only the study of literature matters.

A higher in language

A Higher in Language?

1. A-levels: English Language ≠ Linguistics

  • Higher in Language and the Scottish context (e.g. Culture Commission report promoting An Institute for the Languages of Scotland)

  • Possible modules:

  • How language works

  • Language and communities in contemporary Scotland

  • The evolution of Scotland’s languages

  • Analyzing Scottish texts

  • Personal investigation/portfolio

Initiatives class

Initiatives: CLASS

Committee for Language Awareness in Scottish Schools

  • Meetings held at University of Edinburgh

  • Made up of academics, teachers, writers, educationalists interested in language, broadly defined

  • Seeking to raise the profile of KAL in Scottish schools

  • Teachers keen to promote KAL are vital, so we decided to host an …

Initiatives information day

Initiatives: Information Day

… Information Day for teachers

  • Tomorrow, in Edinburgh!

  • Widely publicised, thanks to Scottish CiLT and The Scotsman

  • Expecting around 90 to 100 delegates from all over Scotland

  • Speakers ranging from CEO of SQA to award winning Scots novelists

  • Login