Appraisal (Overview)

Here are two sentences:

Luton Town nearly won.

Luton Town were on the verge of what would’ve been a giant-killing act.

In terms of the meaning, the two seem to be the same. Yet there is some fundamental difference between them. The first sentence is merely describing the action, a factual statement, while the second is adding something of our opinion of the event. The second sentence comes from a Guardian newspaper sports report. The sports “report” is a bit of a misnomer really as we generally already know the result. It actually functions to evaluate various aspects of the the game: Was it exciting? Did the better team win? How were the players? As such, it uses a lot of language to provide the writer’s opinion. According to Martin & White, we can call this the ‘language of evaluation’, or appraisal.

Appraisal can be looked at from three perspectives. The first of these is what is termed ENGAGEMENT. As I said above, we can make a fundamental distinction in language between facts and opinion. We present some piece of information as either an agreed-upon fact of the world, a monogloss, or open to interpretation from different points of view, a heterogloss. Martin & White give the example of the difference between the following:

Francis Bacon was the author of The Tempest. (monogloss)

They say Francis Bacon was the author of The Tempest. (heterogloss)

It is important to remember that a monogloss is not necessarily true but is being presented as such while heterogloss can be used to cast doubts upon something, for example President Trump’s comments on global warming casting doubt on the scientific consensus  (“But I don’t know that it’s man-made”) while presenting an alternate hypothesis as fact (“Something’s changing and it’ll change back again”).

The second perspective is our ATTITUDE towards something, which itself can be expressed in two ways. Firstly, we can give an emotional response to something, in what can be termed AFFECT. This can be done in one of three ways: Mental Processes (e.g. I love Liverpool FC), nouns (e.g. My passion is for Liverpoool FC) or adjectives (e.g. Liverpool FC is great!). Secondly we can make a distinction between human or non-human participants. For human entities, we can pass JUDGEMENT in terms of positive or negative behaviors or attributes, while for non-human entities we can pass APPRECIATION. For example, this headline has an example of both:

  • He is proof god exists (JUDGEMENT)
  • Messi Fans Respond…After Ridiculous Freekick Goal (APPRECIATION)

The third perspective of Appraisal is GRADATION, whereby we can make our opinions toward something stronger or softer through FORCE and sharper or softer through FOCUS. For example, in sports reporting we might want to compare a team that wins 6-0 easily against one that struggles to win 1-0, as in an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper that talks about “thumping wins” (FORCE:raise) and “not so pretty ones” (FORCE:lower). Additionally, we might want to consider something in terms of how it conforms to our notions of class membership, for example the same Guardian opinion piece characterizes Eddie McGuire’s apology as a “qualified apology ” (FOCUS:soft) and the “acute embarrassment” (FOCUS:sharpen) his comments brought to the AFL. 

The system of Appraisal can thus be represented as:

Appraisal Network

This is not to say that it is one or the other, as there is often overlap between them and one item can simultaneously function in different ways. For example the phrase ” a giant-killing act” could be analysed as:

  • ATTITUDE: positive appreciation
  • GRADATION: raised force

As ever, please look here for a clearer explanation!


J. R. Martin and P. R. R. White (2005) The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Palgrave, London.

The Appraisal Website


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.



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:


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:



looked up the building
Participant Process




looked up the building
Participant Process


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



is hitting the ball for six


Process Participant




is hitting the ball for the West Indies
Participant Process Participant




EFL Listening Tasks

I must admit I find most EFL listening tasks a little strange. The usual format in most textbooks I’ve used is to listen to a conversation and then answer set questions about it. It is a conversation as product, with the student relegated to the role of observer of the text, rather than text as process with the student being an active participant in the text as it unfolds. In effect, it is teaching them the skill of eavesdropping…

SMH technology

Here’s a little example from the Sydney Morning Herald of new technology causing language change:

”Why is it that the new compact Herald eschews the words ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ in every article it presents?” asks Rod Blackmore, of Thornleigh. It’s because these days the paper appears in many forms, is read in various time zones and updated electronically throughout the day, that ”yesterday” and ”tomorrow” can cause confusion. Column 8 has fallen into line too, you may have noticed.