How Language Use Varies

Some Linguistic Tools
Each lexical category (nouns, verbs, adjectives,
adverbs etc.) does not function by itself, but only in
relation to others in a sentence. Therefore it is useful
to look at them in relation to each other in a sentence.
In English, a sentence or a clause may have only two
lexical items – a noun or nominal group and a verb or
verbal group, e.g. “The boy laughed” – or only one
lexical item, a verb or verbal group (in imperative) e.g.
Clauses can be categorized into basic types, e.g.
Clause Type
Declarative (statement)
The workshop begins at 8.30 am.
Interrogative (question)
Are they coming?
Imperative (order)
Bring your own stationery.
Linguistic features are analysed at the sentence level
often to explore:
Interpersonal meaning
Ideational meaning
Textual meaning
Interpersonal meaning
• How language in texts creates particular social relationships
between the writer and reader, and expresses judgments and
attitudes of the writer
Ideational meaning
• How texts construct particular representations of people, events
and ideas
Textual meaning
• How texts are organised (method of development) to carry
different meanings
Construction of social relationships between the writer and reader
Interpersonal relationships between language users
can be analysed along three dimensions:
Power / status
Emotion / affect
Points to Note
Power / status
Ranges from unequal (hierarchical) to equal (peers),
and assigns degrees of deference and
impersonality .
Ranges from frequent and even intimate to
occasional, and refers to the degree of familiarity
and solidarity between interactants.
Refers to the degree and intensity of like or dislike
of interactants for each other and/or what they are
Emotion / affect
talking about, and hence denotes positive or
negative attitudes and judgments.
The following are some of the language features which may be
used in a text for the construction of social relationships
between the writer and reader.
Mood choice (i.e. selection of clause types) can
position the writer / speaker and reader / listener in
different role relations to each other.
Three Types
The writer / speaker as the provider of
The writer / speaker as the requestor of
The writer / speaker as the person
asking the listener / reader to do
The imperative mood may be used to convey a
command. Thus the use of imperatives can indicate
that the writer / speaker is in a position of greater
power than the reader / listener.
The power may be a question of authority, status
(e.g. in texts from a teachers’ handbook – “Check
students’ understanding of topic”) or expertise (e.g. in
texts like manuals – “Insert the batteries”).
The interrogative mood may reflect the right of the
writer to demand information from the reader (i.e.
assuming authority).
On the other hand, questioning may assume that the
reader possess knowledge which the writer does not
have but wishes to have. In this case, the reader is
positioned as something of an expert.
In a written text (where there is no opportunity for the
reader to reply to them), questions can often be used
to keep the channels of communication open. Two
kinds of questions may be used in such texts:
Expository question (a question which the writer goes
on to answer): a way of introducing or stimulating
interest in an issue or discourse topic;
Rhetorical question (a question that does not demand
an answer): the answer is supposed to be common
knowledge, or to make an indirect statement.
The declarative mood may indicate that the author is
claiming higher status or expertise than the reader,
i.e. setting themselves up as an ‘authority’ or ‘expert’.
The authority / status or expertise can be reflected in
the degree of assertiveness which is often indicated by
Modality is the expression of the writer’s attitudes or comments
towards a proposition (e.g. different degrees of possibility,
obligation, frequency etc.) through the use of:
Modal verbs
• For example: may, can, could, will and should
Semi-modal verbs
• For example: have to, be going to, have got to
Other adjectives, adverbs and nouns
• For example: probably, probable, probability
The use of modal constructions can vary the
forcefulness of a demand or the assertiveness of a
statement to different degrees.
Modal Verbs must, ought to,
need, has to, is to
will, would, shall,
may, might, can,
certain, certainly
possible, possibly
a few / no
Universality all
Different degrees of assertiveness suggested by a text
can convey different kinds of interpersonal
relationship between the writer and reader.
For example, the use of expressions related to a high
degree of modality will increase the strength of a
claim, and thus can indicate the higher degree of
authoritativeness or expertise assumed by the writer.
The interpersonal meaning can also be expressed
through the use of pronouns. Choices of pronoun in a
text will affect the degree of ‘distance’ or ‘closeness’
between the writer and reader.
Selection of personal pronouns (e.g. “I”, “we”, “you”)
can project the closeness between the writer and
reader. It may indicate the writer’s attempts to
explicitly engage their readers or to invoke reader
The reduced use of personal pronouns can project the
formality or ‘distance’ between the writer and reader.
It can also be an indication of the writer’s explicit
stance towards the topic.
The use of the pronoun “we” can create a context in
which the writer assumes that her readers agree with
her, or it can indicate the writer’s attempt to include
the reader in the group referred to (inclusive we).
On the other hand “we” can refer to a group to which
the reader does not belong. The exclusive we is
especially common when the writer represents an
institution of which the reader is not a member.
“You” can be used to make a direct address to the
reader, creating a context into which the reader may
enter the position of the ideal reader constructed in
the mind of the writer. The use of “you” to address a
mass audience as though they were individuals is
common in advertising.
Incomplete sentences (minor sentences) may be used
in a written text as a way to imitate spoken language.
when a sentence is incomplete, the reader has to
supply the missing information.
In other words, incomplete sentences assume that
writer and reader share information which does not
need to be explicitly spelled out. This can make a text
appear more personal, and help create closer social
relationships between the writer and reader.
The choice of a particular word among those with the
same conceptual meaning but different emotive
meanings can reflect the different degree of emotion,
i.e. the intensity of like or dislike of what is being
talked about. Hence it can denote the writer’s positive
or negative attitudes and judgements.
For example:
Guerrilla, Terrorist
The writer’s commitment to or view of a proposition
can be conveyed by the choice of the reporting verb.
For example, the use of reporting verbs such as
“shown”, “found”, “obtained”, “revealed” can reflect a
positive attitudes towards findings in a research
Similarly, the journalist’s impression of how words
were said or what value to ascribe to them can be
conveyed through the choice of reporting verb, e.g.
“spat, out”, “demanded” instead of the commonly
used “said”.