Critical analysis is crucial to democratic global citizenship. Michael Halliday’s ideational, interpersonal, textual framework enables i. textual analysis, ii. contextual interpretation, and iii. critical evaluation of texts in every ‘language’. Dialectics explores semantic triangles, semiotic trinity, not predictable Author-Reader dialogue, but three-way interaction, interpretation, options, alternatives, conversations which convert consumers into producers.
Systemic Functional Semiotics (C.S.Peirce), the Science of signs, encompasses the multifarious ‘texture’ of all communication, human antics and semantics. SFS is currently being used to analyse multi-modal languages of music, art, advertising, architecture, film, protest march, dance, drama or the performance(s) of daily life, disciplines and discipleship.
Field in which the activity or content belongs: topic choice / drift;
Participants: who or what – specificity or abstraction. Denotation/connotation; objectivation (eg. ‘the prankster’); anonymised; aggregated;
Processes: Transitivity / Intransitivity? Are activities described in material (eg throw), mental (eg believe), verbal (eg protest), or relational (eg be, have) terms?
Circumstantial information provided: time, place, manner, cause, etc;
Lexis or vocabulary, the domains represented, level of technical terminology, idiom, cliché.
Tenor or relationships between speaker or writer and the receiver of the communication or text; reporting verbs reveal attitude; gaze offers or demands information or goods/services.
Mood: does the text use declarative, interrogative or imperative forms? To what purpose?
Modality: degrees of probability (dynamic), obligation (deontic), certainty (epistemic), eg must, should, can, will…; hedging, disclaimers, mitigation;
Polarity: positive or negative ideas? absent or excluded actors/processes; omissions;
Distance: point of view, camera angle, vulnerable or empowered; Turn-taking, -allocation;
Vocation: terms of address, eg student, professionals, readers, Dear Sir, …;
Person: first, second or third person, eg you, we, he, I, our, …; pose/posture/positioning;
Speech function/performance: statements, invitations, warnings, offers, denial, complaint;
Attitude: Intimacy, Intensity, Affect, Stance, eg unfortunately, luckily, + adjectives
Mode and/or medium of communication, synchronic/diachronic coherence, cohesion, codes linking co-text to context; syntagmatic/paradigmatic choices; syntax (sentence structure).Theme / Rheme: structural arrangement, eg known to unknown, presumed/shared knowledge, familiar to new indicates assumptions, desired emphasis;
Salience: foregrounding/focus/prominence: size, font, location/placement; colour saturation/purity/differentiation/hue, tone, brightness, music, sound fx, phonology, rhythm, stress, intonation, volume, exaggeration/hyperbole;
Reference: sources, cultural symbols, linking, deixis, eg specific times, places, people;
Framing: social distance, close/middle/long shot; frontal/oblique/high/low/eye level angle.
Metaphor, metonymy (substitution eg top brass); synechdoche (part/whole); symbolism.
Conjunction: links of causality, time, contrasts, justifications versus factual statements categorically delivered indicate assumptions i.e. epistemic vs deontic or boulomaic modality.
Discourse for Deliberative Democracy: Unlocking Cryptogrammar
Structural vs Discoursal: A discourse approach to Language learning and teaching:
i) respects context, social relations, genre/hybridity, use over usage, agency, life;
ii) acknowledges ‘voice’, intertextuality, values, ethical, moral, social issues beneath dominant routines; distinguishes ‘dead’ texts, structures, mere rhetoric, from re-levant, ‘live’, ‘open’ ‘texts’;
iii) skills communication: macro top-down alongside micro bottom-up;
iv) addresses today’s semiotic glut of multi-media, multi-modal ‘text’ forms;
v) satisfies learner-centred pedagogy, myth, and (w)holistic motivation.
2. Strategies for closer observation, oppositional reading, and dialoguing with text:
i) Volume: proportion of attention, focus, balance; reference (anaphoric importance, cataphoric suspense, exophoric flattering); repetition, hesitation, repair.
ii) Generality or specificity: concrete/ abstract; literal / metaphoric; individual / collective; immediate / mediated; present state, event, action, perception / history and background; permanent/ temporary; short term / long term; local / global; subjective / objective; lay/ technical; synonyms, gradable antonyms, euphemisms?
iii) Prominence: form of argument, logic, strategies, functions, sequencing of propositions eg generalisation, causality, conditionality, contrast, example …;
iv) Relevance / highlight: + – modifiers, adverbials, semantic prosody, discourse engineering. Corpus linguistics for lexical frequency, concordance, collocations.
v) Implicit vs explicit: Assumptions, insinuation, presuppositions; given theme / new rheme; apparent denial, empathy, concession; Modality; Tense;
vi) Inclusion vs exclusion: pronouns may identify collocational ‘enemies’ and ‘friends’; dichotomies; social deixis; intertextual references;
vii) Attribution of agency, responsibility, blame: nominalisation or functional honorific, passives, reifications; politeness and face; Speech Act analysis.
viii) Perspective or point of view: schema, values, thoughts, perceptions, deixis;
ix) Fact ~ opinion: mapping discourse structure; direct / indirect / free speech and thought representation; transitivity analysis; identifying attitude, irony, sarcasm, satire; Grice’s maxims of Quantity, Quality, Relevance, Manner;
x) Stakeholder voices: uni- or vari-directional voicing; silences, gaps, obfuscations, contrived congeniality, pluralist relativism or deliberation; accent, dialect, variety.
Remember: to practise these skills, you will need to provide your students with challenging multi-modal, multi-media, open-ended ‘texts’ for discussion and debate: advertisements, political manifestos, cartoons, conversations, songs, poems, posters, pictures, tweets ….