Thursday, May 10, 2012

ENGA1: quick revision tips 3

Mode is the name of the game in this quick revision post.

The first section on ENGA1 is called Language and Mode, so you'd have to be a mug not to mention it, but what is it? At its simplest, mode is basically the way language passes from text producer to text receiver. So, that can be via the visual channel in the form of written texts, or the aural channel in the form of spoken texts.Simples, no?

But mode is also quite a slippery concept in that it relates to the ways in which we understand other ideas about how texts are produced and received, so we use the notion of the mode continuum to talk about different dimensions along which we can place texts. The clickable graphic of this can offer you a few pointers as to which dimensions are most relevant at this level. You might have used different terms for some of these (e.g. asynchronous for delayed, or synchronous for immediate) but it's all the same really.

How do you address mode in the exam? I'd suggest tackling it head-on at the earliest stage. You've probably been told how to structure an essay for this question already, but an approach I always like is to use the acronym GASP: Genre, Audience, Subject, Purpose. This allows you to think about the type of texts, who they're aimed at, what they're about, and what purposes they serve; so I'd suggest that mode is dealt with as a concept as part of Genre. For example, you could talk about Text A or B being an example of a spoken mode anecdote, a written mode piece of fiction, a blended mode Twitter timeline, etc..

The other thing about mode is that examiners are keen to reward students who see the subtleties of mode across different texts, or even within the same ones. I'm always banging on at my students about not treating texts as "uniform blobs" - homogeneous, unchanging, fixed and straightforward - but as places where different things can happen.

For example, in a spoken interaction it would be daft to assume that each speaker used the same degree of standard/non-standard language or to assume that a speaker was always being interactional rather than transactional, so the same is true to an extent for written texts: they may exhibit some features of one mode dimension at one point and then another aspect of that mode dimension at another point. A written text might start as a formal and transactional piece, but develop into something more informal and interactional. Look for shifts within texts, but also of course between them. Always provide evidence for your observations though, because you need to show the examiner that what you are saying is linked to actual examples of language in the texts, rather than vague generalities plucked from thin air.

The other interesting area of mode is, I think, that of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) where we see texts which are primarily visual in their channel, but quite spoken in their style: tweets, emails, online chat and message forums, and text messages perhaps. However, these texts pose their own questions and again examiners like to see students who can respond to what's put in front of them, rather than make blanket judgements about CMC texts always being (say) non-standard, informal and instant.

We see, for instance, a huge range of language styles in emails, depending on who has sent them, to whom they've been sent and what they're about. If you're a Colchester Sixth Form College student you'll soon be able to look on Moodle to see the excellent presentations done by AS classes where they pulled apart different emails to see how they varied in style and structure. If not, bad luck, but you can easily find a few examples of your own.

Overall, I think mode is a really interesting area of language to look at and one that allows you to open up texts for really careful scrutiny. It helps if you can combine discussing it with other ideas about the texts' contexts - very much as Marcello Giovanelli explained at the recent EMC Language conference - but it's also something that can be linked neatly to specific language features for AO1:

  • minor sentences used as a form of elliptical, abbreviated, rapid writing/typing (e.g. "Well done!" used in an email from parent to son about a new job)
  • syntactical reordering of spoken language to put emphasis on particular bits of a sentence (e.g. "That one I really like, that one I don't")
  • inclusive first person plural pronouns being used in written texts to create synthetic personalisation and position the text producer as a friend or ally ("It seems that we can't get enough of Kirsty Allsop")

The next post will be on meaning...

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