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An Inspector Calls - Language
Enjoy learning about language in this quiz!

An Inspector Calls - Language

Test your knowledge of language in this GCSE English Literature on J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls.

An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley is a text of its time. Its language is that of the 1910s and 1940s. Many characters speak in a way that sounds deeply old-fashioned now. Not only would you not hear anyone speak quite as Mr and Mrs Birling do, but you will also find that politics, too, is now expressed in a language very different from that of this play. Yet this does not mean that the same or similar issues are not discussed today.

Beyond the sometimes old-fashioned dialogue, however, language choices give us constant clues in the text.

We know quite a bit about Mr Birling when he speaks in glowing terms about his optimistic outlook on the future, drawing upon contemporary descriptions of the Titanic. Mr and Mrs Birling’s use of language infantilises their daughter and son and demonstrates both their patronising attitudes and also their unwillingness to change. The older generation’s resistance to change is one of the most important themes of the play. This is one example of the way that language accomplishes many tasks at once.

Analysing language in a text

Although visual elements, such as illustration, layout and details like choice of font, affect your understanding and interpretation of a text, the primary medium through which meaning is conveyed is that of language. Without words, there would be no text.

Authors choose the language that they use carefully. Each word has its literal meaning, of course, but usually also has a weight of symbolic meanings and other associations. Language can convey literary effects through the use of imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification. Dialogue, setting and characterisation all rely on language.

Paying close attention to language choices in a text adds depth to your understanding. Much of the meaning of a text does not exist at the surface-level of the literal. Dig deeper and see what treasures you can find!

Answer the questions below about An Inspector Calls to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect our interpretation of a text.

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1.
Which of the following evokes final judgement and violent revolution?
"Millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths"
"Fire and blood and anguish"
"Community and all that nonsense"
"Unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable"
The Inspector first uses these words in warning what will come if people like the Birlings and Gerald do not change the way they treat others. Sheila later repeats his phrase
2.
Gerald admits to his affair with Daisy Renton, but tells Sheila that he has nothing to do with "this suicide business". What is the effect of his choice of language?
He implies that Sheila has no business questioning him
He suggests that he, as a man of business, takes the event very seriously
He minimises the deadly seriousness of the event
He implies that life and death are similar to the way one runs a business
Gerald is speaking in his typical fashion as a young gentleman. The effect in this sentence is jarring and emphasises his wish not to share any guilt in the death of the young woman
3.
When Sheila discovers her own part in the tragic fate of Eva Smith, she cries out, "Oh - why had this to happen?" What does her rhetorical question imply?
Sheila is a religious person and expects an answer
Sheila still views the event as something for which she is not entirely responsible
Sheila lacks confidence and wants someone else to supply her with an answer
All of the above
Sheila's use of a passive phrase suggests that she does not fully understand or accept her own role in Eva Smith's terrible death
4.
Mrs Birling greets the Inspector with, "I'm Mrs Birling, y'know." What does she intend to convey with her speech?
Boredom and a belief in equality
Annoyance and anxiety
Graciousness and superiority
Good-nature and honesty
She continues in this manner by telling the Inspector that the family will not be able to help him much. She does not believe that the Inspector could possibly impose on her well-respected family
5.
Mr Birling describes himself as a "hard-headed practical" business man. Which of his language choices below best demonstrates this view of himself?
"There's a fair chance that I might find my way into the next Honours List"
"A man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own"
"Look, Inspector - I'd give thousands - yes, thousands - "
"I'll admit now he gave me a bit of a scare at the time"
Mr Birling likes to speak in a no-nonsense manner, although this escapes him at times when he is excited or disturbed
6.
Mrs Birling describes Eva Smith's explanation of her situation to the committee as a "claim". What does she imply by the use of this word?
Eva Smith was frightened to appear in front of the committtee
Eva Smith did not feel entitled to help
Eva Smith was making a formal request for compensation
Eva Smith was probably lying
By describing appeals for help as "claims", Mrs Birling portrays applicants as demanding. In using the word to explain why she turned Eva Smith down, she also refers to her belief that the young woman's story was full of lies
7.
Eric describes Eva Smith as a "good sport". He contrasts her with the other women around town, whom he describes as...
unpleasant and ugly
jolly, but poor
half-drunk and goggle-eyed
fat old tarts
Both Gerald and Eric describe Eva as different from the prostitutes (the "tarts" and "women of the town") because she is still pretty and pleasant, and, in Gerald's words, "fresh"
8.
The Inspector explains to Sheila the importance to manufacturing of having plenty of poor young girls like Eva Smith available as "cheap labour". Why does Sheila object to his use of language?
To speak of people as "labour" obscures the fact that they are human beings
To speak of people as "cheap" implies that they are immoral
To speak of people as "labour" is to make assumptions about the type of work which they do
The Inspector's choice of language is not the reason for Sheila's objection
By choosing this phrase, the Inspector demonstrates the inhumanity of Mr Birling's attitudes. Using "labour" to refer to people who work is an example of metonymy
9.
Near the end of the play, Mrs Birling says of Eric and Sheila, "They're over-tired. In the morning they will be as amused as we are." What is suggested by her use of the term "over-tired"?
Sheila and Eric need to take the Inspector's visit more seriously, like adults
Sheila and Eric have worked very hard during the day
Sheila and Eric have an early start the following day
Sheila and Eric are like little children in her view
Mrs Birling returns to her condescending language. In addition, her remark that "they'll be as amused as we are" distances her son and daughter from herself and her husband, who behave as adults in her view
10.
Which of the following words is used in the stage directions for the Inspector's speech?
Massively
Sternly
Harshly
All of the above
The Inspector speaks calmly, but with authority
Author:  Sheri Smith

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