Task and Culture

At our college, we have a lot of international students – around half the students are from (East, South-East, Central & South) Asian countries other than Japan – which, of course, creates its own challenges of navigating a multi-cultural classroom. One of the biggest problems has to do with tasks and ‘games’ or speaking activities.

From talking to many students it’s clear that there are a lot of cultural differences that do affect activities in the classroom. The common Pelmanism, or card matching game, for instance. In Japan there is a similar game (called カルタ karuta) which is a traditional game played at New Year. However, students from sub-continent Nepal or Bangladesh have never seen it and consequently, of course, don’t know how to play, the rules or goals. Additionally, many Vietnamese students know of the game but for them games are not played in an educational setting so they do not see the activity as a ‘learning’ one. As such, they do not take the task seriously and often either fail to complete the task or complete it perfunctorily.

I am interested, however, as to how this affects task-based language learning (TBLL) and assessment. One of the key criteria by which TBLL is assessed is by task completion (see Ellis, 2003). Yet, if the very nature of the task itself is culturally-biased then these students are not, in fact, being assessed on their language abilities but on how well they have been acculturated to the demands of that particular task or how well they can perform as if they have been for the assessor. Either way, they would naturally be at a disadvantage compared to a candidate already familiar with the cultural expectations of the task.

 

References:

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press

 

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Textual Theme

Here is a quote from dprview comparing two cameras:

In most circumstances the Z7’s image quality will be remarkably similar to that of the D850. However, it’s not quite fair to say it’s the same.

We can see that it is comprised of two marked clauses, both beginning with the Themes underlined. The first clause is a marked topical Theme with a prepositional phrase, but the Theme of the second clause, ‘however’, serves to link the two clauses together. This is called a textual Theme.

Textual Themes are made up of:

  • Continuatives (e.g., umm, yeah,)
  • Conjunctions, either paratactic (‘linking’ e.g., and, or, but, …) or hypotactic (‘binding’ e.g. when, while, if, because, …)
  • Conjunctive adjuncts, which are adverbial groups or prepositional phrases that link one part of discourse to another (e.g. in other words, actually, as a result, …).

(See SFG Page for more and better info).

Interpersonal Theme

This is an exchange from the TV show ‘Friends’ (Season 1, Episode 4) between the characters Monica and Joey:

Monica: Hey, Joey, what would you do if you were omnipotent?

Joey: Probably kill myself!

Here we can see that certain elements of the conversation have been foregrounded reflecting the personal nature of the conversation. These are called the interpersonal Theme, and include:

  • Vocatives: “Joey”
  • Modal adjuncts: “Probably”
  • Wh- questions: “what”
  • Finite operators, like modals.

 

Topical Theme

Here is a sentence from the Wikipedia page for Japanese writing:

The modern Japanese writing system uses a combination of logographic kanji and syllabic kana

The part highlighted in bold is called the ideational, or topical, theme. These show the main topic, or what the sentence is about. Sometimes, sentences do not begin with the grammatical subject of the sentence. The topical theme can also be a prepositional phrase:

In modern Japanese, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries each contain 46 basic characters;

an adverb of time:

Even today Japanese high schools teach kanbun as part of the curriculum;

or subordinate clause:

when used as a suffix meaning “try out”, the whole verb is typically written in hiragana.

All clauses, however, must have at least one topical theme.

 

Theme & Rheme

The Theme of the clause is:

the element that serves as the point of departure of the message.

It is the Theme that helps us organise the clause as a message. Everything else is the Rheme. In English, the Theme is the first part of the clause, such as this example from H&M (p.90):

The duke

has given my aunt that teapot.

Theme

Rheme

The Theme can be identified as:

the first group or phrase that has some function in the experiential structure of the clause, i.e. that functions as a participant, a circumstance or the process

(H&M,p.90)

These are called topical Themes. Whatever follows the topical Theme is the Rheme.

Where

shall I put the pot?

Put

the pot on the table.

I

put the pot on the table.

On the table

I put the pot.

Did you

put it there?

Let’s

leave the pot there.

Theme

Rheme

More correctly though, the topical Theme marks the end of the Theme. It might also be the case that there are other elements that come before the topical Theme. We might want to foreground our opinions or feelings about the topic, in which case we might use an interpersonal Theme, or we might want to link to some other message, and so use a textual Theme. This cartoon from Footrot Flats is a good example of an extended multiple Theme:

Related image

NO = Textual Theme

REALLY = Interpersonal Theme (modal adjunct)

HORSE = Interpersonal Theme (vocative)

THIS LITTLE GUY = Topical Theme

Now that we can identify a topical Theme, the next element is the Rheme:

IS MY COUSIN MIGUEL FROM CHIHUAHUA = Rheme

In extended longer text, the Theme also enables us to repackage discourse as a message. We can see this in the author bio for Murray Ball, where the preceding passage is repackaged into the following Theme (underlined):

…for a while it seemed that his cartoons would serve only to agitate – All this changed in the mid-1970s

Transitivity

TRANSITIVITY, along with MOOD and THEME, is one of the three “principal systems of the clause” (H&M, p.10) which the the central unit of lexico-grammar. The world around us is constantly changing and in flux. Think about the action in a game:

Image result for viv richards hitting a cricket ball

We can represent this picture is several different ways. The batter is Viv Richards, he is hitting the ball for six, or he is out. The system of TRANSITIVITY allows us to represent the world as this constant flow of experience, who does what to whom under what circumstances, and construe this experience as “a quantum of change in the flow of events as a figure” (H&M, p.213). There are three elements to the system of TRANSITIVITY as a figure:

Transitivity structures express representational meaning: what the
clause is about, which is typically some process, with associated participants
and circumstances (H&M, p.361)

We can thus represent the picture above as being composed of these three elements, centered around the Process:

Transitivity1

For EFL, viewing the clause from the perspective of TRANSITIVITY is particularly useful in highlight the differences between phrases that may appear the same to  a learner. For example, consider the two sentences:

  1. I looked up the building
  2. I looked up the building

While they have the same words, there are fundamental differences between them which can be explained through the transitivity. In sentence 1., the Process ‘looked up’ refers to searching on, for example, Google Maps, while the second refers to physically looking:

1.

I

looked up the building
Participant Process

Participant

2.

I

looked up the building
Participant Process

Circumstance

It can also highlight the differences between Participants and Circumstances, for example:

1.

He

is hitting the ball for six

Participant

Process Participant

Circumstance

2.

He

is hitting the ball for the West Indies
Participant Process Participant

Participant

 

 

Generic Structure Potential (GSP)

When you go to buy something in a convenience store you can be reasonably certain of what’s going to happen in that situation. First, you’ll walk in and you might say ‘hello’. Then you’ll ask for some batteries and then pay. We can guess this sequence due to our previous experience with these kinds of situations and the fact that they are nearly always the same. Some parts may change (you might not say hello) but you always have to pay.

Within certain recurring sets of texts then, coherence of structure is formed through obligatory and optional elements, the totality of which forms the Generic Structure Potential (GSP) (Halliday & Hasan, 1985) for that set. For example, the GSP for ‘service encounters‘, is:

GSP

In other words, there are certain obligatory elements that characterize the genre, in this case the ‘Sale’, ‘Purchase’ and ‘Purchase Closure’, and other optional ones that add elaboration but are not necessary. There is thus a ‘structure’ to social interactions. We can call it ‘Potential’ because it has a predictive quality that allows us to navigate these social situations almost unconsciously.

Cohesion

For SFL, a text can be defined as “a unit of language in use” (Halliday & Hasan, 1976, p. 1) and is distinguished from non-text by the two-fold concept of unity: unity of structure and unity of texture (Halliday & Hasan, 1985). This can also be termed as coherence and cohesion.

Cohesion is concerned with how the text ties together internally and is formed when one element of a text is dependent for its interpretation on another (Halliday & Hasan, 1976). Without it the surface features of a text may not relate to each other and it is thus central to the way in which text is produced and comprehended. According to Halliday & Hasan (1976), cohesion can be divided into grammatical and lexical cohesion.

Grammatical cohesion consists of:

  • cohesion between messages, or the system of CONJUNCTION (e.g. but, so)
  • cohesion in meaning, or REFERENCE (e.g. he, she, this)
  • cohesion in wording, which consists of ELLIPSIS (e.g. Yes, I am [O]) and SUBSTITUTION (e.g. one, some, no)

Lexical cohesion also consists of three parts:

  • elaborating which may also be divided into:
    • identity, which consists of REPETITION (e.g. bear – bear) and SYNONYMY (e.g. sound – noise)
    • attribution, or HYPONOMY (e.g. tree – oak)
  • extending, or MERONYMY (e.g. tree – trunk)
  • enhancing, or COLLOCATION (e.g. smoke – fire)

 

Here are some examples with the cohesion underlined.

Conjunction

John walked to town, because he wanted some fried chicken.

Reference

John lives near the park. He often goes there.

Types of reference

  1. Exophoric – refers to outside the text

John borrowed some money from me.

     2. Endophoric – refers to within the text

           a. Anaphoric – refers back to previous text

I saw John. I asked him for the money.

           b. Cataphoric – refers forward to text

This will surprise you. He paid me back!

Ellipsis

Most of the students had an ice-cream but Eva didn’t have an ice-cream.

Substitution

John loves fried chicken. He has some every day.

Repetition

John ran to the shop and then he ran home.

Synonymy / Hyponomy / Meronymy

      Eva walked to town and strolled around the park.

      She looked up at the autumn trees. The oaks had a beautiful colour.

She climbed up a tree and sat on the branch.

Collocation

It was hot. John was sweating.

 

Here is an example of cohesion in a sports text:

スクリーンショット 2015-03-24 19.17.48

References:

Halliday, M., & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English: Longman.

Halliday, M., & Hasan, R. (1985). Language, context, and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective: Deakin University Press.

Tag Questions

Tag questions are concerned more with establishing interpersonal relations and suggesting whether some kind of response is required (or to close off any response), rather than requesting any specific information.

Andersen (Andersen, Gisle. “Are tag questions questions? Evidence from spoken data.” 19th ICAME Conference. Belfast. 1998.) identified eight main functions of tag question which differ mainly according to the intonation, pitch and stress patterns:

1. Confirming info (=I think so) – High falling tone; response required:

You ordered fish, didn’t you?       

2. Checking info (=Is it so?) – High rising; response required:

You like dogs, don’t you?  

3. Chatting (=Let’s chat) – Mid slight rising; response required:

Nice day, isn’t it?

4. Challenging (=You’re wrong!) – Low falling-rising; response required:

I told you so, didn’t I?   

5. Closing (=I don’t want to talk) – Low rising-falling; no response required:

Well, I forgot, didn’t I

6. Antagonizing (=I don’t like you!) – Low falling; no response required:

I’m not stupid, am I.  

7. Aggravating (=Do it!) – Low rising; no response required:

Just stop it, will you

8. Softening (=Let’s not argue) – Mid slight rising; response required:

Please don’t forget, will you

Personally though, I would also add two more in keeping with the full range of intonation patterns. So as well as 4. and 5. above, a high rising-falling and high falling-rising would also be possible:

10. Questioning (=I’m surprised) – High falling-rising; optional response:

That isn’t a cat, is it?

9. Acknowledging (=I’m grateful) – High rising-falling; optional response:

Oh, that’s wonderful, isn’t it?

The difference in function is also often recognisable through extra-linguistic factors, depending more on tone of voice, body language and the situation or context of the conversation. The same sentence may thus have different interpersonal functions depending on these factors.

If a response is required, there are a number of possible options:

1. Minimal responses: yeah, yes, mm, right etc

A: you have to get back by train won’t you, obviously.

B: yeah

2. Repetition of entire proposition

A: You’re not open on Saturday are you?

B: We’re closed Saturday.

 3. Elliptical repetition of proposition

A: She wouldn’t do that would she?

B: She would.

 4. Repetition of propositional element

A: You’re almost fluent in English aren’t you?

B: Almost.

 5. (Near-) synonymous expression

A: But that’s really quite quite bad, isn’t it?

B: Dreadful, poor parents.

 6. Implicature

A: Her father’s got money hasn’t he?

B: They’ve all got money.

(Implicature: yes, confirmation)

A: Never phone her do you?

B: Can’t be bothered.

(Implicature: no, confirmation)

A: You missed a lot did you?

B: Only the first lesson, which is …

(Implicature: no, rejection)

 7. Responses expressing reduced commitment/uncertainty

A: But you never used to hang around with her though, did you?

B: Well, sort of.

(Adapted from: Andersen, G. 1998. ‘Are tag questions questions? Evidence from spoken data’)

 

It is also possible to replace the question tag with an invariant one such as ‘OK?’, ‘right?’, ‘yeah?’, ‘correct?’, or ‘eh?’ among others. These can be dialectical or regional. There are some differences between them.

  • ‘Right’ often functions to check information and ask ‘Is this correct?’:

AD9 2214 ‘You’re the kid with Leila, right?’

ALJ 555 The compartment under the passenger seat in the front, right?

BN1 2508 So that last option is favourite, right?

G0N 2730 She’s your niece, right?’

G1W 2061 ‘It might just be possible though, right?’

G5E 28 I paid forty pound ninety five, right?

GV6 1922 ‘And they were married in Ireland, at Rathdrum in County Wicklow, right?’

H5K 80 You took it out the other night, right?

  • ‘OK’ often functions to close debate. It is often used with imperatives:

A0F 1101 ‘If this bounces, you’re out on your ear, OK?’

A0F 2901 Listen, you sit down, I’ll get a couple of coffees and we’ll have a chat, OK?’

C8E 3057 We all love you here, OK?’

C8T 346 Look, if I knew who he was I might know where he was, OK?’

CCW 70 Count me out, OK?

F9X 2691 I said I’ll do it, OK?

F9X 4049 ‘Look, I know what I’m doing, OK?’

FP7 342 ‘Let’s go, OK?

  • ‘Yeah?’ functions mainly to facilitate conversation, overtly indicating a response is required:

A0F 1560 ‘You were reckoning on trying your luck abroad, yeah?’

C8E 2182 ‘You liked it, yeah?’

ECT 2319 Maybe I’ll have one more shot at it, yeah?

FM7 728 Well done, that’s a good word, when we use our little circle of words you can use that word, yeah?

FM8 20 He was white slim and quite tall, yeah?

KB7 11755 Alright, yeah?

KBW 9719 You’re gonna have beans instead of tomatoes, yeah?

KCP 6739 Pat’s gone to theatre has she, yeah?

KPW 827 You’ve read this book called Roll Of Thunder, yeah?

(All examples from British National Corpus)