Group 1: Language and Literature

Studies in language and literature: An introduction

Students working on studies in language and literature extended essays (EE) must:

• provide logical and coherent rationales for writing on their selected topic

• formulate a clear research question related to the target literature/language

• offer a concrete description of the methods they use

• generate reasoned interpretations and conclusions based on the literature review findings and research question.

Choice of topic

It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that the topic of their EE does not overlap with any other work they are preparing for assessment. The EE cannot be based on a text studied as part of a student’s course. Students can base their essays on different texts by the same author, demonstrating relevant wider reading and individual study.

Important note on the use of film in studies in language and literature essays:

If students wish to base their essays on a film or screenplay, they must be aware of the fact that films and screenplays are defined in the studies in the language and literature guides (first assessment 2021) as non-literary. An EE about a film or screenplay will therefore be a category 3 essay. This also applies to film adaptations of literary works.

Clarification on the use of song lyrics

For essays submitted from May 2021, song lyrics will continue to be considered literary texts belonging in the poetic literary form. An EE focusing on song lyrics will therefore be either a category 1 essay if the texts are not in translation, or a category 2 essay if there is a comparison involved between a text written originally in the language of the essay and others written in another language. In the case of an essay studying music videos, however, the correct category would be category 3, since music videos are multimodal and as such are non-literary.

Categories 1 and 2—literature

  1. Studies of one or more literary works originally written in the language in which the essay is presented.

  2. Studies of a literary work or works originally written in the language of the essay compared with one or more literary works originally written in another language. (The work originally written in another language may be studied in translation.)

Through the work they have already undertaken, students may have developed an interest they wish to pursue further, for example:

  • a particular genre of writing

  • a particular author

  • a philosophical, political or social question addressed by a literary work.

Categories 1 and 2—appropriate texts

Students can choose literary works from any source, including the IB Diploma Programme prescribed list of authors. Crucially, students’ chosen text(s) should be of sufficient literary merit to sustain in-depth analysis.

Category 3

Studies in language based on one or more texts originally produced in the language in which the essay is presented. Texts can be compared with a translated text originally written in another language.

A category 3 EE emphasizes the production and reception of texts in social, historical and/or cultural contexts. Essays that simply offer a general overview of a topic are not appropriate.

Category 3—appropriate texts

For the purpose of a category 3 language EE, “texts” include a wide range of oral, written and visual materials present in society:

  • single and multiple images with or without written text

  • literary written texts and text extracts

  • media texts, for example, advertising campaigns; films, radio and television programs and/or their scripts

  • electronic texts that share aspects of a number of media texts, eg video-sharing websites, web pages, SMS messages, blogs, wikis and tweets

  • oral texts, eg readings, speeches, broadcasts and transcripts of recorded conversation.

When writing the essay, students must bear in mind that any narrative and/or descriptive material included should be directly relevant to the critical analysis. A summary of the student’s reading is not sufficient.

Where relevant to the topic, students may compare and contrast different languages and cultures. However, the essay’s main focus should be the language and culture(s) of the language in which the student is writing.

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The process of topic selection

Students should initially identify the broad area of inquiry that they are interested in. They then need to narrow down their topic by dividing the area into more specific and detailed subtopics.

For instance, a student might be interested in conducting research into “William Shakespeare’s plays”. They could narrow this down to focus on “Representing gender through madness in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600) and Macbeth (1606)”. With such a specific topic in mind, they may start work on putting together a coherently argued paper.

Often, their previous experiences help students to decide on their topics.

For some, the inspiration might be work already undertaken as part of the course. Students are advised to check the list of authors and their works recommended by International Baccalaureate (IB). These will include works that students have not studied in class but may relate to a particular genre of writing that they are interested in.

Literary works often address philosophical, political or social questions that are discussed in academic journals. Students can refer to such publications, in addition to searching e-resources and databases. Students should use specialized academic search engines as results using standard search engines are not always appropriate for citation in a research paper.

Other excellent sources of inspiration include: unpublished conference papers, previously published essays, book chapters or journal articles published on reputable scholarly websites. A school librarian is well placed to give advice on this.

Lastly, research ideas are often generated through students’ dialogue with their teachers, fellow students and librarians.

Example Topics Category 1

Example Topics Category 2

Example Topics Category 3

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Framework for the EE in studies in language and literature

Language & Literature EE Subject Guide

1. Language and Literature.pdf

Treatment of the topic

Students should use both primary and secondary sources for their research.

Secondary sources are scholarly works about:

  • the primary author’s work and biography

  • the genre the student is focusing on

  • literary techniques.

Secondary sources include:

  • books

  • academic journal articles

  • edited essays in book collections

  • reviews incorporated in the publication that is the focus of the student’s research.

Categories 1 and 2—literature

Students should always consider how the text(s) work as literature, dealing with aspects such as the effects they achieve, the devices they use and the way they are written.

Use of literary criticism

Students should aim for a compromise between building on the wisdom of experienced critics and introducing new personal elements. An essay that simply repeats the views of established literary critics will not receive a high mark.

Use of literary biography

Essays that interpret literary works in terms of the writer’s life tend to produce reductive readings based on second-hand information. Such essays receive low marks and the IB there fore advises students to avoid biographical topics.

Category 3

Students should give focused and critical attention to the text or texts being considered. The approach should aim to be balanced, coherently argued, and illustrated by relevant supporting examples.

Students are encouraged to:

  • adopt an analytical, critical position

  • show awareness of potentially conflicting viewpoints on the text(s) and their meaning in a wider social context.

Their analysis must include a wider discussion of the contexts in which the text(s) are produced and understood.

Essays that attempt to interpret the text(s) without considering the original audience and context are unlikely to offer a fully successful discussion.

English A

An extended essay (EE) in language acquisition or classical languages gives students the opportunity to pursue their interest in language.

Students working on a language acquisition EE must demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the language, culture and society or literature studied. This understanding must be shown in the form of:

  • an analysis of a cultural context or a specific text

  • an analysis of trends in the culture studied and the impact of a cultural change on the form or use of the language

  • an analysis and comparison of literary texts.

For those undertaking a classical Greek or Latin EE, the focus is on demonstrating an understanding of a relevant or significant aspect of the language, literature and civilization of ancient Greece or Rome.

For a longer general introduction to undertaking an EE in language acquisition, see Language acquisition: An introduction.

Clarification on the use of non-fiction in a language A EE:

Works of non-fiction can be considered as part of literary investigations provided that the works in question are of literary nature. Additionally, as with any other literary form, candidates should ensure that the work that they wish to investigate has a body of established literary criticism before deciding that the work is worthy of investigation. The availability of secondary sources to support arguments is vital to fulfilling criterion C (Critical thinking).

Language A Subject Reports