My Dialect Essay

Accent and Dialect essays

We're coming close to the end of our work on Accent and Dialect for the new Paper 2 of AQA AS specification and thinking a bit more about the kinds of questions that might appear and how to approach them. One area that we've considered is the issue of why certain dialects (and/or accents) seem to be valued more highly than others, so for this we have been looking at news stories from a few years ago about so-called 'slang bans'. You can find a load of them gathered here as links.

In response to the question, "Discuss the idea that some dialects are viewed more favourably than others" (which we came up with ourselves), we've used short extracts of data from different schools (such as Sacred Heart in Teesside and Colley Lane in Halesowen) for the AO1 part of the question and as a springboard into the wider issues and discussion for AO2.

In terms of how to structure an answer, we've worked on the principle that it's best to address the essay question straight away in the opening paragraph with something along the lines of "The idea that some dialects are viewed less favourably than others is probably true and this is often the result of some privileged forms of English - accents such as RP or a dialect such as Standard English - being valued highly by influential and powerful parts of the population..." before going into the data in more detail.

The data is there, I think, to provide you with the chance to explore different features of language and to be able to see examples that might link back to the wider question, but it's also there to help you get a few AO1 marks early on, so get linguistic on its ass. Use your understanding of language frameworks such as vocabulary, grammar and phonology to describe and label the features of dialect that are apparent, and think too of the wider implications of what the school is doing by presenting this in the way that they do.

[Edited after 2016 exams to add the following. AO1 is assessed a little differently on Paper 2 compared to Paper 1, so it's less about analysing the data than writing coherently and with a good linguistic register. By that, we mean using the right kind of specialist terminology to describe language (e.g. accent, dialect, idiolect, phonemes, being able to describe word classes etc.). Most of the marks for AO1 are from your ability to actually structure an answer that addresses the ideas in the question.]

Once you've worked on the data, the next job is probably to make some links from what's there to the wider question - the idea under discussion in the title - and from there into the range of knowledge about the topic that you have built up by studying it and reading about it.

AO2 isn't all about naming theorists and quoting case studies, but they are important and they often give you a peg to hang a bigger idea on. So, in a question about dialects, it makes sense to think about studies that have looked at non-standard English (Trudgill and Cheshire), studies that have explored different pronunciations (Petyt and Trudgill), studies and surveys about attitudes to accents (Giles, Ryan, ITV Com/Res, YouGov) and any particular examples you have found in your own research or experience. If you've done a study on the dialect of Manchester, Newcastle, the West Country, Essex or Birmingham, you'll have examples you can use of the features of the dialect but also media representations of it. Use them: they will help make your answer more individual and interesting. Equally, if you have a personal take on it - you have been judged for your dialect (and let's face it, if you're from Essex you probably have) or told to "put T-s, T-s, T-s in your mouth" as I was when I moved from school in London to Wiltshire - mention it and offer your considered linguistic perspective on it.

Another part of AO2 is to show an understanding of the wider language issues, so think about the role of Standard English and why it has such importance. Where is it from? Why does it have an important role to play? Does having a standard make us assume that everything else is sub-standard? These are all possible avenues to explore.

Anyway, that's a start, I hope and I'd be interested to see what others are doing for this.

[Updated on May 3rd 2017 to reflect feedback from AS Paper 2 in 2016.]


The assignment: write a dialectic essay on the topic of your choice, it should be about 2 double-spaced typed pages (600 words maximum). Follow the structure and clearly label each section of your essay.

As far as you know, academic essays can be different. Being a student, your task is to understand the difference between all essay types clearly. So, when you are asked to write a dialectic essay, there are several nuances you should keep in mind.

Dialectic essay is a sort of argumentative dialogue or debate, where a writer should make a thesis and use different arguments and counterarguments to prove this thesis’ verity.

Why do you need it?

If your teacher gives an assignment to write a dialectic essay, it means he wants to check your ability to clarify your thoughts on some particular subject. Dialectic essays help you present a subject from different sides, taking into account all positive and negative aspects, and making a conclusion based on them.

Such a task is given to teach you see all arguments for and against some thesis, and it helps you explore a subject in depth. Thanks to dialectic essays, you will understand that even opposite points of view on your thesis have their merits too.

What is the structure of a dialectic essay?

The structure of dialectic essays reminds a basic 5-paragraph essay: it consists of an introduction, where you present your argumentative thesis, a body of 3 parts, and a conclusion. So, let’s take a look at each part of dialectic essay and try to explain how to organize it properly.

Introduction (a thesis itself)

An introduction of your dialectic essay should present a thesis itself. If your assignment is to choose a topic yourself, just try to come up with a thesis that has two possible interpretations at least. As far as you understand, you will have to present opposite arguments, that is why your topic should be controversial and debatable for your dialectic essay to become good written.

Do not make your introduction too long, and do not divide it into several paragraphs. The introduction of your dialectic essay takes just one paragraph to state a thesis itself.

Argument

The first paragraph of your essay’s body presents your single argument for the thesis. Give some reasons for the thesis, and try to make them quite obvious for a reader to agree with them. Do not forget about the fact, that this very paragraph should support the thesis by all means.

Objection

Here you should respond to the argument given in the previous section and provide an objection to it. Pay attention to the fact, that this objection should not show the thesis as a false, but rather a previous argument as a false. Give some reasons, why the argument for the thesis can’t be accepted as monopoly on the truth, making your essay a kind of debate where two people express opposite points of view on the same topic.

Response

The third paragraph of your dialectic essay’s body should be a response to the objection. But do not give the same arguments you had in the very first paragraph! This section should be a response to the specific objection given in the second paragraph (as in a debate actually). You do not need to present a new argument for the thesis here: your task is criticizing section two.

As a rule, the only true argument of your debate is the one given in the first paragraph of a dialectic essay. Other two paragraphs serve to demonstrate the fact you understand the thesis in depth, and you see its all possible interpretations.

Conclusion

The purpose of conclusion is to support your original thesis or state a new thesis, a kind of your arguments and counterarguments’ combination. The point is, you should not change your initial thesis completely: it should be a kind of its modification supported by more ideas, but not its complete reversal.

Here is a sample of dialectic essay for you to understand its structure and nature better:

Sample

Three Opposing Viewpoints on Abortion
by Amy Geiger

From: tc.umn.edu

So, what is the result?

After you’ve got an assignment to write a dialectic essay, your actions are the following:

  • Choose a controversial and debatable topic, and set this thesis in the introduction of your essay.
  • Think about all possible pros and cons of the thesis, organize all your ideas clearly to come up with both arguments and counterarguments.
  • Provide 3 sections (paragraphs) of your essay, each of which will be a response to a previous one and will object it.
  • Come up with a conclusion, that will support your thesis and your initial argument.
  • Keep in mind the fact, that your counterarguments should not object the thesis itself, but arguments given in previous sections of your dialectic essay.
Assignments, WritingMike Hanski

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