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E304

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I was at Milton Keynes yesterday for the induction meeting for the new course, E304.  It seems quite different from the previous course, E303.  In particular, the corpus tool seems very different from the previous concordancer in that there is more of an emphasis on grammar rather than the previous concordancer which had more of a lexical focus.

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EMA results

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EMA results for several courses I teach (L161, L185 and E303) have recently been released.  There is very strong correlation between high scores and attendance at tutorials (either face to face or OU Live).  Of course, this does not prove causation as the students getting high marks might be those who are most motivated or at least those most able to devote time to the course.  However, it is an interesting link.

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Day School in Taunton for E303

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 12:28

This year's day school arrived at a slightly strange point in the course as students have just submitted their proposals for the Project but I have not had time to look at them yet.  So, I decided to spend the session looking at how successful EMAs were written last year by using extracts from two of them.

The use of student texts like this seem appropriate.  It gives the participants the opportunity to see what is expected and perhaps what is achievable by people like them.  The handout is copied below:

*******************************************************

Aims

-          To examine critically how previous students have made their aims clear

-          To analyse the way they have provided a rationale

-          To discuss how people write about their methods

-          To discover the options for discussing the findings and compare possible ways of presenting them.

Aims of the EMA

Students had the following titles: 

“A small scale study to determine the position of Arctic Monkeys song lyrics on the Spoken – Written Continuum”

“A lexicogrammatical investigation of the style of Stewart Lee’s stand-up comedy to evaluate its position on the speech – written continuum and to explore some of its linguistic features.”

 

 

Do the titles make the aims clear?

 

What kinds of sources from the materials would the writer be likely to use?  Which are the key concepts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the “aims” sections of the two EMAs.  As you read, answer the following questions.

1 Which one also needs to consider the nature of written language?

2 Which one has an explicit hypothesis?  Does the other one have an implicit hypothesis?  If so, could you make it more explicit?

3 Which one is looking at a specific metafunction?

4 Which one refers to the course materials here?   What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?

5 Which aspects of spoken language does the writer of the Arctic Monkeys text argue is not relevant for her study?  Why?

 

 

The Arctic Monkeys Text

Songs, like fiction, are written for the purpose of entertainment. They are created offline and as such the writer has the scope to edit and rewrite before their final production. They are not usually interactive; there is no turn taking and no use of hesitators, all of these features of speech.  However when listening to the songs of UK band, Arctic Monkeys it became apparent to me that the Alex Turner’s lyrics are conversational in style, in that I felt as though the singer was addressing me. Biber et al. (2006) compare language variations across four main registers Conversation, Fiction, News and Academic, defining conversation thus, “Conversation is co-constructed by two or more people, adapting their expressions to the ongoing exchange.” Clearly this interactivity is not the case with a song that has been written for a mass audience. Nevertheless Artic Monkeys lyrics, I have noticed, share features of both the Conversation and Fiction registers. I aim to investigate, by way of this small scale study, if they are positioned more closely with either register. I expect to find that they are positioned towards the Spoken end of the Spoken – Written continuum (Carter, 2004).

 

 

The Lee text

Undoubtedly, many of the elements that contribute to delivering an engaging live performance are prosodic in nature. The aim of this project is to explore, through the analysis of selected lexicogrammatical features, principally the register variable of mode, what linguistic techniques Lee employs, firstly, to achieve his aim of performing a stand-up comedy routine that does not sound written (Lee, speaking in ‘On Not Writing’. St Edmund Hall, Oxford May 2013), and that also successfully engages and entertains an audience for 70 minutes.

 The working hypothesis for this project is that in order to accomplish these objectives the narrative must include elements that are typical of both spoken and written registers and I intend to explore this theory primarily by focusing on the textual metafunction and analysing some aspects of markers of interactivity, spontaneity and communicative distance.

  Through this analysis I hope to show that not only does Lee use grammar and lexis that has elements of typicality in common with all registers, but also to uncover some insight into what purpose this variety serves within the comedic genre and specifically, the comedic idiom of Stewart Lee.

 

 

What can be learned from the two texts

The aims can:

-          Include a hypothesis (but do not need to)

-          Include references to key concepts of the course.

They should:

-          Make the focus clear

-          Should be specific enough.

 

The rationale

The rationale should provide an explanation of why you found the topic interesting/important and how this course enables you to explore it in depth.

Identify both elements in the following extract and fill in the following table:

Reasons she thinks the topic is interesting

Course concepts used

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Songs eulogising the mundanity of everyday life growing up in northern Britain, heavy use of Yorkshire dialect and a preference for the vernacular in their performances make Arctic Monkeys an interesting linguistic research focus. Lyrics such as, “Ask if we can have six in, if not we'll have to have two” (Turner, 2006) a reference to travelling home in a taxi after a night out, reflect a social realism in Artic Monkeys lyrics which seems more akin to storytelling through the medium of cinematography than popular music. Similarities can be drawn with British films such as Meadows’ This is England (2006) or Boyle’s Trainspotting (1997).

 

Arctic Monkeys’ frontmanAlex Turner’s lyrics are much acclaimed in the British music press for this storytelling ability, earning him the tag ‘The Bard of West Riding’ (Sunday Times, 2014). Arctic Monkeys have been described as ‘Sheffield’s Storytellers’ but is this fair reference?

 

Conversely, more conversational elements such as the use of imperative clauses such i.e. “Do the bad thing” and dialectical elements such as, “..it’s right hard to remember that on a day like today when you’re argumentative and you’ve got the face on.” (Turner, 2006) suggest a more conversational form and occur frequently throughout the band’s lyrics.

 

Drawing on Halliday’s (1985) notion of Systemic Functional Linguistics to carry out this case study I hope to identify typical patterns in a range of the lyrics of Artic Monkeys songs from their debut album release Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). These I hope will reveal their position on the Spoken – Written Continuum (Carter, 2004). The album broke chart records when it became the fastest selling debut album in British chart history. Also, as many of the songs were initially released via YouTube, the album changed the way that popular music is marketed and highlighted the value of social media in this regard.

 

In order to investigate my hypothesis, using the framework scheme for register analysis (outlined in Unit 8), I will carry out a detailed register analysis with particular focus on the Tenor (interpersonal metafunction) and Mode (textual metafunction). I will also look at other grammatical features and patterns within the lyrics such as process types, participants, heads and tails, lexical density and inserts. I will use MonoConc Pro Concordancing software to compare my findings regarding the lyricist’s language usage with evidence of actual language usage compiled in the British National Corpus, a corpus of 4,178,696 words and the LSWE Corpus which contains 40,025,700 words.

 

The research carried by both Carter (2004,) into the Grammar and Spoken English, and Hewings and Coffin (2004) Examining Grammar in the Construction of Online Discussion Messages, provide a useful framework to follow throughout the course of my analysis.

 

 

What are the elements you will be highlighting in your rationale? 

 

 

 

 

Writing about methods

What kind of an impression do you need to give when writing about methods?

 

 

 

 

 

How good an impression will this student have made in this extract?  Why?

I originally intended to analyse five songs, one from each of five Arctic Monkeys UK studio album releases to date. However feedback from my tutor for TMA06 (Andrews, 2014) made me rethink this strategy. Instead I have analysed six songs from the Arctic Monkeys debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not (2006) that I have identified as having a particularly conversational style. I have made this change in order to see if there was consistency within the band’s lyrics at the time of recording. Also I felt that as these lyrics were written prior to the band’s success they will not have been influenced or altered by media acclaim and as such reflect a rawness which may have been lost in subsequent releases as the band tried to emulate the success of their debut.

I had planned to collect lyrics from the Arctic Monkeys website so that I could be completely confident of their accuracy. However in practice this has not been possible as many of the song lyrics are not available on the website. The lyrics are not published on the album cover either. It has therefore been necessary for me to transcribe the lyrics from the original audio recordings as I have found that although there is a plethora of lyric collections available online, many of these have proved to be inaccurate. The transcribing of lyrics has not been a straightforward process however. Even using high quality sound cancelling headphones and a ‘repeated listens’ approach there have been some trouble spots in the lyrics which have been difficult to decipher. In order to avoid mondegreens (Wright, 1954) I have transcribed the lyrics as best I can and checked their accuracy on a number of lyric websites such as www.lyricsondemand.com and www.metrolyrics.com. I then recorded this data in a ‘computer readable’ (Carter, 2004) format as Microsoft Word documents. Then in order to compile my own specialist corpus of Arctic Monkeys lyrics I converted these files to plain text files so that I could load them into MonoConc Pro concordancing software. My corpus contains the lyrics of six songs and contains 1607 words. For ease of reference for the marker, I have included line-numbered transcriptions of the lyrics as Appendix 3: Text Data.

The songs that I have analysed are:

……

 

 

She has made changes on the basis of the feedback?  Why do you think she has done this?  Do you think this was a good idea? 

 

 

What have been some of the challenges she has faced?   What has she done to address them?

 

 


 

Presenting the findings

The writer of the Lee text wanted to find out where the text stood on the written spoken continuum.  She presents the findings here.  As you read, write notes on aspects of spoken and written language in the table below.

Written

Spoken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The findings:

  The analysis of the text reveals a lexical density of 50% (Appendix a) and a distribution of lexical words that have more in common with written registers than with spoken (Appendix b).  As illustrated in Biber et al (2002, p.23), this count of verbs at 14% and nouns at 26% is very similar to the levels of these lexical items in the fiction register and the high level of adjectives at 11% has more in common with the academic register.

  Closer analysis of a selection of these lexical items from the extract (Appendix j) using the concordance to research frequency rates in the conversation, fiction and academic corpora, revealed some atypical, for the register of spoken English, lexical choices such as ‘incomprehensible’ (Line 95) and ‘demographic’ (Line 105) both of which returned zero hits in the speech corpus. Biber et al (2002, p.267) observes that ‘speakers typically use noun phrases with no modification’ so one could say that the extract has grammatical complexity at clause level more typically associated with written texts such as noun phrases with adjectival pre-modification as in ‘silver-haired Scouse groundhog’ (Line 120), participle pre-modification, as in ‘relaxing night’ (Line 65) and noun pre-modification as in ‘height requirement’ (Line 79).

  In contrast, analysis of commonly occurring coordinators  (Appendix c) showed a high frequency of usage, as compared to the occurrences of subordination (Appendix d), most notably of the coordinator ‘and’, which would indicate a strong inclination towards a style of linking clauses that has more in common with a conversational structure as observed by Carter (2004, p.33), where ‘clauses are chained together in a sequence with one clause unit added to another in a linear and incremental way’ e.g. ‘And (sic) I came in at number 41, and I was very pleased to be placed’ (Line 23/24).

  In addition, during the analysis of lexical items of the text for the lexical density calculation, it was observed that there was a high frequency of the copula verb ‘be’ (Appendix f). Although analysis of process types (Appendix e) falls under the remit of the experiential metafunction and the main focus of this project is on the register variable of mode, it is reported on because it seemed relevant to the idiom of the artist in general and is an indicator that Lee tends towards the use of language as reflection which in isolation would place the text towards the reconstruction and written end of the mode continuum referred to by Coffin (2005).

    According to Biber et al, within Academic prose ‘more of the main verbs are forms of the copula be.’ and that ‘these are used to state the existence of conditions and to give evaluations’ (2002, p.106). Examination of the text appeared to show that Lee often utilizes this stating/reflecting function of the copula ‘be’ in the narrative for comedic effect, for example:

‘And (sic) a squashed Albert Finney is arguably worse than a crumpled Morrisey” (Line 37/38)

 ‘it’s not even a dream of Tom O’Connor’s. In fact, in many ways it’s his worst nightmare.’ (Line 117/118)

  The above observations indicate a style that, due to its grammatical complexity, speaks to the ‘writtenness’ of the text but that introduces elements of ‘spokenness’ by linking these complex clauses together in a conversational way, perhaps an example of what Lee referred to in his aforementioned lecture of ‘sneaking smart stuff past people by stealth’ (Lee, 2013).

   Further analysis focusing on features more typically associated with spoken text was also revealing, such as the use of heads and tails in the text (Appendix g). Heads, as in ‘Bernard Manning, who was in the top forty, he died’ (Line 45/46) which help listeners orient to a topic, listeners in this case being the audience rather than interlocuters in a conversation, and tails, as in ‘He is an amazing figure, Stuart Maconie’ (Line 12) as reinforcement of what has just been said. (Carter, 2004)

   The analysis also showed a variety of inserts used for different purposes (Appendix h). Such as ‘yeah?’ as a response getter where there is no real opportunity for a response, although notably in the following example he seems to give the expected response himself: ‘And (sic) that’s a giant, innit, a giant. Yeah? It’s a giant.’ (Line 89/90). Lee also uses the discourse marker ‘you know’ frequently both as a response getter but also, it seems, to encourage solidarity and closeness by implying an assumed shared knowledge and opinion, as in ‘you know those terrible channel 4 programmes’ (Line 7). From these aspects of the analysis a pattern appears to emerge of Lee using discourse markers to support the illusion that his performance is a spontaneous two-way dialogue, in which the audience are participating more than they actually are.

  The analysis of hesitators ‘um’ and ‘er’ (Appendix i) shows that the number of occurrences in the special purpose corpus is similar to the level of occurrences in the speech corpus. There are also other multiple examples of dysfluencies in the text that are more typical of on-line unplanned dialogue. Some of the dysfluency may be where Lee needs time to remember the script but on most occasions it appears to serve a different purpose.

  Hesitators and repetitions in the text, rather than acting to ‘relieve real-time planning pressure’ (Coffin, p.181) often seem to act as devices to relieve the audience of real time listening pressure by slowing down the pace of the delivery, as in ‘always been er a dream of hers, yeah, to go, to go on a cruise,’ (Line 114/115) and at other points to alert the audience to the upcoming delivery of a witty line as in “But it wasn’t, it wasn’t the case, even with, er, a letter writing campaign er to the family;” (Lines 47-49).

  There are also examples of repetition allowing emphasis and elaboration, as in ‘I was pleased, I was pleased and surprised’ (Lines 51/52) which appear to play a cohesive role rather than being a dysfluency marker.

  In regards to the study of mode, it is said that it is obvious whether a text is interactive or non-interactive because the former involves turn-taking, questions and answers, interruptions, overlaps and hesitators and indicators of sympathetic support where the latter does not (White, 2005).

  However, this stand-up comedy routine is not interactive, apart from the occasional heckle from an audience member. Yet the analysis of the transcripts has shown that it includes many features that would, to the untrained eye, or ear, leave the impression that it was and the following excerpt demonstrates further Lee’s use of dysfluent features that are common in conversation:

   ‘That’s a sea based illness isn’t it? My wife wrote it, it’s not one of mine and...No, she did, my wife wrote it, it’s not the kind of joke I would write, it’s too…It’s got a good kind of rhythm, hasn’t it, conventional sort of rhythm to it,’

  In the above quote, the performer interrupts himself, reformulates, uses question tags and contractions (isn’t it?, hasn’t it), hedging/vague language (kind of, sort of) and makes a personal reference (my wife) which together have the effect of making the text feel interactive and conversational and implies little communicative distance between Lee and the audience.

  In contrast the following quote from the same text has quite a different quality and brings forward the features of ‘writtenness’ discussed at the beginning of this section:

 ‘he’s rather like an omniscient alien super-being, a giant baby that lives in space, bald, wearing only a toga, able to view the entire span of all human culture and existence, and yet tragically, by the creed of his alien race Stuart Maconie is forbidden from ever intervening in human affairs.’

  This section of the routine is grammatically complex showing use of simile and unusual lexis (like an omniscient), fronted long passive construction (by the creed of his alien race(…) is forbidden), relatively high lexical density (56%), a dependent adverbial –ing clause (wearing only a toga), condensing through elipses (<who is>able to view), and a concessionary linking adverbial phrase (and yet tragically).

  The comparison of the above two quotes alongside each other serves to exemplify Lee’s idiom and demonstrate that while many markers of ‘spokenness’ are present, conversely the performer also often delivers grammatically and lexically sophisticated, dysfluency free prose with esoteric references (in this case to ‘The Watchers’, characters from Marvel Comics) which could come across as quite pompous and alienating even though tempered marginally by the modal expression ‘rather’. 

  This juxtaposition of registers provides Lee’s performance with an intrinsic prosody of sorts, resulting in a distinctive style where grammar and lexis are artfully employed to vary the pace of the performance which facilitates the continued engagement of the audience as the artist reflects on his thoughts and views, and comments on a variety of topics, often in a provocative manner and often to satirical effect. 

  Lee’s singular choice of adjectives to modify noun phrases, are expertly utilized to expand similes, draw comparisons, express hyperbole and share his opinions while demonstrating an informed linguistic choice that relies on coordination over subordination and exploits conversational features to present sophisticated and often grammatically complex prose in a ‘listener-sensitive way’ (Carter, p.33), within a genre which ‘aims to entertain rather than merely inform’ (Coffin, 2005. p166),

  In summary, the research seems to have confirmed the hypothesis that the text contains features typically associated with both spoken and written registers and has highlighted that these features appear to be artfully woven together so that the audience, despite the lexical density that equates to fiction in some respects and academic prose in others, are able to enjoy a diverting evening without feeling that they are attending a lecture or listening to someone reading them a book.

 

 

To what extent has her hypothesis been supported?

 

 

 

A comparison with an extract from the findings of the Arctic Monkeys EMA

What kinds of differences do you see between this presentation and the previous one?

 

Do you prefer one of the ways?  Why?

My findings

Tenor

  • Personalisation The lyricist uses personal pronouns frequently throughout all six songs and frequently in the head position. A search of my specialist Arctic Monkeys lyrics corpus for collocates of the personal pronoun I, reveals that it is almost always followed by either a mental or verbal process. This suggests that the lyricist is retelling his thoughts and feelings but it could also relate to the feelings and thoughts of fictional character within the songs. This uncertainty makes it difficult to position the lyrics as spoken or written in this regard.
  • Social distance of the lyrics I found to be much more indicative of the conversation register. I base this assumption on the degree of familiarity evident.  References are made which assume some shared knowledge, the extensive use of casual and slang forms, the dialectical elements and the use of language that may be considered by some to be offensive.

Mode

  • Lexical density (Appendix 1c) The lexical density of the lyrics is fairly low, with all songs falling within the ranges of 38 – 42%. This indicates that the lyrics are more concerned with action rather than description and that they focus on processes rather than descriptive noun phrases. There are fewer expanded noun phrases than one would expect to see in a work of fiction.

A corpus search of verb tense and aspect (Appendix 1b) revealed that the progressive aspect (52 occurrences) was more common that the perfect aspect (6 occurrences) in the lyrics. Conrad and Biber state that the progressive aspect ‘describes activities or events in progress at a particular time’ and that it is more common in conversation than the other registers. Perfect aspect ‘points back’ to an earlier time and is most common in fiction and news.

 

  • Coordination and subordination There is evidence of clause-level coordination (Biber et al, 2002 p.228) in the lyrics where clauses are linked by co-ordinating conjunctions (78/79) I’ve seen your frown and it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun.
  • ………

 

 

 

 

 

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OU Live

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 26 Jan 2015, 15:26

I did an E303 session last night.  It seems to be working much better now after a lot of problems in December.  It seemed to run smoothly last night except for some delay in Sharing Screen, which seemed slow but worked eventually.

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Pessoa and thoughts on grammar

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 27 Jan 2015, 22:40

I have just been reading a translation of an unusual book by Pessoa (1991) and was particularly intrigued by some thoughts on grammar towards the end of it.  Many of them seem to relate interestingly to concepts covered in E303 and E301.

The first is "grammar is a tool not a law" (page 231).  This seems to relate to the ideas of SFL where there is such an emphasis on the functions that language serves.

There is then a long paragraph where he suggests that "someone who understands what is involved in speaking often needs to make a transitive verb intransitive and vice versa" and that "If I wanted to talk about my existence as an entity that both directs and forms itself.....I would have to inventa transitive form and say grammatically supreme 'I exist me'" (page 231).  This quote is interesting as "I exist me" seems similar to the kinds of structures used in spoken English (Carter 2004).  Pessoa also seems to be explicitly linking grammatical deviance to creative and literary texts.

There is then another call for appropriate deviance "Only those who are unable to think what they feel obey grammatical rules.  Someone who knows how to express themselves can use those rules as he pleases.  There's a story they tell of Sigismund, King of Rome, who, having made a grammatical mistake in a public speech , said to the person who pointed this out "I am King of Rome and therefore above grammar" (page 231-232). 

These points resonated with many of my thoughts recently.  For example, I was thinking of this as I heard David Cameron recently say "I are...."  I have not seem this referred to in the press and I slightly wonder whether he was using the mistake/deviance as a tool for expressing (perhaps manufactured) anger about the recent EU bill.

Carter R (2004) Language and creativity: The art of common talk London: Routledge

Pessoa F (translated 1991) The Book of Disquiet London: Serpent's Tail.

 

 

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Meeting students again

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 4 Nov 2014, 16:15

I currently teach courses at level 1 and level 3 (plus a Masters level module).  This year, some of my students in the level 3 module, Analysing English Grammar (E303) are students I know from having taught them EAP Online (L185).  It will be interesting to see the extent to which they have developed and used the skills of EAP Online.

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Welcome to new students on E303 and L185

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Students on these course are just starting a new presentation.  There is beginning to be some activity on the Tutor Group Forums.

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E303 tutorial

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 17 Mar 2014, 10:54

The tutorial for E303 on Saturday was quite enjoyable.  The students had the opportunity to practise their skills in using the concordancer.  However, even more importantly, they had a chance to use it to explore the language and they were able to notice some of the results of different searches.

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Creativity in OU Live

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Sunday, 26 Jan 2014, 12:49

Several students have referred to creativity in OU Live sessions.  This often seems to occur when switching between chat at the beginning (while waiting to see if other students will come) and starting on the content of the sessions.  I would be interested in examples people notice.

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OU anywhere

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 27 Aug 2014, 13:23

I have recently downloaded this to my phone and iPad.  It seems quite useful although not all of the modules I teach seem to have content available.  I would have thought it would be most useful on tablets.

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Taunton Day School

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Here is the handout for a session I gave at the Taunton Day School.

 

***********************************************


The Textual Function

Aims

1 To examine what themes and rhemes are.

2 To examine what effects are produced as a result of changes in the organisation of texts.

Different ways of representing similar meanings

Compare the following text with alternative versions.

I heard that 100,000 Iraqi civilians were dead. I heard there was now an average of 150 attacks on US troops a day. I heard that in Baghdad 700 people were being killed every month in ‘non-war related’ criminal activities. I heard that 1400 American soldiers had been killed and that the true casualty figure was approximately 25,000.

I heard that Donald Rumsfeld had a machine sign his letters of condolence to the families of soldiers who had been killed. When this caused a small scandal, I heard him say: “I have directed that in future I will sign each letter.”

(Weinburger E (2005))

100,000 Iraqi civilians were reported to be dead. An average of 150 attacks on US troops a day were reported. Sources suggest that in Baghdad 700 people were being killed every month in ‘non-war related’ criminal activities. Official figures suggest that 1400 American soldiers had been killed but there are rumours that the true casualty figure was approximately 25,000.

Donald Rumsfeld had a machine sign his letters of condolence to the families of soldiers who had been killed. When this caused a small scandal, he said: “I have directed that in future I will sign each letter.”

By the end of 2004, 100,000 Iraqi civilians were dead. There was now an average of 150 attacks on US troops a day. In Baghdad 700 people were being killed every month in ‘non-war related’ criminal activities. Officially, 1400 American soldiers had been killed but true casualty figure was approximately 25,000.

Donald Rumsfeld had a machine sign his letters of condolence to the families of soldiers who had been killed. When this caused a small scandal, he did not apologise but said: “I’ve directed that in future I will sign each letter.”

Which of these texts do you find most powerful and why?

Compare the following

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.

My true love game me a partridge in a pair tree on the first day of Christmas.

I was given a partridge in a pair tree by my true love on the first day of Christmas.

Why is the first one the one that is used?

Theme

The first element in a clause is of great importance in English and this is called the theme whereas the rest is called the rheme.

Thompson (1996: 119) defines these as follows:

“Theme is the first constituent of the clause. All the rest of the clause is simply labelled the rheme.”

Halliday (1994: 38) writes that the theme is “what the message is concerned with: the point of departure for what the speaker is going to say”.

The theme “must include the whole of the first item in the experiential meaning. This means that the division between theme and rheme always comes at the end of the first group or phrase relevant to the experiential function and meaning” (Butt et al 2000: 136).

When the theme slot is occupied by a nominal group, it is the whole of the nominal group that is included.

Task

What are the themes in the following texts?

He replaced the receiver in its cradle without answering her ….(Frantzen 2001).

The price on the beautiful paper wrapped filet that he was handed was $78.40.

(Frantzen 2001).

The concept of writing as interaction between writers and readers adds a communicative dimension to writing …..(Hyland 2002: 34).

Circumstances as themes

Quite often the first element is a circumstance as in the examples below:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me.

The following Tuesday, Chip made dinner for Melissa….(Frantzen 2001).

In these examples, there is just an experiential or topical element. However, in many cases, this can be preceded by interpersonal or textual element. In this case, the clause has multiple themes (Butt et al.2000: 137).

Often, we link our experiential meaning to the previous part of the text. Conjunctions are used and when they occur at beginning of clauses, they have to be considered as part of the meaning but they are not the starting point. They are referred to as textual themes.

The examples below show how there can be textual and topical themes in a clause.

But

The pig

Would not

textual

Topical

theme

rheme

And

Jill

came tumbling after

textual

Topical

theme

rheme

(Butt et al 2000: 127)

The examples below show some combinations of interpersonal and topical themes:

Jane,

open

the door please

interpersonal

Topical

Theme

Rheme

Unfortunately

Enid

lacked the temperament..

interpersonal

Topical

Theme

Rheme

( Frantzen 2001)

Analyse the following extracts from a novel.

But she laughs at this suggestion. (Lahiri 2004)

But, darlings, you don’t know how fond I am of you (Nesbit 1906)

Theme and markedness

The idea of theme can help to explain why we see some kinds of clause as being marked and others as being unmarked. This is one of the most interesting uses of the idea.

Giving information

Task

Some statements are given below. Rank them in terms of how marked they seem to be writing 1 for the least marked, 2 for a slightly marked statement etc.

1. My alarm clock wakes me at 7.30.

2. I am woken by an alarm clock at 7.30.

3. At 7.30, my alarm clock wakes me.

4. With the ring of an alarm clock at 7.30, I wake up

In declarative clauses, an unmarked clause would have the actor, subject and theme in the same nominal group. This would be true of “The cat sat on the mat”.

Where the nominal group are goal and subject as in “The book has been read“, the theme seems more marked. This, however, is not so marked as when the first group or phrase is circumstance or adjunct as in “In my road, there are some very old fashioned lampposts.”

Where the first group is attribute and complement, the theme is extremely marked. Butt et al (2000: 140) give the following example: “Happy is the bride the sun shines on.”

Where might you see such marked themes?

Demanding information

Task

Rank the following in term of markedness.

1. Seen the new film?

2. Have you seen the new film?

3. That new film, have you seen it?


An unmarked theme for a yes/no question would include a finite (the interpersonal theme) and a subject as in:

Have

you

seen the film?

Finite

Subject

Interpersonal theme

Topical theme

For wh- questions, the wh- word is the unmarked theme as in, for example “Who is he?”

What would be a marked version of this?

Demanding goods and services

Process/predicator as theme would be the unmarked theme eg “Put the rubbish out”. Marked versions would have the subject or adjunct as the theme as in “You, put the rubbish out” or “Under no circumstances, forget to put the rubbish out”.

Theme and clause complex, paragraph and text

There can be complexities in how theme and rheme are considered in cause complex. Thompson (1996: 131) gives the example “As the universe expanded, the temperature of the radiation decreased”. Here, “expanded” and “decreased” could be considered as rhemes for the preceding parts. However, the starting point is really that the universe expanded.

At the level of clause complex, the first clause can be regarded as theme for the second.

If you see her, say “Hello”.

Thematic progression

If the theme is the starting point of a message, the rheme might be considered the destination (Butt et al 2000: 142).

Most themes will relate back to themes or rhemes that have occurred in a previous part of the text.

What are the themes and rhemes in the following extracts and which of the themes build on previous rhemes?

This is where Bob lives. Every morning he rises at six o’clock. He has a cup of tea and two eggs for breakfast, before leaving for the rocket launch-pad. On the way he stops to buy a newspaper and some chocolate toffee. He’s on his way to work on the moon.

….

Bob starts work. His job as man on the moon is very important. He has to keep the moon clean and tidy. Quite often astronauts drop sweet packets and cans.

(Bartram 2002)

Mervyn King: Bank of England not to blame for crisis

 

 

It was the banks and Gordon Brown wot did it. Neutered by New Labour and unable to prevent the City from behaving in an increasingly reckless fashion, the Bank of England could only issue reports and deliver sermons as Britain slid inexorably towards its worst financial and economic crisis since the 1930s.

That is the recent past as seen through the eyes of Sir Mervyn King, and there will be many both in the financial sector and at Westminster who will raise more than a sceptical eyebrow at the governor's conclusions. King, they will argue, is now rewriting history in order to salvage his own reputation.

Several mistakes were made, the governor admitted in his BBC Today Programme Lecture. The Bank should have done more to prevent the disaster and should have tried much harder to make the case for a big recapitalisation of the banks before the critical moment in October 2008 when the entire global system teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. But a mea culpa it was not.

Larry Elliott The Guardian May 3, 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/economics-blog/2012/may/02/mervyn-king-financial-crisis

Given and new

Organisation into given and new is parallel rather than the same as theme and rheme. The most unmarked way of giving information is for the given to be in the same place as theme and the new information to be the rheme.

New information is shown by a proclaiming tone whereas given information is shown by a referring tone. Proclaiming tones are shown by a fall whereas referring tones use fall-rise tones.

Implications of an awareness of this way of viewing the textual function

An awareness of theme and rheme and how they are related can be very useful for learners of English as they read or listen to texts and help them when they produce their own spoken and written texts.

When students are writing (and, to a lesser extent, speaking), they need to use textual themes to help the structure of the text clearer.

The idea of markedness can help learners to become aware of how certain texts are attempting to emphasise certain aspects of the message. This can be useful in the receptive skills because it will allow the learners to read or listen more critically. When producing language, learners might be able to produce language that achieves their purpose by using more or less marked forms. This awareness of marked ness may be particularly useful when reading literary texts (writers on literature and language teaching (eg Short 1996) tend to refer to this as deviance).

The idea of given and new is very important in terms of pronunciation, especially for intonation. Being able to use pronunciation effectively so that the new information is highlighted can have a great influence on how intelligible a speaker is.

References

Bartram S (2002) Man on the Moon: A day in the life of Bob Dorking: Templar.

Butt D, R Fahey, S Feez, S Spinks and C Yallop (2000) Using Functional Grammar (2nd Edition) Sydney: Macquarie University.

Frantzen J (2001) The Corrections London: Fourth Estate.

Halliday MAK (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar (Second Edition) London: Arnold.

Hyland K (2002) Teaching and Researching Writing Harlow: Longman.

Lahiri J (2004) The Namesake London: Harper

Nesbit E (1906) The Railway Children London: Puffin.

Short M (1996) Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose Harlow: Longman

Thompson G (1996) Introducing Functional Grammar London: Arnold.

Weinburger E (2005) “What I Heard about Iraq” London Review of Books 27: 3.

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Elluminate

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I have had a busy week on Elluminate this week with sessions on consecutive evenings.  It is quite an intense way of working, especially with small groups.  I think I need to work on giving time to students to think and not be afraid of the silence as they think.

Would any of the participants like to comment?

 

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Exploring the BNC

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 15 Jun 2012, 09:47

During Saturday's E303 tutorial, we were practising using the Monoconc concordancer and tried comparing "bad" and "poor" as two words that can often be synonyms.  The main differences we found were:

- the common collocation of "not bad"

- the common use of "poor" to express sympathy - eg "poor little thing/poor dear"

 

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Michael Rosen on grammar

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I have increasingly become aware of Michael Rosen's blog and it is a good read that is of relevance to the E303 and E852 courses.  The following posting should be of interest to students on both courses:

http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/grammar-rules-descriptions-and-systems.html

I would be interested in any comments.

 

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Taunton Day School Handout 2

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 20 May 2011, 16:24

This is the second handout from the Taunton day school with brief notes in  italics.

Using grammatical analysis to be critical

 

Aims

 

1 To examine how texts with a strong stance can be analysed in terms of the course concepts you have covered.

2 To have an awareness of how these texts can be changed and the effects these would have.

 

A text with a clear position expressed

 

As you read through the text, fill in the following table:

 

Field of the text

 

 

Tenor

 

 

Mode

 

 

 

Read through the text and underline what you think are significant indicators of the stance of the writers of this text.  How are they trying to manipulate/persuade the readers?

Some things to notice:

Stance - our

Governments would be selected ..... (cf "We would select.... )

modality

placement of Australia (trying to hide a big country?)

repetitions

Our current tried and tested voting system gives everyone one vote and delivers clear outcomes. The Alternative Vote is a complicated, expensive and unfair system that gives some people more votes than others. It might sound like a small change but the danger is in the detail – it's a politicians' fix.

Governments would be selected (espistemic) through backroom deals and people would have no control over where their vote goes. It should be (deontic) voters that decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system. Defend one person, one vote. Vote NO to AV on 5 May.

Why Vote No

AV is costly
The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns. With ordinary families facing tough times can we really afford to spend a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money bringing in a new voting system? Schools and hospitals, or the Alternative Vote – that's the choice in this referendum.

AV is complex and unfair
The winner should be the candidate that comes first, but under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected. That’s why it is used by just three countries in the world – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea . Voters should decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system. We can't afford to let the politicians off the hook by introducing a loser's charter.

AV is a politician's fix
AV leads to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises like the Lib Dem tuition fees U-turn. Instead of the voters choosing the government, politicians would hold power. Under AV, the only vote that really counts is Nick Clegg's. We can't afford to let the politicians decide who runs our country.

Vote NO to AV on 5 May 2011

NOtoAV is a campaign that has support from right across the country. Members of the public, trade unionists and members of several political parties are part of a campaign that has a common goal. Whilst we have many different views on what system of elections is best for Britain, we all believe that the Alternative Vote (AV) system will only damage Britain 's democracy

 

http://www.no2av.org/why-vote-no/ (accessed 4th May 2011)

 

Try making changes that will make the stance the opposite to the one given in the text. For example “Our current tried and tested voting system gives everyone one vote and delivers clear outcomes” could be changed to “Their old fashioned discredited system gives some people power and delivers unfair outcomes”.

 

How would you classify the kinds of changes you make?

 

Analysing an example of a text with the opposing position

 

How would you go about analyzing the position exemplified in the text below?

 

 

 

How is it similar to or different from the first text?

 

 

What are alternative verbs that could be used for the underlined ones and what difference would they make?

 

 

 Things to note

- change of "must" in headline to "should".

- high density of the word "conservative" in the last two paragraphs. 

 

Britainmust change its electoral system – or slump back to Ukania

The AV system isn't/  might not be ideal, but it's the best choice we have. Voters should seize this opportunity: it will not come again

 

·        

 

Today, Britain holds what is only its second national referendum, and the first to be unconditionally binding. It's a big day. Any British voter who wants this country to move towards a more open and responsive political system should turn out to say yes to the introduction of the alternative vote in general elections. That's a small first step, but others would follow.

Illustration by Matt Kenyon

If, as most opinion polls now suggest, the Noes have it, this will be a victory not just for the Conservatives, as a party, but for a small-c conservative, English view of how Britainshould be. It will be the political counterpart of last week's royal wedding. Those of us who want constitutional reform that keeps the baby of British traditions, but throws out the dirty bathwater, will be dunked right back in that bathwater. The conservative, English-dominated, ramshackle kingdom of Ukania (to borrow the Scottish writer Tom Nairn's ironic coinage) will endure, until eventually one of its constituent parts – probably Scotland – decides that enough is enough.n

It is amazing how the anger at the dysfunctional, corrupt old politics of Westminster , which exploded in 2009 over the issue of MPs' expenses, seems to have evaporated. "Our political system is broken," said the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition programme for government, published less than a year ago, and signed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Our system is broken – so don't fix it, says Cameron now, campaigning vigorously against electoral reform, stuffing an unreformed House of Lords with party placelings, and insisting only on a redrawing of constituency boundaries that benefits his party. Joining him to defend the first-past-the-post electoral system, many Labour veterans show themselves to be conservatives under the skin.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/05/av-electoral-reform-for-best (Accessed 5th May 2011)

 

 

 

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An article on SATS by Michael Rosen

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 20 May 2011, 17:07

A very interesting article about the SATs taken a few days ago by many schoolchildren including my own son:

http://community.tes.co.uk/forums/p/488574/6732581.aspx#6732581

 Students of E303 and E844 might see links with some of the concerns of their courses.

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Day school in Taunton - session 1

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 27 May 2011, 14:50

I led a couple of sessions here for the e303 course.  I decided it would be useful to apply some of the contents of the course to the study of literary texts and to critical reading.

The handout for the literature session is given below with some teacher notes in italics.

********************

The language of literature

 

Discuss the following questions in groups.

 

Is there anything distinctive about the language of literary texts?

 

If so, what is it?  If not, what helps you to decide whether a text is literary?

 

The main feature is that they are deviant in some way.

 

Look at the following extracts from the beginnings of literary texts to help you decide.  What, if anything, do they have in common?

 

The Christening

I am a sperm whale.  I carry up to 2.5 tonnes of an oil-like balm in my huge coffin- shaped head.  I have a brain the size of a basketball, and on that basis alone am entitled to my opinions.  I am a sperm whale.  When I breathe in, the fluid in my head cools to a dense wax and I nosedive into the depths.  My song, available on compact disc is a comfort to divorcees, astrologists and those who have ‘pitched the quavering  canvas tent of their thoughts on the rim of the dark crater’. ……

 

Armitage, S. (2010) Seeing Stars London : Faber and Faber.

The field here is somewhat deviant.  It might also be said that there is some deviance textually in the repetition of "I am..."  I also thought "brain the size of a basketball" was an adaptation of "brain the size of a planet".

1 Found Objects

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.  Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed the bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall.  Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of green leather.

Egan, J. (2010) A visit from the Good Squad London: Corsair.

Again some of the subject matter (peeing) seemed deviant and there was also some textual deviance in the way that it refers to "the usual way" right at the beginning of the story before we know what usual way is.

I consider it my duty to forewarn the reader that the event described in this tale relates to a very distant time.  Moreover, it is a complete invention.  Mirgorod is now quite another place; the puddle in the middle of the town dried up ages ago, and the dignitaries, the judge, the clerk of the court and the mayor are all respected and well intentioned men.

Gogol, N. (1834, translated Aplin H 2002) The Squabble London : Hesperus.

This is a story that seems to be in a spoken mode in some ways and this is typical of Gogol's "skaz" technique.  I also think there is textual deviance in the use of "Moreover" which contrasts with "a very distant time".  So, it is not clear if the events are invented or just belong to a distant time.  Also, the final sentence seems to throw both the distance and the invention into doubt.

 

Linguistic tools that could be useful

 

What are the linguistic concepts that you have learnt about so far on the course and how might they help you to analyse a literary text?

Some examples would include unusual marking of theme and rheme.  A corpus would help a reader to recognise unusual combinations or expressions that typically belong to clashing registers (in the Longman Grammar sense of the word).

Which of the concepts, if any, might have revealed something about the texts above?

Corpus linguistics, the textual function.

Applying grammatical tools

 

What strikes you as you read the extract below?

 

The use of "I heard/I saw"

What I heard about Iraq in 2005

Eliot Weinberger

In 2005 I heard that Coalition forces were camped in the ruins of Babylon . I heard that bulldozers had dug trenches through the site and cleared areas for helicopter landing pads and parking lots, that thousands of sandbags had been filled with dirt and archaeological fragments, that a 2600-year-old brick pavement had been crushed by tanks, and that the moulded bricks of dragons had been gouged out from the Ishtar Gate by soldiers collecting souvenirs. I heard that the ruins of the Sumerian cities of Umma, Umm al-Akareb, Larsa and Tello were completely destroyed and were now landscapes of craters.

I heard that the US was planning an embassy in Baghdad that would cost $1.5 billion, as expensive as the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero, the proposed tallest building in the world.

I saw a headline in the Los Angeles Times that read: ‘After Levelling City, US Tries to Build Trust.’

I heard that military personnel were now carrying ‘talking point’ cards with phrases such as: ‘We are a values-based, people-focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all.’

I heard that 47 per cent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein helped plan 9/11 and 44 per cent believed that the hijackers were Iraqi; 61 per cent thought that Saddam had been a serious threat to the US and 76 per cent said the Iraqis were now better off.

I heard that Iraq was now ranked with Haiti and Senegal as one of the poorest nations on earth. I heard the United Nations Human Rights Commission report that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children had doubled since the war began. I heard that only 5 per cent of the money Congress had allocated for reconstruction had actually been spent. I heard that in Fallujah people were living in tents pitched on the ruins of their houses.

I heard that this year’s budget included $105 billion for the War on Terror, which would bring the total to $300 billion. I heard that Halliburton was estimating that its bill for providing services to US troops in Iraq would exceed $10 billion. I heard that the family of an American soldier killed in Iraq receives $12,000.

I heard that the White House had deleted the chapter on Iraq from the annual Economic Report of the President, on the grounds that it did not conform with an otherwise cheerful tone.

Within a week in January I heard Condoleezza Rice say there were 120,000 Iraqi troops trained to take over the security of the country; I heard Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat from Delaware, say that the number was closer to 4000; I heard Donald Rumsfeld say: ‘The fact of the matter is that there are 130,200 who have been trained and equipped. That’s a fact. The idea that that number’s wrong is just not correct. The number is right.’

Weinberger E (2006) “What I heard about Iraq in 2005” London Review of Books Volume 28, number 1: 7-1

Compare it to the following version.  What are the differences in terms of effect and which concept(s) from the course do you think could help explain the differences?

I think the concept of theme and rheme is very useful for examining the differences.

 

Iraq in 2005

In 2005 Coalition forces were camped in the ruins of Babylon.  Bulldozers had dug trenches through the site and cleared areas for helicopter landing pads and parking lots, thousands of sandbags had been filled with dirt and archaeological fragments, a 2600-year-old brick pavement had been crushed by tanks, and the moulded bricks of dragons had been gouged out from the Ishtar Gate by soldiers collecting souvenirs. The ruins of the Sumerian cities of Umma, Umm al-Akareb, Larsa and Tello were completely destroyed and were now landscapes of craters.

The US was planning an embassy in Baghdad that would cost $1.5 billion, as expensive as the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero, the proposed tallest building in the world.

A headline in the Los Angeles Times read: ‘After Levelling City, US Tries to Build Trust.’

Military personnel were now carrying ‘talking point’ cards with phrases such as: ‘We are a values-based, people-focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all.’

47 per cent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein helped plan 9/11 and 44 per cent believed that the hijackers were Iraqi; 61 per cent thought that Saddam had been a serious threat to the US and 76 per cent said the Iraqis were now better off.

Iraq was now ranked with Haiti and Senegal as one of the poorest nations on earth. The United Nations Human Rights Commission reported that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children had doubled since the war began.  Only 5 per cent of the money Congress had allocated for reconstruction had actually been spent. In Fallujah people were living in tents pitched on the ruins of their houses.

This year’s budget included $105 billion for the War on Terror, which would bring the total to $300 billion. Halliburton was estimating that its bill for providing services to US troops in Iraq would exceed $10 billion.  The family of an American soldier killed in Iraq receives $12,000.

The White House had deleted the chapter on Iraq from the annual Economic Report of the President, on the grounds that it did not conform with an otherwise cheerful tone.

Within a week in January Condoleezza Rice said there were 120,000 Iraqi troops trained to take over the security of the country;  Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat from Delaware, said that the number was closer to 4000; Donald Rumsfeld said: ‘The fact of the matter is that there are 130,200 who have been trained and equipped. That’s a fact. The idea that that number’s wrong is just not correct. The number is right.’

Weinberger E (2006) “What I heard about Iraq in 2005” London Review of Books Volume 28, number 1: 7-1

 

 For those who are interested in language analysis of literary texts, Short's (1996) book is very good.

 

Short, M. (1996) Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose Harlow: Longman.

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