Activity: tenor, language choice and procedures

Here is an slightly different take on teaching the genre of procedures. The lesson was on giving ‘how-to’ instructions, for example ‘how to buy a ticket at train station’ or ‘how to make cup noodles’. Usually I would just teach the features of this genre, i.e. imperative Mood, temporal conjunctions, but this time, taking a cue from an interesting paper by Kawashima¹ on Japanese and English women’s magazines, we focused instead on tenor relations. Within register, tenor operates along three dimensions: power, contact and affect. We focused mainly on the first of these.

Power refers mainly to ideas of authority, status and expertise. These, however, are also influenced by the culture within which they operate which conditions the settings that are most appropriate for that context. This, in turn, influences the language choices from the lexico-grammar. Kawashima points out that, while women’s magazines in Japan and Australia ostensibly operate under the same genre, the differences in tenor greatly affect the language choices. The language used in Cleo in Australia stems from an tension between expert-novice power relations on the one hand yet close contact and familiarity on the other. Japanese magazines on the other hand stem more from the assumption of ‘distant’ relations situating the reader as outsider.

For the lesson, we took as a text first a very simple recipe for making baked fish. Before we looked at the text, however, we discussed the tenor choices that might be assumed for a ‘recipe’ text and how they might differ between English and Japanese. We then looked at how these are expressed in the lexico-grammatical choices in the text. The difference is quite clear. English uses directly congruent Imperative forms to express the commands (bake) whereas Japanese uses grammatical metaphor to express the commands as Statements (焼くyaku – ‘(you) will bake’). The effect of this is to make the English recipe sound more of a collaborative effort whereas the Japanese recipe implicitly assumes that only the reader will be making the recipe with the writer in the position of outside expert imparting information.

The students found this approach interesting and led to a lot of classroom discussion of other situations where this tenor positioning may affect language choices in other ‘how-to’ situations which was impressive considering it’s an Elementary-level class.

1. Kawashima, K (2005) “Interpersonal Relationships in Japanese and Australian Women’s Magazines: A Case Study”, Proceedings of the 2004 Conference of the Australian Linguistics Society


Mood Adjuncts

Mood Adjuncts are “closely associated with the meanings construed by the mood system: modality and temporality, and also intensity” (H & M, p.126). The neutral position for mood Adjuncts is next to the Finite, although they may also function as Theme (temporality and modality have a strong tendency for this) or as Afterthought:

  1. usually they don’t open before ten (thematic)
  2. they usually don’t open before ten (neutral)
  3. they don’t usually open before ten (neutral)
  4. they don’t open before ten usually (afterthought)

The difference between 2. and 3. is also systematic – try replacing usually with always to see the difference. Adjuncts of modality are closely related to the system of modality construed by the Finite operator. The important difference is, however, that whereas the system of modality through the Finite is subjective, where it is “the speaker’s own judgement on which the validity of the proposition is made to rest” (H & M, p.150), Adjuncts are construed as being objective and “represent different types of assessment of the proposition or proposal” (H & M, p.126). Thus we can compare It must be a pen (implicit-subjective) with It is certainly a pen (implicit-objective).

Adjuncts of temporality “relate either (i) to the time itself, which may be near or remote, past or future, relative to the speaker-now [for example, eventually/soon or once/just]; or (ii) to an expectation, positive or negative, with regard to the time at issue [for example, still/already or no longer/ not yet]” (H & M, p.127-8). In special cases where Adjuncts of modality and temporality are ‘negative’, the order of Subject and Finite is typically (in certain registers) reversed, such as Never before have fans been promised such a feast of speed (H & M, p.127).

Adjuncts of intensity fall into two classes: (i) degree, which may be total (totally, utterly), high (quite, almost) or low (scarcely, hardly) or (ii) counterexpectancy, which may be either exceeding (even, actually) or limiting (just, simply) (H & M, p.127-9). Adjuncts of intensity cannot be thematic.