Clauses

Clauses are considered to be very important units in the study of language. But what is a clause? What makes it different from a word, a phrase, or a sentence? Why are clauses so important?

A clause is a powerful structure because it can express a whole situation. Here’s an example:

This tells about something that happened. It is doing more than just a word on its own, like curry, or a phrase on its own, like a fantastic curry.

To express a situation, a clause usually needs to contain a verb phrase containing one or more verbs, like cooked in our example:

The National Curriculum's definition of a clause as "a special type of phrase whose head is a verb" presents us with a new way of looking at clauses. This may take some getting used to. However, the definition makes sense if you view a clause as a grouping of words in which one word stands out as pivotal, and this is the verb. This idea isn't really any different from regarding a group of words whose pivotal element is a noun as a noun phrase, and a string of words whose main element is an adjective as an adjective phrase.

Typically inside clauses there are also other phrases which tell us more about the situation, such as:

Our example can be used as a sentence:

So why talk about clauses instead of sentences? One important reason is that some clauses form only part of a sentence.

Here we have a sentence with two clauses, joined by and. We can see that Tess brought a cheesecake is also a clause: it has its own verb, brought, which tells us about another action that happened, and it includes other phrases to tell us who and what were involved in this action (Tess, a cheesecake).

A further point is that some clauses cannot be used on their own as whole sentences:

This is incomplete on its own and needs to be used as part of a larger sentence, such as this one:

We’ve seen that clauses are central units of language which can be used to build sentences. Understanding how clauses work is very useful when it comes to writing in a varied and interesting style. Using different sorts of clauses in different structures can help you express yourself more clearly and with a greater degree of flexibility.

For example, if you write everything in simple sentences, it might be easy to understand what you mean, but it soon becomes dull and repetitive. On the other hand, writing everything in longer, more complicated sentences can help you create links between ideas, but it can also lose the reader’s attention and make them miss the point.

Understanding different types of clauses and how they work is also important in examinations. Examiners are keen to reward students who can write in a varied and engaging way. Not only that, but examiners like to see how students respond to what other people write, and how they can describe and comment on the techniques other writers use in their own writing.

One important point to remember here is that some clauses can make complete sense on their own and can become sentences in their own right, but some clauses do not express a full meaning on their own and have to be combined with other elements in order to create full sentences. As with many things in English grammar, there are exceptions, and once you become a more confident writer you can start to bend and break rules to create different effects.

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Clause types: statements, questions, commands and exclamations

The National Curriculum recognises four clause types (also called ‘sentence types’ ). They are usually used to ‘do different things’:

Each clause type has its own typical pattern (i.e. word order).

In statements, the Subject comes in its typical position before the verb. Here are some examples:

Questions also have a special word order, where the Subject comes after a verb. In other cases words such as whatwho, whenwherewhy or how are used. Here are some examples:

Commands are typically used to tell someone to do something. These clauses have no Subject. Here are some examples. 

To tell someone not to do something, we can put don’t before the main verb: Don’t tell Kate; Don’t be mean. These are negative commands.

Exclamations are used to express surprise, delight, etc. They generally start with a phrase containing what or how. This phrase comes first even when it is not the Subject, which often gives a special word order.

The National Curriculum stipulates that questions must have an question mark after them, and exclamations must have an exclamation mark.

Note: The fact that exclamations must have an exclamation mark does not mean that other kinds of clauses can't have an exclamation mark. For example, if I write It's a lovely day! then the pattern is that of a statement, not an exclamation. The pattern for the latter would be What a nice day it is!

See also: Clause types: advanced.

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Clause types: advanced

In the National Curriculum no terminological distinction is made between the grammatical patterns of the clause types, and the way that these clause types are used. In linguistic studies different terminology is used for the former and latter. What follows is not statutory in the NC, but some readers may appreciate some more background on terminology.

In linguistics the terms declarative, interrogative, imperative and exclamative are used to talk about grammatical patterns.

By contrast, the terms statementquestioncommand and exclamation are used to speak about the typical uses of these patterns.

Let's look at each of the clause types and how they are typically used.

Declarative clauses are the most common type of clause. They are typically used to make statements. Here are some examples:

In declarative clauses, the Subject comes in its typical position before the verb.

Interrogative clauses are typically used to ask questions.

They can be classed as closed interrogatives or open interrogatives,  depending on their possible answers.

With closed interrogatives the set of answers is closed, namely yes or no. (Other responses are possible, such as I don’t know, but they don’t really answer the question.) Here are some examples:

Closed interrogatives have a special word order, where the Subject comes after a verb. Compare these examples:

The order of the Subject and the auxiliary verb are switched when we turn this declarative into a closed interrogative. This is called Subject-verb inversion.

The following are examples of open interrogatives. These are called open interrogatives because they can have an open-ended set of possible answers. Here are some examples:

Open interrogatives are generally introduced by a ‘wh-phrase’ containing a ‘wh-word’ such as what, who, when, where, why or how (the last item does not strictly begin with wh-, but is nevertheless part of the same group).

If the wh-phrase is not the Subject, there is Subject-verb inversion. Compare:

Imperative clauses are typically used to command a person to do something. Here are some examples.

These clauses have no Subject. We understand that it is the person(s) addressed who is to do these things. Also, the verbs are in the base form: compare imperative Be alert with declaratives You are alert, He is alert, and so on.

To tell someone not to do something, we can put don’t before the main verb: Don’t tell Kate; Don’t be mean. These are negative imperatives.

Exclamative clauses are used to utter exclamations:

Exclamative clauses generally start with a phrase containing what or how. This phrase comes first even when it is not the Subject, which often gives a special word order.

People often use shorter, reduced structures to exclaim:

These have no verbs, so they are treated as ‘reduced’ exclamative clauses.

We’ve seen that each clause type has a particular grammatical form, and a typical use (or discourse function). Here’s a summary.

These are the typical uses of the four clause patterns. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that a pattern and its use do not always match up like this. Consider these examples:

Notice that these patterns have an interrogative form, but they are not used to ask questions. Instead, the speaker here wants the hearer to do something, i.e. 'to pass the salt' and 'to keep still'. In other words, the interrogative patterns are used as commands. Of course, the speaker could have used an imperative clause instead: Pass the salt; keep still, Bob!

Another example where form and function don’t match is She helped them?, spoken with a rising tone of voice. This has a declarative form, but is used as a question.

Why do we talk about declaratives, imperatives, and so on, as clause types rather than sentence types? One reason is that different clause types can be combined together in a sentence.

Here are some examples where main clauses are combined with coordinating conjunctions. Can you identify the clause types?

Here is the first example again with the answer:

This involves a declarative clause combined with an interrogative clause

And here is the second example:

This involves an imperative clause combined with a declarative clause.

This shows that the categories apply to clauses rather than sentences. (Here we have focused on main clauses. Some of the categories can apply to subordinate clauses as well, but these work a little differently.)

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Clauses: Main and subordinate clauses

Typically, a clause expresses a particular situation – an event or state of affairs. To do this, it usually needs to contain a verb. Here is an example of a clause:

This expresses an event, with the verb phoned indicating the type of event.

Here are some more examples of clauses, with the verb phrases highlighted:

The examples show that a clause can be short or long. Some special clauses contain just a verb (e.g. Stop!), but often there are additional phrases which tell us more about the situation, such as:

In our example, we have two noun phrases telling us who was involved in the phoning event (my brother and my cousin), and a preposition phrase (on Tuesday night) telling us when it took place.

When we look at the type of phrase (noun phrase, adjective phrase, preposition phrase and so on), we are looking at grammatical form. We can also look at the grammatical function of these phrases within the clause. Our example was My brother phoned my cousin on Tuesday night. Here, for instance:

We will leave the functions aside for now (they are discussed in other resources).

A single clause on its own can also be a sentence, as with the examples we’ve looked at so far. Here are some more examples:

These are called main clauses because each can stand alone as a sentence.

What about the following examples? They all have a verb but they seem incomplete in some way:

These clauses don’t function as sentences on their own. They are called subordinate clauses because they function as part of larger clauses to make sentences.

Here are the full sentences for those examples, with the subordinate clauses marked inside them. Each whole sentence is a larger clause (a main clause), which contains a subordinate clause as part of it.

Sentences can be usefully classified by the way they are made up of clauses.

We have already seen examples of a simple sentence. This consists of a main clause functioning as a sentence in its own right, with no subordinate clauses inside it:

We’ve also seen examples where a sentence consists of a main clause containing a subordinate clause. This is called a complex sentence:

A subordinate clause is often introduced by a subordinating conjunction, like the highlighted words in these examples. It helps to relate the subordinate clause to the rest of the sentence.

Another type of sentence is called a compound sentence. Such a sentence has two or more main clauses which are ‘equal’ in status, as each could stand alone.

The clauses here are joined by coordinating conjunctions: words such as and, or and but which occur between the clauses.

There does not have to be a conjunction between all the clauses:

Please note that the National Curriculum prefers to refer to sentences that contain one or more clauses as multi-clause sentences.

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Clauses: Finite and nonfinite clauses

Look at each of these examples. Do they have present tense or past tense? Can we change the tense?

In the first example, we have the present tense verb form feels. We could change to past tense: She felt sick.

In the second example, the verb phrase was watching contains the past tense form was. We could change to the present tense: I am watching TV.

These are called finite clauses because they contain finite verbs: verbs in the present tense or past tense form.

Our examples of finite clauses so far are main clauses: She feels sick and I was watching TV stand alone as complete sentences. Subordinate clauses, which form part of a larger sentence, can also be finite:

Compare the examples above with those below which are nonfinite clauses (highlighted). Can you see a difference in the verb phrases?

The highlighted clauses do not contain any tensed verb forms. Nonfinite clauses are usually subordinate clauses, as in these examples: to feel sick and watching TV could not stand alone as sentences.

Nonfinite clauses tend to express less information than matching finite clauses. Take this example:

We have here the nonfinite clause to see you. Think about this clause on its own. Does it tell us when the seeing happened? Or who is doing the seeing?

It is very common for nonfinite clauses to have no Subject. However, some do have a Subject. For example, in I am happy for you to start without me, you is the Subject of the nonfinite subordinate clause.

There are three main types of nonfinite clause, corresponding to the three types of nonfinite verb. Let’s look at an example of each type.

This is a to-infinitive clause, with to followed by the infinitive verb form go.

This is an -ing participle clause (also called present participle clause), with the -ing participle verb form arriving.

This is an -ed participle clause (also called past participle clause), with the -ed participle verb form covered.

To-infinitive clauses are easy to recognise because they have an infinitive verb form following to. Can you identify the to-infinitive clauses in these examples?

It is easy to recognise -ing participle verb forms, as they always end in -ing.

They can occur in finite clauses after a tensed verb: He is/was eating his dinner.

However, in -ing participle clauses, which are nonfinite, there is no tensed verb before the participle:

Can you identify the -ing participle clauses in these examples?

To recognise -ed participle clauses, we need to remember that an -ed participle form does not always end in -ed. This is because some verbs are irregular. Examples of irregular -ed participles occur in the following:

In each of those examples the -ed participle occurs in a finite clause, after a tensed verb.

But in -ed participle clauses, which are nonfinite, there is no tensed verb before the -ed participle. Here is an example:

Now see if you can identify the -ed participle clauses in these examples:

Key points

A finite clause typically contains a verb in the present tense or past tense form. It can be a main clause or a subordinate clause, e.g.:

  • Kate broke the dish. (main clause)
  • They suspect that Kate broke the dish. (subordinate clause)

A nonfinite clause does not contain any present or past tense verb. It is usually a subordinate clause. There are three main types:

  • Kate didn't mean to break the dish. (to-infinitive clause)
  • Kate remembers breaking the dish. (-ing participle clause)
  • They will replace the dish broken by Kate. (-ed participle clause)

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Clauses: Relative clauses

Look at the highlighted clauses in these examples. What do they add to the meaning of the sentences?

Each clause comes after a noun and gives us more information relating to that noun.

These clauses are called relative clauses because they ‘relate back’ to a preceding noun (called the antecedent).

A relative clause is a special type of subordinate clause (a clause which only functions as part of a larger structure).

Let’s zoom in on our examples:

These relative clauses tell us which guys are being talked about, which school, which engine. Notice that each one has a special relative word starting with wh-: who, where, which.

What about the relative clauses in these examples?

These relative clauses don’t tell us ‘which Narrow Wood?’ or ‘which Swansea?’ – those questions don’t really make sense. However, they do give more information which relates to Narrow Wood and Swansea: Narrow Wood is just near Box Hill, Dorking; he played for Swansea in the European Cup.

Some relative clauses start instead with that:

Often that can be left out:

Here are some more examples where there is no special relative word (no that or wh-word):

Relative clauses most often relate back to nouns. However, sometimes they relate back to a whole clause. What is  described as being a bit sad in this example?

What’s described as a bit sad here is the whole situation in which we haven’t got very far.

See if you can find the relative clauses inside these sentences:

  • Mike Heafy was a man who worked for Allied Dunbar.[S1A-003 #51]
  Mike Heafy was a man who worked for Allied Dunbar.
  • And then I had the vegetarian option, which was a wonderful spinach cheese thing with good veggies. [S1A-011 #261]
  And then I had the vegetarian option, which was a wonderful spinach cheese thing with good veggies.
  • The ninety per cent figure he keeps talking about is totally irrelevant. [S1B-058 #78]
  The ninety per cent figure he keeps talking about is totally irrelevant.
  • That’s the part of the earth that faces the sun. [S2A-043 #61]
  That’s the part of the earth that faces the sun.
  • He’s probably the cleverest man I’ve ever met. [S2A-023 #51]
  He’s probably the cleverest man I’ve ever met.
  • The best cheese was probably the brie at the farmhouse where we were staying. [S1A-009 #330]
  The best cheese was probably the brie at the farmhouse where we were staying.

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Clauses: Further guidance for teachers

Modern grammatical descriptions of English differ in some ways from the accounts in traditional grammars. This can sometimes lead to confusion. Here we note a few important differences in relation to the analysis of clauses and sentences.

Many traditional grammars (including those sometimes referred to in guidance for the National Curriculum and A level) make reference to sentence types. These traditionally fall under the categories of simple sentence, complex sentence and compound sentence. To this you could also add sentence fragments (like Sorry or More coffee?).

In modern descriptive grammar, the clause is taken as a more fundamental unit for grammatical analysis than the sentence. There are good grammatical arguments for this approach, and we follow it here on the Englicious website.

Modern grammars often have little concern with the traditional distinction between sentence types. We have adapted the distinction slightly to adapt it to modern grammatical accounts. While there is considerable agreement between the different grammar models, it is also important to be aware of some differences.

One important point is that modern grammar allows for one clause to be part of another clause. Consider the following example:

  1. Anna moved to London after she got married.
  2. Anna moved to London after the wedding.

The whole example in (1) is treated as a main clause, with after she got married being a subordinate clause which forms part of it. Specifically, it functions as an Adverbial within the higher-level clause – just as the preposition phrase after the wedding does in (2). Each of them tells us when Anna moved to London.

Traditional grammar would break the sentence into two parts, with Anna moved to London being the main clause and after she got married being the subordinate clause. But that misses the parallel between (1) and (2).

According to our analysis (following modern grammar), it’s not strictly correct to talk about forming (1) by joining a main clause and a subordinate clause. Instead we talk about using the subordinate clause as part of a larger main clause.

Below is an even clearer example where a subordinate clause forms part of a main clause:

Here, that he was telling the truth is what Sasha believed. We can analyse it as a Direct Object within the higher-level clause, in the same way that we analyse his story in Sasha believed his story.

Modern grammar also allows for a clause to form part of a phrase. For example, we can have a relative clause inside a noun phrase:

Here, the guys who were chasing him is analysed as a noun phrase, with the relative clause who were chasing him inside it.

In a traditional grammar model, a clause would generally be seen as containing a finite (or tensed) verb and a Subject. It is true that this is the clearest and most basic type of clause. However, modern grammar also recognises nonfinite clauses, which may or may not have a Subject. Consider this example:

The highlighted element here is treated as a clause because it can be analysed into the same kinds of functional units as a clause. Compare:

In both of these we have a Subject (everyone), a Predicator (the verb, enjoy/enjoyed) and a Direct Object (the day).

Now consider this example:

Here the highlighted element has no overt Subject, although we understand ‘I’ (the speaker or writer) as being the one who is to do the enjoying. Although it lacks a Subject, to enjoy the day still has some similarities to other clauses, and can be included as a nonfinite subordinate clause.

Traditional grammar models are not always very helpful when applied to the grammar of spoken English. Anyone who looks at conversational language finds that it can’t be neatly divided into a series of sentences.

For instance, how would you decide where to place sentence boundaries in anauthentic stream of talk like the following? (The symbol string <,> is used to mark a short pause.)

Furthermore, we don’t always talk in ‘complete sentences’, as seen in the following exchange:

Here the contributions from B and C are not ‘complete sentences’ in the usual sense. They would be hard to interpret out of context, but make perfect sense within the exchange.

These features of spoken language bring out further advantages of foregrounding analysis in terms of phrases and clauses, rather than sentences.

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Identify the semantic role

Exercise

You will be given some sentences where two or three noun phrases are marked off with square brackets. For each sentence:

Example:

Roles:

Possible alternative sentences: 

Here are some sentences for you to work on in a similar way:

  1. [He]’s been sent [a tax form]. [S1A-007 #256]
  2. [She] got sent [a huge sheaf of flowers] by [her son]. [S1A-019 #83, adapted]
  3. [The guards] hustled [Harry] out of the car. [W2F-012 #91]
  4. [Mum and Dad] gave [us] [ten rose bushes] as a house warming present. [W1B-001 #191]
  5. During the meeting [Kenneth’s Private Secretary] handed [me] [a message]. [W2B-012 #65]

You can check your answers below when you have finished.

Answers

Note: You may have thought of other alternative sentences.

1. [He]’s been sent [a tax form].

2. [She] got sent [a huge sheaf of flowers] by [her son].

3. [The guards] hustled [Harry] out of the car.

4. [Mum and Dad] gave [us] [ten rose bushes] as a house warming present.

5. During the meeting [Kenneth’s Private Secretary] handed [me] [a message].

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Passives and genre

Some grammatical features are used much more often in some types of text, or genre, than in others. For instance, imperative clauses (like Chop the carrots finely; Beat the mixture until smooth) are common in instructional genres such as recipes – for obvious reasons.

However, sometimes the reasons for using a particular grammatical structure are less obvious. For instance, why does a speaker or writer use the passive voice (as in The house was sold or The house was sold by his sister) rather than the active (His sister sold the house)? There may be different reasons in different contexts.

In this investigation we are going to look at the passive, and whether it is used more often in some genres than in others. This may help us in thinking about why the passive is used.

Spoken vs. written English

The broadest genre distinction is between spoken and written English. We might pose the question:

Spoken vs. written: Step 1

Step 1. We start by looking for main clauses which are passive in ICE-GB. Our search finds the following:

  passive main clauses
Spoken: 2,241
Written: 3,321
Total: 5,562

We can’t directly compare the numbers for spoken and written numbers of passives. Why?

To do a proper comparison, we need to:

Spoken vs. written: Step 2

Step 2. A search for all main clauses in ICE-GB finds the following:

  passives main clauses
Spoken: 2,241 45,334
Written: 3,321 23,722
Total: 5,562 69,056

Spoken vs. written: Step 3

Step 3. Divide the number of passive main clauses by the number of main clauses to answer the question:

  passives main clauses proportion
Spoken: 2,241 45,334 5%
Written: 3,321 23,722 14%
Total: 5,562 69,056 8%

Comparing written genres

At a more detailed level, we can compare use of the passive in different types of written genre.

There are six different kinds of printed written material contained in the corpus (we will leave aside the non-printed written material, such as letters):

Which genre do you think will contain the highest proportion of passives?

...And the lowest proportion of passives?

We will again search for passive main clauses and all main clauses, and then calculate the proportion of the main clauses that are passive.

This time we will investigate the different printed written categories.

Comparing written genres: results

We find the following:

  passives main clauses proportion
Academic: 907 3,967 23%
Creative: 160 3,510 5%
Instructional: 464 2,362 20%
Non-academic: 772 4,580 17%
Persuasive: 122 1,066 11%
Reportage: 307 2,392 13%
All printed: 2,732 17,877 15%

Review

Examining a written extract

One way of exploring further is to look at one or more extracts in detail, examining examples of passives. For instance, we could choose one of the 40 extracts of academic writing in the corpus.

These individual extracts themselves differ in the proportions of passives used, so we could choose one with a particularly high proportion of passives.

Let’s look at some examples of passives taken from an extract about computer software design. The proportion of passives in this extract is 44% – much higher than the proportion for academic writing overall.

The passive verb phrases are highlighted so you can easily find them. (Remember that we searched only for main clauses which were passive. You may notice some other passive verb phrases which are not highlighted because they are in subordinate clauses, e.g. This paper proposes a means by which Mascot can be used ... .)

Questions for discussion

You could further test your ideas by comparing another extract from an academic text. Choose one of the extracts displayed below. They come from:

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Word formation processes

New words are being generated at a rapid speed and there has been a huge upsurge in the number of new words being considered for inclusion in dictionaries. A fairly limited number of word formation processes are responsible for these new words. In our suggested mini-project, students look at a range of examples, and try to work out the key patterns of word formation that are responsible. This makes a good starting point for a detailed investigation of new words.

Project aims

Project outline

One way to approach this is to find word lists which separate groups of students can work on. Lists of recently coined words can be found on the BuzzWord page of the Macmillan Dictionary website.

Group these words into different categories, based on how they have been formed and what field they are from.

Further development

Look at the Englicious resources on derivational morphology to see what’s involved in many of these processes of word formation.

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Y2 GPaS Test: Present or past tense?

In each of the following examples, indicate whether the highlighted verb is in present or past tense:

Answers

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Register: finding the right word

This activity is based on the idea of register and how language choices are often linked closely to context.

At its simplest level, this could mean that if you are talking to small children you might adopt a more straightforward register, choosing sentence structures that don't involve too much complicated information delivered in one go.

At a slightly more complicated level, it might involve a copy editor at an advertising agency picking words that are more scientifically impressive when she is putting together the script for a hair care product. Her intended audience might be more impressed by technical sounding ingredients.

Again, another use of register might be to deliberately adopt a particular style of language that helps you blend in with other people around you.

All of these have something to do with register.

In this activity you will be given different settings and tasks that you will need to think about. You'll then be presented with language choices you can make that suit those situations. In most cases you'll be given the choice of a word or phrase from the same word class or type of phrase, so you'll have a set of nouns to choose from, or in another task a set of verb phrases to make your selection from. In some of the more advanced tasks you might also be asked to make slightly more grammatical choices by selecting different structures. Hopefully, all will be clear.

Setting 1

Audience: Primary school children (Ages 6-7)

Task: Explaining issues about the environment

Fill in the missing word that you think is most appropriate in the context.

Answers

 

 

Setting 2

Audience: group of friends of similar age to you

Task: arranging to meet later in the day

 

Setting 3

Audience: the headteacher of a school

Task: you need to write a report about an incident that you witnessed outside a local school

Feedback

Some choices are more obviously appropriate than others, but you will probably have noticed that there’s nothing grammatical to stop you from choosing one word or another. If they are in the same word class then the choice you are making is a matter of style rather than grammar.

In fact, some of the stranger choices you could make might be deliberately odd. Some people will deliberately speak or write in a register different from the usual one to create a comic effect or to show off. There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of fun with language and it can be a good way of stretching your vocabulary.

Transformation task

Now you have looked at some language choices connected to different contexts, have a think about how you might rewrite an extract of writing for a different audience. The extract below is taken from a letter sent by a student studying abroad to a friend back home.

Your task is to imagine that the letter needs to be sent to a parent and to rewrite the letter in a more suitable register.

 

Hi again !

It is now Wednesday - I think and exceedingly hot. Actually today I'm nursing a very bad hangover so I decided I had better stay at home rather than throw up on the metro!!

Our project is not getting very far very fast as we can't understand this Spanish guy. I can get some of what he says but not everything and the other two can't understand a word at all. I have asked him for a written outline of the project so I can bring it home and translate it. They are also annoying because they keep asking this guy to speak English which is not what we are here for.

Anyhow enough moaning and groaning. On Monday I took my camera for a walk to the park near us and took loads of photos. We live very near to the bull-ring and not far from a skating rink would you believe it. It seems strange that there is an ice-rink in the middle of such a hot, dusty city.

Yesterday we went up another mountain on the tram - Mount Tibidales. It was gorgeous up there because it was so cold infact in fact by the time I came home I was actually freezing cold and goose pimply.

I have at last received some post. Two letters from my mum and one from my Dad. It seems I have been accepted to do the open competition exam for Brussels so I will have to start swotting for that. Boring. I will just think of the money.

I am looking forward to Antonio arriving (all being well) on 13th. It will be nice to see him and also to have some new company. I like Sarah who I'm sharing with but am not too keen on some of the others who are here. I haven't decided what I'm going to do at the weekend. There appears to be a Barcelona equivalent of Camden Market so I may go and check that out. I can't think of anymore any more news for the moment so be good(ish!).

See you soon maybe!

Write soon.

Lots of love to you, Simon & Fleur.

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Rastamouse vibrations

A children’s show on television has caused delight to most and upset to some. Rastamouse is a tam-wearing, skateboard-riding mouse who likes to solve crimes and – in his words – make a bad ting good. He also speaks in Jamaican patois.

Using Rastamouse can open up new ways of looking at varieties of English which differ from the Standard in terms of their grammar, lexis and phonology. There is emerging evidence that the study of non-standard varieties of English can not only help your understanding of the features and uses of that variety, but also give you a much better grasp of Standard English.

Project aims

Project outline

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Texting styles

Recent research into texting suggests that different people use different styles. The style you use is influenced by factors such as your age, the social group you spend most of your time with, and whether you’re male or female – but also by your personal relationship with the person you’re texting and what you’re texting about.

In fact it’s not so surprising that we should all text in different ways, as we all have our own individual ways of talking and writing. Try to think of as many differences as you can between how you talk and how (for example) your parents, grandparents, brothers or sisters talk. Think about the actual words you use as well as the way you say things.

For example, would you say ‘Oh I say, that is marvellous!’ or ‘My word, it's a bit nippy out there’? And would your parents tell you that they had spent the day ‘cotching round a mate’s yard’ or ‘just jamming with my bredrens’? Maybe not …

Some people argue that the use of ‘textspeak’ is actually dying out and that new technologies (such as T9 predictive text and QWERTY keyboards) and cheap SMS deals mean that only novice texters use the abbreviated message style associated with texting in the past. Some people have even argued that textspeak is a phase that you grow out of.

Of course, all of this can be tested. Why rely on what other people think when you can find out what’s really happening by investigating it yourself?

Investigating texting styles

This resource is designed to help you set up a brief research task that allows you to collect text messages from different people and then to analyse the key differences between them. It could form the basis of a Spoken Language Study into multi-modal talk.

The main thing to work out in this mini-investigation is how to set up what we call a methodology: a set of procedures for gathering relevant information. What we want to find out here is whether different people text in different ways, so our main focus should be on getting data that allows us to see potential differences.

The approach we will use here is a fairly simple one, using your class of students. You will think of a particular message to be texted, and then ask each student to text this message to one phone. That phone will then collect all the messages from the different people and you will be able to look for differences between what the people in your class have texted.

You’ll be saying the message to your classmates rather than writing it for them, so they will have some choice over how they text the message rather than just copying what you’ve written for them.

A different approach that might work is to collect texts from people inside and outside your class. Why not see how your mum or dad text in comparison to how your classmates text? Do they use the same abbreviations? Do they use any abbreviations?

Features found in text messages

Firstly, think about the kinds of features that we often see in text messages. Have a look at the following list taken from research into text messaging from experts at Coventry University:

Testing for variation

Secondly, try to come up with a message that can be used to test for variation in these features. For example, can you think of a message in which you could test whether one person used plz while another used please?

Try to think of a message that includes two or three different features from the list above. For example, how about a message like ‘Text a friend to tell them that you will meet them next to the library at 8 pm’?

Remember, what you’re trying to do here is create the potential for someone to use different forms of texting, so you should be looking for ways to elicit (to draw out) responses that you can analyse.

Collecting data

Next, you might want to think about the amount of data you want to collect. If you’re doing this as part if your Spoken Language Study, 10 to 15 text messages will probably be more than enough. Here are some other factors you might want to consider:

These questions – and the ways you think about answers to them – will all influence what kind of data you collect and what you can do with it.

Another methodology that you might find helpful is to set yourself a hypothesis – a statement or prediction – to test. For example, your hypothesis might be one of the following:

The above statements may be true or false, but you can set out to test them using your data and analysis.

Recording and analysing data

The next step is to work out what to do with your data. First of all, you will need to record it in written form to make it easier to compare the messages. You can use the attached form to record your data.

Clearly it’s going to be important to look at it and sift through it. You might not need it all – and you certainly won’t need to analyse very much of it for your Controlled Assessment – so think about any patterns that you can see. Is there a bigger picture emerging?

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