An AQA-oriented index
This index is organised around the sections of the AQA A level specification. If you are looking for resources or inspiration connected to a particular part of the syllabus this is a good place to start.
We link to the case studies that we think are most relevant, with some ideas of how they connect.
Thanks to Jill Lavender for preparing this index for us.
AQA Paper 1 The Individual and Society
Section A Textual Variations and Representations [Q1-3]
Intensification Section A can feature CMC texts such as chatroom extracts, blogs or webpages. In a multimodal text, intensification can be indicated graphologically: how does this represent the text producer or topic, or create meanings? How does it position the text receiver?
Passivisation Passive structures might be a significant feature in a Section A text. How does information packaging represent the topic, and the producer/receiver of the text, in this situation? For Q3 comparison: although the exam data will be relatively recent, the frequency of use of the passive voice may be interesting to compare in older and more recent texts, for example linked with power.
Orderly offers CMC texts such as discussion threads or telephone semi-scripts can provide opportunities to look at online representation and how language choices facilitate this. If a text producer offers assistance, how does their language position them in the interaction? How do others respond? The patterns of such turn-taking can be unpicked to look at relationships and power/influence within a given context.
Q+A sequences If Section A has a transcript, there may be adjacency pairing to explore, which can reveal representation of the speakers, the context, and relationships. It might reveal how a speaker positions others, and politeness strategies that might be used to mitigate a dispreferred structure (or not). N.B. Written texts sometimes use Q+A pairings as subheadings to structure information for text receivers. Though it isn’t actual speech, it is still worth noting as a feature which could represent stance/modality within the text.
Accent bias in Britain If a text includes the representation of an accent, this might reveal how meaning can be constructed through association and unconscious bias.
Graphical accent online Social media users sometimes assert their identity by choosing spellings which represent the sounds of a regional variety. Their spelling choices show which phonemes they perceive to be salient (or significant) in the speech sounds of this dialect. Section A could feature a CMC text which uses dialect: grammatical and lexical but also phonological features. Which phonemes are used to represent accent? What does this show about salience, and user perception?
Semantic relations This study looks at how two nouns might be related when they are used in two kinds of construction: PNM or proper noun modifier (e.g. ‘The Wembley Stadium’) v PNG or proper noun genitive (e.g. Wembley’s stadium). Sometimes the meaning can be more or less equivalent, but sometimes the two constructions have very different implications (e.g. The Ghana Problem v Ghana’s problem – these can be contrasted in terms of Ghana being positioned to either BE or to HAVE ‘the problem’). Texts used in this section of the exam may include headlines or media texts where positioning of key agents are established by using PNM or PNG constructions. It would be interesting to look at how this can construct representation for the text receiver.
AQA Paper 1 The Individual and Society
Section B Children’s Language Development [Q4 /Q5]
Intensification Section B may feature a transcript of children talking. Do they use intensification? Does an adult use it to them? Intensification and responses are part of learning how to create pragmatic meaning in interactions, for example through adjacency pairing. In this context, it could also be a feature of child-directed speech. In early writing attempts, children sometimes use phonetic spelling to reflect intensification, or use larger letters (pseudo-prosody) to represent volume or stress, showing they are aware of writing as communication.
Children’s different paths in learning first words This study could be useful for a question about early spoken acquisition, as a contrast to stages theories: it is important to remember that not all children acquire spoken language in the same way, and that stages are simply constructs based on observed tendencies.
Isolated words in infant-directed speech A question about interaction will often have data featuring infant-directed speech. This study might provide background to the use of single words by care-givers.
Onomatopoeia in infant-directed speech An exam question about interaction might have spoken data featuring an adult and a young child. This study would be helpful to account for any onomatopoeia or ‘symbolic sounds’ used by a caregiver - as part of an evaluation of the role of infant-directed speech.
Infant-directed speech in the UK and US Transcripts of adults talking to babies or young children often provide the opportunity to look at how adults can adapt their speech to engage infants and model spoken language for them. This study provides a new angle as a cultural comparison of the effects of this. Studied alongside older studies which look at different uses of IDS or CDS by ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ caregivers, for example, it demonstrates that this phenomenon is more varied than it might at first seem.
Iconicity in CLA In transcripts, young children/infants may use onomatopoeic words (sometimes called symbolic sounds) e.g. ‘woof-woof’, ‘moo’. This use of iconicity – where sounds can be closely associated with an object – seems to help overall communication. The child may not have more than a small vocabulary or grammatical repertoire, but can use onomatopoeia to practise their growing communicative ability. It would be good to look at the part onomatopoeia plays within turn-taking or other aspects of interaction.
Changing IDS Infant–directed speech (IDS) is a phenomenon which has been studied in a range of languages in terms of its commonly occurring features and its probable functions in the development of communication between children and their caregivers. Higher pitch, exaggerated pitch patterns, a slower rate of speech and a distinctive use of vowels are features of IDS which seem to be particularly salient. Using a meta-analysis of such studies enables us to compare them, both in terms of IDS across time (how users’ IDS might alter as the infant grows older) and also geographical space (how IDS is used in different cultures). This synthesis would give a rich background to underpin any exam data where caregivers talk to infants (acoustic aspects of the adult’s speech style are sometimes identified in a transcript as a clue!). Students could link an adult’s language features – acoustic, lexical syntactical, semantic - to the age of the infant, and to the strong evidence for IDS having universal tendencies.
AQA Paper 2 Language Diversity and Change
Section A Diversity and Change [Q1/Q2]
Section B Language Discourses [Q4]
Intensification This study could be used as part of a discourse about attitudes to language/language change. The use of phonetic intensification, especially by young people, can be dismissed as being too informal or modern. In a discourse such as this, we can argue that it actually provides useful information about meaning and relationships.
Passivisation A discourse about language and power could touch on the use of passive structures, for example in reporting or in political announcements, and how this shapes or conceals agency. Prescriptive accounts of language often suggest speakers are becoming lazy: passive structures are arguably more complicated than active ones, so the rise in their usage would be one example to argue against this view.
Accommodation The use of accommodation, and how we index social groups, would be key to a discourse about attitudes to accents/social groups. Cite this study as an example of how speakers unconsciously move towards to away from their interlocutors in conversation, and that this links in with their perceptions of the social characteristics of a group. Judging people by their accent is more complex process!
Measuring attitudes Perception, and how we index social groups, could be part of a discourse about language and identity. When we listen to someone’s speech, how do we make judgements about the social group to which they belong? Which speech sounds/accent features are key? (For example, if someone uses T-glottaling or th-fronting, what conclusions do listeners draw about their background?) How quickly do we make these decisions, and where do the social categories come from?
Jafaican This study would be central to a discourse about language change and variation: exploring how a new speech style comes into being can also be linked with the concepts of dialect levelling and social networks. Kerswill’s work on Milton Keynes, Reading and Hull could further develop this discussion. Attitudes to MLE can be revealed through the media coining of the inaccurate – and demeaning – term ‘Jafaican’. The perception and portrayal of speakers is linked to a set of negative social characteristics.
‘Be-like’ quotatives Language is creative and evolves new meanings: this could be part of a discourse about language and creativity, and how young people have driven new changes. Use the study to counter a prescriptive view of language change: argue that language evolves and develops though creativity.
Rogue /r/ This might be linked to a discourse about language varieties and attitudes: this is a type of language change and sometimes provokes a prescriptive reaction.
English indefinite pronouns: e.g. anybody v anyone This study can be part of a discourse about language change. Language change can be economical: having ‘doublets’ is usually resolved by losing one of the terms, or by the two terms developing different meanings/usage. In this way, a language resolves the problem of an overcrowded lexicon. This ‘tidying up’ tendency might be useful to argue against a negative, prescriptive view of language change (look at Jean Aitchison’s metaphors).
Viking place-names Recent phenomena such as the spread of TH-fronting have triggered moral panic about language change in some quarters. Reconstructing patterns of language change which were happening hundreds of years ago can become part of a discourse about how and why language changes; how we can measure it and evaluate it as an ongoing social process. Use the study to counter a prescriptive view of language change: argue that language has always evolved and developed in response to social situations
The changing use of ‘never’ The concept of Standard English as a rigidly enforceable ‘golden standard’ can be dismantled by looking at how forms have changed or preserved meaning, revealing such ‘rules’ as arbitrary. This example could be part of a discourse about variation and standardisation, and context. Use the study to exemplify the historical evolution of dialectal differences, or to explain the process of broadening. It also shows the importance of context, and helps to evaluate the status of Standard English
The language of the courtroom Examining highly structured exchanges within a situation of unequal power, this study would be helpful to a discourse about language and power/occupation looking at how people’s responses can be manipulated or evaluated to position the speaker in a particular way. This study could be referenced to build an argument about occupational language and power
Accent bias in Britain Accent bias is a rich topic for a discourse about language variation and perception, and how these intersect with power, occupation and language change. The findings work well alongside often-quoted perception surveys where participants favour or dislike particular accents. Attitudes to accents provide an emotive topic for media articles, often reinforcing prescriptive judgements. This study provides evidence for a progressive argument that people’s attitudes are not always fixed, and that it is possible to address bias and discrimination.
The origins of MLE The formation of ‘multiethnolects’ is often key to a discourse about language change, particularly for discussing recent urban forms, and language contact. This study provides a closer look at age, culture and varieties, and the possible sources of key features in this ‘new dialect’. As is so often the case, it can be linked to discourses about attitudes to language – see ‘Jafaican’ case study.
Telephone therapy The difficulty of adhering to a semi-script while providing a really personalised service is something which can be familiar in a number of jobs, for example in retail. However, the particular context of this study – not face-to-face, and with a context linked to mental health/wellbeing – makes it a sensitive, contemporary contribution to a discourse about language and occupation, or language and power.
Graphical representation of accent online This could be part of a discourse about language and technology, looking at how speakers/writers may build an online identity using ‘eye dialect’ in a way that resists the external imposition of standard written forms. CMC texts may be more flexible and creative for this – and perhaps it’s less surprising if the text producers are not physically in the region which they are representing!
This also links to a discourse about attitudes to language, as the text producer is asserting a regional representation: it could be compared to surveys of public attitudes to different varieties and the way these are revealed through cognitive biases and social stereotypes.
A discourse about language change might consider the push/pull aspects of change: against the overarching process of dialect levelling, individuals can seek to promote a regional variety in their online language use. The text producer’s selection of salient features can be compared to the features identified in dialect research.
Inverted style A rich example to apply to a discourse about attitudes to language, or language and regional identity, this study also begs to be linked to power, and to a particular local historical/political context. It provides a refreshingly contemporary addition to work by Labov and Trudgill into prestige varieties and inverted styles. Students might evaluate how and why speakers codeswitch, and the relative significance of gender, age, social class and regional identity within a specific context: how these might construct a loyalty which rejects a standard language ideology. Looking at position of the researcher in terms of in-group or out-group membership adds a significant angle, too.
AQA Non-Exam Assessment
Look at intensification and representation in CMC/online contexts such as tweets, chatrooms, messaging threads. How do the text producers represent themselves? How do they manage online interactions and relationships using this feature? Look at topic management, cohesion, interaction.
Look at writing for children which represents intensification with pseudo-prosody such as SHOUTY CAPITALS for exclamatories or dramatic sounds (comic book style)
Intensification can be employed within catchphrases in fictional texts to create a characters – the American TV sitcom ‘Friends’ is a good example (‘Hey, how YOU doin’?’, ‘Could I BE any more annoying?’ ) Explore how this becomes a shared reference for the audience, and how breaking expectations of appropriate responses can create humour (Grice’s Maxims?)
Explore the use of passives and information packaging in written texts. You might find a set of rules or a policy in your school or college, and identify any agentless passives. Analyse their use within this context.
Looking at how we make offers of assistance could be a fascinating study of syntax, semantics and pragmatics. Students may have access to semi-scripts which are used in a part-time job, for example, or they could generate some ‘natural’ speech data by recording an informal situation where a group task has to be undertaken. Examining use of language form to position the topic and the interlocutors could enable some sensitive pragmatic interpretations; this throws light on the wider concept of conversational cooperation.
Record exchanges within your family, perhaps around the table if they all sit down for a meal. Listen, and transcribe any key adjacency pairing. Note preferred/dispreferred second parts (socially affiliative or disafiliative). Analyse these considering the rest of the exchange, looking at context, positioning and stance.
Ask any parents you know if they recall their child’s first words, and record these for comparison. You could even capture data from clips of family members as babies, and transcribe single word utterances.
This might be a long shot but if you or someone in your family speaks more than one language, can you study clips of early attempts at talking? Does the infant’s speech sound more like English or like the other language(s)? Examine the aspects of each language that seem important – e.g. where are the stressed syllables? Which are the salient phonemes? Is there a recognisable intonation pattern? These might form part of the template that the child is beginning to puzzle out – for each language!
If it is possible to get data of speech directed to a very young child, it would be interesting to see if the adult(s) isolate key words as a feature of infant-directed speech.
Looking at examples of infant-directed speech in general would be interesting. Sometimes it is possible to compare parents’ use of this, and if it is to the same infant, to gauge the child’s response.
It could be possible to capture some data where speakers who use different varieties meet up, for example friends who come from different places. Does accommodation occur? Is this phonological, or might it be lexical or grammatical choices? Check the salient features for each variety and look at those first.
It’s possible to record phone conversations, e.g. to family or friends from the past – people often unconsciously alter their speech in this situation.
Another approach is to analyse recorded data from interactions, for example, younger members of the royal family changing their accents when speaking to people they meet on walkabouts or in less formal situations.
Capturing accent data and running basic perception tests could link to this study. Play a recording of a speaker and ask listeners to categorise their perceptions.
It could be possible to capturing accent data from known contacts or from media recordings, and explore features of MLE. Basic perception tests might be another angle to adopt from this study.
Capture data where a speaker or speakers use ‘be-like’ or other quotatives and explore implied meanings. Linking this to speaker age could be interesting. It isn’t easy to predict where to find be-like quotatives but some people use them much more than others – record this and examine the types they use and the context for their usage. Perhaps capture data from the same speaker in different contexts to see if ‘be-like’ a feature of a performative speech style. Compare to existing studies, looking at variables of gender and age.
It may be possible to explore dialogue in young adult fiction and examine how the use of be-like (or other) quotatives can be used as representation of characters.
This study might be linked to a discourse about language varieties and attitudes: it is a type of language change and sometimes provokes a prescriptive reaction. It could be included in a descriptive account of language change: how we follow patterns and make analogies. Running a short test to elicit sample phrases could yield data on this phenomenon used by peers, for example.
Look for indefinite pronouns with ‘-one’ and ‘-body’ in older and newer texts and explore their use, using n-grams as a guideline. It would also be possible to construct a test for peers and older relatives to see which indefinite pronoun would be preferred in various sample utterances.
A collection of place-names, especially of local, smaller places as outlined in the study, could generate an etymological investigation of the local lexical choices and how these reflect the landscape or social practices of an earlier community. A twist might be to look at the naming of new places such as housing estates, roads or shopping centres, and at what ideas these choices represent in a modern social setting.
If it is possible to get data where an adult interacts with a very young child, it would be interesting to see if the caregiver uses onomatopoeia as a feature of their infant-directed speech. Looking at examples of infant-directed speech in general would be interesting. Sometimes it is possible to compare two adults’ use of this, and to gauge the child’s response.
Set up a test of acceptability of ‘didn’t’ v ‘never’ in different contexts, using the examples provided, and trial this with respondents: compare the findings with this study. (perhaps ask available English teachers what the ‘rule’ is first!)
It is not easy to obtain transcripts of real-life court cases, but they are frequently portrayed fictionally on television. Transcribing the questioning sequences and comparing these to Drew’s findings could enable a critical exploration of the representation of this kind of occupational language and the power it holds.
Studies of infant-directed speech might be carried out by recording known participants, or by transcribing examples from child development videos online. Looking more broadly at the topic, it may be possible to capture data where the same parent speaks to different aged offspring, or to compare two parents’ use of IDS or CDS to the same child.
It is possible to set up a small scale perception study, perhaps even using participants of different ages to consider age-grading. Alternatively, using the accent bias awareness training materials with peers could yield interesting results. Another avenue might be to look at representation, using TV adverts which rely on stereotyped accents to elicit perception responses.
Transcribing one or two MLE speakers could enable a comparison of salient phonological features with those outlined in the literature; an alternative would be to explore other urban varieties, for example MUBE. As with the ‘Jafaican’ case study, it would be possible to examine media representation of MLE, or to create a basic perception study for peers (non-linguists!) to complete, and discuss the results.
The sensitive nature of this data makes it less likely to be available for study but the idea of using a semi-scripted interaction could be applied to other contexts, such as telephone sales or interviews, if recordings/transcripts could be obtained with permissions. Sales websites with ‘chat’ features might also work.
Transcribed recordings in which infants use onomatopoeic words could be explored to examine what part these play in exchanges with others: how is the child trying to embody meaning, and how do interlocutors respond? How do they assist a very young child to communicate?
Anonymised data from a small sample of social media posts using a regional ‘accent’ could be used to explore representation, for example how spelling represents accent (salience studies). Looking at the text-producers’ messages and meanings could provide contextual depth, considering the text producer’s stance and use of positioning, and linking these to consider the construction of online identity.
If a student has much younger siblings or relatives, it could be possible to record and transcribe short samples of IDS. This could be a study of one adult and child, looking at acoustic aspects as well as lexical and syntactical choices, and the age of the child. It might be possible to look at IDS used by the same parents/caregivers to children of differing ages, eg a few months old v. 2 or 3 years old: do the adults alter their way of speaking?
Variations within this topic would include the use of IDS by different adults to the same child (and responses!), or recording IDS used in a language other than English (with appropriate translation!).
Sometimes IDS is used in speaking to older children with disabilities: this can provide an interesting exploration to look at the communicative functions of this speech style.
This study lends itself to an investigation into native speakers’ responses to two constructions which may seem equivalent – or not! It looks at PNM or proper noun modifier (e.g. ‘The Wembley Stadium’) in contrast with PNG or proper noun genitive (Wembley’s stadium). Sometimes the two meanings can be more or less equivalent, but sometimes the two constructions have very different implications (e.g. The Ghana Problem v Ghana’s problem – these can be contrasted in terms of Ghana being positioned to either BE or to HAVE ‘the problem’). Finding these types of construction in news articles – perhaps from two news sources on the same day – and looking at how the agents are positioned could provide an interesting pragmatic study of agency/attitudes, when the wider context is analysed.
The meaning classifications used within the study (actor, location, possession, etc) could also be applied to fresh data. Google n-grams or the online corpus Hansard at Huddersfield could be used to search parliamentary debates for particular examples of these structures.
Explorations of language variety and (local) identity is a rich area for students to research. Studies can be constructed in different ways, for example focusing on production or perception, or on careful speech v casual speech. Dialect recordings on the British Library website or other variety corpora could be played to elicit perception responses from listeners. For production, an identity questionnaire could elicit valuable contextual information for speech samples. Casual speech data can be captured by giving informants local photographs to talk about, in contrast with using word lists for direct naming tasks to gain more careful speech data. Using lexical variation lists (eg lunchbox v crust box, or passageway v ginnel) can also be a good starting point to explore language and identity, or attitudes to varieties.
Students could look at how language and identity might vary across generations by interviewing family members such as a grandparent and a sibling, and contrasting their use of one or two key dialectal features when discussing their identity and birthplace.