Friday, May 03, 2013

Grammar and Discourse in Applied Linguistics Part 1: Written Text Analysis

[This assignment was a comparison of two texts.  Article one is here and article two is here.  This paper was originally submitted in June 2010.]

         This section will analyze and compare the two texts by looking at paragraphs, sentence structure, noun phrases, verb tenses, and information structure.

I. Paragraph Structure
In terms of number of sentences, the two texts are roughly equal, differing only by one.
            Paragraph structure is slightly different.  Compared to article one, article two has a slight preference for longer paragraphs.
Article one has sixteen sentences, arranged into ten paragraphs: four paragraphs consisting of a single sentence, and six paragraphs made up of two sentences. Article two has seventeen sentences, arranged into nine paragraphs: three paragraphs consisting of a single sentence, four paragraphs consisting of two sentences, and two paragraphs consisting of three sentences.

II. Sentence Structure
A. Article one
          This article has three simple sentences (located in paragraph 4 sentence 2 (hereafter referred to as p4s2) p6s1, p8s3) seven complex sentences (p1s1) p2s1, p4s1, p7s1, p8s1, p9s1, p9s2), six compound complex sentences (p3s1, p5s1, p6s2, p7s2, p10s1, p10s2) and six compound complex sentences (p3s1, p5s1, p6s2, p7s2, p10s1, p10s2).  Clearly the sentence structure is varied, but the preference is for more complex sentences.  Although this article was written for English learners, it is not for absolute beginners. (It is in fact ranked as lower intermediate).

B. Article two
            This article has one simple sentence (p3s1), twelve complex sentences (p1s1, p1s2, p1s3, p2s1, p2s2, p4s1, p4s2, p5s1, p7s1, p8s1, p9s1, p9s2) and four compound complex sentences (p3s2, p5s2, p5s3, p6s4).
            Although both articles favor complex sentences, article two clearly relies more heavily on them.  In fact article two only has one sentence without an embedded subordinate clause, compared with nine sentences in article one.  This indicates the reading level of article two is more advanced.
II. Noun Phrases
A. Article One
            Most of the noun phrases found in this text favor post-modification.  Pre-modification, although it exists, is usually just restricted to a single determiner, so we have several examples such as “a list,” “the study,” “a parent,” and “the result,” et cetera, making up the bulk of pre-modification examples.
            There are some exceptions to this of course.  Sometimes a noun or noun phrase is acting as a pre-modifier, as in “space tourism,” “the UK government,” and “research company.”  Other times pre-modification is done by adjectives or adjective phrases, like, “five different jobs,” the most popular jobs,” and “spare legs.”
            Other examples of pre-modification include numbers “20 jobs,” present participle verbs “exciting changes,” possessive pronouns “their lifetime.”
            [Incidentally, from a prescriptive grammar standpoint “lifetime” should probably be in the plural form to agree with its modifier “their,” and the subject of the sentence “students.”]
            However the bulk of the information in the noun phrases is usually in post-modification.  Most commonly this seems to take the role of a prepositional phrase, usually containing another noun phrase, as in “some of the most popular jobs,” “the creation of new limbs” and “$100m on a footballer.” Or sometimes even multiple post-modifying prepositional phrases as in paragraph 4: “a list of 20 jobs for the study.”
            The post-modification sometimes also takes the form of a peripheral dependent, such as in “The report, the Shape of Jobs to Come,” or “Rohit Talwar, chief executive of the research company.”
            Moving onto the more complex, an example of a noun phrase taking a subordinate clause as a post-modifiers can be found in paragraph 9: “Students coming out of university now.”
            Other times the entire noun phrase is a subordinate clause.  This is true in paragraphs 6 and 7 in both cases with the object noun phrase following the verb “predicts.”

B. Article two
          Like article one, many of the noun phrases in article two use post-modification.  The noun phrases in article two, however, use much more complex post-modification, often involving a relative clause as a post modifier.  The first sentence in paragraph 4, for example, takes a relative clause as a peripheral dependent of the subject noun clause.  The first sentence in paragraphs 5 and 7 both contain relative clauses in the subject noun phrase introduced by the phrase, “The fact that.”  The example in paragraph 5 even contains an adverbial clause inside of the relative clause.

III. Verb Tenses and Aspects
A. Article One
            Because the first article is talking about predictions for the future (something that might happen) it makes heavy use of epistemic modality.  This is evident in verb phrases like, “could include,” “could change,” “will come,” “will become,” (used twice) “will be,” (used twice) “could lead,” and “could have,” which are all used to describe some of the predictions reported.
            When describing what people should do to prepare for these changes, the deontic modality “should concentrate” is used.   And finally, in the last paragraph when imagining himself as a parent Talwar uses the volitional subjunctive.  (Although as an indication of how the language is changing he says, “If I was,” instead of “If I were.”)
            However when the report itself (sometimes referred to as “the study”), is the focus of the sentence the author writes about it in the present tense.  “The report…predicts,” “The study predicts,” or “the study says.”
            Since the report has been completed at some point in the past, it may seem strange to use present tense verbs to describe it.  And another writer might have conceivably preferred the past tense for these same sentences.
            However, when describing the written word, it is customary with some writers to refer to it in the present tense.  The logic is that the written word is more permanent than a vocal utterance.  A vocal utterance is usually only spoken once, and only heard once.  Printed words are only written once, but they can be read numerous times, and so each time the report is read by another reader, it will continue predicting and saying.
            The contrast in verb tenses used to attribute written words and spoken words are interesting.  Almost all the verbs used to attribute spoken words are in the past tense, whether attributed directly or indirectly.
            Examples are paragraph 4 “The company asked,” (in paragraph 4, for indirect attribution,) “He said,” (in paragraph 7, for direct attribution), “said Talwar,” (in paragraph 9, direct attribution) and “Talwar said” (in paragraph 10, indirect attribution). 
            The exception to this is paragraph 7, where the present tense “Rohit Talwar…predicts,” is used for indirect attribution.  It’s interesting because in the next sentence the writer switches back again to the past tense with “he said.”  One way to explain this is that “predicts” is used to attribute Talwar’s general opinion, whereas “he said” refers to a direct quotation only uttered once.
            And finally a brief mention about other verb types.  The passive voice is used once in the present tense as an agentless passives used to describe the predictions of the report: “roles…are expected”.  It is also used once in the past to describe what had been considered, this time with the agent “by the researchers” attached.  And a verb in the imperative is used to begin the article.
Article Two
            Because the second article covers many different periods of time, it makes use of four different types of verbs: the present simple, the past simple, the past with the perfect aspect (past perfect), and the present with the perfect aspect (present perfect).
            The present tense is used sparingly, but is used to describe the way things are in the world today, for example: Che’s picture “adorns student bedrooms across the world” or “[Diaz] lives in Cuba.”
            Also, as with the use of “predicts” in article one, the present tense here is also used to attribute ongoing opinions, such as “she accuses” or “Michael Casey…notes”.  Somewhat unusually perhaps the present tense is also used in attributing written words in “Casey writes.”  It might have been more correct (from a prescriptive view) to say, “Casey wrote.”  But although the act of writing only occurred once, perhaps the author wanted to convey that these are still Casey’s opinions at present.  Also Diaz’s indirect dialogue attribution is used with the present tense “says.”
            This contrasts with Korda’s opinions, which are reported in the past tense, as in “said Korda.”  However Korda died nine years before this article was published, and so his opinions can not be said to be ongoing.
            The article also uses the past tense to describe many events that took place in the past.  It is notable that the past tense in this regard is not used to describe degrees of past.  Events that took place fifty years ago (“Guitierrez snapped”) or ten years ago (“he sued”) and even events that spanned several decades (“did not recognise” or “could be utilised,") all make use of the simple past tense. 
            The past perfect, then, is used in contrast to the past, to locate events that are further back than the time the sentence references.  For example “had shown,” and “had been taken,” (the latter one a passive example) are both further back in time than “he told one interviewer.” 
            It is interesting, therefore, that “only managed” is not also in the past perfect, however perhaps the unwritten words “he had” are assumed.
            Next let’s turn our attention to the present perfect.
The present perfect is used in this article to describe situations which have resulted from past events, for example “the image has become the subject of bitter legal battles,” “Cuba has demonstrated,” “she has had to sell,” and “has led to.”
            The present perfect is also used to describe situations which are extending beyond the time of the writing, such as “[Diaz] has pursued.”
            The addition of the perfect aspect in the second article is one of the things that differentiates it from the first article (which contains no verbal elements in the perfect aspect) and is probably one of the reasons why article two is marked as more advanced.

IV. Information Structure
A. Article One
            As noted above, article one uses the passive voice twice.  Both of these times are to highlight the actual predictions or considerations.  In paragraph 5, the agentlesss passive is used because who is doing the predicting is uninteresting compared to what is being predicted.  (Although in this case the reader knows from context that it is the study’s prediction.) 

B. Article Two
          Article two mostly avoids the use of the passive.  There are a couple examples however, such as “he had been …taken aback,” and “the image could be utilised.”
            The first phrase is an agentless passive.  This is probably because it is perfectly obvious from the context that Guevara was the agent. It is an example of a set phrase that is almost always used in the passive.  In fact the active form, “Guevara took him aback,” almost sounds unnatural.  The focus in this phrase is almost always on who was taken aback, not who caused them to be taken aback.
            The second passive example is used to keep the focus of the clause on the image, and not on the people who used it, who are probably unknown (at least in their entirety) and even if they were known, their actual identities are unimportant.
          Besides the passive voice, another information structure that article two makes use of is end-weight, with all the new information being put at the back of the sentence.  Sometimes the It-cleft formation is used to achieve this, as in the very first sentence, or in the second sentence of paragraph 3.  In both of these sentences “It” is the subject, and all of the information is in a subordinate clause following the be-verb.

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