Topic: Projects

Activities which can be used across several days, and developed through discussion in class. Some of these might be suitable for the A-level English Language NEA (non-exam assessment), where students have to conduct a linguistic investigation.

Investigating language: project ideas

This page includes a numbers of ideas and suggestions for your students' independent language study. We have categorised them by 'language levels', but only for navigation purposes - don't let the categories limit your students' creativity! 

Meaning

Keeping a Language Log

Introduction

Most of the time, students' work in English is assessed by things that they write about things that they have read. For example, their exams may consist of writing about a Shakespeare play they have studied, or perhaps some non-fiction texts like advertisements or extracts of journalism from a newspaper or magazine.

Language investigation ideas

Five language investigation ideas with suggestions for tackling AO1, AO2 and AO3

A good investigation will cover each of the Assessment Objectives.

To get a strong AO1 mark an investigation needs to use demanding terminology accurately and incisively, but the specifics will be different for different investigations - ideally cover a range of features and keep an eye open for surprising or unanticipated features in your data.

Language investigation ideas: Accent and dialect

After Labov’s New York department stores study

Does shop assistants’ speech converge with the speech style of their customers?

A version of Labov’s study can easily be done anywhere there are a variety of similar shops (or publicly accessible institutions like sports centres or libraries).

Language investigation ideas: Ethnicity and social networks

Do second and third generations of immigrant families converge less with local Anglo English dialects?

Research by Sharma and Sankaran measured the use of non-standard British Asian and Cockney features in the speech of two generations of British Asian people. They found that the older generation were converging much more dramatically with people they spoke with.

Language investigation ideas: Language and gender

Do female MMA fighters use ‘masculine’ speech features?  

Given combat sports are a violent and competitive environment, they might be thought of as a stereotypically masculine environment. An investigation could look at whether female participants use features that researchers have claimed are more commonly used by men.

Language investigation ideas: Social networks, ethnicity and brokers

Do different social networks adopt new features at different rates? (or: Are specific individuals spreading novel features through their social networks?)

To work well, this idea would need a sharp ear for new features and access to specific sorts of social networks. 

Language investigation ideas: World Englishes and gender

If genderlects exist, do people who learn English as a second language display features that have been identified as gendered? 

If men and women speak in distinct ways (as has been claimed by Lakoff, Tannen and others), it would be interesting to see whether people who have learned English as a second language display these traits – presumably if the (claimed) difference is primarily due to biological factors (e.g.

Language of spam

Introduction

If you’ve got an email account, inevitably you’ll have received spam. Whether it’s adverts for vicodine or Viagra, single Russian women looking for fun (and your sort code), appeals for money from the daughters of deposed Nigerian generals, or requests to update your details from a bank that you don’t have an account with, spam is all around us.

Martian grammar

This is a unit about the grammar of an invented language, ‘Martian’. It uses students’ (often subconscious) understanding of morphology to help them uncover the ‘rules’ of a made-up language. To ‘crack’ the language, they will need to break down the words into meaningful parts.

Martian grammar: Activity 1

Aliens have landed on Earth, but don’t worry: they come in peace. Or at least, we think they do, but we can’t quite understand what they’re talking about.

Their language is not familiar and even highly trained experts are struggling to work out what they are saying. Your job is to work with the Martian examples that they have translated and work out some of the rules of their language. In doing so, you might even learn something about your own language.

Martian grammar: Activity 2

Aliens have landed on Earth, but don’t worry: they come in peace. Or at least, we think they do, but we can’t quite understand what they’re talking about.

Their language is not familiar and even highly trained experts are struggling to work out what they are saying. Your job is to work with the Martian examples that they have translated and work out some of the rules of their language. In doing so, you might even learn something about your own language.

Martian grammar: teacher feedback

Once you have worked through the Martian grammar activities, you can look at some of the things you have discovered.

Let’s look at some elements of grammar that we have identified in the Martian grammar exercise:

Metaphors of language

Exploring the way we think and talk about language

This project asks students to explore metaphors of the English language. If you need a quick refresher, it might be useful to revisit some of the introductory pages on metaphor here before completing the project work.

Metaphor is a highly pervasive feature of any language, not only reflecting the way that we understand the world, but constituting and shaping it. In linguistics, we use the X IS Y formula to indicate a metaphor - for example:

Multicultural London English

Ghetto speak?

Attitudes to some varieties of English can often be quite hostile, especially when regional, racial and cultural prejudices are part of the mix. A case in point is the development of what some linguists call Multicultural London English (or MLE), but what some journalists refer to as ‘Jafaican’.

Have a look at the article 'Word on the street in London' from the London Evening Standard to see what you make of the changing varieties of London English.

Passives and genre

Some grammatical features are used much more often in some types of text, or genre, than in others. For instance, imperative clauses (like Chop the carrots finely; Beat the mixture until smooth) are common in instructional genres such as recipes – for obvious reasons.

Prepared speech

Using corpora to investigate prepared speeches

One very simple approach to using corpora in English lessons is to pull apart a speech using the programme Wordle, which can be found here. Wordle creates simple but beautiful images made up of words in a text that you can input.

Questions in spoken language

Spoken language is usually seen as being more interactive than written language. As speakers, we address each other directly (Hey guys), indicate our attention to each other (Mmm), and respond to each others’ comments (Really?, You didn’t!). These are all examples of interactive features.

Another interactive feature associated with spoken language is question–answer sequences. In this investigation we will explore this feature, using data from ICE-GB (our corpus, or database of real language).

Rastamouse vibrations

A children’s show on television has caused delight to most and upset to some. Rastamouse is a tam-wearing, skateboard-riding mouse who likes to solve crimes and – in his words – make a bad ting good. He also speaks in Jamaican patois.

Tag questions and gender

Teacher notes

Goals

The conversational styles of men and women are a key area of study in the two major English Language A-level specifications. Students are encouraged to analyse examples of conversation, informed by their study of some of the major research into deficit, dominance, difference and social constructionist models.

Tag questions and gender: Project

Introduction

The following is an outline of a number of questions that could be asked while putting together an investigation into tag questions.

Read the extract by Robin Lakoff in Language and gender: an advanced resource book (J.Sunderland, Routledge, 2006) which is reproduced in the handout at the bottom of this page.

Texting styles

Recent research into texting suggests that different people use different styles. The style you use is influenced by factors such as your age, the social group you spend most of your time with, and whether you’re male or female – but also by your personal relationship with the person you’re texting and what you’re texting about.

Vocabulary and semantic change

Words change meaning over time. Some terms that used to have one meaning fifty years ago have developed very different meanings now. Often, slang terms are among those quickest to change, and we can see this in examples such as sick, wicked and gay, all of which have undergone fairly substantial shifts in meaning over relatively short periods of time.

Word formation processes

New words are being generated at a rapid speed and there has been a huge upsurge in the number of new words being considered for inclusion in dictionaries. A fairly limited number of word formation processes are responsible for these new words. In our suggested mini-project, students look at a range of examples, and try to work out the key patterns of word formation that are responsible. This makes a good starting point for a detailed investigation of new words.

Project aims

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