Welcome to All
Course Code: E 300 A
Course Name
English Language and Literacy
Part 1
CHAPTER 1: Three
models of Lang Description
(Pages: 1-17)
 This volume reflects the growing convergence of
linguistics and media studies in their treatment of
the text.
 Analyses of film and TV have drawn on linguistic
theory, particularly the Structuralist model of
language provided by Saussure.
 Recently, linguists focus attention to the kinds of
text which pervade everyday life and generate
more principled accounts of interaction between
words and image, and more generally of the
interplay and tension between verbal and
nonverbal modes of meaning.
 This anthology is concerned with complex ways
in which texts communicate; with how verbal and
visual element of texts can be theorised within a
linguistic framework; and with postmodern
approaches which strive to ‘decentre’ the text
itself and explore historical and social contexts
of its production and consumption.
 In Three Models of Language Description,
Graddol outlines the history of structuralist
approaches to language and describes the roots
of sociolinguistic and postmodern theories.
 The article provides an overview of ideas
about language and how communication
works and sets out a wider intellectual
 ‘Language’ is a complex, multifaceted
phenomenon which constantly evades
satisfactory description and explanation.
 Graddol identifies and sketches out 3
contrasting ways in which scholars attempted
to define language and provide coherent
explanation of how it works.
 These 3 approaches are found in various
disciplines besides linguistics, like literary theory,
media and cultural studies, and anthropology.
 Graddol refer to each approach as a model of
 The first approach focuses on the material
substance of language. Verbal language is
conceived as an autonomous mechanism, which
consist of entities called ‘phonemes’,‘morphemes’,
‘clauses’, ‘sentences’ and so on. By establishing a
concern for material form, the flux of human
experience called ‘communication’ is made more
manageable and concrete, and made amenable
to some kind of methodical analysis.
 Graddol called this structuralist approach
Model 1. It has been the dominant model of
language description in Western thought for
many centuries.
 The second approach is one which arose in
the middle of 20th century, partly as a reaction
to the ‘pure’ linguistic approach. Model 2
approaches do not abandon a broadly
structuralist model of language.
 They put forward the argument that linguistic
structure alone cannot determine meaning; an
account of social context - a social theory – is
also required.
 The social theories which they draw on are
broadly compatible with their linguistic theory:
positivist and structural. In Model 2, Graddol
locate the tradition known as sociolinguistics
and some kinds of ethnography.
 The third model, Model 3, Graddol called
postmodern. It represents an attempt to
understand the fragmentary flux of language;
not by idealising simple underlying mechanisms
but by attempting to tease apart and understand
the nature of the fragmentation. It differs from
Model 2 both in the way it conceptualises
language and also in the ways in which it
conceives of society and individual identity.
 Language is always diverse and unstable in
structure. It is not clear where the boundaries of
language and other forms of human
communication lie.
 Human identity in postmodern theory is also
seen as diverse, inconsistent, and unstable. The
fragmentary nature of linguistic experience both
reflects and is the cause of this fractured
personal identity.
 In the 20th century, 2 scholars have been of preeminent importance in developing modern
linguistic theory.
 The first is the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de
Saussure, whose Course in General Linguistics
was published in 1916.
 The second is the American linguist Noam
Chomsky, whose seminal work Syntactic
Structures was published in 1957.
 Both have contributed to structuralist enterprise:
ie; the attempt to describe, analyse, and explain
the complex form of language in ways which
theorise it as an autonomous mechanism.
Pre-Saussurean Structuralism
 The English philosopher, John Locke, was
interested in how language allowed people to
understand and convey knowledge.
 In his famous Essay Concerning Human
Understanding (1690) he sets out what would
now be called a semiotic theory.
 He conceives of communication in terms of
‘signs’: words are the signs of ideas, and ideas
are the signs of things.
 For Locke, Language is purely a semiotic
device and its signs do not in any way try to
mimic nature.
 During the late 18th and 19th century, many of
the languages were discovered to be closely
 So was born the ‘genetic’ theory of language
classification, which portrayed the languages of the
world as belonging to different ‘language families.’
 By the end of the 19th century, the metaphor of a
language as a natural organism was a dying one.
The mechanism of language change lay with
speakers, and the changing nature of science and
increasing emphasis on technological progress.
Saussure’s contribution to Structuralism
 All his analytical work was in the realm of historical
 But in his general theory, he sharply distinguishes
b/w historic (diachronic) approach to language
study and study of language at a particular point
in time (synchronic approach).
 Saussure regards language as being a system of
elements which conveys meaning through 2 basic
 First, a meaning is arbitrarily assigned to an
element through social convention. There exists a
‘social contract’ b/w speakers within a particular
speech community which specifies these
meanings. Second, the meaning of elements is
modified to an important degree by their
opposition with other elements in the system.
 According to Saussure’s theory, if some elements in
the system are withdrawn, or new elements are
inserted, then the meaning of the original items
must change. Eg: The cat is on the table. Replace
‘cat’ with ‘rat’, ‘bat’, ‘mat’ etc.
 Langue: The conventions, or rules, of language
form a ‘social contract’ b/w speakers. Saussure
called these conventions langue.
 Parole: The actual speech which forms the
transactions b/w individuals on a specific occasion,
Saussure called parole.
Post - Saussurean Structuralism
 The empirical rigour of 19th century European linguistics was
taken to America by Leonard Bloomfield.
 For Bloomfield, meaning was ‘referential.’
According to him, to understand the meaning of an
utterance, one should investigate scientifically the
properties of objects referred.
 Noam Chomsky reacted violently to the abovementioned conception of structuralism without
 For Chomsky, ‘language’ was not empirically
accessible, as it consisted of every possible
sentence which a speaker competent in the
language could utter. He urged the use of intuition
and introspection to make judgements about
grammaticality. He distinguished b/w competence
and performance.
 Competence: the underlying knowledge of
grammar which every speaker possesses.
 Performance: the inconsistent use that speakers
make of this knowledge in the real world.
 Transformational-Generative Grammar (TGG)
which Chomsky invented at the end of 1950s
belongs to the same enterprise as earlier 19th
century approaches to language structure.
 Though theory was more sophisticated, basic frame
of reference had not shifted. Language is still an
autonomous mechanism whose structure can be
described and analysed independently of the social
context of its use.
 The new corpora of English usage collected in
computer databases for commercial and
academic exploitation are vast, around 100 million
 Dictionary making has been revolutionised by this
new empiricism. Some sentence structures found
in real texts are not analysable by grammatical
models. In relation to spoken language, linguists
are often wrong in their intuitions of what can and
can’t be said.
 Semiology: is the science that studies the life of
signs within society. It shows what constitutes
signs and what laws govern them.
Structuralists imagined that under the
messiness of real life experience lies an ideal
form of language.
Such models suggest that social aspects of
language are unimportant for the purposes of
linguistic analysis.
 Hence, by rendering aspects of social
context invisible, linguists analyse linguistic
 Apparent messiness and loose ends in data
can be put down to incidental factors in
social environment.
 Throughout 20th century, there existed
alternative traditions of language study
which reject the idea of an autonomous
language mechanism.
Malinowski argued that to speak,
particularly in a primitive culture is not to
tell, but to do. He became interested in
functions that lang was used for in particular
social contexts. He identified 3 main
functions to describe lang of ‘savages’ :
Realises action
Expresses social and emotive functions
(eg. ‘narratives express togetherness of
 Phatic communion – Malinowski invented this term to
show that even Trobriand islandres’ idle gossip had a
function in creating and maintaining ‘bonds of
 The ethnographer- Dell Hymes- complained that the
kind of division which Chomsky made b/w competence
and performance left out of account the kinds of
cultural knowledge needed by speakers to talk in
socially appropriate ways. This knowledge he termed
communicative competence.
methodology which became dominant in
sociolinguistic studies throughout 1960s and
1970s. He examined relnship b/w lang and
social context by correlating details of
pronunciation with speaker identity and formality
of situation.
Michael Halliday, recognises importance of
both Firth and Malinowski in his own writing.
 Halliday showed how language and context
were interlinked in the production of meaning.
For him, the context of situation can be
described in terms of 3 parameters:
 Field: The ongoing activity and particular
purpose lang is serving within that activity.
 Tenor: Describes the role and status relnships
b/w participants. Tenor also includes other
aspects of interpersonal relation, like social
function of an utterance: for eg; is a speaker
trying to persuade or warn someone.
 Mode: Includes the channel, like speech or
writing, telephone or face to face, but also the
rhetorical mode conventionally associated with
particular channels. Hence, ‘writing’ and
‘speech’ routinely use diff kinds of grammatical
structure, and diff ways of organising information
and so on.
 Another imp feature of Hallidayan model of lang
is the notion of linguistic repertoire:
 The social functions of lang clearly determine the pattern
of lang varieties, in the sense of what have been called
‘diatypic’ varieties, or ‘registers’; the register range, or
linguistic repertoire, of a community or of an individual is
derived from the range of uses that lang is put to in that
particular culture or sub-culture.
Postmodern model of lang has much in
common with poststructuralism. Postmodern
approaches to lang reflect wider trends in
our understanding of universe and natural
and social world.
 Postmodern theories are concerned preeminently with texts; how texts are produced,
used and situated within other cultural practices.
 Texts are historicised within Model 3 ie; they are
produced by processes in which relations of
power and social role apply, and in which a
division of labour occurs. Eg: multiple
authorship. Within postmodern theory it is
impossible for a single text to speak with one
voice: apart from many people involved in its
production, such a text relies on reader’s
experience of other texts and cannot be
interpreted in isolation.
The history of linguistic ideas
 A highly schematic overview of approaches to
lang study can’t be read as a simple historical
progression. Ideas often run throughout history
in tension and opposition to each other- though
from time to time one seems to surface as the
dominant one.
 The 3 models described are not strictly a
historical development. Rather than being
regarded as stages in history, the models are
best thought of as ‘discourses’ about lang: diff
ways of talking and thinking about lang and how
it works.
 Model 2 can be seen as a compromise b/w
Structuralism and Postmodernism. It is an
uneasy compromise, as it deals with idea that
lang exists as an autonomous object, divorced
from contexts of use.
 Postmodern theory is a fragmentary one which
does not add up to a coherent whole. There are
internal contradictions and points of theoretical
inexplicitness and difficulty.
Dr. Veena Vijaya
E-mail: [email protected]
Thank You

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