‘AS’ Language Notes


These notes should be useful for an initial introduction to elements of language as well as for ‘A Level’ revision.  I have put in a good number of carefuly chosen hyperlinks so that you can investigate further.


 If you are looking for a specific term or theory, you might like to do a word search by pressing ‘control’ and ‘f’ at the same time, and type your word in the small box.  Here are the main items for this page.


Note to teachers: In some parts, this page is quite detailed, whilst in others it is a bit thin; for example, there is practically nothing on word classes at the moment.  I hope to build on the content over the next few months.  (18 February 2015)



The Modes of Speech and Writing tend to have the following characteristics:

A monologue
Highly structured
Grammatically complex
Concerned with past and future
A dialogue
Loosely structured
Grammatically simple
Concerned with present

 However, the distinctive features of speech and writing are more subtle than the bare bones above.  For instance, an interviewer may plan the structure his/her discourse,  We need to consider the nature of texts:

Texts are not simply spoken or written, they may be a combination of words, images, sounds,  emoticons and symbols i.e. they may be Multimodal. 

Text types include: face-to-face, telephone, sung text, images, pictures email, conversation, monologue etc., whilst the term ‘Genres‘ includes: poetry, prose, comedy, tragedy, horror, romance, drama, short story, biography.

The context comprises the temporal (when) context and the spatial (where) context, both at the times of production and reception, with regard to:

  • beliefs, history, social circumstances
  • the relationship of producer and receiver, i.e. the implied receiver and the actual receiver.

The Text’s Purpose:  Ask what the general purpose and function of the text is  The purpose might be: expressive (expressing feeling), persuasive, referential (conveying information), phatic (social contact empty of meaning).  It may have a single purpose such as to inform, but it may be dual-purpose or even be multipurpose; you might also consider whether one purpose is the primary one – and so making another secondary.

Activity: Discuss/consider the effects of these language influences: gender, place of birth, where living and where having lived, parents, education, class, extended family and friends, online community, beliefs, reading, listening.


The Register of a piece of communication results from the context and the purpose.  The extent of a register’s formality/informality can be assessed by looking at (a)- (e):

(a) Vocabulary choices.

Lexemes are units of meaning; these are usually single words but they may be fixed expressions such as ‘day and night’ or phrasal verbs such as ‘grow up’.  Lexeme choice is one indicator of the degree of formality; look at this article, which deals with the informaity of phrasal verbs in ‘The Times‘.  Word origin (etymology) has a particularly important part to play in the degree of formaility.  For example, see the table below:

Old English (more popular) French (more literary) Latin (more learned)
Kingly Royal Regal
Ask question Interrogate
Fast Firm Secure
Holy Sacred consecrated
Time Age Epoch 

(b) Polysyllabic/monosyllablc vocabulary 

The Gunning Fog Index of a text.  This is a good way to assess the reading level of the implied reader:

  • Choose sample of 100 words
  • Count number of words and divide by number of sentences
  • Add to the number of words with 3 or more syllables (not counting compound words, common suffixes, proper nouns)
  • Multiply by 0.4
  • The Fog Index
    • 1-10: readable by 15 year olds
    • 14-16: readable by sixth former
    • 17+: readable by graduate

USEFUL TIP: [In an exam, where time is precious, you might take the average number of syllables in a couple of sentences and add it to the number of words with at least 3 syllables (note exceptions above) and x 0.4.]

(c) Specialist Registers

These relate to vocabulary and grammar based on occupation or shared expertise and interests.  Examples might include  the phraseology of doctors, mechanics, computer buffs etc.   Some are very formal, e.g. legal jargon, and these have the effect of excluding the uninitiated.   The subject area is known as the lexical (or semantic) field e.g. in the field of medicine, you will find specific lexical items which rarely occur elsewhere e.g. ‘embolism’, ‘myocardial infarction’.

Lexical fields may imply an intended text receiver of the same discourse community.  However, they are also used as a means of exerting power or being hmorous.

Activity: Find 3 examples of specialist register or jargon.  Are they necessary?  What is the reason for them?

(d) Individual & Group Language

(d) (i) Idiolect is an individual’s distinct language features, whilst Sociolect is the language style of a group  which has shared values, known as a discourse community. (Discourse is a stretch of language longer than a sentence.) 

(d) (ii) Dialect is mainly the regional/geographic variations of vocabulary and grammar.  The exception is Standard English (SE), which is now the formal universal standardised form of English and is no longer geographical.  The origins of SE lie in the 15c when it developed, alongside the modern invention of printing, from being the Kentish dialect.  It supplanted the East Midland dialect to eventually become a ‘gold standard’ despite originally being a minority dialect.  David Crystal on Standard and Non-standard English

Dialect must be distinguished from accent.  In this cartoon, ‘I seen’ is dialectal because it is a Non-Standard English (N-SE) conjugation to the verb ‘to be’….whilst the accent is how the words are spoken and represented, here, orthographically (see later for definition) in e.g. ‘de’, ‘yer’, ‘gimme’ and ‘der’.

Other dialects are often viewed prescriptively and their representation sometimes reflects derogatory attitudes and stereotyping.  Linguists are descriptive – we look at language uses as they are and do not voice an opinion on how they ‘should’ be.  Have a look at this to see a Yorshireman reflecting on his use of dialect: Yorkshire Dialect clip

Have you ever had any adverse reactions to the way you speak, from parents, teachers, friends?  What do you learn about the values of others and the establishment?  Did you change the way you speak as a result?  See convergence, later on this page and this Catherine Tate clip

(d) (iii) Colloquial Language & Slang:  These two are an expression of informal language.  For example, they include the colloquial (mainly meaning spoken) ‘take a gander at that’  and such slang meaning variation (i.e. the semantic variation)  of the lexeme ‘wicked’ to mean ‘cool’.

(e) Other indicators of formality/informality

  • sentence structure (complex, compound, simple).  Also see Bernstein’s theory (1971) of restricted and elaborated language codes.  For more detailed site on Bernstein’ theory click here.
  • polite/familiar and impersonal/personal: in this clip of Russel Brand on question time, he addresses the show’s host as ‘Mate’; he is unwilling to follow the conventions of formality in TV debate (whilst not being unfriendly).
  • passive sentences / active sentences
  • Spelling conventions (orthography)
  • Layout
  • Paragraphing and punctuation

The next section is divided into six parts.



  • 1 (a) Lexis: the vocabulary system of a language
  • 1 (b) Semantics: the study of meaning and how it is created.


1 (b) (i) Semantic or Lexical Field  This refers to word clusters e.g. vehicle terminology includes: ‘engine’; ‘set of wheels’; ‘going over the red line’, ‘put your foot on the accelerator’.  The field is often used for metaphorical purposes.

Activity: create paragraphs using the lexical field of e.g. computer expertise, drama, dance, sport.

Also note group membership e.g. these elements may be considered appropriate for the group of transport: car, bus, train.  However, there are significant contextual factors at play here.  For instance, the group membership of transport might also include ‘the tube’, ‘donkey’, ‘Llama’.  We shall deal with this in members’ resources below.

1 (b) (ii) Synonyms  Different synonyms carry different meanings, formality, dialect and sociolect. e.g. napkin or serviette, geezer or chap, lavatory or toilet.  Also there are euphemisms to avoid the distasteful e.g. he passed away.

1 (b) (iii) Antonyms 

1 (b) (iv) Hyponyms  Hierarchical structure e.g. dog, canine, terrier, mammal.   We tend to use the level which is sufficient e.g. we would say ‘I am taking my dog for a walk.’   It is more appropriate to use the generally specific word than the more specific lower echelon ‘terrier’ or the higher less specific ‘mammal’.  There may be humorous reasons for breaking the norm e.g.: May I have a lift in your Peugeot 206 Sport?  (I do not mean to suggest that an australian is speaking!)

1(b) (v) Metaphor: We use a huge number of metaphors in everyday life.  The issue is explored by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson and this link gives a helpful summary of their ‘Metaphors We Live By‘.  When we use metaphors we make no pretence that language is anything but symbolic representation.  We put a figurative gloss on our perceptions, views and experiences when we express one thing in the terms of another.

1(b) (vi) Simile Her voice sounds like money.


The little village of Syntax2(a) Morphology is the term to describe the smallest parts of words which carry meaning e.g. in unimpressed, the morpheme ‘un-‘  means ‘not’.

2(b) Word Classes (traditionally known as ‘parts of speech’): words are categorised according to their usage in any given circumstance. Click here for for an easy-to-grasp explanation of the word classes and self tests.  Also you might try this Youtube Revision (BUT, you’ll have to be ready to press ‘pause’ because the clip speeds through the word classes).  In the poem, Jabberwocky, you are able to get a general idea of meaning because Carroll followed a recognisable pattern of word functions and forms.

Verbs: They may be stative or dynamic .  They may be phrasal, which suggests informality, see above under ‘Register (a)’.

2 (b) SYNTAX: Phrases

2 (b) (i) SYNTAX: Noun phrases (NP) are centred around the noun (n) e.g. which serves as the head word.  This party (n), a noisy party, a (det) party (n) on (prep) the (det) beach (n).

2 (b) (ii) SYNTAX: Verb Phrases (VP): Banks have signed the code.  See Auxiliaries and Modals, later.

2 (b) (iii) SYNTAX: Prepositional phrase


A sentence can be analysed in a number of ways.  One way is to identify the following parts of a clause

  • S = Subject
  • V = verb
  • O = Object
  • C = Complement (the complement is adjectival)
  • A = Adverbial

2(d)(i) SYNTAX: Sentence Forms and Functions:

  • Declarative, statement e.g. SVO
  • Interrogative, question e.g. aux S mv (e.g. is it done?)
  • Imperative, inviting/demand e.g. VO (consider this)

Maid Marion was cheerful (SVC).  Robin Hood robbed the rich and he gave to the poor (SVOSVO).  Friar Tuck was eating again. (SVA)

2(d)(ii)  SYNTAX: Sentence Types and their Clauses:

  • simple sentences have one clause
  • compound sentences have two or more clauses which are joined by no-subordinating conjunctions such as ‘and’, ‘so’, ‘then’, ‘but’
  • complex sentences have subordinate clauses

She kicked the ball and scored the deciding goal, which she celebrated joyfully, even though she was exhausted.

2(d)(iii) SYNTAX: Active and Passive Voice: to be dealt with later.


The phoneme is the basic unit of sound represented between slashes e.g /b/

Lexical onomatopœia: similarity between sound and the word e.g. crash, bang, wallop.

Non-lexical onomatopœia: e.g. grrr, humph, Ah, vroom


Assonance: the repetition of a vowel sound within a word or words e.g. Silvikrin

Consonance: the repetition of a consonant sound within a word or words e.g. flip-flop.

“Rap rejects my tape deck, ejects projectile
Whether Jew or gentile, I rank top percentile
Many styles, more powerful than gamma rays
My grammar pays, like Carlos Santana plays.”
(The lines have been taken from the song ‘Zealots ‘by Fugees.)

Activity:  Find example of phonological patterning in adverts

Homophones: one sound but two different meanings e.g. beach and beech.  Saddo examples include: (1) What did the grape say when trodden on?  Nothing, it gave out a little wine.  (2) Where do astronauts eat? On the launch pad.   (this one is phonemic substitution of /au/ for /u/).

(Note that homographs are the same spelling for words with different meaning e.g. ‘bow’ has three different meanings: to bend, a loopy knot and the pointy end of a boat.  Talking of boats, ‘stern’ is a homograph too, because it also means serious.) 


This is the study of linguistic forms and the relationship users of language have with those forms i.e. where/when language meanings change according to contexts ( the temporal (when) or spatial (where) matters plus relationship of participants.

Examples of Pragmatics: ‘when are you leaving?’ and ‘Is there any salt?’  The utterances mean different things according to context/circumstance.

Implied meaning: the author/writer/speaker creates an intended meaning beyond the literal.  (The writer implies…)

Inferred meaning: the reader/listener ‘reads’ a meaning, which is beyond the literal.  (The reader infers ….)

Further material on pragmatics

Deixis: This is the term for shared context:

Personal, spatial and temporal deixis in evidence here!

A Calvin and Hobbes comic strip –  illustrated by Bill Watterson

  • Person deixis: e.g. I, me, you, they
  • Spatial deixis: e.g. here, there, on the left, that
  • Temporal deixis: e.g. now, soon, then, later

We might also consider:

  • Distal deixis: e.g. then, there, later
  • Proximal deixis: e.g. here, now, soon


Graphology is the visual aspects of a text and how they contribute to a text’s meaning.  Although it is not such a complex area as other forms of analysis, it is worth mentioning in an exam and can be combined with lexical and syntactic features.

Consider: shape of text; lines; symbols; photographs; iconic signs; bullet points.  Ask yourself:

  • What does this image tell and not tell us?
  • How do bullet points aid meaning?
  • How does the image enhance support or contradict the lexical and grammatical choices?
  • How does font relate to context?
  • How does it relate between text producer and receiver?

Typography  Address: layout; shape;

Orthography: basically, this is standard and other forms of spelling, capitalisation and also punctuation.

Space To an advertiser, ‘empty spaces are as meaningful as filled ones.  ‘Where we expect language to occur, its non-occurrence is in itself an attention-seeking device.’  (Godddard)

6) DISCOURSE  Discourse Analysis by Z. Harris

DISCOURSE STRUCTURE refers to the ways that texts are organised into coherent wholes.  Note that the word ‘text’ refers to both written and spoken modes.

Some types of discourse structure:

  • Lists/instructions e.g. recipes
  • Problem/solution e.g. ads
  • Counter argument / argument e.g. persuasive writing
  • PEA e.g. essays
  • Narrative: chronological; non chronological; flashback; narrator; intradiegetic narrator e.g. novels.

(a) Lexical Cohesion: connectors are words & phrases that provide ‘cohesion’ within body of text:

  • Addition: also, too, as well, moreover
  • Consequence: so, as a result, consequently, thus
  • Comparative & contrast: just as, similarly, in contrast, unlike
  • Temporal: later, then, next, afterwards
  • Enumeration: first, finally.
  • Summative: To conclude, all things considered, at the end of the day, on the whole

(b) Lexical Cohesion: Referencing

  • Anaphoric referencing in essence means ‘previously mentioned’ e.g. I Like Mr Smith; he is friendly.  In this case, the reader is given the man’s name before being told something about him.
  • Cataphoric referencing anticipates the referent e.g.1: ‘He was a commanding figure, the general.’ e.g.2: ‘I believe him: George is honest as the day he was born.’

Consider the effect of the cataphoric reference to Beryl and the anaphoric reference to Stanley:

Alone in the lounge, Beryl was surprised when Stanley appeared, wearing a blue serge suit,

(c) Lexical Cohesion: Substitution e.g. in ‘My mobile is broken; I’ll get another phone.’ ‘phone’ substitutes ‘mobile’.

(d) Lexical Cohesion: Ellipsis  Ellipsis essentially means ‘missing out’ e.g. ‘Where did you go on holiday?’  ‘Portugal.’  This often happens in text messages and spoken language.

(e) Lexical Cohesion: Lexical denotation and connotion  Denotation is the dictionary definition.  Connotation is  the symbolic, metaphoric, emotional feelings or ideas which we associated with the

Representation: Saussure developed the idea that language does not reflect reality. Instead he proposed that meaning is constructed through language.  He says we create and interpret signs, which can be words, images, even smells.  This (representation of a) painting by Magritte is indeed not a pipe, for many reasons:

The question for us, in ‘A’ Level Language, is: who or what is represented, and by whom?   We need to consider the significance of particular representations.

A referent Is, in Saussure terminology, the signified.  It is an object or concept.

Apposition is a good example of different signifiers referring to one signified.  Two or more adjacent units which have the one referent e.g. My friend, Joanne, is here.

For further insights, click onto this link for an introduction to semiotics.

f) Collocation and Binomials

Collocation is the use of words which are commonly used together.  They may be idiomatic, colloquial, fixed expressions, clichés.  Examples are many and various but consider the effect: ‘fatal mistake’, ‘once and for all’, heavy smoker’.  You will find many in advertising e.g.  ‘fast food’, ‘buy one get one free’ .  Binomials are pairs of words which go together in a particular order e.g. ‘safe and sound’, ‘neat and tidy’.  See this George Carlin performance for more:


Beowulf Cotton MS Vitellius A XV f. 132r.jpg

The first page of the epic poem ‘Beowulf’ circa 925-1025

William Labov’s Narrative Categories (1972); they can be applied to written narratives as well as spoken:

  • Abstract (A): seeks listener’s attention.  e.g. The Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘Beowulf’, begins with ‘Hwæt’ which may mean something like ‘Listen up!’  or ‘Attend!’.  (I must add that Dr Walkden refutes this traditional interpretation: see next bullet point).
  • Orientation (O): sets the scene: who, where, what, why. The orientation is an introduction akin to the first paragraph of a news article.  (As a matter of interest: the new interpretation of ‘Hwæt’ suggests that the first Beowulf line may be entirely ‘orientation’ i.e.: ‘How we Danish warriors have heard of the glory of kings in days of yore’.  This gives a worthy context for Beowulf’s exploits which are about to be narrated.)
  • Complicating Action (CA): main body of narrative. Actual events
  • Resolution (R): Final events.  Conclusion.  End of narrative.
  • Evaluation (E): Additions during narrative to highlight attitudes or focus on moments e.g. narrator’s observations on part of the story.  Intensifying evaluation: Fred ran into a wall, ouch!  Explicative evaluation: Fred annoyed his mother because he was so noisy.
  • Coda (C): Sign that narrative is complete e.g. relevance to everyday life, what it all means.
  • See this youtube site for a Youtube summary of Labov’s narrative Categories.
  • This next youtube site is a short student presentation of narrative structure in action.

In Spoken Discourse:  Although the form of an utterance might be declarative, exclamatory, imperative or interrogative, the function may be different.  This is a feature of pragmatics (see above).  For instance, look at these utterances which request the same action; consider their form and function, address the effects/impact and the relationship between speaker and listener

  • The door is still open.
  • Please close the door.
  • Would you mind shutting the door?
  • Could you close the door?
  • The door!
  • The door’s open.
  • Might be an idea to close the door.
  • Shut the door!

Some other aspects of spoken language come under the general heading of Prosodic Features (Prosody): with the exception of transcripts, the reader of spoken language representations is usually given clues to rhythm, intonation and stress; this is achieved by italicising, underlining, emboldening, changing font and font size – and most usually, by punctuation.

CONVERSATION THEORY (The analysis of conversation)

Topic markers indicate the subject matter e.g this utterance ‘Can you tell me something about Berlin?  Often depends on powerful participants i.e. those whose relative status allows them to direct the content, and maintain control over participation by other speakers.  However, speakers also choose to observe or flout (ignore)

Paul Grice’s pragmatic maxims on The Cooperative Principle of Conversation

  • Quantity use an appropriate amount of detail
  • Quality (honesty) speak the truth and do not knowingly mislead
  • Relation (relevance) keep to what is under discussion
  • Manner (clarity) avoid being ambiguous and vague.

Implied Meaning or ‘Implicature’ (Paul Grice) can arise when a speaker does not observe one of the co-operative principles of conversation:  e.g. below, speaker B appears to be flouting the cooperative principle – the maxim of relevance – until we look at the implicature (i.e. the implied meaning)

A: Can you direct me to the post office

B: It’s Sunday today

Speaker B is saying that there is no point in telling A where the Post Office is, because it’s closed.

Click here for a very useful self test site on Grice.

Conversational Analysis (CA) is analytical method of looking at multi-speaker discourse.  The conversational turn is the key element: there is an exchange structure of turn-taking and the most common example is the adjacency pair. But there is also the common initiation-response-feedback (IRF), which appears in opening sequences and Question/Answer/Feedback scenarios. There may be an insertion sequence e.g. A (to B), A (to C), C(to A), B (to A), A(to B).

Turn-taking: Speakers know when they are expected to speak e.g. when asked a Q.  There are other transition relevant points such as pauses, complete breaks, concluding statements e.g. ‘That was that’, or tag questions in informal conversation with auxiliary verb e.g. ‘You are going, aren’t you?’

Interruptions and overlaps have meaning

Topic Management: Successful communicators are able to simultaneously signal attentiveness to the other, and introduce new topic

Conversation Closing Sequences with pre-closing signals e.g. that’s about it, then.  Also, there are the ritual and phatic exchange of farewells e.g. A: OK Bye. B: Seeya.

Click for a detailed analysis of turn-taking and its relevance in conversation.



This module explores the idea of language as a social phenomenon.  We analyse and evaluate the influence of the context in the production and reception of langauge (AO3)

We look at:

  • Classifying different types of power and their impact on linguistic and behavioural choices;
  • Representation of power relationships and ideological stances;
  • The control that powerful speakers have over less powerful ones;
  • How texts aim to influence and persuade

ACTIVITY: Consider how you identify power in language.  What gives people authority and influence over others?  How is it evident in language use?

One way to classify power: Wareing 1999:

  • Political: politicians police law courts, Economic power
  • Personal: power as result of occupation, position, knowledge e.g. academic, law, medicine, insider info, personality, family membership
  • Social Group:  ‘in’ friends group, class, gender, age, racial group, rich vs poor


Another way to classify power is to consider whether it is instrumental or influential,

(a) Instrumental power is used to maintain and enforce authority; (think of it as Do this!) used by authority figures: parent, teacher, the state e.g. laws.

ACTIVITYConsider Westwood High School’s rules

Power in discourse elements to look out for include: declarative sentences i.e. using the verb ‘to be’, imperatives, passive constructions, use of modal auxiliaries, bullet points, false simplicity, asymmetry of power, lexical field, latinate lexis.

(b) Influential power: to influence and persuade e.g. advertising.

Fairclough (2001), in the bullet points below, addresses Power in Discourse, which is the  setting up and enacting of power relationships.  He looks at: language use; how power is exercised linguistically; its features and methods. For instance, in advertising:

  • there is ‘building relations through personalisation e.g. synthetic personalisation
  • apparently a single warm human addresser/text producer rather than a faceless organisation; the imperative may be used to help here
  • There may be second person pronouns which implies familiarity with the reader.
  • Look out for lexical elements which suggest the casual, friendly or approachable
  • Note the inclusive ‘we’ and the exclusive ‘we’

Another aspect of power in discourse can be seen in Nominalisation, which is the use of, usually, a verb modified to form part of a noun phrase.  One result is greater formality.  It also removes an explicit indicator of agency. e.g. the introduction of tuition fees heralded a new era in education.  The Agent is only implied.  We have to work out that it is the Government, which might prefer to stay in the background!

Read this extract for its analysis of the effects:

[Nominalisation] can eliminate context and mask any sense of agency. Furthermore, it can make something that is nebulous or fuzzy seem stable, mechanical and precisely defined.  Nominalizations give priority to actions rather than to the people responsible for them. Sometimes this is apt, perhaps because we don’t know who is responsible or because responsibility isn’t relevant. But often they conceal power relationships and reduce our sense of what’s truly involved in a transaction. As such, they are an instrument of manipulation, in politics and in business. They emphasize products and results, rather than the processes by which products and results are achieved,                   (Henry Hitchings, “The Dark Side of Verbs-as-Nouns.

Click here for examples of different types of nominalisation

Modality (an aspect of both semantics and pragmatics) is perhaps the easiest lexical feature for a student to spot when thinking about power in discourse.

Image result for auxiliary

Auxiliaries and modals get verbs going.

The word ‘auxiliary’ comes from the Latin ‘auxilium’, meaning help: auxiliaries and modal auxiliaries help to clarify the meaning of the verb.  Whilst auxiliary verbs mark the tense of a verb (e.g. s/he was here), modal auxiliaries help to indicate the attitude/belief of the speaker e.g.1: You should listen. e.g.2: She might leave soon.

Deontic and epistemic modal auxiliaries 

  • Deontic modals express notions like duty, obligation, permission, forbidding, i.e. DUTY.  They evaluate a proposition according to some moral code or someone’s opinion about whether the situation is desirable or not.  e.g. He must accept he is in the wrong.
  • Epistemic modals comment on the degree to which the speaker is willing to vouch for the truth of the proposition, i.e. KNOWLEDGE.  Epistemic modals invoke the speaker’s knowledge of the facts in forming a judgement of the probability of a situation occurring. e.g. She may be wrong.

ACTIVITY. Work out whether the modals are deontic, epistemic, or ambiguous in Box A on Andrew McIntyre’s page

Power behind Discourse: This is the unsaid ‘who, what, where, when, why’.  It is the effects of power relationships on language use; it contextualises linguistice features according to ideology, hierarchical structures, hegemony and power relationships.

For instance, advertising results from capitalism: it encourages private acquisition of goods and supports economic prosperity of the country, groups, companies.  It is an example of ideology at work whereby the text producer builds a relationship with the receiver by constructing a product image which ties in with the implied reader’s cultural and cognitive models  Fairclough calls this members’ resources and it includes such ideals as ‘work hard play hard’, ‘being home-loving’, ‘being aspirational’, ‘wanting security’, ‘having freedom of speech’, ‘entitlement to privacy etc etc.

The contexts of production and reception are highly significant.  By using members’ resources, the text producer positions the receiver to become the implied reader and thereby an ideal, potential consumer.  For more detail click here.

‘Ideologically loaded’ words carry judgmental value because their meaning is relational: they may exist as ‘binary pairs’, e.g. ‘master/mistress’, ‘housewife/working mother’, ‘middle class/working class’, ‘freedom fighter/terrorist’, ‘hero/coward’, ‘normal/abnormal’, ‘gay/hetero’, ‘feminine/feminist’, ‘The West/the East’, etc.  Note that although they may be binary, that does not mean that each term has equal ideological weight in any given society.  Consider the nature of the discourse where these lexemes appear: ‘honest’, ‘hard-working’, ‘decent’, ‘unassuming’, ‘family values’.   Some linguists maintain that all language usage – all meaning and ‘truth’ – is ‘ideologically constructed’.

All dominant ideologies have in-built fractures: they are always subject to challenge by compelling alternative discourses.

Fairclough 1989 identifies a process, which he calls naturalization, whereby ideology becomes ‘common sense’.   This is an effect of a dominant ideological stance which becomes so prevalent that we fail to notice its origins.  Different social groupings have different dominant ideologies; they operate most effectively when they do go entirely unnoticed.  Focusing on a text’s lexis in the light of viable alternatives, helps us to identify power behind discourse. This practical way to deconstruct the ‘cultural habits’ within a text is called paradigmatic analysis.

For instance, in the poem ‘The right word’, Imtiaz Dharker trials different signifiers: ‘terrorist’, ‘militant’, ‘freedom fighter’, ‘guerilla warrior’ and ‘martyr’ before deciding on ‘child’.  All these (including ‘child’) are ideologically driven terms.  I feel that, although the poet settles rather sentimentally on the innocence of childhood, she does effectively address the cliché that ‘One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrrorist’.  By the way, my view is that the referent is a human being!

Power behind discourse also appears in cross cultural encounters, where there may be a power imbalance between participants.  Such asymmetrical power is commonly observed in interviews of ethnic and cultural minorities by white members of the middle class.  Fairclough calls such interactions ‘gateway encounters’; the dominant group controls access to employment and opportunies.  In such circumstances, the obvious discourse pathway is full of conventions which may only be obvious only to the interviewer, who is embedded in his/her dominant cultural norm.

In 1997, Fairclough and Wodak proposed the key principles of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), after Faiclough’s earlier work on his approach to CDA, in 1992.  Of particular interest, for this page, are the language aspects of critical discourse analysis, which are summarised here.


Irving  Goffman 1955

Face is the image we present in different contexts e.g. unruly daughter, sympathetc friend, diligent student,  etc

Positive face: is an individual’s need to feel valued, liked and appreciated

Negative face: is an individual’s need to maintain freedom of action and not be imposed upon.

A face-threatening act (FTA) is doing or saying something that rejects another’s face needs e.g.1 cutting someone dead or bluntly saying s/he is totally wrong threatens his/her positive face.  e.g.2 asking someone to chop the wood may threaten negative face because it could be imposing upon him/her.

The lower the relative status that someone has to another, the more likely s/he will attend to face.

Brown and Levinson 1987

Politeness is an aspect of face,  Brown and Levinson developed Goffman’s work on face with the theory that face needs are met with positive politeness and negative politeness: i.e. to avoid another’s loss of face, we adopt politeness strategies.  So, we use face saving acts when we wish to to avoid both on-record acts (‘Cut that out!’) and off-record acts, indirect speech (I am thirsty [meaning get me a drink]).

Positive Politeness Strategy

reinforces respect, value, friendship etc e.g. I really appreciate, honourifics, first names, nicknames, tag questions, discourse marker such as ‘please’, group jargon and slang.  Perhaps almost anything to soften the utterance.

Negative Politeness Strategy: shows deference e.g. hedging (sort of, kind of,  modals: could, might) questionning, indirect requests (would you mind if), vagueness (perhaps someone forgot), apologetic (sorry to bother you), show deference (with the greatest respect)

Summary of Types of politeness strategies and another useful website on them

Regarding Brown and Levinson’s sociological variables:

  1. The social distance between the interlocutors determines appropriate forms of address.  The strategy is to speak appropriately to relationship and context.  If speakers know each other very little, more politeness is generally expected.
  2. The greater the (perceived) relative power of hearer over speaker, the more politeness is recommended.
  3. The heavier the imposition made on the hearer (the more of their time required, or the greater the favour requested), the more politeness will generally have to be used.”

(Alan Partington, The Linguistics of Laughter: A Corpus-Assisted Study of Laughter-Talk. Routledge, 2006)

The weight of 1+2+3 = the degree of face threat – this needs to be compensated for appropriately.

The choices are between:

  1. The act on-record (e.g. Make me a cup of tea)
  2. Face-saving act: Positive Politeness (e.g. sweetie, I’d love another cup o’ tea)
  3. Face-saving act: Negative Politeness (e.g. Would you mind making another pot?)
  4. The act off-record (e.g. sings: Polly put the kettle on)

Youtube positive & negative face examples –

sacking someone


Laura wanting a drink 


HOWEVER when power derives from hierarchical/organisational duties:

This is termed ‘doing power’.  In this situation, on-record imperatives may well not be FTAs e.g. text G (production manager)

‘Take the last 25 cases off the line and put them aside put them on a pallet and get them stretch wrapped (,) they’re going to be a memento for everyon so remember that’

Power and politeness in organisations:

Small Talk: has a place in interpersonal relationships; it is interactional and also may facilitate doing power

A: How was the holiday

B: Great lounged around in the sun swam in the sea loads (.) snorkled

A: what a change from usual

B: yeah(,) I’ll say

A: Right (.) now listen what about the time you’ll be wanting off for school holidays.

Holmes and Stubbs: A redirects the conversation to a work concern.  This is a repressive discourse stategy , showing power by being indirect.  it improves social ties as well as being an indirect method to maintain power.  This is distinct from Oppressive discourse strategy which openly expresses power and control.  For more on the difference between these two, click Becky’s blog.

Some  further practical, cultural and social issues relating to politeness

    • understanding conventions (thanking someone, accepting/declining invitation, phatic speech
    • turn-taking

The Politeness principle Robin Lakoff’s 3 maxims:

  1. Don’t impose: e.g. excuse me, sorry to bother you, would you mind.
  2. Give options: e.g. it’s up to you, would you like to go first.
  3. Make your receiver feel good: I couldn’t do it without you, I really would like your advice.

A competent communicator is one who accomplishes his/her task goals while maintaining the face needs of others.  Click for a detailed paper on Turn-taking and Relevance.

Communication Accommodation Theory

Howard Giles 1971, Communication Accommodation Theory says that when humans talk to each other, they tend to change the way they talk to match the way the listener talks. 

convergence: Matching the vocabulary, accent, rhthym, speed and cadence of the person you are talking to,  Also even stance & gestures.  This clip is entitled symbolic convergence theory but it is relevant.  Start lisrening after 2.5 minutes.

divergence: the language of you and your peers moves away from that of your parents.

Over-accommodation: this is when a speaker code-shifts her/his language in a way which over-compensates for the differences with the listener.

Some Common Features of Spoken Discourse

  • Back-channelling shows attention agreement e.g.: Mmm, yeah, OK
  • Discourse Marker is a signal for a shift in conversation e.g.: ‘So’, ‘another’ ‘point’.  Markers can also signal a counter-argument e.g.: ‘but’, ‘however’,
  • Non-fluency features include: pauses, hesitations, fillers
  • Non-verbal hesitations e.g.: Um, er
  • False starts speak/pause/speak again
  • Repetition of words or phrases
  • Hedging (perhaps to avoid a face-threatening act) e.g. modals such as ‘could’ ‘might’.  Also used when thinking on one’s feet: ‘kind of’, ‘sort of’
  • Vague expressions and Non-committals; ‘something’ ‘anything’
  • Skip Connectors are Discourse Markers to signal returning to the topic e.g: back to the point’, ‘Anyway’,
  • Fixed expressions which are often clichés e.g.:  ‘To be honest’, ‘not being funny or anything’  for a useful list of these go to page 129 of Richard Alexander’s site.
  • Ellipsis means omission e.g. instead of a full sentence, one might say: ‘Tonight 8pm (,) then
  • Deixis: Personal ‘I’ ‘you’ ‘me’ ‘they’; Spatial ‘here’ ‘there’ ‘this’ ‘that’; Temporal ‘now’ ‘later’ ‘soon’.  (also see syntax above)

Do you have a question?  Something not clear? Try this very useful Lancaster site: click on the links to narrow down your search.  Or, contact me by using the side-bar.

Test yourself on Linguistic terms

Linguistic glossary:  Note: this glossary is quite challenging

SPEECHES – English Language coursework guide

At the bottom of the page, you will find links to memorable speeches.

Here are some rhetorical devices and other useful features which you may wish to use in your own speech.

Remember the aim of your speech is to persuade your audience to your point of view:

  • Figurative language: metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, litotes (e.g. I wouldn’t say no!)
  • Emotive language: e.g. appeals to feelings and moral standpoints, such as sense of justice, guilt, meanness.  Note that, for you reasoning purists, appeals such as an ‘Appeal to Authority’ is fallacious when that person’s authority is irrelevant: for instance, The words ‘By Appointment’ on a jar of marmalade implies that if it is good enough for Her Majesty, it should be good enough for you!).  Appeals may not be rational but they can nevertheless be effective.  More examples.
  • Anecdote: a personal account/experience, if used judiciuosly, can be persuasive.
  • Use of Facts, quotes and examples: they lend weight to your views by supporting them with evidence.
  • Discourse markers: these tell your audience where you are going next!  They may be topic sentences or enumeration, which has a build up effect as well as helping your audience to follow your argument.
  • Antithesis: You can present the opposing view and destroy it (ruthlessly).  (Ridicule can be very effective!)
  • Repetition.  Examples include: triple phrasing; Anaphora (repetition of clause beginnings); Epistrophe (e.g. of the people, for the people, by the people.); Polysyndeton (frequent use of conjunctions such as ‘and’)
  • Cataphoric sentence structure.  This is a useful device: for instance, you might raise interest before identifying the actual subject e.g. She had been working on the project for five years before Julie realised…
  • First person, Second person, Third person.  For instance, you might use the inclusive ‘we’; a synthetically personalised ‘you’; an impersonal ‘they’.
  • Rhetorical questions,  Give the answers to your questions – you can imply these through the question as well as being explicit.
  • Diacope: this is the verbal sandwich i.e. the structure is ‘one word/phrase / other word(s) / one word/phrase repeated’ in one sentence.  In Henry’s Saint Crispian speech (Henry V), he motivates his men with this line ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’; this is both diacope and anaphora!   ‘Fly, my pretties, fly’ says the Wicked Witch of the West – only she does not actually say it; such is the measure of diacope’s success that so many people believe she does!
  • Make an impact with your opening statement (always recommended).  Maintain the structure an impetus throughout – you certainly don’t want a sagging middle.
  • Sentence types.  Make the occasional declarative statement in a short sentence, a short paragraph, a minor sentence etc
  • Try a hypothetical/conditional argument to support your reasoning! e.g. if humans suddenly developed compassion, no animal would ever see the inside of a cage again.


Great Speeches

Gillard’s misogyny speech  Gillard’s speech transcript  

Slavoj Zizek’s Occupy Wall Street speech and transcript.

Anjali Appaduri’s Get it done Climate Justice speech and transcript.

Erica Goldson’s Graduation Speech transcript.

Final speech to the student body of Apache Chase.

Student Tec Welcome Speech and transcript (went viral!)


AQA English Language B – Marcello Gianelli and Dr Alan Pearce – Nelson Thornes

Further LINKS in addition to the references and hyperlinks in body of text above


Language and Power (full text) Norman Fairclough


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