How To Write A Level English Language Essays

QUESTION: Referring to both texts in detail, explore how language has changed over time?

Comparing the texts helps show the changing English language in a short period of time, with the main reason being technological and educational advances. Text E is a written letter from 1854, while Text F is a present day email. This difference in time will indicate many advances of the English Language.

The register of the texts varies greatly. In text E we see an overall formal register adopted, this could simply be the manner in which the author speaks to his father and could adopt more informality if the letter was to a friend. For example we see the formal address of ‘Dear father’ and ‘glad to find you are all in the enjoyment of good health’. Text F shows far more informality as this email is addressing friends where informal address would be common. For example we see the informal opening address of ‘hola people’, this helping lighten the mood of the readers as the email comes from a military environment. Both texts show informality through the use of ellipsis and elision, for example text E uses ‘Sept’ and text F uses ‘what’s going with things’. This helps keep the reader at ease as these aspects are more commonly seen in spoken utterance. Text E uses some formal polysyllabic lexis which would indicate the author is of a relatively high intelligence, even though his writing is non-standard. The use of ‘addition’ and ‘encampment’ show the formality. Text F shows a greater use of monosyllabic lexis mainly for the speed of typing and ease of reading. The formal use of ‘orifice’ is seen, however, I believe this is for comedic effect and helps show the authors own idiosyncratic lexis. The use of modern colloquialisms of ‘redders’ and ‘honking’  help give text F further informality and humour.

We see the archaism and incorrect spelling of ‘bivouaking’ in text E, which helps indicate the changing English language as this is simply called an army camp today and the word has become obsolete. Both texts show forms of non-standard spelling, however, I believe these are for very different reasons. Text E also shows many forms of non-standard spelling from present day, for example we see the extra vowel in ‘Blewe’ and the double consonant in ‘att’. As the text is from 1854, only 100 years after the introduction of the first widely received dictionary by Dr Samuel Johnson, it is possible that the author was writing in his own idiosyncratic style through lack of standardisation. However, since standardisation had begun after the first printing press was introduced to England by William Caxton in 1476; it is far more likely that the author is using non-standard spelling through a lack of formal education as the first Education Act was not introduced in England until 1870. Text F uses forms of non-standard spelling which help indicate the role that technology has played in the changing of the English Language. For example the clipping of ‘Blo’, the number homophone of ‘2day’ and the characterisation of ‘+’ are commonly seen in present day communication through email and text. This is because letters which can be deleted while the text still remains understandable are removed for reasons of speed and cost.

Technological changes to the language are also evident in the opening address of both letters. Text E opens with ‘Dear father’ showing that the letter is intended for one recipient, with the text later stating ‘a copy of this to sisters and brothers’ indicating the need for the father to copy the letter for his siblings. Text F shows technology through opening with ‘hola people’, which shows emails can be sent to many recipients at once without the need to reproduce copies.

Both texts show the sociolect lexis of the armed forces. In text E we see the author using field specific lexis such as ‘encampment’, ‘bivouaking’ and ‘operations’, which would be commonly heard by soldiers of the time. However, text F shows an evolved form of sociolect lexis as we see present day terms such as ‘stay bendy’, indicating the language used by soldiers which is difficult to decipher for non-military personnel. We see the use of the semantic field of military used by both texts, which helps give continuity and reliability to the text. For example in text E we see ‘artillery’ and ‘operations’, while in text F we see ‘camp’ and ‘standby’.

The use of some figurative imagery is evident in both texts. In text F we see the use of hyperbole throughout for comedic effect, for example ‘sand in every orifice’ and ‘millions of fans’. In text E we see hyperbole through ‘will kill half of us’, which helps show the dire situation and the falling morale of the troops. The use of metaphors is also evident in both texts, for example in text E we see ‘bit of a damper’ indicating the low morale once again, while in text F we see ‘did have beer but now dry’ once again used for humour.

In grammar the texts also differ. The punctuation of both pieces shows many non-standard forms. In text E we see very little punctuation as the text uses long complex sentences which stretch into long paragraphs. This could be simply the author’s lack of literacy through being poorly educated. Text F shows short simple sentences which are punctuated using commas into short paragraphs. This could be because the author can send regular instant messages through email and so needs to convey less information. However, the constant capitalisation shows the speed in which the text was written and the author failing to check his work before sending. This once again shows the affect technology has had on the language, as speed takes importance over the use of Standard English. The use of inconsistent capitalisation is also seen in text E, we seethe pronoun of ‘i’ and ‘I’ showing once again the authors lack of education through their inconsistency. However, some proper nouns are capitalised such as ‘Russians’ and ‘John Macklin’ showing the author does have some recognition of grammatical rules.

The use of adjectives also shows differences between the two texts. In text E we see more informative adjectives used to help show the authors feelings and the grim situation which the y are in, for example we see ‘severe’ and ‘heavy rain’. In text F we see far more simplistic adjectives used giving less information but adding extra emphasis to the humour of the text, for example we see ‘mega’ and ‘honking’. In text E we also see the intensifier of ‘very severe’ added which gives extra emphasis to the feelings of the author. The use of the modal verb ‘would’ in text E shows the polite formal manner the author uses when addressing his father, while text F uses ‘could’ which further indicates the lack of information conveyed in the email.

QUESTION: Linguistic analysis of Text A (Evelyn) and Text C (Jones)

The two texts I am analysing are both exerts from diaries. However while text A is from John Evelyn’s personal diary in 1684, text C is a fictional entry from Bridget Jones’ Diary in 1996. This would create a difference in the intended audiences as text A is private and written to be viewed by the author alone, while text C is written to be viewed by a large audience of mainly females. The subject of text A is the freezing of the River Thames in 1684 and the ensuing festival which was held on the ice. The subject of text B is Jones getting prepared for a night out. Text A has a single purpose of being the author’s means of recounting events. However, Text C needs to appear as though describing events whilst attaining its primary purpose of entertaining its audience. Text A is written in the early modern period and shows distinguishing features of the time. Text C shows a clear progression of the English written language to a modern combination of spoken and written features, or the third way as David Crystal has labelled the mixture.

The structure of both texts clearly shows the change in the English language between the twp pieces. Text A is written in a linear manner as the author describes events from start to finish in a structured and chronological manner. Text C uses tines to help the reader differentiate between the events and show the progression of the fictional author’s day. Text A is written using one large paragraph, with a heavy use of punctuation. The use of colons and semi-colons would help identify the age of the text as modern texts mainly use them very little if at all, this is shown in text C as they do not appear. Text A also uses many commas which create long complex sentences. Text C although using many commas uses far smaller sentences as the author tries to keep the audience entertained.

The lexis also helps show the changing English language. In text A we see a relatively formal manner used throughout, for example we see ‘ladys’, ‘vessels’ and ‘printing presse’ used which indicate the author although writing a private account of events is still using a register which shows them to be educated and is indicative of the time compared to modern day. The mere fact that the author can read and write when the text comes from 200 years before education was compulsory would indicate that the author is probably of wealth and writes as they speak using Standard English. In text C we see a far more informal register being used, for example we see ellipsis in ‘Am going to get weighed’ and abbreviation in ‘approx’. This helps show the third way being used as the author brings in features of spoken English to add informality and shows a more modern form of writing informally. Semantic fields are used in both texts to add continuity. In text A we see a semantic field of religion with ‘judgement’ and ‘perishing’ which would be indicative of the time. In text C we see a semantic field of farming being used as an attempt at  humour as the author links women’s daily rituals to the rigours of farming, for example we see ‘harvesting’ and crop spraying’. We see emotive lexis used in both texts. In text A we see lexis which indicates the severity of the freeze with negative connotations in the lexis such as ‘perishing’ and ‘lightning-strock’. In text C we see negative connotations through emotive lexis aimed at creating humour as the fictional author attempts to show her distress at being alone, for example we see ‘panic’ and ‘ruin’. We see far more figurative imagery used in text C than in text A. However, in text A we do see the simile of ‘as if lighting-strock’, which helps give imagery to the text to describe the scene. In text C we see simile also with ‘blind as a bat’ as an attempt at humour. We also see the metaphor of ‘like harvesting and crop-spraying’ as another attempt at humour by likening women’s rituals to farming. The use of hyperbole is also see to help and unite the fictional author with the intended female audience with ‘is it any wonder girls have no confidence’. In text A we see euphemism being used to help the author bring a more appropriate register to the text with ‘lewder places’.  In text C we also see the use of reported speech as an attempt at gaining the support of the reader for the main character as she is stood up by a seemingly arrogant man, for example ‘Look Jones’ appears condescending from a man using a surname towards a female. We also see listing used in both texts to help speed the text along and add emphasis, for example in text A we see ‘Bull-baiting, Horse and Coach races, Pupet-plays and interludes’ while in text C we see ‘legs to be waxed, underarms shaved, eyebrows plucked, feet pumiced, skin exfoliated and moisturised’. In text C we see the use of field specific lexis showing the changing English Language as we see the use of corporate speak with ‘presentation’ and ‘spreadsheets’. This also shows lexical change in the form of compounding as two existing words have been placed together to form a new meaning with ‘spreadsheets’.

We see many features of archaisms in text A which help indicate the text to be far older than text C. We see archaic elision with ‘twas’ and ‘seem’d’. This may show the author writing in the manner of how the words were spoken at the time as although the author is educated they may not have been taught how to spell. We see other features which could indicate the spelling is reminiscent of speech, for example ‘onely’, ‘skeetes’ and ‘strock’. We also see an extra letters added to the end of many words such ‘printing-presse’. As the text is written after the introduction of the printing press in 1476 and the great vowel shift of the 13th to 15th centuries it is possible that the extra letters show the authors own idiosyncratic style of writing as the standardisation of spelling had already begun. The irregular capitalisation of common nouns would indicate that the author had little knowledge of the grammatical rules of the English language and simply capitalised all important nouns, for example ‘Cattell’ and ‘Ballads’ can be seen. We see the archaic inflection in ‘whilest’ which would further indicate spelling reminiscent of speech. The interchanging of Y and I is common in archaic texts and can be seen in text A with ‘yce’. This is a common feature left over from Middle English showing through this text that the feature had not yet been lost to the English Language over 500 years after it ended. We also see archaic lexis in the text with ‘bacchanalia’ which further shows the author to be learned as they use Latinate lexis to describe what kind of fair they had attended. This may be because of the time of writing being towards the end of the Renaissance and the reinvigoration of Latin culture and language. The use of archaic social views is also evident as the author refers to women as though second class and beneath men with ‘where the people and ladys took a fansy’. The mild taboo used in text C shows the difference in social beliefs as modern women are thought of as equal and able to use language such as ‘bloody’ without being discriminated against.

In grammar we see some similarities between the two texts. In both texts we see the use of abstract nouns which help give the text emotion and help give visual images to the author’s words, for example in text A we see ‘humour’ and in text C we see ‘confidence’. We see both text using proper nouns, in text A we see ‘London’ and ‘Thames’ indicating where the events are taking place and in text C we see ‘Daniel Cleaver’ used where the surname takes on its own meaning showing the characters nature of being a cold and inanimate object. However, we see far more uses of descriptive adjectives used in text C to help give visual images to the reader of the characters feelings, for example we see ‘flabby’ and ‘curly’. Text A has no adjectives which could help indicate that adjectives are used in text C to help keep the reader interested as it is a fictional piece. We see the use of dynamic verbs in both texts to indicate the amount of action taking place, for example in text A we see ‘sliding’ and in text C we see ‘plucked’. We see intensifiers used in both text to add extra emphasis and emotion to the texts, for example in text A we see ‘very seas’ and in text C we see ‘even worse’. In text A we see no pronouns as the piece is written for the author’s eyes only and they feel no need to seek any form of solidarity with the reader. However, in text C we see the use of many first person singular pronouns as the character appears to be distance themselves from the reader and attempt to gain feelings of contempt towards Daniel Cleaver as they seem to be lonely, for example ‘I’ is used throughout. Text C also uses the hyper-formal first person pronoun of ‘one’ when regarding the fictional author, this would help the reader gain the knowledge of the characters social status. In text A we see many forms of long complex sentences as is seen in the opening lines, this could indicate the author’s intellect. However, it could also indicate the author’s lack of knowledge regarding grammar and the use of punctuation. In text C we see the use of far more simple sentences, such as ‘he might have bloody well rung again’. These are seen more often in text C to break up the longer sentences forms and to keep the text entertaining. In sentence functions we see the use of declaratives used in both texts to help convey information, for example in text A we see ‘no vessels could stir out, or come in’ and in text C ‘he is on top-level job’. Declaratives are the only forms used in text A which is typical for a diary as the author simply states what has happened. However, in text C we see interrogatives through the use of rhetorical questions with ‘what’s wrong with me?’ These are used to help involve the reader in the story. In text C we also see imperatives in ‘must be complete in oneself as a woman of substance’. This helps give depth to the character as they attempt gaining an emotional link with character and reader.

How do I write a comparative essay for English?

Comparative essays can be quite daunting. It’s difficult to achieve a balance between texts and to know where to start comparing them – sometimes they can be completely different after all. At A-level I had to write a comparative essay on Webster’s The White Devil and Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example, which are completely different genres. Yet any differences or similarities you can pick up on. So I would definitely talk about the fact that these are different genres. The White Devil is a play so how would it be performed when it was published/now and how would this make a difference? Would we have sympathy with Flamineo because he talks directly to the audience? More sympathy than we might have for Satan in Paradise Lost?

Comparative essays raise a lot of questions about the texts and it’s difficult to know how you can include these in a sophisticated argument.

DON’T PANIC however.

Sometimes it’s a good thing when texts are so different because ‘comparative’ doesn’t JUST mean ‘what do they do the same?’ although you can address this but also ‘what do they do differently?’ You could look at how themes such as love or war are treated differently i.e. through different stylistic choices or how the writers have different responses to them (perhaps due to their differing contexts). You could use a quote by a critic and see how it applies to one text and not to another.

 It’s also important to remember to meet all the criteria for an exam/coursework essay. For example, OCR A level English asks you to meet certain A0s or objectives in your work, so you have to spend a certain amount of time in your essay looking at the context of both texts and then in language analysis AS WELL AS in comparison between the texts. The best thing to do is use the context or language to support/argue with a comparison. So if you are talking about Flamineo compared to Satan you can discuss why the language of both texts makes the two similar/different (the adjectives used to describe them, the settings they’re found in) and why the writers might have presented them differently (Satan is a Biblical character, one who many contemporary readers would have instantly seen as evil – even if a modern audience don’t - whereas Flamineo is a more ambiguous character).

Using an example I’m going to talk you through how to answer an essay question which requires comparison between texts:

Choose a question. See how it applies to one text and then to another through making mindmaps/notes. I chose “ ‘In order to gain liberation women must use their feminine qualities or get rid of them’. Discuss with reference to the three texts you have studied.” and I would use the question with Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (a collection of short stories) and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Therefore I started off by thinking about the position of women in all three texts: in Duffy’s the women seem strong and the fact that she’s chosen historical figures and is rewriting their stories is important, whilst in Carter’s the women seem powerful and the rewriting of fairytales to change views of women is also important and in Shakespeare’s play women such as Beatrice are presented as highly intelligent and witty, but other characters such as Hero are virtually silent throughout the play and therefore seem problematic.

First pick apart the question ( when you actually go to write your essay you can acknowledge that you have done so in your introduction). What is a ‘feminine quality’? What do the writers see as feminine qualities? Duffy and Carter were writing as part of Second and Third Wave Feminism so for them a ‘feminine quality’ would have differed hugely from what Shakespeare thought of as a ‘feminine quality’. For them, ‘feminine qualities’ are often constructs of men, not “true” qualities really.  

Examiners like it if you can show you have really thought about the question itself and whether the question itself is worth arguing with. Here you can also show your awareness of the different contexts the writers have: Shakespeare was writing in a century in which women were expected to conform to certain ideals and were seen as mothers, wives, daughters, not the heroes and powerful figures that people Carter and Duffy’s work.

 However you must be careful not to lump any writers together – although Carter and Duffy seem to have similar views, make sure you signal that they are different writers with different aims.

I would look at motherhood in all three texts since it is a significant theme throughout – and could be called a ‘feminine quality’ as it is usually. It is quite a good idea to choose a theme that runs through all the different texts but then look at how it is presented differently. So, whilst in Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and Duffy’s ‘Thetis’ or ‘Queen Herod’ the mothers are hugely powerful (which you can show through in depth language analysis) which reflects the writers stances as feminists (bring in some context here), the mother in Much Ado About Nothing goes unmentioned. Instead women are vulnerable to men’s attacks, as when Hero is viciously humiliated and condemned by her father and fiancée. Women are therefore seemingly passive and submissive in Shakespeare’s texts, when they are strong and active in those of Duffy and Carter.

But it is worth always COMPLICATING your argument and being able to show that you have thought of all sides of the argument. Hero might be ‘passive’ in Much Ado About Nothing, but Beatrice is a completely different story (and whilst we’re on the theme of mothers, in some productions Antonio is played by a woman so there is some kind of mother figure, even if still ineffectual which is important). You could find instances where the language she/Shakespeare uses shows her power and intelligence.

In these instances she seems just as powerful as the women in Carter and Duffy’s work. Now bring in context once more: However, is this a good thing in Shakespeare’s view? Is Beatrice dangerous BECAUSE of her intelligence and is that why she has to be safely married off? In the two modern, female writers’ work the women don’t always even marry - their sexuality isn’t dangerous but empowering.

Integrate at least two texts into each paragraph – don’t do one paragraph on one text and then another on the other text so that it reads as para 1) Carter para 2) Duffy para 3) Shakespeare. This will force you to compare the two.

So if you’re struggling to find differences between Carter and Duffy for instance or another two very similar writers, to the point where your essay doesn’t seem to be advancing in terms of argument (this is a danger of only talking about similarities), talking about the differences between how the two have treated the same fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood, in ‘Little Red Cap’ and ‘Wolf Alice’ for example, could raise interesting issues.

It doesn’t have to be as specific as this – Duffy and Carter are really good for comparison and you might not have texts that have such a strong link (the fairytale). However you can always choose a theme that crosses both texts and stick to this. For instance, when comparing Paradise Lost and The White Devil, which don’t seem very similar at all, you could find similarities in the way the theme of corruption is treated and yet COMPLICATE your argument by finding differences underlying this (perhaps due to context as The White Devil is based in a courtly setting whereas Paradise Lost speaks of religious corruption – although it reflects the corruption in the government Milton had worked under).

You can also look at the specifics of the marking scheme: to achieve a good mark in A03 you must be able to compare the three texts, but you are also awarded marks from A03 for bringing in critics. So if you talk about Duffy’s work and then use a quote from a critic (or just an idea, you don’t have to quote them exactly especially in an exam), you would get marks. Therefore, don’t worry too much about constantly comparing the texts. Try always to link them, but if you’re struggling on a certain point or you want to show a difference between them, perhaps bring in a critics argument. This shows that you have read widely about the texts and can show specialist knowledge and it allows you to focus on the detail of a text.

This seems like a lot of information and you might be wondering how you could structure an essay that has to include all of this. But really, a good essay structure that you use all the time can be applied to a comparative essay too. So if you normally write 1) an intro 2) paras agreeing with the question 3) paras arguing against the question 4) a conclusion this could work here as well. Or you can find a new structure. The important thing is that you simply have to include more than one text in each paragraph. This is tricky but it’s supposed to be – and if you can achieve it you’ll get high marks.

So your essay might go something like this (you might have to split up paragraphs because obviously you’ll have a lot to say about each text but make sure you mention at least two authors in each para):

Intro

Para 1: Explore how Carter, Duffy and Shakespeare present mothers – women using their feminine qualities, which supports the question.

Para 2: Do any of the characters rid themselves of feminine qualities within these works? What are feminine qualities? You could talk about Beatrice compared to Little Red Cap and The Bloody Chamber – each possesses a violence not usually attributed to women. So does this argue against the question?

Para 3: Do the texts really show women either ‘using’ or discarding their ‘feminine qualities’? Or are they using their intelligence and sexuality, two qualities never previously seen as ‘feminine’, to gain real liberation? Argue that the question itself needs adapting.

Conclusion: Whereas Carter and Duffy show a new version of femininity as a kind of power, subverting old ideas about “feminine qualities”, this power is seen as dangerous in Much Ado About Nothing as Beatrice, the only powerful female figure in the play, is ultimately silenced by the power men possess over her and her complicity in this.

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