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Preface v

Learning unit 1: What is Language? 1

1.1 An Introduction to Foundations in Applied English Language 1
1.2 What are texts and domains? 3
1.3 What is language? 4
1.4 Why study language? 5

Learning unit 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language 7

2.1 The Discrepancy between Spelling and Sound 8
2.2 Basic concepts of the sound system 11
2.3 Sound Production 15
2.4 Variation in pronunciation 19
2.5 Attitudes and Accents 20
2.6 Sound Patterning 21
2.6.1 The Syllable 21
2.6.2 Stress and intonation 24

Learning unit 3: How do we build them? Words and Sentences 26

3.1 Morphology 26
3.1.1 Types of Morphemes 27
3.2 Challenges in dividing words into morphemes 30
3.3 Morphs and Allomorphs 31
3.4 Word Formation Processes 32
3.5 Syntax: word order and sentence structure 34
3.5.1 The Sentence 34
3.6 The basic structure of the sentence 35
3.7 The conjunction in a sentence 52
3.8 Sentences in texts 52

Learning unit 4: I hear what you are saying, but what do you mean? 57
4.1 What is meaning? 58
4.1.1 Word order and meaning 58
4.1.2 Time, space and meaning 59
4.1.3 Non-Verbal Language (or Paralinguistic Tools) and Meaning 60
4.1.4 Signs/Symbols and Meaning 60
4.2 Words in Context 62
4.2.1 Ambiguity 62
4.2.2 Homophones 63

ENG1502/1/2013–2014 (iii)
4.2.3 Synonyms 63
4.3 Kinds of Meaning 64
4.3.1 Denotation 64
4.3.2 Connotation 65
4.3.3 Literal meaning 65
4.3.4 Metaphoric meaning 65

Learning unit 5: One Language: Many Varieties 67

5.1 Texts in conversational contexts 67
5.2 Context of situation 69
5.3 Language and Society 70
5.4 Language and Social class 72
5.5 What is Standard English? 73

Learning unit 6: Language in Action 76

6.1 The Importance of Context 76
6.2 Analysing authentic texts in the real world 80
6.3 Language in Literature 94

Appendices 107



This study guide forms the core study material for the module ENG1502: Foundations
in Applied English Language Studies. The study material comes in a package compris-
ing a Study Guide and an accompanying CD.

In this introductory note, we outline the outcomes of the module and its content and
we also give guidance on how to use the study material.

Purpose of this module

The purpose of the module is to introduce the study of the English Language. This
module is part of the first year English Language and Literature Major offered by the
English Studies Department. It forms part of the BA general degree. It’s companion
first year module is ENG1501: Foundations in English Literary Studies.

The graduate that we would like to produce should:

(1) gain a firm background in the theories underpinning the use of the English
(2) be able to use the English language with confidence in all its functions: reading,
writing, speaking, or listening.
(3) understand the structure and function of the English language in the various
discourses – which include literature, media, technology, and others.

To achieve these outcomes, our graduates therefore need to study a foundational module
in Applied English Studies in the following areas:

• the sounds and sound patterns of the English language (phonetics and phonology)
• the formation of words and the relationship among them (morphology and syntax)
• ways in which the language makes meaning and is used in context (semantics,
pragmatics and discourse analysis)
• the mutual relationship between language and society (sociolinguistics)

The module offers students an opportunity for a broad exploration and understand-
ing of what these aspects of language are and how they relate to each other. The main
emphasis is on the application of these theoretical concepts to the English Language
and on the laying of a foundation for further explorations in the second year. Unit 1
gives the scope of the module as outlined below:

ENG1502/1 (v)

Outcomes and Assessment Criteria of the Module

Outcome 1:

Students can describe and explain the structure of texts above single-sentence level.

Assessment criteria:

Students can identify the purpose, structure, audience, tone and style of authentic texts
such as advertisements, news reports and political speeches.

Outcome 2:

Students can understand and explain the grammatical and functional structure of the
English Language.

Assessment criteria:

Students can:

(1) identify words and phrases in clauses and sentences;

(2) describe and explain the functions of the constituents of a sentence;
(3) describe the function of the major word classes: noun, verb, adjective, adverb etc.,
and recognise the difference between content and structure words.

Outcome 3:

Students produce their own writing, practising the conventions of academic English.

Assessment criteria:

(1) in written texts, students can substantiate their ideas;

(2) use the standard form of the English language;
(3) write grammatical sentences;
(4) compose properly structured paragraphs;
(5) adopt a formal tone and style;
(6) organise ideas logically;
(7) use correct spelling and punctuation.

Module Layout
There are six units in this module.

• With the exception of the last unit, each unit is constructed in the following way:
An introduction; outcomes of the unit; discussion of the critical areas of the topic;
activities; some feedback; and key terminology and references. Unit 6 is laid out
slightly differently. This unit gives you an opportunity to observe some aspects of the
language which are covered in the other units as they may be used in real situations.
• The activities have been designed to engage students to think critically about how
each aspect of the English language relates to others at different levels and in everyday
use. Students are expected to complete all exercises, and where feedback has been
provided, check their answers. The activities build progressively on one another and
are therefore interrelated from one unit to another.


• In line with the practice in Applied Language and Linguistics, the examples used in the
Study Guide have been drawn, as far as possible, from various social contexts. Since
many of our students come from Southern Africa, and South Africa, many examples
reflect this context. However, since language is a universal social phenomenon,
anyone who speaks a language will relate comfortably to the concepts illustrated.
• The CD provides several live examples of the English language as it is spoken
by different members of the community of English speakers. Here you have the
opportunity to listen to sounds, songs, readings and language as it is really used in
various other social scenarios.
• Each unit provides you with a modest reading list which you are strongly advised to
go through as it will enrich your understanding of some of the concepts discussed
in the module.
• While all assessment and further activities will be included in the Tutorial letter
101, and on the course website, you are urged to make very productive use of the
information and exercises in the prescribed texts.

Prescribed Textbooks
There are two prescribed books which will be used in the first and second year. You are
required to buy these books. They are available at a discounted fee at all official Unisa
booksellers within South Africa. The following are the titles:

(1) Carter, R., Goddard, A., Reah, D., Sanger, K. & Swift, N. (2008) Working with
Texts, London: Routledge.
(2) Mullany, L. & Stockwell, P. (2010) Introducing English Language, London: Routledge.

Recommended References
Richards, C. & Schmidt, R. (2010) Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied
Linguistics, (4th ed) London: Pearson Education Limited

In addition to these prescribed books you will also receive some guidelines in your
Tutorial Letter 101 about the Electronic resources, recommended works and any other
ancillary material.

We would like to thank the listed authors for their contribution to this module.

ENG1502/1 (vii)
UNIT 1: What is language?

1 UNIT 1

1 What is Language?


This first year Language Module will provide you with an introduction to the English
language. It will familiarise you with the terms and concepts that are used to describe
language in a scientific and systematic way. These terms and concepts are going to be
applied in real life contexts where the English Language is used. You will learn about
domains or situations of language use (e.g. home, boardroom, school, court, and so
on). Because Applied English language refers to the arena of the use and application of
linguistic concepts in different situations, it will be necessary that we introduce you to
the definitions of technical language analysis terminology such as, syntax, phonetics,
phonology, register, genre, text, semantics and pragmatics.

Language is an integral component of any society. In order for us to investigate how

language is used in society, we have to study varieties of language, dialects, standards,
and attitudes to language. In line with this, the module will introduce some concepts
of language in society.

The rationale for this module is taken from the module form, which is an official docu-
ment that presents the aims and outcomes for modules at UNISA. We outline this
underlying principle below:

(a) The module will equip students with the skills of applied English language studies
(such as language usage, writing studies, and discourse analysis). Students will be
able to apply their understanding and skills to English language as it functions in
various real-life contexts such as, the media and political contexts.
(b) The module aims to introduce students to a systematic description of English
Language and to introduce them to the grammatical competences needed to apply
their knowledge to the analysis of authentic language data.
(c) The module will introduce meta-language terminology in the discipline of Applied
English language studies which is essential for advanced proficiency and literacy

The specific outcomes of this unit are the following:

(1) Define what is language, and describe various definitions of language.

(2) Describe the functions of language.

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(3) Explain the relevance/importance of English Language Studies.
(4) Use the knowledge gained to analyse a few texts.

This unit seeks to orientate you to a list of concepts in Applied English language studies
that are going to be used in the rest of the Study Guide. These ideas form a foundational
knowledge base for the study of language in subsequent years.

Source: Adapted from Eggins (1994)

Diagram 1

The diagram above illustrates the structure and system of how language relates to
people who use it in various situations and cultures. Some of these terms may be unfa-
miliar to you, but if you look carefully, you might recognize terms like ‘letters’, ‘sounds’,
‘wordings’, or ‘words’, ‘meanings’, and ‘culture’. There are also technical words on the
diagram that are used to describe these familiar terms, which are used in the study of
language. These are; phonology, grammar, and semantics (e.g. phonology = the study
of sound patterns).

The diagram above represents the wider field of language studies. This module will
depart from the smallest circle, and move gradually towards the bigger circles. Although
it is clear from the diagram through the various lines that the smallest units of analy-
sis of language are sounds and letters, both these take us to the next, bigger circle of
words and as you move further outwards, the words convey meanings. Words and the
meanings are governed by grammatical rules. For the sake of this first-year module,
we are going to look at two main concepts that illustrate the nature of language. These
are texts and domains of language use. You may have heard that meaning depends
on the context. In other words, a context or domain has ‘meaning potential’. That is,
meaning is obtained in the context.

UNIT 1: What is language?

See the diagram below:



Domains: business, Law, Media, Politics, Advertising, Science, Technology

Texts: lexis, syntax, grammar,


Diagram 2

Our main unit of analysis in language studies is a text.

What do you think a text is?

Write down other words that have the stem ‘text’, (e.g. textile) and think about what
they mean.

Write down at least one definition of a text.

As you read this module, you may also want to compile your own file or journal where
you place or paste your own texts.

Diagram 2 above shows the two-way, simultaneous relationship that exists between
a text, and the domains of language use. This diagram illustrates that any given text
occurs within a corresponding domain of language. There are many types of texts, as
illustrated in Unit 6. It would not be possible to list all of them. Likewise, there are
numerous domains of language use.

Carter et. al. (2008:142) say that the word ‘text’ itself originally meant ‘something
woven’ (Latin texere, – ‘to weave’ textum – ‘what has been woven’), and you can see a
relationship between text, textile (‘capable of being woven’) and texture (‘having the
quality of woven cloth’). By ‘text’ we mean any piece of writing/language that hangs
together from the beginning to the end. It has to have unity. Texts do not only have
to be written. They can be spoken, e.g. the news that we hear on radio, or the news
that we watch being broadcast on Television. A text can also be visual or audio-visual.
Indeed, texts that are produced for television are audio-visual. Similarly, some written
texts combine both the written and the visual, e.g. Newspaper reports. An art painting,
such as, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or the Last Supper can also be a text.

ENG1502/1 3
Domain refers to social categories which locate all instances of language use in vari-
ous situations or contexts. It can be the classroom domain, the sports field, a church,
a political rally, etc. Notice that a classroom belongs to the larger sphere or domain
of education, and a sermon in church belongs to the larger domain of religion. Some
of the domains of language use that will be discussed in this module are advertising,
politics, literature and media. Domains can be more abstract entities, although we can
identify them through various artefacts: texts, drawings, and pictures. A collection of
pictures can work together to portray a particular domain.

Once we define the domain or the situation, we can then ask questions like, what is the
topic? Is this text spoken or written? What is the meaning of the text? How does the text create this
meaning? Who are the interlocutors (or addresser and addressee)? Who are the participants? Answer-
ing such questions, will then take us back to other aspects of the study of language
where we will be studying concepts like, genre, discourse, register, field, tenor and
mode, (as shown in Diagram 1 above). These terms will be explained in more detail in
the following units.

New Terminology

As a way of introducing this module, we would like to inform you that you will meet
many new terms and therefore, you will have to learn the definitions of the terms and
how they are applied to the study of language. We have provided glossaries at the end of
some units to help you with the definition of terms. You should also consult additional
sources to learn more about the concepts that are introduced in this study guide. Be
aware that certain terms may sound familiar in everyday use but actually they have a
special or a technical meaning in Applied Language Studies. Always have examples of
each term. Applied Language Studies requires precision and accuracy in the definition
of terms and examples of the usage of the terms.


The following are some of the definitions that have been suggested by different scholars.

• Language is sometimes referred to as a semiotic system (Halliday 1979 and Carter

et. al. 1997). This means that it is thought to be a system where the individual
elements – ‘signs’ – take their overall meaning from how they are combined with
other elements, (for example, road traffic lights).
• Language is a system of relating forms to meanings, (Delahunty & Garvey 2010:31).
• Language is a set of rules, unconsciously present in the mind, which enables human
beings to represent and communicate meanings by producing audible, visible, or
tactile symbols that these rules systematically relate to those meanings, (Delahunty
& Garvey 2010:31).
• We use the term language to refer to the general faculty which enables human
beings to engage in the verbal exchange of information – to ‘talk’ to each other.
The exchange may take place by means of speech, writing, signing, or Braille,
(Jackson & Stockwell 2011).

In this module we view language as a system of relating forms to functions. The fol-
lowing is an explanation of what it means to view language as a system. We need to
learn forms and functions of the English Language. For example, we learn about the
constituents of sentences, such as verbs, nouns, and adverbs. We then move on to learn
about how these forms function in a sentence in order to make meaning in conversation
or in other texts. For example, we learn about functional aspects of the same forms such

UNIT 1: What is language?

as, subject of a simple sentence, predicate, or object. Later on we examine authentic

texts, such as, poems and recipes, to see how these are used in contexts.

Here is an extract from Delahunty and Garvey (2010:38), which describes why we refer
to language as a system and what the elements of a system are.

A language as a system

Rules are not distributed randomly in the mind like potatoes in a sack. Rather, they are
systematically related to one another. It is easiest to envision this conception with an
analogy. A computer system has a set of components (central processing unit, monitor,
keyboard, speakers, and drives of various types) whose overall function is to process
information. The components interact with each other; you can, for instance, play a
CD while reading your email. The components also contain smaller parts, all of which
interact in precise, though limited, ways with each other and with parts of other compo-
nents. Language systems likewise have components. The most commonly cited ones are:
phonetics/phonology, morphology, vocabulary, orthography/spelling/writing, syntax,
semantics, pragmatics, and discourse, (Delahunty & Garvey 2010:38).

The following table represents the language system:

Language concept Meaning

Phonetics The study of speech sounds.
Phonology The study of the sound patterning system.
Lexis The study of the actual words a writer or speaker chooses
to use.
Morphology The study of how words are formed.
Syntax The study of how words combine to form sentences and the
rules that govern the formations.
Orthography Writing systems
Semantics The study of meaning, how meaning is made and understood.
Pragmatics The study of the use of language in communication – i.e.
sentences as used in contexts and situations.
Discourse How language is organized beyond the sentence, i.e. in larger

We have defined domain, text and what we mean by language as a system above. The
rest of the module will clarify some of the components which make up a written or
spoken text. It is important to bear in mind that we are analysing language use, and
the particular unit of analysis is the text. However, the text is made up of the entire
language as a system.

This short discussion should make it clear that the micro- (e.g. text) and macro- (e.g.
domains or situations) aspects of language study are connected. More of this will be
illustrated in the unit on Language in Action.


Now that you have been given the definitions of language, we would like to highlight
the importance of studying and teaching about language. Before reading on;

ENG1502/1 5
• What reasons can you give for Language Studies or for studying language?

You may think of many reasons such as, writing, reading, and speaking English in a
world where English is the language of doing business. In many countries all over the
world, English is an official language.

You might be interested in knowing about language variation (‘dialects’ or ‘varieties’).

You might be interested in standardisation of languages, in how languages are learned,
in the relationships between language and culture or society, or in how computers are
programmed to understand or produce language. Maybe you are interested in writing,
in journalism, or any communication field. You might want to enrich your own flu-
ency and proficiency in the language. People in various professions frequently have to
demonstrate competence and proficiency in the use of the English Language.

In conclusion, we can say that language is a tool that humans use in order to exchange
meaningful messages with some of our fellow human beings by means of texts, which
are structured according to the rules and conventions of the particular language that
we share with those fellow human beings (Jackson & Stockwell 2011).

In the rest of the module, language will be studied in context and different features
will be traced in persuasive texts such as advertisements and political speeches, as well
as in informative texts such as news reports. You will be sensitised to the way language
changes according to context, audience and purpose. In other words, you will be in-
troduced to the notion of register. The distinction between standard and non-standard
English will be discussed; the characteristics of South African English considered.
Samples of English in the technological/digital age will be used to demonstrate devia-
tions from the standard and to enhance understanding of the constant dynamism of
language. The rest of the module focuses on language and context. It further traces
different features in persuasive language, discourse analysis and language analysis of
literary texts. Sociolinguistic issues, including such concepts as language and identity,
power, and gender, will also be introduced.


Carter, R., Goddard, A., Reah, D., Sanger, K. & Swift, N. (2008) Working with Texts,
London: Routledge.
Delahunty, G.P. & Garvey, J.J. (2010) The English Language from Sound to Sense, Colorado:
WAC Clearinghouse.
Eggins, S. (1994) An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, London: Pinter
Jackson, H. & Stockwell, P. (2011) An Introduction to The Nature and Functions of Language,
London: Continuum
Mullany, L. & Stockwell, P. (2010) Introducing English Language, London: Routledge.

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

2 UNIT 2

Let’s listen to the sounds of the English



“The playwright on my right thinks that some conventional rite should symbolize
the right of every man to write as he pleases”

“The sons raise meat” and “The sun’s rays meet”.

What you saying? Come again?

By the end of the unit you should be able to:

• define some of the key terminology used to discuss the sound system of the English
• describe the sounds and sound patterns of the English language;
• explain how sound and spelling relate in English;
• distinguish between the different sound articulation patterns of the English language;
• read with understanding the dictionary entries on sound and pronunciation;
• identify speech variation patterns as used by different speakers.

This unit presents a discussion of the sound system of the English Language. The aim
is to equip you with enough tools to assist you to speak intelligibly. For this reason,
this unit is accompanied by a CD in which some of the pronunciation is illustrated. Put
simply, this unit is about the art of pronunciation.

Given that the sound system is very wide, and we have limited space, we will be se-
lective about what we include in this unit. In applied language studies we are always
concerned with application of the theoretical and feature descriptions of language, as
such, our focus in this unit will be to observe the sound system in action. We will be
using a number of examples from different genres and speech events to illustrate how
sound patterning assists with effective language use.

ENG1502/1 7
To get us thinking more about how spelling and sound in the English language let’s
read and listen again to the opening quotation. Observe the play on the sound ‘rite’. The
words ‘rite’ , ‘write’, ‘right’ ‘wright’ are all spelt differently and convey different mean-
ings, yet they sound similar. In English grammar such words are called homophones.
(See Unit 3 for a detailed description of homophones.) This kind of wordplay is used
a lot in poetry for example to create rhythm, rhyme echo and humour. It makes a nice
candidate for the game of tongue twisting. I know a book by Thompson titled ‘The
Rite to Write about Wright’ a title that can ‘twist’ your tongue.

Some unknown author has created this verse to illustrate the discrepancy between
spelling and pronunciation:

I take it you already know of tough and bough and cough and dough? Some may
stumble, but not you, on hiccough, thorough, slough, and through? So now you
are ready, perhaps, to learn of less familiar traps? Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
that looks like beard, but sounds like bird. And dead, it’s said like bed, not bead;
for goodness’ sake, don’t call it deed! Watch out for meat and great and threat.
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.) A moth is not a moth in mother,
nor both in bother, broth in brother. And here is not a match for there, nor dear
and fear, for bear and pear. And then there’s dose and rose and lose – just look
them up–and goose and choose And cork and work and card and ward and font
and front and word and sword And do and go, then thwart and cart, come, come!
I’ve hardly made a start. A dreadful language? Why man alive! I’ve learned to talk
it when I was five. And yet to write it, the more I tried, I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.
– Author Unknown

Complete the following table with homophones for the given words. Two words have
been done for you as examples.
ate cereal dear sore mist made rain vain horse idle
eight reign

What can you say about the bolded words in the following pairs of sentences?

(a) The silver coin bears the armour of the King.

(b) The wild-life at that park is dominated by bears.

(a) Get to the store as soon as possible, it looks like there is a fire!
(b) If we store all the grain in the barn, it will be protected from the rain

(a) I have contracted the flu and must see a doctor soon
(b) We have contracted Omnifoto to cover the event on Wednesday.

(a) Your behaviour blew all our chances of winning.

(b) A blue dress would match your hat better than a red one.

Yes, some are either spelled differently and sounded the same or vice versa. This hap-
pens a lot in the English language, because, unlike other languages such as Esperanto,

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

and some Slavic languages, English spelling does not always reflect how the word is

It is from this behaviour of the spelling and sound relationship in the English language
that we have words classified as follows:

homophones: two words are homophones if they are pronounced the same way
but differ in meaning or spelling or both (e.g. bare and bear)

homonyms: two words are homonyms if they are pronounced or spelled the
same way but have different meanings. (e.g. bank (embankment) and bank (place
where money is kept)).

heteronyms: two words are heteronyms if they are spelled the same way but dif-
fer in pronunciation (e.g. row (a series of objects arranged in a line), pronounced
(r), and row (a fight), pronounced (rou)).

homographs: two words are homographs if they are spelled the same way but
differ in meaning (e.g. tear (water from the eyes) tear (rip -apart)).

In the unit on semantics, you will learn more about how words mean in different con-
texts and forms.

This activity aims at getting you to think about words, their sounds and meaning. It’s
no use being embarrassed hearing someone say ‘Hey, I am off to the bank across
the street’ and you, desperate for money responds and say ‘please get me R200.
Please, I’m so broke’ and the person says ‘No I meant the river bank across the street.’

Look again at the descriptions of the classifications of words and then do the

(1) Find 3 sets of words which are homonyms in the English language.
(2) Find 3 sets of words which are homophones in the English language.
(3) Find 3 sets of words which are heteronyms in the English language.
(4) Find sets of words which are homographs in the English language. (see this web
page for examples of homographs:

It will help if you attempt to use these words in sentences as well to ensure that you
understand the differences in meaning.

Let’s get back to more sounds now

Why learn about or teach pronunciation?

As Peter Roach (2009, p.6) has highlighted ‘… pronunciation exercises can be difficult, … but
if we eliminate everything difficult from language teaching and learning, we may end up doing very little
beyond getting students to play simple communication games.’

The minute you read this unit, you will instantly be reminded of the learning experience
on your first week at school, ‘learning the alphabet’. I imagine, like me, first, you were
puzzled by the 21 +5 symbols, which you were later told are consonants and vowels,

ENG1502/1 9
respectively. You scrambled through them, to memorize each vowel and consonant. As
you read books, papers, you kept meeting these symbols; gradually they got so familiar,
now, you don’t have to think about how they are sounded. So why are we doing this
again at University? Well the reasons are simple.

(1) We want to understand the ‘science’ behind the production of these sounds

(a) Where are they produced? Think about it, the sounds /b/ and /t/ are not
articulated at the same places in the mouth. To produce /b/, we use the two
lips, but when we produce /t/ we use the tongue and the alveolar ridge.
(b) How are they produced? When we make the sounds /b/ and /p/, we use the
two lips but with /b/ we make a noise and use some force, yet with /p/, we
don’t make a noise and we do not use force.

(2) For those of us whose first language is not English, the study of the sounds of the
English language will even be more advantageous.
(3) For those of us whose first language is English, over and above just using the
language, we must learn about its form and systemic function which adds to the
refinement of how we can effectively speak the language.

Some people pronounce words like ‘county’ as ‘cowtry’, ‘could’ as ‘cooled’, or put the
stress of the word ‘agreement’ on A as in ‘Agreement’ instead of ‘aGREEment’, putting
the stress on the second syllable. The first two examples illustrate the tendency to want
to sound every letter in a word, clearly not aware that some letters that come in pairs/
clusters, are represented by one sound during pronunciation or that some sounds are
‘silent’ in the English language. This can only be understood if one studies the phonetics
and phonology of a language. The last two examples illustrate a confusion with which
part of the word (the syllable) should be stressed. These ‘oddities’ may be regarded by
many as insignificant because they do not confuse understanding, but, they do sound
clumsy. For example you can enter into both an ‘aGREEment’ and ‘Argument’ with
someone, but not an ‘Agreement’ so if the word ‘agreement’ is pronounced the same as
‘argument’, then there may be a communication breakdown, and this is unnecessary, and
can be avoided.

Essential Terminology

Let’s quickly get the terminology in place.

When studying the symbols at this level we don’t call them letters or alphabets, but
phonemes. The whole system is referred to as the International Phonetic Alphabet
(IPA). (See appendix 1) for a complete chart of the IPA. The IPA was formed to ad-
dress the confusion arising from language orthography.

Each language, and so does the English Language, draws its sounds from this interna-
tional chart. When you see the chart in appendix 1, you will realize that some symbols/
sounds do not exist in the English language. For that reason, in Figure 1, we show only
those sounds applicable to the English language.

In total there is a set of 24 consonant phoneme sounds and 20 vowel phoneme sounds
(yes, 20 and not 5), in the English Language phonetic alphabet. Some of you will have
done this work in your first grade, but you were not aware your teachers were drawing
the phonetic variations from this alphabet.

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

The British English only IPA
Bilabial Labio- Inter- Alveolar Palato- Palatal Velar Glottal
dental dental alveolar
Stop p b t d k g
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ h
Affricate ʧ ʤ
Nasal m n ɳ
Liquid l
Glide w j

See the charts below showing the symbols with examples of words.

(See Appendix 1 for another complete table.)

We will discuss the names of the sounds later.


The study of the sound system is referred to as phonetics and phonology. At the
level of phonetics, we study the speech sounds, how they are articulated, (articulatory
phonetics), how they are transmitted (acoustic phonetics) and how they are received

ENG1502/1 11
(auditory phonetics). At the level of phonology, we study the ways in which the sounds
are combined, and patterned, as such we have syllable structures, and other features
above the segment level, the suprasegmental features of stress, intonation, pitch
and length. In this unit as well as units 4 and 6, you will read more about how these
features can make our everyday language work for communication.

In this unit we focus on articulatory phonetics, that is, how sounds are produced.
However, you can read more on acoustic and auditory phonetics on your own, or if you
happen to study speech therapy, linguistics, or music, you will get to know more about
other branches of phonetics. The descriptions are included in appendix 2 for those of
you who may be interested.

Articulatory phonetics

This refers to the study of how sounds are produced using the human vocal apparatus.
In articulatory phonetics, we describe and classify sounds according to where and how
they are produced. This shall form the main pre-occupation of this unit.

Other key terminology to support your understanding is: phoneme, phonemic and
phonetic. As noted earlier, in the phonetics and phonology discourse, we don’t call the
sounds, alphabets, but we call them phoneme sounds.

In the next unit you will learn that the smallest segment of a word is a morpheme. In
this unit we are making you aware that, the smallest segment of a sound is a phoneme
which can distinguish between two words. Let’s take the two words ‘pit’ and ‘pet’. They
differ in one vowel sound ‘e’ and ‘i’; ‘doom’ and ‘room’, they differ in the consonants /d/
and /r/, otherwise they are the same. Note that in writing, when we represent a pho-
neme, we put it between slashes /d/. This is how all phonemic sounds are represented.

The dictionary is a very good basic resource for you if you want to see information about
words. Take a quick look at any word in your dictionary, after every word entry, you
will find the phonemic transcription inside slashes, or a phonetic transcription inside
brackets, which illustrates the way the word is pronounced.

Here are some examples of the words ‘bias’ and ‘feat’ ‘graduate’ and ‘strike’ as repre-
sented in the dictionary.

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

feat /fi:t/ n. a remarkable, skilful, or daring action; exploit; achievement: feats of strength ... (example
taken from the Collins English Dictionary)

The entries in the dictionary provide you with very useful information. As you can see
in the examples above, the information touches on pronunciation, meaning, on word
usage, on accent/stress patterns, and on word morphology. The examples also illustrate
that different dictionaries use different methods to enter words. So choosing a diction-
ary also requires understanding what information you are looking for in the entry. If
you get stuck on a word, go to the dictionary. Part of the aim of this unit is to help you
understand how to read the dictionary entries on sound and pronunciation.

From now on remember to enclose /t/ in between slashes, if you are refering to ‘t’
as a sound. This will make more sense to you if you look at the way ‘th’ in the words
‘thin’ and ‘this’ are pronounced. You will realise that the manner of voicing is different,
in ‘thin’ it is voiceless and in ‘this’ it is voiced. Therefore, to represent these sounds you
cannot use the same symbol for – ‘th’, these are letters of the alphabet and as sounds
they are represented as follows:

/θ / = as in thin

/ ð/ = as in this

Don’t be confused by the terminology. You will come across the two phrases ‘phone-
mic symbols’ and ‘phonetic symbols’ used a lot in the literature on phonetics and
phonology, they are not interchangeable. A phonemic symbol shows fewer features
than a phonetic symbol and unlike the phoneme sound, the phonetic symbol will

ENG1502/1 13
be enclosed in square brackets [a]. Phonetic representation is more precise and much
more complex than phonemic representation. For our purposes we will use phonemic
systems to refer to sounds.

To illustrate the differences, let’s look at the sound /p/ in ‘peat’ and /t/ in ‘take’. The
sounds have aspiration, that is, when you pronounce them, you push air out, almost
like you have put an ‘h’ sound [ph] and [th]. Phonetically you would represent the word
‘peat’ as [phiˈt] and phonemically as /pit/. In the former, the aspiration is shown using
the aspirant and the diacritic mark on the vowel sound.

Lets listen to some words taken from:

Let’s practise these words together:

• Listen to the word. (wait for a one second pause after)

• Say the word with me.
• Say the sentence with me.

Are you ready for this?

(1) thistle (allow a pause and then repeat with me). Be careful not to step on the thistle.
(2) crisps. Potato chips are called crisps in England.
(3) should. You should not pronounce the l when you say the word should.
(4) would. Would and wood sound the same when you say them out loud.
(5) clothes. Put on warm clothes before you head outside today.
(6) order. The order of these words is not important.
(7) murder. A man was charged with murder over the holidays.
(8) air. The air is so cold you can see your breath.
(9) literature. You can download classic literature for free online.
(10) language. English is a difficult language to learn.
(11) onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia refers to words that sound like their meaning.
(12) deterioration. It is difficult to watch the deterioration of a friend’s health.
(13) little. If you practise, your English will improve little by little.
(14) assailant. The assailant was caught by the police.
(15) catastrophic. A catastrophic earthquake struck the centre of the city.
(16) alter. Don’t alter your plans just because I can’t go.
(17) exclamation. One exclamation mark is enough to get your point across.
(18) crocodile. Captain Hook was petrified of the crocodile in the movie Peter Pan.
(19) unfortunate. It is unfortunate that the weather has delayed our trip.
(20) six. Six plus six equal twelve, which is also known as a dozen.
(21) development. The development of new technology has allowed us to receive in-
formation very quickly.
(22) decision. It wasn’t my decision to have a picnic in the rain.
(23) ambulance. When you hear an ambulance you must pull over to the side of the road.
(24) law. The law states that residents must clear their sidewalk when it snows.
(25) low. If you bend down low, you will see where the children are hiding.

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

Find a telephone directory and look-up 25 surnames you have difficulty pronouncing.
Why do you think you have difficulty with these names?


Knowing how sounds are produced is an important skill for teachers and anyone learn-
ing the English language.

What do we do with our mouth when we pronounce words?

We shall begin by looking inside the mouth where all these sounds are made.

The vocal tract

The following diagram shows the vocal tract and some of the important areas at which
the consonant sounds of the English language are produced.

We start with the consonants.

This is a sketch of the head showing all the articulators. You will need to look at it
carefully as the sounds are described, and you will often find it useful to have a mirror
and a well-lit place so that you can look inside of your mouth as you practice placing
your sounds.

Figure 3 above shows all the organs involved in speech production.

The description of consonants involves identifying three aspects/features of a sound

namely; place, manner and voicing. Where in the vocal tact are sounds made? How are
they produced? What is the state of the voice during production?

ENG1502/1 15
Figure 4 shows the sounds at their place of articulation.
Places of articulation

When a sound is produced, two articulators are involved: one is the active articulator
(the one that moves) and the other the passive articulator (the one that the other moves
toward). During consonant production, the airstream which moves from the lungs
through the vocal tract, must be obstructed. The consonants are therefore classified
according to the place and manner of obstruction.

Name of sound Place of Obstruction

Bilabial The point of maximum constriction is made by the coming
together of the two lips. /b, p, m/
Labiodental The lower lip articulates with the upper teeth. /f, v/
Dental/interdental The tip of the tongue articulates with the back or bottom of
the top teeth. ‘th’ /θ/ð/
Alveolar The tip or the blade of the tongue articulates with the forward
part of the alveolar ridge. /t, d, s, z, n, l/
Postalveolar/ The tip or the blade of the tongue articulates with the back
palato-alveolar area of the alveolar ridge. /ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ/ as in ‘fish’, ‘garage’,
‘rich’, and ‘ridge’, respectively.
Palatal The front of the tongue articulates with the domed part of
the hard palate. /j/ as in ‘yes’
Velar The back of the tongue articulates with the soft palate. /k, g, ɳ/
Uvular The back of the tongue articulates with the far back of the
soft palate, including the uvula. /
Glottal The vocal folds are brought together; in some cases, the func-
tion of the vocal folds can be part of articulation as well as
phonation, as in the case of [h]

TEphonemic_GreyBlue21.exe (possible web link)

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

Look at the chart in Appendix 1, page 107 as you listen to the track on the CD.

Look at the set of words and tick yes or no to indicate whether the word has a con-
sonant of the place of articulation shown on the left or not.

Place of Word Yes No Word Yes No Word Yes No Word Yes No

Bilabial apple lamb Yell bank
Velar knot break Cast ghost
Alveolar scare quick Dark knot
Dental thick bake Hitch rough
Alveolar craze push Measure action

Manners of Articulation

This refers to the degree and kind of obstruction of a consonant sound in the vocal tract.
The articulators may close off the oral tract for a brief or relatively longer period; they
narrow the space or modify the shape of the tract. If we take the example of /t/ and
/s/, both sounds are articulated by the tongue touching the alveolar ridge, that’s why
they are called alveolar sounds, but the degree of constriction is different. With /s/ the
air is not stopped, but flows through, yet with /t/ the air is blocked briefly before it is
released. For that reason /s/ is called a fricative because the air is allowed to flow with
audible friction. The /t/ is called a stop or plosive because the airflow is first stopped
before it is released.

In line with the behaviour of the airflow, there are several manners articulation. Stops,
as noted, are sounds whose production requires that air be stopped before release;
fricatives involve a slight opening between the articulators to allow the air to escape
with frication; affricates involve a stop, followed by very gradual release resulting in
friction. Affricates start like stops and end like fricatives. Approximants are released
by means of a greater opening in the vocal tract, therefore unlike fricatives, there is no
friction created. As their name suggests they approximate closure. In this group are the
glides and liquids. Nasals are produced with the airflow stopped at the oral cavity
and released through the nose. Other manners are trills and taps. For examples of each
of these see the following table.


A sound can either be voiced or voiceless. Voiced sounds those where during sound
production, the vocal folds vibrate, and voiceless sounds are when the vocal folds are
apart and not vibrating. Voiced sounds are all the sounds on the right in the chart above
where a square shares two sounds. They are /b, v, ð, d, z, ʒ, dʒ, g/. The sounds on the
left are voiceless. Only stops, fricatives and affricates show alternation between voiced
and voiceless sounds, whereas the other manners of articulation – approximants and
nasals – are always voiced. In describing a sound, we refer to:

e.g. Voiceless bilabial stop /p/; voiced bilabial stop /b/; voiced alveolar nasal /n/ and
voiced alveolar fricative /z/.

ENG1502/1 17
Try this:

(1) Give the appropriate three-term description for each of the following sounds (e.g.
[k]: voiceless velar stop): [f] [b] [θ] [ʃ] [t] [ j]
(2) Give the appropriate phonetic symbol for each of the following sounds:

(a) a voiced palato-alveolar fricative

(b) a voiced alveolar stop
(c) a voiced velar stop
(d) a voiced dental fricative
(e) a voiced labio-dental fricative

(3) What phonetic property distinguishes each of the following pairs of sounds (e.g. [p]
and [b]: voicing; [s] and [ʃ]: place of articulation; [t] and [s]: manner of articulation)?

(a) [k] and [g] (b) [b] and [d] (c) [d] and [z]
(d) [z] and [ʒ] (e) [ʃ] and [ʒ] (f) [d] and [g]

(4) Which of the following English words begin with a fricative?

ship, psychology, veer, round, plot, philosophy, think, late, xylophone
(5) Which of the following English words end with a fricative?
stack, whale, swim, epitaph, half, halve, hash, haze, phase, use, path, cuts,
(6) Which of the following English words begin with a stop?
Philanderer, plasterer, parsimonious, ptarmigan, psyche, charismatic, cereal,
carping, kinky ghoulish, grueling, guardian, thick, tickle, bin, dreary
(7) Describe the position and action of the articulators during the production of the
following sounds (e.g. [d]: the blade of the tongue forms a constriction of complete
closure with the alveolar ridge; the vocal cords are vibrating): [b] [k] [ð] [v]

Adapted from ‘English Phonetics and Phonology’ by Phillip Carr

Some of you will be news readers. It is very important to articulate the sound, know
where to place the articulators as this affects the clarity of the sounds to the listeners.

Vowels (short, long and diphthongal)

As noted, there are, in total 24 vowels in the English language. Vowels can be grouped
into three categories as shown below. Please study them closely as vowel articulation is
the most challenging for speakers of English.

The charts below shows the vowels with examples:

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

There is no burning need for you to memorise all these strange symbols. However, if
you get into the habit of using them and paying attention to the entries in the diction-
ary, you will find them very helpful for pronunciation.

Listen to the recording as the vowels are pronounced.

If you would like to hear all the sounds made by native speakers of British and Ameri-
can English visit the following website and listen.


Listen to the recording

We have recorded a short passage read by speakers whose first languages are different.
They will introduce their language and read.

At the end of the recording do and think about the following:

(1) Write down what your first impression was of the way each of the readers read
the text?
(2) Did you pick any variations? If so which ones? (in case you are not sure – feel free
to replay the track
(3) Which of the readers was more intelligible on a scale of 1 = less to 5 = very intel-
ligible. Remember this is not a scale to rate good or bad but what made intelligible
reading to you. Be ready to defend your choice, when this is discussed either in
your discussion forum of myUnisa or in the tutorial letter.

ENG1502/1 19
It is very difficult to make judgements on what is good and bad pronunciation. I went
onto one blog and picked the following comments about South African accents.

Re: South African Pronunciation!!

« Reply #60 on: June 03, 2011, 07:36:30 am »

I am a South African/American and I think the whole accent thing is silly. I try hard
to retain my South African accent. There are plenty of countries that have thick ac-
cents – have they spoken to a Phillipines teacher or someone from India lately? How
about Scotland or Ireland – and as someone posted earlier there are differnet accents
inside the US, ex. a Southerner vs a Minnesotan.

they will get used to it – its helpful to expand their horizons. Dont change your accent!

Re: South African Pronunciation!!

« Reply #61 on: June 03, 2011, 07:57:16 am »

I am from America and to be quite honest some (but not all) South African accents
are hard for me to understand. They were quite of few South Africans at the EPIK
Orientation and some of there english were bad.

I imagine that “there english were” better than this ...

As for the the original topic, being from England I’ve been told by some co-teachers
that I can be hard to understand at times but I’ve noted that these are the ones who
I struggle to understand too. The teachers who have a higher level of English never
have any trouble. I think that often it is an excuse to save face. I agree with a previous
poster that even in American there are lots of different accents so saying that they
can only understand an “American” accent is just their excuse to make themselves not
look bad in front of the other teachers and you.

Re: South African Pronunciation!!

« Reply #62 on: June 03, 2011, 08:54:09 am »

I’m still young but I think its a recent thing that South Africans are starting to notice
their different regional accents. I was born in Durban, well the Kloof area which is
different to the regular “hey bru” though I can speak it having gone to school in Dur-
ban. Since I lived in Cape Town for 4 years I’m now told Cape Town can be heard in
my pronunciation where as I’m continually asked to say things like “Nine” and “Fish”
when in Cape Town. Anyhow my point is its a contextual thing and if it requires some
tweaking on your part to be heard and understood that should not be an issue however
you need not feel that you have to abandon your identity. Anyhow being South African
is more than the way you speak or what you eat etc etc.

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

What is your opinion regarding the South African pronunciations or any other pronun-
ciation maybe in your own country if you are not South African? More about varieties
including varieties in accents is covered in Unit 5 of this module.



In the previous sections, we considered the phonetic features of the individual sounds.
What the section has done is give you the ammunition, the tools and the terminology
for dealing with speech production. However, sounds don’t exist in isolation, they occur
in the company of other sounds. Phonology describes sound behaviour and patterns
in the context of more than one sound appearing together. For our purposes we will
look at syllables, stress, and intonation. We have chosen these because they have been
identified as another problematic area for language users.

2.6.1 The Syllable

Let’s look at and read the poem below entitled ‘The moon was but a chin of gold’ by
Emily Dickison.


And NOW she TURNS her PERfect FACE

The poem has been written in such a way as to show where stress is put on parts of a
word. For instance in the word PERfect the stress is the first syllable and the one syl-
lable words that are stressed are also written in capital fonts.

Listen to the recording on the CD to hear the effect of the beat on the rhythm cre-
ated in the poem. What this poem demonstrates is how syllables are used to create
rhythm in poetry.

Look at the poem again. You will notice that the first line has four stressed syllables,
the second line has three stressed syllables, the third line has four stressed syllables
and the fourth has three stressed syllable. So the pattern is 4-3-4-3. Each line starts
with an unstressed syllable. When you study poetry you will be told that the pattern
that Emily has used is an ‘iambic meter’.

So what is a Syllable?

The syllable is a phonological unit consisting of segments around a central vowel. The
total number of syllables equals the number of vowels. Syllables are not only useful to
know to understand rhythm in poetry; they are also useful in music. If you listen to a
rap, its movement is measured using syllable based rhythm.

ENG1502/1 21
The syllable is also the environment for marking stress in words. So if you want to
change the meaning of a word or indicate its category, you use stress.

Listen to this rap song (a song by one SA rapper)

Work out the rhythmic pattern of the song. Which syllables are stressed?

Let’s take this example using the word ‘record’ (2 syllable word)

(a) Can you give a REcord of your work.

– record is a noun, the fi rst syllable is stressed.

(b) Can you please reCORD your work.

– record is a verb, and the second syllable is stressed.

The beats mark the number of syllables in this word, as such the pitch rises on the
stressed syllable. Words such as the ‘record’ above are called heteronyms, spelled the same
but different in meaning. The difference in meaning is signalled by the stress placement.

Rewrite the following words to show the placement of stress to bring out the meaning
of the word. Two have been done for you.

Word No of syllables Stress place

political 4 second syllable
politics 3 first syllable
Produce (n)

We can do a quick overview of the syllable count on the following words. Please com-
plete by filling in the blank spaces for the number of syllables for each word. Use
the following basic rules. Count the number of vowels, each vowel carries one syl-
lable, subtract any silent vowels at the end of each word, subtract one vowel from a
diphthong vowel. Remember that we are using the 24 vowel sounds set shown in the
vowel chart and not the 5 vowels you did in Grade one.

Word No. of syllables Word No. of syllables

inform 2 syllables mortal
information immortality

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

informative 5 syllables immortal

possibility intelligent 4 syllables
possibility intelligentsia
drama intelligently
dramatic possible 3 syllables
dramatically possibility

A very important thing to note is that in English there are consonant clusters that
are not allowed. For example you can never have a word in English beginning with a
consonant cluster of ‘ng’ yet in a number of African languages, such as Zulu, you can.

How many syllables does each of the following words have?

comment, discuss, confiscate, fairy, ferry, reading, idea, deal, appreciate, interesting,
develop, development.

What this tells us is that learning about syllables is useful for literary appreciation;
for music creation and for understanding meaning of words that share certain spell-
ing features.

How do we know when and when not to stress a syllable? The word ‘COMment’ has
2 syllables and the first syllable is stressed. A lot of second language users stress
the second syllable and when they do, the word sounds like ‘comMENT’ which is the
stress pattern for the word ‘comMEND’ . Unless someone was listening carefully to
the context in which the word has been used, they may be confused by the meaning.

You have to be aware of this difference, especially if your first language is not English
or unlike English which is a stress-timed language, yours is a syllable-timed language.
In many African languages every syllable carries a similar weight, in English the weight
varies from one syllable to another. As such, in English there are stressed and unstressed

The big question is: Where should I put the stress for words? The principles noted
below uses words which will make sense to you if you read them in conjunction with
Unit 3 of morphology and syntax.

Here are some guidelines on how to determine stress in English. These are not rules,
but guidelines as there may be exceptions.

(1) A word is normally stressed on the first syllable, unless there is a reason to put
the stress somewhere else.
(2) The “reasons” are either suffixes (like -ity or -ion) or prefixes (like con-, dis-,
ex- or in-).
(3) If the suffix (ending) starts with the letters i or u this will affect the position of
stress in a word.
Sample suffi xes: -ion, -ual, -ial, -ient, -ious, -ior, -ic, -ity, etc.
The stress comes on the syllable before the suffi x.
Examples: Atlantic, comic, sufficient, explanation, residual.
There are only a very few exceptions to this rule.
(4) Other suffixes do not affect the stress of a word.

ENG1502/1 23
Sample suffi xes: -al, -ous, -ly, -er, -ed, -ist, -ing, -ment
Examples: Permanent, permanently, develop, development

(5) Prefixes are not normally stressed in two-syllable words, except in some nouns
or adjectives.
Examples: To ex’pand, to de’fend; but an ‘expert, a report.
Bisyllabic nouns starting with a prefi x need to be learned individually
► Prefi xes are usually stressed in three-syllable nouns and adjectives, but not
always stressed in verbs.
Examples: ‘Continent, ‘incident, ‘exercise;
to con’sider, to en’visage but to ‘indicate
(All three syllable verbs ending in -ate are stressed on the fi rst syllable).

You will learn more about prefi xes and suffi xes in the next unit.

2.6.2 Stress and intonation

Another very important phonological feature for someone learning to speak another
language is stress and intonation. We have talked about stress in the preceding sec-
tion on the syllable and you now know that the syllable is the environment for stress in
English. So the syllable, stress and intonation are interrelated.

Intonation is a very important skill in social circles. One of the issues noted in Unit
six is that language is used to create tone and attitude which goes a long way to com-
municate meaning in your statement. So to become a good listener and communicator,
you need to understand how intonation works.

One basic principle of stress is that content words are stressed, but it is up to the speaker
to choose which words to stress.

Listen to the following script on the CD.

The following person was asked to say ‘Hello’ to:

(1) a friend they meet regularly

(2) a friend they haven’t seen for a long time.
(3) a neighbour they don’t like
(4) a 6 month old baby
(5) someone doing what they shouldn’t be doing
(6) to know if someone is listening

How far do you think the reader achieves to convey an attitude or emotion. State
which attitude you think is shown.

Intonation helps us achieve some of the discourse functions mentioned in UNIT 6:

• show attitude = express emotions, confidence interest, doubt, pain, irony etc.

UNIT 2: Let’s listen to the sounds of the English Language

• accentuate certain functions = where to place stress

• grammatical functions = indicate grammar and syntax structures i.e. when to pause
between phrases and clauses and sentences.
• discourse functions = signals ‘new’ and ‘given’ information; when a speaker is
indicating contrast; what kind of response is expected of the listener

At the sentence level we can hear a lot of stress and intonation. Depending on which
word is stressed, the meaning changes.

Look at this sentence and try to read it with the stress on the bolded words.

‘You want to talk to me? I am not interested.’ (the speaker doesn’t want to talk to the

‘You want to talk to me? I am not interested?’(the speaker is surprised the hearer
thinks he/she is not interested to talk to them).

Listen to the following sentences. What meaning do you think is intended by the

The sentence on which this is based is: John could only see his wife from the door.

Voice A:John could not see his wife from the door.

Voice B: John could only see the other people in the room.

Voice C: The only place John could see his wife from was the door.

What you will have noticed in the readings is that intonation can fall or rise.

In this unit we have introduced several basic concepts of the sound system. we hope you
now have a working idea of the basic tools of pronunciation, the place and the manner
where sounds are produced. You should also be aware now that there is no one to one
correspondence between sound and spelling. Sound production must be learned with
special attention given to the variations that come with place, manner, and voicing; as
well as stress and intonation.

Fromkin, R. et. al. (2005) An Introduction to Language, London. Thomson and Wadsworth.
Ladefoged, P. (2001) Vowels and Consonants: An Introduction to the Sound of Language, UK.
Blackwell Publishing.
Ladefoged, P. (2000) A course in Phonetics, London. Thomson and Wadsworth.
Roach, P. (2000) English Phonetics and Phonolog y, London. Cambridge University Press.

ENG1502/1 25
3 UNIT 3

3 How do we build them? Words and Sentences

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

• define morphology and syntax

• identify both simple and complex morphemes
• distinguish types of morphemes and their functions
• describe irregular forms, and identify spurious relationships of words
• describe the structure and formation of sentences

The aim of the first part of the unit is to introduce the process of word formation. The
study of word formation is known as morphology. The information that you will read
in this unit will help you understand how words are formed in the English language
and also why certain word forms are not appropriate in certain sentence forms. This
section of the unit is also of value if you are interested in developing the vocabulary of
the English language. Equally important in this unit is the focus on the relationship
between word forms and sentence structure; that is the relationship between morphol-
ogy and syntax.

The aim of the second part of this unit is to introduce you to the key patterns and
structures of the grammar of the English language. We have selected a few of these as
we cannot do all in one unit. For you to know how meaning is created in texts, you have
to understand how the language used to create the texts is structured and patterned.
The patterning that this unit will focus on is at the sentence level.

In the introductory chapter it was noted that one level at which language operates is that
of the sentence and that the sentence is composed of many units. This unit discusses
the different units and explains how they are put together into meaningful wholes.

Morphology is simply the study of how words are shaped. Morphology refers to how
words are created. It is potentially a key component to learning and understanding new
words and vocabulary (Mcbride-Chang et. al. 2007). In light of this statement, this unit

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

introduces you to the activity of formulating words and understanding new vocabulary
in English. You will also learn that some words look like they stem from the same base
yet they do not. This technique is used a lot in poetry.

In order to understand morphology it is important to understand how it relates to mor-

phemes. Morphemes are the smallest meaningful units that combine to form words.
The smallest part of a word that has a grammatical function or meaning could be an
affix: a prefix or suffix. Prefixes are attached to the front of the root of the word as in
the example below, the {un-} in the word unable is the prefix, and suffixes are attached
at the end of the word as is the case in the word laughed {-ed} is the suffix. These small-
est units contain meaning, as such, they make a difference in the meaning of a word.

Modify the following English words into different word forms by adding either a prefix
or suffi x.

Expect, interfere, school, take, and qualify.

3.1.1 Types of Morphemes

Free and bound morphemes

Read the paragraph below and take note of the underlined words:

‘A girl confessed at the counsellor’s office. “I’m the happiest girl in town,” she
flattered. “I come home to enjoy the company of my family. We spend the eve-
nings laughing and giggling around the dinner table. ‘We have always been a
happy family. Mom and Dad have always been churchgoers.’

In this passage the base word girl can be classified as a simple morpheme because it is
free and it can stand on its own and other morphemes such as -ish (girlish) can be at-
tached to it to create a new word. The word flattered is a complex morpheme because it
has the potential of being segmented further into smaller units. Flattered can be broken
down as follows flat+ter+ed. Before we go much further let us learn more about free
and bound morphemes.

Free Morphemes: Lexical and grammatical morphemes

Column 1 of Table 1 contains words with single morphemes called free morphemes.
When you read the words in column 1, they are all complete words which cannot be
broken down any further into smaller units, this makes them free morphemes (fish,
coal, skin, depart, nominal). A free morpheme is a word that cannot be broken down
into smaller units. It is a word that carries meaning on its own. Further examples of
free morphemes are words such as car, boy, shop, girl, school. Free morphemes fall into
two categories: lexical morpheme and grammatical morphemes. Lexical morphemes
carry the ‘content’ of the messages we convey (examples of lexical morphemes are
those given above). Grammatical morphemes consist of function words such as con-
junctions, prepositions, articles and pronouns, for example (and, because, a, and, for,
of, I). Free morphemes are also known as base words. Simple words, also known as
monomorphemic words can also be called free morphemes; complex words, also known
as polymorphemic words are words that contain more than a single morpheme (for

ENG1502/1 27
example words in column 2 and column 3 of Table 1. These are words such as fishes,
coals, skinniest, nominalisation etc.).

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3

One morpheme Two morphemes Three morphemes +
Fish Fish/es Fish/er/ies
Coal Coal/s –
Skin Skin/ny Skin/ni/est
Establish Establish/ed
Nominal Nominal/ise Nominal/isa/tion
Depart Depart/ure

Table 1

Identify the free morphemes in the short paragraph provided below.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve
been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticising anyone’
he told me, just remember that all people in this world haven’t had the advantage
that you’ve had’.”

(Extracted from the Introduction: The Great Gatsby P7)

Bound Morphemes: Inflectional and derivational

Column 2 of Table 1 contains examples of bound morphemes. Though critical in giving

meaning to a word, a bound morpheme is a morpheme that does not carry meaning
when left to stand alone, it needs a base word (free morpheme) to be attached to in
order to carry meaning, for example -ny in the word skinny is the bound morpheme.

In the previous section we identified different kinds of free morphemes. We now identify
different kinds of bound morphemes. They are also divided into two categories: the
inflectional morphemes and derivational morphemes. These kinds of morphemes
are also known as transforms because they transform the original word from one word
category to another. Inflectional morphemes are those that do not affect the gram-
matical status of a word, the addition of the inflectional morpheme on a noun will still
leave the affected word as a noun. In fact the English language contains about ten forms
of inflectional morphemes, these are:

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

Inflections Examples
Noun plurals
Possessive case
Third person singular verbs
Past tense -ed
The -ing form of the verb
The past participle form of a verb -ed
The -er comparison form of the adjective
The -est comparison form of the adjective

Table 2 (Adapted from Horne and Heineman 2006)

Another important factor with English inflections is that they are all suffixes, that is
they are all word-endings or affixes attached to the end of the words. Derivational
morphemes on the other hand, are the segments which affect the grammatical status
of the original word. In English these can be prefixes or suffixes. The addition of these
morphemes onto root words affects the grammatical status of the original word. A
derivational morpheme frequently changes the original word from one grammatical
class to another. For example, the word skin is a noun, but the addition of the bound
morphemes -ny to make it skinny and derives an adjective from the noun. Go back to
column 2 of Table 1 to identify more derivational morphemes.

In Table 2 you are given types of inflections in the English language. Fill in the ex-
ample column with examples of these inflectional morphemes.

Summary of morphemes

grammatical lexical

free bound free bound

function word inflectional affix content word derivational affix

can, to, and, she -ed, -s, -er house, garden, door hopeful, unhappy

Read the paragraph extracted from the editor’s introduction of the novel ‘The Great
Gatsby’ by Fitzgerald. In the paragraph, the italicized words can be broken down
into morphemes. Break them down and then identify the free and bound morphemes
found in each word. Use the following table to cluster the words:

ENG1502/1 29
Free morphemes/base morphemes Bound morphemes
Base Base/ment
Trick Trick/ed

“If Fitzgerald thought of Gatsby as some sort of American Trimalchio thrown up by

the riotous licence of the Twenties, he certainly subjected him to some remarkable
metamorphoses. (He is called Trimalchio just once in the novel.) But there are some
distinct genealogical traces of Gatsby’s ancient ancestor. In the Satyricon Trimalchio is
first mentioned in the conversation of two friends discussing where that night’s feast
is to be held: ‘Do you not know at whose it is today? Trimalchio, a very rich man, who
has a clock and a uninformed trumpeter in his dining-room, to keep telling him how
much of his life is lost and gone.’ Gatsby’s concern with time – its arrestability, recuper-
ability, repeatability – is equally obsessive ...”

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (p vii)


Spurious relationships of words

It is often a challenge to identify irregular forms of words that cannot be broken down
into morphemes. For example: words such as department and depart may seem connected.
However, the two words are not related in any way, taking the verb depart which means
‘to leave’ has no connection with the word department which is a noun referring to a
section of a large organisation. Therefore, the word department cannot be divided into
two morphemes depart +ment because the two words carry completely unrelated mean-
ings. More examples of spurious relationships of English words are wall and wallet, wig
and wiggle, corn and corner, ham and hammer.

Irregular forms

English has many irregular forms which may use different inflections than regular ones.

The regular form

‘Mary kicks the door open’

when changed to the past tense it reads thus
‘Mary kicked the door open’
There are three common irregular forms in English.
The irregular form that uses different inflections than regular ones:
‘Waiters bring the food to customers’
‘Waiters brought the food to customers’

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

The irregular form that involves internal vowel changes (also known as ablaut words):
‘The girls throw the towels away’

‘The girls threw the towels away’

that involve historically unrelated forms:

‘They go to the shop on foot’

‘They went to the shop on foot’

NOTE, it is advisable to always use a dictionary if you are not sure of the appropriate
form of a word.

How would you consider the relationship between the given pairs of words below?
That is, are they spurious, irregular or ablaut? Describe the relationship.

Culture and cult

Supplement and supple
Mandatory and mandate
Moderator and mode

New Vocabulary

You may agree that English is one of the fastest growing languages in the world. First,
it grows fast in terms of the number of speakers of the language and secondly, in terms
of rapid expansion of its vocabulary, probably due to it serving as a lingua franca in
many countries.

Now that you have been introduced to the system of word formation in English, you
may wish to introduce new English vocabulary into your collection.

In the last line of the paragraph from the Great Gatsby, the italicised words are not in
the English Dictionary. This means that these are possible new words that the author
of the novel created. Can you come up with at least five new words that you think can
be added in the English language. Give reasons for your suggestion.



Read the short paragraph below and take note of the underlined words:

‘I visited the workhouse last week. The workers worked in the building until
late. However, the youngest worker works for only three hours a day. The adult
workers often work for more than ten hours a day.’

ENG1502/1 31
A morph is a unit which is a segment of a word-form. If we consider the elements in
the underlined words like (the youngest) works, worker, worked, workhouse, we find in a first
step recurrent forms followed by variant forms: work (recurrent), -s (variant), -ed (variant),
-er (variant), house (variant). These are called morphs, i.e. phonological representations
of an element, a segment, which is not yet classified, (http://www.anglistik.phil.uni- Would it be possible to replace the
morphs found in the underlined words with others? Try to do that and see how the
paragraph will sound.


Allomorphs: an allomorph is a single morpheme with more than one phonological reali-
zation, for example: say/sez, a/an. Often the result of history of the language. A group
of different morphs is called allomorphs, these are different versions of one morpheme.
For example, allomorphs are realisations or variants of morphemes. They occur in all
types of morphemes: in lexical morphemes such as official from office, in roots as in recep-
tion from receive, in derivational morphemes as in impossible vs. incorrect and in grammatical
endings, such as voiced /d/ in loved vs. unvoiced /t/ in walked.

(a) What is the difference between a morph and a morpheme? Your definition should
also include examples.
(b) Identify the function of each italicised morph in the underlined words given in the
passage below:

‘At the signing ceremony which was attended by the national press, Prof Salitou Toure,
President of IUGB said “this is an important day in the history of IUGB and we are
privileged to partner with a world renowned institution such as Unisa. We are sure
to learn from your experience with the objective of making our university the hub of
excellence in the region ...’ (Unisa Intcom dated 24 February 2012).


Compounding is the process of forming a word from two base forms. These base
forms can be free or bound morphemes. For example pickpocket, blueberry, cut-throat,
bitter-sweet, back street, baby sit. There are different ways of spelling compound words,
you can spell them as single words as is the case in the first two examples, or you may
put a hyphen in between the two words as is the case in the middle two examples or
spell the words separately as is the case in the last two examples. Different dictionaries
spell compounds differently. However, it is important to note that whichever form you
adopt, be as consistent as possible in your writing.

Another interesting point to note when studying compounds is that they are categorized
into different types. These are called endocentric compounds, exocentric compounds
and coordinative compounds.

Endocentric compounds are those compounds that represent a subtype of the head,
for example garden chair, facecloth.

Exocentric compounds are those compounds that name a subtype, but the sub type is
not represented by either the head or the modifier in the compound, for example redhead.

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

Coordinative compounds are those compounds in which both elements are heads and
each contribute equally to the meaning of the whole. For example bitter-sweet.

Conversion is a process whereby a word is used in a different word form. For example,
a noun is used as a verb as in ‘the girls butter their bread each time they eat white bread’.

Reduplication is a type of a compound in which both elements are the same or slightly
different. For example, humpty-dumpty, wishy-washy. However, English makes very little
use of this type, except in the names for children’s games.

Acronyms are words formed from the initial sounds of words. For example, SARS
(South African Revenue Services), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organisation).

Blends are when two words merge into each other. For example, brunch (breakfast and
lunch). Think of mostly new words in the English vocabulary such as email (electronic
+ mail), webinar (worldwideweb + seminar), Prevacid (prevent acid).

Clippings are an informal shortening of a word to a single syllable. For example ad

(advert, advertisement)

Think of more examples of compound words of English and categorise them in the
table below.

Compound word Type of compound

Morphology Glossary

Affix is a morpheme attached either at the beginning, middle or end of a word.

Allomorphs are variant forms of a single morpheme.

Base is an expression to which an affix can be attached.

Bound morpheme is a morpheme that cannot occur unattached but plays a critical
role in giving meaning to a complete word.

Derivational morpheme is a morpheme that changes the grammatical status of a word

from one word class to another.

Free morpheme is a morpheme that can stand on its own, that is word that cannot be
broken down into smaller units.

Inflectional morpheme is a suffix morpheme that serves to only modify the gram-
matical properties of the base word in which they occur.

Morphs are a minimal grammatical form of a word. This sounds similar to a morpheme
but it is different because this indicates the variant forms of a single morpheme. It is
illustrated by { } in linguistics.

ENG1502/1 33
Morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of a word.

Irregular words are often words that use unusual inflections than the regular ones.

Prefixes are morphemes attached at the beginning of a word.

Suffixes are morphemes attached at the end of a word.

Regular words are words that use usual inflections in verbs, nouns, adjectives and

Root is that part of a word that remains irrespective of the addition of different

Spurious words are words that seem to stem from the same root yet they are not. For
instance words such as wall and wallet. The two words are not related in meaning.


3.5.1 The Sentence

The largest unit of word combination is the sentence. We have all written many sen-
tences, some correct and others incorrect. This Unit attempts to show you what tools
you need in order to see what words do when they are in the company of others, how
they relate to each other to create meaning.

Units in a sentence

The units that make up a sentence start with the word. In your high school years you
will recall the major parts of speech you learned. As a way to remind ourselves of what
these are, and in particular how they function in real language, we will highlight the
parts of speech, sometimes referred to as word categories.

The verbs (words of action-wash, eat, give, etc), the nouns (words referring to person,
thing, place or idea), the adjectives (words denoting quality, or describe nouns), the
adverbs (words that modify a verb, adjectives, other adverbs and sentences), and the
minor parts of speech: the prepositions (denote several notions such as time, loca-
tion e – to, along, with, into tc), pronouns (words can be used instead of or to refer to
nouns), articles (the definite ‘the’, and indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘an’), conjunctions
(coordinating and subordinating – see list on page 52), auxiliary verbs (verbs used to
support the main verb – be, have, do, will can, could, shall, should, must, might etc).

At the lexical level, this is what we have, the elements sometimes referred to as parts
of speech or word categories.

Identify the parts of speech of each of the words in this short except.

Historical Perspective

Later came the fi rst of the Nguni people who arrived with herds of cattle, and mined
red ochre in the hills south of Malelane. Early smelters, which pre-date the main

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

Nguni influx, have been excavated, indicating that the use of iron and copper was
well advanced during these years. Similarly, early pottery fragments and sculptural
artifacts unearthed in the hills on the Long Tom Pass, notably the “Lydenburg heads”
have been described as a major art fi nd .

Did you find?

Later (adverb) came (v) the (article) Nguni (n) people (n) who (pronoun) arrived (v) with
(preposition) herds (n) of (preposition) cattle (n), and (conjunction) mined (veb) red
(adjective) ochre (n) in (preposition) the (article) hills south of Malelane. Early (adverb)
smelters (n), which (pronoun) pre-date (v) the (article) main Nguni (n) influx (n), have
been excavated, indicating that the use of iron and copper was well advanced (v) during
these years. Similarly, early pottery fragments and sculptural artifacts (n) unearthed in
the hills on the Long Tom Pass, notably the “Lydenburg heads” have been described
as a major art find.

This basic identification process is easier to do. It names these elements as isolated units
and does not take into account their relationship with the other words in whose company
they appear. What syntax does is to examine these in context as both single elements
and elements within a group.


The known structure of the English language sentence is in two parts; the subject
and the predicate. The predicate constitutes of the verb and sometimes the verb and
the compliment. Below are some examples of simple sentences showing the different
patterns in which the sentence could look like.

As described in ‘The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers’ a predicate is the com-
pleter of a sentence. The subject names the “do-er” or “be-er” of the sentence; the
predicate does the rest of the work. A simple predicate consists of only a verb, verb
string, or compound verb:

• The water evaporated.

• The water has been evaporating.
• The water evaporated, disappeared into the air, and never seen again.

A compound predicate consists of two (or more) such predicates connected:

• The water began to flow into the river and eventually filled the pond below the stream.

A complete predicate consists of the verb and all accompanying modifiers and other
words that receive the action of a transitive verb or complete its meaning.

My car (subject) has been stolen. (predicate)

John (subject) drove my car (predicate).
The president (subject) gave all the Cabinet ministers a car. (predicate).
Tatiana is attentive. (predicate).
The dog died. (predicate).

The subject is always in a noun phrase or nominal form and the predicate in a verb
phrase or verbal form. Given that the noun can be substituted with a pronoun, the

ENG1502/1 35
noun phrase could be as in ‘He is coming’. Of course, a noun phrase can appear inside
the predicate as well, as the object, as in ‘The priest is a corrupt fellow’, where ‘corrupt
fellow’ is the noun phrase.

Here are some examples taken from Silva (1995) which show the structural composi-
tion of the simple sentence.

Subject Predicate
Noun phrase Verb phrase Noun phrase
She (pronoun) was humming an old church song
(auxiliary + verb) (determiner+ adjective phrase (adjective +
noun) + noun
My car has been stolen
John was driving my car

The table above shows the full constituent structure of the sentence from the part of
speech to phrase level. It also shows you the functional aspects, for example the pro-
noun/nouns ‘she’, ‘my car’ and ‘John’ function as the subjects of the sentences and ‘was
humming’, ‘has been stolen’ and ‘was driving’ as the verb phases and ‘an old church song’ and
‘my car’ as noun phrases in the predicate position. The following is another example
showing more details on each of the phrases.

Subject Predicate
Noun Phrase Verb phrase Prepositional phrase (preposition + Noun
phrase ( determiner + adjective+ noun)
Tears (noun) were gleaming on my mother’s face
(auxiliary +

Let’s start with:

Nouns phrases or nominals

In a sentence or text, nouns are sometimes referred to as content words as opposed to

function words such as prepositions and articles. The noun is the quintessential part
of a sentence. Even in a sentence such as ‘stop’, the noun may not be in the surface
structure, but is implied as in ‘You stop’. There are different kinds of nouns, common
nouns (man, friend, apple, stick), proper nouns (names of particular things and people
(August, The Catcher and the Rye’, the Union Building, Johannesburg), collective nouns
which refer to a collection or group of people, animals, etc, (herd, government, com-
mittee), abstract nouns such as (belief socialism, intelligence, etc).

Let’s look again at the passage and see if we can identify the noun types.

Nguni (n) : proper

people (n) : common
herds (n) : common
cattle (n) : common

ochre (n), hills (n), Malelane (n), smelters (n), Nguni (n), influx (n), copper (n),
pottery (n), fragments (n), artifacts (n), hills (n), Long Tom Pass (n),

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

Other single nouns include plural form nouns (children, men, mangoes) and pronouns
(she, he, they etc).

Noun phrases refer to the combination of words in which the noun appears as the main
word around which the other word categories congregate. A noun phrase is either a
noun or any group of words that can be replaced by a pronoun.

In the sentences illustrating the basic structure of the sentence, you saw that the noun
phrase can be in the subject position, as a subjet and in the predicate position, as an object.

The Noun Phrase and its structure

It is a unit comprised of a noun (which becomes the head of the unit) plus other addi-
tional elements which modify the noun. The elements which generally modify the noun
are determiners and adjectives. A noun phrase can be infinite in length. The bolded
sections in the following sentences are noun phrases in different forms

Water is important for survival. (Single words)

Mr. Jones spoke to Dr. James. (Proper names)
The boy ate an apple. (Nouns and articles)
My friend works with her father. (Nouns and possessives)
The young girl wore a long, white dress. (Nouns and adjectives)
Some of the kids ate all of the cake. (Nouns and quantifiers)
The man with the gun frightened the people in the bank. (Nouns and prep. phrases)
The woman who lives there is my aunt. (Nouns and relative clauses)
The dogs sleeping on the deck should be left alone. (Nouns and phrases)
Whoever wrote this is in trouble. (Noun clauses)

This table shows you almost all the groups of noun phrases. One very useful way of
determining a noun phase is to take the string of words and substitute them with a
pronoun. So the sentences in the table above would look like this:

It is important for it. (Single words)

He spoke to him. (Single words)
He ate it. (Single words)
She works with him. (Single words)
She wore it. (Single words)
They ate it. (Single words)
He frightened them. (Single words)
She is my aunt. (Single words)
It should be left alone. (Single words)
He/she is in trouble. (Single words)

We don’t speak like this, but looking at these sentences you may begin to appreciate
the statement we made earlier that nouns and noun phrases provide the content and
information to make a sentence mean something.

The structure of the noun phrase potentially contains three sections:

Pre-modification; head noun and post-modification. Any given noun phrase will use
one or two or all these parts.

ENG1502/1 37
Let’s look at some examples:

Pre-modifier Head noun Post-modifier

The young girl
The dogs sleeping on the deck
The very tall psychology professor with a north American partner
The man who is wearing the hat
HIV positive children
The place to stay for the holidays
The doctor’s high salaries

This should give you an idea of the possible patterns that a noun phrase can possible have.

This activity will give you good practice on the noun phrase. Study the following pas-
sage. Underline the noun phrases. Replace the noun phrase with a pronoun. In the
same passage identify the pronouns. Try to find an appropriate noun or noun phrase
to replace the pronoun.

The world’s greatest snow-capped peaks, which run in a chain from the Himalayas
to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, have lost no ice over the last
decade, new research shows.

The discovery has stunned scientists, who had believed that around 50bn tonnes
of meltwater were being shed each year and not being replaced by new snowfall.

The study is the first to survey all the world’s icecaps and glaciers and was made
possible by the use of satellite data. Overall, the contribution of melting ice outside
the two largest caps – Greenland and Antarctica – is much less than previously es-
timated, with the lack of ice loss in the Himalayas and the other high peaks of Asia
responsible for most of the discrepancy.

Bristol University glaciologist Prof Jonathan Bamber, who was not part of the re-
search team, said: “The very unexpected result was the negligible mass loss from
high mountain Asia, which is not significantly different from zero.” (The guardian,
Febraury, 2012)

At the second level of this course we will introduce advanced processes of how the
noun and noun phrase structures (nominal structures) work. We will also observe
how nominal structures are used differently in different disciplines, different registers
and genres.

In an article by Fang, Schleppegrell and Cox (2012) they demonstrate how nouns in
the academic register can be a challenge to many students.

Let’s look at the two short extracts they use to illustrate this, one from a well-known
fable (literature genre) and the other from a science book (scientific language). The
underlined sections are nouns and noun groups.

Percy, 2002: “The Cat and the Mice’ Cooney, DiSpezio, Foots Matamoros,
Nyquist & Ostlund, 2000: Science

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

There was once a large family of mice, As rocks change, the minerals that make
who lived together in a little house in up the rocks may change too. A mineral
the country. Life for them should have is a natural, nonliving solid with a definite
been peaceful and happy, but it wasn’t. chemical structure. The heat and pressure
And you know why? inside the earth may change the arrange-
A large prowling ginger cat made every ments of the atoms in minerals.
day a perfect misery for the mice. Each This change in arrangement of atoms oc-
morning, the cat crouched outside the curs when the mineral quartzite found in
back door, watching the family eat break- sandstone (a sedimentary rock) changes
fast. The little ones trembled in fear as into quartzite (a metaphoric rock). The at-
the cat’s shadow fell across the breakfast oms in sandstone are arranged in a pattern
table. that form a small crystal. Pressure and heat
After breakfast, Mother-mouse would inside the earth rearrange the atoms into
run indoors, her weeding left unfinished. larger crystal. This pattern makes quartzite
stronger than sandstones.
After tea, the two mouse twins would
start their music practice, but the sound
of their playing would soon be drowned
out by a dreadful meowing from outside.

The structures of the noun phases are different in the literary and science texts shown
above. The science text, for example seems to pack in more information in it’s phrase
than does the story text. It also uses more phrase embedding.

‘the minerals that make up the rocks’ = In this one noun phrase, you have a noun phrase
(the minerals), a relative clause (that make up the rocks) embedded in the relative clause
is another noun phrase, “the rocks”).

As opposed to the noun phrases from the story:

a large family of mice, = adjectival modifiers and a noun

in the country. = prepositional phrase in which noun phrase is embedded

A large prowling ginger cat. = a determiner, modifiers and noun.

We can now move on to other phrase types which are as important as the noun phrase.

The verb and verb phrase

When we talk of a sentence or a clause, its core element is the verb. Verb phrases are
groups of words which take the function of a verb. Verbs and therefore verb phrases
form the head of the predicate of the sentence. They could be single words or accom-
panied by other words. There are different forms of the verb in English:

Forms of the verb to be: is, am, are, was, were, be been

Forms of do: do does, did

Forms of have: have had

Other forms: can could, should, shall, will etc

A sentence is no sentences without a verb phrase.

ENG1502/1 39
Find all verbs and remove them from the passage. See how the passage will read like.

‘The region abounded with all types of game, plants, birds and insects. The rivers
ran full, providing for the needs of these early inhabitants. Later came the fi rst of
the Nguni people who arrived with herds of cattle, and mined red ochre in the hills
south of Malelane. Early smelters, which pre-date the main Nguni influx, have been
excavated, indicating that the use of iron and copper was well advanced during these
years. Similarly, early pottery fragments and sculptural artifacts unearthed in the hills
on the Long Tom Pass, notably the “Lydenburg heads” have been described as a
major art fi nd.

Here is an example with the fi rst sentence without the verbs:

The region with all types of game, plants, birds and insects. The rivers full, providing
for the needs of these early inhabitants. Later the fi rst of the Nguni people who with
herds of cattle, and red ochre in the hills south of Malelane.

At the end of reading this you could say “okay, so what did all the mentioned people,
places, things do?” You are asking for the VERB.

Verbs can be used to convey meaning or perform a grammatical function.

In the sentences:

They drink every weekend.

I believe everything you say.

I will taste all the dishes.

The underlined verbs in sentences a-c state an event, a state of being and an action
respectively. They are conveying meaning.

Yet in the sentences:

I have been crying

He had won the election.

The verbs express grammatical functions, ‘have been, and had’ are called auxiliary
verbs. Auxiliary verbs do not carry any lexical meaning, but assist the main verb, to
show mainly tense and aspect.

Verbs, as we saw with nouns, also come in singles and groups. The group is called the
verb phrase.

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

The Verb phrase can be used in five different ways:

as a predicate

I am studying Linguistics.

The glass was broken by the dog

as a noun phrase modifier

The woman reading the book just yelled at me.

My dog is the puppy chewing on the rawhide.

The most recent news reported by the anchor made me sad.

as an adjective phrase complement

You should be excited to study syntax.

My mother is upset to see me leave.

Your professor is curious to know why you dropped her class.

The teachers are happy to learn about teaching methods.

as a subject.

Swimming is good exercise.

Reading books is educational.

Your eating health food impresses me.

To err is human.

To never visit the library disappoints librarians.

as a subject complement

My favourite pastime is reading.

His hobbies are writing and editing articles.

My job is to repair damaged books.

Subject-Verb agreement and other sentence structural issues

We mentioned earlier that the verb has to agree in number and tense with the subject.
It is common to find the verb inappropriately used, especially when there are too many
words or phrases coming between the subject and the verb. Always make sure you know
if the subject is singular therefore to take a singular verb or plural to take a plural verb.

Here is an exercise to illustrate the possible confusion:

The following paragraph contains six errors in subject-verb agreement. Find and correct
each of the six verb errors. Remember to stay in the present tense.

ENG1502/1 41

According to legend, Santa Claus is a fat old man who visits every house on our planet
in about eight hours on one of the coldest nights of the year. Santa, as everybody knows,
stop for a glass of milk and a cookie at each house along the route. He prefer to work
unnoticed, so he wears luminous red suit and travels with a pack of bell-jangling rein-
deer. For reasons that most people does not understand, this jolly old man enters each
house not by the front door but through the chimney (whether you has a chimney or
not). He customarily gives generously to children in wealthy families, and he usually
remind poorer children that it’s the thought that counts. Santa Claus is one of the earli-
est beliefs that parents try to instil in their children. After this absurdity, it’s a wonder
that any child ever believe in anything again.

Did you do the following?

(1) Change “stop for a glass” to “stops for a glass”; (2) change “prefer to work” to “pre-
fers to work”; (3) change “people does not understand” to “people do not understand”;
(4) change “you has a chimney” to “you have a chimney”; (5) change “remind poorer
children” to “reminds poorer children”; (6) change “child ever believe” to “child ever

The most common confusion with subject-verb agreement arises when we use quanti-
fiers and group nouns such as: some of, neither, nor, either or, a lot of, some, team staff,
audience etc. One way of avoiding this particular era is making sure you have identified
the subject of the sentences.

For example in the following sentences


The list of items is/are on the desk.

The subject is the list not the items. It is the list that is on the desk; what list? of items which will then
take the singular subject ‘is’

So: My aunt or my uncle is arriving by train today.

Who is arriving by train? Its my aunt or uncle, one of them, not both. So the two
singular verbs connected by ‘or’ require a singular verb.

Similarly, if you have two singular subjects connected by either/or or neither/nor they
require a singular verb.


Neither Nora nor Chazile is available.

Either Khulana or Siviwe is helping today with stage decorations.

But when I is one of the two subjects connected by either/or or neither/nor, put it second
and follow it with the singular verb am.

Example: Neither she nor I am going to the wedding.

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

When a singular subject is connected by or or nor to a plural subject, put the plural
subject last and use a plural verb.

Example: The serving bowl or the plates go on that shelf.

Likewise, when a singular and plural subject are connected by either/or or neither/nor, put
the plural subject last and use a plural verb.

Example: Neither Felix nor the others are available.

The other obvious pattern is that you use a plural verb with two or more subjects when
they are connected by and.

Example: A car and a bike are my means of transportation.

Sometimes the subject is separated from the verb by words such as along with, as well as,
besides, or not. Ignore these expressions when determining whether to use a singular or
plural verb.

Examples: The politician, along with the newsmen, is expected shortly.

Excitement, as well as nervousness, is the cause of her shaking.

The pronouns each, everyone, every one, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, and somebody are
singular and require singular verbs. Do not be misled by what follows after of.


Each of the girls sings well.

Every one of the cakes is gone.

Everyone is one word when it means everybody. Every one is two words when the
meaning is each one.

With words that indicate portions – percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none,
remainder, and so forth – look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition)
to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is
singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb.


Fifty percent of the pie has disappeared.

Pie is the object of the preposition of.
Fifty percent of the pies have disappeared.
Pies is the object of the preposition.
One-third of the city is unemployed.
One-third of the people are unemployed.

The expression the number is followed by a singular verb while the expression a number
is followed by a plural verb.


The number of people we need to hire is thirteen.

A number of people have written in about this subject.

ENG1502/1 43
When either and neither are subjects, they always take singular verbs.


Neither of them is available to speak right now.

Either of us is capable of doing the job.

The words here and there have generally been labeled as adverbs even though they indicate
place. In sentences beginning with here or there, the subject follows the verb.


There are four hurdles to jump.

There is a high hurdle to jump.

Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.


Ten rands is a high price to pay.

Five years is the maximum sentence for that offense.

Sometimes the pronoun who, that, or which is the subject of a verb in the middle of the
sentence. The pronouns who, that, and which become singular or plural according to the
noun directly in front of them. So, if that noun is singular, use a singular verb. If it is
plural, use a plural verb.


Salma is the scientist who writes/write the reports.

The word in front of who is scientist, which is singular. Therefore, use the singular verb

He is one of the men who does/do the work.

The word in front of who is men, which is plural. Therefore, use the plural verb do.

Collective nouns such as team and staff may be either singular or plural depending on
their use in the sentence.


The staff is in a meeting.

Staff is acting as a unit here.
The staff are in disagreement about the findings.
The staff are acting as separate individuals in this example.

The sentence would read even better as:

The staff members are in disagreement about the findings.

I think these basic tips are useful for us especially when we get stuck with the subject
verb agreement syntactic structure.

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

Another syntactic structure which calls for attention is when we deal with the verb
phrase are the auxiliary verbs. These are the verbs which accompany the main verb to
modify it for tense, aspect, mood. They normally precede the main verb,

For Example:

I shall go now.
He had won the election.
They did write that novel together.
I am going now.
He was winning the election.
They have been writing that novel for a long time.

You may be asking yourself, what is the difference between a verb as we know it, i.e.
the lexical verb (word) and an auxiliary?

Lexical verbs or the words called verbs are the ones that can be marked for tense and
person. In English, these include the past and the present tenses. Lexical verbs – have
meaning – and normally use do-support for questions, negatives and emphasis.

Auxiliary verbs are characteristically used as markers of tense, person, aspect, mood,
and voice.

With lexical verbs, these are expressed by verb inflections; however, with auxiliary verbs,
these are expressed with separate words.

Let’s look at these examples to see the difference:

I had a dog (possessed) vs I had wanted a dog. (‘had’ lexical in the first and auxiliary in the
second example-telling the tense when the dog was wanted)

English, like all languages, is full of problems for the foreign learner. (is is lexical)

Some points are easily explained, such as the difference between for and since, while others are more
tricky. (are is auxiliary)

Try this out and see if you can make the difference:

Underline the auxiliary and double underline the lexical verb as shown in the first example

(1) Language is constantly changing and being adapted to speaker’s needs

(2) Grammar descriptions written in the earlier part of the nineteen hundreds are still
being taught by some instructors.
(3) Grammar descriptions written in the earlier part of the nineteen hundreds are still
being taught by some instructors.
(4) Modern linguistic descriptions have rejected many errors of the older tradition and
have supported departures from traditional grammar with reasoned argument.

Modal Auxiliaries

This is another type of helping verb. We will not get into details about them, but we will
give you some basic information on them. They are sensitive as they don’t like being
done certain things to them, for example, modal auxiliaries don’t:

• like being used with other auxiliary verbs such as do, does, did etc.

ENG1502/1 45
• like being followed by to, with the exception of ought to.
• change form, like add an “-s” or “-ed”, for example.
• have infinitives (to may, to shall etc.) or participles (maying, shalling, shalled etc.).
You cannot say to shall, to must or to may.
• allow you to sound the ‘l’ in pronunciation

The verbs can, could, will, would, should, may, might, must, ought and shall are verbs which ‘help’
other verbs to express a meaning and are called modal verbs. These modal verbs have
no meaning by themselves. A modal verb such as would has several varying functions;
it can be used, for example, to help verbs express ideas about the past, the present and
the future. It is therefore wrong to simply believe that “would is the past of will”: it is
many other things.

Attempt the following task on modals:

(1) You seem to be having trouble there. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ I help you?

will would shall

(2) I don’t have enough money to buy lunch. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ you lend me a couple
of dollars?

may could shall

(3) That ice is dangerously thin now. You _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ go ice-skating today.

mustn’t might not would mind not to

(4) It’s way past my bedtime and I’m really tired. I _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ go to bed.

should ought could

(5) He _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ have committed this crime. He wasn’t even in the city

that night.

might shouldn’t couldn’t

(6) John is over two hours late already. He _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ missed the bus again.

should have must have will have

(7) I’m really quite lost. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ showing me how to get out of here?

would you mind would you be must you be

(8) That bus is usually on time. It _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ to be here any time now.

might has ought

(9) I read about your plane’s near disaster. You _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ terrified!

must have been might have been shall have been

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

(10) It’s the law. They _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ have a blood test before they get married.

might could have to

Adapted from

The Adjective and the Adjective Phrase

They modify and intensify nouns directly or indirectly. We have already seen this in the
examples under the noun descriptions the kinds of adjectives that can modify the noun.
This again underscores the importance of the nouns as the main glue in the sentence.

Look at the following two paragraphs (1 and 2) what is the frequency of adjective phrases
and why do you think one paragraph has more adjectives than the other?

(1) Xai Xai (pronounced’ Shai Shai’) is a large town in the south of Mozambique,
situated on the Limpopo River, 220 kilometres north of the capital, Maputo. Xai
Xai is the capital of the Gaza Province. English is spoken in Mozambique, but the
official language in Mozambique is Portuguese. Portuguese and Shangaan are the
languages spoken in the Gaza Province.

Xai Xai is a bustling town with markets, shops, petrol stations, banks and internet cafes.

(2) The beach town known as Praia de Xai Xai has been a popular tourist attraction
since Mozambican tourism was first developed. It is not difficult to see why Praia
de Xai Xai – with all its natural beauty and exquisite beaches – is the preferred
destination for many holidaymakers. Praia de Xai Xai is situated 12 kilometres
from the main town of Xai Xai. The road is tarred, but care must be taken to
avoid pedestrians and vehicles that stop without warning to drop off or pick up

The Adverb and Adverb Phrase

We saw that an adjectives modifies a noun, an adverb modifies a verb. Adverbs modify
all other parts of speech except for the noun. So an adverb can:

• Modify an adjective: ‘awfully expensive’

• Modify an adverb: ‘she eats quite frequently’
• Modify prepositions: ‘right outside the door’

Adverbs say more about time (now, then, today, never, till); place ( there, here, below,
above, outside; manner (slowly, eagerly, badly, well); degree ( very, reasonably, quite,
too); number (once, twice, finally again); certainty ( certainly, surely, perhaps, not) inter-
rogative (how, why, what, when).

(1) Adverb modifying a verb

‘She walks beautifully’

(2) Adverb modifying an adjective:

‘That is a very good book’

(3) Adverb modifying another adverb

‘She walks very slowly’

ENG1502/1 47
Try and find other examples of adverbs in sentences.

Adverb phrases are group of words which function in exactly the same way as adverbs.

• We expect our grandparents to arrive in about an hour.

• My cousin watches television almost as much as you do.
• The weatherman says it will rain all day.
• Your brother plays soccer better than my brother does.

Look at the following sentences. Decide whether the bolded sections are adverbs or
adverb phrases. Note that some of the group of words are neither phrases nor clauses.

• We served drinks to our friends when they arrived.

• In the morning, we played cards.
• We will all leave immediately.
• We moved to Cornwall because we wanted to live in the countryside. In winter, we decided
to move to the south west.
• I finished work early.
I left work early so that I could catch the 4.30 train.
• Take a packed lunch with you, in case you get hungry.

The Prepositional Phrase

As the name suggests, the head of the prepositional phrase is the preposition. The
structure of a prepositional phrase is comprised of a preposition + noun phrase. Its main
function in a sentence is to signal a relationship between the object of the preposition and
some other elements in the sentence – in terms of time, space, location and association.

For example

The mat on the floor is swollen from the floor moisture (which mat?)

Before leaving, Sam gave us his address (when did he give his address?)

Prepositional phrases can be tricky. If placed at the wrong point in the sentence they
can create confusion. The principle is that you place them as close as possible to the
element they refer so as to avoid confusions as:

‘The boy (past) saw a man with a telescope’.

The ambiguity created by the modifying phrase can be problematic. Was the boy car-
rying the telescope or did the boy use the telescope to see the man? This ambiguity is
created by the prepositional phrase, as it’s not clear as to which noun (boy or man) is
being modifying.

Sentences according to structure

We look first at the three structures.

Simple sentences: consist of one independent/main clause (IC)

e.g. [Mobile phones have taken over people’s lives.]

[Mobile phones are becoming an essential gadget for making a teenager’s life mobile,
flexible and easy.]

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

Compound sentences: consist of two or more independent/main clauses (IC) joined

together using a coordination conjunction or a conjunctive adverb.

e.g. [Although Senzo was supposed to collect the documents and complete the report
on Friday (DC)] but [the documents were unavailable until Thursday (IC)].

[The use of mobile phones is important for networking;] however, [it can distract a lot
of drivers on the road.]

Complex sentences: consist of one independent clause (IC) and at least one depend-
ent clause (DC). The subordinate/dependent clause is introduced or linked to the main
clause by means of a subordinating conjunction. Each type of clause is identified in the
following complex sentences:

e.g. [Although Senzo was supposed to collect the documents and complete the report
on Friday (DC)], [the documents were unavailable until Thursday (IC)].

Compound-complex sentences: consist of a combination of the complex and the com-

pound sentences.

e.g. [Even though the documents were unavailable until Thursday, (DC)] [Senzo col-
lected what he had, (IC)] and [he submitted the report on Friday. (IC)]

N.B. The brackets [ ] are used to indicate the clauses

Clauses (independent (main) and dependant (subordinate))

[Web developers should develop their proficiency with visual language (IC)] [because
Web pages involve as much visual communication as verbal (DC)].

If you look again at the sentences, you will realize that all the clauses have been bracketed.

Inside the Clause

Clauses make up the biggest unit within a sentence. They, in turn, are made up of
phrases. So the clause ‘Web developers (NP) should develop (VP) their proficiency
(NP) with visual language’ (PP) – made up of four phrases.

Phrases: refer to a combination of words which function as a unit within a clause. You
can have several phrases within a clause. The English language uses several phrase types
namely: Noun Phrase (NP), Verb Phrase (VP), Adjective phrase (AP), Prepositional
phrase (PP), and adverb phrase (AdvP).

e.g. [(Mobile phones) NP (are becoming) VP (an essential gadgets) NP (for making) PP
(a teenager’s life) NP, (flexible) AP and (extremely exciting) AdvP].

It is these units or structures, the clauses and phrases that we move around when we
write. If we confuse the way the units should be structured and positioned in relation
to each other in a text, then we run the risk of making errors, miscommunicating,
distorting messages or making no sense at all.

Look at the following sentence:

(A) The boy, he is at home. (the boy and ‘he’ refers to one thing – so one of them must
go). This is a typical direct translation error caused by first language interference.
In Zulu, for example the sentence would read:

ENG1502/1 49
U (the) mfana (boy) u (he)se (at) khaya (home).

To appreciate the type of error, it takes one to understand that a noun phrase and its
corresponding pronoun cannot be used together to refer to the subject of the sentence.

The same clauses and phrases are used by text creators, poets, news writers, and politi-
cians etc. to create the desired effect. As was noted in Unit one, some of these structures
can be inverted for different effect. Some can be expanded, modified again to create
an effect.

There are two ways in which we will be looking at the sentence: The structural and the
functional points of view. What do we mean by this and why is it so important?

Look at the following sentences:

• The waitress served the meal.

• The waitress, who was employed yesterday, served the meal.
• The waitress was employed yesterday and served the meal on the same day.

What is the difference between these two sentences?

• 2 and 3 are longer than 1 (obvious).

• 2 has more punctuation marks than 1 and 3 (commas).
• 2 tells us more about the waiter than 1 does (which waiter/employed previous day).
• 3 tells more about what the waitress did and when she did it.
• 2 and 3 have two verb forms and 1 has one verb (see underlined).

Looking at the differences we have listed, structurally, these sentences are indeed

In terms of the structural labelling and naming of sentences, sentence 1 is a simple

sentence, 2 is a complex sentence and 3 is a compound sentence. Let’s explore in detail
what the structures are.

Every piece of text will use one or all these types. Depending on the domain in ques-
tion, texts may use many sentence types, but these three are basic.

These labels may not be new to many of you. We will briefly explain them more to
remind you than to teach you what they are.

Below is a text on how to tender a garden, taken from the ‘Home’ magazine (July, 2008).

Design Decisions by Michelle Terblanche

(1) “Divide your garden into sections and remember that everything doesn’t have to
be done in a day. (2) For example, an area can be covered in gravel or bark now to
be planted later. (3) Fine gravel is fairly cheap and will keep the place neat and tidy
until your finances are balanced. (4) You can use pine needles, peach pips, or nut-
shells. (5) The water feature or braai can wait a while too. (6) In the meantime, you
can work wonders with the bench and three pretty pots.

(7) Your small garden can cost you the price of a new car, but it can also cost you as
little as a week’s groceries and both can be equally beautiful. (8) The difference lies

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

in the type of garden you’re planning, your expertise and energy, and your design

Do the following analysis of this extract for sentences. Don’t look at the feedback
before completing the task.

There are ____ number of sentences.

Sentence 1 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)

Sentence 2 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)

Sentence 3 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)

Sentence 4 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)

Sentence 5 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)

Sentence 6 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)

Sentence 7 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)

Sentence 8 is a simple, compound, complex sentence (underline the type)


Now you can check your answers 1 = compound; 2 = compound; 3 = compound; 4 =

simple; 5 = compound; 6 = compound; 7 = compound; 8 = compound.

Even though we haven’t printed the rest of Miss Terblanche’s article, we did establish
that the dominant sentence structure she uses is the compound sentence, some simple
sentences and very few complex sentences. It’s difficult to say whether she avoided
the complex sentence, or she doesn’t know how to construct one, or maybe she didn’t
even think about variety in sentence use. Whatever the reason, we wouldn’t like to believe
that she left them out of ignorance. It is for this reason that you must learn about the
various sentence type, so that you can choose which one to use and more importantly
‘spice’ your text with a variety of sentences.

Look again at this sentence:

(a) Benjamin avoids hard work and this bothers me.

(b) Benjamin’s avoidance of hard work bothers me
(c) It bothers me.

In these sentences we clearly are playing around with the words and phrases, moving
them around. A main clause has been changed into a noun phrase. We can do this process
(called nominalization) whereby a statement is changed into a noun phrase, only if we
understand how noun phrases are formed and what their functions are. Nominalization
occurs more frequently in academic texts and other technical texts.

Sentences, clauses, phrases and text creation

Now that we have given you background information on the terminology used in the
discussion of sentences and introduced you to the sentence names and classification, we
will move on to look in more detail at the sentence kinds and how they can be effectively
used. Remember, the success of any piece of writing, be it academic or non-academic,

ENG1502/1 51
depends on how well your sentences have been crafted. Moreover, at University level
you are suppose to develop the skill to choose the appropriate sentences to use for the
kind of writing you are doing.

We have stated that there are four main kinds of sentences that matter, these vary de-
pending on the number and types of clauses they have. The compound and the complex
sentences are formed by coordinating several phrase and clauses and this is done by
using conjunctions.


A conjunction is a function word that serves as a connector or a linking word to join
words, phrases, or clauses. Coordinating conjunctions are used for compound sentences
and subordinating conjunctions are used to form complex sentences. One way to make
sure you master the use of conjunctions is to see how accomplish writers use them in
real texts. Cohesion and coherence in texts, that is, if someone says ‘this writing flows
well’, it’s because the conjunctions have been used appropriately and effectively.

There is a long list of conjunctions that can be used to create complexity in sentences.
Below is a list of the conjunctions, grouped according to the function they perform in
a sentence. Most of these will be familiar to you, but the important thing is that you
familiarize yourself with their function.

Time: after, after, which, and, as along as, as soon as, at which, before, once, since, the
moment, then, till, until, when, whenever, whereupon, while

Result: and, and so, else, or else, otherwise, so, so that

Contrast, Concession, Alternatives: although, apart from, but, despite, even if, even
though, except that, in spite of, or, much as, nor, nor that, though, whereas, while,
whilst, yet.

Reason: as, as a result of, because, because of, considering, due to, for, given that, in
case, in view of the fact that, that, just in case, on account of, seeing that/that, since.

Purpose: in case, in order that, in order to, so, so as to, so that, to

Conditional: as long as, even if, if, on condition that, provided (that), providing (that),
so long as, unless, whether… or

Manner: as, as if, as though, in a way, just as, like, much as, the way.

Addition: and, as well as, besides, besides which, in addition to.

Giving examples: for instance, for example, in particular.


The usage of these conjunctions will not be illustrated to you through created sentences,
but we will invite you to study each of the texts and extract the conjunction, stating
the function of each.

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

Passage 2

Historical Perspective

In the mountains above Barberton scientists have found traces of “Stromatolites”,

the remnants of blue-green algae formed 3 500 million years ago when oxygen was
added to the earth’s atmosphere in significant quantities to create the fi rst evolutio-
nary step towards life forms.

Throughout the Mpumalanga hills and mountains exist hundreds of examples of San
(bushman) art. This art serves as a window looking into the lives of the San hun-
ters and gatherers who inhabited the area centuries before the arrival of the Nguni
people from the north.

The region abounded with all types of game, plants, birds and insects. The rivers
ran full, providing for the needs of these early inhabitants. Later came the fi rst of
the Nguni people who arrived with herds of cattle, and mined red ochre in the hills
south of Malelane. Early smelters, which pre-date the main Nguni influx, have been
excavated, indicating that the use of iron and copper was well advanced during these
years. Similarly, early pottery fragments and sculptural artifacts unearthed in the hills
on the Long Tom Pass, notably the “Lydenburg heads” have been described as a
major art fi nd.

Passage 3

My hometown and my college town have several things in common. First, both are
small rural communities. For example, my hometown, Gridlock, has a population of
only about 10,000 people. Similarly, my college town, Subnormal, consists of about
11,000 local residents. This population swells to 15,000 people when the college stu-
dents are attending classes. A second way in which these two towns are similar
is that they are both located in rural areas. Gridlock is surrounded by many acres
of farmland which is devoted mainly to growing corn and soybeans. In the same
way, Subnormal lies in the centre of farmland which is used to raise hogs and cattle.
Thirdly, these towns are similar in that they contain college campuses. Gridlock, for
example, is home to Neutron College, which is famous for its Agricultural Econo-
mics program as well as for its annual Corn-Watching Festival. Likewise, the town
of Subnormal boasts the beautiful campus of Quark College, which is well known for
its Agricultural Engineering department and also for its yearly Hog-Calling Contest.

What can you say about the flow of each of these passages based on the way the con-
junctions have been used?

This unit has given you enough working tools to handle words, and group of words
as they appear in texts. The next unit will show further how meaning is made using
these tools and how meaning can shift depending on the context of a situation. So
whilst we acknowledge that words are formed in particular ways and so are sentences,

ENG1502/1 53
the productivity of the English language makes it possible to generate many meanings
from the standard meanings that we know. The ability to recognise sentence types, use
a variety of them, can improve our written product.

In the second year of this course we will do more advanced work on composition where
your knowledge of the structures we have covered here will be useful.

Additional practice on complex sentences.

Try this exercise on complex sentences

(1) She had blonde hair when she was a child, but ______ she got older and older,
her hair went darker and darker.

(a) when
(b) after
(c) while
(d) as

(2) Will you go to the history museum tomorrow? Sure I will, ____________ it
doesn’t rain heavily.

(a) even if
(b) in case
(c) as soon as
(d) as long as

(3) When the Internet was created in 1969, only a few people knew about it. That’s
______ it came into existence as a secret US government project.

(a) why
(b) that
(c) because
(d) when

(4) ______ is known to us all is that the old scientist, for ______ life was hard in
the past, still works very hard in his eighties.

(a) As; whose

(b) What; whom
(c) It; whose
(d) As; whom

(5) Miss Green took up the story at the point ______ the thief had just made off
with the jewels.

(a) when
(b) which
(c) in which
(d) where

(6) It was not until dark ______ he found ______ he thought was the correct way
to solve the problem.

(a) that; what

UNIT 3: How do we build them? Words and sentences

(b) when; what

(c) then; that
(d) what; that

(7) Native Americans from the south-eastern part of ______is now the United States
believed that the universe in which they lived was made up of three worlds.

(a) where
(b) what
(c) that
(d) which

(8) ______ life pace continues to speed up, we are quickly losing the art of enjoyment.

(a) With
(b) As
(c) When
(d) While

(9) I had not believed in falling in love with somebody at first sight ______ I met
David on Valentine’s Day three years ago.

(a) where
(b) after
(c) when
(d) before

(10) I really don’t know ______ I had my money stolen.

(a) where it was that

(b) it was where
(c) that it was when
(d) when was it that

Syntax Glossary
Looking at the way the terminology has been used. Refer to your linguistic dictionary
resources, find the meaning of each of the words in the list below.









ENG1502/1 55

Auxiliary verb








Bauer, L. (1988) Introducing Linguistic Morpholog y, Edinbugh University Press. Great Britain
Ronald, C., Goddard, A., Reah, D., Sanger, K. & Swift, N. (1997) Working with Texts: A
Core Introduction to Language Analysis, London & New York: Routledge.
Delahnty, G.P. & Garvey, J.J. (1994) Language, Grammar and Communication. A course for
teachers of English. International editions, Mr Graw-Hill, Inc.
Frank, M. (1993) Modern English. A Practical Reference Guide, Prentice Hall
Horne, F. & Heinemann, G. (2006) English in Perspective, Cape Town: Oxford University,
Huddleston, R. (1984) Introduction to the Grammar of English, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Payne, T.E. (2006) Exploring Language Structure: A Student’s Guide, Cambridge University
Press. United Kingdom.
Swan, M. (2009) Practical English Usage, (4th ed.) Oxford University Press. Print. (353-4)
Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G. & Svartvik, J. (1972) A Grammar of Contemporary
English, London: Longman.
Thomson, A.J. & Martinet, A.V. (1986) A Practical English Grammar, Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Yule, G. (2004) The Study of language, (2nd ed.) Cambridge University Press. United

UNIT 4: I hear what you are saying, but what do you mean?

4 UNIT 4

I hear what you are saying, but what do you



By the end of this unit you should be able to:

• define semantics and pragmatics

• understand the relationship between words and meaning
• differentiate between linguistic meaning and speakers meaning
• distinguish between denotation and connotation
• recognise different types of meaning
• understand how words, sentences, phrases combine to form meaning
• define how and what meanings are expressed
• understand the importance of context, as well as how it shapes and affects meaning
• analyse and understand the relevance of words in speech, reading, writing, texts,
and the world.

In this unit we introduce the concepts of semantics and pragmatics, as well as their
importance in everyday communication. We are going to look at the meaning of indi-
vidual words in a language; that is, how words convey meaning, what kinds of meaning
are expressed by certain words, what the role of words in sentence construction is. And
how words combine to create meaningful communication. In addition, we explore what
knowledge we need in order to interpret words in context? Words are important build-
ing blocks of any language because through their use we gradually acquire knowledge
of language and learn what particular words actually mean. That said, communicating
is a dynamic process, with an intended purpose. When we communicate we often use
things other than verbal language to convey meaning. Thus, this unit will also explore
the relationship between non-verbal signs, symbols, physical objects and meaning and
how all these factors contribute to, shape and affect meaning.

In this unit, we shall start by defining the terms semantics and pragmatics, then turn to
the relationship between words, time, space, symbols, sings and meaning; and finally
look at the different kinds of meaning including denotation, connotation, literal and
metaphoric meaning.

ENG1502/1 57
Semantics and pragmatics are closely related concepts. Semantics is the study of how
meaning is expressed by elements of any language, whereas pragmatics refers to the study
of language or meaning in specific communicative contexts. These elements include
meaning of words, phrases, sentences, or texts. The study of semantics is important
because it enables us to understand how language users construct meaning, how they
acquire a sense of meaning as speakers, listeners, readers and writers. In addition, how
the meaning of certain words or phrases change over time? In other words, an analysis
of meaning involves investigating the relationship between language and everything we
use language to talk about in everyday interactions. An understanding of how we use
language to talk about the world, how we use language in different social situations, how
language changes, how varieties of English influence and affect meaning are fundamental
to appreciating how communication works. The study of semantics; therefore, broadly
refers to how meaning is constructed, interpreted, illustrated, symbolised, imagined,
concealed or disguised. However, semantics is not limited to meaning in written or
oral/verbal language only but includes things like facial expressions, body language,
gestures as well as cultural signs, symbols and objects – all of which contribute to our
understanding of the meaning of particular situations, events and social behaviour.

4.1.1 Word order and meaning

Now let us look at the following examples that illustrate how words combine into
meaningful sentences, and what meaning is being communicated.

• Dog bites man

• Man bites dog

Here we notice that the same words – man, dog, bites – have been used in these sen-
tences, but the meaning conveyed is not the same. This shows us that the manner in
which a sentence is structured or how words are put together lead to a different mean-
ing of a whole sentence. In both sentences, the word order indicates how man and dog
are related to the verb bites. The subject in first sentence is the dog and the object is
the man, whereas in the second sentence the order is changed with the man becoming
the subject and the dog as object. This clearly illustrates that how words are sequenced
in a sentence affect and influence meaning. Hence form (word order in this case) and
meaning in language are interrelated.

For a detailed discussion about how words are made up and how words are combined
form larger units such as sentences and phrases refer to the previous Unit 3 on Words
and Sentences.

Study the sentences below, and answer these questions: What do these sentences
mean? What is the difference between sentences? How does the word order change
the meaning within each sentence?

• This is my daughter’s picture.

My daughter’s picture this is.
• My father painted.
Painted my father.

UNIT 4: I hear what you are saying, but what do you mean?

• The boy kicked the ball.

The ball kicked the boy.
• The fi lm was based on the novel.
The novel was based on the fi lm.
• The school bell rings at midday.
At midday the school bell rings.

4.1.2 Time, space and meaning

As you will learn in Unit 5 on Language Varieties, language changes depending on the
circumstances in which it is being used; when it is used, as well as the purpose for its
use. The meaning of some words, sentences and phrases may have changed and evolved
over time to such an extent that it has become acceptable to use these to express certain
ideas, views, meaning. Note that the concept of time, as it is used in this context, refers to
historical changes that have taken place in language, and their degree of influence. Think
of the difference between old/traditional English and modern English, for example.

Look at the following words: What do these mean?

• Upon what meat doth this our Caeser feed? (anything nourishing that we eat or drink to
sustain life, provide energy and promote growth)
• It is unhealthy to eat red meat every day. (animal flesh)

The two sentences show how the meaning of the word ‘meat’ has changed over time.
In Shakespeare’s time the word meat referred to food in general; and in recent times the
same word is used specifically to mean animal flesh. What is important here is that the
word ‘meat’ which was wide-ranging to include food substances such as bread, drinks
and fish in the past, is now used to mean animal flesh. This demonstrates to us that
time is a crucial factor affecting the meaning required in communication.

Like time, geographical space also contributes to how the meaning of certain words
becomes understood. The relationship between the actual space in which words are
used, the purposes for which they are used, and the meaning associated with these words
is an important one. Put differently, space influences meaning and in turn, meaning is
shaped by space. Consider the use of the word ‘cool’ in this exchange below for example.

• Speaker A: How are you?

Speaker B: I am cool.
• Speaker C: I’m gonna go down to the beach. You wanna come.

In order to realise that speaker B uses the word ‘cool’ to mean that they are ‘fine’ or
‘well’; and that speaker C means that ‘I am going to go down to the beach. Do you
want to come?’ you will need to know something about the space. Such background
knowledge will enable you to arrive at an understanding of what the speakers mean,
how they relate to one another, and whether the conversation interaction is formal or
informal. Other examples include the word ‘robot’ which is used in the South African
context to refer to a set of traffic lights; or ‘braai’ which in the American and British
context are called ‘barbeque’. As you will read in Unit 5, language varieties, geographi-
cal space and meaning are interrelated. The manner in which we express ourselves, the
choices of words we use often make us recognisable to other speakers of English from
other parts of the world.

ENG1502/1 59
(1) Consider the way in which meaning is conveyed in these sentences: What is the
difference between these sentences? How do you think time, and space, has af-
fected the meaning in each sentence?

• See you shortly.

See you in a bit.
• Pass me that salt.
Give me that salt.
• They are watching news on the television.
They are watching news on the telly.
• How are you?
• She said she was okay.
She said she was OK.

(2) Write down 5 English words, from any other parts of the world, and describe
their meaning in their particular geographical contexts.

4.1.3 Non-Verbal Language (or Paralinguistic Tools) and Meaning

Like individual words, non-verbal language (also referred to as paralinguistic signs), play
an important role in communication. When we speak we often use non-verbal signs
such as body language, facial expressions and gestures in order to express our intended
message. The use of non-verbal signs enables us to build a picture in our mind of what
is being communicated and to understand the meaning of a particular thing, situation,
or concept. For example, after spending a Sunday afternoon with your colleagues, you
may wish to wave goodbye to them as a sign to show that it is time to leave.

Read the extract below and comment on the use of non-verbal communication.

Mother: Sipho did you write your homework?

Sipho: Not yet mother.

Mother: Switch off that television! Now!

(Sipho leaves the room and bangs the door hard).

Why did Sipho bang the door? How and what is the meaning implied in the last sen-
tence by the mother?

4.1.4 Signs/Symbols and Meaning

The relationship between signs/symbols and meaning is an important one. We come
across different kinds of signs or symbols everyday and they all refer to different things.
A sign or symbol is something which is used to represent another thing – it might be
a picture, a letter, or an object. For example, when we see traffic signs – no entry and
stop signs; a toilet and no smoking signs, we immediately know what is required of us,
understand how we should behave in certain circumstances; and in some cases these

UNIT 4: I hear what you are saying, but what do you mean?

signs help us to locate specific places or things. Signs/symbols in themselves could be

rendered meaningless, but it is when these are used in context and for a particular pur-
pose that we are able to decode what it is that they represent, denote, or communicate.

Signs and Symbols

Traffic Sign No entry

Toilet No Smoking

South African Flag Coat of Arms of South Africa

Look at the following signs/symbols and write down what each of these mean.

ENG1502/1 61
As mentioned earlier, the studies in semantics and pragmatics are so interwoven that
drawing clear and distinct separation between the two is difficult because of the blur-
ring of the boundaries. Put differently, in order to understand the speaker’s meaning,
you will need to know something about the context or to have input of contextual
information, and vice versa. The study of ‘meaning in use’, ‘meaning in interaction’
(Mullany and Stockwell, 2010) or ‘meaning in the world’ – known as pragmatics – sug-
gests that treating words, sentences and phrases in isolation from their context of use
may render meaning complex, ambiguous and vague. In summary, meaning and its
surrounding context are firmly linked; thus through pragmatics we are able to arrive at
an understanding of what a speaker means by uttering certain words and expressions.

For example, suppose you wish to understand the following sentence “The boy I men-
tioned before is dangerous” you will need to know something already to figure out what
the speaker is trying to convey to you. First, you need prior knowledge of who the boy
is (pragmatics). Second, understand the linguistic meaning of this sentence. Finally,
with all this background information, you will be in a position to realise that perhaps
the speaker is advising you to be careful of this boy (semantics).

In addition, let us consider the word ‘goal’ in the sentences below and reflect on the
extent which the context helps us work out the meaning.

• My goal this year is to complete my degree programme.

• Scoring a goal in soccer is not as simple as it looks.

In the first sentence, the word ‘goal’ occurs in a context relating to personal ambition,
desire and aspiration (it is used figuratively or metaphorically) whereas in the second
sentence it has to do with performance in sports, in particular soccer (it is used more
literally). In the sentences above, it is clear that the meaning of the word ‘goal’ takes on
a different meaning depending on context. This demonstrates that words can never be
explained in isolation because the context forms an essential part of understanding how
we read, interpret, and make sense of language in our daily interactions.

4.2.1 Ambiguity
This section builds on the previous one where we looked at meaning and context. This
section discusses the complex relationship between words and meaning. As we have il-
lustrated earlier the same word can change its meaning depending on how and for what
purposes it is used (i.e. context). All of this can influence meaning and lead to ambiguity.

What is ambiguity?

Ambiguity refers to a situation where a word, phrase, sentence is open to more than one
possible interpretation. In this way, the meaning becomes unclear and vague. However,
context may play an important role where ambiguity exists in that it helps us to form
specific and intended interpretation. In other words, the same expression, statement
or use of language may be ambiguous in one context and unambiguous in another. It
is important to realise that there are many kinds of ambiguity which includes inter-
pretations of individual words (i.e. lexical ambiguity); sentences, phrases, newspaper
headlines, or idiomatic expressions (i.e. semantic ambiguity). Lexical ambiguity is when
the use of small language unit like a specific word can be interpreted differently, and
semantic ambiguity is when it is not possible to decide on the intended meaning of a
sentence, phrase etc.

UNIT 4: I hear what you are saying, but what do you mean?

For example, the following sentences are ambiguous:

• The department of education has advertised positions for teachers of English, isiZulu and Afrikaans.
Ambiguity: Has the department advertised positions for teachers who can each
teach one of these languages or all three languages?
• Peter gave her cat food.
Ambiguity: Did Peter give her cat some food or did Peter give cat food to her?
• The man hit the old lady with an umbrella.
Ambiguity: Did the man use an umbrella to hit the old lady or did the man hit the
old lady who is carrying an umbrella?

In all the instances above, the context does not clearly indicate the intended meaning
hence these sentences remain ambiguous. In addition, ambiguity can be used intention-
ally to create meaning and produce a certain effect. This is often the case in texts such
as newspaper articles where a writer can deliberately use ambiguous language, phrases
or headlines in order to produce a certain effect from the readers, which in most cases
is used to lure them into buying and reading the paper.

Let us look at this phrase as a possible newspaper headline ‘Tourism is getting out of
control’. Notice how this headline can have different interpretations. It could be sug-
gesting that the increase in the number of tourists has had a negative impact on the
environment and as such it is not good; or that there is a necessity for a set of rules and
regulations about the behaviour expected of tourists; or that restrictions could put be
in place to manage the number of tourists allowed to visit. Because this headline lends
itself to more than one interpretation; its meaning is ambiguous and imprecise.

The above examples looked at semantic ambiguity. The following section is concerned
with lexical ambiguity. The word ‘produce’ on its own potentially has different meanings,
unless it is used in a context which will help us to identify which meaning is intended.
It could mean crops and food, or to manufacture something. ‘Assemble’ can mean to
fit together pieces of a puzzle, to build and create a structure, or to come together at a
meeting. ‘Erection’ could be referring to a building or sexual arousal. It is clear that all
these words on their own have at least two or three potential meanings hence they are
ambiguous. Such words are called homographs. (see 2.1 of Unit 3)

4.2.2 Homophones
Homophones are words that have the same sound (pronunciation) but different mean-
ing and usually spelling. For example, the nouns ‘hour’ and ‘our’ are pronounced the
same but the meaning and spelling are different. If we look at the noun ‘rose’ (flower)
and verb ‘rose’ (past tense of ‘rise’) we notice that although they have the same sound
and spelling, the meaning is different. Another example is the noun ‘bear’ (the animal),
‘bear’ (to tolerate), ‘bare’ (naked) all of which are pronounced the same but differ in
meaning, and in spelling as in the case of the word ‘bare’.

4.2.3 Synonyms
If different words have similar meaning, they are called synonyms. Different words can
be used alternatively to mean the same thing or refer to the same idea. For example,
instead of using the word ‘certain’ we can use the word ‘definite’, ‘determined’, ‘obvi-
ous’, ‘clear’. In addition, instead of the word ‘questionable’ you can use the synonyms

ENG1502/1 63
‘dubious’, ‘arguable’, ‘debatable’, ‘ambivalent’ all of which can be used to mean exactly
the same thing.

(1) Analyze the exchange between the two speakers in terms of what you have read
in this section of the unit. Do you understand what the conversation is all about?
What kind of knowledge do you need in order to understand this conversation?

Speaker A: I think we could visit her tomorrow.

Do you agree?

Speaker B: Um … I’m not sure.

Speaker A: Isn’t she brave?

Speaker B: What a good business woman! She has a lot of wisdom and
is brave indeed.

(2) Read the sentences below and describe the difference in meaning of the high-
lighted words in bold. In addition, explain how the context changes the meaning
in each of the following pairs of sentences.

• The machine is not in action now.

It is urgent that you take action in that matter.
• John was awarded his degree in communication at the University of South
Quality is perceived as a degree of excellence.
• John made a conscious decision to smoke.
He remained conscious until the ambulance arrived.


4.3.1 Denotation
Denotative meaning is the core or central meaning of word or lexeme. It is therefore
understood as the dictionary definition of a word; sometimes known as the cognitive
or referential meaning. Hence denotative meaning of words is considered objective,
neutral or without any emotional associations. For example, the word ‘chair’ in English
is used to refer to a particular piece of furniture in the real world; and the word ‘com-
puter’ would be understood to describe a specific type of electronic device. However,
denotation is related to connotation, which leads to semantic change. This means that
some words have more than just their denotative or dictionary meaning. Depending
on how and for what purposes these words are used, these words could be described as
connotative. Consider the dictionary meaning of the word ‘pig’ which is ‘an omnivorous
hoofed bristly mammal’. Although this definition here is fairly neutral and simply refers
to nothing other than a type of an animal, the connotation of the same word becomes
different. The connotative meaning of ‘pig’ has negative implications and is associated
with greed, dirt, or an annoying person, for example. For a further discussion on this
topic of denotative meaning refer to Unit 6 on Language in Action.

UNIT 4: I hear what you are saying, but what do you mean?

4.3.2 Connotation
Unlike denotation discussed previously, connotation is connected to the state of mind
and culture, thus is can be described as overtones, personal or emotional associations
aroused by words. In other words, connotative meaning refers to the associations or
feel which a word has rather than what it explicitly denotes (i.e. denotative meaning).
Hence two words with the same definition may actually have different connotations.
For example, the word ‘blue’ could be interpreted to mean a colour or an emotion, as
in blue or sad music – ‘My mother bought a blue car’ and ‘He plays blues music’. With time,
some of these associations become widespread and common usage. Consider the word
‘virtual’, (which in the past denotatively meant certainty, absolute, definite; for example,
‘I am virtually part of the family’) has changed over the years and is now commonly used to
imply ‘artificial, changeable, fluctuating, flexible’ particularly in the realm of cyberspace, as in
‘Virtual classrooms at the university of South Africa are designed to help students with their learning’.

Describe the denotative and connotative meaning of the words in this table. What
are the similarities and differences of the words?

Denotative Connotative

4.3.3 Literal meaning

This is when the speaker says a sentence, uses words, or phrases to mean exactly and
literally what he says. Like all types of meaning, literal meaning is related to, and often
shaped by the context in which an utterance, a word, sentence, or phrase is used. In
other words, the context enables the audience to gain a better understanding of the
intended meaning of an idea, activity, event etc.

Example: In an air-conditioned seminar room the visiting professor commented: “It is cold in here”.

Considering the circumstances under which the statement was uttered, the speaker’s
intention is to comment about the temperature in the room and to convey that the room
is cold due to the air-conditioning.

4.3.4 Metaphoric meaning

Study this short statement. After the visiting professor’s exciting lecture on Shake-
speare’s play on Romeo and Juliet, and a series of unanswered questions he had posed to
the students, she remarked: “It is cold in here”.

ENG1502/1 65
Unlike the previous example, the meaning of ‘cold’ here does not refer to temperature.
The professor’s uses this word to allude to the students’ lack of participation, lack of
interest or passivity with regard to the subject matter.

In this unit we have looked at the relationship between words and meaning, and the
extent to which context helps us to form an opinion about something, to interpret a
situation and to understand the intended meaning. We have also discussed the differ-
ence between lexical and semantic meaning, as well as different kinds of meaning such
an ambiguity, synonyms, homophones to illustrate that the manner in which words,
phrases and sentences are used affects and influences the meaning. In the next unit, we
shall look at English language varieties as well as factors that have contributed to the
development as an international language.

Here is a list of some important terms used in this unit. Using your own words, define
and describe these terms.







Language Varieties



Lexical Ambiguity

Semantic Ambiguity

Mullany, L. & Stockwell, P. (2010) Introducing English Language, A Resource Book for
Students. London and New York: Routledge.

UNIT 5: One language: many varieties

5 UNIT 5

5 One Language: Many Varieties

By the end of this Unit, you should be able to:

• define and give examples of language variation.

• describe English Language varieties.
• describe the relationship between language and context.
• describe what is meant by context from a situational and cultural view.
• discuss the relationship between language and identity.
• define Standard (South African) English.
• describe the historical and contemporary factors that have led to English as an
International language.
• describe attitudes towards English from own/local geographic context.

As it has been shown in the previous units and in subsequent ones, language is contex-
tualized. None of us speaks and writes English in exactly the same ways.

Why do you think none of us speaks or writes exactly the same way?

For any text that we produce, a number of factors contribute to our individuality as
language users. First, there are geographical factors: where we come from or have lived
during childhood and adolescence. Secondly, there are social factors: the social environ-
ment where we were brought up and the social groups to which we belong. Thirdly,
there are factors that have to do with the purpose of a text. In this unit, we are going
to investigate English varieties according to the factors that have been mentioned and
other factors that are closely related.

In the CD accompanying this Study Guide, listen again to the recording where different
people with different language backgrounds read one text written in English. These are
examples of variation, in pronunciation.


Although we may all speak English, the way that we speak varies according to what we
are doing, who we are speaking to and who we are. For example, let us take a scene in

ENG1502/1 67
which a medical practitioner speaks to a patient about the prescription to be used as a
cure for an illness:

Doctor: Tell me how you feel.

Patient: I feel pain around my neck.

Doctor: Can you describe the pain.

Patient: It is severe, I feel as if I should not move or do any work.

Doctor: I am going to give you some penicillin, take two tablets every day in the morning.

To answer the three questions we would have the following scenario.

Who is speaking? Doctor

What is the topic? Medical consultation

Who is the addressee? A Patient

James Paul Gee (2012) says the following about social variation in language:

• Each language has many different styles or varieties.

• They are called registers. This stems from the fact that anytime we talk we need to
make clear two things: (1) who we are. (2) what we are doing.

Gee observes that ‘first, we are all not a single who, but a great many different whos in
different contexts. Second, one and the same speaking or acting can count as different
things in different contexts. We accomplish different whos and whats through using dif-
ferent social registers. We shift our style when talking to different people.’

How is your language different, for example, when you are talking to your boss (if
you are already working)?

How is your language different when talking to your lecturer during office hours than
when you are talking to your friends?

Consider how you talk when you are interacting with family members. Is your usage
of language exactly the same as it is when you speak in a presentation in class? How
does your answer to the preceding question show your understanding of different
linguistic contexts?

Possible answer

You are more likely to use ‘school-like’, or formal language to your lecturer or teacher.
When communicating with a lecturer, a student tends to use language that stands on
its own, requiring little inferencing on their part. You are inclined to demonstrate
cognitive involvement, and judgment for your intelligence. On the other hand, your

UNIT 5: One language: many varieties

language to your friend might emphasize social and affective involvement, solidarity,
and co-participation in meaning-making.

None of us speaks a single uniform register, nor is any one of us a single, uniform
identity. The different social registers we use allow us to render multiple whos (who are
we) and whats (what are we doing).

Exactly how do we observe social variation in language? It is found in any of the levels
or part of the system of language. It may be lexical, syntactic or stylistic, in other words,
phonetic, phonological, semantic, and so on. Language variation is also influenced by
whether it is spoken or in the written mode.

It is usually said that some people are good speakers of English but they are not neces-
sarily good writers or vice a versa. This is based on an important distinction between
speaking and writing, which will be further studied in other modules dealing with
Applied English Language Studies.

(1) Find examples of language variation. Describe the language variation from those

(2) What are the three main components or questions that we have to answer when
describing language variation?

Context refers to different things in the study of language. It can be place, it can be
time, it can be participants. For example, language can occur at a shopping mall, dur-
ing the day, amongst two friends (Grade eleven students), on a movie date. These are
examples of contexts of language use. The focus for this unit is how language would
vary according to this context. For example, there is likely to be informal talk, a friendly
chat, maybe language associated with young people, like slang, perhaps a mixture of
languages, code switching and so on.

Examples of informal talk/language variety

Halliday (1985, 1994) distinguishes between context of culture and context of situa-
tion. For now we are mainly interested in texts and the context of situation. Under the
context of situation, the main focus is on the topic, what is also known as field, and the
relationship between the participants, what can also be described as tenor.


Context of situation refers to the specific scenes or instances within the broader socio-
cultural environment. Three aspects of this situation were identified in the diagram in
Unit 1 and the introduction as having an influence on the shape and meaning of texts.
These aspects can be summarized as:

• What is going on – nature of the social activity and subject matter (field)
• The roles and relationships taken up by speaker/listener and reader/writer (tenor)
• The channel or medium of communication – whether it is spoken or written and
whether it is used for action or reflection (mode).

ENG1502/1 69
Let us reflect on the following text. Try to predict some aspects of the context of situ-
ation of the text by using the following questions.

• What is the topic of the text? (field)

• Who is involved in creating the text (speaker/listener or writer/reader)? What is
the nature of their relationship (tenor)?
• Is the text spoken or written (mode)?

Text 1.1

RB: Mum, can we make a cake?

SH: Ok but it’ll have to be a packet mix. I think there’s one there.

RB: What do we do first?

SH: Ok, well, turn the oven on the first … here I’ll do that. You put all the ingredients
in a bowl and mix them all up, no just on low.

RB: Can I put it in the cake tin now?

SH: No, mix it on medium speed for a few minutes first … that’s right, now you can
pour it into the tin and put it in the oven.

RB: How long does it have to cook for?

SH: We’ll give it half an hour and see how it goes eh?

Possible answers

From the dialogue above, it may be deduced that it took place in the kitchen. There are
two participants in the exchange, one is the mother and the other one is perhaps her
daughter. The mother is giving instructions on how to bake a cake. On the other hand,
the daughter keeps asking questions and making requests. There is no reference to any
written text, we can therefore assume that this is spoken. This is a short response which
demonstrates aspects of analyzing the context of situation from dialogue, in other words
register analysis. The following now moves beyond the home to how language varies
within society or within the geographic location.

Reflection question: What would you consider are some of the features which char-
acterises a conversation and spoken text?


We have already seen how language can vary according to context; e.g. ‘dialogue with a
friend at a Mall, or between a teenage girl and her mother in the kitchen’ Society refers
to something bigger than the family, home, or the shopping complex. It involves larger
categories of grouping a collective number of people, such as, a town, or a country.
It may consist of a larger population of people. On the other hand, a home or a mall
forms part of society. The study of the relationship between language and society is
called sociolinguistics. People who are sociolinguists study language use and language
variation. The branch of sociolinguistics that describes the variation of language ac-
cording to place is usually referred to as ‘the study of dialects’. People who come from

UNIT 5: One language: many varieties

a particular place are often classified according to the English variety that they speak.
Notice how people who come from America speak English as compared to people
who come from South Africa.

What are some of the differences between American English and British English?
Give examples?

You may have observed this on the media or in movies. There are differences in
spellings of the words. If your computer (e.g. Microsoft word) is set to use American
spelling, it will keep underlining some words if they are spelt differently. On the other
hand, if you have written them in British spelling, the same may occur. This is why
it is advisable to do a spell check on the computer before finalizing or sending your

American words; behavior, recognize

British words: behaviour, recognise

(You may also find some differences in syntax or grammar between these two varie-
ties of English in your second year of study)

Some varieties are regional or geographical. As long as the speakers of these languages
are mutually intelligible to one another – in other words, as long as they can understand
one another – these different forms are said to be varieties of one language.

In South Africa, linguists have observed that there are common varieties of English
that are spoken. In addition to this, some go further to distinguish between the Eng-
lish that is spoken by White South Africans, the English that is spoken by Black South
Africans, coloureds from the Cape, and Indian English. This does not end there, some
study the language variety that is spoken by Indian South Africans and those that are
spoken by Coloureds from Cape Town.

South African English (SAfrE) is said to be a regional variety, with many words bor-
rowed from the languages of the region. Recently, the Oxford dictionary added the
word ‘Vuvuzela’. We also have words like ‘Indaba’, and ‘Imbizo’. Can you think of other
words or lexical items that belong to South African English?

The regional variety is seen at the level of vocabulary, but it can also be at any of the
other components of language, e.g. phonological or semantic.

We normally label people according to their countries of origin. Based on the way one
speaks, the accent, and the pronunciation, we can either correctly or falsely categorize
the speaker as coming from Nigeria, Zimbabwe or South Africa. Based on these coun-
tries, we have different varieties of English, such as, Nigerian English, Kenyan English,
Malaysian English and so on. However, this can be misleading or inaccurate. For ex-
ample, many years ago, I went to a presentation to a private school in Pietermaritzburg
with some Law students from the University of Kwazulu-Natal. I met one of the LLB
students, a lady who spoke in an American accent. I immediately concluded that she
was American. I was shocked to learn that she was South African, and had probably
never been to America. The only reason for this could be her family upbringing, how
she was socialized as she was growing up, and attending one of the prestigious private

ENG1502/1 71
schools in the country. This shows the relationship between language and identity. This
will be further developed in other modules in your second and third year.

Language can also lead to conflicts and tensions among people who live in a particular
country. Not so long ago, South Africa experienced many language related conflicts.

Language prejudice

In 2008, there was a wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa that started in Johan-
nesburg in Alexandra township. Language was used by the attackers as one of the criteria
to distinguish who is a South African and who is not. English would not have been used
because it is the language of communication among people who speak different languages
in South Africa. The attackers used some of the indigenous languages to determine
if people were locals or not. Failure to speak the language resulted in persecution. In
some cases this was not necessarily the failure to speak the entire language but it was
failure to understand a particular lexical item or word. This was prejudice manifesting
itself in linguistic terms because no first language speaker of English or any language
can claim to know all the words or even all the meanings of words in that language.

For example there are many synonyms of the word ‘bedroom’ in English but you may
not know all of them e.g. bedchamber, bunk room, chamber, cubicle, guest room.

During these attacks some people were often caught out of guard by being quizzed on
the vocabulary of some archaic Zulu words like ‘Indololwane’ (elbow), when most people
use the more contemporary, or Gauteng terminology of ‘Umkhono’ (arm). Unfortunately,
failure to pass this vocabulary test could result in the loss of a life.

This incident demonstrates that language is very important, and that linguistic prejudice
is a major concern for the government and that language experts can raise awareness
about the role of language in nation building, multiculturalism and social cohesion.

Going back to the focus of this unit, on regional and social varieties of English. The
study of dialect is about the geographic mapping of language or language varieties to
certain areas. The following discussion will focus on social varieties of English.


Language can also vary according to the social class. Social class is a difficult concept to
define. We sometimes use income as a marker of social class. For example, social class
has to do with the economic income that a particular person or group possesses. People
earning a low income usually belong to a lower class. Take for instance, construction
workers or miners who may be less-educated.

Social class language varieties are also very important. The English spoken by educated
people is different from the English spoken by less-educated people, furthermore, where
you were educated, which school you attended also counts. This coincides with access
to middle class schools and institutions. Who goes to what school is often a question
of how much income parents can afford.

Jackson and Stockwell (2010:10), describing language and social variation, say; ‘the ways
in which language varies socially is the concern of sociolinguistics. … Sociolinguistics
often investigates the correlation between a linguistic feature, e.g. of pronunciation or
grammar, and a social distinction, e.g. gender or social class.’ The social groups may

UNIT 5: One language: many varieties

be based on class, age, interests and other factors. These varieties are often markers
of identity. For example, in South Africa, the language spoken by young people, often
referred to as slang has been associated with township varieties (Bembe & Beukes 2009).

Another derogative designation, ‘coconut’ is described by McKinney (2007). It is used

to describe some of the language varieties of urban youth. ‘Coconut’ is also a name
given to a Novel written by the then third year medical student at the University of
Cape Town, Kopano Matlwa. The novel is about growing up black in a white suburb
where the cost of fitting in means changing your identity. The main characters aspire
to be assimilated into white society and reap the benefits.

Write down any labels that are used to name people who speak a particular variety
of English? (You can use examples from your country.)

What is a coconut? (Note that this is largely a South African label)

When studying varieties of English, it is necessary to distinguish between prestigious

varieties and non-prestigious varieties. Usually, the prestigious varieties are closer to
what is often referred to as Standard English.

Speakers of certain varieties may be esteemed as prestigious, e.g. Model C, or Standard

English. There are usually negative perceptions and attitudes towards speakers of re-
gional varieties or non-prestigious varieties of English.


A standard variety of English is defined as the language that is used for official purposes
like business, politics, education, science and technology. It is taught in schools. It is
found in official government communications and national news broadcasts on radio
and television.

Britain and America have long been associated with Standard English. As a result, we
speak of Standard American English and Standard British English. The American vari-
ety has gained impetus through the influx of Hollywood movies. Note that even when
using Microsoft on the computer we have to choose whether to use British Standard
English or American Standard English.

The global spread of the English language means that speakers from different countries
are able to understand one another, even though, they can speak different standards,
such as, South African Standard English, British Standard English, and Indian Standard
English. Scholars of world Englishes refer to the three main concentric circles where
English is used. These are English as a first language in the inner circle, English as a
second language in the outer circle, and English as a foreign language in the expanding
circle (Kachru 1992).

There has also been some resistance to the spread and use of English in some countries.
English empowers and also disempowers. It empowers because it enables both social
and economic mobility on the part of those who command proficiency in the language
but to those who lack proficiency, it becomes a barrier to both social and economic mo-
bility. In addition to this English has also been criticized for destroying the indigenous

ENG1502/1 73
languages in some of the countries where it is spoken because it is part and parcel of
political and economic capital.

(1) Do you come from a monolingual or a multilingual background?

(2) How do you think your background affects your ability to communicate in English?

[note article by Rajend Mesthrie (2008) on the death of the mother tongue]

‘Death of the mother tongue’ –

is English a glottophagic

language in South Africa?


The South African Language Policy

South Africa has eleven official languages excluding sign language. The constitution
states that these languages ought to enjoy equality, and parity. In practice this is
not the case. Since the 1994 democratic elections English has remained the main
language of government and business.

Questions for discussion

(1) Would you be able to tell which province a person comes from within South
Africa by merely listening to him or her speaking English? Please explain your
(2) Would you be able to tell if he or she is educated or not? Whether he or she
went to a Township school or a Private school?
(3) What is the official language policy of your country?

Dialect: The regional and social variations of language, especially in respect of gram-
mar and vocabulary.
Variety: This is a relatively neutral term used to refer to languages and dialects.
Standard English: This is a controversial term that refers to a type of English that is
associated with educated people, a variety of English that is spoken in England,
especially in the Media (BBC) and a language of business and political adminis-
tration in many parts of the world.
Register: A variety of a language described according to who is using it and the uses
to which it is being put.

Da Silva, A. (2007) ‘South African English: a Sociolinguistic Analysis of an Emerging
Variety,’ PhD thesis, University of the Witwatersrand
Gee, J.P. (2012) Social Linguistics and Literacies: ideolog y in discourses, London: Routledge.
Jackson, H. & Stockwell, P. (2011) An Introduction to The Nature and Functions of Language,
London: Continuum

UNIT 5: One language: many varieties

Droga, L. & Humphrey, S. (2002) Getting started with Functional Grammar, Berry NSW:
Target Texts.
Mesthrie, R. (2008) ‘Death of the mother tongue’ – is English a glottophagic language
in South Africa?’ English Today 94, Vol. 24, No. 2 pp 13–19

ENG1502/1 75
6 UNIT 6

6 Language in Action

At the end of this Unit, you should be able to:

• understand the meaning of the terms ‘discourse’ and ‘text’;

• understand the way in which the features of language are adapted to the context,
the intended audience and the purpose of the discourse;
• understand how texts reflect and relate to the power structures that exist in society;
• apply this knowledge in analysing particular texts.

This Unit draws on and refers to areas of language study discussed in other Units. But
it goes a step further; inviting you to see how language features operate in practice.
This is why this Unit is headed ‘Language in Action’.


As we have stated, no piece of language, or text, exists in isolation. It always occurs in
a particular context. Many factors within this context – historical, social, situational
and cultural, amongst others – will affect the kind of language used. The purpose of
the text, and its audience, will also influence the writer or speaker’s choice of language.
Considering all these factors, and trying to establish how and why they shape the lan-
guage of texts, is known as discourse analysis.

What do we mean by the term ‘discourse’?

The term ‘discourse’ has different meanings according to which field or school uses
the term. In the field of Linguistics, discourse refers to a stretch of language, spoken
or written. For our purposes, this definition may be expanded to include an indefinite
number of texts, as well as social practices. Texts contribute to the construction of
broader social patterns and beliefs. Discourse includes non-verbal elements, such as
visual material in the larger social context. Discourse is broader than text. It links the
linguistic to the social.

Examples of texts which contribute to discourse are textbooks, novels, plays, poems,
lectures, political speeches, news reports (in print or on radio and television), advertise-

UNIT 6: Language in action

ments, cartoons, posters, leaflets or pamphlets, billboards, films, television ‘soapies’,

pop songs, e-mails and cellphone text messages. (Think for a moment which of these
examples use language only, and whether this language is spoken or written; and which
use language in combination with visual or aural elements.)

There are tremendous variations in the kind of language used in different texts, depend-
ing on the type of discourse it is. Some texts, for example, have a practical function.
These would include such things as timetables, television programme schedules, and
instructions that come with electrical appliances or which appear on medicine bottles.
The purpose of such texts is to instruct and inform. Accordingly, the language used
would be factual, plain, clear, literal in style, and objective in tone.

What do we mean by the adjective ‘literal’?

The word ‘literal’ when used to refer to a word indicates its neutral, denotative mean-
ing: how it would be defined in the dictionary. For example, the literal meaning of the
word ‘mother’ is ‘a female parent of a child or children’. No connotations (attitudes
or emotional associations) are attached to this definition. ‘Literal’ language is distinct
from ‘emotive’ language. An emotive description of the concept ‘mother’ would be
imbued with personal feelings, negative and positive, towards a particular individual.
(You may like to consider these points in relation to Serote’s poem ‘Alexandra’ in
the Literature module. The speaker in the poem compares the township to a mother
figure with all the conflicting feelings this metaphor implies.) ‘Literal’ meaning is
also understood as the opposite of ‘figurative’ or ‘metaphorical’ meaning, which are
rich in emotional associations. (see also unit 4)
What do we mean by ‘objective’?
‘Objective’ language refers to language that is based on facts, does not have any obvi-
ous bias or is not influenced by personal feelings. Its opposite is ‘subjective’, which
indicates language that is predominantly personal, and is based on an individual’s ideas
and feelings, not facts. ‘Subjective’ language is often characterised by the frequent
use of the personal pronoun ‘I’.
What do we mean by ‘tone’?
‘Tone’ is difficult to define. When applied to a text it refers to the feeling or atmos-
phere of language: for example, is a speech or a piece of writing cold and distant, or
warm and emotional? Is it formal, or chatty and informal? A text which deals with a
crime scene could be described as having an ‘eerie’ or ‘chilling’ tone. Tone is created
by the writer or speaker’s choice of words and how these words are arranged. With
experience and exposure to different texts, you will become more sensitive to tone,
and better able to pinpoint and describe it.

Literary texts, such as poems, plays or novels, have an altogether different purpose.
Literary writers aim to express personal perspectives in original ways, enriching us, their
readers, with the imaginative worlds they create, engaging our emotions and extending
our understanding of human nature and the world. The best writers are highly skilled
in the craft of language use, and use different creative devices to enhance meaning
and effect. These are the kind of texts you will be studying in the Literature module.

ENG1502/1 77
What do we mean by the adjective ‘literary’?
The word ‘literary’ relates to literature; texts written by novelists, poets and/or drama-
tists. Literary texts may be distinguished from texts such as telephone directories or
recipes which have a functional purpose.

Other texts, such as advertisements and political speeches, aim to persuade the audience
to behave in a certain way – to buy a certain product, or support a particular point of
view. Such texts are likely to use emotive language to sway the reader. Emotive language
is also found in letters to the editor, for example, where citizens write to the newspaper
to express their opinions and feelings about matters which concern them.

What do we mean by ‘emotive’ language?

Emotive language expresses the emotions of the writer or speaker, and seeks to evoke
an emotional response in the reader or audience. Careful consideration of the words
chosen will help us to identify the emotions expressed or evoked.

Newspaper reports purport to be factual and objective, and to give the reading public
accurate information about current events, but close examination of the language used
often reveals bias. Journalists choose which facts to report, and how to report them.
Bias may often be demonstrated when we compare reports from different newspapers
about the same event. The effect of such reports may vary greatly. Certain facts may
be played down or suppressed in some reports, while other facts may be foregrounded,
or given extra emphasis. The choice of words to describe people and events will colour
the reports in particular ways.

Can you think of events that would be reported in different ways? A report on a strike
or protest march, for example, will be described in a way that reveals the reporter’s
point of view and attitude. If the point of view is conservative, the event will most
probably be described in a negative way, and the tone will be disapproving. If any acts
of violence or vandalism occurred, these will be foregrounded. A reporter from a more
progressive newspaper will have a different point of view and probably emphasise the
positive aspects of the protest action.

These points illustrate that media texts form part of the power systems that operate
in society. By representing situations and events in certain ways, they influence public
opinion and help to construct social knowledge and beliefs. Power structures may be
reinforced or undermined by the attitudes and values implicit in texts and discourse.

UNIT 6: Language in action

What do we mean by ‘power systems’ and ‘power structures’ in society?

Inequality is an unfortunate reality in all societies of the world. Societies are organised
hierarchically into social groups, or classes, according to factors such as financial
status, family background, ethnicity, political allegiance, gender, educational level and
occupation, amongst others. Status is not fixed or stable. Because society is dynamic,
the status of individuals and groups may change over time. The status of an individual
will vary, depending on the social groups s/he belongs to. Some groups and people
enjoy power, while others are disempowered. People’s relationships with one another
are based on this uneven distribution of power which makes them occupy different
levels in society. But here we are talking sociology. What, you may ask, does it have
to do with language?
By contributing to discourse, texts reflect and shape the power structures in society.
Language is part of a process of construction. Embedded in texts are values and
assumptions which contribute to the creation of our beliefs. We grow up with these
and may come to regard them as normal and right. By examining the language of
texts, we can gain insight into the fact that social hierarchies are artificially created
and not natural and inevitable. The order of things may be changed, and language
can play a huge part in bringing this about.
You may like to think about some historical examples of discursive change, A hundred
years ago, women were not allowed to vote, nor could they hold political office. Twenty
years ago in South Africa, blacks did not have the vote. Many people regarded these
situations as natural and right. They resulted from ideologies that prevailed at the
time. (Ideologies are systems of belief used to explain, justify, interpret and evaluate
people and their activities.) Yet the fact that these things have changed − women
and blacks have gained power − show that they were not natural. People have now
become used the idea of seeing women and blacks in positions of power. Alternative
ideologies have replaced the old ones.

The examination of what type of text a piece of language is, is part of a branch of
academic study known as Genre Studies. Our study of language is located within
Genre Studies, and the approach we take and teach is discourse analysis − the close
and detailed reading of selected pieces of writing, and a consideration of how these are
linked to broader social patterns.

Discourse analysis entails the study of language on the micro-level. ‘The morpheme
‘micro’ refers to examining things on a small scale, and requires that you recognise
and understand the basic ‘nut and bolts’ of language. For example, you need to be able
to recognise what word class a word belongs to: is it a verb, a noun or an adjective?
Does a word function as the subject or object in a sentence? Is a verb in the active
or passive form, and is it in the indicative, interrogative or imperative mood? What is
the effect of a comma, or an exclamation mark? But discourse analysis also entails the
study of language on the macro-level. ‘Macro’ involves considering texts on a larger
scale: how they are connected to their context, and what broader effects they have in
society. Such considerations take extra-linguistic factors into account: aspects that lie
outside the text itself. Extra-linguistic factors refer to what is going on around a text:
its socio-historical, discursive context. When we read Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I
have a Dream’ speech, for example, we do so with an awareness that he was talking
from the perspective of Civil Rights, a powerful movement in the 1960s which aimed
to break down racial segregation in the United States. This background is not explicitly
declared in the ‘I have a Dream’ speech itself, and so is ‘extra-linguistic’, but background

ENG1502/1 79
knowledge of the context would add greatly to an understanding and appreciation of
the speech’s historical and political significance.


The best way of understanding discourse analysis is probably by means of practical
demonstration. Below we have reproduced a selection of texts, and after each text, we
ask you a few questions to get you thinking and to alert you to its particular language
features, before we provide commentary. We do not want this Unit to become a pas-
sive reading exercise, but want you to be actively engaged in the critical examination
of language and its effects in different kinds of texts.


Before first use:

• Open the lid of the kettle by pushing the lid latch backwards and then pulling
the lid upwards.
• Pour the water in through the open lid of the kettle.
• Fill the kettle to the ‘max’ level. Boil. Discard the water. Repeat this twice.
• Make sure that the lid is closed properly before boiling by gently clicking the lid
back in place.
• Always ensure that your kettle is placed on a flat surface.

Where would you expect to find this text?

Why do you think it is written in point form?

Look at the length of the sentences. What do you notice? Are they all full sentences?

Look at the verbs. What is their form?

Consider the lexis (vocabulary) used. Are the nouns concrete or abstract? Is any
figurative language used?

Look at the word ‘max’ in point three. What is different about this word?

In point one, the words ‘open the lid’ appear. In point two, we find the words
‘the open lid’.

The same three words, ‘open’, ‘the’ and ‘lid’ are used in both cases, but are placed
in a different order. How does this change in order affect meaning? Does the
word ‘open’, as it is used in both sentences, belong to the same word class (noun,
verb, adjective, adverb, etc.)?

Before reading on, think about these questions and try to answer them.
You may want to jot down your ideas.

Discussion of questions

Where would you expect to find this text?

UNIT 6: Language in action

The source of this text is a leaflet that came with a new kettle. Its purpose is to instruct
buyers in the use of the new appliance they have bought.

Why do you think it is written in point form?

It is written in point form, setting out the steps, one at a time, to make it as easy as
possible to understand. The steps are sequential, making it clear what order to follow.

Look at the length of the sentences. What do you notice? Are they all full
sentences? What do we mean by a ‘full sentence’?

In this text, sentences are mostly short and simple, again for the purposes of clarity.

The most commonly used sentence structure for full sentences in English is: Subject,
Verb and Object (SVO), for example:


The woman made the tea.

However, this pattern is subject to variation.

Consider the structure of: ‘Discard the water’. Label the sentence parts. Is it a full

Can you find the elements of Subject, Verb and Object?


Discard the water.

Analysis reveals that the Subject is missing. This is linked to the fact that the verb ‘dis-
card’ is in the imperative form, i.e. the form used to give orders or instructions. The
verbs ‘open’, ‘pour’, ‘fill’, ‘boil’, etc., in this text are all in the imperative voice. This
construction erases the subject ‘you’, which is nevertheless understood: ‘(You) [d]iscard
the water’. The latter is a full sentence, despite the omission of the subject.

The element that is essential to a sentence is the verb. A full sentence requires a finite
(complete) verb. Subject and object may be omitted, but there has to be a verb. So can
we regard the single word ‘Boil’ as a sentence? Yes, we can. It is possible to have a
sentence consisting of one word only, provided that word is a finite verb, which ‘boil’
is. ‘(You) boil (the water)’ is what is understood, even though the subject and object are
not stated. (See unit 3.)

Consider the lexis (vocabulary) used. Are the nouns concrete or abstract? Is any
figurative language used?

The lexis (vocabulary) used in this text consists of concrete words, all common nouns
(‘kettle’, lid’, ‘water’). The adjectives ‘open’ and ‘flat’ are literal in meaning, and the ad-
verbs ‘backwards’ and ‘upwards’ are directional, or time-related (‘always’). No figurative
language is used.

Look at the word ‘max’ in point three. What is different about this word?

ENG1502/1 81
The word ‘max’ is an abbreviation of ‘maximum’, an example of a process termed ‘clip-
ping’, because the end of the word is ‘clipped’ off. This is one of the word-formation
processes mentioned in Unit 3, Morphology. Other examples of clipping are ‘exam’ for
‘examination’; ‘supp’ for ‘supplementary’ and ‘op’ for ‘operation’. Can you think of any
examples of your own?

In point one, the words ‘open the lid’ appear. In point two, we find the words
‘the open lid’.

The same three words, ‘open’, ‘the’ and ‘lid’ are used in both cases, but are placed
in a different order. How does this change in order affect meaning? Does the
word ‘open’, as it is used in both sentences, belong to the same word class (noun,
verb, adjective, adverb, etc.)?

The different arrangement of the three words ‘open’, ‘the’ and ‘lid’, also relate to syntax.
In ‘open the lid’, ‘open’ is used as a verb, and ‘lid’ is its object. ‘Open’ in ‘the open lid’,
on the other hand, serves as an adjective, describing ‘lid’. This illustrates how the word
class of a word is determined by its function in a sentence. The same word can belong
to more than one word class, depending on how it is used. It is impossible to know to
which word class a word belongs if we do not see the word in context and so under-
stand its function in a sentence. Consider the word ‘butter’ in the following sentences:

The butter melted in the heat.

Butter the pan well before baking.

In the first sentence, ‘butter’ is a noun, while in the second, it is a verb.

To sum up, the language in this text aims to be as simple and clear as possible. Sen-
tences are kept short. Point form is used. The style is plain and literal, the tone factual
and unemotional. To avoid ambiguity and confusion, no figurative language is used.
All these language features are in keeping with its purpose of instructing. The form is
determined by the function and purpose.


More than 90% of people with eating disorders are teenagers and young women. One
of the most serious eating disorders is anorexia, which causes major health problems.
Anorexia is an eating disorder where there is extreme weight loss. People become
anorexic by refusing to eat enough, and by overexercising. It usually begins in girls
between the ages of 16 and 18. People with anorexia believe they are fat when in fact
they are dangerously thin. Anorexia causes damage to the body’s system as a result of
extreme malnutrition. Slow heart rate and low blood pressure which can result in death
from heart failure, are common problems. Sufferers need psychological treatment.

What do you think the source of this text is?

Who do you think its audience is?

What would you say is its purpose?

Is the personal pronoun (‘I’) used?

UNIT 6: Language in action

What sort of person do you think wrote it?

Would you describe it as factual or emotive?

Before reading on, think about these questions and try to answer them.
You may want to jot down your ideas.

Discussion of questions

What do you think the source of this text is? Who do you think its audience is?

We cannot be certain of the source of this text, but it could come from a medical text-
book, or from a lecture given to students in the medical field. The medical discourse
used is not too advanced, however, so the audience could also be laypersons (people
without specialist knowledge of medical matters); for example, a group of parents and
high school learners in a school where anorexia was a problem. The principal may have
arranged a meeting to be addressed by a health professional to educate them about the
dangers of becoming obsessed with being thin. Alternatively, the text could appear in
the health section of a newspaper or magazine.

(Notice the tentative nature of the observations made so far: ‘could’ and ‘may’ indicate
uncertainty. What we are doing here is making ‘educated guesses’, based on our experi-
ence of the world and our awareness of probabilities.)

What would you say is its purpose?

The purpose of the text is to inform. The speaker or writer is obviously someone who
is educated and well-informed about eating disorders in particular and is transmitting
his/her knowledge to others. The person has a command of standard English.

Standard English is English that is usually in the written form, grammatically cor-
rect and free of slang and colloquialisms. It is the speech variety which is legitimised
by the dominant forces in a society and carries prestige. This has strong political
implications. People who have a command of standard English are empowered; those
who don’t, are disempowered and marginalised in certain contexts. Can you see the
link between language and the power structures in society?

If this is a live lecture situation, the speech has been planned well, unlike most spoken
language which is spontaneous, usually less formal, and which may include colloquial-
isms and other non-standard features.

Is the personal pronoun (‘I’) used? What sort of person do you think wrote it?

Nowhere is the personal pronoun ‘I’ used. The writer has chosen to take a completely
impersonal perspective. We can infer that his or her educational level is relatively high
from this text, but learn nothing personal about him or her. The person is behaving
professionally, and not giving anything away about his or her own feelings or attitude.

Would you describe this text as factual or emotive?

The style of writing is factual, the tone impersonal and unemotive. The speaker or
writer does not go into the feelings of the person with anorexia, or express his or her
own feelings about the condition.

ENG1502/1 83


So banish your winter blues and turn up the heat with red hot fun and adventure in
the Eastern Cape this winter, where piping hot packages, price scorching discounts
and great getaways are up for grabs. Being in the hottest destination this winter has
never been so cool, so be there when temperatures rise at the many fiery sporting
clashes, action-packed festivals and fun-fi lled events taking place in the Eastern
Cape this winter.
Go on – make a GREAT DEAL of the Eastern Cape’s sizzling discounts on a va-
riety of prime packages, amazing adventures, sumptuous dinners and escapes and
budget-beating specials AVAILABLE NOW!
Life is an adventure. Live yours in the Eastern Cape – the home of adventure.

What sort of text is this? Where would you expect to find it?

Pick out all the words that relate to temperature. What do you notice about these? Are
they all used in the same way? How do their meaning and usage differ?

Consider the phrase ‘a great deal’, used in the heading and main text. What do you
notice about this phrase?

What would you say the purpose of this text is?

What age group do you think it is aimed at? What makes you think so?

Before reading on, think about these questions and try to answer them. You may
want to jot down your ideas.

Discussion of questions

What sort of text is this? Where would you expect to find it?

This text is an advertisement and could appear in a travel magazine, newspaper, on

the internet, or possibly be broadcast on radio or television. It could also appear on a
poster or in a pamphlet.

Pick out all the words that relate to temperature. What do you notice about these?
Are they all used in the same way? How do their meaning and usage differ?

There is a lot of word play on meanings of cold/hot, in both their literal and colloquial
senses. Words and phrases relating to temperature include ‘winter’, ‘turn up the heat’,
‘red hot fun’, ‘price scorching’, ‘sizzling discounts’, ‘hottest’, ‘cool’ and ‘fiery’. Of these,
only ‘winter’, meaning a cold season of the year, is used in its literal, or dictionary sense.
All the other words comprise current slang, where the words ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ both de-
note something attractive and desirable. Using ‘cool’ and ‘hot’ in their colloquial sense
is an example of non-standard English usage. Such informal, non-standard usage is

UNIT 6: Language in action

acceptable in this context, but would not be appropriate in academic discourse. If you
were to use these words, with their colloquial meanings, in an assignment, you would
be penalised. Standard English is required in the academic world.

Consider the phrase ‘a great deal’, used in the heading and main text. What do
you notice about this phrase?

There is also wordplay in the phrase ‘a great deal’: it has two possible meanings; ‘a lot’,
and ‘a bargain’. Both meanings are intended.

What would you say the purpose of this text is?

The purpose of this text is to persuade. Language is used to manipulate the audience.
It aims to motivate people to spend a holiday in the Eastern Cape, boosting the tourist
trade in that part of the country.

What age group do you think it is aimed at? What makes you think so?

The text is aimed at a young audience, judging by the use of slang and colloquialisms
like ‘hottest’ and ‘cool’, not generally used by the older generation. References to ‘fun’,
‘action-packed’, ‘fun-filled’ and ‘adventure’ also suggest that an energetic audience wanting
excitement is being targeted. Older consumers would probably look for opposite qualities
in a holiday destination: quietness and tranquillity. The words ‘discounts’, ‘packages’,
and ‘budget-beating’ are intended to appeal to those with a limited holiday budget.

The tone and style of the text is colloquial, racy and emotive, in keeping with its aim of
persuading its audience to buy the product – a holiday in the Eastern Cape.


Dear Mr Mayor
Congratulations on your appointment. And a big congratulations on your smart
new car. You have barely been in your position and have purchased a car that most
citizens can only dream of owning.
I am sincerely hoping that this purchase will help you achieve the many goals that
lie ahead of you. I really hope this car helps you to:
• sort out the billing system;
• get all street lights working again;
• stop paying bonuses and unusually high salaries to officials who don’t perform;
• become more transparent with respect to the council’s financial affairs;
• end corruption in the council.
It looks like this new car really has its work cut out. Good luck.
Citizen, Pretoria.

Where would you expect to find this text?

How does the writer feel about the Mayor’s appointment and the purchase of a
luxury car?

ENG1502/1 85
What is his/her tone? Are the congratulations sincere?

What is the writer’s purpose in writing this letter?

What does this letter imply about the power relations in society?

What sort of person do you think the writer is?

Before reading on, think about these questions and try to answer them.
You may want to jot down your ideas.

Discussion of questions

Where would you expect to find this text?

The source of this text is a letter to the editor of a newspaper, or a letter to the mayor
himself. If it appears in the newspaper, the audience is not only the editor, but the
general public; anyone who reads the newspaper.

How does the writer feel about the Mayor’s appointment and the purchase of a
luxury car?

The writer clearly rejects the mayor’s action of buying a luxury car as soon as he gets
into office. S/he pretends to admire the mayor, but really disapproves of his actions.

What is his/her tone? Are the congratulations sincere?

The tone is ironic. What do we mean by this?

Irony entails expressing the opposite of the truth. This is a very general definition:
each example of irony needs to be understood within its specific context. Irony is
used in everyday situations when we may, for example, say ‘Good evening’ to a col-
league who arrives late for a morning meeting, but it is also a frequently-used literary
device. You will encounter irony in many different forms in the texts prescribed in
the Literature module.

The writer congratulates the mayor on something he strongly disagrees with – buying
an expensive car. He pretends to believe that the car will enable the mayor to fulfil his
duties when this is clearly impossible.

What is the writer’s purpose in writing this letter?

The purpose of the text is to criticise unnecessary expenditure of public money; to

object to inefficiency and corruption; to highlight poor service delivery; to inform the
public of something they might not be aware of; to expose and mock behaviour which
is not in the public interest. The style used is standard English; the text is written clearly,
with points listed methodically. However, the meaning is not as simple as it appears.
There is hidden meaning and the writer’s true attitude is disguised.

A text such as this reminds us that the declared purpose of a text is not necessarily its true
purpose. The writer claims to be giving congratulations when he is actually expressing
his disapproval. There is an ironic disjunction between the apparent and true intentions.

UNIT 6: Language in action

What does this letter imply about the power relations in society?

The writer’s objections to the Mayor’s expenditure hint at the inequalities that exist in
society, and the uneven distribution of wealth. This in turn relates to the power struc-
tures which privilege some people and disadvantage others. Here we are considering
the broader contextual concerns that this letter is addressing. Even as we study its use
of language on the micro-level, we are also functioning on the macro-level: we are
conscious of the extra-linguistic factors that add to its meaning.

What sort of person do you think the writer is?

The writer is a person with a strong interest in civic affairs and a critical mind. S/he
observes public events closely, feels strongly about them, and takes the trouble to write
to the newspaper to register his/her reactions and opposition, something that most
people would not bother to do. By challenging the existing social order (represented
here by the mayor and his extravagant habits), the writer is attempting to alter the power
structures in society. In a small way s/he is contributing to the discourse of public office;
undermining the belief that a high position should be linked with a luxurious lifestyle.
S/he is using language to do this.


I knew that I had AIDS when I could no longer climb the stairs from the judges’ com-
mon room in the High Court to my chambers two floors above. For nearly three
years, every morning after tea, I made a point of walking. Two flights, four landings,
forty stairs. But on that day in late October 1997 I couldn’t. Each step seemed an
insuperable effort. My energy seemed to have drained from my legs. I was perspiring
grey exhaustion. My lungs felt waterlogged. My mouth rough and dry. No pain. Just
overwhelming weariness.
And fear.
After twenty steps I paused on the midway landing to lean my forehead against
the wall. The stairwell was quiet. I could hear myself panting. I grimaced. The
thought − that thought − could no longer be postponed. I would have to see my
doctor. This afternoon.
But already I knew what he would say. It was what somehow I had been waiting
for − fearing, dreading, denying, as it encircled me, closing in, for twelve years. My
mouth and lungs told me what I didn’t want to know, didn’t need to be told. I had

Where would you expect to find a piece of writing such as this? Look at the verbs.
What tense are they in? What does this tell us about the type of text this is?

To what extent is the pronoun ‘I’ used? What is the effect of this?

Look at the lengths of the sentences. Are they roughly the same, or is there a
variation? Look at the final sentence of the passage. It is very short. What is the
effect of this?

Does the writer always write in full sentences? Why do you think this is?

What contribution, do you think, does this text make to the discourse of AIDS?

ENG1502/1 87
Before reading on, think about these questions and try to answer them.
You may want to jot down your ideas.

Discussion of questions

Where would you expect to find a piece of writing such as this? Look at the verbs.
What tense are they in? What does this tell us about the type of text this is?

This text could come from a diary, a letter; a novel; or an autobiography. (In actual fact,
it comes from an autobiographical text: Witness to AIDS by Edwin Cameron.) All the
verbs are in the past tense. This enables us to recognise that the text is in the narrative
form: the narrator is telling a story or giving an account of an event that has already

To what extent is the pronoun ‘I’ used? What is the effect of this?

The pronoun ‘I’ occurs several times in the text. This gives the writing a profoundly
personal tone. The writer is describing his innermost feelings and sharing his deepest
fears. His honesty creates a very intimate relationship with the reader.

Look at the lengths of the sentences. Are they roughly the same, or is there a

There is a great variation in sentence length. Some utterances run on using several sen-
tence parts and many words, while others (‘No pain’) consist of two words only. These
do not contain verbs, so, strictly speaking, they are not proper sentences. As already
mentioned, by definition, a sentence requires a finite verb. If we accept this definition,
which of the following utterances are proper sentences, and which are not?

This afternoon.

Two flights, four landings, forty stairs.

Just overwhelming weariness.

And fear.

I grimaced.

I had AIDS.

Only the last two quotations consist of proper sentences. Although short, they contain
finite (complete) verbs (‘grimaced’ and ‘had’). This shows us that even very short ut-
terances consisting of two or three words (or even one) can be full sentences, while
longer ones like ‘Two flights, four landings, forty stairs’ are not, because there is no
verb. Sentence length is not the critical criterion for a sentence.

Why does the writer use ‘ungrammatical’ sentences, leaving out verbs? He is clearly
an educated person, so poor literacy is not the reason.

The writer varies his sentence structures for dramatic effect. As is discussed with regard
to the Shakespearean quotations considered in the Unit on Syntax (‘Full many a glorious
morning have I seen’), writers manipulate language for particular effects, sometimes
breaking the rules of grammar to do so. We call this ‘poetic licence’. This is commonly

UNIT 6: Language in action

found in creative writing, and absent or rare in factual or academic discourse. Unless
you are writing creatively, we do not recommend that you use verbless utterances in your
assignments. The marker would probably underline these and write a stern comment
about not writing in full sentences!

Edwin Cameron is expressing himself emotively, intent on conveying to the reader the
intensity of his reaction to the realisation that he finally had ‘full-blown’ AIDS. His
incomplete utterances, such as ‘No pain’ and ‘And fear’, help to convey his shock. Their
short, staccato quality could also suggest his breathlessness as he tries to climb up the
stairs, gasping for air.

Look at the final sentence of the passage. It is very short. What is the effect of this?

The final sentence: ‘I had AIDS’ is startling in its simplicity and directness. Had this
same point been made in a roundabout, wordy way, it would not have the same impact.

Analysis shows that the writer alters regular syntax − including omitting the crucial
element of the verb at times − to create the desired emotional effect. There is a direct
correlation between the deviant syntax and the emotive content of the text. The language
has been matched to the writer’s purpose and created the appropriate tone.

When you study the prescribed texts in the Literature Module (ENG1501), be on the
lookout for such variations in grammatical structure, and think about why the writer
created these. It is never enough to simply point out unusual features: in language and
literature study you need to be able to comment on their effects. Form and function,
and form and purpose, are linked.

How, do you think, does this text contribute to the discourse of AIDS?

People who are HIV-positive or living with AIDS have been marginalised, because
AIDS has been a stigmatised condition. People infected with and affected by AIDS
have tended to conceal their situations, thereby contributing to the culture of shame and
silence around the disease. They have been marginalised; rendered invisible and voiceless.
This, until fairly recently, was the prevailing discourse. Edwin Cameron, however, has
chosen to challenge this discourse by speaking out. In his book, of which we gave you
the opening passage, he declares his status openly, and has done this in several other
public domains. As a Constitutional Court judge, he holds a high position in society, and
so his opinions would carry weight and be influential. He has thus altered the discourse
of AIDS which assumes that its victims are low in status and stereotypes the AIDS-ill
as social pariahs. By speaking out, he is encouraging others in similar positions to do
the same and disclose their status. The accumulation of such acts has had a major ef-
fect on how HIV-positive persons are perceived and treated. The implications of this
are enormous, including such issues as their entitlement to free medical treatment and
employability. It is significant that this has come about because of language: such texts
have helped to bring about change in the discourse of AIDS.


The next text is an edited extract from the famous ‘I am an African’ speech by former
President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, delivered in Parliament in Cape Town on
8 May 1996, on the occasion of the adoption of the South African Constitution Bill.

ENG1502/1 89
I am an African.
I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers,
the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define
the face of our native land.
My body has frozen in our frosts and in our latter day snows. It has thawed in the
warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and
the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightning, have been a cause
both of trembling and of hope.
The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg, the soil-coloured waters of the Lekoa.
iGgili noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi, have all been panels of the set
on the natural stage on which we act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of our day.
A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus
defined, I know that none may challenge me when I say – I am an African!
I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great ex-
panses of the beautiful Cape – they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide
our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle
to defend our freedom and independence and who, as a people, perished as a result.
I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land.
Whatever their own actions, they remain still part of me.
In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East. Their
proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes
they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed
on my consciousness of what should not be done.
I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led,
the patriots that Cetshwayo took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane
taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom.
I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the Boer graves at St. Helena and the
Bahamas, who sees in the mind’s eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant
folk; death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a dream in ruins.
I come of those who were transported from India and China, whose being resided
in the fact, solely, that they were able to provide physical labour, who taught me that
we could both be at home and be foreign, who taught me human existence itself
demanded that freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence.
Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that as-
sertion, I shall claim that – I am an African.

How does the language, tone and style of this speech suit the speaker and setting?

Who is this speech aimed at? Who is the audience?

What is the mood of the speaker?

What tense is this speech in? Look at the verbs to establish this.

Does this text have any interesting phonological (sound) features? Refer to the Unit
on Phonology, which discusses how certain phonological features can enhance the
meaning and effect of language.

UNIT 6: Language in action

Look at the words used in the first paragraph of the speech. Common nouns such as
‘hills’, ‘rivers’, ‘trees’ and ‘seas’ are used in their literal sense, but is their effect purely
literal? (Compare these nouns with the nouns used in the first text we discussed,
‘kettle’, ‘water’ and ‘surface’. Do they have the same effect? Why not?)

Look at the different groups, named by the then Deputy President, that form part of
South Africa’s history. Why do you think he refers to these groups?

Consider the use of the personal pronoun, the ‘I’ in this text. What is unusual about
this? Compare his use of the pronoun ‘I’ with that of Edwin Cameron in the previ-
ous text. Is it the same? This is not easy to decide. Mbeki constructs his identity in
a complex way. Read through the whole text and try to understand how he does this.
On what does he base his identity? Consider whether the meaning of the ‘I’ changes
as the speech develops.

What power relations underlie this text?

What is the purpose of this speech? Consider the significance of the date of this text.
Can you relate its purpose to its historical context?

South Africa has eleven official languages, nine of which are African. Why does
Mbeki choose a non-African language in which to express his African identity and
pro-African ideas?

Before reading on, think about these questions and try to answer them. You
may want to jot down your ideas.

Discussion of questions

How does the language, tone and style of this speech suit the speaker and

The speaker here, the Deputy President of South Africa at the time, uses language befit-
ting his position, the setting, and the importance of the occasion. The context dictates
that the speech be elevated, formal and dignified. Although spoken, the speech is well-
planned and carefully prepared (pre-written). The sentences are well-constructed, and
the lexis deliberately chosen.

What is the mood of the speaker?

The mood of the speaker is one of pride, and this is reflected in the positive tone he
adopts. It is uplifting, patriotic and celebratory. Rhetorical devices such as repetition,
seen in the phrase ‘I am an African’, stand out with powerful effect.

Rhetoric involves the skill of using language in a special way that influences people.
A rhetorical device is a method used in speech or writing to heighten the impact
of what is being expressed.

Who is this speech aimed at? Who is the audience?

The audience is not only the assembly in Parliament, but the South African people as a
whole, and the rest of the world. The adoption of South Africa’s new Constitution is a

ENG1502/1 91
major political and historical milestone, and would attract worldwide media attention.
For this reason, the Deputy President aims to create the most positive impression of
South Africa he possibly can.

What tense is this speech in? Look at the verbs to establish this.

The tense of this speech is the present: almost all verbs are in the present tense: ‘am’,
‘owe’, ‘know’, ‘come’ etc. Yet the speaker is also drawing on the past, which seems some-
thing of a contradiction. He is subsuming everything in Africa’s history to construct
his present identity: the past is forged into the present.

Does this text have any interesting phonological (sound) features?

Phonological aspects are not easy to pick up when we read a text. This text was deliv-
ered as a speech, designed to be heard, not read. If received aurally, it would be easier
to appreciate the sound effects of the rhetorical devices, such as the rhythms and rep-
etitions which are strongly present. If you read the speech aloud, you would become
more aware of these.

Look at the lexis (vocabulary) used in the first paragraph of the speech, espe-
cially common nouns such as ‘hills’, ‘rivers’, ‘trees’ and ‘seas’. What is their effect?

The nouns he uses (‘hills’, ‘rivers’, ‘trees’ and ‘seas’) are drawn from nature, and although
they are common nouns, they evoke far more than their narrow, literal meanings. Sub-
sequent references to the Drakensberg, deserts and other geographical features conjure
up visions of vast landscapes, magnificent in their scale and beauty. Expressions such
as ‘the crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightning,
have been a cause both of trembling and of hope’ have a poetic quality and powerful
emotive effect.

The landscapes he refers to serve as a ‘stage’ and backdrop for the deeds we enact every
day. You may recognize Shakespearean echoes here,1 which further elevate the tone of
the speech. Some abstract nouns in keeping with the idealistic nature of the speech are
also used: these include ‘freedom’ and ‘dignity’.

Look at the different groups, named by the then Deputy President, that form
part of South Africa’s history. Why do you think he refers to these groups?

The Deputy President names a wide range of groups, sharply different in ethnicity and
culture. He attempts to be inclusive and not leave any group out. When he states that all
these groups form part of who he is, he foregrounds the diversity of the South African
population, while at the same time indicating that they can be melded into one. South
Africa’s history is marked by bitter divisions between racial groups, and he is attempting
to overlay this history with a vision of unity.

Consider the use of the personal pronoun, the ‘I’ in this text. What is unusual
about this?

The use of the pronoun ‘I’ is interesting in this speech. When Mbeki begins to speak,
the ‘I’ appears to refer to himself personally. However, as he goes on, we begin to realise
that, with every new sentence, he is assimilating into this ‘I’ qualities that he is drawing
from numerous sources, human and non-human. Geographical features and countless

1 Macbeth V, v, 24–8; As you like it, ll, vii

UNIT 6: Language in action

different communities that have existed over centuries are incorporated into his identity.
By the time he reaches the end of his speech, his ‘I’ in ‘I am an African’ has become
a powerful symbolic construct which encompasses the best possible qualities that any
African could have. This complex, comprehensive identity is presented as the ideal.

Compare Mbeki’s use of the pronoun ‘I’ with that of Edwin Cameron in the
previous text. Is it the same?

Mbeki’s use of the ‘I’ is very different from that of Edwin Cameron’s. As we established
in the discussion of that text, Cameron adopts a very personal tone as he narrates his
experience. Mbeki’s ‘I’, on the other hand, refers to a symbolic ideal: a composite iden-
tity comprising many different elements.

What power relations underlie this text?

The power relations underlying this text are also interesting. As the spokesperson of
the government, Mbeki obviously has power. The setting in which he makes his speech
– the Houses of Parliament – is the seat of government, and so imbued with political
power and significance. Yet, in the speech itself, Mbeki seems intent on breaking down
the ‘us/them’ divide, and identifying himself with ‘ordinary’ people. This is an essential
aspect of the discourse of democracy he has chosen to use.

What is the purpose of this speech? Consider the significance of the date of
this text.

The purpose of this speech is clear. It takes place in the immediate aftermath of apartheid
South Africa. An entirely different ethos must be established in the ‘new’ democratic
South Africa. The previous marginalisation of certain racial groups has to be reversed,
hence the prominence and pride in the repetitive phrase ‘I am an African’. The negative
connotations the word ‘African’ used to carry are replaced by connotations that are richly
positive. Mbeki is using language in an effort to change the discourse of Africanness.

The social order is in a continual process of change, and this occurs, to a large extent,
because of texts such as the one under examination. A single text is probably not enough
on its own to bring about discursive change, but a number of texts and social prac-
tices combined can do so over time (as we have seen in the change in the discourse of
AIDS, and in the empowerment of women and blacks). Mbeki is using his position of
power to construct a new ideology which could change the course of history.

Can you relate the purpose of this speech to its historical context?

After South Africa’s history of divisions and conflict, Deputy President Mbeki wants to
encourage reconciliation, positive attitudes and national pride. The eyes of the world are
on South Africa, and it is crucial that he inspires confidence and hope in its future. The
content, purpose, tone and style of this speech can be directly related to its historical
context. It is a classic example of a government intent on forging a new identity, and
provides an excellent example of the way that discourse constructs our knowledge and
beliefs. Language does not simply reflect the world: it forms perceptions and actively
creates what we understand by ‘reality’.

South Africa has eleven official languages, nine of which are African. Why does
Mbeki choose a non-African language in which to express his African identity
and pro-African ideas?

ENG1502/1 93
It could be regarded as deeply ironic that the ‘I am an African’ speech is given in English.
After all, English is a colonial language, associated with power structures which should
be obsolete in our new democratic order. Also, English is thought by many to be a seri-
ous threat to the indigenous African languages because it dominates public discourse
(refer to Unit 5, where we reproduce the article ‘Death of the Mother Tongue’ by the
eminent linguist Rajend Mesthrie, and discuss the issues it raises). English occupies a
hegemonic (dominant, controlling) position in South Africa and the world, but this could
change. Society and discourse are dynamic, and power structures change over time.

English nominally has equal status with the ten other official languages. However, it is
clear that it is more widely used and enjoys greater status than the other languages. Mbeki
can reach more people if he speaks English than if he were to use an African language.
There are reasons for this: English is an international communicative medium, and it
also serves as a ‘linking language’ or lingua franca within South Africa’s borders. If he
were to choose an African language, which one would he choose? isiZulu is the most
widely used of the indigenous languages, but there are many other language groups
who would not be reached if he chose this medium, not to mention the international
audience the speaker has in mind.

There are logical, practical reasons why Mbeki chooses to speak in English, but the
South African language situation and its attendant power issues remain problematic. It
is a regrettable fact that South Africans lacking in English proficiency find themselves
disempowered in the employment and higher education sectors. Being proficient in
English in South Africa, on the other hand, carries prestige and has undoubted social
and political advantages. Mbeki, as an English-educated citizen, is aligned with the
privileged, Eurocentric minority. This goes against the thrust of his speech: democra-
tisation and the establishment of an African identity.

In the discussion of this text, can you see how important extra-linguistic knowledge is
to its full understanding? If we analysed the text in isolation, without taking the sur-
rounding historical and political factors into account, much of its significance would
be lost on us.


Extract from The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by
Wilfrid Owen and ‘In the Shadow of Signal Hill’ by Essop Patel

A thorough knowledge of language is an invaluable tool when you are called to read and
understand various texts, from movie posters to recipes. However, this is also true when
you come to analysing literary texts like poems, novels and plays. The study of literature
requires you, as students, to read various literary texts and then to recognise and explain
the techniques an author uses to create meaning. When you read a text, whether it is a
novel, a poem or a play, you respond to the text because of how the author has written
it – how he or she has constructed his or her text. You are made to empathise with the
characters, feel the emotions or respond to the concerns the author raises because of
the techniques he or she uses. As a student of literature you need to think about WHY
you are responding to a text in a certain manner and then you need to explain HOW
the author constructs his or her text in order to make you respond in this manner. This
focus on how the author creates meaning is central to the study of literature.

In a critical evaluation of a literary text you are expected to be able to identify vari-
ous poetic techniques that writers use, such as figures of speech (similes, metaphors,

UNIT 6: Language in action

personification and so on) and sound devices (alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia)

and so on; these are all terms that you will find explained and explored in ENG1501
and later in your glossary. You also need to explore the effects created by these devices
and how they combine to achieve the full impact the author desires. However, what is
often ignored and yet is just as important in a critical evaluation of any text is the lan-
guage. Grammar is often glossed over because it doesn’t seem important in comparison
with grand similes and symbols but it is essential to any piece of writing – and a good
author uses grammar as effectively as he or she uses imagery. You therefore need to
bring your knowledge of lexis, syntax and phonology to every piece of literature you
try to analyse, whether it is a poem, a play or a novel. With this in mind, consider the
following section from the novel The Catcher in the Rye:


Old Phoebe said something then, but I couldn’t hear her. She had the side of her
mouth right smack on the pillow, and I couldn’t hear her.
‘What? I said. ‘Take your mouth away. I can’t hear you with your mouth that way.’
‘You don’t like anything that’s happening.’
It made me even more depressed when she said that.
‘Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Sure I do. Don’t say that. Why the hell do you say that?’
‘Because you don’t. You don’t like any schools. You don’t like a million things. You
‘I do! That’s where you’re wrong – that’s exactly where you’re wrong! Why the hell
do you have to say that?’ I said. Boy, was she depressing me.
‘Because you don’t’, she said. ‘Name one thing.’
‘One thing? One thing I like?’ I said. ‘Okay.’
The trouble was, I couldn’t concentrate too hot. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate.
‘One thing I like a lot, you mean?’ I asked her.
She didn’t answer me, though. She was in a cockeyed position way the hell over on
the other side of the bed. She was about a thousand miles away. ‘C’mon, answer me,’
I said. ‘One thing I like a lot, or one thing I just like?’
‘You like a lot.’
‘All right,’ I said. But the trouble was, I couldn’t concentrate. About all I could think
of were those two nuns that went around collecting dough in those beat-up old
straw baskets. Especially the one with the glasses with those iron rims. And this boy
I knew at Elkton Hills, named James Castle, that wouldn’t take back something he
said about this very conceited boy, Phil Stabile. James Castle called him a very con-
ceited guy, and one of Stabile’s lousy friends went and squealed on him to Stabile. So
Stabile, with about six other dirty bastards, went down to James Castle’s room and
went in and locked the goddam door and tried to make him take back what he said,
but he wouldn’t do it. So they started in on him. I won’t even tell you what they did
to him – it’s too repulsive – but he still wouldn’t take it back, old James Castle. And
you should’ve seen him. He was a skinny little weak-looking guy, with wrists about
as big as pencils.

Once you have read the entire extract, do a line by line analysis focussing on the language.
Consider the punctuation, the tenses of the verbs, adjectives and adverbs, vocabulary and
the form of the writing (how it appears on the page); in each case think about how the

ENG1502/1 95
specific element of language contributes to the creation of meaning in the specific extract
and how this reflects the themes and concerns of the text as a whole. As you do your
line by line analysis, pay attention to what ‘jumps out’ at you and then ask yourself why
the author used that word or that tense or that punctuation mark; answering that ‘why?’
will put you on the path to understanding the way grammar creates literary meaning.

For example:

In the first line of the extract, the narrator, Holden Caulfield uses the adjective ‘old’
to describe his younger sister, Phoebe. This is a strange word to use when describing
a young girl, so the question you need to ask yourself is ‘Why does Salinger use the
word ‘old’ to describe Phoebe?’

Possible answer:

This one word suggests various things. On the one hand it reflects the conversational tone
in which the novel is written because ‘old Phoebe’ is colloquial, suggesting familiarity
and informality. It also tends to be a term used by ‘men’s club’ and ‘boys’ school’ men
when they refer to their friends, as Holden himself uses it in line 40 when he refers to
his school friend, ‘old James Castle’. The use of this adjective thus enables the author
to maintain the voice of the young, male narrator, Holden Caulfield (who attends a
prestigious all boys school), in this extract. The word ‘old’ used to describe Phoebe
also suggests something about the relationship between Holden and his sister. On the
one hand it suggests that he considers her a friend and an equal, ‘one-of-the-boys’, and
on the other it may reveal that he considers her mature for her age. This last possibility
is borne out by the fact that he often suggests she understands more than one would
expect a ‘little kid’ to do.

As you can see, one can write a fair amount merely focussing on just one word. Also,
note how quotations from the text are embedded in these sentences; in your essays,
you must do the same. Quotations should form part of your argument, not be stuck
in separate sections.
One of the first things you should notice about the beginning of this passage is that
there is a lot of direct speech. You need to ask yourself why Salinger would use direct
speech here – what does it accomplish? Look at the verbs. What tenses are they in?
What effect does this create?

Possible answers:

The direct speech reveals something about the relationship between Holden and his
sister. He speaks openly to her, treating her like a close friend. This is particularly
important because we know the lengths he goes to to avoid speaking to his parents.
There is a sense here of the young people grouping together because they feel alienated
from their parents, from the older generation who cannot understand them. This is
one of the central themes that Salinger is trying to explore in the novel as a whole and
Holden’s honest conversation with Phoebe while he hides from his parents reflects this.

In considering the verbs, it is important to know that direct speech is often used to
create a sense of immediacy; because verbs are in the present tense, there is the feeling
that what is being said is said ‘now’. This infuses direct speech with a sense of urgency
and, often, heightened emotion. In this extract all the verbs are in the past tense (‘it

UNIT 6: Language in action

made me’; ‘the trouble was’; ‘she didn’t answer’) except the ones in the direct speech
which are in the present tense (‘I can’t hear you’; ‘I like’). This highlights the emotional
content of the conversation between Phoebe and Holden; she angrily accuses him of not
caring about anything and his response is very defensive. The conversation is emotional
and the tenses of the verbs in the direct speech help communicate this.

Having dealt with the direct speech in general, you now need to focus on each line.
Notice the language features that stand out in each of the lines and ask yourself why
the author uses them. When you answer that question, you will be commenting on
their use and explaining how the author creates meaning.
In line six, Phoebe says that Holden does not like ‘anything that’s happening’. The
form is something you need to comment on here; why does the author put ‘anything’
in italics?

Possible answer:

It emphasises Phoebe’s tone, suggesting she is frustrated with him. It also reveals the
how all-encompassing Holden’s apathy and disillusionment is; his little sister knows
that there is nothing he cares about and Salinger emphasises this because the ‘anything’
stands out through the italics.

Note the full stop at the end of that sentence; if Phoebe is so upset, what punctuation
mark might we expect the author to use? – an exclamation mark. What is the effect
of having a full stop at the end of that sentence?

Possible answer:

The full stop may suggest that Phoebe is used to Holden behaving in this way and so
this sentence is merely a statement of fact, not an emotional outburst. An exclamation
mark would show surprise or anger but she is not surprised by how he feels or how he
acts because she knows him so well. It’s almost as though she has given up on chang-
ing him. When discussing the effect of this punctuation mark in terms of the themes
and concerns of the novel, you could again comment on Phoebe’s maturity and the
apathy Holden feels about the world. The full stop suggests a weariness that reveals
much about both characters.

Holden’s response in lines 8–9 to Phoebe’s statement is interesting. The first thing
you may notice is the short sentences he uses: “Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Sure I do. Don’t
say that. Why the hell do you say that?” What do these short sentences do to the
pace of the line? And what effect is created by the pace? What does Salinger reveal
about Holden’s state of mind through this use of language?

Possible answers:

The many short sentences quicken the pace (imagine someone speaking in short
sentences and you can hear the speed). A fast pace may be used to reveal emotional
distress: anger, passion, fear. Holden is obviously upset by what Phoebe says and he is
trying to defend himself.

ENG1502/1 97
When you are trying to understand Holden’s state of mind at this moment, as revealed
through the language, consider the opening words of each sentence. His response
moves from strong affirmatives, ‘Yes’, ‘Yes’, to ‘Sure I do’ and then to an attack,
‘Don’t say that’. What does this progression reveal?

Possible answer:

The affirmation becomes less and less sure of itself until the character is completely on
the defensive. This reveals that he knows there is some truth to what Phoebe is saying
even though he feels he should deny it. Perhaps he is also trying to protect Phoebe’s
innocence by denying his apathy; it is important to him to protect her faith in him
because he feels so disconnected from everyone else in the world.

In the line ‘Boy, was she depressing me’ (line 14), Salinger reverses the normal order
of the words. Usually it would read, ‘she was depressing me’. What effect does this
change have on the meaning of the sentence?

Possible answer:

It is a more colloquial way of speaking, again allowing Salinger to create the voice of
the young male narrator. This configuration also creates tone very effectively. The
reader can hear Holden’s exasperation with his sister whereas ‘she was depressing me’
is far more neutral.

Are there any other language features of the passage that create a colloquial tone?

Possible answer:

Salinger often has Holden and Phoebe begin sentences with conjunctions (‘Because
you don’t’, But the trouble was ...’, ‘And this boy ...’). The grammatical rule is that one
should never begin a sentence with a conjunction so this misuse of language makes
Holden’s speech patterns recognisably informal and colloquial. He speaks like a teenage
boy would. Another way in which Salinger creates a colloquial tone is by using slang.

Here you need to comment on the use of slang. Which words are examples of slang?
What does the use of slang accomplish?

Possible answer:

Throughout the passage Salinger uses words that are considered to be slang: ‘cockeyed’,
‘beat-up’, ‘lousy friends’, ‘squealed’, ‘dirty bastards’ and ‘goddam’. Slang is language used
by a particular group of people and at a particular time in history. The words used here
are still innocent enough (by our standards today!) to suggest that the slang comes
from a time before today. This is significant because the slang positions this novel in
a particular historical period during which certain concerns were dominant; it is these
concerns that Salinger explores in Catcher in the Rye. Slang is also most often used by the
youth and so Salinger uses it to create the believable voice of a teenage boy. The slang
terms that Holden uses express his frustration with the people and the system around
him and this is partly what Salinger is trying to explore through the novel. Young

UNIT 6: Language in action

people like Holden have become disillusioned with the world their parents and adults
expect them to inherit and they challenge the authority of these figureheads and the
hierarchies they represent. Slang is a way of challenging the ‘system’ and expressing
individual rebellion against arbitrary rules, like those of polite speech.

Now look at the rest of the passage yourself and see if you can note any features of
the language that you would like to comment on; consider the punctuation marks,
adjectives, verbs, length of the sentences and anything else that ‘jumps out’ at you.

This brief look at an extract from The Catcher in the Rye is only a short introduction to
what you can do if you use your knowledge of vocabulary, syntax and phonology to
analyse the extract. Just looking at the language, you can find a lot to say.

This same kind of analysis is not only possible, but crucial when you are looking at a
poem. Take, for example this extract from ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by First World War
poet, Wilfrid Owen.


(from) Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfrid Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 1

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 5
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 10
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 14

‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’, the latin phrase Owen uses in this poem, means
‘It is sweet [good] and meet [right] to die for one’s country’; Owen suggests that when
young soldiers are told that it is noble and grand to give one’s life for one’s country, they
are being told a lie. Throughout this poem he explores the truth of war, as opposed to
‘the old lie’ that young soldiers are told and believe.

Once again, read the text a number of times and then do a line by line analysis, pay-
ing particular attention to the language. As you read the poem take note of prominent
punctuation marks, the repetition of letters and words and any specific words that you
feel are important.

ENG1502/1 99
When you analyse poetry a good place to start is to make note of where the full stops
are because they indicate sentences – units bound by a single thought or image by the
poet. Often the length of the particular sentence supports the poetic effect created in
the unit; remember that short sentences tend to quicken the pace and create tension,
whereas long sentences suggest weariness or sadness (or nostalgia and longing, for
example). In the first stanza there are four full stops; why does Wilfrid Owen Place
them where he does?

Possible answer:

The first full stop appears at the end of the fourth line of the poem, allowing Owen
to create a lengthy run-on line, or enjambment. The soldiers are already tired and the
length of the sentence suggests the length of the march ahead of them; he also empha-
sises the bone-aching weariness of the soldiers marching home through the length of
the sentence. This weariness can also be read to suggest hopelessness and despair; the
soldiers have become numb to feeling and walk like animals, tiredly going wherever
they are told.

Note that the length of the sentence can tell you a lot about the effect the poet is
trying to create, but remember always that the grammar is supporting the ideas the
poet is writing about – look first at the idea and then at how the grammar supports
it or what the grammar emphasises.

In lines 6–8 Owen uses a number of punctuation marks such as commas, semi-colons
and full stops. These break the last section of the stanza into short units. Given that he
now describes the marching soldiers as ‘limping’, these small disjointed phrases seem
to reflect the shuffling, painful movement of the men. While the march is long, their
steps are short and halting because they have been crippled by the war.

The full stops after ‘men marched asleep’ and ‘blood-shod’ make the reader pause for a
longer time than a comma or a semi-colon would require; this is effective because the
poet particularly focuses our attention on the ideas in those sentences. ‘Men marched
asleep’ emphasises the desperate fatigue of these men; although they are supposed to be
‘marching’, a word that suggests perfect, military action, we are told they do so ‘asleep’.
This undermines the sense of action and makes us feel sorry for them. This full stop
may also suggest their nodding off to sleep while walking, causing a literal pause in
their movement that we are forced to make with them. The raw horror of their being
‘blood-shod’ is made to stand out because the full stop forces us to halt and think about
that image (the repetition of the ‘d’ also forces us to read slowly and focus on the image);
their feet have been worn away until their shoes are made of blood.

As you can see, a full stop is an effective way of forcing the reader to stop and take
note of things the poet feels he or she wants to stand out.
Once you have discussed the full stops, go back and consider what other language
features you could comment on in the first 4 lines. There are a number of commas
in these lines; what has the poet used them for and to what effect?

UNIT 6: Language in action

Possible answer:

One of the things commas are used for is listing. Here the poet-speaker (himself a
young soldier) uses them to list phrases that describe the soldiers. The effect is a layering
of awful images that leave the reader with an unequivocal description of how broken
and haggard these young men have become; the number of images suggests the all-
encompassing, crippling effect of war. The commas also create a number of pauses in
the first four lines and these help slow the pace, supporting the notion that the march
is both lengthy and uncomfortable.

After you have discussed the commas discuss the effective use of vocabulary. Use
your knowledge of semantics to analyse the images and word-choice of the poet in
these first four lines. What words stand out and why? – remember that these were
strong, healthy, young men who had been sent to war.

Possible answer:

The phrase ‘bent double, like old beggars’ is very evocative. This image suggests that
the backs of the young men have been broken; they are literally ‘bent double’, crooked
from their coughing and the weight they carry. The words ‘beggars’ and ‘hags’ are very
interesting to use when describing young men – they suggest the soldiers are prematurely
aged, haggard, emaciated and filthy. The soldiers cough ‘like hags’; their coughing is
like that of an old woman. This is effective because it makes the reader think of that
bubbly, whole-body cough that destroys the elderly. All in all, these words suggest men
that are unhealthy, diseased after their experience of war. One can comprehend quite
clearly Owen’s negative opinion of war from these images alone.

One word that you should always pay attention to in poetry (or any literary analy-
sis) is ‘like’. The use of ‘like’ often indicates a simile which is used to compare two
things. When you comment on a simile you must be sure to discuss the effectiveness
of the comparison – what the poet is trying to draw our attention to by comparing
these particular to things to each other.
There are many other linguistic features you could comment on in this first stanza.
For example, what effect does the repetition of the ‘m’ sound in line 5 accomplish?
Similarly, the repetition of the ‘b’ in lines 5 and 6? Consider too the repetition of
‘all’ in line 6 and the use of so many semi-colons. What do each of these enable to
poet to do?

Possible answer:

The ‘m’ sound is particularly onomatopoeic and it is also a long, slow sound. Because
of these characteristics, Owen can use the repetition of the ‘m’ to mimic the groaning
or moaning of the men and he can use it to reinforce the slowness of the pace as the
men march. The ‘all went lame; all blind’ is very effective because it foregrounds the
fact every single man is crippled by war.

When you comment on semi-colons remember that they are very often used to join
phrases and sentences that have a common purpose or idea. In this case, what are the
ideas that Owen is linking? Much like the list produced in the first four lines, these
linked ideas are layered one upon another, describing the brokenness of the soldiers

ENG1502/1 101
who are ‘lame’, ‘blind’, ‘drunk with fatigue’ and ‘deaf’. This again emphasises the pain
of the soldiers and the dehumanising effects of war.

The word ‘even’ is a tiny word but very effective too; why?

Possible answer:

The word ‘even’ suggests the degree of the soldiers’ ‘deafness’ and foregrounds the fact
that they no longer react even when it’s a case of survival. These men no longer care;
they react dully, like automatons, because they are too tired to be afraid. With one word,
Owen is able to suggest the degree to which these men have lost their humanity; they
are so exhausted that they do not react to the dropping of bombs behind them. In fact,
the war is so debilitating that even the bombs themselves are ‘tired’.

The next stanza opens with direct speech and short phrases – what is the effect
achieved by this?

Possible answer:

The direct speech and the short commands create tension and enable us to understand
the sudden panic of the soldiers. Look at how the first time ‘gas’ is said, Owen writes it
normally but the second time it is all in capitals. Here you should most definitely com-
ment on the form: this feels like the commander is still waking up with his first yell
but by the second one he has realised what’s happening and he becomes even more
worried about his men. One can almost hear his voice rise with ‘GAS!’ and his warning
‘Quick, boys!’ is full of pathos. He warns his men and tries to get them to act quickly,
even though they are tired and numb but the world that one should focus on is ‘boys’.
Again, these are young men – boys – for whom he is responsible. Owen is very careful
to keep reminding the reader that these men are so young and ill-equipped to be deal-
ing with the horrors of war.

The short phrases and the dash that links the direct speech to the next sentence is a
wonderful reflection of the clumsy panic of the soldiers; the grammar parallels the
‘ecstasy of fumbling’ as the men put their gas masks on.

There is so much one can comment on in a poem as rich as this one; almost every
word and punctuation mark has a specific purpose and you should be able to analyse
the effect and see how it enriches the overall ‘message’ of the poem or piece of writing.
Although you should think about the rest of stanza two and see what other elements
of the writing you could comment on, there is one last thing I would like to draw
your attention to here: the ellipsis in line 12. An ellipsis is an interesting punctuation
mark because it often follows an action that has momentous implications, implica-
tions that the author wants to hint at and leave for our imaginations to fill in. Why
would Owen use it here?

Possible answer:

The soldier who did not put his mask on in time is ‘flound’ring like a man in fire or lime’;
this is followed by the ellipsis and that silence implied by the ellipsis is very provocative.
There is a sense of fatalism here, of accepting that this is what is happening. In putting

UNIT 6: Language in action

the ellipsis here, Owen opens a quiet space that suggests, more effectively than if he
had filled it up with words, the defeated, painful recognition of the other young men
that their comrade is gone and that this is the reality of war, not ‘Dulce et decorum est
pro patria mori’. One can see that the language Owen uses paints a picture of war that
is unequivocally harsh and cruel; when you come to analysing poems be aware of the
effect every word and punctuation mark can have.

This short consideration of an excerpt from ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is meant only to
point you in the right direction and show you what is possible when you bring every-
thing you know to your analysis of literature. However, before I conclude this section
of Unit 6, I would like you to have a look at the following excerpt from another poem.
This is very different from the Wilfrid Owen poem:


(from) In the Shadow of Signal Hill

Essop Patel

in the howling wind

by the murky waters
of the sea
sons of langa
gather at the ruins of district six
and sharpen the spears of the night
and the heroes from the island urge
go towards the fiery dawn ...

The reason I have included an excerpt from this particular poem is because there is
one marked difference between it and the Owen poem above. Can you identify this
difference? – while Owen’s poem is full of punctuation and sophisticated grammatical
features, the Patel poem is very simple and seemingly unsophisticated. Do not let this
simplicity fool you! Protest poets, like some South African and feminist poets, and
some modernist poets experiment with a lack of punctuation to show that they refuse
or defy the authority of ‘The System’. In this case Patel might have decided not to use
punctuation because he is protesting the unfair and racist authority of the apartheid
regime in South Africa. Because punctuation is part of the ‘laws of language’ that gov-
ern communication, when a poet refuses these laws he or she is suggesting that Laws
in general may be unfair and arbitrary and that they curb the natural creativity of peo-
ple. In this way refusing to use punctuation becomes part of the overall message they
are communicating of rebellion and defiance. The poet then has to use other poetic
techniques to enrich his or her writing.

Please note that the fact that some poets do not use punctuation and grammar correctly
DOES NOT MEAN that you can decide not to use correct grammar in your writing!

Think about Patel’s poem and whether you think it is effective as it is or whether he
might have used punctuation to good effect, like Owen does. If you take punctuation
away, you need to rely on other poetic techniques and linguistic features to communi-
cate your concerns; does Patel do this effectively? Is the simplicity of the poem itself
effective – if so, why? These are all questions you will need to ask and answer when
you come to analysing literary texts.

ENG1502/1 103
Looking at the language features of an extract from a novel or a play or a poem is an
easy way to begin to understand the meaning the author is trying to create in his or
her text and to recognise how the author creates that meaning. Remember that we use
language to write poetry – they are therefore one and the same thing at heart. Language
is just used more evocatively and intensely in literature than it may be in other forms of
writing, although this is debatable (consider manipulative advertisements and sensational
news headlines). You should take the knowledge and skills you have gained through
the various units in this module and apply them to your study of literature in the other
English modules and you will find that your ability to understand both the texts and
the author’s techniques are greatly enhanced.

We hope that this chapter has demonstrated how language works within texts and
in particular contexts, and that you have a better understanding of how to go about
textual analysis. The skills involved in language analysis may be applied to texts of any
kind, from the most basic and mundane ones to those which represent the pinnacle of
literary achievement.

Carter, R., Goddard, A., Reah, D., Sanger, K. & Swift, N. (1997) Working with Texts: A
Core Introduction to Language Analysis, London and New York: Routledge.
Horne, F. & Heinemann, G. (2006) English in Perspective, Cape Town: Oxford University
Wainright, J. & Hutton, J. (1992) Your Own Words, Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson
and Sons.

Here is a list of some important terms used in this Unit. If you try to fill in the
missing definitions it will help you to understand and remember them. Com-
pare your definitions with those given in the general Glossary at the end of this
Study Guide.










UNIT 6: Language in action




discourse analysis

genre studies

standard English

non-standard English

ENG1502/1 105

UNIT 6: Language in action


Appendix 1
The International Phonetic Alphabet

Appendix 2
Acoustic phonetics

Sounds are noises and as will be apparent when we analyze each sound, there is a
measure of movement of speech organs and air when sounds are produced. Sounds
are transmitted through airwaves from one person to another. Acoustic phonetics
therefore is concerned with measuring the movement as well as the vibration quality
of the air waves. Today we have a lot of machines and computer programmes which
look at the physics of speech and the digital processing of speech. If you want to be
a speech scientist, acoustics phonetics would be one of the areas you would study.
If you want to read more on acoustic phonetics, read Ladefoged, P. (1995) Elements
of Acoustic Phonetics.

Auditory Phonetics

The sounds we produce are received by listeners and processed for sense and mean-
ing. Auditory phonetics is concerned with the study of how the sounds are perceived.
If you think about it, the ear is an organ with drums, canals, and tubes etc which
processes the sounds received. These are then transmitted to the brain. Auditory
phoneticians study these processes closely, to understand the intricacies and chal-
lenges related to hearing. So if you pronounce a sound incorrectly, the brain will
pick it up and process it the way it’s been delivered and understand it as such. Again
speech therapists would read a lot on auditory phonetics.
ENG1502/1 107