A framework for language analysis

This page includes a handout on which you will find a framework for language analysis, developed over time through our Teaching English Grammar in Context course, held at UCL.

Starting to analyse a text can be a rather indimidating task. Where to start? What to include/not include? And how to do this systematically, rather than simply pulling out grammatical features at random and trying to write some kind of cohesive analysis?

The idea behind the framework is that you can take any text - be it literary or non-literary discourse - and apply each of the grammatical concepts in the left column to it. This provides you (and your students) with a systematic method for analysing language. The table isn't designed to be read in a particular order - although we recommend that starting with the 'big ideas' (i.e. discourse, context, audience, text producer(s), text receiver(s)) is a sensible place to begin. 

The table is re-produced below, and available as a handout at the bottom of this page.

Linguistic feature

Meaning potential

Discourse and context

The context of the text. Who wrote it? When and where? Who are they writing for? What kind of context is the reader likely to read the text in?

Construal

The ability to perceive and describe the same situation in infinitely different ways. Different choices of words construct and represent the same idea differently.

Textual intervention

What happens if we intervene in the text? Could word choices be swapped for different ones? How do these kinds of small or big changes affect the meaning?

Foregrounding

Linguistic patterns in the text. These can be foregrounded through parallelism (the creation of patterns) or deviation (diverting away from established patterns or expected norms). What kind of things does the writer want their readers to notice, and why?

Voice

Active and passive clause structure constructs participants as ‘doing things’ or ‘having things done to them’. 

Verb processes

Action processes are ‘doing’ verbs

Cognition processes are ‘thinking’ verbs

Verbal processes are ‘saying’ verbs

Relational processes are ‘being or having’ verbs

How do verb choices contribute to the way that people, places and events are represented?

World-building

The way that a world is constructed in the mind of a reader. How do grammatical choices populate a fictional world? How do worlds shift to different times and locations? How vivid does the world feel? Why?

Modality

The ways in which attitudes, degrees of certainty and possibilities are created. Typically expressed through modal verbs and modal adverbs.

Deontic modality expresses obligation, duty, permission and commitment.

Epistemic modality expresses possibility, choice and knowledge.

Referencing

How are participants and things referenced? The definite article (the) used for shared information, to refer to something mentioned before or that the reader is assumed to know about, picking out an individual from a group. Indefinite references (an, a, some) do not pick out a specific reference.

Negation

A word which typically expresses the contradiction of some or all of a sentence's meaning (e.g. not, unlikely). In order to not think about the thing that is negated, we have to think about it first.

Tense

Present tense tells us about things that are happening at the moment of speaking; past tense tells us about things that happened in the past.

Metaphor

Whereby we understand one thing in terms of another. Metaphor can radically affect the way something or someone is represented.

Deixis

The way that language can refer or 'point' to different things in different contexts. For example, the demonstrative pronoun that in spoken English can refer to a specific thing in the real world at a particular moment, but it can be used to refer to different things by different people in different times and places. Personal pronouns like she and it also show deixis, and are said to be deictic. Deictic choices have a significant bearing on how ‘close’ or ‘distal’ the text can feel. For example, uses of proximal deictic terms like this and you can create the impression that the writer and the reader are sharing the same ‘space’.

Pronouns

How does the pronoun system contribute to the writer-reader relationship?

Inclusive we; exclusive we/you.

Us and them: othering pronouns.

Clause patterns

Statements: the presentation of fact or opinion

Questions: requesting information

Commands: asking people to do things

Cohesion

Ties longer stretches of text together, typically through coordination (and, or, but) and subordination (because, if, whether, whilst, etc.).

Lexical cohesion is how texts work together through word choices and patterns: lexical fields, synonyms, antonyms, repetition, collocation

Visual grammar

How do non-linguistic elements of a text help to shape meaning? Visual elements include text layout, use of colour, images, logos, symbols and icons.

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