I’ve been doing a lot of activities recently trying to get students thinking about how context affects language choice. Here is one featuring three texts related to travel – two from a tourist booklet and one from the SMH travel section. Here are the texts:
The Upper Mountains continue to be very popular with many visitors to Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
Day trippers come to roam and take in all that is wonderful about our villages. Others come for the challenge of an 8 hour bush walk or rock climbing.
(imag free guide, 2008)
Full range of books for adults and children.
183 THE MALL LEURA.
(Printed in imag)
In the wacky world of gratuities, it’s hard to know how much to give to whom, writes Peter Preston.
If it’s Monday, it must be Belgium; so plan to leave 10 per cent on the brasserie plate. Tomorrow, in France, we’ll do service compris, though a few more euros more may reward an unlikely smile or a spurt of speed. Wednesday? Spain, where those who run restaurants themselves insist that 3 per cent or 4 per cent is quite enough…Welcome to the wonderfully wacky world of tipping.
(Sydney Morning Herald, 2008)
After looking briefly at the three texts, we discuss the field, tenor and mode of each of them. To make it simpler for EFL classes I often refer to it as the ‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ of the text.
FIELD (what): The domain for texts 1 & 3 is ‘travel/tourism’ while text 2 is commercial (although being in a travel magazine and located in a predominantly tourist area it could be said that it also falls within the ‘tourism’ domain). Text 1 is perhaps written by a tourist board for promotional purposes and the goal-orientation could be persuading tourist to visit the region. Text 2 is an advertisement, essentially informing potential customers of its existence. Text 3 is a newspaper travel article, so its purpose is entertaining regular readers.
TENOR (who): The social distance for Text 1 would be medium: it is appealing to people with an interest in travel but also wants its appeal to be broad to encourage new visitors. Text 2 is a vendor-customer relationship but at maximum social distance – it wants as many customers as possible but perhaps would have few repeat customers. Text 3, on the other hand, despite being a newspaper text, might have the closest social distance – it has a known demographic and a regular readership.
MODE (How): All three texts are written and have a similar language role, yet they do differ when it comes to how they are organised.
After looking at the field, tenor and mode, we then go on to discuss how these affect the language choices in the texts. In particular, it’s interesting how these register choices affect the length and complexity of the words and sentences in each text. It is a useful activity because many EFL learners come to class with pre-conceived ideas of language that are often very structural – that language is just a set of structures to be learnt independent of any social context. For the same reason it can also be challenging.