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:
- 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.
- Make the focus clear
- Should be specific enough.
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.
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?
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.