Perspectives on Literary and Linguistic Theory Part 2 Linguistic Theory

These resources were originally written in 2006 and published on an interactive platform by Hodder Education in 2008. The extensive teaching text (no frills!) is exclusively made available here by its author free of charge in the hope that it may help ambitious A level students stranded at home without teachers by the Covid19 pandemic.  There are lots of sections so there should be something here for every one. 

Good luck and stay safe!

Introduction To Some Theories of Language

“Perspectives on Literary and Linguistic Theory” is for AEA and any students who want more out of their studies. These screens are designed to ‘stretch and challenge’ your understanding – and enrich your appreciation - of literature and language. 

In Literary Theory, we declared our aim of encouraging you to think for yourself. Here we do the same with Language Theory. To ask advanced questions. And to find your own answers. Questions like, “Is time and space created by grammar rather than by ‘reality’?”  “Can language condemn us to, or liberate us from, social control?”

Linguistics – the science of language – often seems rather complicated. Grammatical terms might remind us of difficult lessons trying to master a foreign language. And it is easy to wonder if Linguists are trying to turn the language we learned as toddlers (and take for granted as extremely sophisticated speakers) into something alien and difficult. But Linguistics is really only a way of exploring some of the extraordinary things we do with it without thinking. When someone official asks us “What was the name?” instead of “What’s your name?” for instance, we don’t say (as a child might) “It still is my name. Why are you putting it into the past tense and (as an adult might add) using a definite article instead of saying ‘your?” You immediately recognise without thinking about it that someone is being formal and extremely polite – distancing the question and making it impersonal out of social delicacy. We do it all the time.

Linguistics is just making this sort of ingenuity conscious.

[42 explanation text]
[C] Ferdinand de Saussure: The Course In General Linguistics
Saussure was a Swiss linguist working in Geneva at the start of the 20th century. He never published his theories as a book. His Course in General Linguistics (published Paris 1915) was a compilation of his lecture notes. Academics in the Humanities paid him little attention until the 1960s. Since then, his work has been regarded as the starting point of all modern language theory. Most courses in Literary and Critical Theory written over the last thirty years place Saussure’s linguistic theory at the beginning.

  • “It is Saussure who stands behind the claim, which many people would today espouse, that to study man is essentially to study the various systems by which he and his cultures organise and give meaning to the world.” (Jonathan Culler, 1976.)

[43 static activity screen with pop-up]
Activity 13
Have you ever thought about the relation between a word and the thing it denotes? Note down any times you can remember when you looked at an object, thought about the word and wondered why that particular word refers to that particular thing. Note down the feelings this kind of questioning produces in you[MSOffice1] .

[pop-up commentary]
  • One possible feeling is that the world suddenly seems to sliding away from you, into meaninglessness, or even madness. Why for instance should the three letters C-A-T (and their sound KAT) signify that particular reality, that lively bundle of fur and whiskers you feed every morning? The sign C-A-T has as much right to signify your favourite pet as your calling it Tuppence, and both CAT and TUPPENCE mean as much in reality as either name actually means to the animal. (The animal is more interested in what is meant by the feeding and responds to the tone in which you say its name rather than to the signifier itself – and the word CAT means nothing at all.  TS Eliot’s Book of Practical Cats suggests to children that cats secretly have their own names and find the names we give them ridiculous. This is a pleasant joke but it highlights the arbitrary nature of all naming that language performs – in English certainly.)

[44 scrollable explanation text]
[D] A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet
All languages have as their basic elements arbitrary signs. But some are more arbitrary than others. Try an abstract noun instead ie one that can convey an idea that you cannot point at, as a child might point the sound KAT at the pet. Consider how an English speaker uses the word-sign ‘Peace’ for what it signifies. There is actually no reason at all why the signifier ‘War’ should not be used instead. Except that we have agreed a convention whereby that word, that sound PEES, means what it means, and that other sound, WOR, means the opposite. 

In Chinese, the ideogram for peace combines two small drawings. One drawing imitates a roof; the other a drawing of a woman under it. Put a woman under a roof and (leaving aside for a moment the sexist context of the patriarchal society which generated these ideograms) you have a home and so the idea of Peace. This is less arbitrary. There is some connection between the drawings and the idea.  The Chinese ideogram for Protection puts a drawing a man next to and standing over a drawing of a child. Again, some connection. Nevertheless even these drawings are very stylised representations of women, roofs, men and children: they aren’t the things themselves, they are still arbitrary.

[45 scrollable explanation text]
[D] When The Blast Of War Blows In Our Ears
Does PEES sound any more peaceful than WOR? Not really. In Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio says “Peace? Peace. I hate the word. As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.” Any actor worth his salt can emphasise the sibilant and convey hatefulness in the way Mercutio speaks it. Indeed, it is almost ‘Peace off’ in Mercutio’s mouth. The text almost insists on it. And the soft ‘w’ and open ‘o’ of WOR could easily sound seductive and – let’s face it – peaceful ­­as those sounds can do in words like 'woman' or ‘warm’. So even the sound is arbitrary.

Is the Peace sign – the reversed V sign – any less arbitrary? Is there anything about two fingers raised in the reverse of the traditional V sign that signifies Peace except in a system of arbitrary signs? 

  • The original V sign was made by English archers at Agincourt. Their Norman oppressors legally removed their bow fingers to stop them hunting for (English) deer in Royal forests. At Agincourt, the descendants of these English Saxons were flaunting their victorious possession of the means to defeat the (Norman) French. The longbow won the English the battle. The Peace sign is then a reversal of this aggressive crowing. So, the fact that the fingers concerned are a physical referent of the aggression and its retraction does make the sign less arbitrary than the word ‘Peace.’ But there is nothing inherently peaceful about two reversed fingers held up.

[46 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Signs, Sounds and Meaning
Saussure defines Language as a system of signs. Noises count as language only when they serve to express or communicate ideas; otherwise they are just noise. In order to study language, we must begin with the nature of the sign itself. The sign is a central fact of language. 

There is no natural link between the signifier and the signified. We said one exception was the semi-connection of stylised drawing in the ideograms of Chinese. (If I asked you to look at this screen in Chinese, I would use a stylised drawing of a hand over an eye to make the Chinese ‘word’ Look.) 

Another, common device in many languages, is onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia operates as a constraint on the arbitrariness of the system. Strength sounds strong. Feeble and weak sound feeble and weak. Piston, growl, grunt, pluck, splash all have some non-arbitrary content. But many other words don’t. Football? Love? Homework?

Keep It Real, Keep It Brief?

And what about sentences, paragraphs? Whole texts? Is the simple sentence “I dig this earth” somehow more realistic (ie less arbitrary) than the complex and metaphorical one “Imagine the clouds dripping; put a hole in your garden to keep them in”? (Yoko Ono). There is no reason in reality why the longer sentence means something more complicated just because it’s longer. Neither of these structures actually reflect reality or the world “I think, therefore I am” is incredibly profound but quite a simple structure.

[47 scrollable explanation text]
[D] An Elaborate System Of Codes (Jean Duffy)
A novel is felt to be more realistic than a poem because it is written in prose sentences rather than verse and this is felt to be closer to the way we actually think. But unless you mean the last chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce (which is without any punctuation in an attempt to really imitate the reality of ‘streaming’ consciousness) the highly organised prose texts of novels are a very stylised version of the messy and rambling and colourful ways people actually speak – as any transcript will show. And as to how we think, whether we think in prose or in pictures or in chemical bursts or a mixture of these and many others - remains undecided: a debate for philosophers, psycholinguistics, psychiatrists, and the rest. 

Indeed, you could argue that a film is much closer to ‘reality’ than the written text of a novel, especially one following the conventions of ‘realism’. After all, a kind of moving naturalistic photograph is how we really see and hear reality isn’t it? But even the ‘realism’ of a soap opera is as highly constructed into its own conventions – from storyboard and script through framing, composition, sequencing to editing and production – as the most idealist mediaeval romance poem Like all language, it is mediation – not reflection - of reality.

[48 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 14
Look back at Saussure’s theory of signifiers and signified. Think about the ways in which Saussure’s theory complicates the relationship between language and reality. Then go back to the original Jane Eyre text (see beginning Part A). 
1.     Present the story in a different system of codes – eg draw it as one portrait – lots of simultaneous narrative happening in one frame in the manner of painting – and 
2.     storyboard it as for a film, with captions, diegetic and non-diegetic sound and dialogue. 

Neither of these is any more or less a reality than the original novel. The novel, the portrait and the film are all equally a system of signs. A way of conveying a story.

[49 scrollable explanation text]
[C] Language and Politics]

[D] Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers

One of the greatest uses – and abuses – of language is in the service of politics. Modern political writing really began with the English Civil War in the Seventeenth Century, during which thousands of pamphlets were written, published - and fought over - as the country debated the fundamentals of Government in a consciously new age.

 For 11 years, the country did without a royal for the only time in its history. Oliver Cromwell became Protector of the Commonwealth, the poet Milton wrote pamphlets on divorce and censorship. 

There was more extensive political debate and more enduring controversy and consideration from all sections of society in this period than at any time before or since. One very advanced democrat named Winstanley and his group of True Levellers (or Diggers) argued against all private property. The Diggers put their spades where their words were too, occupying and cultivating some waste land in Walton on Thames on 1 April 1649 and writing a manifesto that recommended that such diggers’ colonies be set up throughout the country. Local landholders objected. However, Winstanley’s manifesto argued that the Earth was “a common treasury … to whole mankind” and that all social rank and property went against God. 

[50Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 15

1. “The work we are going about is this, To dig up Georges Hill and the waste Ground thereabouts, and to Sow Corn, and to eat our bread together by the sweat of our brows. 2. And the First Reason is this, That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. 3. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation; so that our Maker may be glorified in the work of his own hands, and that every one may see, he is no respecter of Persons, but equally loves his whole Creation, and hates nothing but the Serpent, which is Covetousness, branching forth into selfish Imagination, Pride, Envie, Hypocrisie, Uncleanness; all seeking the ease and honor of flesh, and fighting against the Spirit Reason that made the Creation; for that is the Corruption, the Curse, the Devil, the Father of Lies; Death and Bondage that Serpent and Dragon that the Creation is to be delivered from….
[from The True Levellers Standard Advanced Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers, (1649).

Read the extract from Winstanley’s manifesto.  For convenience, the sentences have been numbered.

Look closely at the three sentences. How does Winstanley structure the text to get his points across? Then read the Commentary. 

[pop-up commentary]
Here are some structural notes on the three sentences:
1.     “The work we are going to do is this…” is followed by a list of three actions. 
2.     The second sentence then lists three reasons or justifications for these actions. But the actions and the reasons are closer than usual. The actual digging and the metaphorical “laying of foundations” are all but interchangeable.
3.     The very long third sentence lists a mixture of human actions (work) human political philosophy – a literal communism - and divine manifestation. God is made manifest by this reasoned (collective) work. “not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation; so that our Maker may be glorified in the work of his own hands.

[51 Interactive activity]
Interactive activity 7 [free text]
[protected rubric]
In a modern political manifesto, Winstanley would probably use bullet points for his direct and practical points rather than conjoin clauses and subordinate them into long sentences.  Rewrite his manifesto concisely in the boxes as follows;

[scrollable text]
[3 free text boxes to each to allow for up to 80 characters]
Our actions: we will
Our reasons: we believe
How our actions and beliefs will create a new Eden on earth.

[52 scrollable explanation text]

[D] Language of dissent
Winstanley was not just radical in his actions and beliefs. His language was completely new. You will notice how the rhythm and clarity of his clauses echoes the factual directness of the actions described. He writes as he digs. We are under no illusions about what he is going to do. There is no obscurity or ambiguity or evasion. And each clause is like another thrust of the spade in the service of the sentence. The sentence is about literally and physically remaking England as a new Eden. 

The language is also very religious. But it is not the otherworldly religiousness of the Middle Ages, or of the King (Charles I) whom the Roundhead Armies had deposed. It is the this-worldy, practical English that grew out of the Protestant tradition of Dissent. This began with the translation of Holy Scripture into the vernacular languages of Europe (with a fair number of Protestant martyrs burned at the stake in the process). It ended with the Restoration in 1660 but has continued through such idealists as Blake and Tom Paine as a Radical critique of society ever since. 

[53 scrollable explanation text]
[C] George Orwell on political language 
George Orwell (1903-1950) was a political journalist, essayist and novelist writing 400 years after Winstanley. Like Winstanley, he is famous for his plain writing and practical radicalism. He was born in India and educated at Eton. He fought against the Fascists in Spain in the Spanish Civil War, wrote for and for a while edited the Labour newspaper Tribune and was a member of the Independent Labour Party. Nevertheless, he was a lifelong scourge of Soviet communism and his novel Animal Farm attacks the way the Russian revolution betrayed the Russian people. Orwell was prepared to write and publish this at a time when Britain was still a war ally with the Soviet Union and this is more than the publishers Faber and Faber were prepared to do.  Orwell is best known for 1984 (the origin of the popular concepts Room 101 and Big Brother) and for the language Newspeak described in it. But his essays, notably Politics and The English Language (1947), are a much better analysis of Language. He describes the way the evasiveness of politicians has actually created a language of its own. 

“The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were to long words and exhausted idioms, like cuttlefish squirting out ink.” 

[54 Interactive activity + pop-up model answer]
Interactive activity 8
[protected rubric]
Politicians are always being accused of dishonesty and evasion. Let’s not be too hard on them. Click on the answer you would give to each of the 3 questions below. 

Then click on the Commentary that follows.

[scrollable text]
1          Give us a clear Yes or No on this please, Prime Minister. Do you and your family use private healthcare/private schooling
[choices for drop-down menu]
  • Yes
  • No
  • Wait a minute, that is not an issue for public debate and whatever the decision it is an issue for our family alone.

2          The journalist, John Humphrys, who famously attacks politicians and demands      honest clarity was recently asked the following. Which do you think he said? Which would you say in his place?
[choices for drop-down menu]
Have you ever told a Lie in public, Mr Humphrys. Yes or No
  • Yes
  • No
  • Yes, but…
  • Not intentionally, not about anything important, No.

3          Now let’s consider an actual policy question put to the Prime Minister some          time after the Iraq war. Pick the answer you think he gave:

            Mr Blair, was the decision to go to war with Iraq a mistake?
[choices for drop-down menu]
  • Yes
  • No
  • The war was a necessary evil.
  • I will be judged by God on my decision.

[pop-up model answer] 
2          Humphrys gave the third answer.
3          Blair actually said ‘Yes’. However, he said he was agreeing that the war    decision was perceived by the public as a mistake rather than that it actually was. Although much more plausible (especially when you watch the interview      again), this was naturally not how it was reported in the media. Blair then          really did say he would be judged on his decision by God. After more media          uproar, a Government aide ‘spun’ this as follows: “Mr Blair is not doing that    awful God, guns and gays thing as they do in America, he’s just being honest.       “Painfully honest.” Painful indeed. Perhaps this is why politicians so often        evade giving clear answers!?

[55 scrollable explanation text]
For Orwell, political language is a kind of sedative for reality. By political language, he means the language of political commentators, authors, journalists, and those who are justifying the acts of politicians as much as the language of manifestoes and of the politicians themselves. 
  • For example, at the end of the Second World War, when the Soviet Union in particular was repatriating people who wanted to stay in the West, pacification of frontiers, meant killing lots of people in order to keep them the right side of the border. Or liquidation meant secret murder of your enemies. Orwell maintained this language was without meaning or precision. 

  • A modern equivalent might be the phrase, War on Terror. What does it mean? What does President Bush mean by it?
President Bush seems to mean means ‘shock and awe’ (enormous military and aerial bombardment) of Afghanistan and Iraq.  ‘Terror’ denotes the terrorists who are harboured there. But it is a term that disguises the enormous number of real victims who die in these places every day. ‘Terror’ disguises under a very vague heading (for example) the Arab boy pictured on the front of many newspapers with both legs and armed amputated, among many other daily horrors of war. 

[56 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 16
[better to make this text active and then follow with commentary?]
Orwell quotes a paragraph from the Bible and compares it with a possible equivalent of his own day (1946).
Identify the features of the second extract that create the nonsensical effect.
Compare your ideas with the Commentary which follows.

“I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

1946 equivalent
“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

[pop-up model answer]
The whole tendency of modern prose, says Orwell, is away from concreteness. He says that the Bible passage contains 49 words words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The modern translation contains 38 words of 90 syllables: 18 of its words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images and only one phrase (time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English…. 

[57 scrollable explanation text]
Orwell argues that the decadence of modern language is the result of corruption of thought.   We think dishonestly and sloppily and our language therefore is dishonest and sloppy. “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption – instead of a justifiable assumption if that’s what you mean – leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we would do well to bear in mind, (and we could add to Orwell’s examples almost anything that gets written on school reports that are avoiding saying something clear and uncomfortable) are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow.” 

In 1984, Orwell describes a Government controlled language called Newspeak. All the grammatical irregularities, energy and clear diction of English is smoothed away. The words, tenses and verb constructions are altered so that it becomes impossible to think clearly. Or certainly to think in a way critical of the Government.  Language as a personal grip on internal and external reality in tension with – and against - a common system is replaced by language as a totalitarian thought control. Language is limited and mass-produced. So is thought. 

[58 Interactive activity]
Interactive activity 9 [free text]
[protected rubric]
Imagine you get a school report that reads as follows. Then answer the questions beneath it.

(Your name) is usually a not unpromising pupil though s/he exhibits an occasional tendency in class situations to be not completely focused on the task in hand. I’m not indeed sure whether it is not true to say that if her/his effort continues to be somewhat less than commensurate with her/his innate capacity then a possible failure in competitive examinations might inevitably accrue, especially as a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account. Provided she answers all the right questions in the examination correctly and at a very high standard, she will do well. 

[scrollable text]
1          Why is the teacher being so cagey?
2          What does it say to you?
3          What would it say to your parents?
4          The report is 98 words long. Click in the box below and rewrite the report in         40 words. State the pointsconcisely and clearly cutting out all unnecessary     evasion and verbiage.

[free text box to accommodate up to 400 characters.]

[59 static explanation text]

[D] A criticism of Orwellian Linguistics

Orwell analysed language as part of his analysis of society and the individual mind. He was more a political commentator than a linguist but his work on language influenced Critical Linguistics in the 1970s. He gave linguistics a genuine political edge. His essays and novels contain informal but brilliant studies in sociolinguistics. He made the connection made between language, society and the mind that is familiar in modern socio- and psycho-linguistics. But it is his popular influence, especially through 1984 and Animal Farm, that has been most powerful. Orwell has helped to make us all very suspicious of politicians seeking to control our thoughts


[60 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 17

Is it a good thing that Orwell’s work has made people suspicious of the language of politics? Here is D.S.Savage’s attack on Orwell in “From Orwell to Naipaul” ed Boris Ford (1983).


Discuss whether Savage has a point, then compare you views with the Commentary below.


·      Orwell was a lifelong socialist. But he had “a much oversimplified view of the nature of man and of social institutions…remained always at an infra-personal level of development… truth for Orwell meant only fidelity to fact ”


[pop-up commentary]                               

Orwell practised what he preached. A lifelong democratic socialist, he volunteered to fight Franco’s Fascists, glad to be “among Anarchists and Poum People, rather than among the Stalinists of the International Brigade” who also fought Franco.  

Significantly, Orwell’s essay Looking Back on the Spanish War begins “First of all the physical memories, the sounds, the smells and the surfaces of things...” It is as if Orwell finds it hard to trust politics at all and adheres doggedly to what is in front of his nose -  to hold on to something solid in a world of propaganda and treacherous ideas. 

He was an intellectual, suspicious of intellectualism. He spent years avoiding intellectual settings in favour of ‘real’ working class ones, as evidenced in his book “Down and Out In Paris and London”. Savage in fact suggests Orwell never matured beyond the physical realities of (an unhappy, deprived, middle class boarding school) boyhood. 

What implications might this have for Orwell’s views on keeping language clear and concrete? 



[61 scrollable explanation text]

[C] Karl Marx

Karl Marx was not a linguist. He was a political philosopher, especially interested in economics. But, like Orwell, his comments on language form part of his analysis of society. This is especially true in such early works as The German Ideology (1845) and The Holy Family (1845).  He therefore has a contribution to make in the field of socio-linguistics. And his contribution is a profound one.

Marx insists that language derives from the ‘real’ material world and man’s relationship to it. Like consciousness itself, it is a practical thing. Ideas come from material reality and are a social product. Idealist philosophers before Marx all believed that the idea comes first. But Marx insists that it would be impossible for a human tribe to have a religion, for example, until its society had progressed to the point where the tribe could afford the luxury of at least one person not having to do physical work of survival. Then, and only then, could the tribe have a priest. Until then, such an idea would have been as impossible as it is to a sheep!  

[62 scrollable explanation text]
[D] heading needed New Society, New Language
By the same token, the idea of a certain kind of society could only begin when there was the social possibility and conditions for it to happen. For instance, the idea of socialism could only occur once you had massive heavy industry and a mass population of workers who carry it out in practice. At this point socialism becomes a challenge to the ruling ideas of the time, which are always those of the ruling class. In our time, the ruling values are those of capitalism - private property, individual freedom (rather than the collective), enterprise etc. 

Our language will be the practical expression of whatever social relationships exist. Or whatever social relationships potentially can exist, in challenge to the ruling ones. The word ‘comrade’ was used by Marxists in the nineteenth century to embody the socialist beliefs they were putting forward as an alternative to capitalism. The Bolsheviks carried this term through into the new society they established in the 1917 revolution. (Whether Comrade Stalin, or the oxymoronic Comrade Napoleon as Orwell called him in Animal Farm, is quite what Marx had in mind is another matter!) 

[63 scrollable explanation text] 
[D] An earlier revolution
The peasants of the Peasants revolt in 1381 did not have such a word as comrade. (They just knew they didn’t want to be serfs.) They couldn’t have a word for an idea they didn’t have. And they didn’t have the idea because the socialist relationship ‘comrade’ describes could not exist then, even potentially. No Peasants’ revolt could succeed for long when it had no alternative society to put in its place. There was an alternative to the oligarchy (the Crown led aristocracy) but it wasn’t socialism. It was capitalism. But even the conditions for capitalism, a society based on the wealth of capital (in the towns) rather than land (in the country) was in very early stages. It would only begin to show itself in real political change during the English Civil War in the 1640s.  

[64 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Ownership and the apostrophe
So much for ‘comrade.’ A noun. What about the way social relationships are shown in the grammar? Marx’s definitions of society seem to be based on ownership. And he says language is practical consciousness. If he’s right, the grammar of the Middle Ages might have a different way of representing possession. Let us see.

In the Middle Ages, if John owned a book, the language would show it thus:

  • John his book. 

(Modern English abbreviates this to John’s book. There is therefore some logic in the way English uses the same marker ’ – to show omission as well as possession. John’s book is in fact also an apostophe of omission, short for John his book.). What if the owner were Anne? Anne her book? No

  • Anne his book.

There is no female equivalent because women did not own property. In fact, women were property! And needed careful watching too. They lacked man’s capacity for reason and self-control, or so the monks told us. And when women started to own property, later, the possession was shown thus. Possession remained a masculine attribute. 

[65 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Changes in ownership
If Marx is correct, language will reveal tensions in the society  it serves. In mediaeval England, a society based on male ownership, possession was shown by his. That example at least seems to prove Marx’s case.  

Property ownership is very different now from in mediaeval times. The Crown, the Church and the Aristocracy owned enormous portions of the national landscape. They also ‘owned’ in various degrees the labour, service and houses of the peasants. Each social class owed ‘fealty’ to the one above. 

Ownership in our society is much different now. “The poor” is no longer a mass class. Men don’t own their wives. No-one owns serfs. And the chief owners are no longer Crown, Church and Lord. Many people own their own homes. We are called a ‘disposable’ society, meaning we own lots of things that we can all afford to replace regularl. A casual glance in the school lost property store will show you how many things are simply unclaimed. It is easier to buy new ones. Capitalism needs such constant buying and selling to keep going. So property ownership per se is still very much the basis of our property-owning capitalist society.  

[66 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Developments in the language of possession
What of the language of possession? The his has been dropped and ’s substituted  (when did this happen?] because it’s easier to say it like that – and we write it down accordingly. Perhaps. But John his book communicates a different relationship to ownership than John’s book. The person John is emphasised more than and independent of the object he owns. It is a relationship of thing and person that neither defines nor limits the other. The ownership marker his is not actually part of John.
 John’s book changes both sides of the relationship, limiting the book and – if you like- inconveniencing John. And even if it is easier to say John’s than John his, the rules that govern the written apostrophe of possession is anything but easy. You could even have gendered it to suit – Anne her book. It’s not because it’s easier. It’s harder. But to say John his book just sounds wrong now. Why?
Has the marker of possession – his – changed because society and property ownership has changed? Well, it has become ’s instead of his and that ’s has become attached to the owner rather than independent of him. It might be possible to make a Marxist argument about this. John’s book certainly represents a different consciousness than John his book

[67 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 18

Make a list of ten things you own. These can include physical parts of you – eyes, hands - but should also include inanimate things. Try to include some things that existed in mediaeval times as well as in modern times. 
1          Then write out the list using your name and the mediaeval marker of          possession – ‘his’, eg Anne his face.) 
2          Next write using the modern apostrophe method. (Anne’s face). 
3          Compare the two lists. Analyse the differences suggested about the two      societies. Concentrate on how the language shows this. (If you listed objects   that didn’t exist in mediaeval times, how does this affect your analysis?). 

Click on the Commentary to reveal a Marxist reading.

[pop-up commentary]

Though the modern version is quicker ‘John’ appears more cluttered by what he owns. It is attached to him. It changes him. The property relations - of mediaeval society and of capitalism - change people’s ways of thinking and being. Capitalism blurs the distinction between living beings and objects. People turn into things. (This was called reification.) The change in the apostrophe could be an indication of this. After all, punctuation (and spelling) in its modern form really only began with printing, in the sixteenth century. And printing presses are an early form of the mechanisation that led to capitalism. 

These are the sort of questions you can ask and answer when you apply sociolinguistic theories of language, like those of Marx and Orwell, to texts. 

A criticism of this approach. George Bernard Shaw just thought we were better off without the apostrophe anyway. His plays are still printed without them and make perfect sense. Shaw considered the apostrophe to be outdated in 1900. Certainly, generations of modern schoolchildren who can’t use it properly would agree!

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[C] Language and consciousness

Marx insists that language is created socially. It exists only because of the need to communicate “with other men”.

‘Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men. Where there exists a relationship, it exists for me: the animal does not enter into “relations” with anything, it does not enter into any relation at all. For the animal, its relation to others does not exist as a relation. Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all.’ (from The German Ideology, 1848)

[69 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 19

Discuss whether the human species, with its attainment of language, is any more truly human than a dumb beast? Or is it just a talking animal?


This extract from the Bible might be taken as a critique of Marx’s argument:


“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (caritas, selfless love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” 

(St Paul, I Corinthians 13, i)”


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Activity 20

Read this quote from Marx. Does his argument allow for any private, individual language?

Click on the Commentary to compare your views.


“Herr Edgar changes love into a “cruel goddess” by changing man who loves, the love of man, into a man of love; by making “love” a being apart, separate from man and as such independent. By this simple process, by changing the predicate into the subject, all the attributes and manifestations of human nature can be Critically transformed into their negation and into alienations of human nature.. by making man the external object of the emotion of his (own) soul...” (from The Holy Family)


[pop-up commentary]

Is Marx right? A man loves. He is the agent of this emotion. When a man says, Love is a cruel goddess, is he reallymaking himself the victim – or object - of his own agency? The subject of the verb becomes its object. Or is there something uncontrollable – even external - about the verb love that is beyond subject-verb-object grammar. I love you? If the verb is ‘love’, is the ‘I’ really the agent of this sentence? Or is it the beloved? Or something that happens between the two of them? 


Marx analysed religion in the same way. He said that God is all the ‘divine’ qualities within the human being. But that the subject becomes the worshipped object that then rules the subject. Similarly, ‘heaven’ is the human paradise we could realise on earth. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (Luke 17:21) means, for Marx, a human creation, a human value. We allow it to be ‘alienated’ from us by rulers who promise it to us after death if we’re good. He argued that themodern world and our economic development could build a heaven on earth now for everybody.  It is only denied us by our rulers and by our own ‘alienated’ thinking. 


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[C] Language, Thought and Reality

Beginning with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Western Thought assumed for 2550 years that reason was a universal, shared by all thinking men. Words were merely a neutral medium with which to express reason. Any thought could thus be translated from one language to another, with no loss of meaning. Twentieth Century Linguistics has challenged this fundamental belief. 

It has gone further. Language can actually change the world around us by changing the way we perceive it.  
How is this possible?  It’s there, isn’t it? The child sees a cat. We point at it and say KAT. The child points at it and says KA. We laugh and say, That’s right. KA! Then we point again and say KAT. In France, we would point and say CHAT; in West Wales CATH, in Germany KATZ and so on. But it’s still a cat. (Perhaps we would accept that in some places in the world, our tone might imply a different meaning – we could mean PEST, or DINNER – when we say the national word for CAT, but it’s still a cat. Isn’t it?)
Well, not quite. English has very few words for snow. Snow, sleet, sludge maybe. But the word ‘snow’ just about covers it. A stretch of the British rail network closed a few winters ago. The excuse was that it was ‘the wrong kind of snow’. Everyone laughed. But in a way the joke was on the English language, not on the rail network. Because there is no word to identify this particular kind of snow, the company had to invent a awkward and negative noun-phrase (‘the wrong kind of snow’) to fill the gap. But the fact was, here was a different reality- this particular snow – and the network was not set up to deal with it.
[72 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 21
1               Describe the snow you might see in a classic Christmas movie scene. (The film version of Bridget Jones’s Diary or Love Actually are good examples.) Try to convey the colour, coverage, etc. Use nouns and verbs rather than adjectives if you can. 
2               Now describe any snow that has actually fallen in recent winters. Again try to use nouns and verbs more than adjectives.
3               Make up some new nouns for snow, based on your descriptions above. Use them in a description of a realistic – rather than a Hollywood – snowfall.
Now read the Commentary on snow language.
[pop-up commentary]
The Inuits have about forty nouns for snow. Why? Because they have a lot more of it than we do and their culture needs to distinguish between the light dusting that the end of summer and the various grades of downpour that might lead their communities to extinction. Some of these words distinguish the colour of the snow – from a grey tinge through to albino white.
Should this worry us? We have a limited vocabulary for snow because it bothers us so rarely. (English on the whole has an unusually wide vocabulary – wider than the German and French it combines [??] for instance. But on ‘snow’ we are poor.) This limits our thought processes on snow. Other nations find our inability to cope with snow emergencies laughable. 
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[D] Language of climate and culture
[I have rearranged this screen somewhat so that it starts with the explanation. OK]
Look at any roofscape in any British town and you will see a town built for rain. We are beginning to add conservatories, sun roofs, solar panels and other sub-Mediterranean features as lifestyle and climate changes. But on the whole we are still built for the traditional wet British winter. A sunny day is still a novelty not to be banked on, nor to be ready for. If you look at a similar roofscape in North Africa, you will see houses built for and against - sun. Sun is seen as the threat there, just as rain is here. They think our attitude to the sun is mad. However, every year in North Africa there is torrential rain. Many roofs are destroyed and much infrastructure is damaged. 
[74 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 22
Rain, drizzle, mizzle, inundation, pelting down, tipping down raining cats and dogs.. How many words does English have for rain? Continue that list. How does this range of words help us deal with the problems – and benefits – that rain brings? Do particularly rainy regions – the west of England and Scotland, Ireland, Cardiff, Manchester – have any local words for rain over and above the national quota?
[pop-up commentary]
Perhaps if a Tunisian could borrow some of our words – and clauses – for rain, and we could borrow some of theirs for sun, we each might deal with ‘reality’ better. In fact, we might see a different reality. 
The French structure Il pleut expresses this thought process differently from English. Literally. “It rains.” We would say “It’s raining.” The French is a simple action, subject-verb. The English is present continuous, subject-verb-gerund. Is this a different structuring of the thought– or even perception – of rainfall? Similarly, Il fait beau – ‘It makes beautiful’ - is different from our ‘It's sunny’. 
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[D] European perceptions
Further reflections of culture through language can be seen in other phrases from European languages - eating al fresco(the Italian) sounds altogether better than eating ‘outside’. Why isn’t there an English equivalent for la dolce vita? The good life – the usual translation- conjures up a Richard Briers tv programme rather than the divine sweetness of an Italian lifestyle. 
Sang froid (Literally blood cold - French puts adjectives after nouns) is a significant contrast to the English. Cold bloodsounds more like murder than poise) 
Under the Nazis, the German language changed. Warlike words – like blitzkrieg – increased. Words derived from the liberal philosophy for which Germany was famous receded. Yiddish – a brilliant, funny hybrid of Hebrew and German – along with the unique Jewish-German experience and worldview it expressed in the once most Jewish-friendly nation in Europe- went underground.  The German word for Poland disappeared, along with Poland. 
These changes in language reflected the change in thought and reality. English speakers in Wales unconsciously use Welsh diction or grammar in translation to express life in the Welsh valleys. It’s potatoes I’m after, Gwen. These are English words in a Welsh syntax. It constructs a different order of looking at things. This extraordinary connection between language, thought and reality is what interested Whorf.

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[C] Benjamin Lee Whorf

Whorf was an American linguist. He was born in Massachusetts in 1897. His degree was in Chemical engineering. His eventual lectureship was in Anthropology and he worked as an investigator for a fire insurance company. He studied linguistics at Yale University during the 1930s but never took it up as a profession. Throughout his life he gave accessible public talks on the subject as well as his University lectures. (He was a captivating speaker). 

His influential work on the way language affects thought seems to have come out of his practical experience with the wording of insurance reports. He was also interested in the way the original Hebrew of the Book of Genesis shapes its description of Creation. Whorf’s papers on language were written between 1925 and 1940. He died aged 44 in 1941. [

Whorf’s most famous work was on the language of the Hopi (Native American) Indians of North East Arizona. Two of his short lectures on the subject are summarised are explored in the next activities,
[Resource: PDF document version of this paper by Whorf]
“The Punctual and Segmentative Aspects of Verbs in Hopi” (1936)
Hopi verbs and verb constructions are indifferent to time and space. Completed action is not distinguished from incomplete action. Hopi has three tenses:
      factual or present-past; 
      generalised or usitative. 
It has a very rich variety of present tense verb forms. Action is stretched out in one static dimension, indifferent of space and/or time. The verbs and verb constructions are incredibly rich and various about the action itself. One way this variety is achieved by the addition of an extensive range of verb particles to one common stem. For instance, stems ending in ya as below-
Wa’ya – makes a waving shake
Na’ya- makes a sway from one side to the other
Pi’ya – makes a flap like a pair of wings
Ta’ya- makes a racking shake
No’ya – makes a circuit (axial turning combined with advance in an arc)
Ri-ya – makes a quick spin.
Here, Hopi is working as physics does, tracing various vibrations. Hopi language is actually better, says Whorf, at expressing scientific processes than English. This is because “the contrast of particle and field of vibrations is more fundamental in the world of nature than such contrasts of space and time, or past, present, and future, which are the sort of contrasts that our own language imposes upon us.” The Hopi language forces its speakers to notice and observe vibratory phenomena, to name and classify them – as a scientist does. [end of PDF]
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Activity 23
Click on Resources and read the summary of Whorf paper on verbs in the Hopi language.
1 Spin a coin and watch it in motion until absolutely still. Write a description of this process, concentrating on verbs and verb constructions. 
2 Then describe the same process using the Hopi verb constructions in the summary. Put the translations in brackets (For example The coin w’ya (makes a waving shake) and the ta’ya (makes a racking shake) and so on. 
If Whorf is right, the Hopi language will get you much closer to the actual movements that occur than English verbs can. 
[Resource: PDF document version of this paper by Whorf]
Living In the Present: “An American Indian Model of the Universe” (written 1936? published 1950)
Whorf explains that Hopi has no sense of Time. No sense, that is, of “a smooth flowing continuum in which everything in the universe proceeds at an equal rate, out of a future, though a present, into a past.” Indeed, the Hopi language contains no words or grammatical constructions that refer directly to what we call “Time” at all. It refers only to specific dynamic processes. It does not even separate Time from Space. In Hopi, Time does not exist.
We take our divisions of Time and Space for granted, as obvious. But not all descriptions of the universe contain our familiar contrasts of time and space, says Whorf. (The physicist Isaac Newton was the first to describe what we call Time and Space. Did even we have the same sense of time and space before Newton? Did Shakespeare think about history in the same way we do, for instance?) And there are modern alternatives to Newton. Einstein’s theory of relativity is a mathematical alternative to our (supposedly intuitive and accurate) view of time and space. The Hopi’s is a nonmathematical and linguistic one.
The Hopi language and culture conceals a Metaphysics, says Whorf, that might be called mystical. But so might our version. Our version is a one dimensional perpetually flowing time and an infinite three dimensional space. Instead of this, the Hopi universe has the (Objective) Manifested and the (Subjective) Manifesting.
The Hopi Objective/Manifested comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses, everything past and present in existence. But it excludes everything that we would call the future. 
The Hopi Subjective Manifesting has all that we would call the future. But not merely this. It also contains everything that appears in the mind (or they would prefer to say, the Heart). Not just the heart of man, but of animals, plants, and things. And ultimately, magically and awesomely (though thy wouldn’t name it like this) the heart of the Cosmos itself. It is the realm of expectancy, though already with us in vital and mental form. 
The Hopi will say these entities ‘will come’ or that they – the Hopi – will come to them. But rather than ‘come’, with its sense of motion, the Hopi word pew’i means ‘happens to here’ or angqo ‘happens from it’ or pitu, (pl. oki) ‘arrived’. Rather than verbs with tense, the verbs have Expective or Inceptive forms. The subjective realm is the realm of Hope or Hoping. The (tenseless) verb tunatya – the action of hoping, it hopes, it hoped for, it thinks or is thought of with hope – is an example of how most of the metaphysical words in Hopi are verbs, not nouns like ours. The action of hoping is seen by them alike in the growing of plants, the forming of clouds, their condensation in rain, the careful planning of agriculture and in all human hoping, wishing, striving and taking thought.  The inceptive form of the verb tunatya means – not begins to hope – but comes true, being hoped forWhere our language makes Nature (or God or Love) a noun and objective, for the Hopi it is a verb, always passing from the subjective into the objective.
For the Hopi, events occurring in a different village occur in a different time – the time it would take to go there. Events at a distance can only be known objectively when they are past. Objective events can only be known – and become subjective – ‘here’ later.
·      “Hopi with its preferences for verbs, as contrasted to our own liking for nouns, perpetually turns our propositions about things into propositions about events,” says Whorf. There is also an all-encircling end and beginning of things where it might be said that existence, itself, swallows up the objective and the subjective. .. The Hopi realise and even express in their grammar that the things told in myths and stories do not have the same kind of reality or validity as things of the present day, the things of practical concern.”
[end of PDF]
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Interactive activity 10 [free text]
[protected rubric]
Click on Resources and read the summary of Whorf paper on how the Hopi language reflects how they live in the present.

1          Here are three descriptions of how the Universe began. Imagine you are a Hopi Indian. Which description of the ‘beginning ‘of the Universe would           come closest to yours? Why?
2          Look at the three Beginnings again. Now type in ‘Hopi’-like alternatives to the      verbs in italics. Remember that your verb constructions will divide between    Objective Manifested and Subjective Manifesting. 
3          Now look at the nouns in bold. For a Hopi Indian these would be verbs. Type        in a suitable verb in each case. 
[scrollable text]
In the beginning God created the heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and voice. And darkness moved on the face of the deep.
At First-In-Principle, he brought forth in principle, He- the Gods, the Being of Beings the selfsameness of heavens, and the selfsameness of earth.
At the beginning of all things Mother earth emerged from Chaos and bore her son Uranus as she slept. Gazing downfondly at her from the mountains, he showered fertile rain upon her secret clefts, and she bore grass, flowers and trees, with the beasts and birds proper to each
[Now devise a ‘Creation Myth’ of your own?...]
[pop up commentary]
You probably chose the second. This is because the verb construction brought forth in principle, though still Time-based, seems less Time-based action than the other words. It is less fixed. The modifier “in principle” is attached both to the noun ‘he’ and the verb ‘brought forth.’ This creates a mood for the verb that doesn’t sound quite like a straightforward past tense. The ‘brought forth’ and the ‘he’ occur ‘in principle’, in a sort of time and space of their own. 
However, At First-In-Principle, he brought forth in principle is still an event. It happened, in the past. It describes the beginning -or creation- of the Universe as an event that happened in time. In this sense, it is not radically different from the time-universe of the other two ‘creations’.
But if the beginning the universe is an event in time, what was happening before? How can a one-dimensional perpetually flowing time and an infinite three dimensional space actually have a beginning? The novelist George Eliot wrote “Men can do nothing without the make believe of a beginning. Christianity, Judaism and Greek Mythology all provide one. They have texts that begin with a Beginning like this. This suits a ‘Western’ outlook. The more ‘Eastern’ mystical books of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam don’t - The Koran begins with a prayer to Allah. (This may be because in these religions, there is no ‘beginning’. There is no beginning that can be described as an event in time, anyway.)
Hopi has no Beginning event. The Hopi alternative to a ‘Beginning’ – if there is one - would more likely be a continuousness like tunatya pew’I-‘ the action of hoping happens to here’. A combination of subjective and objective, present and past.
Note: the three descriptions of the Beginning are (1) An English translation of the opening words of the Jewish Bible, as adopted and used by Christians. (2) A transliteration of the same original Hebrew words of the Jewish Bible. (3) The Olympian Myth from Roberts Graves “The Greek Myths”. 
The Greek Myth assumes that the Creator is female, not male as in the Bible. Look at the verbs again. Are her actions any different in character from the male creator? Is the Beginning therefore any less assertive/ definite/fixed in time?
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[C] Noam Chomsky and Generative Grammar
Noam Chomsky was an American Linguist. His theory of Transformational (or Generative) Grammar was central to the development of Language Theory in the mid to late twentieth century. It is considered to be one of the most significant contributions to the field made in the 20th Century. Between 1980 and 1992, he was cited as a source more than any other living scholar. He also challenged the behaviourist approach to the study of mind and language dominant in the 1950s. Unlike functional linguistics, analysis occurs into the internal structure of the language itself – almost like a mathematical analysis – rather than analysing an utterance in terms of functions like instrumental, interactional, personal, etc.
From the Wikipedia entry for ‘Generative Grammar’ 
“Generative grammar should be distinguished from traditional grammar, which is often strongly prescriptiverather than purely descriptive, is not mathematically explicit, and has historically investigated a relatively narrow set of syntactic phenomena. In the "school of linguistics" sense it should be distinguished from other linguistically descriptive approaches to grammar, such as various functional theories.
In most cases, a generative grammar is capable of generating an infinite number of strings from a finite set of rules. These properties are desirable for a model of natural language, since human brains are of finite capacity, yet humans can generate and understand a very large number of distinct sentences. Some linguists go so far as to claim that the set of grammatical sentences of any natural language is indeed infinite.
A sentence is not merely a string of words, but rather a tree with subordinate and superordinate branches connected at nodes.
Essentially, the tree model works something like this example, in which S is a sentence, D is a determiner, N a noun, V a verb, NP a noun phrase and VP a verb phrase:
A picture containing object, clock

Description automatically generated
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[D] Implications of Chomsky’s Generative Grammar
It is worth exploring three implications of this theory for language and thought.
1.     Chomsky’s theory was understood to mean that everyone was born with a language blueprint in his or her brain. This blueprint meant that a speaker intuitively orders any utterance into layers of the pattern sketched above in order to understand what is being said. This would apply even if the sentence or sentences heard did not make much of the structure explicit. For example, if someone is yelling “Help!” the hearer instinctively supplies the missing noun phrase (You) and the missing part of the verb phrase (what traditional grammar would call the object, Me) and so make sense of the sentence. You Help Me. This is also how a child learns language, gradually accessing the blueprint in the brain from the vast number of (usually incomplete and often messy) sentences he/she hears. If it weren’t for this blueprint, ‘Chomsky’ argues, how can we produce sentences we haven’t ourselves heard? (This disputes the existing behaviourist model at the time – that we learned only by stimulus, from outside, adding nothing from ourselves.)

[81 Interactive activity with scrollable text] 
Interactive activity 11 [free text]

Analyse these two simple sentences using Chomsky’s Generative grammar.

1.     John is easy to please.
2.     John is eager to please.

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2.     Beyond the specific language blueprint in the brain, Chomsky was also understood to say all human beings have a Universal generative grammar blueprint, as in the sketch above. If a child is born in France and grows up hearing French, then the blueprint will accommodate and generate French noun phrases and verb phrases: the same child moved in infancy to Russia would simply develop the structure though Russian instead. This is where the theory comes into conflict with Whorf, of course, because if the child was instead born or moved to North Arizona and grew up with the Hopi tribe, the ‘universal’ noun phrase-verb phrase structure would according to Whorf be very different. (Modern developments out of Transformational Grammar, for example Dick Hudson’s Word Grammar, locate the generative unit in the single word itself, rather than the verb or noun phrase. The speaker/hearer makes all the necessary connections on the basis of the intuited links between the words. This would enable a greater flexibility and the possibility of some reconcilement between both Whorfian and Chomskian hypothoses).

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3.    Chomsky’s theory analyses sentences into deep structure and surface structure. The deep structure is the (universal) noun phrase plus verb phrase, and is generic and neutral. The surface structure is what you actually say/write/hear/read. In the study of the Language and Literature, it is the surface structure that is most interesting and carries most impact. But the deep structure is what enables us to decode it, however unexpectedly it may be shaped. And in the study of psychology, cognition, philosophy and theology it is perhaps the deep structure – the fixed relationship between a named thing (the noun phrase) and the event/action/process (the verb phrase) which is most interesting? It would mean that all of our experience of the world depends on the unstable tension between named states and active processes.

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[D] Nominalisation
One example of how this tension between named states and active processes shapes our language would be as follows. Aplane is moving and we are on it. This is a verb phrase. See someone with a gun. Verb phrase. Identify him as a foreigner, then as Arab, then – because of the gun and the action of waving it at us and shouting – as a terrorist. Three nominalizations. The sentences that start to form might be (I see) a terrorist on a flight. Or Our flight got hijacked by terrorists.] But this whole experience will end up as one noun. (Oddly made up of two numbers.) See below.

We identify ‘us’ then as American/British/white/ other Arabs as terrified as us/ allies.. Another nominalization. ‘We’. Speeding into building. Crashing. Verb phrases experienced by this ‘we’ and ‘they’. All sorts of actions following - screaming, dying, burning, praying, making last minute mobile phone calls to beloveds – verb phrases. 
For a few weeks afterwards, no-one knows what to call these events. They are unspeakable, unnameable. But they need a name. They start being called, ‘The events of September 11’ but this feels awkward, arch, even pompous. The events get called 9/11 and this sticks. All those verb phrases – all those happenings – have become a thing. A noun. Naming it gives us some kind of handle on it, emotionally, linguistically. 
(gloss: Nominalisation is the process of changing a verb or a clause into a noun or noun phrase. It is commonly used in academic writing, making the writing more concise and dense. For example:
’Fishing companies have been depleting the fish stocks’ becomes ‘The depletion of fish stocks...) 
of events, turning verbs into nouns. 

[85 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 24
[As it stands the above section is a bit long for one screen – but does it cost us 

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[D] Is Chomsky still useful?
It is useful to consider the way language divides thought/perception and experience into noun phrases and verb phrases as I hope the 9/11 example demonstrates. One unexpected use of Chomsky is that it can send you back to traditional grammar without the ‘prescriptive’ problem - as Fillmore did in his “The Case for Case” (see below). The poet WH Auden made his own case for case for when he pointed out how in German – unlike English - if you are an object you are represented by a different word (on the same stem) than when you are a subject: but that this reflects reality: as Auden puts it, “I am a different person when I am kicking than when I am kicked”) The gap between deep and surface structure can be very revealing. 
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[D] Revealing deep structure
Consider the sentence Private: Keep Out. The surface structure is three very abrupt words. 
The deep structure gives us two sentences, one embedded in the other- (This land is) private. (You) keep out. There is also an ‘understood’ but unstated link between them, the conjunction ‘So’ (or something like it). Recovering the deep structure then gives us a main sentence. This land is private. And a subordinate sentence. (So) you keep out.  This land is privateand (so) you in effect becomes the larger noun phrase of the verb phrase keep out in a new single sentence. All of which analyses for us that a person (You) is being conflated with some property (This land) into an overall new thing/ the nominalization, and deprived of right of entry. The person who owns the land may have every right to do so – it could be their garden – but the three word surface structure is doing a very good job of hiding the small print of the oppression of a person’s freedom in an aggressive statement. 

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Deep structure is free of all modality, all tense, all qualifications. For example, ‘f a bank manager sends you a very powerful letter saying, ‘I cannot pay cheques from an account in which there are no funds.’ His deep structure is. 
I pay cheques. There are funds. 
All the subordination of one sentence to the other, all the biting tone of the negatives, comes from the transformations into the surface [shouldn’t this read ‘deep’] structure. The transformations would be expressed as follows:
There are NEG funds. (SUB)       I NEG can pay cheques. 
The surface structure foregrounds the ‘I’ of the bank manager and his (powerful) inability to support your cheque – rather than foregrounding the absence of funds (as it might have done). So recovering the deep structure allows us to see certain social and interpersonal power relations being established through the transformations in the language. (We would have felt them anyway, but now we know why!)
[89 Interactive activity]
Interactive activity 12 [free text]
Try the recovering the deep structure in these two sentences:

·      Trespassers Will be Prosecuted. 
·      Don’t be frightened. The dog won’t bite you.

Type your new versions of the sentences in the boxes below. Then click on Commentary to reveal the model answers.

[Add two free text boxes with max 200 character capacity for students to add their deep structure versions of sentences above.]

[pop-up commentary]
The deep structure of the first example is:
You are Trespassers. You will be prosecuted. 
The first deep structure sentence becomes the noun phrase of the second, which is subordinated to it, and the risky rudeness of the accusation gets sublimated – with aristocratic sang froid - into a statement of fact. It becomes a prediction rather than an attempt to exert control.
The modality-free deep structure of the second example is:
(You) be frightened. The dog bites you. 
The transformations are: (You) NEG be frightened.  The dog NEG bite you.
You can foreground this further by expressing the original like this, as some dog owners – not always in words – actually do. “Don’t be frightened. The dog won’t bite your face and mangle your private parts in its vicious slavering jaws.” 
[90 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Hearing the positive 
As you delve into deep structure, it becomes clear how Chomsky’s method can provide some genuine sociolinguistic insights into the use of negations. If Chomsky is right, whenever we employ – or hear - a negation, we make sense of it first by recovering the positive first. So that a statement from your partner like, “I’m not seeing someone else, honestly” will always, at a deep structural level, suggest that they are. At some deep level you will hear the positive before the transformation makes it negative. 
There are obvious and useful links to deconstruction theory here. And perhaps most useful of all, recovering the positive – or the non-modalised – deep structure of any surface structure in Literature can be very fruitful. 
It is important to remember that it is the surface structure that carries most of the literary interest, however. You won’t get very far by simply recovering the largely neutral deep structure without considering the (being literature) especially sophisticated transformations the writer has performed on them. (In Literary study, the surface structure includes particular transformations known as literary devices.) 
[91 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 25
Let’s test this and Chomsky generally with a slightly more demanding example. The opening of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. (Here it is in translation from the German.)
One morning, Gregor Samsa woke from uneasy dreams to find he had been transformed in his bed into a giant cockroach
(NP) Gregor Samsa (VP) wakes from uneasy dreams.
(NP ?)(VP) transforms (Gregor) into a giant cockroach.
[pop-up commentary]
The transformations would include the conjoining of the two sentences using the infinitive “to find.” This subordinates the second sentence – the astonishing transformation – to the docile and normal – though ‘worrying- first about a sleepless night. There is a chilling inevitability about the way the first sentence leads logically – but incredibly – into the second. The deep structure does not contain this inevitable link. It is all in the (linguistic) transformations. It would have been a dreadful shame to have arranged the sentence any other way because the impact of the ‘giant cockroach’ is truly shocking. (The metaphor has become reality and modern gothic has become modernist literature!). The transformations also make the second sentence passive. They have also deleted the agent of the deep structure. We never know what has transformed Gregor, though we suspect he’s been working too hard at his insect-like job! Is there anything in the deep structure itself that is shocking. Well, yes, the second sentence where something transforms Gregor into a cockroach. But the real impact is the way that this science fiction level horror event is made to follow a drearily ordinary event in the real world – the waking up from uneasy dreams. It is the transformations, the brilliant modernist surface structure, that rally does the job.
[92 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Active and Passive and Agent Deletion
Chomsky’s theories were questioned and developed in the 1970s. One resulting approach was known as Critical Linguistics. Critical linguists questioned Chomsky’s belief that all the meaning you required was in the deep structure. Hence, the active sentence I killed him and the passive version He was killed by me share the same deep structure. (I kill him) So does the sentence He was killed, even though the transformation deletes the agent of the killing. Critical Linguistics exposed the power and control that such transformations embodied in the language. In this case, the transformations relate to active, passive, agent and patient. Chomsky’s generative theory allows us to recover what has been lost or concealed in the transformations. Critical Linguistics then enquires why.
The active voice is England beat the Aussies, where the agent (also the subject here) is England and the patient (also here the object is the Aussies). The passive voice is The Aussies were beaten by England where the agent is still England but the subject is now The Aussies.  (In traditional terms, ‘were beaten’ is the passive mood of the verb, to beat).
[93 scrollable explanation text]
It gets really interesting when the agent gets deleted, as with Gregor’s transformation (i.e. who transforms him into a cockroach?). Take the example The terrorists were eliminated before they could reach their targets. This is the passive voice and the agent is deleted. (Chomsky’s deep structure for that sentence would read – (NP?) eliminates the terrorists. (The second deep structure – intriguingly - would read, They reach their targets. The transformation makes the (passive, agent deleted) elimination of the terrorists into the comforting NP of the second sentence, which is subordinated by the tension-relieving ‘before.’) The point about this sort of language is that the eliminators are not named. They do not act the action. No-one does anything. No one gets hurt doing it. No-one can be blamed. But the terrorists still die. In other words, the kind of American foreign policy that President Bush can only dream about.

[94 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Disadvantages of Chomsky’s Transformational Grammar?
Chomsky’s theory is microscopic, fixated on the sentence, and on grammar to the exclusion of all other features of language. It is difficult to apply to whole texts. Roger Fowler’s Linguistics and the Novel was an attempt to widen the scope of this kind of Linguistics and he did it by introducing the idea of Voices- or discourses -  in a novel, the idioms and grammatical structures of the various narrators’, the various characters’ for example. He asked who was speaking in the famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a large fortune must also be in want of a wife.” It would be a crime to say it was simply the author, Jane Austen, without adding that such an authorial ‘voice’ is a ventriloquism for genteel ‘Society’. It would also be a crime to lose the incisive poise and comedy of the opening, in too much quibbling with the grammar. AS Byatt in Possession has an academic character who replaces the word ‘discourse’ with ‘conversation’ in an effort  to rehumanise such linguistic analysis. 

[95 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Moving away from the micro-level
Chomskian linguistics is absorbing and meticulous and fascinating about how language is transformed into surface structure and excellent at the micro-level. But it won’t tell us much about why Marx can write a sentence like “From this moment onwards consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of “pure” theory, theology, philosophy, ethics, etc” which provides Transformational Grammarians with a mini conference of points to map. In contrast, a boy beggar in Mumbai will only ever be able to think ‘I am hungry’ or say ‘Bak sheesh! (alms!). Socio-linguistics is needed to analysethat!

[96 scrollable explanation text]

[C] Basil Bernstein

Basil Bernstein (1924-2000) was a British sociologist and linguist and a pioneer of the sociology of education. He wrote on the language of schoolchildren. His theories influenced the creation and development of comprehensive education. 

He was born into a Jewish immigrant family, in the East end of London. He volunteered under age for the RAF at the outbreak of the Second World War
and served as bombardier in Africa. After the war, he was a residential family case (ie a social worker) at the Bernhard Baron Settlement, in Stepney, east London. Here he first noticed what he later described as "the discontinuity between the staff and members of the community", which became apparent in the way they communicated with each other.” He put himself through the London School of Economics by working various menial jobs and gained a sociology degree. He trained as a teacher and taught various subjects at City Day College in Shoreditch between 1954 to 1960. He was late in coming to an academic career. In 1960, he began a postgraduate degree at University College London. He gained a doctorate in Linguistics aged nearly 40. He became Karl Mannheim Chair of the Sociology of Education at the University of London. His major works include Theoretical Studies Towards A Sociology Of Language (1971) Class, Codes and Control (three volumes, 1973-77) and Social Class, Language And Communication with Dorothy Henderson.

For socio-linguists, language is part of a study of socialisation. And a great deal of socialisation goes on through the quality of language we hear, especially as children. And the most formative influence upon the procedures of socialisation is, for Bernstein, social class. (Not gender, for instance, or nationality, or ethnicity, or even the fact that one grows up speaking Hopi rather than Chinese or Welsh. In this respect, Bernstein would sharply disagree with Benjamin Whorf.)

Bernstein’s socio-linguistic theories began as educational investigations. He published his first two works on language in 1958 and 1960 - while still a teacher at City Day College. By the time he published his third, in 1961, he was reading for a doctorate at UCL. Why, it was asked, were working class children less successful in school than middle class ones?

[97 Interactive activity]
Interactive activity 13 [drag and drop sequencing]
[protected rubric]
Comprehensive schools were supposed to put an end to class-based education. Have they done so in your experience? Is it true that higher sets in comprehensive schools – and the entire populations of selective schools – are middle class? Read the following seven statements and rank them from most agree with to least agree with.
Then click on Commentary for some further thoughts.

[scrollable text in drag and drop boxes]
[text boxes will be draggable into a new position and only numbers will remain static.]
    1. Middle-class children do tend to do better. They are brighter than working-class children…

    1. Middle-class children do tend to do better. But not because they’re brighter. It’s because they ‘speak the same language’ as the teachers. They have been taught this at him. They have the same codes of politeness. They have the right ‘accent’ and vocabulary. They have the ‘right’ grammar. They organise their school bag and their homework and exam revision routines in a ‘middle class’ way that suits school.

    1. Middle-class children do tend to do better. But not because they’re brighter. They just have better equipment. 

    1. Middle-class children do tend to do better. But only at some subjects. In other subjects, working-class children do better. For instance, in ‘essay writing’ middle-class children do better. But in drama or creative writing, working-class children do better.

    1. It’s not about class. It’s about gender. All the data shows that girls out-perform boys at every level throughout their schooling. 

    1. It’s not about class, it’s about race. White children do better than black children in British schools. Asian children do better than whites. Chinese children do better than other Asians.

    1. In British schools, a Chinese middle-class girl is always going to do well and a black working-class boy is always going to fail.

[pop up commentary]
Study your preferences. You may well feel that you want to add some comments to express what you really feel abut these issues. Here is the way one student began to express her feelings. Continue the statement in your own words.

All of these of these statements are generalisations, even the one I’ve put top. Every student is different. Every child can succeed and every child can fail, depending on the child and the circumstances. However, it’s true that a black working-class boy speaking a dialect will find it harder to do well in a British school than a white middle -class girl speaking standard English because… 

Code theory  (gloss - Bernstein had begun to develop this by 1962. It grew out of his work in public language, authority and shared meanings. It was controversial in that it seemed to suggest that language was based in social class, and that working class language was limited. Code refers to the principles regulating meaning systems. For example, the restricted code requires a context shared by its communicants to be meaningful. The elaborated code can be meaningful without such a context.)

[98 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Code theory (??)
Chomsky would say that every child has the same in-built linguistic competence. There is no difference between social classes in terms of their access to the linguistic rule system. Everyone has the potential to decode any utterance heard by referring it to the universal blueprint in the brain. 

Bernstein’s area of emphasis is what Chomsky would call performance, which is the actual speech encounters. For Chomsky performance is always a context-specific and degenerated version of the in-built competence but the competence remains available. For Bernstein, the restricted nature of language performance in the upbringing of a working-class child hinders the in-built competence too. Not irreversibly. It remains a potential. But one that may never be realised. “The deep structure of communication itself is affected, but not in any final or irrevocable way.” [Bernstein, “Social Class, Language and Socialisation, 1970.”)

Bernstein, in a real-world echo of Orwell’s dystopia 1984, argues that –

  • “Historically, and now, only a tiny percentage of the population has been socialised into knowledge at the level of meta-languages of control and innovation, whereas the mass of population has been socialised into knowledge at the level of context-tied operations.”

Bernstein distinguished two orders of meaning: universalistic (accessed by the few) and particularistic (the masses). He argued that forms of socialisation orientated the child towards speech codes that controlled access to (1) relatively context-tied or (2) relatively context-independent meanings. Elaborated codes oriented their users towards universalistic meanings. Restricted codes orient, sensitise, their users to particularistic meanings. “One of the effects of the class system is to limit access to elaborated codes.” 
Change in habitual speech codes must occur, says Bernstein. But this involves changes in social structure and situations. Working-class speakers need to experience the opportunities available to middle class speech.  

[99 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 26
Look carefully at these two speeches about football. Find evidence to say which is in restricted code and which is in elaborated code.
Compare your ideas with the Commentary.

  1. City haven’t had a proper striker all season. If as usual we don’t go up this Saturday, that will be why. We haven’t had a real poacher since Robins. 

  1. Bristol City are a perennially underachieving football club based in the south west of EnglandFootball teams need a ‘striker’ – an attacking player who scores goals. A particularly predatory kind of ‘striker’- one who lurks almost unnoticed near the goal but then scores with deadly accuracy - is sometimes called a ‘poacher’. Mark Robins, who played for Manchester United, Norwich City and all too briefly for Bristol City was such a player. Football teams who finish in the top two of an annual league table are promoted to the division above. This is called ‘going up’. And without a ‘poacher’ or at least a proper ‘striker’, Bristol City are unlikely to achieve this, either now or in the future. 

[pop-up commentary] 
Speech 1 uses a restricted code. Speech 2 uses an elaborated code. It is worth emphasising at the outset that Bernstein did not believe 2 is superior to 1. He did believe that education is mostly conducted in the code of 2. So that working-class speakers – who typically use the restricted code - need to access this other ‘middle class’ code in order to do well in school. 
Note that the code of speech 1 has real advantages. It has warmth, solidarity, in-references and a freedom from the need to ‘explain’ everything. The sentences are typically shorter and less complicated than the code of speech 2.They are limited by the context though. In speech 2 no prior knowledge of football or the specific situation of Bristol City within the game is required. Speech 2 ‘educates’ you as you read it with everything you need to know.

[100 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 27
Click on the Resources button to bring up 8 short texts. Decide which code each is in? Are there any where it’s hard to decide. The codes are not absolute and some examples are more borderline than others.

Hint: it sometimes helps to ask in what newspaper you might read such language. If it’s the Sun it’s more likely to be a restricted code; if in the Guardian, more likely elaborated.)

[Resource: PDF document]
Restricted or Elaborated Code
  1. If Freddie gets hold of that one, it’ll go all the way over third man down to deep backward square leg something extra cover.
  2. Watch Jones, mate. He’s reverse swinging it at over ninety miles an hour! 
  3. Ask Muttiah Muralitharan, Warne's only rival as the most influential bowler of modern times, and his response would differ. Lara slaughtered him.
  4. Definition of fair delivery – the arm. A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This definition shall not debar a bowler flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing. (Laws of Cricket No. 24. para 3)
  5. Across the ages, apart from match-fixing and political interference from outside its walls, cricket has wrestled with no more contentious issue than suspect bowling actions.
  6. Great bowling, Warney!
  7. It’s a power play so there’s no slip, no gully, no short fine leg, no deep square leg backward point. Guys are throwing balls. Guys are hitting balls. Guys are catching balls. It’s so exciting!
  8. If Murali tries that again, I’m hitting him over cow corner.

[pop-up commentary]
How did you do? They are all about cricket, so to some extent they are all in a code restricted by that context. The division between the two codes is not absolute. But 3, (Mike Selvey in the Guardian), 4, (especially with its bracket) and 5 (from David Frith in the cricket almanack Wisden, 2005) all make elaborate efforts to explain everything you need to know in the language. For example, the nicknamed man in 8 (restricted) receives full and formal identification in 3.

[101 Scrollable explanation text] [Should activities 13 + 14 come after these explanations or are you testing the student before they get the explanation? See also note above on Code theory gloss.]

Restricted code

The closer the identification of speakers, the greater the range of shared interests and the more probable that the speech will take a specific form. Syntax-range will be reduced and lexis (words) drawn from a narrow range. The speech cannot be understood apart from the context. (And the context cannot be read by anyone outside it: it is limited to the speakers.) It restricts the speeches to the context and the community who speak it. It is a communal rather than an individual language. It does not expose the speaker in an individual spotlight.

Elaborated code

The speech does not need a context to be understood. (For instance, if you want to discuss a film – and/or its meanings, subtleties, politics, aesthetics etc - with someone who hasn’t just seen it with you, you need to use an elaborated code.) The meanings are explicit (not implicit), elaborated and individualised. Meanings are fully articulated by an individual, not implied in a context-specific communal meaning. There is complex editing at grammatical and lexical levels, much of it to protect the individual against the listening group. 

[102 Scrollable explanation text]
[D] Bernstein on the Codes
Bernstein never suggested that one code was better than another.  Take this example:
A teenager says “It weren’t a fair exam question” 
A teacher replies: “No! It wasn’t a fair exam question.”
The class replies, “Why should we talk posh!?” (They are already fed up with being judged and condemned today!)
Who is right? “It weren’t a fair exam question” sounds friendlier, it’s the teenagers’ own way of putting things. The language expresses exactly how it felt. (It weren’t fair!)
But teacher (like examiner) is anxious to teach a ‘standard’ code – the one demanded in exams The subject must agree with the verb. 
What we are getting here is a tension between solidarity and correctness, a restricted and an elaborated code. The teacher is standing alone, ‘free’ of the immediate context, insisting on a universal. Bernstein wanted everyone to have access to both codes, at different times. The teacher might well be chanting deviant-grammar with a football crowd next day. But a working class pupil who does not know - and therefore can never use - the ‘correct’ grammar will be deprived in many situations. Notably exam papers and interviews for higher education (and ‘middle class’ jobs.)  

[103 Scrollable explanation text]

[D] Language and Social Class

Bernstein gives the following analysis of the speech of middle-class and working-class five year olds. The children were given a series of four pictures that told a story and invited to tell the story. The first picture showed some boys playing football. The second showed the ball going through the window of a house. The third showed a woman looking out of the window and a man making an ominous gesture. The fourth showed the children moving away. The middle-class children begin their story ‘Three boys are playing football and one kicks the ball… and it goes through the window.’ The working class children begin ‘They’re playing football…and he kicks it and it goes through there.’ The meanings of the first are explicit and those of the second implicit. The language does not differ in terms of complexity but in terms of language use in relation to context. One is bound by it; the other is free of it. The working-class child has just as wide a range of noun phrases available as the middle-class child but does not use them. 

[104 Scrollable explanation text]
Similarly, in other tests the context did not provoke the use of expressions of uncertainty in the working-class children, nor of logical operators like ‘because’ ‘but’, ‘either’, ‘or’ and ‘only’ – not because they didn’t know them but because the context of the task didn’t suggest a condition for their use. However, when asked “what is the man saying”, working-class children readily made suggestions but middle-class children needed to be coaxed by the linguistic instruction to hypothesise: “what do you think the man might be saying?” In other words, they needed the elaborated code to free them of the context. 

Children are socialised in four family contexts:
  1. The regulative context – authority is imposed through rules and sanctions.
  2. The instructional context – the child learns abut objects and persons and acquires skills.
  3. The imaginative/creative context – the child is encouraged to recreate the world in his own way.
  4. The interpersonal context – the child is made aware of affective states – his own and others’.

If the linguistic realisation of these four contexts mainly uses restricted speech variants, the deep structure of the communication is a restricted code – context-bound, particularistic.

If the linguistic realisation of these four contexts mainly uses
elaborated speech variants, the deep structure of the communication is an elaborated code – individual, universal, context-free.

[105 Scrollable explanation text]
[D] Code accommodation (convergence)
Schools are predicated upon the ‘middle-class’ elaborated codes and its system of social relationships. They are not made for working-class children. Why should such children respond? 

However, middle-class children can find the elaborated code ‘phoney’and impersonal. “They may move towards the restricted codes of various peer group subcultures, or seek the condensed symbols of affective experience or both.” [Gloss- symbols of affective experience: a language giving emotional contact. For example, students often carry on text or MSN conversations in a semi-private, even nonsense language, using nicknames. (Eg Hey Emes, hey  homie, what's going down : last night was absolutely mental… gazboss was mental. Laterz homie, cu tomoz  peace outcan be ‘translated’ as “Hello Emma, hello fellow, what's going on? last night was great fun my father was wildly excited…bye see you latergoodbye” but most of the warmth and excitement of friendship, fun and shared experience is lost). Elaborated codes give access to alternative realities yet they carry the potential of alienation of feeling from thought, of self from other, or private belief from role obligation.

The restricted code gives access to a vast potential of meanings, of delicacy, subtlety and diversity of cultural forms (hip-hop, say, or Northern soul). Yet in complex industrialised societies may be disregarded - within schools. 

[106 Static activity with pop-up commentary]
Activity 28 needed on code convergance in different social contexts – preferably a static activity

[107 Scrollable explanation text]
[C] Labov
William Labov was born in 1927 in New Jersey. He studied at Harvard, completing an MA thesis on dialect change(1948). He took a PhD at Columbia University, under the famous ‘interlanguage’ linguist Uriel Weinreich (author of the Yiddish-English Dictionary). Labov worked as an industrial chemist (1949-61) before turning to linguistics He is a professor in the linguistics department of the University of Pennsylvania. William Labov is widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of variationist sociolinguistics. He pursues research in sociolinguistics, language change, and dialectology.
Labov's works include Language in the Inner City: Studies in Black English Vernacular (1972), Sociolinguistic Patterns(1972), Principles of Linguistic Change (vol.I Internal Factors, 1994; vol.II Social Factors, 2001), and, together with Sharon Ash and Charles Boberg, The Atlas of North American English (2006). [All of the text in yellow can go into the gloss/bibliography section.]
W. Labov’s “The Logic of Nonstandard English.”(1969) is a good extension to – and challenge of - Bernstein’s hypothesis. It analyses the dialect of black working class English in Harlem, (Harlem was then a black ghetto of New York City). Labov shows that, far from being a ‘restricted’ code, Black Nonstandard English (BNE) is in many ways a superior code. The major disadvantage of BNE is not that it has any lack of syntactical complexity or ability to logically order experience. It just happens not to be the code employed in schools.

If you look at the QCA Orders for English in the National Curriculum, or the mark-schemes of SATs papers, the highest marks seem to be reserved for answers written in what Bernstein would call an elaborated code. To get top marks, a pupil must use the grammatical and lexical features Bernstein identifies as ‘middle-class English’. (or ‘Literacy’) Nonstandard English may well be expressive. It may well shape an alternative reality to SE. But it will not get the top marks. It is judged to be a restricted code and the marks are restricted accordingly. 

Have a look at the following example of non-standard English (NSE). They are all from regions of the UK. They would all be corrected in English classrooms. Why? Do they represent any failure or limitation of communication?

  • Is that now raining?
  • Where’s the paper to? I wants the crossword. 
  • Do you want a coop o’ tea makin?
  • After Grancha died, mam went in and put him tidy for the funeral.

[108 Scrollable explanation text]
[D] Labov’s The Logic of Non Standard English (1969)

Labov begins by summarising the deficit (or deprivation) theory he is going to challenge [gloss: deficit, or deprivation, theory. A sociolinguistic theory  proposed by Bernstein and others. It argues that working-class children are deprived in education and in life by their language. It is a controversial theory that many challenged. Bernstein always denied that his theory was a deficit theory or that he meant working-class language was deficient. He argued that restricted codes are not deficient, but rather are “functionally related to the social division of labour, where context dependent language is necessary in the context of production”. He said working-class speakers express themselves most effectively – but only within into the social and economic limitations of working-class life.]gloss) For example, in terms of this theory Black ghetto children receive little verbal stimulation. They hear very little well-formed language (ie fully completed sentences) and are therefore impoverished in their means of verbal expression, They cannot speak compete sentences. They do not know the names of common objects. They cannot form concepts or convey logical thoughts.

Labov refutes all of these points. He claims that urban ghetto children hear more well-formed sentences than middle-class children. Urban ghetto children – Labov points out that these include working-class and lower class, a point missed by the ‘deprivation theorists - participate in a highly verbal culture and have the same basic vocabulary. They have the same capacity for conceptual learning. They possess the same logic as anyone else who learns to speak and understand English. He argues that is the schooling which is defective, not the child.

 ‘Deficit theory’ sets out to prove that black children are not ‘genetically inferior’, says Labov. It ends up ends up implying – illogically - that they are. 

[109 Scrollable explanation text]
[D] Testing the theory
There are two elements here, class and gender/race. Let us apply them to Britain today.

Children with working-class backgrounds carry defects or deprivations that prevent them doing as well as middle-class children in school. Is this true or false?
[Where is your data below drawn from? – need to give some sources]
  • Data ‘proves’ working-class children do less well in British schools than middle-class ones. It does not ‘prove’ they are less intelligent. Are working- class children, therefore, deprived – or defective- in some cultural way? Or is the school simply speaking a foreign (‘middle-class’) language to them?
  • Data shows that black children, particularly boys (there are always exceptions) do less well in British schools than white. It does not ‘prove’ they are any less intelligent. Again, is their language defective or deprived in some way? Or are they too just being taught in an alien – white middle class – language?
Now let’s examine the factors of gender and race.
  • Data ‘proves’ that girls do better in British schools than boys. It does not ‘prove’ that they are more intelligent. Asians in general do well in British schools, the girls especially. Chinese girls do exceptionally well. Girls do better in single sex schools; boys do better in mixed schools; Muslims do better in Muslim schools, Faith schools are apparently more successful than any others. (The raw data is always being disputed -  ‘successful’ schools may merely be succeeding with already bright, motivated, middle-class pupils.) What are all the implications for these complications of Labov’s thesis? 
  • Many Universities now assume that Public school applicants will achieve their optimum grade at A level, while many State school applicants won’t. (Smaller class sizes, better equipment, better opportunities for enhanced learning, more intensive specialist coaching, more visiting speakers and experts, less distractions by the effects of social and economic deprivation, less compromise over discipline, more academic single-mindedness - some of the reasons given for why Public school students do better than comprehensive school students.) Universities are therefore offering more State school applicants a place than they used to. This is because they calculate that the average potential of State school students is higher at the same ‘A’ level grade. Public school students are typically middle class. State school students will be a mix of social classes. Labov says It is the schooling which is defective, not the child. Whatever the explanations are, there is plenty of evidence that social class and educational success are still closely linked.

[Can we cut 64 back or split into two screens?]

[110 Scrollable explanation text]

[D] Where is the squirrel?

Labov quotes and accepts data showing that black children throughout America are two years behind the national norm in reading.  He agrees they read very poorly. They are not ‘achieving’ in school. 

He does not accept the reason given [by Bernstein and co?]. Which is-

Black children are said to lack the favourable factors in their home environment that enable middle-class children to do well in school. 

He disputes that much of ‘lower class language consists of a kind of incidental emotional accompaniment to action here and now (Bernstein’s restricted code). He rejects the conclusion that “the language of culturally deprived children is not merely an underdeveloped version of standard English, but is a basically non-logical mode of expressive behaviour.” He takes the example:

Q- Where is the squirrel?
A-            In the tree.

And suggests that there is nothing illogical about the answer. (Pupils were punished if they answered like this in class rather than in a full sentence.) It is context specific, Labov concedes. And it will do no harm to insist in class that the child makes it independent of context by recovering the embedded noun phrase and verb and answering, ‘The squirrel is in the tree.’
But it is not evidence of impaired logic. 

[111 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 29
Have you been in a holiday or weekend job where your workmates seem to be speaking a different language? Are they using less well-formed sentences than you? (This isn’t a matter of accent, though a class accent can be a reliable marker of a class grammar and lexicon.) Is their language more comfortably embedded in the context while your well formed explicit sentences seem to stand out from the situation like a sore thumb, just like you? Discuss any examples of this or think back to your own experiences. 

[pop-up commentary]
I know that if a plumber is grunting away under my sink in predicates without fully realised noun phrases, I don’t find this illogical. When he says “choc a bloc with gunge” and holds up a U bend, I simply infer that he can and is going to fix it. 

[112 Scrollable explanation text]
[D] Complexities of BNE
Labov showed that in tests where black children felt safe and valued, they did not retreat into silence and monosyllables but (especially when tested in pairs) became orally very expressive, in fact exuberant. Their BNE revealed many complex - but by white SE rules ‘wrong’ – usages of grammar. Including:-
  • Negative agreement (“I’ on’ play with him no more.”)
  • The negative preterite (“I ain’t go”)
  • Negative perfect tense (“I ain’t had”) 
  • It also included complete mastery of the complex SE pluperfect tense (“had come back out”)

Labov would say that schools impose an alien language and a threatening atmosphere and then conclude that black working class children (because of cultural deprivation) can’t speak. Or at best speak in a highly restricted code. Instead of this, Labov would argue, schools need to create the kind of context where black children can express themselves as richly and elaborately as they do in the street. In fact, in the home setting such a child is “bathed in verbal stimulation from morning to night”. Many Harlem speech events depend upon the competitive exhibition of verbal skills: sounding, singing, toasts, rifting, louding – a whole range of activities in which the person gains status through his use of language. Yet none of this is transferred to the classroom. This, says Labov, is because the classroom, not the child, is wrong

[113 Static explanation text]
[D] BNE in Britain today
  • We are probably more aware in Britain now than even Labov’s time of the verbal arts of the black ghetto. Eninem has made a career of one of them. Many children in British schools – including and perhaps especially white middle-class children hungry for a cool personal identity at odds with the middle-class system – can be heard emulating the verbal facility of the black ghetto. Even the odd teacher occasionally says in a black ghetto accent “I ain’t dissing nobody, I’s bigging you up!” Black is the new black. 
  • But it is certainly still not the new middle-class white. Schools are no ‘blacker’ now than they were then. Why?

[114 Scrollable explanation text]

[D] Verbosity

Labov then turns his attention to SE and asks if it is really is the ‘elaborated’ and excellent code it is cracked up to beIt does offer, he says:

(1) Precision in spelling, (2) practice in handling abstract symbols, (3) the ability to state explicitly the meaning of words, and (4) a richer knowledge of the Latinate vocabulary. All useful acquisitions. But are all of the middle-class verbal habits functional and desirable, even in the school situation? How much is the middle-class ‘elaborated code’ useful for the main work of a school – analysing and generalising – and how much is stylistic or even dysfunctional. “Is the elaborated code of Bernstein really so flexible, detailed and subtle as some psychologists believe? Isn’t it also turgid, redundant and empty?”

In many ways, says Labov, working-class speakers are more effective narrators, reasoners and debaters than many middle-class speakers who temporise, qualify and lose their argument in a mass of irrelevant detail. (We are back to Orwell’s work on language and politics here.)  Many academic writers, Labov says, try to rid themselves of that part of middle-class style that is empty pretension and keep that part which is needed for precision. The same could be said for the best novelists, playwrights, poets and teachers.

[115 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 30
What about teacher’s use of elaborated code? A teacher is constantly required to use an elaborated code but to ensure it communicates your learning concretely and without verbiage. Click on Resources for an example of such good usage (ie precision but without verbiage). 
Can you think of other concrete uses of the elaborated code from your own class experience? ( Hint: It will probably be a lesson where you felt you ‘really’ learnt or understood something.)

[Resource: PDF document]
Precise but not Verbose Elaborated Code

Why do institutions need audiences?

1.     The BBC needs audiences to justify the licence fee. If no-one is watching its programmes, objections to the licence fee will be raised.
2.     ITV needs audiences to attract advertising. If no-one is watching its programmes, nobody will advertise with them and revenue will be lost. It also needs to sell its programmes directly to audiences.
3.     B Sky B needs audiences to attract subscribers. Although there are now many more channels to watch, the overall number of people watching TV is no higher. This means that audiences are fragmenting. So there is all the more reason to attract and retain Sky’s ‘fragment’ of the market.

[116 Static explanation text]
[D] Labov’s own use of elaborated code
Labov is criticising the elaborated code but he is doing so IN the elaborated code. If black non-standard English is so good, how come Labov doesn’t use it to describe his theory? (He himself puts this point.) Could your lessons be given in it? For example, could the Harlem question of any show of intellect, “If you so smart, why ain’t you rich?” really become the code you studied English in? If not, why not?

Labov concedes that SE has an advantage over BNE in explicit analysis of ‘surface forms’- by which he seems to mean an abstract examination of language features. But explicit analysis is exactly what he – and we - are doing here! Hmm… 

[117 scrollable explanation text]

[C] Michael Halliday

 Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday (born 1925 is an English linguist who developed an internationally influential grammar model, the systemic functional grammarHe was a linguist in the other, older sense, studying Chinese (Mandarin) Language and Literature and teaching in China, before taking a PhD in Chinese Linguistics at Cambridge. He taught Chinese for several years before moving into Linguistics. He based his systemic functional grammar on the work of his teacher JR Firth and the early 20th century Prague School of European Linguistics. He was later Professor of Linguistics at the Universities of London then Sydney, Australia. [Again, you might want to pare some of this biog info down and use in the gloss for Halliday

For Halliday, language is about the functions it serves. He breaks language down into seven functions. “Language is at it is because of what it has to do.” (Halliday, 1975, p 34, Title of paper/publication) For example, if a child asks “what’s your name?” she is employing the heuristic – or knowledge-gaining - function of language.  If the child says “Want Teddy” she is employing the instrumental function of language. 
[Resource: PDF version of extract from Wikipaedia entry for Halliday’s ‘Functions of Language’]
Here is the Wikipedia entry on Halliday’s book “Explorations in the Functions of Language” 
Halliday (1975) identifies seven functions that language has for children in their early years. Children are motivated to acquire language because it serves certain purposes or functions for them. The first four functions help the child to satisfy physical, emotional and social needs. Halliday calls them instrumental, regulatory, interactional, and personal functions.
  • Instrumental: This is when the child uses language to express their needs (e.g.'Want juice')
  • Regulatory: This is where language is used to tell others what to do (e.g. 'Go away')
  • Interactional: Here language is used to make contact with others and form relationships (e.g 'Love you, mummy')
  • Personal: This is the use of language to express feelings, opinions and individual identity (e.g 'Me good girl')
The next three functions are heuristic, imaginative, and representational, all helping the child to come to terms with his or her environment.
  • Heuristic: This is when language is used to gain knowledge about the environment (e.g. 'What the tractor doing?')
  • Imaginative: Here language is used to tell stories and jokes, and to create an imaginary environment.
  • Representational: The use of language to convey facts and information.
[end of PDF]
[118 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 31
Is it ever possible that the same words [utterance/piece of speech?] can have a different function? For example, if a child says “Want mummy”, could it sometimes be an interactional function, or even a personal one, as much as an instrumental one?
Can functions be mixed up or blurred?
Probably – no. The functions can be mixed but it is usually possible to identify the main function. A child may say “Want mummy” in a tone of voice to which one can reply. “Mummy’s not here at the moment.” Or in a tone of voice so desolated that the answer has to be to immediate and urgent consolation – or even bringing the child into the mother’s presence. The first is a response to an instrumental function; the second an interactional – or even a personal – one.
[119 scrollable explanation text]
Can the seven categories of child language be applied to adult language? If I ask an apoplectic linguist a tricky question about his theory at a conference, am I still employing a heuristic function of language? There are other features to consider – for example, I might be nervous and deferent and trying to sound clever and my language shows all this – but the (heuristic) function may still be identified at the root of my speech. I might indeed say after my encounter with the linguist, “I need a drink” and this could be my adult equivalent of the instrumental. Do my language and the child’s language again have the same root function? Are they more similar in this function than in the differences that mark off an adult language from a child’s?
The following activity will help you get the child functions clear in your mind. It will also help you to decide if adult language can be analysed into the same functions.
[120 Interactive activity]
Interactive activity 14 [drag and drop sequencing]
Here are ten statements. They are all taken from adult speech. Using Halliday’s seven categories, identify the functions of each:
·      “Stop fiddling with your spots!”
·      “There was no possibility of having a walk that morning.”
·      “Did you hear about the dyslexic punk? He tried to buy some bondage trousers in M and S.”
·      “I’m tired. I don’t want to do any more.”
·      “Where the hell have all the chocolates gone?”
·      You look gorgeous. Let’s dance.”
·      “God, I’m good!”
·      You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
·      There used to be a lovely field of wheat there, with golden ears of corn dancing in the breeze. Now look at it!”
·      “Sure, you’re always haring about the place. Will you not just stop and listen to me for Pete’s sake!”
Are there any statements where the function seems mixed or unclear? 
Now think of seven statements of your own, one for each category.
[pop-up commentary]
Halliday in fact says “There is no simple functional category from which we can derive (an adult) utterance, corresponding to categories such as regulatory or instrumental in the linguistic system of the young child.” 
Why not? 
[At this point the text needs to move back to an explanation screen – i.e. from pop back to main screen – please create some kind of link]
[121 scrollable explanation text]
[D] Halliday’s functions of adult language
Adult language has immense functional diversity but, says Halliday, a very small set of functional components. Many uses, but only three or four functions. And, of these, the ideational function (broadly language to convey information) is present in all its uses. Instead of the seven functions of child language, Halliday identifies three complex adult functions.
  • Ideational Semantics (the propositional content); 
  • Interpersonal Semantics (concerned with speech-function, exchange structure, expression of attitude, etc.);
  •  Textual Semantics (how the text is structured as a message, e.g., theme-structure, given/new, rhetorical structure etc.
He asks “What is the relation of the fully developed language system to the social functions of the adult language?
Halliday contends that as a child’s language becomes adult language it is increasingly dominated by the ‘representational’ function of language. The adult thinks of language as primarily informing (or its negative, misinforming) and this is why problems arise in communication between infants and adults in early years. Rhymes songs and plays are, for children, based in the imaginative function and not the informative function. Adults tend to emphasise the latter. 
[122 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 32
How should adults bring out the rhymes and speech intonations of poems and plays? The following rhyme is often used as part of a children’s game. It is actually a piece of folk poetry allegedly describing the symptoms of the Black Death. 
With a partner, recite it (a) as if you are a child playing with another child or with a parent (b) as if to bring out the historical meaning
Ring a ring of roses
A pocket full of posies
A-tishoo, a tishoo
We all fall down.
1          What differences did you notice in your intonations and emphases when using       this language as a child does? What child functions is your speech serving?
 2         When you brought out the historical meaning, what difference in intonation           and emphasis did you notice? What adult functions is your speech serving?  
[pop-up commentary] [convert additional task below to part of commentary on what differences the readings would bring out]
If Halliday is right, your adult speech is dominated by the ideational function. 
    • Now role play the rhyme again as if you are an infant teacher interacting with a child. Did you emphasise the representational function over all others, as Halliday suggests infant teachers of do? If so, why?
[123 scrollable explanation text]
Look at the functions of child language above again. What other language functions –in poems, stories, other kinds of talk - might be important for a child (and missed by the adult) in First School? Intonation – even the way a rhyme is spoken aloud - typically emphasises content, the representational function. This is the least important function for the child. 
When we learn a foreign language, we are often given language purely in its ‘representational’ function and this is why it so hard to learn. Mothers and fathers instinctively emphasise the other functions as we learn our own language as children.
We have seen that adult language has immense functional diversity but, says Halliday, a very small set of functional components. Many uses, but only three or four functions. And, of these, the ideational function (broadly language to convey information) is present in all its uses.
[124 scrollable explanation text]
[D] The ideational function of adult language
The ideational function is not however congruent with the infant’s representational function. It is a combination of the personal and the heuristic (such as a two year old begins to use.)
“I see Rovers gave the City a hiding” is said to me by a Rovers supporter who knows me. To say he is merely giving me information is to miss all the malicious fun of his meaning. I am a City supporter and Rovers are the underdogs. Rovers are the age-old rivals of City and despite decades of lesser success will never quite go away. There is a private war being waged between supporters of the two sides in every workspace. The Rovers supporter is gleefully conveying information that he guesses I already know and jockeying for position over me, his immediate environment. The word ‘hiding’ expresses his glee as well as the information. The use of the definite article ‘the’ before City (as a City fan might say ‘the’ Rovers) is another part of the overall function of the speech, a kind of familiar, and (in triumph) almost affectionate recognition of the old enemy. 
[125 scrollable explanation text]
Consider another example. Look again at this-
    • “Sure, you’re always haring about the place. Will you not just stop and listen to me for Pete’s sake.”
This could equally satisfy all of the first three child language functions. How should we analyse this in grammatical terms? The function of ‘haring’ is a verb. More accurately it is a gerund, a verb in the –ing mood or tense. It is also a noun – hare – that has been customised in English into a verb, carrying the (metaphorical) sense of anything that moves around with the headlong speed of a hare. But we need some kind of ‘interpersonal’ function to really get to the essence of the speech. The interpersonal function is to express the disdain for the ‘brainless’ rushing about, like a hare, that the patient of the sentence is being accused of.
[126 static explanation text]

[D] Systemic Functional Grammar

Halliday’s system for adult language (systemic functional grammar) identifies three kinds of meanings-

  • Ideational Semantics (the propositional content); 
  • Interpersonal Semantics (concerned with speech-function, exchange structure, expression of attitude, etc.); 
  • Textual Semantics (how the text is structured as a message, e.g., theme-structure, given/new, rhetorical structure etc. 
“The Lexico-Grammar concerns the syntactic organisation of words into utterances. Even here, a functional approach is taken, involving analysis of the utterance in terms of roles such as Actor, Agent/Medium, Theme, Mood, etc.” (See Halliday 1994 Title of paper/publication? for full description). 
[127 static explanation text]
Halliday claims that adult language is always 100% about function. No more, no less. And that grammar is the way the various language functions are meshed together.
    • “What we know as ‘grammar’ is the linguistic device for hooking together the selections in meaning which are derived from the various functions of language, and realising them in a unified structural form. 
In child-language, each function has a separate use. In effect, each of the seven functions is a separate speech act. But in adult language, all three adult functions operate together at once.
    • [does quote start here?] Whereas with the child, in the first beginnings of the system, the functions remain unintegrated being in effect functional varieties of speech act, with one utterance having just one function, (function = use).  the linguistic units of the adult language serve all (macro) functions at once. A clause in (adult) English is the simultaneous realisation of ideational, interpersonal and textual meanings.” (Halliday, 1975, p 42 Title of paper/publication?).
[128 scrollable explanation text]
If Halliday is right, all grammar is an integration system for language functions. One segment of a clause does not express one type of meaning and another segment another. The choice of word may express one type of meaning, its morphology another and its position in the sequence another; and any element is likely to have more than one structural role.
Let us analyse an example from Pride and Prejudice using Halliday’s system. What ‘simultaneous realisation of ideational, interpersonal and textual meanings’ can we identify here?
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” 
First of all, let us identify evidence of the three functions. The passionate (but decorous) word ‘ardent’ carries a precise ideational meaning. The fact that it is an adverb modifying ‘admire and love you’ brings it into relation with the interpersonal. (In Halliday’s terms, adverb would be ‘mood’) The textual semantics of “You must allow me to tell you” powerfully modify the whole. None of these functions operates separately. 
[129 scrollable explanation text]
It might help to go back to the child functions for a moment. You could say that all seven of the child functions are present. (The interactional function is the obvious equivalent But this is adult language under extreme pressure. Darcy is the haughty but handsome hero. And he is humbly - and yet imperiously - asking permission to pour out his heart, and confidently doing so! - in the same statement. 
Using Halliday’s terms, the ‘actor’ (or‘agent’) is ‘I’ and the ‘goal’ is ‘you’. So for all its humility the utterance is still superbly powerful. The same goes for the “allow me” (one of those powerful gentlemanly ‘subordinations’ that make English –so stylishly easy to apologise in) “Allow me” – ostensibly a request- is in fact an imperative. 
But that’s what so attractive about Darcy. We want him bowed, yes, but not broken. And we wouldn’t want Elizabeth Bennett to ‘properly’ humble and marry anyone less magnificent. We are a long way in terms of complexity of function – textually at least - from “Love you, mummy”. 
What about Textual Semantics?  Here the textual function is related to literary genre. The utterance points to the climax of this novel (Darcy’s statement to Lizzy “by you I was properly humbled”) It also points to the novel tradition in which Pride and Prejudice stands. (Its literary context, the romantic novel of manners with its happy ending). So this convention of ‘climax’ is also part of its Textual semantics. [Please try and cut this back by about 60 words. Some suggestions offered in yellow.]

[130 Interactive activity]
Interactive activity 15 [drag and drop sequencing] [STYLE LATER]
Analyse the following adult utterance in terms of Halliday’s ideational, interpersonal and textual functions. Use the box to write your commentary. Then check your answer by clicking on the pop up commentary.
    • “Would you make me a cup of tea?”
[pop-up commentary]
The ideational content is to do with the person addressed making the speaker a cup of tea. That is the information, but the sentence is constructed as a question. The grammar is interrogative. But no question is being asked. The speech functions as a command – make me a cup of tea. Its interpersonal function is an imperative. Nevertheless, the textual meaning is not a command. The modality (of the verb) ensures this. The interrogative mood here ‘would you’ is actually a method that English uses to show politeness. To command without offence. So “would you…” is a text function that is not about asking for information but about making a command more polite. All three functions operate together to create a sentence whose grammar asks politely for someone to make the speaker a cup of tea. 
Hence, Halliday states that- “The social function of language is central to the interpretation of language as a system. The internal organisation of language is not accidental; it embodies the functions that language has evolved to serve in the life of social man.” Without the social (here very British) functions of polite imperatives, this sentence has no meaning.

An application of some ideas in Halliday’s “Linguistic function and literary style”. 
[132 Static activity with pop-up commentary] 
Activity 33         
Click Resources and read the context for both extracts.
Read the extract from Tennyson's Morte D'Arthur underlining the verbs on hardcopies. Then read the extract from Golding's The Inheirtors underlining the words and phrases which describe actions. What differences do you notice between the two sets of words?' Look for: 
  • transitive verb forms
  • intransitive verb forms
  • passive verbs

Then click on the Commentary to compare your views.


[PDFs Resources extracts from Tennyson’s Morte D’Arthur and Golding’s The Inheiritors]

Context for the extracts:
The first extract is from Tennyson’s Morte D’Arthur - a Victorian poem in praise of heroes and in “daring deeds of derring do”. The British Empire was at its height when this was written, and the greatness of the British people was measured by its unequalled capacity to act on and affect the world. Heroically. Such active endeavour is here traced to the nation’s mythical source, the realm of King Arthur and his Knights.
The second extract, from Golding’s The Inheiritors, is a fictional description of Neanderthal man. Or, rather, a description of the actions of the first homo sapiens as seen through the eyes – the lexis and grammar – of Neanderthal man. Action is constructed in a very different grammar. Golding’s fictional tribe are loveable but vulnerable and their restricted grammar suggests a certain limited period of human development.   

From Tennyson’s The Passing of Arthur

“Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch’d the sword,
And strongly wheel’d and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon
And flashing round, and whirl’d in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the northern sea.
So flash’d and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere…

From William Golding’s The Inheritors

The bushes twitched again. Lok steadied by the tree and gazed. A head and chest faced him, half-hidden. There were white bone things behind the leaves and hair. The man had white bone things above his eyes and under the mouth so that his face was longer than a face should be. The man turned sideways in the bushes and looked at Lok along his shoulder. A stick rose upright and there was a lump of bone in the middle. Lok peered at the stick and the lump of bone and the small eyes in the bone thing over the face. Suddenly Lok understood that the man was holding the stick out to him but neither he nor Lok could reach across the river. He would have laughed if it were not for the echo of the screaming in his head. The stick began to grow shorter at both ends. Then it shot out to full length again.
The dead tree by Lok’s ear acquired a voice.
His ears twitched and he turned to the tree. By his face there had grown a twig: a twig that smelt of other, and of goose, and of bitter berries that Lok’s stomach told him he must not eat. The twig had a white bone at the end. There were hooks in the bone and sticky brown stuff hung in the crooks. His nose examined this stuff and did not like it. He smelled along the shaft of the twig. The leaves on the twig were red feathers and reminded him of goose. He was lost in the generalised astonishment and excitement. He shouted at the green drifts across the glittering water and heard Liku crying out in answer but could not catch the words. They were cut off suddenly as though someone had clapped a hand over her mouth. He rushed to the edge of the water and came back. On either side of the open bank the bushes grew thickly in the flood; they waded out until at their farthest some of the leaves were opening under water; and these bushes leaned over.
The echo of Liku’s voice in his head sent him trembling at this perilous way of bushes towards the island. He dashed at them where normally they would have rooted on dry land and his feet splashed. He threw himself forward and grabbed at the branches with hands and feet. He shouted:
“I am coming.”
[end of PDF]

[pop-up commentary]
Linguists who write about Literature often claim that a literary text will characteristically create its own private grammar and lexis. The grammar and lexis will not usually deviate wildly from the grammars and lexis commonly used by English speakers. But it will tend to foreground certain linguistic features that fit the writer’s overall purpose and theme. The foregrounding can simply consist of repeating the feature more than usual. 

For example, Tennyson here foregrounds finite verbs by using these more and other kinds of words – for example extended predicates, noun constructions, passives etc - less. He does this as part of a celebration of heroic action. His foregrounding of certain language connects, therefore, to his choice of theme. 

Golding foregrounds here a particular pattern of transitive clauses – namely, intransitive clauses. Golding is interested here in Neanderthal man, the human mind at a primitive level of cognition. His choice of intransitive language will also be rooted in that theme.

An example from Tennyson-

“Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere, and ran
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch’d the sword,
And strongly wheel’d and threw it. 

Here poor old Sir Bedivere is like a cat on a hot tin roof. He has been asked to throw King Arthur’s sword Excalibur back into the lake. This is the right thing to do, a holy act. But his mortal logical mind argues with such a sacrifice. He has twice resisted. He twice pretended to throw away the mighty weapon but actually did nothing. Now suddenly, he is all action. 

Or rather, action is all him. The action almost seems to come from outside himself. It is an irresistible force overcoming the immoveable object of his resistance. 

Traditional grammar requires that every sentence needs a verb or it isn’t a sentence. This one sentence has seven verbs, six of them active and all of them with Sir Bedivere as the subject. It is an awful lot of action for one subject to carry! The sentence is so verb-heavy that the first verb, intensified by the adverb ‘quickly’, occurs even before the subject. The effect of this is partly to suggest a long-ago world where language was different, quaint “Then quickly rose”.  But it also conjures up a headlong world in which action not people– verbs not nouns – come first. The reader is already quickly rising in this sentence before s/he knows who is acting. You could say that Bedivere is already in action in this language-world before he knows who he is.

This may be because Tennyson is suggesting that Bedivere’s actions are from a source outside of Bedivere himself. The action has almost taken the place of the subject. And the subject – Bedivere- has taken the pace of the verb. The goal of the sentence – in Halliday’s terms - ‘it’. But ‘it’ seems to have a strange power of its own. One way of putting it is to say that the goal gets the actor to act on its behalf. 

Tennyson’s language-world is here like an action and adventure movie. Action is the subject. Weapons do the talking. (Such weapons are often given names, like Excalibur. Their very activeness is a virtue.) They are action personified. It is the reverse language world from the one in which actions become nouns. It is one where actions become agents. 

The Inheritors
In Lok’s world, action is very different. Lok is watching a more developed human being (homo sapiens) in action. But though this human being is acting on the world, Lok cannot see it like that. In Lok’s world-view (represented by his language), there is no cause and effect. Not because there is no cause and effect in the world. The homo sapien acts on – indeed destroys – Lok’s world. But Lok’s language cannot identify a cause for processes. Especially not a human cause. Things just happen.

The frustration of Lok by his environment is shown by the fact that many of the intransitive clauses have potentially transitive verbs in them.  But instead of a direct object there is a prepositional phrase. (eg “He smelt along the shaft of the twig” instead of a transitive subject- verb- direct object construction like “he ate the apple”.) Very often, it is a part of Lok – his nose, his stomach - not Lok himself who is the agent of the verb. Without a transitive language, Lok’s people cannot make sense of the processes of the world. Nor, therefore, can they act upon it. 

There is one similarity in Golding and Tennyson’s language. It is the emphasis on process – or verb- rather than actor. But in Tennyson’s poem, the action does have a cause. The verbs are transitive. The ‘inspired’ Bedivere can have a momentous effect on the world. He throws back the sword, and everything changes. But for Lok action is passive, intransitive. When an arrow is fired at him, Lok sees a twig mysteriously appearing out of the tree. His verbs are not transitive ones. He cannot perceive or contruct transitivity. He cannot act on or change his world.  “Lok peered at the stick.” Action is as helpless and passive as seeing. 

[133 Interactive activity]
Interactive activity 16 [free text]  [
1          Look at the description of the homo sapiens firing arrows across the water at         Lok. (Lok’s people are unable to cross water; the homo sapiens have wider      horizons).How does the grammar suggest the limitations of Lok’s perception?       Give examples. Rewrite this passage in a more conventional language – ie in a             grammar that permits transitivity.
  • Rewrite the Tennyson passage as it might be seen by Lok. (ie in a grammar without transitivity)

[paste the two short extracts from the longer PDF version here and insert two free text boxes with capacity for 500 characters each below each extract.]

[Model answers for each rewritten extract.]


Che Guevara

Not a linguist but a good illustration of connotation. His famous photograph denotes a bearded soldier looking steely and determined. (A pose he held, in the middle of a busy group, for a moment only.) Since the 1960s, this momentary image – this instant in time - has somehow connoted every hippy rebellion, appearing on peacenik’s bedsit walls, college noticeboards, leftie classrooms and anarcho-libertarian T shirts ever since. Somehow a uniformed warrior’s moment of reflection has come to represent youthful idealism, peace and the radical agitation for it, and more latterly a kind of generic indie-ness of all kinds, including the corporate kind. Che has become a ‘brand.’ His image is a text we invest with The Sixties and all that decade has come to ‘mean’. 

 [MSOffice1] These opening pages are accessible and the bullets help break up the text

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