English Language A Level

students working in classroom
Getting Ahead

English Language A Level at Havant Campus

One of the most useful resources for language on this course is you. Language is made up of so much more than the words we see printed on a page, so when you are thinking about language, come back to these ideas here to keep the range wide. We are often told there is a right way and a wrong way to use language but the more you study about language, the more you’ll realise that it’s more complicated and interesting than that.

You’ll also start to build up a bigger picture of the different influences on your own language identity as this course goes on, including all the factors that influence who you are linguistically and how you can choose to behave with language in different situations. One of the most interesting aspects of studying language is that you learn more about your own language use, so let’s make this first task all about you.

two female students reading books in class

Create a ‘language profile’ of yourself by answering the following questions and then writing them up as a set of bullet points that highlight what you think are the most interesting and important aspects of the language you use:

  • What’s your earliest language memory? Can you remember a nursery rhyme, song or picture book from when you were very little?
  • Have your family or extended family kept any records, video, audio or family memories of any of your earliest words?
  • Have you kept any old school books from when you were learning to read and write?
  • Where were you born and where in the UK or the wider world are your family from?
  • Go back a few generations if you like and think about any other languages that your family members might speak or other places your family members might have lived.
  • Are there any words or expressions only you or your family use which others don’t really understand?
  • Do you or your friends at school use language in ways that you notice as being different from other people around you? These could be other people in your year, your teachers, your family, whoever.
  • Do you listen to or watch anyone on TV, online or in films or music videos who uses language in a way that interests or annoys you?
  • Do you ever look at or hear someone else using language in a way that you find is totally new or strange to you?
  • Have your teachers or family ever talked to you about the way you speak?

As you learn more about language use, you’ll start to see that everybody has their own unique language style. Lots of things influence this – where we’re from, how old we are, the type of work we do and our interests, our family backgrounds and our own individual personalities but we all have what’s called an idiolect (an individual language style). It’s not quite the same as a fingerprint but there are some similarities. While detectives can use fingerprints to track down individuals, forensic linguists can also use this idea of individual language style to identify people or aspects of a person’s background.

This activity puts you in the role of a language detective trying to solve a crime. The police need your help to work out who might have sent an abusive social media message from an anonymous account to a local politician. They have three suspects in custody and your job is to offer a view on which one you think is most likely to have sent the message, based on possible language clues.

  • Read Exhibit 1 below, the abusive message that the police are investigating. Is there anything that stands out in this message as being potentially interesting about how language is being used?
  • Read the social media messages below about the same issue which were used to identify three suspects. Go through these in turn, again making a note of anything that strikes you as interesting about how language is being used.
  • Based on this small amount of data, have you got any suggestions about who might have sent the abusive message? Write a short police report explaining your thoughts. Try to pin your thinking down to specific bits of language evidence in the data.

Exhibit 1: the abusive message
Hope your really proud of yourself for what you done but you gotta no that one day your gonna get payback!!! We have had enough of politicians like you not listening to us, you should of listened!!! Watch your back

Suspect 1’s social media message
I don’t like what’s been happening in this area since the new housing development started. This used to be a nice place to live!!! I’m so disappointed in are local representatives for not sticking up for us!!!

Suspect 2’s social media message
When are local councillors gonna realise that they should of been standing up for us and not for they’re mates in the big building firms, these people are gonna make a fortune from this

Suspect 3’s social media message
Your joking! Are they seriously going to build 200 new houses on the fields up by the hospital?! That is crazy. There’s not enough facilities for the rest of us at the moment. Madness!!!

This is a very simplified version of the kind of analysis forensic linguists sometimes do.

If you want to find out more about the real work forensic linguists do in solving crimes, have a look at the following videos:

Dr Tim Grant explains what’s involved

Dr Clare Hardaker on her research on online abuse (note the warning about content,

*This is a representation of your learning space and may not be the exact room you will be using

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