There are 2 common misconceptions that I have found people have about what an English Language degree entails:
Perception 1: It’s exactly the same as English Literature, in that we look at and study books.
Perception 2: We purely look at the grammatical elements and learn about the language, as if we were studying a foreign language.
I can tell you, these are false. Firstly, I wasn’t a huge fan of English Literature at school, and didn’t want to over analyse absolutely everything that I read, and secondly I wouldn’t have paid £9000 a year for three years to merely study the mechanics of a language I can speak fluently in! So, I am going to give the Mardi community an insight into some of the interesting things that I have learnt from my degree that might help you, or you might want to think about, when writing children’s books.
Once of the key topics that I focused on during my degree was language and gender. This topic looks at issues of: differences and similarities in the way men and women speak, masculine and feminine discourses in the workplace and issues such as sexism. For my dissertation, I decided that I wanted to look at language and gender, specifically the representation of girls in children’s books over time and whether this has changed, by using corpus linguistics techniques. Compiling a corpus is a really nice way of collecting data, essentially, using software programmes, you create your own body of text and can then look at the frequency of words occurring, which words appear often with other words and so on.
“Girls are, boys do” (Key, 1971)
The quote above is something that I came across when looking at prior research in my chosen area of study. Key (1971) believed that this phrase summarised the role of female and male characters in children’s books of that time; female characters were usually victimised and shown to be quite passive whereas the male characters were shown in more active roles. Further research had been conducted by Nilsen (1971), who looked at the images within children’s picture books and found that in 21 out of 25 of the books studied women were pictured wearing aprons. There were also pictured passively again, commonly staring out of windows or standing in doorways.
From the results of my study, I found that the depiction of the female characters’ appearance had not really changed much over the 5 decades that my study covered. However, it did appear that authors were starting to use less traditional approaches in regards to the description of activities undertaken. As writers, particularly of children’s books, you need to be aware of the impression your characters may have on children and the message you are giving out. For example, if you commonly write about little girls in dresses playing with dolls and toy kitchens, and boys being boisterous playing football, you are creating stereotypes that children will use as their role models.