Language in use  
English Language & Linguistics

English Language




Most of the tasks in this Website are linked to a particular topic or resource.

However there are other tasks which cover a wider range of skills and which are provided here as a means of broadening your experience of language. Some are very simple, some require research or field work. All will develop your skills in analysing language.

1. Listen ...
to people speaking in natural situations and jot down any features of accent, dialect or personal idiosyncrasies which stand out to you eg

"Your mam'll play war wi' yous lot when she gets hyem"
This utterance was overhead in Newcastle as an older woman saw some young children playing in mud outside their house. "play war" = get angry, "yous lot" is a form of Geordie 2nd person plural + emphasiser, "hyem" = home and is related to the Scandinavian "hem" also meaning home. "Mam" is common in Newcastle rather than "mum" which seems rather home counties and middle class.

Always refer to a dictionary - where possible refer to several dictionaries and note the differences.
Use the Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM, Chambers 20th Century, The Shorter Oxford, The Heinemann English Dictionary.

2. Collect ...
headlines, advertising slogans, pop group names, song titles, product names...
and make a brief but clear semantic and/or syntactic analysis of each one eg:

Friendly enemies shake hands on pieces of peace.
This headline (Guardian 26.7.94) about Israel and Jordan signing a joint peace declaration relies for its impact upon apparent contradiction "Friendly enemies" near homophones "piece(s), peace" and a pun "pieces of peace"
The two leaders appear friendly while some sections of their countries appear still to be enemies. The agreement to restore telephone lines, border crossings and air corridors are referred to in the article as "pieces of peace".


3. Collect ...
samples of different registers and become familiar with them by parodying them and imitating them. Explain the characteristics of each style you collect eg:

To Elizabeth, whose companionship is a source of continual strength, and to Mom, whom I love dearly.
This sentence appears as the Dedication at the front of a book explaining the computer program "Photoshop". Dedications usually begin "to" and may mention a friend, workmate, wife or family member. Frequently they explain why that person has been selected for the dedication. Equally frequently they are a source of cringe-making embarrassment for the rest of us. Love and friendship are hard to describe in a few words in the front of a computer manual... "Mom" suggests USA to English readers.
Other examples: "To the pupils I have taught, still teach, and will teach, whom I have learnt to like more as I have learnt to manage them better." (Michael Marland, The Craft of The Classroom)

If you have the skills - and the time - you could mock up examples of different registers as they appear when printed. There are many sites online that offer photoshop training.

4. Collect & Comment on ...
clichés. Identify the source or the speaker and the context. Try to decide why it is a cliché, how long it has been so and if it is particular to a certain group of people eg:

"Over the moon"
spoken by a winner in The Crystal Maze TV programme. Common at one time in sportsmen replying to the journalist's cliche "How does it feel?"


5. Study...
the speech of a friend, relative or workmate, noting the characteristics of that person's speech.
Note pronunciation, choice of vocabulary, clichés, tone of voice, intonation ... What different registers does your subject use? Be discreet in your study and be prepared to reveal your findings to that person if required. If it's unsuitable or embarrassing for them you probably shouldn't be listening in the first place!

6. Listen ...
to people whose first language is not English. Note non-standard forms, explain why it is non-standard and where possible find out whether the source of the error is by transference from the speaker's own language eg

"I am liking it here in England"
spoken by a German speaker who had been "over-taught" the present continuous form of the verb and applied it to a verb which does not take this form.

If possible spend some time helping these speakers. It will be free teaching for them and excellent learning for you. There is no better way to learn the structure of your own language than by teaching it to someone else. eg:

"I am", "you are"; "aren't you" - but not "amn't I"
Why not?