English Language Units 1 & 2
VCE English Language explores the ways in which language is used by individuals and groups and reflects our thinking and values. Learning about language helps us to understand ourselves, the groups with which we identify and the society we inhabit.
English Language builds on students’ previous learning about the conventions and codes used by speakers and writers of English. Informed by the discipline of linguistics, it provides students with metalinguistic tools to understand and analyse language use, variation and change. Students studying English Language examine how uses and interpretations of language are nuanced and complex rather than a series of fixed conventions. Students explore how people use spoken and written English to communicate, to think and innovate, to construct identities, to build and interrogate attitudes and assumptions and to create and disrupt social cohesion.
The study of English Language enables students to understand the structures, features and discourses of written and spoken texts through the systematic and objective deconstruction of language in use.
Unit 1: Language and communication
Language is an essential aspect of human behaviour and the means by which individuals relate to the world, to each other and to the communities of which they are members. In this unit, students consider the way language is organised so that its users have the means to make sense of their experiences and to interact with others. Students explore the various functions of language and the nature of language as an elaborate system of signs. The relationship between speech and writing as the dominant modes of language and the impact of situational and cultural contexts on language choices are also considered. Students investigate children’s ability to acquire language and the stages of language acquisition across a range of subsystems.
Area of study 1: The nature and functions of language
In this area of study students explore the nature of language and the various functions language performs in a range of contexts. They consider the properties that distinguish human communication as unique, the differences between modes of spoken and written language, and the relationship between meaning and the rules that govern language use. Students are introduced to the theory that language is a system of signs and conventions and that while the relationship between words and meanings may be arbitrary, our use of language is rule-governed and informed by accepted systems, such as word order and affixation.
Meaning can be conveyed through a range of modes: speech, writing and sign. Languages allow for communication through actions, whether it be producing speech sounds and graphic symbols such as letters, or giving non-verbal signals through systems such as sign language. Each mode can combine with other modes for the purposes of communication. Students also consider the role of paralinguistic features in conveying meaning.
Students learn that language choices are always influenced by the situational and cultural contexts in which they occur and are based on the conventional understandings and traditions that shape and reflect our view of the world. They come to understand that language is never a neutral and transparent means of representing reality, and that it can encode social and cultural understandings.
Students learn that the situational elements of a language exchange, such as the function, field, mode, setting and relationships between participants, influence language choice. Cultural factors, such as the values, attitudes and beliefs held by participants and the wider community, also affect people’s linguistic choices.
On completion of this unit the student should be able to identify and describe primary aspects of the nature and functions of human language
Area of study 2: Language acquisition
This area of study focuses on the developmental stages of child language acquisition. Students explore how in addition to words and their meanings, children learn to use the phonological and grammatical conventions of the language, as well as the appropriate use of these conventions in different social situations. As children acquire language, they can be seen to change their language system gradually in response to the language use of others. At different stages, children’s language develops across a range of subsystems allowing for increasingly complex communication and a greater range of functions.
Students are introduced to different theories that attempt to explain how children acquire language and research the so-called ‘critical period’, the window of opportunity during which language must be acquired. Students examine case studies that show what can happen when a child is deprived of the opportunity to learn a language.
Students also examine the similarities and differences between first- and additional-language acquisition. They consider differences in the language acquisition process in children who are brought up bilingual with those who learn additional languages as they grow up.
On completion of this unit the student should be able to describe what children learn when they acquire language and discuss a range of perspectives on how language is acquired.
Unit 2: Language change
In this unit, students focus on language change. Languages are dynamic and language change is an inevitable and a continuous process. Students consider factors contributing to change over time in the English language and factors contributing to the spread of English. They explore texts from the past and from the present, considering how all subsystems of the language system are affected – phonetics and phonology, morphology and lexicology, syntax, discourse and semantics. Attitudes to language change vary considerably and these are also considered.
In addition to developing an understanding of how English has been transformed over the centuries, students explore the various possibilities for the future of English. They consider how the global spread of English has led to a diversification of the language and to English now being used by more people as an additional or a foreign language than as a first language. Contact between English and other languages has led to the development of geographical and ethnic varieties, but has also hastened the decline of indigenous languages. Students consider the cultural repercussions of the spread of English.
Area of study 1: English across time
This area of study examines the changes that have occurred in English over time. Students investigate the factors that bring about language change, including those that come from within the language itself, from social transformation, and from contact with other languages. They explore language change across all subsystems as represented in texts that traverse the history of English.
Students examine the origins of English as a member of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, tracing its development from Old through to Early Modern English and to the establishment of a standard language in the eighteenth century. Students explore the development of Australian English as a distinct national variety, the impact of technological advancement on English and the possibilities for the future of English.
Students examine the general concept of standardisation and the notion of ‘correct English’. While some language changes are denounced by the wider community, with linguistic change often viewed as indicative of declining standards, others occur without widespread acknowledgment. The role of prescriptivist attitudes in establishing and maintaining standard language is considered in this unit, as are descriptivist approaches to language change.
Students explore how languages might continue to change to meet the needs and reflect the values of their users. They apply their knowledge of Australia’s linguistic heritage to consideration of possibilities for the future of English.
On completion of this unit the student should be able to describe language change as represented in a range of texts and analyse a range of attitudes to language change
Area of study 2: Englishes in contact
In this area of study students consider the effects of the global spread of English by learning about both the development and decline of languages as a result of English contact, the elevation of English as a global lingua franca and the cultural consequences of language contact. Students explore the ways English is used as an expression of culture in a range of literary, transactional and popular-culture texts.
Students explore factors that contributed to the spread of English in the past, such as trade and colonisation, and factors that continue to contribute to the spread of English today. Students consider the consequences of the growth of English as an additional or a foreign language, including the development of English-based pidgins, creoles and other varieties, and its effect on indigenous languages around the world. Students become familiar with the distinctive features of a number of national, ethnic and regional varieties of English and explore the ways that these varieties show the effects of intensive contact with other languages. They examine the ways that multilingual speakers use code-switching to mark identity and as a means of inclusion or exclusion. Students explore how change to a language effects its users’ cultural identities and worldviews, as evidenced by the indigenous and migrant language reclamation and maintenance movements in contemporary Australian society. Students build on their knowledge that language encodes social and cultural understandings by exploring the concepts of linguistic relativism and determinism.
On completion of this unit the student should be able to describe and explain the effects of the global spread of English in terms of both conformity and diversity, through a range of spoken and written texts.
The award of satisfactory completion for a unit is based on the teacher’s decision that the student has demonstrated achievement of the set of outcomes specified for the unit. Demonstration of achievement of outcomes and satisfactory completion of a unit are determined by evidence gained through the assessment of a range of learning activities and tasks.
Teachers must develop courses that provide appropriate opportunities for students to demonstrate satisfactory achievement of outcomes.
The decision about satisfactory completion of a unit is distinct from the assessment of levels of achievement. Schools will report a student’s result for each unit to the VCAA as S (Satisfactory) or N (Not Satisfactory).