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My Final Year at Birkbeck

BA Student Sally Cowan who won this year's Michel Blanc Prize for the best Final Year Project writes a blog about her experience at Birkbeck.

Written by BA Student, Sally Cowan.

Twelve zesty modules, hundreds of compelling classes, months of dedicated reading, oodles of hard-crafted essays, several nail-biting exams, one big fat final year project and a linguist in the making… As I come to the end of my four-year degree in Linguistics and French, I look forward to the summer that stretches before me: three months of freedom before I start my MA in Translation. It’s time to pack away all my serious linguistics books and pamper myself with a pile of scrumptious novels and indulgent magazines. Bring them on!

Yet letting go is not that simple. Throughout the final year I have lived, breathed and even dreamt my final year project, which, as all linguistics undergraduates should know, is the main event of the degree - everything you did until now is really just a warm-up. The project is your chance to sparkle, to show the world that you’ve arrived as a linguist: no longer just reporting on the work of others, you get to do your own research, analyse your own data, draw your own conclusions, and, quite possibly, make a small contribution to the field.

I chose my topic – the use of English in French online advertising - because it allowed me to bring together all of the things I’m most passionate about: French, multilingualism, advertising language, and global English, with a bit of morphology and syntax thrown in for good measure (yes, I loved those phrase structure trees we did in the second year!). It’s essential to choose a topic you want to dig deep into because you’re going to live with it for at least six months, if not more: I started dreaming about mine over the summer and by the time I’d submitted my proposal in October, I had already collected a month’s worth of data. This is probably the best piece of advice I can give – the sooner you get started on your research, the easier it will be to organise yourself when you come to the writing stage.

It’s also important to engage with your supervisor. The feedback I got from mine at our scheduled meetings really helped me to refine my topic and steer myself in the right direction. My supervisor helped me to set realistic goals and encouraged me to work on one or two sections at a time; when I came to write my final draft, it was like putting together the pieces of a perfectly laid out jigsaw puzzle. Submitting the project at the end of April was the strangest experience. After months of creating, nurturing, fretting, polishing and perfecting, I finally had to let it go. That’s my baby, I wailed, as I hit the submit button on Moodle. But it was also a huge relief. I had finished it, and I knew I had done the best I possibly could. All that was left was my final exam in French Translation, and my degree would finish with a much-anticipated bang.

When I heard about the Michel Blanc prize, I was taken by complete surprise. I always hoped I would do well but never expected to receive such an important accolade. It’s a true honour to have been recognised by the department and the academic staff who I hold in such high esteem. I’ve always loved language, but Birkbeck has made me into a linguist and for this I am truly grateful.

As the summer stretches before me, I look wistfully at my linguistics books and realise I’m not yet done with things like code-switching, multilingualism and, yes, phrase structure trees. So, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend the summer planning and writing a language blog to share my passion with others. Those novels might just have to wait a bit longer….

English and the ‘Mystique Factor’ in Global Advertising: A Study of French Internet Adverts


The global spread of English is so remarkable and unrivalled that its special and unique effects are being exploited by advertisers worldwide, often in monolingual settings where English may not be understood by target audiences. This study explores the occurrence of English in French adverts aimed at a domestic French-speaking audience, taking the advertising landscape of commercial websites as an optimal environment in which to examine multilingual marketing texts. Using a semiotic and sociolinguistic approach, a data set of French internet adverts is analysed through both quantitative and qualitative methods. The findings indicate that English functions both as a linguistic resource to enhance creativity and as a symbolic resource to generate a range of positive connotations associated with its use as a global language, such as international and cosmopolitan appeal. Although intelligibility is unlikely to be an issue for the target audience, the fact that English is usually accentuated as a graphic feature in the advert suggests that it operates mainly as an attention-getting device, with French used to convey facts. The “glocal” function of English is also highlighted, where a globally standardized word stock interacts with a locally brewed variety that appeals to French audiences. Significantly, the data shows that English is used mainly to target a young, trendy and transnational audience, pointing to the important link between language and identity. Since French advertisers continue to use English in spite of the government’s well-publicized efforts to limit its use in the media, the study further suggests that language choices are dictated not by national policies but by market forces and consumer behaviour.