First Ever English A Level Language Conference at NHEHS

By Georgia Wells, Year 12

NHEHS welcomed students from The Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School,  The Harrodian School, Uxbridge High School, Godolphin and Latymer School and William Perkin Church of England High School to the very first NHEHS A Level Language Conference last week.

The first talk was given by Prof. Charlotte Brewer (Oxford University) and focused on the Oxford English Dictionary and some of the dated attitudes towards gender, sexuality, race and class which are still included in the OED today. Although the OED is renewed four times a year, she drew upon the fact that around half of the original material is yet to be revised and still is highly influenced by Victorian society, which clearly is very different from the language of our society today. A statistic she told us which was very surprising, was that out of the Top 1000 sources on the OED, only 28 are women – and the top female source is George Eliot who is placed 90/1000. We were all shocked by this and hope that it can change soon with all her work and research! 

The second speaker was Dr Sophie Holmes-Elliott from Southampton University and she talked to us about how adolescents are key to linguistic innovation within the English Language. Linguistic innovation is the process of new elements of language being created and used by young speakers. She gave examples which we were very familiar with, like the use of slang terms such as ‘peng’ and the debate of the use of ‘dived/dove’. She described the English Language as an ‘open system’, which we all thought was an interesting way of looking at language, as it is open so that new elements can be added, however it is a system so the new elements have to follow a set of rules.

The last talk was about child language acquisition and our speaker, Dr Rebecca Wood (University of Newcastle), drew upon ideas and theories from neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics.  This was a very interesting talk for psychology students especially, as it combined ideas like the ‘theory of mind’ and cognitive learning with our studies in English Language. She summarised the way in which young children learn language by saying their ‘comprehension precedes production’, as they find it easier to understand their parents and read English, rather than putting their knowledge into practice.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the three women speak passionately about the elements of English Language which they have studied in. The conference as a whole definitely gave us an idea of the vast amount of different areas of study within English Language, like sociolinguistics, neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics, some of which we don’t learn at school.

Back to all news