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Lecture Links Language and Identity

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Dr Alex Baratta from the University of Manchester visited School to give a lecture titled ‘You are what you speak’ about the relationship between language and identity. Dr Baratta is a Lecturer in the English Language for Education department at the university, and is a specialist in linguistics.

Pupils in Year 10 and above were invited to attend the talk, which was particularly useful for Sixth Form students studying English Language at A Level.

Dr Baratta opened the lecture by talking to pupils about different types of language. One example he asked them to think about was when the use of taboo words might be acceptable, for example to emphasise a point or for humour, and when ‘good’ language such as being polite might be unacceptable or used as a way to create distance. This was a good way to get pupils thinking about how language is used before he moved on to discuss how language and identity shape one another in both England and South Korean.

Discussing regional accents and accent modification in the UK, Dr Baratta specifically talked about why people change their accents, how much of this is a conscious decision, and how it makes different people feel. He questioned whether accent modification alters personal identity and whether it is ‘linguistic selling out’ or a neutral response to the context of a situation.

Moving on to talk about the use of English in South Korea, he explained the use of suffixes in Korean as a way to show respect; not using these suffixes therefore becomes a way to insult those higher on the social scale. The use of English, which has a symbolic power in South Korea, can help to reassert authority, and he used a video clip of a teacher switching to English when talking to a student to illustrate this. He also talked about the idea of switching language as a way for a person to alter their identity in the eyes of others.

The lecture generated some excellent questions and discussion from the girls. Dr Baratta was particularly impressed by Sixth Form English Language students Charlotte Field, Natalie Henderson and Sophie Bennett, who showed off their knowledge of linguistics in their intelligent, probing questions.

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Dr Baratta with some of the Sixth Form English Language pupils who attended the talk

Dr Baratta with some of the Sixth Form English Language pupils who attended the talk

The lecture gave a fascinating insight into linguistics

The lecture gave a fascinating insight into linguistics