Sunday, October 18, 2015

Analysing meanings and representations 2

In the textual analysis post yesterday I focused on how to analyse language to look at meanings and representations. In this post, I'll take a look at the ways in which you can explore how different opinions and views are put forward in texts and how you can start to do good AO1 and AO3 work on different kinds of texts.

Again, this focuses primarily on Questions 1 and 2, where you are encouraged to look closely at how language creates meanings and representations. On one level, as I said in yesterday's post, this means getting a sense of how the overall subject of each text is being represented. If the topic of the text is the natural environment, how is this topic being represented?

Here is an example taken from a Wildlife Trust leaflet:

Here, you might make the point that the environment is being represented as under threat. How is this achieved? Through a series of different language choices, all contributing their own meanings to an overall representation.

For example:

  • the graphology anchors the themes being talked about and presents us with a clear picture of what is under threat
  • the vocabulary uses a lexical field of nature and keeps the focus squarely on key areas, while there are quite specific references to breeds of bird, types of environment and precise figures
  • vocabulary choices like the adjective 'iconic' help to represent the natural environment as part of the UK's heritage
  • the grammar helps to present the threat as current and ongoing through the present progressive verb phrase "are disappearing" and as a victim of external forces through the passive voice in the second box "...has been lost"

Overall, these combine to create a particular set of ideas about the situation.

Another kind of text offers you different angles to explore. The text above represents an idea with just one voice, but many texts - for example, spoken conversations and online message boards - give you different people's views, and these are worth looking at in more detail because they might use language in different ways to represent different ideas. Equally, they might share similar views and put them forward with a degree of similarity.

Here's an example of a couple of posts on the Mumsnet forum, that are about school proms (the same topic as the sample AQA AS paper for Paper 1). Look at how the opinions are expressed here, how the posters create particular meanings and offer different representations of their views and the topic as a whole:


The poster 'mumblechum' expresses her (appalled) view of the picture that has been posted using the adjective phrase "utterly chavtastic" in an exclamative sentence, while 'thursdaynamechange' makes use of the emojis on the forum to put forward a representation of her own face (a bit like you might do in a spoken conversation) before ending with a simple sentence that also makes use of a negative adjective phrase "utterly ridiculous".

They both have a very negative view of the lengths to which some people go to impress others at a school prom and make their views very clear with these language choices. What does 'chavtastic' mean? Why choose that adjective, rather than (say) 'chavvy'? Why has the second poster emboldened "primary school" and put scare-quotes around 'environmental'? What do these mean? And how do they work together to represent a view?

There are quite a few other things that you could look at here, as the two posters are not just talking about school proms and how much money some people spend on them, but are also representing themselves (and their daughters) as particular kinds of people. They are using language not just to express ideas, but to position themselves too. This is something we'll have a look at in more detail in some posts later this week.


notagypsyhonest said...

Thanks for this - such helpful ideas! Do you have any tips for teaching prosodic features at A-level?
Thanks, K.

Dan said...

Eeek, not really! Not one of my strong points. Your best bet might be Jane Setter at Reading (try googling her as she has some good videos up) and John Wells at UCL (