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


Clause vs Sentence

The difference between a clause and a sentence can be difficult, but important. A clause basically must have a Finite whereas a sentence is just an orthographic convention beginning with a capital and ending with a full stop. Here is a text from SMH that illustrates this difference nicely:

When designing their own home, architects Sacha Zehnder and Jaya Param of Walk North Architects were reminded regularly they’d chosen ”the most difficult block” in the area.
Steep, tree-covered, 50 metres above sea level, with no road access; and, on idyllic but somewhat logistically challenging Scotland Island, in the middle of Pittwater and accessible only by boat.

Here the first part actually contains three clauses in one sentence: a mental Process (‘were reminded’) and a projected clause (‘had chosen’) plus a hypotactic ‘when’ clause. The second part, on the other hand, is a ‘sentence’, in that it begins with a capital and ends with a full stop, but is not a clause as there is no Finite element. I think the second sentence is, in fact, a kind of logico-semantic relation of enhancement giving reasons why the area is ‘difficult’ (although I guess you could also it’s elaboration – exemplifying the ‘area’).

I think a lot of EFL students might miss the logico-semantic link between the two parts if they are not familiar with the difference between ‘sentence’ and ‘clause’.

Discourse function of “How are you?”

A bit further to my post on the XKCD comic, I’ve been spending time recently in class on the discourse function of “How are you?”. While it may seem like a small and basic point I think it actually gets to the heart of what an SFL approach to teaching can bring to the classroom. Because very few students can answer the question appropriately. The most common responses I get are: “I’m tired/sleepy”, “I’m happy/hungry” (from kids), “Today is busy”, “Not good” (with no explanation) through to the always charming “I have diarrhea”. What’s going on here?

I think part of the problem is the result of a traditional approach to teaching that emphasises grammatical forms over everything else. The responses above are grammatically correct and, as one student told me, that’s what they were taught in their very first English lesson in Junior High School – focus on the verb ‘to be’. This, however, entirely misses the point of the question “How are you?”.

The question is not concerned with the Ideational content of its lexico-grammar – I’m not really concerned with the current state of your physical condition – but in fact operates at the strata above. At the context level it serves to both establish and reinforce interpersonal relationships and power structures in an indirect way. Slight variations in turn-taking, lexical, phonological selections are used for “constructing and signalling degrees of solidarity and intimacy in relationships” (Eggins & Slade, 1997:117). If we compare, for example, “Good morning. Now young lady, how are
you today?” spoken by a doctor in a consultation with “Hallo Stewie, how are you mate!” in casual conversation (both examples from BNC) we can see these differences quite clearly.

Also on a generic level the question plays an important role. Here, it functions as an opening, or way in, to the conversation. Even in a medical examination, where we might expect a focus on Ideational content, it in fact functions as an Opening stage before the Examination stage. Here is an extended conversation from the BNC:

(Doctor) Good morning, good morning.
(patient) Good morrow.
(Doctor) How are you today?
(Patient) I’m fine. How are you?
(Doctor) I’m alive. Causing trouble.
(Patient) (laugh) I suppose you’re ahead of the game if you’re alive.
(Doctor) Yes. That’s it. Now then young man, what can we do for you today?

Note here that it is the Doctor who opens the conversation and also the Doctor who makes a little joke, both of which establish the Doctor as the participant with higher power and authority yet also reinforce the (possibly) on-going nature of the Doctor-Patient relationship.

In a slightly different form, “How are you?” is also an important generic component of letters, as this example from the BNC shows:

Dear Laura, I hope you are well, we’re
all fine. Are you enjoying school?

There is a cultural difference to this. Japanese correspondence, even highly formal, will insert a digression on the weather that serves a similar opening function.