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Author Topic: A Crash Course in Language Analysis  (Read 27484 times)  Share 

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lynt.br

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A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« on: March 20, 2010, 06:52:47 am »
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Preface

I made this post in another thread but figured it was pretty comprehensive so I've decided to turn it into a thread of its own. Essentially this is a crash course in how to approach Language Analysis, either in a SAC or an exam.

Honestly I found Language Analysis to be the most formulaic section on the English exam and consequently the most straightforward. Once you know what exactly the examiners are looking for and then devise some structure so that you satisfy this criteria, it really does become a mechanical 'fill in the blanks' process. The objective of this guide is to shed some light on the structure I used in VCE English Language Analysis and how it can hopefully help you blitz through what I believe is the easiest section of the exam.

As the original post was in response to a question, this guide doesn't cover all there is about language analysis. Most noticeably, it does not explain how to handle the introduction, conclusion, visuals or what to do if you have to analyse 2+ articles. This guide simply covers how you should approach the actual analysis part of a language analysis. If I ever get the time, I may update this thread to account for the areas I have not covered, although bear in mind, it took my over 2000 words to explain the process behind creating a 120 word paragraph. Hopefully that explains why I may be slow in updating this guide, if I ever get around to it.

A lot of the examples and extracts I use in this guide were loosely based on the 2008 English Exam's Language Analysis section (I personally prefer that article over the 2009 one for the purposes of language analysis). Because VCAA doesn't show the article on its website, I've attached it at the bottom of this post. All credit to the illustrator yada yada.

Also if people would be so kind as to notify me if I've made any stupid spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. This is something I'm prone to do, a problem only exacerbated when most of this guide was written in a sleep deprived state of mind (as evidenced by this thread's time of post).
 

A Crash Course in Language Analysis
Written (and yet to be edited) by lynt.br

You aren't awarded marks for being able to name 'persuasive techniques'. You often see people after a SAC or exam discussing "Did you get X technique? I missed Y technique". This is the wrong approach to language analysis. Examiners are looking for students who are sensitive to the effects a piece of writing will have on a reader and why readers are likely to feel this way. Essentially, they want to know what is the effect of the persuasive element? and why is that effect likely to occur?

A good approach is to look at the article as a whole and consider the main arguments it is trying to make. What is the writer's objective? What does he or she want the reader to feel at certain points in the text? Once you have identified this, you then determine how the writer uses language to achieve this effect. If the text made you feel anger or disgust to a certain group, how did it do so and why?

This is where you can start locating persuasive techniques or elements that support the writer's objective. If you observe the writer is trying to make you feel sympathy for group X, you may identify that this is achieved through the use of highly emotive words or emotional appeals that provoke pity towards the wronged group. If the writer is trying to make the reader realise the absurdity of a certain proposition, you may identify that they use a rhetorical question to illustrate how no one would agree with the propositions terms.

When you work through the article this way you are no longer bound by identifying persuasive techniques, or feeling as though you need to memorise a list of persuasive techniques and then scan an article looking for them. You may also realise that some of your answers to the question "how does the writer achieve this effect?" are not confined to a specific technique. This is fine. In fact, I would argue that it is actually the better approach because it shows you really understand the "how?" question rather than just memorising techniques. As long as you can justify how something you have identified creates a certain effect, it does not matter whether you refer to it as a persuasive technique or not. For example, if you are explaining how a sense of emergency is evoked within readers through words and phrases such as "crisis", "danger" and "impending disaster", you do not necessarily have to explicitly mention that this is an appeal to fear.

A basic but effective structure to follow when writing a language analysis would look as follows. This is essentially what I did in my exam.

The basic formula when analysing language is:

Quote
A technique/element is used in B specific example to create C effect. This is likely to occur because of D.

Let me step through each letter.

A.
If you are going to mention the persuasive technique, use it as a framing device for your specific examples in part B. "An appeal to reader sympathy through the use of emotive language such as "X" "Y" "Z"....". You may notice that mentioning the technique is not really necessary or indeed sometimes impossible as examples X Y Z won't fall under a specific technique. As I said earlier, this is not an issue. This example could just as easily and validly have started as "emotional language such as "X", "Y", "Z"" or even just "words such as "X", "Y", "Z"....".

B.
Obviously you need to give examples. Don't just say the writer uses rhetorical questions to achieve X effect without giving an example. Your examples should also be as specific and precise as possible. If you can, you should aim to look at the individual words or phrases within an example that cause the effect C. Obviously this will not always be possible. Sometimes you will have to analyse a rhetorical question or a metaphor as a whole and cannot break it down any further. As a general rule of thumb, the more precise your examples, the better your analysis.

To illustrate, look at the following extract:
Quote
The metaphor "toxic parents are poisoning our club" encourages readers to recognise the gravity of the issue. Readers are led to believe that such parents are a malign influence on the sports club. The use of inclusive language further personalises the issue and engenders a sense of responsibility amongst readers who may realise that unless action is taken, these sports-aggressive parents will continue to sour the club's atmosphere."

This is by no means a bad analysis, but it is not a effective one either because it is simply too broad. Essentially, it states that the entire metaphor quoted has the effects it lists. In reality, only specific elements of the metaphor create the effect listed. For instance, it is the specific words "toxic" and "poisonous" that create the perception of the parents as a malign influence. As I mentioned earlier, quoting the entire metaphor (ie. identifying the technique) should simply create a frame for your analysis. You then dissect elements or words from this 'frame' to analyse. It's a bit like saying "Here is a section of the text we are going to look at" and then dissecting that section bit by bit.

You may have noticed other mistakes in that example. For instance, I mentioned inclusive language but didn't give a pinpoint example. Even if you think it is obvious from the section quoted, it is always beneficial to pinpoint the exact word/phrase which is 'inclusive' rather than making the examiner do the work of figuring that out.

A further issue is that I have not explained why the effects listed are likely to occur. I'll address this issue when I look at part D.

By noting these shortcomings and making some corrections, we can vastly improve our analysis by making it much more precise and clear:
Quote
The metaphor "toxic parents are poisoning our club" encourages readers to recognise the gravity of the issue. The words "toxic" and "poisoning" invite the perception that such parents are a malign influence on the sports club. The inclusive term "our club" further personalises the issue and engenders a sense of responsibility amongst readers who may realise that unless action is taken, these sports-aggressive parents will continue to sour the club's atmosphere."

This is much better, but it still has problems. Namely, I haven't explained why readers will feel this way. I'll address this issue when we look at section D.

C.
What is the resultant or likely effect of the examples listed in B? This is extremely straightforward yet is critical to the success of your language analysis. Emotional appeals are obviously designed to elicit a certain emotional response from readers, statistics may make the writer look more informed, rhetorical questions may highlight something as absurd etc. etc. Just remember that the relationship between a technique and its effect is not fixed. Always analyse the effect of a technique in the context of the text you are analysing. Statistics may not always have the primary effect of making the writer look informed, they may instead highlight the magnitude or pettiness of something.

Another thing to avoid is specifying the effect in terms that are too broad or in a way that does not relate clearly to the text. Do not simply say "the appeal to fear XYZ raises concern and worry in readers." Concern and worry for what? You need to relate the effects back to the issue described in the text, otherwise your statements will be too general.

Too general:
Quote
The inclusive term "our club" causes readers to feel involved and creates a sense of responsibility.

Involved in what? Responsibility to do what? Do not let your examiner ask such questions.

Relate it to the issue described in the text:
Quote
The inclusive term "our club" further personalises the issue and engenders a sense of responsibility amongst readers, many of who will invariable be parents that attend the sports club and would be compelled to take preventative action against sports aggressive parents to preserve the amicable atmosphere of the sports venue.


D.
Section D should explain why the effect listed in C is likely to happen. This is probably the most commonly omitted section in language analysis, yet it is probably of equal importance to section C. A lot of students know that examiners are looking for effects rather than techniques, but then fail to flesh out their discussion of the effects by not explaining how these effects are likely to come about. The simplest way to satisfy this section is to use the word "because..."  e.g., "X effect happens because of Y".

Look at the example used before:
Quote
The metaphor "toxic parents are poisoning our club" encourages readers to recognise the gravity of the issue. The words "toxic" and "poisoning" invite the perception that such parents are a malign influence on the sports club.

Why do these words invite such a perception? Because the words have strong negative connotations attached which imply something perverse or pernicious.

Quote
The words "toxic" and "poisoning" invite the perception that such parents are a malign influence on the sports club because of their strong attached negative connotations which imply something destructive.

A problem arises when you try to cram too many sections into one sentence. Often the sentence will come out clumsy or ambiguous like the one above. Does the portion in red relate to the words or the parents? It may seem obvious that in the context of language analysis it is referring to the words quoted, but this sort of clumsy ambiguous language should still be avoided if possible. There is nothing wrong with breaking up long sentences which can't be handled easily into a series or sentences. This often allows more discussion as well.

Quote
The words "toxic" and "poisoning" have strong attached negative connotations which invite the perception that such parents are a malign influence on the sports club. This is because "toxic" implies something destructive and the verb "poisoning" suggests something is being killed or debased - in this case, the clubs friendly and supportive atmosphere.

The best answers will relate why an effect is likely to occur with specific audience groups. In the example I used earlier, the inclusive language is more likely to engender a sense of responsibility amongst parents who frequent the sports club because they are a stakeholder in the issue. It is going to be less persuasive to someone who does not go to that sports club and therefore is less inclined to care about its well-being.

For example:
Quote
A description of the chickens as being "slaughtered", "butchered" and "maimed" is likely to provoke a strong sense of sympathy and injustice, particularly amongst readers who are sensitive to animal rights and are therefore more likely to empathise with the chickens or feel an aversion towards such acts of cruelty.

So if you put all those steps together, we end up with this:
Quote
The metaphor "toxic parents are poisoning our club" encourages readers to recognise the gravity of the issue. The words "toxic" and "poisoning" have strong attached negative connotations which invite the perception that such parents are a malign influence on the sports club. This is because "toxic" implies something destructive and the verb "poisoning" suggests something has been 'killed' - in this case, the clubs friendly and supportive atmosphere.The inclusive term "our club" further personalises the issue and may compel readers, particularly those who attend the sports club, to confront sports-aggressive parents about their behaviour.

The good thing about this structure is that each section is modular. You can, and should, mix up your order of A, B, C and D (Although obviously make sure what you're writing makes logical sense). If you stick to the exact same formula throughout the entire language analysis, your writing will be predictable, boring and overly prescribed. To show that you are doing more than just working from a set formula (even if you actually are), try to mix up the way you order sections A, B, C and D every now and then. For instance, maybe start by describing the effect first rather than the technique, then going back to explain how the effect was achieved.

The challenge now is to be able to familiarise yourself with these four steps so that in an exam or SAC you can quickly cover as much of the article as necessary and in sufficient detail. There is no point having a perfect analysis of only one quarter of the article. Aim to make this process mechanical so that when it comes to an exam or SAC, you know exactly what you need to be writing and can avoid worrying about whether or not you are satisfying the criteria.


Last Updated 20/3/10



Mod edit (pi):

Attachment for this guide was re-uploaded here: Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis

Good luck :)
« Last Edit: April 08, 2013, 08:58:32 pm by pi »

kyzoo

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2010, 06:37:03 pm »
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Nice work ;D Very detailed and thorough step-by-step instructions.

I have a question - how would you balance being concise with providing a sufficiently complex analysis of a particular instance of language. The paragraph with all the parts ABCD is 117 words but is it really advisable to spend more than 10% of your essay on a single 6-word sentence (less than 1% of the provided article)?
« Last Edit: March 20, 2010, 06:44:03 pm by kyzoo »
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tl

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2010, 06:46:44 pm »
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Awesome, this converts English into an easier (for me any way) and more systematic technique of tackling Lang Anals :)
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Albeno69

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2010, 07:24:16 pm »
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thanks this is awesome, will help me this year

ice_blockie

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2010, 10:41:27 pm »
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Nice work ;D Very detailed and thorough step-by-step instructions.

I have a question - how would you balance being concise with providing a sufficiently complex analysis of a particular instance of language. The paragraph with all the parts ABCD is 117 words but is it really advisable to spend more than 10% of your essay on a single 6-word sentence (less than 1% of the provided article)?

It all comes down to the particular article(s) and your own judgement. You should aim to holistically discuss the author's approach to persuading the reader so you should include some concise analysis mixed with some not so concise (but still fulfilling VCE criteria) analysis.

Whilst I would personally hesitate to put the 117 words analysis above in an essay, I think its a good illustration of how you would go about pulling apart a sentence and deconstruct the author's intent and purpose.

On the other hand for political cartoons, pictures and diagrams you should really try to have an in depth analysis. In the end of year exams, assessors have continually mentioned that the depth of analysis with regards to pictures/graphs/cartoons is a differentiating factor between a good English student and a strong English student.

In the 2008 exam paper, a cursory mention of the cartoon would not have been sufficient to get you a high score. (Although do NOT spend too much time writing...my language analysis in that exam was bordering 1200 words - 200 words were on the picture).

Hope that helps...

lynt.br

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2010, 04:46:12 pm »
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Nice work ;D Very detailed and thorough step-by-step instructions.

I have a question - how would you balance being concise with providing a sufficiently complex analysis of a particular instance of language. The paragraph with all the parts ABCD is 117 words but is it really advisable to spend more than 10% of your essay on a single 6-word sentence (less than 1% of the provided article)?

Sorry it has taken me awhile to address this question.

The exert I wrote was more for illustrative purposes. It's probably much more detailed than is necessary for an exam where you don't have the luxury of time to write about every aspect of every technique identified. What I think is more important is for people to recognise the structure behind the paragraph, rather than trying to replicate it. The most important thing is to answer the four essential questions: What is the technique/persuasive element? How is it being used by the author? Why is it being used (effect on reader) and why is it likely to be successful?

I would also like to point out the final exert in the OP is far from perfect. I should also mention that I would not recommend starting a paragraph by jumping straight into the what how why questions. Having a topic sentence is always a good idea. I like to open paragraphs with a general statement about one of the author's objectives and then go on to analyse how this objective is achieved. For example, "The author constructs an image of sports aggressive parents as XYZ." I would then follow by explaining how he does this, using the structure outlined in the OP as a rough guide.

ameea

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2010, 03:48:51 pm »
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This was so helpful! Thank you so much ><

costargh

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2010, 04:33:28 pm »
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Great resource you have there! Well done.

Blakhitman

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2010, 09:24:31 pm »
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This is the best.

Thank you so much.

HERculina

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2010, 01:22:55 am »
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OMG.
*applauses*
i am copying this into a word document so i use it for years to come.
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luken93

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2010, 02:31:49 pm »
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How would you advise doing a language analysis of 2 or more Texts? (Actually 1 Text and 1 Visual)
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HERculina

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2010, 02:49:14 pm »
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You structure it by listing similarities and differences of persuasive techniques within your paragraphs. Like for one paragraph talk about one specific similarity and in the other a difference. Well that's what I would do. :)
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Slumdawg

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2010, 04:17:19 pm »
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How would you advise doing a language analysis of 2 or more Texts? (Actually 1 Text and 1 Visual)

If it's just 1 text 1 visual you would assume it would be 3-4 paragraphs on the main text then 1-2 on the visual + intro and conclusion..
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Richiie

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #13 on: October 01, 2010, 12:59:47 pm »
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Wow, this is awesome.
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ilovecake

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Re: A Crash Course in Language Analysis
« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2010, 05:29:44 pm »
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Great stuff.
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