Language Analysis

Language analysis explores how authors/writers/speakers convey meaning through specific language analysis techniques, such as figures of speech, word choice, sentence structure, and register or tone. 

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Table of contents

    Language analysis introduction

    There are a number of levels at which language analysis can be done. These levels are:

    • Phonetics and phonology - the sound system of a language; for example, its phonemes (units of sound) and prosody (the rhythm and intonation of language).
    • Grammar, including morphology - the analysis of the way words, clauses, phrases and sentences are put together in English. This is sometimes called 'syntax'.
    • Discourse - extended communication in a range of texts and contexts.
    • Pragmatics - the way language is used in specific contexts.

    Language analysis techniques

    Tools and techniques for language analysis include: consideration of audience, literary purpose, genre, mode, and literary representation. These help readers understand language on its own terms, as well as in literary, social, and geographical contexts.

    How to write a language analysis

    Language analysis explores how a text:

    • Is shaped according to the context, audience, and the conventions of genre.
    • Aids the reader to explore the relationship between readers and characters.
    • Constructs meaning, intention, and viewpoints.

    Genre

    Genre groups literary texts into styles, shared conventions, settings, and themes, which is important for language analysis. Genres include poetry, novels, plays, short fiction, blogs, films etc.

    For example, George RR Martin's Game of Thrones (1996 - present) series is classified as fantasy. Fantasy novels are always set in a fictional universe but are inspired by real-world myth and folklore. These novels may use magic and mythical creatures, such as dragons, as part of their genre.

    Tip: 'Urban fantasy' (set in cities and urban populaces), 'wuxia' (Chinese martial arts fiction with fantasy elements), and 'fables' (stories with non-human characters) are all subgenres of fantasy.

    Audience

    The audience is the anticipated, or target, readership. The author must consider how the text suits the intended audience. In literary works, characters can either stand-in for the audience or directly interact with them. For example:

    • A chorus is a group of people who sing or comment on the dramatic actions or events in a play.
    • Self-conscious narrators may address their audience directly.
    • An 'audience surrogate' is a figure the audience can identify with because they ask questions the audience wants to be answered.

    Foregrounding

    Foregrounding is a literary device which makes an image, symbol, or word a prominent or important feature in the text. It is an attention-seeking device that repeats content or breaks established patterns and calls the reader's attention to the author's language choices.

    There are two foregrounding techniques to highlight at this stage:

    • Parallelism is a technique that repeats content with unexpected regularity. The text is foregrounded by repeated patterns and figures of speech, such as alliteration, enjambment, and anaphora.
    • Deviation happens when an author sets up and breaks deliberately established patterns of language and sound for effect. This is achieved through external or internal deviation.

    Literariness

    Literariness explores the literary value of texts. Literary texts are considered to have aesthetic and moral value, akin to works of art. Such texts are written in such a way as to elevate them from other texts. They might win a literature prize like the 'Man Booker Prize', or feature in A-Level and University syllabuses.

    It is worth making a distinction between Literature and literature (capital 'L' and lowercase 'l'). The literary text is the worthy, beautiful, or important text; the text which has something profound to say in the world of serious books. Literature (capital L) includes books in a canon, or collection, of important texts. Meanwhile, the term literature (lowercase 'l') covers all sorts of writing, from magazines to blogs, from genre fictions (mainstream or pulp literary works) to poems on Instagram, as well as dramas.

    General ideas of literariness can be subjective. What you find meaningful or beautiful may differ from what another person finds meaningful or beautiful. However, literary theorist Roman Jakobson argues that works have a characteristic set of textual properties. Such properties include the use of certain poetic and literary devices, such as figures of speech.

    Mode in the English language

    Mode describes how an author communicates with their audience, and such is important for understanding language analysis. Mode is the medium of communication, the spoken or written way authors communicate ideas and themes. Mode is not the same as genre. Instead, mode is about the literary method, mood, or manner in which speech and narrative are used.

    For example, authors of genre crime fiction may use a satiric or didactic mode of writing to interrogate how society glorifies violence, or purposely ignores crimes against certain races or genders. Other examples of modes include comic and pastoral.

    Narratives

    A narrative is an account of actual or imagined events communicated directly to the reader. Narratives organize events, places, characters, and times into a coherent whole.

    Language Analysis Narrative opening Once upon a time StudySmarter'Once upon a time' is a common opening to a narrative. - pixabay

    Narratives are used in fiction and non-fiction, in poetry and prose. Narratologists study the theory and practice of narratives.

    Narratologists analysis:

    • The types of narrators.
    • The narrative structure, which includes the literary elements which provide narrative order, plot, and setting as it is presented to the reader.
    • Narrative devices/techniques.
    • The analysis of narrative discourse (which focuses on specific language choices and structure).

    Poetic voice vs. grammatical voice

    The poetic voice is the speaking voice or persona that a poet or author has adopted. This voice projects a sense of identity, as well as the values and beliefs connected to that voice. There are four aspects to the poetic voice:

    • Grammar, including syntax.
    • Shape.
    • Literary devices.
    • Subject matter.

    The grammatical voice comprises active and passive sentences. It is the expression of the relationship between:

    • The predicate, the part of a sentence which contains a verb and which states something about the subject, and;
    • Nominal functions, the noun or object of the sentence.

    Narrative perspective/point of view

    Narrative perspective or point of view is the vantage point from which events of a story are filtered and then relayed to the audience. Narrative points of view are crucial for analysing language and texts because they tell the reader who is telling the story, and who sees the events.

    Narrative points of view include first-person, second-person, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient.

    The narrative point of view covers how the story is written and who is telling it. Narrative perspective encompasses the narrator's voice, point of view, ideological worldview, and a focaliser (what the narrative and narrator are focused on).

    To find out more about how the narrative point of view is analysed we must examine other factors that introduce bias, unreliability, or the limitations of a narrator and author's vantage point.

    • A text can be analysed according to its spatio-temporal viewpoint. A spatio-temporal viewpoint adopted by the narrator involves literary devices such as time frames, deixis, and flashbacks or flashforwards.
    • An ideological viewpoint is about the way a narrator sees the world or thinks about events (often in an extreme or polarizing way). Narrators and characters state their beliefs, values, and worldview in the narrative, which often establishes the work's themes, narrative points of view, and world-building.
    • The narrator is the imagined 'voice' assumed to be telling the story. How much the narrator knows of a narrated event, or how much they decide to tell the audience about it, determines the kind of narrator they are. Examples include third-person limited, omniscient, unreliable, or subjective narrators.

    Tip: Consider you can analyse a narrator's language to impart what they see, what they are doing, and where they are in a given situation.

    Literary positioning

    Literary positioning involves how an author establishes a relationship between themselves and the reader by declaring their stance on the subject matter. The strategies for positioning include analysing:

    • Personal pronouns.
    • Layout (which includes framing).
    • Lexical choices, including tone and dialect.
    • Synthetic personalization (the way texts communicate with us in a friendly and intimate manner despite the author having no personal relationship with the reader).

    Literary purpose

    Literary Purpose explains why a text was written, which allows the reader to interpret the author's aims. Texts have multiple and overlapping purposes:

    • To instruct (didacticism).
    • To be a work of art ('art for art's sake', which falls under the literary analysis rather than literature).
    • To entertain.
    • To inform.
    • To rewrite history or 'unfactual' accounts.

    Literary representation

    Literary representation explores the ways meaning is constructed by linguistic techniques and language analysis, which influence the reader's perception of the subject matter of the narrative. It is the relationship between the work and what it (or what the author wants it to) represent. Representation helps readers organise their understanding of the world the text depicts, and how this relates to the real world.

    Do you think novels or other works of Literature can depict real-life accurately? Or should works remain forms of escapism?

    Language analysis example

    We have broken down the example below to show you how to perform language analysis in manageable chunks. Along with the flashcards and revision notes we have provided, you can add your own resources as you follow along with the next part.

    Let's look at Virginia Woolf's The Waves (1931). We have three tasks: to work out the intentions, the tone, and the techniques used.

    'Through the chink in the hedge,' said Susan. 'I saw her kiss him. I raised my head from my flower-pot and looked through a chink in the hedge. I saw her kiss him. I saw them, Jinny and Louis, kissing. Now I will wrap my agony inside my pocket-handkerchief. It shall be screwed tight into a ball. I will go to the beech wood alone, before lessons. I will not sit at the table, doing sums. I will not sit next Jinny and next Louis. I will take my anguish and lay it upon the roots under the beech trees.

    We can extrapolate various aspects of the text based on the language analysed and what we already know about the novel.

    Language analysis termsExplanationWord choices
    Genre and Narrative.The narrative is told in interior monologues, which blur the distinctions between prose and verse, making the text 'experimental'. Multiple narrators and points of view from childhood to adulthood mean the novel is a ' Bildungsroman'. The first person pronoun 'I' and lack of dialogue in the extract is note-worthy. The metaphorical choices ('wrap my agony') imply a poetic sense.
    Literariness and literary purpose.This experimental novel would be considered 'Literary' because of its poetic and prose language experimentation and the six interior monologues. Susan's 'interior monologue' flows like her thoughts and decisions would in reality. The use of the experimental novel implies that the novel's purpose is as a vehicle for Woolf's artistic exploration of consciousness.
    Literary representation and audience.The 'stream of consciousness' device explores the inner thoughts of people as it would in reality.

    The use of 'I will not sit at the table, doing sums' implies Susan making up her mind about avoiding sums. She also appears to address an intended audience (possibly her teacher) about her protest and hurt feelings over the kiss.

    Narrative point of view and literary positioning.The intimacy established by the first-person narrator in the extract only lets us know Susan's point of view. However, the novel has six different narrators, allowing us to see many perspectives and understand the organic way different people see the world. Woolf works to show how the six characters are a reflection of a whole and continuous consciousness.

    The first-person pronouns 'I' and the past tense make the novel a reflection of inner thoughts. Woolf increases the awareness that the characters are children learning how to tell stories. This narration is emphasized by 'lessons', 'sums' and the repetition of 'through the chink in the hedge'. Susan also implies her feelings of isolation from the other characters.

    Foregrounding and fashion. Susan tries to 'put' her feelings into a handkerchief or bury them next to a tree, emphasizing her feelings about the kiss and the decision to isolate herself. This image fits the novel's theme of buried memories and disappearing thoughts. The novel's mode (or approach) is focused on the character's inner thoughts as an authority, which makes it low mimetic.The emotive language choices: such as 'agony' and 'anguish' are foregrounded as objects to be hidden and emphasize Susan's hurt feelings. The novel's exploration of each character's individualism and how they work together in the novel is also stressed.
    Poetic vs grammatical voice. Susan's persona is expressed clearly with her stream of consciousness and use of first-person pronouns. Her choice to metaphorically put her emotions into her handkerchief identifies her as romantic and sensitive.

    The passage is mainly in the active voice - 'I will', 'I saw', which confirms Susan as a witness and a character in charge of herself and her feelings.

    The novel explores how Woolf's characters use language to express their identity and preoccupation with their bodies and feelings. From one extract, we can tell a lot about the character which Woolf has created and understand how a little analysis can influence the reader's perception of the whole text.

    How often do you find yourself watching a film and wondering who the film is for, what genre it is, and what the message of the film is? Can you apply these kinds of language analysis tools to all media?

    Language Analysis - Key takeaways

    • Language Analysis explores how authors/writers convey meaning through specific language techniques, such as figures of speech, word choice, sentence structure, and registers or tone.
    • Literary representation explores the meaning of texts based on the linguistic techniques chosen by the author while analysing the relationship between the fictional world and reality.
    • Genre categorises literary works into recognizable styles, while mode involves the methods or manner in which language is used to communicate certain ideas and themes.
    • The audience is the individual or group for whom the author writes their work of literature. Literariness explores how certain audiences can assign literary value to certain texts - whether they are 'Literature', or literature.
    • The narrative is the account of actual or imagined events in which the narrator communicates information to the audience. This is dependent and influenced by the literary position, literary purpose, or the narrative point of view in the text.
    • Poetic and grammatical voices assess the presentation of the author or narrator in a text, and whether these voices imply a narrative action or the narrator's identity.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Language Analysis

    What is a language analysis?

    Language analysis explores how authors/writers/speakers convey meaning through specific language techniques, such as figures of speech, word choice, sentence structure, and registers or tone.

    How to do language analysis?

    You use the levels of language to determine how words and phrases are used in everyday speech and literature. Then, the language varieties can determine the social and cultural contexts of language used in literature and communities.

    How to analyse an image in language analysis?

    To analyse an image, you should firstly identify the medium the image is in, e.g. is it in a book? A report? A film? You should then consider different aspects such as:


    • Is there any written text on or around the image? If so, how does it relate to the image and what does it imply?
    • The visual aspects - is the image a photo? A drawing? A sign? Take into account visual design such as colour, layout, size, etc.


    Consider both the denotations (literal meaning) and the connotations (cultural/associated meaning) of the image. 

    How to write a conclusion for a language analysis?

    To write a conclusion for a language analysis, you should do the following:


    • Review the main point of your brief - why did you decide to do the analysis?
    • Summarise the main points of your analysis - what were your findings?
    • Offer a final, memorable thought - this could be a recommendation, improvement, or question.

    How to write a language analysis introduction?

    To write a language analysis introduction, you should include the following things:


    • A catchy hook to draw the reader in.
    • Background information for context.
    • Introduction of brief and purpose of analysis - why are you doing the analysis and what do you hope to get out of it?

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is not a type of deviation? 

    Which of the following is a technique of foregrounding?

    Which of the following is a type of deviation? 

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