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How to approach text analysis in the “Oposiciones a Profesores de inglés”

In the Competitive exam or Oposición, you often need to identify genre, register, audience, purpose, context, text type and some other language-related issues concerning text analysis.

When approaching text analysis, we can do so from 3 wide angles: Genre, Register & Language.

GENRE is concerned with the social function of the text and its context. It also takes into account the structure of the text.

REGISTER is associated with a specific situation and is characterised by three components: field, mode and tenor.

LANGUAGE refers to the realisation of Genre and Register through language forms, meaning and functions.

Since analyses of language regarding form, meaning, discourse and functions have been thoroughly covered in the published books and Poppies’ materialslinguistic-competence-in-english,  I am going to focus on Genre and Register here.

Genre

Traditionally, the term “genre” has been used to classify literary works, typically according to:

  • Form or structure of the text.
  • Technique(s) or distinctive language used.
  • Content or subject matter.

Thus, the first broad division concerning genre is between fiction and non-fiction.

Fiction

Literature is the realm of fiction, and we have traditionally distinguished between prose, poetry and drama. 

Within prose we would have a variety of sub-genres like:

  • Novels (realism, gothic, mistery, etc.)
    • Thrillers
    • detective stories
    • Spy stories
    • Science-fiction
    • Realism
    • Etc.
  • Short stories
  • Novellas
  • Historical fiction
  • Children’s literature
  • Humour
  • Satire

Likewise, drama would typically involve comedy, tragedy or comic-tragedy while poetry might be subdivided into elegies, odes, sonnets, etc.

Non-Fiction

Genre is described as those linguistic and rhetorical actions which involve using language to communicate something to someone (audience) at some time in some context and for some purpose

More recent studies in text and discourse analysis, describe “Genre” as linguistic and rhetorical actions, which involve using language to communicate something to someone at some time in some context and for some purpose. Thus, genre would be closely linked to the communicative purpose the text intends to fulfil and to its structure. In this regard, when we are dealing with a non-fiction text, we can distinguish:

  • Reports
    • General
    • Scientific
    • Business
    • Legal
    • Police
    • Journalistic
    • etc.
  • Biographies/autobiographies/memoirs
  • History
  • Essays
    • Student
    • General
    • Academic
    • Literary
    • etc.
  • Newspaper /magazine articles, and more specifically
    • Scientific
    • Business
    • Legal
    • Opinion
    • etc.
  • Speeches/ Llectures
  • Textbooks
  • Websites
  • Recipes
  • Brochures
  • Reviews
    • Film
    • Book
    • Games
    • Etc.
  • Letters/E-mails
    • Personal
    • Business
    • Formal
    • Social
    • Etc.

Needless to say, the above is not an exhaustive list. Indeed, you will find that different and further classifications are possible.

Register

When we analyse a text from a functional perspective in terms of Register, we consider three elements for the context of situation: the field, the mode and the tenor and how they realise and are realised through language.

The field

The field in a context of situation is connected to Halliday’s ideational meta-function of language 

Field is what the text is about, the domain of experience which, following the CEFR, can be broadly classified into:

  1. Public (connected to social interaction, further subdivided into: business, administration, leisure activities, etc.)
  2. Personal (family relations and individual social practices)
  3. Educational (learning/training context)
  4. Occupational (the individual’s activities when performing their occupation or job)

To analyse the field of a text, we need to consider the lexical items and where the focus is in the text

Lexical items

  • Semantic fields, which may include a variety of sub-fields, sometimes overlapping, sometimes interconnected, sometimes including several fields.
  • Specialisation level: highly specialised (use of jargon or “specialist, technical” words), for a general audience, etc.

The focus

  • If it is on the participants, there tends to be a lot of nouns and adjectives.
  • When it is on the processes or practices, then there is a prominence of verbs.
  • Or it may be on the circumstances, in which case we find a profusion of adverbials.
  • It may also be a combination of two or the three of them.

The mode

The second element for the context of the situation, when analysing a text in terms of register, is the mode.

While the field is connected to the ideational meta-function, the mode is related to the textual meta-function.

Mode refers to the way in which the text is organised and the channel used:

  1. Spoken/ Written  
  2. Spontaneous/Prepared 
  3. Interactive/ Monologuic 
  4. Synchronous/ Non-Synchronous

Spoken texts

Spoken texts tend to be spontaneous, synchronous and interactive; with interruptions, overlaps, use of words to attract attention, questions and answers, terms of address, deictic elements, discourse markers, pauses and hesitations, etc.

Not all oral texts are synchronous: most TV and radio programmes —unless they are live— are non-synchronous

Written texts

Written texts, on the other hand, tend to be prepared, non-synchronous and monologuic. If there are questions, they tend to be rhetorical; the sentences are more complex and longer than in spoken texts and the text is more structured.

Shared features

  • Another aspect to consider is whether the text is intended to be read aloud, in which case it will display some of the characteristics of spoken texts as well. This often occurs with speeches or lectures.
  • Modern technologies have contributed to written texts such as e-mails or Skype-type conversations sharing some of the characteristics of spoken texts, namely, spontaneity, synchrony and interactivity.

The tenor

The tenor is related to the addresser —the speaker/writer, and the addressee —the audience or reader,  in terms of language, social features and the relationship between them. It is connected to the interpersonal meta-function.

Interactive texts

Interactive texts are mainly spoken: face-to-face or telephone conversations and video-conferencing, and to a lesser extent written: letters, chats or e-mails.

The tenor is analysed for:

  • Relative status of the participants
    • Equal position: use of similar forms of address: first names or titles, etc.
    • One is above the other, in terms of:
      • different forms of address: first name/title.
      • knowledge:  mainly statements (knowledge) or questions (lack of knowledge  about the topic)
      • ability to control behaviour: orders (controlling behaviour) or offers (not controlling behaviour) etc.
  • The relative status is usually determined by context, but it may also be deliberately chosen so as not to play the “socially-expected” role.
  • The social distance:
    1. Familiarity (use colloquial language, dialect, slang, contractions, ellipsis, etc.)
    2. Distance (use more formal, neutral language).

As with status, social distance may be deliberately chosen to show familiarity or to mark distance.

Non-interactive texts

Non-interactive texts are usually written or spoken in the form of lectures, speeches, etc.

When analysing register in terms of tenor, we take into account:

Personalisation/ impersonalisation
  • Personalisation will contain personal pronouns, directives, rhetorical questions, etc. aiming at creating rapport, solidarity, interactivity, etc.
  • On the contrary, to achieve impersonalisation, the addresser will make use of passive constructions, anticipatory “it”, etc. with the aim of giving an impression of objectivity and distance.
Standing
  • If the addresser refers to external sources, shows expertise, criticises, praises, etc.
Stance

The addresser shows:

  • Positive/Negative/neutral attitude: this is shown in the lexical choices, evaluative expressions, adjectives, etc.
  • Agency/experiencing: use of active sentences and passives with an agent for agency; or agentless passives, nominalisations (the second decade saw a dramatic increase of the so-called social media) and ergatives (factories closed down)
Modality

This is shown by the use of:

  • Modals
  • Semi-modals
  • Other words or expressions showing modality

If you take all the above elements into account and are also able to analyse the text in terms of lexis, grammar, syntax, semantics, phonetics and discourse, as you may have seen in our materials and courses, you stand a good chance of getting a high mark in the language part of the Competitive exam.

To write this post and other aspects covered in the books we have published and the topics covered in the Foundation Course, we have consulted, among other sources, D. Banks: Systemic Functional Linguistics.

Apasionada de la lengua inglesa y sus múltiples matices, mi objetivo es ayudarte en la preparación de la oposición a profesores de inglés y contribuir a que la escuela pública ofrezca la enseñanza de calidad –de y en lengua inglesa– que nuestros alumnos necesitan en el s. XXI

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Comments (4)

  1. Helena
    Jan 16, 2020

    Estimada Paloma, muchas gracias por compartir una información tan práctica y bien explicada.

    • Jan 17, 2020

      Thanks to you for reading me, Helena. It’s a pleasure to contribute. Where are you doing the exam? If it’s not in Madrid, I’d love to hear your impressions and report on the exam. It helps me a lot to get the information straight from the candidates.

  2. Carla
    Mar 16, 2020

    Hello,
    Would this be useful fot the “Oposiciones” for “Escuela Oficial de Idiomas”? Thank you for posting this information, it’s nice to see that there’s people out there sharing their knowledge and experience to help others.

    • Mar 16, 2020

      Hi Carla, yes, it is useful for most Escuela Oficial de Idiomas exam. Certainly for Madrid and for Galicia. I need to examine in detail the questions asked in Canarias in the previous call. Take into account that questions may vary, depending on the Autonomous Region. Yet the issues covered in this post -also on the others on how to write essays, etc. should be of help.

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