© 2014 Steve Campsall
Englishbiz Grammar Essentials
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to textual analysis
If you're studying for an A level in English Language, you'll find this web site has been written with your course in mind. The guide will give you more than enough knowledge of grammar to allow you to make subtle analyses of all kinds of texts. If you are not taking that A level, then we hope that you'll still find it all useful - a little grammar is a very useful thing!
Why Study Grammar?
When you analyse any text, you first need to work out what its creator was trying to achieve - that is, their purposes (there can never be just one). To do this, you'll need to take into account:
the nature of the language user's original context (one that included an audience) and how their text is a response to it.
With this in mind, you're then on the hunt for the useful linguistic effects created by the text so you can show how these work in terms of genre, audience and purpose.
All texts are made up from three basic choices:
Choices of words: lexis.
Choices of sentences (or, in speech, utterance types): grammar.
Choices of sequence: discourse structure.
To which might be added, choices made to comply with the genre conventions of the text
To ignore grammar is to miss out one of these basic choices. It's a mistake that will cost marks. But knowing just what to look at grammatically is often not easy, but just as you are on the lookout for effective uses of words, then you need, too, to be searching for effective uses of sentences - and if a sentence (rather than the words it contains) is effective, it will be something to do with its structure, and hence, as grammar provides all of our rules for sentence structure - its grammar.
The combination of words (lexis) and sentence (grammar) choices in a text are referred to as its lexico-grammatical aspects.
Language is the main way we communicate what is on our mind to others - its the main aspect of all discourses or communicative acts. The need to communicate arises in anyone as a response to a context that includes an audience (we do 'speak' to ourselves, in our head - but the need to vocalise or write requires an audience - real or imagined, as in a media text). When we react to such a context, we feel a desire to achieve something related to a particular topic. All communicative acts can be summarised thus:
Individual + context > topic + attitudes > purpose > choice of genre > choices of style > text > audience > response > discourse.
You will see the terms genre and discourse above. These are key terms for you. Even when the text we create is as seemingly natural as everyday conversation, it still is a particular genre and thus we will be constrained to follow its particular and relatively fixed genre conventions. An audience will or can only respond to a genre they know (well... a few post-modern and avant-garde writers can play with this aspect).
Within the conventions of any genre, a great degree of latitude is allowed for the creation of a particular linguistic style, one that will allow us to achieve our purpose with our particular kind of audience. Style is a combination of lexis, grammar and discourse structure which, although limited or restrained by the requirements of genre, purpose and audience, is still - except in rare cases - unique to an individual.
A discourse is created when an audience responds to a text, now, of course, within their own, perhaps very different, context. This response need not always be verbalised (i.e. it can be internal, for example, when we read and consider a media text such as a newspaper article); but a discourse is the whole communicative act, and thus one including an audience.
Grammar is the internalised set of rules or conventions for the creation of an individual sentence.
We learn the rules of grammar subconsciously as we learn to speak and write. It's been postulated that humans must be born with some kind of basic grammatical structuring which is a part of the way the mind works. The theorists Chomsky and Pinker call this 'deep grammar'.
Our knowledge and use of grammar becomes further refined as we develop as sophisticated speakers and writers.
Some of the more complex aspects of grammar cannot be picked up casually - they need to be taught and consciously learned at school.
Language users rarely need to consider their use of grammar except in a few very unusual or formal situations when we might be especially sensitive to making an error. Studies show that culture brings some women in particular to want to over-correct their grammar ('hyper-correction'), over-extending the rules and using, paradoxically, non-standard grammar. An example is the often heard, "Our thanks to you all from my brother and I on this splendid occasion". Do you know what the standard grammar would be? ("Our thanks to you all from my brother and me on this splendid occasion").
As a student of language, when you analyse and discuss key points of grammar in a text's sentences, as with all other analytical techniques, your aim is to make worthwhile comments, avoiding all self-evident stuff! This means considering how the grammar has been chosen in the light of the four basic linguistic aspects: genre, context, audience and purpose.
Pages updated 28th September 2014