AT Richard Huish College students who study English Language & Linguistics A-level complete a 2,500-word ‘investigation’ into an area of their own language interest.

We’ve had many stunning projects over the years; our exam board Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (OCR) and OFSTED have noted how impressive the work of students is on this supervised, independent study.

Our students often link with another great Somerset institution: the South West Heritage Trust.

We have worked with their Somerset Records Office since 2004. For much of that time the professional entente and subsequent friendship I have enjoyed with Archives Engagement Manager, Esther Hoyle (pictured), has made working together a rewarding pleasure.

We get many English Language A-level students wanting to develop careers in journalism and writing.

Only today I used a past investigation, in class, to introduce new applicants to the idea of the language report – and a forgotten gem: ‘Persuasive language in the Aërial Steam Carriage Article, Atlas Newspaper, April 1843’ This is a fascinating piece about the failed attempt at steam-powered flight from Chard.

Another student tested the Victorian language of sports reports from a ‘Crewkerne School Newspaper, 1887’ a rare insight into the Grammar School that went on to become Wadham.

Other students have combined law with journalism and looked at how court cases are reported across time, some as early as the 1600s and which raise the issue of witchcraft trials in our own county.

I’ve long been intrigued that so many of our students want to go into law. I myself can just about remember the allure.

Some give their English Language course a legal twist – not a bad thing for a university application in a competitive area.

We have had investigations into the language of a jail (gaol) breaking ‘Wanted poster – George Pearce, 1761’, or looking into the horrifying language of punishment in ‘A Particular Account of the execution of West Country petty criminals, 1791’.

Our very own Somerset County Gazette has been the subject of language studies with the ‘Accessibility of Somerset County Gazette Assize Reports 1837-1847’ and other investigations looking at the representation of local police, or how Victorian editions reported women and murder.

All these A-level investigations share an enthusiasm to seek out language varieties from different topics and times, and all the data has been lovingly stored in the treasury of local life stories that is the Somerset Heritage Centre.

As I say in class – you do not have to be a student of history to find the language of so many varied experiences deeply fascinating.

If you yourself have found something interesting, surprising, or just plain amusing about the many language varieties of our county, do comment in.

Marcus Barrett is course manager of English Language & Linguistics at Richard Huish College, Taunton, and is a director of the educational charity, The English Project, based in England’s ancient capital, Winchester.