Bill Greenwell welcomes extensions to a series which demystifies A-level language.
It's autumn, and they're enrolling for English language A-level. Anyone involved knows that some hapless students are persuaded that, since they write and speak "the English language", this is obviously their subject. Sometimes it's because they don't want to study "that old writing", believed to be a reference to Stratford.
Two months later, and the persistent are still believers. In general, in FE colleges at least, fewer than 50 per cent will actually achieve a grade. Of course, drop-out and failure rates have other reasons. But the truth is many weren't really expecting to study language. So one acid test of these books might be: Do they make plain to the uninitiated (or those who resist initiation) what they will be studying?
The Living Language series gives us eight new companions to George Keith and John Shuttleworth's excellent 1997 Exploring Advanced Level English Language, each of which focuses in more detail on particular aspects touched on in the general textbook.
Apart from the continuing mystery of why Laurel and Hardy are on the cover of each (what do students make of that?), they'rewell-written, well-organised, never remotely patronising.
Any sane English department will have the original, the new eight (and accompanying tape) as soon as budgets permit. I particularly like their refusal to assault the eyes with boxes, "ripped" newspaper articles, and cartoons. These are patient manuals and the authors have selected genuinely interesting extracts to inform and illustrate their arguments.
The writers and their editors love their subject. This is acid test number two. They will point teachers and students at the examples they should be collecting. Shelley Martin's Language Change contains some particularly good stuff, including a whole section on food writing, which seemed bizarre to start with, but which I came to admire immensely.
Of the eight, only George Keith's Language and Literature made me hesitate, partly because his questions are sometimes closed, and his points of view occasionally too directive (for instance, the analyses of "Ozymandias" and "Upon Westminster Bridge" impose readings, where nudges would do).
Bill Greenwell is head of performing arts, languages and English at Exeter College, Exeter