Linguistic beginnings

20th September 1996 at 01:00
INVESTIGATING ENGLISH LANGUAGE: An Introduction to the Nature and Functions of Language By Howard Jackson and Peter Stockwell An Introduction to Stylistic Text Analysis By Urszula Clark Stanley Thornes, Pounds 12.99 each.

Many teachers new to A-level language have backgrounds in literature rather than linguistics. For them the syllabus will seem wide-ranging and unfamiliar. This makes the notion of a comprehensive introductory textbook very appealing.

Just five years ago there was only one serviceable language A-level textbook, and this only covered the London syllabus. Since then several more have appeared, along with a profusion of photocopiable materials. Many of these resources are excellent but there are still gaps, leading to a ceaseless quest to find more detailed summaries of topics from books written for higher education students.

The Investigating English Language series offers an elegant approach to the problem of reconciling breadth and accessibility by dividing the NEAB syllabus into linguistic and textual study. The decision to use two books allows for a more detailed treatment of topics and classroom approaches.

Howard Jackson and Peter Stockwell cover knowledge about language including language change, acquisition and sociolinguistics. Urszula Clark treats written language with a focus on description and discourse structure. Both books stand on their own, but also complement each other.

They show every sign of care, skill and experience. The reader is guided by logical organisation, clear expression and attractive layout. Each half of the course is introduced by an extended explanation of the core descriptive terminology before topics are considered in more detail.

The books structure the material in a way which will readily provide for a coherent course, with introductory sections, activities to consolidate learning, ideas for extension work, suggestions for further reading and also glossaries of terms.

There are some new insights too. The university teaching background of Jackson and Stockwell is evident in the glimpses of current higher education research areas (for example, corpus linguistics), and in the learned and up-to-date reading suggestions.

Clark's classroom experience informs an inventive and practical approach to stylistics and to re-writing texts for new audiences. The latter section offers rare published guidance about the unusual case study exam. However, while detailed, the coverage is not comprehensive and the omission of advice on the new data investigation exam seems a missed opportunity.

Such guidance is available in other books and materials. Teachers will continue to need to read widely to make an eclectic selection which suits their needs and those of their students. The Investigating Language series would be a fine place to start.

Nevertheless many teachers, including those experienced in the course, will find these new books useful to support their own understanding. For students they make desirable but expensive textbooks - the pair cost almost as much as David Crystal's Encyclopedia of the English Language.

Tim Shortis is head of English at St Brendan's Sixth Form College, Bristol.

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