Morphology

A morpheme is the smallest possible unit of grammatical meaning. It is not the same as a syllable. It can be a single letter eg “s” in “boys” (signifies the plural)

Derivational Morphemes:

  • Suffix: end of word; usually changes class
    • tradition + al = traditional (n – adj)
    • fascinate + ing = fascinating (vb – adj)
    • faithful + ly = faithfully (adj – adv)
  • Prefix: beginning of word; does not usually change class
    • un + happy = unhappy (adj – adj)
    • re +write = rewrite (vb – vb)

Inflectional Morphemes:

  • No change in word class  – suffix to show tense, plural etc.
    • animal+s
    • talk+ed
  • Suffixes and prefixes are grouped together as affixes.Morphemes can also be root/stem (the base of the word).  They can also be divided into free and bound morphemes.  A free morpheme can stand alone (eg man, happy, faith), whereas a bound morpheme cannot (eg un, pre, ed, ing).  All affixes are bound morphemes, root morphemes are usually free (but not absolutely always).

Writing about morphology at A Level:

Morphology is of most use in describing non-standard usage.

For example, children often over-use morphemes when they regularise irregular words: mans instead of men or eated instead of ate.  You may want to talk about the order of acquisition of morphemes, as in Brown’s research. Also of use in spoken acquisition is calculating MLU in terms of morphemes rather than words (but do specify this is the system you’re using, and be consistent).

Or in studying language variation, you may want to describe a dialect which uses “I goes” instead of the standard “I go”. In this case, you’d want to talk about the morpheme usually used to indicate third person present tense.

Derivational morphology is also obviously useful in language change, in discussing the construction of some new words. This is most apparent with affixation (e.g. the suffix -gate to designate a scandal), but it may also help to clarify the construction of a blend or a backformation.

Function Words

These are closed class words – we don’t invent new ones. They are grammatical/functional rather than lexical. If they are deleted from a passage, it often still makes sense. They are usually learnt by babies later than lexical words, as their meaning is more abstract.

  • You should be aware that word class for some of these isn’t fixed – the same word can be a preposition, an adverbial or a conjunction under different circumstances. Always consider what the word is doing in the sentence you are examining, e.g.:
  • I haven’t eaten since lunchtime (prep)
  • I ate at lunchtime and haven’t eaten since (adv)
  • I haven’t eaten since Sue arrived (sub conj)
  • Since the cupboard is bare, I haven’t eaten (sub conj) (same function as last sentence, but different meaning)

Determiners

all tend to precede nouns

  • definite article – THE – refers to a specific thing
  • indefinite article – A/AN – refers to one of many things
  • possessive determiner – MY/HIS/THEIR – indicates whose
  • demonstratives – THIS/THAT/THESE/THOSE – defines which
  • quantifiers – may be actual numbers (cardinal or ordinal) – ONE, TWO, THIRD – or indefinite – SEVERAL, MANY

Conjunctions

link grammatical units together

  • co-ordinating conjunctions – AND, OR, BUT – join equally weighted clauses
  • subordinating conjunctions – e.g. BECAUSE, WHEN, UNTIL – join dependent/subordinate clauses to main/independent clauses

Auxiliary Verbs

support the main verb in constructing tense/aspect – if there is more than one verb in a verb phrase, one will be an auxiliary

  • to BE, e.g. I am leaving, it is recognised
  • to HAVE, e.g. she has left, we had eaten
  • to DO, e.g. do you want to go?; I didn’t find it
  • modal auxiliaries: should, shall, would, will, must, may, might, could, can

Prepositions

express a relationship between things; can be a word or a phrase; usually followed by noun or noun phrase

  • of place: UNDER, BEFORE (in a sequence), BETWEEN
  • of time: BEFORE, AFTER, DURING
  • of person or topic: CONCERNING, ABOUT
  • of agent: BY, BY MEANS OF
  • of comparison: LIKE, SIMILAR TO

Adjectives

Adjectives add information to or describe a noun.

  • Comparative forms end in –er or are preceded by “more”.
  • Superlatives end in –est or are preceded by “the most”.

Note: ‘more’ or ‘the most’ are not the comparative/superlative on their own – you have to quote the base adjective too, just like you wouldn’t only quote the ‘er’ or ‘est’ bit of a shorter adjective (i.e. ‘more clever’, ‘better’ or ‘the most awful’, ‘the tallest’ will get you the marks; just ‘more’ or ‘most’ won’t).

  • Compound adjectives are formed by 2 or more adjectives together: bright blue.
  • Other word classes can be used as adjectives, e.g. nouns (boyfriend jeans); perfective verbs (frightened tourists); progressive verbs (infuriating sister).

There are also ways of describing different kinds of adjective semantically, i.e. according to their meaning:

  • Descriptive adjectives simply provide information: the thin boy
  • Evaluative adjectives describe things in a way that also provides a judgement about them (this can be negative or positive): the gangly boy
  • Emotive adjectives are intended to provoke an emotional reaction from the audience: the anorexic-looking boy

Note that it is often possible to describe the same adjective as ‘evaluative’ and ‘emotive’.  That’s the problem with semantic categories – we may all react slightly differently to the same words.  Don’t spend too long wondering whether a word is ‘evaluative’ or ‘emotive’ – just pick one! (and justify it in your analytical comment).

Adverbs

Adverbs add information to verbs, but also to adjectives, another adverb or even a whole sentence.

They often end in –ly.

Adverbials are other words or even phrases acting as adverbs.

Adverb(ial)s of manner tell how something is done: quickly, enthusiastically, “without even looking”.

Adverb(ial)s of place tell where something occurred: here, away, “in the library”.

Adverb(ial)s of time tell when, for how long or how often something occurred: soon, briefly, “a week last Tuesday”.

Adverb(ial)s of degree tell to what degree something is/was: very, hardly, incredibly.

Sentence adverbs qualify the whole sentence rather than just the verb, e.g. “Hopefully, he’ll arrive soon” – this doesn’t mean that he will arrive in a hopeful state, but that the speaker hopes he’ll arrive soon.  Therefore, sentence adverbs are particularly useful when you need to look at writer/audience positioning or attitudes in a text.  If someone starts a sentence with ‘clearly’ or ‘obviously’, for example, they make it very hard for a reader to take a different view.

Using Grammar

It can be difficult to know how to apply grammatical knowledge to text analysis, probably because we’re so used to using some version of “Point Evidence Explain” and that doesn’t really work with grammar: “Dream is an abstract noun because…”  It’s better to work word class knowledge in with everything else: “The abstract noun ‘dream’ is used to convey a strongly positive desire, whilst also carrying connotations of the American Dream.” Because of this, it’s more useful to take a ‘meaning first’ approach to analysis*:

  • first pick out the words and phrases that you feel are worthy of comment.  Then see how precisely you can describe those words/phrases.  
    • Hint: more grammatical detail is always better.  So identifying something as a ‘pronoun’ is good, but ‘first person plural subject pronoun’ is likely to get more marks.  Equally, ‘perfective aspect verbs’ win over ‘verbs’ every time.

*(as opposed to first identifying all the linguistic features that you can and then trying to figure out what they mean)

Grammatical knowledge is also essential for work such as:

  • describing dialect forms – how else can you precisely explain the difference between ‘we was’ and ‘we were’ or define a form like ‘hisself’?
  • explaining children’s uses of language precisely, e.g. non-standard pluralisation (‘mens’, ‘sheeps’) or application of tense to both auxiliary and main verb in a question (did you eated your dinner?)

Grammar

Textual Analysis work always requires you to analyse the effect of grammatical and lexical features of the text. Therefore, grammar is only one aspect, but a solid knowledge of grammar is often a differentiating feature of a very strong candidate.

All Language students should be comfortable with identifying:

  • Nouns: abstract and concrete, proper and common
  • Pronouns: person (1st etc) and number (singular or plural)
  • Adjectives and adverbs
  • Modifiers and intensifiers
  • Verbs including infinitives
  • Grammatical words vs lexical words
  • Simple sentences

Most of you will also understand all or some of the following:

  • Pronoun use and its effects
  • Pre- and post- modification of nouns
  • Comparatives/superlatives of adjectives
  • Types of adverbs (manner/intensity/time/place)
  • Verbs – aspect/tense; main/modal/auxiliary/primary
  • Verb subjects and objects
  • Adverbials
  • Morphology
  • Different uses/functions of same word (eg “teaching” as verb/noun/adjective)
  • Conjunctions – co-ordinating and subordinating
  • Determiners – usage and effects
  • Prepositions/prepositional phrases
  • Sentence types by function (declarative/imperative etc)
  • Compound and complex sentences

A few of you aiming for a top grade will understand:

  • Passive/active voice verbs
  • Finite/non-finite verb forms
  • Relative clauses

Use these grammar pages to help you learn the word classes.
Please note: Lang-Lit students are not usually expected to use the full range of grammatical terms that Language students are.

Linguistic Frameworks

This section focuses on the linguistic frameworks, sometimes called linguistic methods’ or ‘linguistic approaches’ in different specifications/textbooks. They are grouped by framework heading for convenience and it is only necessary for you to remember the different frameworks in order to ensure you include more than just one or two frameworks in your analyses. You are highly unlikely to be tested on which feature belongs in which framework. For each framework, there are likely to be a number of new concepts to learn for A Level Language (or Lang-Lit)

The frameworks/concepts covered here are:

Grammar

This is a formal category of language, concerned with the ways words and phrases work together to create meanings. Many of the posts here about grammar deal with defining different word classes, issues of morphology (e.g. adding verb endings) and also syntax (e.g. sentence construction)

Graphology

This framework is concerned with how things look on a page or screen or wherever the text appears. The name comes from the Greek ‘graph’ = marks and ‘ology’ = study of. It is the kind of paralinguistics (everything apart from the actual words themselves) applied to written/visual text.

Lexis

This is concerned with the words used, so here we are dealing with the types of words in terms of their level of formality, the context they are fit for, their origins etc.

Phonology

Another Greek-origin label, this time associated with sound (phono). Here we are concerned with how sounds are made in the mouth and how sound effects are created through word choice.

Pragmatics

In everyday English, the word ‘pragmatic’ is a synonym for ‘practical’. As a linguistic framework, it is the study of what was intended through the use of language. In order to differentiate it from semantics, we usually avoid talking about ‘meaning’ with pragmatics – some speak of ‘pragmatic force’ or ‘intention’ or simply ‘the pragmatics of the text/sentence/phrase’ etc.

Semantics

The framework concerned with meaning. In analysis, we often combine lexis and semantics, examining how words have been chosen for particular effects and to convey precise meaning.

Learning Terms

Here are a few tricks for learning the key terms, what they mean, and how to find examples of them.

Glossaries

Make your own glossary.  Use an exercise book or folder, with a page per letter and enter the terms.  Make sure you write the definitions in your own words, and add an example for everything that you’ve found or come up with yourself.

Index Cards

Try writing the term on one side and the definition and example on the other.  You can use them to test yourself then, or shuffle them for a ‘can you find’ challenge in a magazine or book.

Mnemonics

Decide what you most need to remember, and make up a mnemonic that will help you.  Either make an acronym like GASP for Genre Audience Subject Purpose or do a sentence like Green Asparagus Seldom Pleases.

Prioritising and Organising

Using a list or a collection of index cards, try sorting terms into categories.  This could be by framework, by the kind of question you need the terms for, or based on how well you know the term (e.g. “Confident” “OK” “Don’t Know”).  You could also organise them by the top 5 features for a range of different text types.

Treasure Hunts

Choose 5 or 10 features – either based on what you most need to learn, or (if you’re brave) randomly from your glossary/shuffled index cards – and see how quickly you can find examples in a magazine/book you have lying around.  This can also be done with speech features in a TV talk show or a radio programme.

Frameworks

These pages act as a ‘hub’, providing information about the frameworks and their associated terms.  As well as frameworks, other key concepts, such as mode and context can be found here.

It is not a good idea to print out all these pages.  However, it would probably be a good idea to make notes from them, or to use them in putting your own glossary and/or revision notes together.  Something organised in a way that makes sense to you is likely to be of the most use to you. If you find these notes helpful, and know you will want to refer to them frequently, they can be downloaded in ebook form for the Kindle (or Kindle app) – see the button below the menu throughout the frameworks section.

You might also find the ‘learning terms’ page helpful for hints on activities that will help you to learn the terminology and be able to apply it more effectively.  Getting the terms learnt may well be the most productive thing you can do to improve your English grade.

This section is accessible from all areas of my site, so don’t be surprised if you find some examples that aren’t actually relevant to you.  I have labelled each example with the spec, level and topic it applies to (e.g. Lang: child language; Lang Lit: poetry), so it should be clear which are ‘yours’.  That said, it wouldn’t hurt you to see how the frameworks are used in other areas, especially if you’re thinking of taking English further (like a degree, say….)

Click the links at the side for each framework,  Some (like lexis) will give you a single page, while others (like maybe grammar) will set you on an exciting and magical journey.

Have fun!  And do let me know what further improvements I could/should make to this area.

Students

 A Level English Language notes covering key concepts, topics, research studies and some exam and NEA advice for the AQA specification.

I assume if you’re here, you’re some kind of an English student. Most of this site is focused on English Language A Level material, but there is also some stuff for Language & Literature students, and there is a fair bit for Creative Writing students too.

You’ll find most material organised by topic/course in the top menu. If you’ve just started Eng Lang and are a bit overwhelmed, you might find the Frameworks stuff most helpful. This is where all the key terminology can be found. I’m in the process of updating that at the moment, to add in a few newly-required bits and pieces for the new specification, but rest assured – everything that is there is fine: nobody’s changed what a noun is!

If you need a break, why not check out my recommendations for a good read to relax with? I review a lot of new releases on my blog as well, mostly for Young Adults, as well as some for children and for adults. Alternatively, visit one of my YA Pinterest boards for more recommendations.