E304 B: English Grammar in Context Manar Shalaby

Tenor: Getting interpersonal: the grammar of social roles and relationships
In this unit, the specific topic is the interpersonal function of language; that is, the linguistic means by which speakers and writers:
• form and negotiate relationships
• act out social roles
• represent themselves (for example, as powerful or deferential, assertive or conciliatory, emotionally engaged or uninvolved)
The objective is both to extend your knowledge of how language operates interpersonally and to explore how texts drawn from the same register may differ in interpersonal terms.
A Model for Analyzing Tenor
I. Spoken Interaction:
Analyzing Tenor in spoken interaction requires an examination of the following:

  1. Social Roles and Relative Social Status:
    This concerns the relationship between interlocutors (equality or inequality) which is reflected in the following features:
    a. Speech Acts:
    (the use of statements, questions and commands)
    Speech acts or speech functions mean all utterances that involve a choice with respect to interpersonal positioning- in formulating any utterance; speakers/ writers necessarily position themselves and those they address.
    There are just a few basic possibilities with respect to this positioning, which depend on options concerning (a) who is positioned as the communicative giver and who the communicative receiver, and (b) whether the communicative exchange involves information or some form of action or behavior.
    Every utterance is basically interpersonal in that it necessarily involves a particular relationship being established between speaker/ writer and the addressee.
    b. Topic Choice:
    E304 B: English Grammar in Context
    Manar Shalaby
    Under topic choice/topic selection, we are concerned with who gets to determine the direction of the interaction. Does one interlocutor decide the subject matter or do such decisions seem to be more evenly shared?
    c. Turn management:
    Under turn management, we are concerned with who gets to speak, when and for how long.
    d. Naming/forms of address:
    (exploring the use of titles and first names)
    Disparity/ inequality in the way people are addressed or named is perhaps one of the most salient indicators of the operation of social hierarchies. For example, naming devices such as Sir, Lady, Doctor, Professor, Your Excellency, and Your Honour are very concrete indicators of the addresses person’s elevated status or power.
    e. Evaluation and assessment:
    It is when Speaker 1 offers evaluations and assessments. For example, he/ she classifies the offers of information (statements) of the other speakers as right or wrong or praises them (right, Great answer…etc.).
    f. Deducing social roles and social setting:
    It is to decide on the type of social setting between the interlocutors, e.g. educational setting: teacher-student relation (asymmetry power relation), gender issues, etc. It is rather the particular form that the domination takes: the dominant interlocutor poses a series of questions and determines precisely who gets to answer; the other interlocutors are confined to the most minimal of responses; and the dominant interlocutor conforms and sometimes evaluates these minimal responses.
  2. Social Distance:
    This concerns the degree of connection between speaker and hearer (partners in an exchange); familiar, intimate, friendly, formal, etc.
    For example:
    Use of slang, contracted forms, elliptical forms, colloquial
    (informal language) (e.g. hold on (wait), really, yeah, hey, yep, righto,
    Use of like (that are like going); I reckon, kids, lads, blokes, crap (taboo)
    Use of words that rely on shared knowledge between speaker
    and hearer
    Familiarity and
    contact but not
    Use of special technical words
    Members of the same group or specialization
    E304 B: English Grammar in Context
    Manar Shalaby
    Use of formal words and expressions
    Social distance and lack of contact
    Frequent use of interruptions and overlap
    Relationship between friends;
    close social contact
    II. Written Texts
    Analyzing tenor in non-interactive texts, written monologic texts, requires the examination of the following:
  3. Personalization/Impersonalization
  4. Communicative standing
  5. Stance
  6. Personalization/ impersonalisation:
    This means tracing the author’s subjective presence in a text. To what degree has the subjective presence of the author as the originator of the text been downplayed, obscured or suppressed? This presents the notion of textual subjectivity/objectivity (neutral/ impartial presence [very rare]). There is always subjective presence of author. This requires that we should look at the following:
    What are indicators or evidence of the subjective presence of the author?
    • explicit, direct references to the author.
    • Formulations by which the author can be seen interacting with, or directly addressing the reader in some way.
    • Elements of the text which indicate some relationships between the reader and the writer- for example, that they are on friendly or familiar terms, that they hold similar views, that they disagree, and so on.
    • Formulations by which the writer makes some subjective assessment of, or passes sort of judgement on… etc.
    Some precise indicators of the authors’ subjective presence are the following:
    1- First- person and second-person pronouns: By the use of the first person pronouns (i.e. I, we, me, us, my, our) by which the authors presence is directly acknowledged. The use of second person pronouns (you, your) gives rise to a similar effect, though more indirectly.
    2- Directives: We are concerned with language by which the writer bids control or direct the actions or behaviors of others via the use of commands, use of modals of obligation, and issuing orders or offering advice.
    3- Rhetorical questions and answers: it is a form of pseudo-interactivity. The writer mimics the sort of interactivity which is most typically associated with face-to-face spoken language and hence evokes the personal contact which is part of such spoken exchanges. The authors’ presence comes to the fore when they are active as questioner and answerer.
    E304 B: English Grammar in Context
    Manar Shalaby
    4- Informality and social contact: This is a strategy which is widely used in the mass media, particularly in lifestyle journalism. The writer presents him/ herself as someone who is friendly, easy-going terms with the reader (rather than being a distant expert) and the subject matter as something which can be thought of in everyday terms, as part of the reader’s ordinary, vernacular experience.
    5- Conversationalisation: This particular combination can provide the means for writers to give their texts a speech –like quality, and particularly a conversational or chatty tone. The style has two aspects: Firstly, it involves mimicking the interactivity of multi-party spoken exchanges- pseudo interactivity. Secondly, it involves the informality which is typical of spoken language, that of casual conversation- what we might term pseudo-familiarity.
    6- Assessment and evaluation: All utterances that involve the expression of some form of subjective assessment or evaluation by the author. These assessments are of various types: what the author sees as expected or unexpected, what is seen as positive or negative, some system of measurement, assessments of likelihood or probability, assessments of obligation or requirement.
    For example:
    • What the writer believes as expected (it is expected that, it is predicted that, etc.)
    • What the writer sees as positive or negative (fortunately, sadly, etc.)
    • Some system of measurement (a large number of people like travelling)
    • What the writer sees likely or possible (possibly, it is likely that, etc)
    • What the writer sees as true or false (it is false, this is true, etc)
    • What the writer sees as obligatory or necessary (you really ought to, etc)
    The text is personalized when the author offers assessment and evaluation.
  7. Impersonalizing the personal: The anticipatory ‘it’ formulations can be used to frame (a framing device) an evaluation that is personalized into rendering it a more impersonal stance. Here the writer evaluates and expresses opinion while seemingly remains in the background. Such strategies add to the impression of the presentation of objective, impersonal knowledge.
    For example:
    • It’s necessary that you give up coffee.
    • It’s highly probable that many of you prefer tea to coffee.
    • It’s disappointing that so many coffee drinkers are turning to tea.
  8. Communicative standing:
    This refers to what communicative role is performed by the writer? What types of meanings does the author present him/herself as having the authority or social standing to create?
    It is concerned with the communicative roles performed by the writer and with the type of authority they claim for themselves in adopting these roles. For example, is their role of storytelling, providing or seeking information, advising, commanding, interrogating, debating, passing judgments, warning and so on?
    E304 B: English Grammar in Context
    Manar Shalaby
    The number of features in connection with personalization/ impersonalisation will be relevant here because elements which act to personalize a text will also often relate to the communicative role being performed. For example, this is reflected in the following:
    • Use of directives (commands)
    • Use of evaluative language: is the evaluation positive or negative, explicit or implicit? Does the writer take direct responsibility of what he says? Does he attribute the material directly to himself or to other sources as well?
    See pages 43-45
  9. Stance: (authorial persona)
    The term stance is sometimes used in the linguistics literature in a very general way to refer to all language which has an evaluative function. However, stance here refers more specifically to the way in which writers position themselves with respect to two things: [assertive or dialogic]
    a. the material they are presenting
    b. those who are known to have, or who might possibly have, different views on the subject under consideration.
    What are the types of evaluation?
    The writer allows himself to pass judgments and evaluate performances. These evaluations could be of two types:
  10. Asserted evaluation (dialogic stance)
    An evaluation is presented as being open to discussion or argument. For example:
    Ahmed is tired
    She has had a good education
    The wife is honest
    The judge took a decision to do….
    The government has behaved dishonestly. (No they haven’t)
    Lobour’s foreign policy is a sham. (No it isn’t/ yes it is)
    The police manhandled the protestors. (No, it was reasonably given circumstance)
  11. Assumed evaluation: (assertive stance)
    Evaluation is presented as a universally accepted given, which is therefore not at issue and not up for discussion. The writer presents it as taken for granted, and therefore not up for discussion, e.g. confidence, assertive, forthright, and accusatory stance.
    For example:
    Being tired, Ahmed slept four running hours.
    Having had a good education, she was offered a good job.
    The honesty of the wife ……
    E304 B: English Grammar in Context
    Manar Shalaby
    The judge’s fair decision…..
    In asserting an evaluation, the writer/ speaker adopts the position that the evaluative proposition is at issue, and is up for discussion. In contrast, in assuming an evaluation, he/ she adopts the position that the evaluation is not at issue, and that it is a universally agreed position which can be taken for granted.
    When considering assertions, it is useful to consider categorical (very sure) and non-categorical statements:
    Categorical statements: (Bare assertions)
    For example,
    Computers are useful.
    The Prime Minister visited France.
    Non-categorical statements (dialogic)
    They are assertions which allow for alternative points of view. There are five types of non-categorical assertions:
  12. Assertions that present something possible (computers are possibly useful)
  13. Assertions that present something that happens sometimes (computers are sometimes useful)
  14. Assertions that present something that is deducted from available evidence (the evidence suggests that computers are useful, it seems that….)
  15. Assertions that present something that is attributable to an external force. (Many experts believe that computers are useful)
  16. Assertions that present something that the writer acknowledges to be his own opinion (I think, I am convinced that..)
    Finally, in this unit, we have explored how both interactive and non-interactive texts operate interpersonally. First, we have explored the interpersonal aspects of interactive texts such as conversations, interviews and classrooms exchanges. Secondly, we have explored the interpersonal aspects of non-interactive, mass communicative texts. It has been proposed that key issues for authorial presence are: personalization/ impersonalisation, the author’s communicative standing and stance.