AQA · AQA new specification · English · For Pupils

Question 3 Language

This is the language question. It will ask you to focus on a particular part of the text. The question will look something like this:

In this section, how does Mayhew use language to describe the prison?

The mark scheme asks you to think about this:

Explain, comment on and analyse how writers use language and structure to achieve effects and influence readers, using relevant subject terminology to support their views (from AQA mark scheme)

Look at the phrase ‘achieve effects and influence readers’ – this is asking you to think about the way the writer uses language to create an effect on  YOU the reader.

So, what do you do? Read this extract. First of all, consider how you respond to the text. What does it make you feel about the prison? The writer’s attitude to the prison?

By this time (ten minutes past six), the prison was all alive, and humming like a hive with the activity of its inmates. Some of the convicts, clad in their suits of mud-brown cloth, were out in the long corridors sweeping the black asphalt* pavement till it glistened again as if polished with black-lead. Others, in the narrow galleries above, were on their knees washing the flags of slate that now grew blue-black around them with the water; others, again, in the centre corridor, were hearthstoning** the steps, and making them as white as slabs of biscuit-china; and others, too, in their cells, cleaning the floors and furniture there. A warder stood watching the work on each of the little mid-air bridges that connect the opposite storeys of every corridor, whilst other officers were distributed throughout the building, so as to command the best points for observing the movements of the prisoners.

  • The writer makes the prison seem alive, busy, everyone with a sense of purpose.
  • You get the impression that the prison is  clean, too clean perhaps as if there is something to hide.
  • The prisoners seem to be depersonalised in some way – like worker bees
  • There is a feeling of being observed, watched, under surveillance
  • I get the sense that the writer might even admire the scene in front of him – he is perhaps impressed by the industry that the prisoners are showing

Now, how does the writer make you feel this way? What methods have they used? For example…

There is SIMILE – humming like a hive; what feeling does this link to? do you infer from this? that the prisoners are busy – like bees; that they have a place and a position in a tightly organised system; that they’re dehumanised

The prisoners’ suits of mud-brown cloth make them seem dirty; it also takes away their individuality perhaps as they are all dressed the same way. 

So how can we introduce the effects of these language features? In the table below, I have included some linking phrases that can be found in some of the example answers to this type of question on the AQA website.

Level 4

·      which suggests

·      shows how

·      reinforces that

·      suggests to the reader this may not be

·      draws the modern reader into

·      makes effective use of

·      creates the impression of a

·      is suggestive of

·      which suggests

·      forewarns us of

·      pulls the reader into

·      is seductive for the reader

·      intriguing of itself for the modern reader,

·      is engaging for the reader,

·      elicits help and sympathy from her readers

·      conveys a picture of …

·      emphasises the

·      strengthen the mental image

Level 3

·      which suggests/suggests that

·      putting the reader firmly in

·      hurries the reader along

·      gives the sense of

·      which is also suggested by

·      makes the reader fee

·      which implies that

·      This impression is added to

·      makes a connection for the reader

·      the choice of verb captures its…

·      further implying that

·      This makes the reader realise

·      makes a reader think that

·      to emphasise to the reader how

·      It would make the reader feel

Level 2

·      to build up the

·      has the effect of

·      making the reader feel

·      This makes the reader feel that

·      Puts … into the mind of the reader

·      makes us realise that

·      tells us

·      This makes it sound

·      suggesting it

·      so it sounds

·      It would make a reader feel sorry for them and want to

·      Showsjust how

Level 1

·      which makes you think

·      so making you feel that

·      makes the reader think that

·      sound like

·      we know

·      tells us

·      which sounds

·      It would make a reader feel

·      It makes you feel

·      Which makes it seem


Putting it together…

The writer makes the scene appear workmanlike and industrious. He describes the prison as ‘humming like a hive’; the use of this simile suggests the comparison to insects and the fact that we associate bees with busyness reinforces this. In addition, the idea of a hive perhaps reflects the sense of impersonality that this scene portrays – it is as if the prisoners are dehumanised, reduced to worker bees each with their own fixed position and role in the prison. The cumulative effect of these descriptions seems to add the to idea that the prisoners have no identity and are seen as merely functional cogs in the machine of the prison.

All the words and phrases I have highlighted in red are words that link the text to an effect – can you see how they help you develop more detailed answers? Most of these words were taken from the level 4 section of the table

Now go on to question 4


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