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Failing to unscrew the bolts

THE LANGUAGE BOOK By Andrew Mayne and John Shuttleworth Hodder Stoughton Pounds 8.99 Age range: 14-16.

The study of language has long been a neglected part of the English curriculum, perceived all too often as a bolt-on to the main business of studying texts. There have, however, always been favoured issues that teachers have covered in this area.

The Language Book revisits this familiar territory with an eye on what are now the statutory requirements. The authors look at standard English, accent and dialect variation, jargon, slang and swearing, as well as the way in which the language has changed. They also consider what might broadly be described as the language of persuasion through advertising and bias in the press.

More interesting, however, are the chapters on language and power and language and gender, for they promise a critical language awareness not often found outside the publications of the English and Media Centre. They suggest too the approach that will be taken in other chapters in the book. Yet the book as a whole fails to deliver this systematic approach to language study.

There are several interesting exercises, but the tone and style of the book tend to trivialise the issues it is addressing. Aimed directly at the pupil, all the instructions and introductions have a jovial, chirpy feel that detracts from the seriousness of the questions being asked; some of the activities miss the point in the desire to be relevant.

Part of the difficulty with the book is that, in its whistle-stop tour of language study, it does nothing to undermine the idea that this area of the English curriculum is anything more than a bolt-on activity.

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