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The subject English has always been wide-ranging, inclusive and eclectic: hardly surprising in that it is based on a vividly elusive entity - a living language. There are both positive and negative aspects to this breadth, in terms of the teaching of English: positive in the infinitely resourceful possibilities of the creative English classroom; perhaps more negative in the uncertainty of what precisely constitutes the subject English - what, in these terms, should actually be taught in its name. The purpose of these pages is to emphasize the positive, whilst acknowledging and, hopefully, clarifying the elusiveness of the subject.
Central here is the sense that the development of effective and imaginative English teaching is not merely a series of skills in transferring the teacher's subject knowledge to pupils. Rather, the best English classrooms are fully interactive places which build on both teachers' and pupils' knowledge, experience and reflections on and through language: a fully educative process, in other words. As for all forms of education, preparation for teaching - and, for that matter, subsequent continuing professional development - depends significantly on being a part of a wider community of teachers and learners. It is, or should be, a fully social process, and the fuller the better. In fact it may be more apt to speak of diverse models of English as a school subject, rather than a discrete and clearly identified entity. The subject is continually re-shaping itself - perhaps more than any other curricular subject - with the consequence that notions of subject knowledge change, sometimes dramatically, with each new wave of entrants into the profession.
But this very diversity can also seem dauntingly confusing, especially given the breadth of degree subjects with which English teachers now enter the profession. At its simplest, those whose degree was primarily literature based may wonder how they are going to meet the requirement to teach grammar (particularly if specific knowledge of language was not part their own English curriculum at school). Conversely, students with a language degree may have concerns about teaching Shakespeare or other aspects of literature. Our starting point therefore must be positive; you need to think first about the strengths in English which you bring to the profession before concentrating on areas for development. (369 words)
The section of academic text presented above was taken from the website for English Subject Centre (www.english.heacademy.ac.uk), which supports teaching English across United Kingdom (UK) Higher Education. The text was written for students considering careers as English teachers as well as for University staff to learn more about English taught in secondary schools. This essay is intended to examine and explain in detail three linguistic features in the written English text which I have identified as firstly, the use of personal pronouns, secondly the use of grammatical forms and thirdly, modifications of nouns and noun-phrases.
The first linguistic feature, which is the use of interpersonal references in personal pronouns such as the first plural 'we/our' or pseudo-dialogue involving the use of 'I/my' and 'you/your', has been a common feature of academic writing and one of the most extensively researched features (Ivanic, 1998; Tang and John, 1999; Hyland, 2001; Thompson, 2001). Interpersonal references is most evident in written texts through the use of personal pronouns and in expressions of emotion, judgement or modality that indicates relative certainty or tentativeness. The language in written texts also indicates a communicative relationship between the writer and the reader. Halliday (1994) termed this particular linguistic function as 'ideational' and 'interpersonal'. Such personal pronouns could be found in the selected text such as 'they' (line 24), 'their' (line 26), 'our' (line 28) and 'you' (line 28, 29).
In line 24 of the text, 'those... may wonder how they are going to meet the requirement to teach grammar', suggests that the writer chose to use the pronoun 'they as an indirect person perspective as well as a mitigating factor to soften what might otherwise be interpreted as directed pressure or challenge on readers who could potentially be serious candidates in teaching careers. The text after all was written to encourage students considering careers in the academic industry. A different personal pronoun 'your' instead would imply directness, diminishing the notion of shared perspective and common purpose between writer and reader. In line 28, 'Our starting point therefore must be positive', the pronoun 'our' in my opinion binds collaborative engagement in the academic community towards a common perspective. 'Our' strongly represents a principal collective mindset which engages readers towards a common aim. In the same line 28, the sentence 'you need to think first about the strengths in English which you bring' suggests, in my opinion, the writer's choice of the personal pronoun 'you' emphasized on the readers' individual competency and logic, one of paramount personal responsibility which would determine an outcome.
The use of personal pronouns such as 'they', 'our' and 'you' in the text is a prominent way of creating an impression of shared perspective or common purpose between reader and writer. The goal of writing is to second-guess the kind of information that readers might want or expect to find at each point in the unfolding text, and proceed by anticipating their questions about or reactions to what is written (Thompson, 2001, p.58). It may be imperative to write English by subtly positioning oneself to the reader in a position of solidarity, equality and hierarchy.
The second linguistic feature to be examined is the use grammatical forms, which have the function of directing the reader to perform an action or see things in a way determined by the writer (Hyland, 2002, pp. 216-7). This persuasive feature can be seen in the text in line 9, 'Central here is the sense that the development', which the main word 'central' expresses the writer's judgement of necessity and importance. In line 28-29, the sentence 'you need to think first about the strength in English which you bring' indicates similar judgement of necessity followed this time by a to-clause.
Another example of grammatical form in line 28, 'Our starting point therefore must be positive', implies modal verbs of strong obligation addressed to the reader, something that the reader must do or follow. Although it may appear obligatory, it may not be the case that an appropriate action should be followed upon. For example, in another sentence 'I must work harder', the idea of obligation is with the person speaking or writing. It is not imposed by participants from the outside, hence it does not make a real obligation. In the sentence in line 28, in my opinion, the word 'must' is used by the writer to express what the writer feels is deeply necessary for the reader to follow in order to achieve a positive outcome.
The third linguistic feature is the modification of nouns and noun-phrases. Academic English is lexically dense and the selected text contained many such noun-phrases, which nouns could be spotted through their endings like 'infinitely resourceful possibilities' in line 4, 'whilst acknowledging and, hopefully, clarifying the elusiveness' in line 7, 'development of effective and imaginative' in line 9, 'a fully educative process' in line 13. The list of nouns can be found further down the lines. A further illustration of lexical density in written academic English compared to non-academic writing or speech is the amount of information that is packed into noun groups, like the sentence in lines 18-21, 'The subject is continually re-shaping itself - perhaps more than any other curricular subject - with the consequence that notions of subject knowledge change, sometimes dramatically, with each new wave of entrants into the profession'.
Linguistic features found in the chosen text such as personal pronouns, grammatical forms and noun-phrases can be commonly found in academic English texts. Informal elements of academic writing style which are sometimes deemed inappropriate by style manuals and writing guidebooks (Yu-Ying Chang and John Swales, 1999) are largely absent in this text. The list of informal features absent in the selected text are; imperatives directed at the reader, the first person pronoun 'I' to refer to the writer, split infinitives like 'to quickly leave' in the stead of the grammatically correct 'to leave quickly', sentences ended with prepositions like 'to', 'by', 'at' and 'under', run-on sentences and expressions such as 'etc', contractions like 'aren't, we're, can't', direct questions and lastly exclamations.
The text also impresses upon the primary purpose of academic writing which is to build on shared assumptions within the disciplinary community in order to convince the reader of the validity of the claims being made by the writer. This philosophy results in the filtering out of personal engagements like imperative forms and first person pronouns which are replaced with subtler adjectives like 'you need to think first about the strengths in English which you bring' (line 28-29), where 'need' implies a directive to the reader and 'strengths in English which you bring' supports the writer's persuasive methods through his confidence on perceived attributes of the reader which the reader may or may not possess.
There are multiple linguistic features typical of academic texts that could be found present in the chosen text and where non-typical grammatical features which are deemed inappropriate left unused, which further supports the variations of academic writing. The text can be characterized as more subjective in its approach to research, encouraging a view of knowledge as a matter of interpretation. In my opinion, the text is of soft-applied discipline and is typical of academic texts in general.
'Central here is the sense that the development of effective and imaginative English teaching is not merely a series of skills in transferring the teacher's subject knowledge to pupils. Rather, the best English classrooms are fully interactive places which build on both teachers' and pupils' knowledge, experience and reflections on and through language: a fully educative process, in other words' (60 words, lines 9-13).
It is important to understand that to develop effective and imaginative methods of teaching English, the teacher's skills alone in conveying his/her knowledge down to the pupils are not enough. A complete educational process is needed to create the best English classrooms where full interaction between teachers and pupils can take place, so that they can reflect and share each other's knowledge and experience on and through the use of the English language.
The section of academic text in section (b) represents the organizational and linguistic superiority which is re-casted for both language and style, so that non-academic readers do not have to struggle to comprehend the material. The translation into non-academic English involves unpacking each of the noun groups into one or more clauses, hence there are now more words and more verb groups overall.
The original academic text contains longer, more complex words and phrases. There are also more nominalisations, noun-based phrases and more lexical variations than grammatical words. A non-academic reader of the English language may still have the background knowledge required for making sense of a written article in some respect. The translation on the original text is meant to allow non-academic readers to be able to draw a better understanding on the meanings of the text and to engage their response of interest as well as to keep them as active participants within the relevant research community.
According to linguist Bhatia (1993), there is a common expectation in academic discourses across the world that writers should make their reasoning explicit in the text, so that other researchers can evaluate that reasoning. In Reading B, Kachru suggests that there is more than one valid, culturally based way of making such reasoning explicit in English. With English growing as the international medium of communication between multicultural setting, non-native English speakers may feel that the most problematic aspects of English for them are the different usages of the present progressive versus simple present and the present perfect versus simple past verb forms (Hall, 1998). The emphasis in current writing instruction to eliminate passive verb forms seems to have little effect on comprehensibility for non-native English speakers. There appears to be doubts on the nature and function of academic varieties of the English language. Yet, how language determines the truth and validity of academic texts remains debatable, when it could be more important to regard the comprehensibility and intended meaning of academic texts over the established styles of English academic writing. Vassileva (2001, p.88) has argued that those writing in a second language may 'try to preserve their cultural identity...irrespective of the language they use' by retaining certain pragmatic features in the discourse. In a way, the academic text in section (b) was re-casted into simplified English in my position as a non-native English speaker, influenced by my own values and beliefs, cultural identity and writing traditions which would allow myself and others alike to negate English texts without much difficulty because of its simplicity and lightly structured choice of grammatical words; as compared to academic texts which would certainly require constant referential aids.
The re-casting of the academic text into a simplified version also had to do with how language is used to relate to geography, social class, ethnicity, gender and age. In this case, the simplified text was tailored to the general non-academic readers of both genders, ethnicity and relevant social classes. If the text was meant for a reader of a higher educational position, the choice of academic text would certainly be chosen over the simplified text. However, in my opinion, the same academic text would not be taken with interest by readers for example, my own colleagues of non-academic professions. The choice of text should also complement the level of English literacy standards of the readers in a targeted discourse community. For a child, the text would have to be simplified to an even greater extent. According to Bartholomae, a United Stated (US) academic, students are not only writing about particular areas of knowledge but also learning to write themselves into existing areas of knowledge. Bartholomae talks of students having to 'invent the university' as they sit down to write like academics even before knowing what is involved: 'The student has to learn to speak our academics; language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding and arguing that define the various discourses of our community' (Bartholomae, 1985, p.134).
English academic texts are always sufficiently clear, concise, focused and stylistically appropriate in order to be accepted as an international publication. However, the combination of the writer's coherence and composition, organizational and linguistic features in academic texts, on the other hand, may make academic texts an inaccessible academic style that has little relationship to everyday intellectual discourse among non-academic English-speaking readers.
(731 words, total 2004 words)