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P is for Politeness

Many teachers who have had the opportunity to read discourse analysis either at University or on a PD course such as the Cambridge DELTA,  express great interest in this way of studying connected text or talk, but just as many find it  hard to incorporate it into their teaching; apart from an occasional lesson focusing on cohesive devices, referents or discourse markers, I must admit I have not seen much by way of other important concepts in discourse, especially related to the study of conversation analysis, an area which should be of intense interest to anyone teaching spoken English. In most needs driven courses nowadays, there will be some components responding to the need of learners to acquire sociolinguistic competence and the wise ESP teacher will have phrases and functional listings, plus activities to get the studetnts to do things with this language – ranking, labelling, matching, analysing, using, etc… But still some learners sound aggresive and abrupt in their interactions, and not only because of the intonation.

Politeness Principles Across Cultures

Being polite may differ from culture to culture – there are linguistic and paralinguistic means of conveying politeness, distance and respect which do not hold true in every language. Take the classic French tu-vous distinction – the same exists in Greek – εσ??-εσε??ς – and using this plural of respect and distance makes politeness easier to spot. For learners coming from such languages, the absence of this in English is rather unsettling and difficult to replace with other linguistic tools Another example is the highly frequent use of please in English and many other languages. In Greek, this is not used very often but informal requests tend to incorporate this ‘please’ function via the use of the noun dminutive -ακι as well as a more pleading and intimate intonation while making, say, a request. A Greek learner translating this into English will generally use the imperative, oblivious to the need to replace his/her own politeness indicators with their English equivalent. No wonder  Japanese businessmen are reported to think that Greek businessmen are very aggressive during business negotiations (Ron White, in a talk he delivered some years ago for TESOL Greece).

Grice’s Principle of Cooperation and its Four Maxims 

In Foreign Language classroom,  teachers tend to correct  mostly for errors of grammar, or inaccuracies in functional exponents. Teachers will also respond to errors of pronunciation of individual words or sound clusters and errors of vocabulary. This is expected and highly useful for the learner. What I do not often see offered as feedback to adult learners in collaborative activities is correction related to whether and to what degree the learners

  • sounded polite
  • took their turn at the right time
  • produced just the right amount of talk, no more, no less, just what was necessary to carry on and promote the discussion/ develop the topic
  • used appropriate intonation
  • stressed the right word in each phrase to convey the central focus of their message – i.e. new information
  • showed appreciation for others’ contributions
  • were respectful of others’ opinions even though they may have differed from their own
  • avoided interrupting others unless absolutely necessary &  then apologised for doing so
  • used language which was of the right tenor for the roles, relationships, relative statuses and genre
  • sounded properly tentative in their pronouncements and not overbearing or opinionated
Much of what is included in this schort checklist is inspired by

Are these rules the same worldwide?

In the boardrooms of the world, different rules will abide and different cultures, microclimates and conventions. How quickly you can reduce distance and converse in a more intimate and familiar way will be very different in a boardroom in the US from, say, a boardroom in an Arab country, or in Japan… There are many who argue that Grice’s Maxim’s and G Leech’s or Brown & Levinson’s or Lakoff’s politeness principles are not universal, and that following them promotes an Anglo-Saxon oriented interaction culture ( I presume this bothers them for reasons of linguistic imperialism, perhaps), and, therefore, feel it is not really necessary to introduce them into a programme.

From http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/f/forced_politeness.asp[/caption]

 

There is, of course,  truth in the non-universality of tones and politeness rules. What sounds polite in English may sound  gruff in some cultures and what sounds polite in another country, may sound cloying, or even ingratiating in English, no question. But in most cases, our adult learners are not aware of these perceptions of them formed by others. They are not aware of the fact that their professional or academic persona which comes across just as it should in their native language, can be distorted beyond recognition in the foreign language projecting an image of themselves which would appall and horrify them, if they knew. Should they not know or should they be left to discover this the hard way?

And should this concern just Business English teachers?

The impressions and judgements  non-teacher native English users form of non-native English users are often formed by  linguistic manner, not by linguistic accuracy. I, for example, get really annoyed when a trainee teacher  says “Where’s my handout? You haven’t given me one!”  when I sometimes inadverently skip one of them in sharing out stuff. I never say anything because it’s not the right time to call them up on their linguistic manners but I do get a message which travels not to my intellect but to my solar plexus or somewhere near there, where I think is the seat of my emotional reactions 🙂 But being a teacher makes me much more tolerant and understanding. I know that if this trainee were to be speaking to me in Greek, s/he would be using the plural of politeness/respect. In English, it sounds too direct and confrontational but  I understand and do not ‘pounce’ on the erring (according to me, always) producer of this particular utterance – I am even more tolerant in the case of foreign language learners at lower levels. Being tolerant, patient and understanding of the lear
ning effort, of  lack of knowledge, is one thing. Leaving your learners in the dark is another.

For me, the non-universality argument is food for the complacent, the “I-can’t-be-bothered” type of teacher. Sometimes, it’s even further reinforced by arguments such as, “It’s not my job to teach them manners. They’re adults, they should know”.

For the Business English student, this is, indeed, important information. Careers can be unmade because of such linguistic faux pax. But it’s not just in business that you need to be aware of politeness rules. I do think it’s our job to let people know what they sound like when interacting in English and what impressions they may create. If the learners decide they do not wish to change, as some do, out of a particular kind of ethnic pride, that is just fine, too. It’s their decision, not ours.  

How can we incorporate this type of work into speaking activities/practice?

Well, I have already mentioned one of the obvious times in a lesson: feedback after speaking activities, for example, by setting up and giving students lists of criteria and getting them to evaluate peers and self as to whether they did well or not in terms of each category. But there should be opportunities for presentation or noticing work, too, by analysing spoken samples, by looking at videos of board meetings, by reading conversational transcripts with a particular focus on aspects of discourse, for example, lexical cohesion in a text, or on knowledge speakers take for granted when they are saying something, etc. And of course, focusing of producing speech, for example, by introducing role activities where some people will be told to be rude and others extremely polite, by cueing the politeness principles in discussions through giving each participant a particular prompt, e.g. “Before your response, summarise the previous speaker’s point and make a flattering comment”, or some such (if this one not to your liking) cues or prompts that regulate the manner and not the content of the discourse.

A story

Some years ago, we were approached by a young executive in a well-known pharmaceutical company who wanted to have one-to-one lessons because he was soon to be transferred to a higher position in a different country and wanted to improve his English as much as he could in the short time available to him before his transfer. Two weeks into his course, his teacher (a young native speaker teacher fresh out of her DELTA course) came to me and announced that she could not stand this student any longer and could I find him a different tutor?  “He’s really very rude!!!” she said. “I cannot deal with him at all!” I told her that I would give him a couple of tutorials to identify the problems and we would then decide how to proceed. The teacher was right. While speaking to me in Greek, the young gentleman was charm personified, but in English, he turned into someone who really got on one’s nerves. In his case, and because I could not take on the 1-2-1 course myself, I decided that we needed to confront the problem head on with some explicit instruction first and some contextualised practice later.

Materials Used

As his issues had to do with intonation, nuclear stress and discourse politeness rules, I only did some work on those areas and to be honest I could not think of any better material than what I was already using for my trainee teachers. The student was intrigued and fascinated by this ‘different’, as he called it, material, but he was highly motivated and keen to improve. In two weeks, the student was fully aware of his main issues – as we also talked about how Greeks tend to express themselves and he did recognise himself in some of my descriptions. His progress was fantastic. Of course, he began by using this knowledge in a deliberate and rehearsed way before each thing he said (in other words, it had not become an automatic decision for him as yet) but I was thrilled when, one day, I heard him say in answer to a point I had just made during a problem solving task/discussion in which I was partnering with him “Your viewpoint is very interesting, Ms Constantinides”, and in an ‘aside’ he added: “I’ve just made you feel good, but now I ‘m going to disagree with you!” 🙂 I returned him to his teacher two weeks later and, apparently all was plain sailing from then on.

Final Comments

Learning about politeness rules in spoken communication, presupposes the use of samples of language which are embedded in a context of use, preferably authentic. This does not necessarily entail long and difficult stretches of language, so the earlier we begin, the better. I used some Wikipedia entries to link to definitions of terms used in this article but there are many very good books on the subject and if you have any further ideas to add, either about how you teach different aspects of discourse, or interesting texts and articles, I would appreciate it if you left a comment.

Some Books on Discourse Analysis

Brown, G., & Yule, G., 1983, Discourse Analysis, Cambridge University Press Johnstone, B., 2003, Discourse Analysis, Blackwell McCarthy, M. 1991, Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press Partridge, B., 2006, Discourse Analysis – an Introduction,  Continuum International Thornbury, S., 2005, Beyond the Sentence, Macmillan Education

 

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R is for Redundancy

__ want ____ ___ figure ___ ___ concept __ redundancy _ reading ____ paragraph ___ deciding __ ___ meaning. 

 ____ ____ understand __? ____ _____ need ____ ____ words ___ ________ ____ understand __?

 

Could you guess the missing words? Most likely you could!  

N is for New information

Definition
 

New information is information that is assumed by the speaker not

 
  • to be known to or assumed by the addressee, or
  • previously established in the discourse.
Discussion
 

New information typically

 
  • is placed late in the sentence, and
  • has a high amount of stress placed on the words representing it.
Examples (English)
 
  • In the following exchange, the stressed words are new information:

  • A: Do you know where my SHOES are?
  • B: I put them in the CLOSET.
  • Source http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsNewInformation…

     

     

    Thinking Task

    Here is the transcript from a clip from the  “Yes, Prime Minister” TV series

    It’s a series of aphorisms, which the PM delivers about British newspapers. Read through them and try to predict which parts of each utterance will be delivered with low stress (given information at that particular stage in the discourse) and which particular words will receive high/tonic/nunclear stress (New Information) 

     

     

    Prime Minister:

    “The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country,

    the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country.

    the Times is read by people who actually do run the country.

    the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.

    The Financial Times is read by people who own the country, 

    the Morning Star is ready by people who think the country ought to be run by another country, 

    and the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

    Second speaker:

    “Well, Prime Minister, and what about the people who read the Sun?”

    Third Speaker:

    “The Sun readers don’t care who runs the country as long as she’s got big t***.”

     

    Now Scroll down please to listen to how these lines were actually delivered – listen from 1:04


     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    G is for Given Information

    Definition
     

    Given information is information that is assumed by the speaker to be known to, assumed by, or inferable by the addressee at the time of the speaker’s utterance, because it is

     
    • common knowledge
    • part of the extralinguistic context, or
    • previously established in the discourse.

    Given information often is  

    • placed early in the sentence and
    • spoken with a low amount of stress

    Source: http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsGivenInformati…

     

    Conversely, new information is spoken with a high amount of stress, called nuclear or tonic stress

     

    Thinking Task

    Here is the transcript from a clip from the   “Yes, Prime Minister”

    It’s a series of aphorisms, which the PM delivers about British newspapers. Read through them and try to predict which parts of each utterance will be delivered with low stress (given information at that particular stage in the discourse) and which particular words will receive high/tonic/nunclear stress (New Information) 

     

     

    Prime Minister:

    “The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country,

    the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country.

    the Times is read by people who actually do run the country.

    the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.

    The Financial Times is read by people who own the country, 

    the Morning Star is ready by people who think the country ought to be run by another country, 

    and the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.”

    Second speaker:

    “Well, Prime Minister, and what about the people who read the Sun?”

    Third Speaker:

    “The Sun readers don’t care who runs the country as long as she’s got big tits..”

     

    Now Scroll down please to listen to how these lines were actually delivered – listen from 1:04


     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I is for Implicature

    JENNY: – Where’s Bill?

    JESSICA: There’s a yellow VW outside Sue’s house.

    So, where is Bill? 

    Jessica does not reply directly (“He’s over at Sue’s house”) but Jenny understands what she means.

    Both Jessica & Jenny know 

    • that Bill drives a yellow VW
    • where Sue’s house is 

    So Jessica’s statement implies that Bill is visiting Sue. 

     

     

     

    G is for Genre

    Here is a great video of Peter Sellers flouting the maxim of manner in the deliberate way that artists do in order to generate thought or to create a comic effect.

     

    Peter Sellers delivers the words of the famous Beatles song “A Hard Day’s Night” in the same manner that a Shakesperean actor – in this case he is dressed and surrounded by the props which we associate with William Shakespeare’s Richard III The effect is hilarious. I am not sure whether Sellers is trying to say something more through this. Is he insinuating that the manner of delivery may sometimes assign some kind of aura to the words that they might otherwise not have? I don’t know. But what he (or his director) has created is a wonderful starter for discussions on the notion of genre. 

     

    Genre (play /????????nr??/ or /??d??????nr??/; from French, genre French pronunciation: [????????], “kind” or “sort”, from Latin: genus (stem gener-), Greek: genos, γ??νος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borr
    owing and recombining these conventions. 

    from Wikipedia; also follow this Wikipedia link for a list of literary genres

     

     

    Imagine if the Beatles set Richard II’s monologue into music similar to a Hard Day’s night. Would we take the words as seriously then, I wonder. 

     

    C is for Coherence

    Is she coherent? 

    Definition: 

    Review the following definitions and choose the best one: 

    A quality of sentences, paragraphs, and essays when all parts are clearly connected. Adjective: coherent.

     

    Coherence (linguistics)

    Coherence in linguistics is what makes a text semantically meaningful.It is especially dealt with in text linguistics. Coherence is achieved through syntactical features such as the use of deicticanaphoricand cataphoric elements or a logical tense structure, as well as presuppositions and implicationsconnected to general world knowledge. The purely linguistic elements that make a text coherent are subsumed under the term cohesion.

    Robert De Beaugrande and Wolfgang U. Dressler define coherence as a “continuity of senses” and “the mutual access and relevance within a configuration of concepts and relations” . Thereby a textual world is created that does not have to comply to the real world. But within this textual world the arguments also have to be connected logically so that the reader/hearer can produce coherence.

    from Wikipedia reproduced here 

    Anglsofrom.com   the order of statements relates one another by sense.

    Cohesion
    (cohere / coherent / coherence)

    Many patterns of words exhibit a quality known as cohesion. This means that they form coherent units. Phrases are an important coherent grammatical unit. Words that cohere are cohesive: they appear to act not as individual words but as a single unit, e.g. ‘inside out’, ‘at three o’clock’, ‘the awful creature’, ‘has been eating’, ‘in a traditional manner’. These examples ofcoherent groups are all phrases, but clausessentences and discourses are also, if they are to be effective in communicating ideas and facts, coherent.

    At the level of discourse, the reader or listener also needs to be able to link the different sentences and paragraphs (or stanzas in a poem, etc) in a logical way. This is achieved by many linguistic means including graphologysemanticspragmatics,narrative structure, tone, lists, pronouns, proper nouns, repetition of either logical or similar ideas, use of synonyms, and so on. The analysis of the cohesive qualities (i.e. the coherence) of a text is the analysis of discourse structure.

       – from the Glossary of Linguistic terms by Steve Campsall

     

     

    Please, read this text and say if it is a coherent text. Try to answer the following questions:

    1. Where was published?
    2. Who authored it?
    3. What was his purpose for writing it?

    These children can be said to have two three or more mother tongues neither language is foreign to that child even if one language is a foreign language for the vast majority of people in the childs birth country. On average in Europe at the start of foreign language teaching learners have lessons for three to four hours a week. The Welsh language is also compulsory up to the age of 16 although a formal qualification is optional..In some countries learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language for example more than half of European countries with a minority regional language community use partial immersion to teach both the minority and the state language..In 1995 the s White Paper on Education and Training emphasized the importance of schoolchildren learning at least two foreign languages before upper secondary education.

     

    Now, scroll down to see the answer. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The text above was taken from a spam message on my blog – in response to a post about large school chains – franchises in Greece and elsewhere. It is not coherent because: 

    1. It is an irrelevant response to the topic of the blog post. Grice’s maxix of Relevance is flouted. 
    2. There is no internal coherence to the paragraph itself although the human mind makes a great effort to identify features of coherence, simply because this text appears in the form of a paragrah. So we try to ascribe some meaning. 
    3. It not cohensive – it looks like a random collection of sentences probably copied from various education sites and blogs that have to do with foreign language teaching – a stray and random collection.