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6EN03 Exam tips and advice

We have spent the last few lessons exploring examiners’ reports, example answers (see this page, check you’re looking at 6EN03) and considering our own feedback on the last mocks for 6EN03.

Themes that have emerged:

  • Always give plenty of evidence — we saw that this lends the work much more weight, reads well, and gains marks in the exam
  • Avoid a deficit model with children’s language; and similarly don’t judge the writer in language variation and change: we are descriptivists, not prescriptivists!
  • Explore the texts, and get it on paper — show that you are considering alternatives, discovering things, trying out different frameworks; if you only think this through in your head, it won’t be there for the examiner to reward.
  • Use technical terms at every opportunity; avoid the word ‘word’ or ‘phrase’ (unless you mean Noun Phrase or something otherwise specific)
  • Mark up your text to gather patterns of evidence and ideas — make this visually distinctive so you can pick out your evidence quickly. Don’t mark up already superficially dazzling material, like graphology features!
  • Save up the ‘obvious stuff’ till later — seek grammar, discourse structuring, pragmatics, which are highly rewarded, and drop in graphology to secure ‘range’ later on.
  • Be flexible — be ready to be surprised, especially in section A, and think on your feet, writing as you go; you can draw on everything from the AS year, and you can and should speculate (with evidence, and showing that you’re tentative) about possible contextual influences.
  • Argue for and explain your points — don’t just mention and move on; so, not just ‘this links to Giles’ theory/Chomsky’s theory’ but ‘this demonstrates Giles’ accommodation in action, as the speakers converge, with A taking on B’s accent in line 4′, or ‘the three self-corrections (lines 3 & 4) as the child progressively tries out past tenses, without any outside help or reward, seems to support Chomsky’s idea of an innate ‘LAD’ at work’.
  • Pay attention to the steer in the question — they’ll often ask you to focus on a particular aspect, whether it’s a specific sort of feature, something about the genre or context, or particular distinctions to be made. Be sure to address these in all your discussion! You can also make side comments, but mark them as such. (‘As well as genre differences as discussed, there are some more general differences… [list them] … These have an effect not only on this genre, but others too: for example, you could see… as affecting…’)
  • Don’t over-claim: cut intensifying adverbs and claim simply – not ‘this totally changes’, just ‘this changes’; not ‘there are adjectives throughout the text’ but ‘adjectives are frequent, eg in lines 4, 10 and 13 and several together in 15’. Under-claim and/or support with full evidence!

There are many more little tips we could mention. Some past students’ top tips can be found here: A2 exam Top Tips group 2 A2 exam Top Tips group 1

Ultimately, this synoptic exam is there to give you a ‘workout’ — space to make a range of comments, some of which will be secure, familiar and central, others unfamiliar and requiring more careful weighing-up of possibilities, stretching to tentatively apply what you do know. Be ready for a surprise and embrace ambiguity — uncertainty is the opportunity for two paragraphs of weighing the evidence!

It’s not a ‘knowledge dump’: you get marks for being selective (evaluating), realistic and honest about what the evidence might suggest.

There’s no ‘right answer’ to divine: if you use accurate descriptions and solid, descriptivist linguistic methods for describing the data and suggesting contextual influences on it, then you’re doing what’s required.

Just give the examiner enough evidence to be sure that you know what you know; help them to read your work by using paragraphing and linking; follow up your ideas by following your nose to what comes next.

They want to give you marks! Get it on paper so that they can.

Best of luck!



Contemporary change

Language is still changing, as we write now. if you get a modern-day text, be aware of both its regional variations (if they are evident), and of changes which might be in process now, usages which some might find informal or new, innovations which might be caused by current fashions and technologies and trends.

We considered a number of forces that have been at work in leading to language change, first thinking about how they have affected language through our consideration of the history of English, and then thinking also about what seems to be prominent now.

Factors we thought were influential included invasion, the entry of a dominating language into an existing language milieu, especially important in 1066 and in the colonisation and enslavement that led to creation of pidgins and creoles. This tends to overhaul the language spoken, especially by the invaded, significantly, affecting fundamental structures in the language and stratification into different levels of formality (to acrolect, basilect and mesolect in creoles, for instance). Trade also led to significant contact with other cultures, leading to borrowing of lexical items more likely than fundamental changes to grammar (as we see in invasions). Many spoke up for printing as causing a fundamental change in the mass dissemination of fixed forms of the language — which produces pressure to standardise; but this was also bound up with religion, especially the emergence of a protestant Christian church which valued direct contact with the holy text of the bible in the readers’ own language. Of the many texts that were printed, the bible was the most read and most highly valued, so inevitably led to the fixation of a valued standard for English, particularly in the King James Authorised version of 1611. Some in discussing this wanted to extend the notion of ‘printing’ to later technologies — and yes, the rotary press, steam-driven and mechanised presses of the 19th century, coupled with widespread education from about 1870, led to the boom in literacy and the range of reading materials in the last 150 years; and electronic ‘print’ is a crucial contemporary outcome of this development in technology, though it perhaps does not fix and standardise the language, but democratises it, and tends to enshrine informal, spoken and dialect forms in ‘print’ to widely distribute around the globe.

When we turned to present-day influences, that globalisation was prominent in people’s top drivers of language change: global travel and trade, global dissemination of specifically American English through mass media consumption (Hollywood film, music in English), and the globally connected lingua francas of internet English and business English. The full list of factors, if you’d like to print them and consider them again (perhaps in relation to  a past paper exam text?), can be found here: Influences on Language Change Cutups

We also looked at contentious sentences in current English usage. We had noted when discussing ‘theories of change’ the continued existence of prescriptivists who want to keep the language following rules they received in their own education; to ensure that it follows logical rules; and in some cases, that it conforms to rules of politeness or to the form of a valued language like Latin. Against those, are the more academically-minded descriptivists, who step back from such moral judgements about what language should be, and instead aim to observe what is. (We took a brief aside to comment on the situation of Jonathan Swift, who wrote an extensive complaint to the government  requesting the setup of an ‘Academy of English’ who would decide and prescribe the ‘facts’ of English usage; he didn’t get one (unlike France), but what did follow was Johnson’s more descriptivist dictionary of 1755, which nonetheless did serve to further settle and standardise the language, though its methodology was to start by collecting instances of actual usage of a word.) We tried out an acceptability test, looking at a list of sentences and deciding whether this seemed to be ‘acceptable English’ or not. Some of these are objectionable to prescriptivists, but seem totally fine to us; we found that in some cases, we ‘corrected’ something with the conviction that it was ‘wrong’, only to be surprised at the evidence (dreamed/dreamt, spelled/spelt). Some non-standard forms we really need to be getting standard when writing academically in the exam (eg, it’s/its), and others bring out our inner prescriptivist (eg would of) sometimes even though we know we might say it ourselves (if i’d’ve known).

The point is that there are many usages which may vary according to formality, to spokenness vs writtennes, in dialect forms which encroach upon one another, and which find themselves in free variation within our own usage, because they are in the midst of change; and that change is not logical and neatly causal, but may be emerging by the shifting of fashions or patterns of usage that arise from who speaks to whom. (‘Whom’ is another dying form; we also noted hypercorrection of ‘my friend and I’.)

It’s impossible to teach all of these — we just don’t know what text might come up. But keep alive to them — look out for them — the task of engaging your grammatical intuition, of considering the possibilities, of trying it out in your brain and seeing what happens (and describing that in linguistic terms), is the skill you need to exercise in the exam.

Theories of Language Change?

The research task was to find out about ‘theories’ of language change. For child language development there are clear approaches with named theorists — Chomsky’s Innateness idea, Skinner’s behaviourism, Cognitive approaches and Interactionists — but the territory is less clearly mapped out when it comes to language change. So what will earn marks for AO2 when writing about variation and change in Section A of the exam?

People’s research led to an array of theorists and theories, and some names and notions came up more than once. A summary of some follows:

Giles’ Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) was something that came up in the first year. You’ll remember that this focuses on how people tend to talk like those they talk with — a key idea for language variation and change. One will normally converge to speak more like your addressee — and this may be upward convergence, moving more like a formal or standard language, the ‘acrolect’; or downward convergence, speaking on a more informal level or approaching dialect forms. Two speakers may adjust their talk in both ways, approaching each other in the middle.

This may lead to dialect levelling, the tendency of dialects to ‘even out’ over time so that an intermediate form spreads outward from its originating area. This has been observed by many writers, including Trudgill and Bloomfield, and in more recent publications in the news. This movement outward from a source is like ripples in a pond, or waves, and that has led to what some students found referred to as ‘wave theory’ or the ‘wave model’ of dialect spread. It’s possible also, as Trudgill points out, for divergence to happen, and create isolated areas where people choose to speak differently to assert their identity.

William Labov’s research showed both things happening, though he considered class variation as well as region. In his famous New York study, he noted how speakers would move toward Standard GenAm pronunciations when ‘speaking clearly’ (adding rhoticity to pronunciation of ‘fourth floor’), but that the social class of the department stores where he studied this phenomenon had a bearing on how marked the change was. (Lower classes might not converge upward; higher classes might already be using GenAm standard.) By contrast, in Martha’s Vineyard he found that local residents were deliberately distancing themselves from visiting tourists by adopting features of traditional fishermen, diverging to assert their own identity (by adopting others’!).

We have already noted some theory of creoles and pidgins; that their forms reflect those of children’s language in part because the first generation of children growing up in a pidgin environment settle a language into a rule-governed creole. We saw that in and around creoles there were stratifications of language, levels of talk: the basilect (lowest, broadest) form; at the top end, most like the prestige standard form of the intruding language is the acrolect; and between these extremes the mesolect. This pattern is spoken of as the post-creole continuum (continuum because these aren’t distinct languages but extremes of variation), and one can see convergence, levelling, divergence and so on occurring here. Continuing contact with the intruding language is a factor in this stratification.

Others came across patterns of how language changes are adopted. One striking pattern is the ‘S-curve’ — gradual emergence is followed by rapid adoption, and then a slowing as the word, phrase or pronunciation hits its limits of usage. This is more useful in versions of the course that present language data — but skim the article linked to and look at the charts for a good sense of how this might operate with a number of specific changes.

We turned later in the lesson to the idea of prescriptivism vs descriptivism, and noted that our job, as linguists, is to describe language — not to make moral judgements about what’s right or wrong. This is a modern approach — past linguists have been strongly prescriptivist, and we have seen complaints about faults, problems and corruptions in language throughout our reading. But just as we need to avoid a ‘deficit model’ in our descriptions of children’s usage of language, so we shouldn’t be looking for ‘right’ usage and condemning ‘wrong’ usage in our study of dialects and variations. We might well refer to standardisation — the tendency historically for prestige forms to be more consistent and settled — but should bear in mind that different times have different standards, and just because a language is not like ours, does not make it non-standard. A creole is rule-governed, not just unstandardized or ‘incorrect’ English. (A pidgin, however, would be chaotic!). U/V variation in early modern texts is consistent and rule-governed; the settling of these graphemes by their link to phonemes is a later rule, but just a different rule.

We read Jean Aitchison on language change. (You can listen here if you prefer.) She usefully brings together a number of images that capture prescriptivist attitudes to language change, and offers cogent critiques of these ideas. She asks whether language change is ‘progress or decay’, and suggests that neither is quite right. Her later metaphors for language change show how beliefs about language change have themselves developed over time: that change is not gradual, but may be abrupt, and a product of competition between forms.  (Aitchison Images)

Most important for AO2 marks in this section of the exam, then, is not so much named theorists, though you might find reference to these useful, especially Giles; but rather taking a descriptivist view, and looking for rules in the texts you find, speculating about variations, their patterns, their causes and meanings, and keeping open-minded and critical about your own understanding of the text.


Technologies: 19th-20th Centuries

Technologies have always shaped language — in its broadest sense, technologies would include the knife and stick used to keep tallies of goods in ancient civilisations (innovating the idea of recorded language), the carving of symbols into stone, the creation of parchment and the scroll/the codex book for recording and storing increasing numbers of linguistic marks, the quill and ink, the pencil, and so on. More recognisable as modern technologies which have had increasingly dominant influence on language change are those  mechanical and electronic communications devices which have sped up the dissemination of texts and speech in an increasingly globalised world. Printing is perhaps the earliest such means of mass production and dissemination of identical texts; but later innovations such as the rotary press and the steam-driven press assisted in the foundation of print journalism and mass media.

There are categories of technology which change the world itself and enable people to come into contact, thereby spreading and transforming language. These date back to boat travel and roads, underpinning trade and exchanges of goods — which need names, often borrowings, but also lead to contact in general, and Caxton’s complaint that people return from overseas not only dressed in foreign apparel, but also using foreign words, not just the nouns for the clothing and materials but turns of phrase from the people they had hung out with. (We speak like who we speak with.) Later, the innovation of railways and other rapid transport systems — especially commercial and tourist air travel in the later 20th century — meant the need for global lingua francas, and access to foreign foods and goods with foreign names even for those who stay at home. English has become an international language of business, so a Japanese and German business meeting in Paris might well be conducted in English.

Technologies themselves generate words that name the things, their components, those who use them and what we do with them.  This leads to eponyms such as Hoovering or Googling, lots of Latin and Greek derived terms for scientific innovations and technologies (tele-phones, inter-net, tele-graph, video-phone, photo-graph) and those many other word formation techniques we met in the AS year which commonly identify new things today (blendings such as cinematography or vlogging; plenty of initialisms such as TV or GPS, acronyms such as SCUBA gear or RADAR, LASER which lose their capitals as people may forget their sources) and the people who use them — bloggers, hackers, disk jockeys (DJs), cyber-bullies, videogamers (note the movement from compound as two separate words, as hyphenated pairs, and then as a single word).

Also, technologies lead to cultural situations and material which is disseminated via those technologies and can only exist because of them. Twitter leads to hashtags, tweets, twitterstorms, trending, digital detoxes. All rapid CMC (computer-mediated communication) leads to smilies/emoticons, use of rebuses (2 good 4 U), elliptical communication to save characters (and this dates back to telegraphy which charged by the word), abbreviations of various sorts including clippings (txt, mob, jel), intialisms (FYI, BRB, WTF) acronyms (YOLO, LOL) and more, and a tendency for less formal modes of communication as exchanges of text become rapid and more like speech. We might need to coin new words for usages of these technologies — typos emerge from the typewriter, sexting rests on texting (a blending following a conversion N-V), cybercrime, televangelists, even junk mail, answerphone tennis, jet setters, the mile high club, a moonshot, telecommuting via telepresence, getting sidetracked — and entire industries rest on technology: LPs, pop music, Hollywood & Bollywood, gaming, and so on.

These will all be more or less familiar to you. The terminology we largely met in the first year. When you get a late modern text, which will not be wildly different from any text you read or write, don’t feel there’s ‘nothing to write’. Consider all the ways in which this AO3 context of technological change underpins the language used — naming stuff, enabling/promoting certain genres/registers of language, and associated language which clusters around the usage of the technology, including later extensions as metaphor. (Going postal, phoning in a performance, the telegraphic stage of child language, tuning out for a while, and so on.) The A2 exam 6EN03 is ‘synoptic’ — you can draw on any and all of your studies over the two years to discuss the language used.

Continue to build the timeline of tech that’s interesting to you, especially over the last 150 years or so, when technology has been accelerating and has utterly transformed the world, leading to an increasingly globalised communications network and an interlinked world-wide society.

19th Century English

We briefly looked at 19th century texts, having found an example at home.

These are varied and sophisticated in their range of possible topics, in their typographical and organisational resources (including the possibility of illustrations and diagrams), and the increasing range of possible audiences too. Towards the end of the 19th century/Victorian period, education was becoming widespread and available to the lower classes as well as leisured upper/upper-middle classes. News journalism was becoming daily and more specialised, as steam-driven presses were able to produce large amounts of printed material. These large machines could also produce large posters; use colour more freely; and typographic design meant that advertisers would compete for increasingly attractive (dense!) layouts, packing in material that varied between the bold and abrupt, and the detailed promotional language.

Sentences tended to be lengthy, we saw, with suspended sentences being typical toward the end of the period. These were sentences, in which, due to the embedding of other clauses within the earlier noun phrases and adverbials, which were often fronted, thanks in some degree to a predilection on the part of writers to engage with such a style, and a propensity for listing, the better to make vivid settings and circumstances, or to itemise the many benefits of the goods or serviced being advertised, for instance, the point of the sentence would be deferred, only appearing after such meandering digressions, at the very end. (If you hadn’t noticed, that sentence was an example!) This densely embedded and elaborated grammatical structure expected readers to hold an awful lot of information in mind — but this was an audience now used to reading, and able to do so at length: there was not yet the competition of radio (‘the wireless’) or TV. Aim to do better when writing about these sentences that just describing them as ‘long’ — look for embedded clauses, listing structures, track down the main verb in the sentences.

Lexis was also very varied, as we had seen in the music journalism section: often Latinate or based in Greek, and freely shifting into other languages, such as French, on the assumption that the audience would as a matter of course have been educated in such matters. Gone from the language by this point, however, are a number of features we have seen up until now: no more thee/thou except in dialect, no more long ‘s’ or u/v i/j rules (they have their modern values), -eth has been fully replaced by -es for third person singular present; with the exception being perhaps in ‘poetic diction’.

We looked in more detail at little features of grammar around this period, using texts from Jane Austen. In many ways Austen’s work is utterly modern (having been an influence on the development of the novel form), with relatively short paragraphs, lots of dialogue, and a tendency for fewer suspended sentences than later in the work of, say, Dickens. But we practised identifying specific, small scale patterns of grammatical variation, of the sort which are mark-earning in the exam. Taking just a couple of instances of preposition differences, changes in auxiliary usage, differing patterns of articles, unfamiliar uses of tenses and verb forms, we can imagine what we would naturally say in present-day English and classify using a technical term. What motivates these then is the gradual shift of preferred styles; in some cases there might be a more particular reason for a given change, but just to identify a pattern and motivate by timescale is worth a mention. the Austen exercise is reproduced for reference here: Austen Language Change

Early Modern English: Shakespeare & the KJV

We have alluded through the course to the language of the bible, which for us today tends to mean specifically the language of the King James Version, or ‘Authorised Version’, of the bible, printed in 1611. As we have seen, with the growth of Protestantism against the Catholic church, and the need for many people to read the word of God directly, mistrusting what had come to be seen as a corrupt priesthood (who also didn’t happen to want to let Henry VIII have his way), the expansion of printing was driven by the large scale production of bibles, translated into people’s own tongues, so that everyone could find salvation. Several early versions of the bible in English were produced, notably Wyclif’s and Tyndale’s translations; and ultimately, given this variation in possible texts (which version was the true one?), it was decided to produced a single, authoritative version, which would be the official bible of the English Protestant church, approved by a team of scholars. This was the monumental KJV.

A text of such importance to people’s lives (and their everlasting life in heaven afterwards!) would of course have a monumental influence on the English language: it was read, heard, memorised, quoted, set to music, sung, taught and more for hundreds of years since. It brought many idioms into the language, and was quoted extensively in Johnson’s Dictionary so lent many common words that survive in today’s English.

The KJV, being representative of the Word of God and venerable traditional, tends to be conservative (in the sense of traditional, old-fashioned) in its grammar. It strictly uses –eth endings for third person singular present (goeth, taketh, doth, hath), where Shakespeare’s characters largely use the Northern form -es, (goes, takes, but doth, hath in auxiliaries) which would of course take over as the modern surviving form (goes, takes, does, has). It also uses thou (and thee, thy, thine) in its strictly second person singular form, used when there is one addressee exclusively (you is for plural addressees).

For Shakespeare, these forms are more variable and more telling. Thou, as we saw in some detail, is becoming restricted: not only is it singular in meaning, but to use it also implies intimacy, informality, ‘talking-down’. You is being used to singular addressees as a mark of respect (similarly to the way in which kings might adopt first person plural ‘we’ as a mark of their strength and superiority). So the polite, formal, respectful, public form is you; to call someone thou either expresses agreed and shared affection, or will be read as an insult! (It is a common error among students to assume that ‘thou’ is formal, since it’s the older form and read in such texts as the bible and Shakespeare; but now you know better.) In the Bible, thou is used for God — He is singular most certainly, and we may speak to him individually and in private commune. Jesus speaks his sermons addressing ‘you’ — because there are many people listening. (‘Ye’ may be used as an alternative plural form around this period too.) English is unusual in having lost this distinction: it survives in many language which retain what is called a T/V form distinction — notably French tu and vous. Switching from V to T may be a socially fraught move (I compared it to calling a stranger mate instead of sir) — and the socially risky aspect may help you imagine why it might have faded from use. Thou still exists in some dialects, for example older Yorkshire dialects. It was very restricted by the 1700s.

We saw also that thou is the subject form, thee the object pronoun form; that thy is the possessive determiner, and thine the possessive pronoun; and noted also that thy may become thine when premodifying a word with a vowel sound: thy castle but thine angel; thy youth but thine age. It’s the same rule as we apply to a/an today, and it also applied to my/mine (mine own, mine uncle). As an even more obscure little nugget, we commented how this led to language change via a sort of back-formation: it used to be my nuncle, and thy napron, but these sound the same as mine uncle and thine apron, which were understood as such, so the /n/ moved from word to word. We noted the –st ending, which consistently goes with thou subject: thou goest, thou seest, thou walk’st, thou dost, thou art. The –st ending added to past forms and modals too, unlike present day conjugations: thou couldst, thou mightst, thou wert, thou didst, thou hadst and so on. This remains in question inversion too: hadst thou? wert thou? seest thou this?

We looked then at other features of Shakespeare’s language. This inversion of word order is typical; surviving to some degree from Middle English is a flexibility in word order, exacerbated by Shakespeare’s writing in the genre of verse. He has much more freedom with auxiliaries, especially do, did, does; he may omit it, instead inverting word order in questions; he may insert it in sentences without increasing the stress. We have seen in past lessons how inventive Shakespeare is with coining and adapting words, with favourite approaches including compounding, affixation and class change. And we commented above that he uses –th ending mainly in auxiliaries (doth and hath), tending to use –es in third person singular present tense, especially in speech, reflecting a change that was going on at the time that only late reached written register. There’s a summary of features here: How Shakespearean Works 1-sheet

This was a time of rich invention for the language; Cawdrey, you will recall, in his Table Alphabeticall, complained about how much people were inventing words (inkhorn terms), and borrowing words from other countries; but Johnson, when compiling his dictionary 150 years later, drew on Shakespeare and the KJV for his quotations, helping fix them in the language so that they survive today. Some of Shakespeare’s coinages certainly don’t survive; but his influence was extraordinary.


Middle English: Chaucer (& Caxton again)

Bearing in mind that the texts that come up in the exam may come from any direction, and time, in any genre, we kept on our feet by leaping back to revise Middle English, this time looking at an extract from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. We’d met Chaucer as our earliest ‘literary’ figure; his writing dates from before our cutoff point (c.1500 is the earliest text we’ll get) but his language — Middle English — was the among the first to be printed by Caxton (who we’ve also met, the first British printer).

We looked at an extract of poetry from Chaucer, alongside a present-day ‘translation’, to identify a range of features of the sorts we have been exploring in class. We noted a range of differences to watch out for persisting into the earliest text which might turn up in the exam (bearing in mind that printing starts the change from Middle English to Early Modern):

  • Word order at times has adjective postmodifying noun, rather than premodifying, like French does (influence of Norman French?)
  • Spelling is variable — ‘sweet’ is spelled <soote> and <sweete>, for instance
  • Spelling reflects the pronunciation prior to the Great Vowel Shift — ‘breath’ and ‘heath’, today pronounce with an /e/ versus an /i:/ sound, both were pronounced with /e:/, along /e/, reflected in the <ee> spelling.
  • Capitalisation doesn’t match today’s patterns; no caps on Aprille in the version we saw, nor on Zephirus (though this was variable; note the early manuscript (handwritten) version here versus others you might see).
  • There’s pragmatic assumptions about the identity of ‘the Ram’ (Aries, assumed astrological knowledge) and ‘Zephirus’ from mythology
  • Flexibility of syntax, as with Object ‘the droghte of march’ preceding its verb ‘hath perced’ (April pierced the drought of March); and auxiliary ‘hath’ appearing after verb ‘inspired’ on line 6 — this flexibility remains from the heavily-inflected Old English
  • Also remaining from OE is the endings: -e in spelling and sound (pronounced schwa) as a remnant of missing word stems; and some unfamiliar grammar, such as the -en ending to verbs for plural and infinitive verbs
  • Some interesting semantic change: strikingly, narrowing of ‘fowles’ and ‘liquor’ between then and now, and some words that have become lost like ‘kowthe’ as well as changes of sense in the affixations, like ‘blisful’ for ‘blessed’ rather than now-broadened ‘bringing happiness’.

In another lesson, we looked back at how words change over time, reminding ourselves of categories of semantic change: broadening and narrowing, amelioration and pejoration, and gradual semantic drift through several changes of meanings. We noted in passing corruption, the gradual change in spelling and pronunciation of a word, working similarly to cognates but within the same language.

Some features here stem from the status of this text as poetry; genre features influence some of the word order choices and lexical choices that help accomplish rhyme, for instance. We looked also at Caxton’s introduction to one of his printings of Chaucer, where he discusses some of the problems with printing: how can you be sure which is the ‘best’ copy, most true to what an author wrote, in an age of manuscript copies and variability in spelling and grammar? We noted in his language the flexibility of syntax and sentences structures again; the use of ‘virgules’ (what we today would call ‘forward-slashes’, the earliest version of a ‘comma’) to indicate breathing spots in a text, since writing at this stage was closely allied to public speaking — and we noted also the turn at the end, and throughout, to the language of the sermon, the introduction ending in ‘Amen’ (!). Caxton’s commentary was somewhat rambling; linked by many co-ordinating conjunctions (and, for) as well as subordination (whiche, that, to whom), and he loses track of his sentence structures — these are the early days of professional writing, and the rules are still unformed. Unlike Chaucer, he isn’t bound by  line-by-line structure, nor a rhyme scheme; in fact his writing isn’t even broken up into paragraphs.

The thing to watch out for in early texts is to see beyond the dazzling graphology; there will be spelling variability, and some patterns of selling like the u/v rule and the long’s’ rule; but they are your backup then, points to turn to when you’ve run out of other things to say. Look for lexical choices, semantic changes, word roots and formation/morphology, grammatical patterns like word orders or word endings (inflections, not just spellings). Especially in question (a), you need to tackle patterns at two different levels of language; aim for grammar or morphology to be one of them.