It may be the one thing you dread most, amid analytical commentaries and memorising metalanguage: finding language examples for your essays that will impress the examiners. It’s a daunting task – you want your examples to be as specific as possible and also relevant, both to the topic you’re given and this decade. You’re forced to go out into the wild a little and collect your own resources. But, no need to stress! It’s not as hard as you might think.
Look through and pick out examples from resources that you’ve already been given.
Yes, that’s right, you’ve probably got heaps of great examples under your nose already. Those transcripts from politicians and TV shows your teacher gave to you for that practice AC? That article she handed out to the class about language use in Australia? They’ll be riddled with material that you can embed into and discuss in your next essay.
Take at least a few tentative steps out into the wild, if not a big leap.
Do some research. Read some articles. They don’t have to be by linguists, about linguistics (a mistake I made in the early days of EL). Remember, in your essays, you’re discussing language usage. So, read how it’s being used. For instance, when talking about passive vs. active voice, read some news articles about crime and see which voice the journalist uses when they describe the events. Do they say, “The suspected perpetrator, John Smith, assaulted the girl,” or do they say, “The girl was assaulted” – passive, and without the agent? If you can find a specific article/journalist/newspaper that does this, then this will be super useful in terms of formal language (avoiding blame, liability, keeping it professional etc.)
Put on your linguist’s hat and start observing the world around you.
You’re surrounded by current language trends every moment of the day, from social media, TV, radio and the people around you. Start tuning your brain to these and make notes. Your brain should pinging! every time you hear or see something interesting. The other day I was watching House Rules when one of the contestants seemed a bit flustered and the host, Jo Griggs, narrated, “Harry’s head was fidget-spinning” – think of all the things you could say about that! (Tip: have a notebook with you while you’re watching TV so you can record the details of any cool language things that pop up).
The important thing is, you don’t just want to find interesting language examples, such as neologisms, but see how they’re used across the media and, especially, in Australia. Australian news and entertainment programs are great for analysing language use, I highly recommend them. The neologism ‘cofveve’, for example; a nonsensical word tweeted by the President of America and then re-tweeted more than 105,000 times (Major Burdock, The Goldwater, 2017). It’s become a pinnacle for speculation and humour. On an episode of Australian program Have You Been Paying Attention?, the host had a photo of one of the guests, Marty Sheargold, sitting on a camel. He called it ‘A fat man on a camel’, to which Sheargold replied, “No, it’s a fat man on a cofveve.”
Consider how you’ll make these examples relevant in your essay/s.
You might have a quirky language example, but it’s only going to help you if it’s relevant to the essay topic you’re given/you’ve chosen. Consider the specific metalanguage you’re going to use, and the area of study it falls under. Why is the example you’ve given interesting? Take my ‘cofveve’ example: it could link to Australian culture and values, in that we don’t take ourselves or others too seriously (others, meaning the President and authoritative figure). It also shows how we’re influenced by other countries, and how technology and social media facilitates changes in language. This is the kind of level of detail and exploration you want to reach – if not higher – when it comes to writing an EL essay.
Never resort to ‘Lol’.
Ever! My teacher drilled this into us all year; ‘lol’, and other tech-speak acronyms is actually quite out-dated, and is rarely used these days. What about ‘shook’ and ‘extra’ and ‘lit’? What about the ‘same’ phase? These semantic shifts are way more topical to the present language debate and you’ll get a lot more out of them.
It’s easy to fall into our old habits and resort to the first thing we can or when we’re under that SAC and exam stress, but try and make the most of the research you’ve done and observations you’ve made of our current, thriving language. Your examiners will love you for it, and you’ll love yourself, too.
Now practice with these examples:
See what you can do with the following recent language-use examples. What area of study do they relate to? What’s interesting about them? The more things you can do with your examples, the better, as you won’t know exactly which prompts you’ll get in the SAC/exam. You’ll want your examples to fit into as many prompts as possible, make them flexible – you’ll thank yourself later.
- Barnaby Joyce in Skynews interview: ‘Testicles and terrorism’:
- Woolworth’s ‘Food Range’ ad:
- Eminem’s new word in the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Stan’:
Good luck! ????
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