Many students have difficulties finding language articles that explain how to do a language analysis. This article is an attempt to help address this lack.
First of all, let’s explore the reasons for undertaking a language analysis of a text.
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These days many colleges and universities expect students of languages to have the ability to write a successful language analysis. Unfortunately for students there aren’t many language articles that demonstrate how to write an analysis. The ones that are online are, on the whole, not very useful. There are fewer sites that offer examples of good, bad, and mediocre language analysis essays.
There are several reasons for doing a language analysis:
Reading articles about language helps students understand how language works. When this is understood, a student’s English and awareness of the language his or her learning will be enhanced. In fact, doing a language analysis benefits the student immensely.
Students need to be able to identify common literary devices and illustrate why they have been used in a text. Basically, these devices are used to make the text interesting for the reader.
Basic literary devices are:
Metaphors and similes are almost the same, but whereas similes are obvious comparisons of two or more things, where ‘as,’ or ‘like’ is used, metaphors are comparisons without the words ‘as’ or ‘like’. For example, ‘Her hair is like sunlight.’ I a simile, while ‘She has sunlight hair’ is a metaphor.
Allusion is a short, indirect references to a person, place, thing idea and so on. Allusions can be made to famous people either historical figures or modern ones. They can also be made to places, and to famous events, either modern or historical. For example, ‘I really dislike people who act like Scrooge.’ Scrooge, of course, is the fictional miser created by Charles Dickens in his book, ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Inference is a conclusion that is arrived at by studying evidence and logical reasoning. For example, ‘She pays a lot of attention to her appearance and the cleanliness and tidiness of her home.’ From that we can infer that the woman likes orderliness and would probably be particular about hygiene.
Imagery is found in poetry, but it can also be used in descriptions in prose. Imagery helps readers to picture a scene and uses figurative language. For example, ‘She bit into the fresh juicy peach and the juice ran down her chin.’ This appeals to the senses of taste and smell. Readers can actually imagine both the taste and the smell of that fresh peach.
Personification is used when a thing, perhaps an animal or even an idea is given human characteristics. Personification should not be confused with anthropomorphism though. The difference is that personification the animal just appears to be like a human, but anthropomorphism is used when the animal is actually doing something that people do. This often happens in children’s books. Think of the famous book “Watership Down,’ or the tales of Beatrix Potter.
Alliteration is the repetition of letters and sounds, usually at the beginning of words. For example, ‘The shining shingle shimmered in the sun.’ In this example the alliteration is of the ‘sh’ sound. However, the sounds can also be in the middle of words.
Hyperbole is an exaggeration of an idea which gives added emphasis to what is said or has been written. We often use it when speaking informally. For example, ‘I haven’t seen you for ages.’ This usually simply means ‘for a long time’ not that we haven’t seen someone for centuries.
Litotes is an understatement which often employs the use of a double negative, something that is unusual in English. For instance, ‘That’s not (half) bad’ actually means that something is very good.
An oxymoron is the juxtaposition of words that mean the opposite of one another. John Milton used this famous oxymoron, ‘darkness visible’ in “Paradise Lost’. The famous film directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ has an oxymoron in the title (‘wide shut’).
Tautology occurs when words with the same or very similar meanings are expressed more than once. In other words, the repetitive words are redundant, but used to add emphasis.
Onomatopoeia is the deliberate use of words that describe sounds and sound like the sound they describe. For example, ‘Bees and flies buzz.’ Buzz sounds like the noise bees and flies make.
This list is not exhaustive, but it illustrates some common literary devices that are found in literature.
Not all examination boards ask students to write a language analysis, so if you feel that you really can’t write a good one, have a look at other courses. At the moment, the main exam board that has a language analysis component is the Australian Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) VCE course. Unfortunately for some, the language analysis accounts for a third of the paper, and so, naturally do the marks.
The Cambridge and Michigan exam boards do not require students to do language analysis, at least at the moment, although this might change.
Some British universities require students whose mother tongue is not English to have experience of text analysis. Students are taught how to identify the purpose of texts and to identify different writing styles, for example, those in newspapers, journals, text books and so on.
You don’t get any marks for an introduction to an analysis of a text, but one is useful so that you can organise your thoughts and work out what you need to include in the main body of the analysis.
If you do write an introduction be sure to give a brief outline of what the author’s intentions are. State what the main contention or argument is. Keep the introduction sharp and to the point. Don’t waffle or pad it out. If you do, then it will create a bad impression on the examiner, and that’s the last thing you want.
Always read what you need to do carefully, don’t analyse everything, as that will almost never be necessary. You may, for example, be asked to explain how the text tries to persuade readers to adopt, or accept, a particular point of view. That means that you don’t have to discuss, or list, all the literary devices that are used in the text. What you do have to do is concentrate on what devices and techniques are used to persuade readers.
You will need to state how the author’s techniques are designed to sway the readership. You will also need to discuss the author’s main argument or contention. Write about the tone of the text (which may change in the text), and any connections you can find between the text and any visuals presented. Pay attention to the connotations of the language used and describe your findings.
You will need to write a conclusion to wrap up your analysis. You need this to be impressive as it is the last thing an examiner will read. Comment on how language has been used throughout the text(s) and make a comment or two on how the author’s technique and state how he or she intends the readers to react.
When you believe you have completed the task, read it through carefully and check that you have covered all the points. Take a look at the suggested checklist below:
Discourse analysis is not the same as language analysis which is discussed above discussed above. Discourse analysis can be of a text or a conversation, or any other spoken words. The language analysis takes place at a much deeper level than the surface structure and discourse analysts take the whole situation into account. They notice speakers’ body language, facial expressions and gestures.
When a discourse analyst investigates the words used, it is to discover, for example if the speaker is telling the truth or not. Analysts may be asked to be present at important interviews, for example, they could be asked to listen in to an interview with an asylum seeker. Their role is to ascertain whether or not the interviewee is a genuine asylum seeker or not. The ability to tell if someone is lying is extremely useful in such a situation.
Discourse analysts are sometimes invited to important meetings and may be asked if a speaker or speakers have a hidden agenda. They listen very carefully to what is said and watch speakers’ body language attentively. If the body language contradicts what the speaker is saying, then that person could be hiding something or might be lying.
A discourse analyst will listen to the language used and ponder why the speaker chose to use the words he or she did. Sometimes it is necessary to listen to a recording time and time again to tease out the whole picture. A transcript is useful, but it can’t show the tone, and register, so a recording is vital to a complete analysis of the discourse.
An analyst can code the transcript and use it as evidence if required. It is painstaking work and sometimes the analyst has to be intuitive as well as analytical.
If the analyst is listening to a conversation between two people, he or she will note how the conversation is developed. The interlocutors usually take turns to speak, and when they don’t, this is of interest to the analyst. Think about the last informal conversation you had. How was it developed? Probably, one person spoke, perhaps recounting what had happened during the day, and the other made encouraging noises to show that they were listening and to encourage the speaker to continue the narrative. Even grunts and ‘Mmms’ are part of the analysis. Clearly when we speak, we don’t always communicate in full sentences. Sometimes the other speaker finishes a sentence, showing that they understand what is being said. People often overlap each other when they are having a conversation.
Try recording a conversation you have with a friend and then note the pauses, overlaps and noises to show agreement that are used. It is useful to understand how we speak so that we are aware of why sometimes we feel uncomfortable in a conversation. perhaps one person is domineering and doesn’t follow the convention of turn taking, and perhaps you hadn’t noticed this before. It’s always useful to find out about speakers. In fact, you might decide to become a discourse analyst yourself.
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