Analysing Texts

Detailed and subtle textual analysis required you to link two key things:

  • Knowledge of linguistic terminology, preferably detailed knowledge
  • Understanding of context and meaning

This means labelling features of texts and explaining why they are there. It does not mean feature spotting or ‘translating’ the text for us in a simple way.

For example, look at this extract from an email from a well-known pizza delivery company, sent in January:

“The text uses a semantic field of temperature”. 

“The text tries to sell the offer by contrasting the hot pizza to the cold weather, making it sound more tempting.”

Both these points are correct, and could be credited on the language spec (one for AO1 and one for AO3), but neither goes far enough. Even together, though, they still are only an average point. A higher-band student would tie together more than one linguistic method/framework, and bring context and meaning together more clearly…

“Using adjectives e.g. ‘frosty’, ‘arctic’ and the adjectival phrase ‘piping hot’ from a semantic field of temperature allows the text to trade on the climate, using pragmatics to contrast the weather with the pizza arriving from the company’s trademark quick delivery. This reminds the customer of the freshness as well as the heat of their pizzas when delivered, which the text seals with the non-verbal ‘mmmm’.”

For the AQA exam papers in English Language, the Textual Analysis tasks also require you to talk about representation, which is something many students find difficult and therefore is naturally something which helps us to separate out the higher level candidates. To help that to be you, try to remember to ask yourself:

  • How are people represented in this text? Which people?
  • How is the reader addressed? What is assumed about them?
  • How does each writer/speaker represent themselves?

E.g. above, the company represents itself as quite fun and informal through the lexis. Which words and/or phrases would you analyse to make this point as fully as possible?

Persona and Narrative

This is a productive framework to use in comparative analysis as it can be applied to the range of texts well.  At a basic level, the person of pronouns (i.e. first person, third person etc) can be commented on for this approach.
For literary texts, look at the persona used and/or the character(s) created.  You’ll need to examine the language used in terms of how it contributes to these aspects.  For example, any use of dialect or unusual expression is worth noting and also whether the audience is addressed directly.

When working with a novel or a narrative poem, you need to be aware of the type of narration:

  • An intradiegetic narrator is involved in the story s/he is telling.
  • An extradiegetic narrator is an onlooker, not taking part in the story s/he is relating.
  • Chronological narrative runs in time order: first this happened, then this, then this. This might also be described as linear.
  • Analepsis is the term for flashback – a glimpse of the past
  • Prolepsis is the term for flashforward – a jump to a future time

In poetry, how is the persona created? Is it obviously a fictional creation (e.g. in a dramatic monologue), an exaggerated aspect of the poet themselves or something like an ‘everyman’ representation? How is the reader supposed to relate to the poem’s voice? Are we meant to sympathise, react against them or are we at some point in between? Which features lead us to this?

In transcripts, this framework should prompt you to look at how each person comes across.  Who has the most/least status, or is it a symmetrical (equal) conversation?  Who asks questions, or tells others what to do?  Do speakers have any interesting individual features, e.g. dialect forms, particular fillers they use etc?  What can you tell about the people from the way they interact?

For non-fiction and media texts, the thing to look at is the voice.  By this, we mean how the text puts itself across.  Does it address the audience directly?  Use first person pronouns?  Is it an authoritative voice?  An entertaining one?  What kind of relationship does it create with the audience?


This framework, as a literary concept, is concerned with the shape of a text.  In analysing poems, you would look for patterns in rhyme and rhythm, while in longer literary texts, this might be issues of narrative structure – e.g. is it chronologically presented.

Whenever you’re commenting on form, it’s not going to be enough to say what the form is (just like you shouldn’t content yourself with identifying who the audience is) – the point is the effect that this has on the language. How is the text constructed and how is this related to formal considerations or conventions of the form? Even more interesting, has the writer broken with formal or generic conventions or borrowed some from a different form to make some kind of point?

Of course, one of the key things you need to do in Language or Lang-Lit assessments is compare texts that aren’t alike, and you may find yourself having to apply this framework to a broad range of texts.  Here’s some ideas on what to look for:

In transcripts of spontaneous speech, you should look at topic management and speech structures.  For example: whose topics get talked about (this should give you some idea of where the status in the conversation lies); how are new topics introduced; are all the topics related; are there structures like adjacency pairs/three-part exchanges; is there simultaneous speech and what kind is it.

In media articles, you would mostly be looking at the way the information flows through the text: how does the whole connect together?  Often texts move from narrow (personal experience) to broad (bigger issues) and sometimes back again.  Or, they might start with an argument and then provide several different kinds of evidence for it.

Non-fiction writing is often similar to media article writing in terms of structure.  Again, you need to look at the flow of information and of topics. With transactional texts, you would be concerned with explaining how the text is constructed to make it a diary, letter etc.

In terms of smaller structures, you might also look for rhetorical features like repetition, triadic lists, contrasts and syntactic parallelism under this heading.

Literary form may also describe the type of text and its structure. Poetic form may be related to a specific number and arrangement of lines or even the rhyme scheme, e.g. a sonnet, ballad or lyric.  Novels may be classified using terms such as Bildungsroman or a novel of manners, while descriptors such as comedy, tragedy or history may be applied to dramatic works.

Imagery and Theme


The key thing to remember about imagery is that it is not description.  Imagery is using language figuratively – simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole.  If you need to talk about description more generally, you could perhaps use semantic field as  a concept to make it more technical.  Describing the semantic field of a pattern of imagery is also an effective way to use literary and linguistic methods together in an integrated way, and to discuss a text’s construction more cohesively.

For a Lang-Lit example, in writing about Othello, you might comment on Iago’s use of imagery from a semantic field of pollution and corruption, which he uses to cement the idea that Desdemona has been tainted in Othello’s mind.

To discuss imagery in a Language analysis, it might be relevant to explore the representations created by a pattern of imagery, such as violent, feral connotations offered by animal metaphors in a speech about gangs.


The theme of a text is what it’s ‘about’, but not the plot.  For example, some themes of Othello are jealousy, gender, truth and deception.  Themes tend to be abstract nouns, as they’re often ‘big ideas’.

For both Lang-Lit and Language, you’ll need to apply this idea to texts other than literary texts (as well as literary texts in Lang-Lit of course).  Themes do emerge in conversations, interviews and media and non-fiction texts as well as literature.

Literary Frameworks

This section focuses on the literary frameworks that Lang-Lit students need to refer to, together with the linguistic ones.  Remember that you supposed to show understanding of Language and Literature in an integrated way – it is not healthy to think of half your course as the ‘language bit’ and the other as ‘the literature’.  Sometimes students spend so long learning the linguistic concepts (since they’re less familiar) that they forget what ‘literary frameworks’ are, or what a ‘literary approach’ is.  These pages should help with that.

The frameworks/concepts covered here are:

Language Study:

Note that these frameworks are also relevant to the study of language, and can be used to analyse ‘language’ texts. It is perfectly possible to discuss the voice of an article, and imagery can commonly be found in many texts, from spoken language to advertising. Do not assume if you are studying A Level Language that you have waved metaphor goodbye along with Shakespeare and 19th century literature!

Comparative Analysis note:

In comparing texts analytically, you should select a range of frameworks to help you.  One of the things you need to demonstrate is an understanding that different kinds of texts can/should be approached differently, so don’t feel you need to manufacture the same amount to say about every text for each framework, especially if you’re comparing different modes or analysing literary and non-literary texts together.

Interaction Theories

Accommodation (Howard Giles)

Speakers tend to adapt their language to accommodate for others in a conversation.  Moving closer to the other person is known as convergence while moving further away is known as divergence.  Either of these can be done upwards by making your speech more standard/prestige or downwards by moving further from standard forms.

Face (Erving Goffman)

People always have a face they are projecting in conversation, and generally participants co-operate to maintain each other’s faces – this is what we mean by idioms like ‘saving face’.

Positive and Negative Face (Brown and Levinson)

Our negative face wishes to act independently, to not be imposed on by others.  Our positive face wishes to be liked and to feel a part of things.
In many conversations, we need to ‘threaten’ people’s faces by asking them to do something that imposes on their freedom, or by criticising them.  We tend to seek to lessen these face-threatening acts or FTAs with politeness strategies.
Strategies that appeal to people’s positive face by making them feel liked, accepted, ‘part of the group’, such as informality, shared references, are known as positive politeness strategies.
Those strategies that appease people’s negative face by lessening the imposition or acknowledging it, such as hedging and modal verbs, are known as negative politeness strategies.  Negative politeness is more polite than positive politeness, and is more likely to be used towards people of higher status.  There are also cultural differences – negative strategies are often considered typically ‘British’.
The terminology can be confusing here – just go with it!

Co-operative Principle (Grice)

All participants in conversation are co-operative.  People don’t always make perfect sense, but we are able to infer what they mean because we make an effort to meet them halfway.  Speakers use impicature, they imply.  Hearers use inference, they infer.  Successful conversations follow 4 maxims:

  • Relation: stay on topic, make relevant contributions.
  • Quality: make contributions which are true or for which you have evidence.
  • Quantity: say neither too much nor too little.
  • Manner: make clear contributions which present information in a well-organised way.

(again, be careful with this terminology – we see students getting it wrong far too often…)

Speech Features

Utterance: a segment of speech, or a turn.  We don’t talk about ‘sentences’ in speech, since we often speak in units which are not grammatically sentences.

Pauses & micropauses: pauses are measured in seconds; a micropauses is less than a second.  Be careful about saying these show hesitancy – with no pauses, we’d never understand each other (or breathe!)

Fillers: words used to fill a gap.  Non-verbal fillers or voice-filled pauses are noises (like er) used to fill a gap.  They don’t have semantic meaning, but can sometimes tell us something about the speaker’s attitude or status.

Hedges: words used to soften (or play down) what’s being said (e.g. Kinda)

Discourse markers: words or phrases used to signal a shift in topic (e.g. anyway)

Adjacency pair: a pair of utterances spoken by different people which have a natural relationship (e.g. question/answer, greeting/greeting)

Three-part exchange: a pattern of ABA speech between two people with a natural relationship (e.g. question/answer/feedback)

Interruption: an utterance at the same time as someone else is speaking, with the intention of stealing the turn or changing the topic,  A competitive move

Overlap: an utterance at the same time as someone else is speaking but without breaking their speech (e.g. mistiming the start of a turn or providing support)

Support/backchannel: utterances which encourage the speaker to keep talking by indicating listening or interest (e.g. Really)

Monitoring device: word or phrase used to elicit feedback or to check people are listening (e.g. y’know)

Tag/tail: extra word/phrase at the end of a turn, sometimes repeating information already established (e.g. I really like her, Sophie – where “her” = Sophie)

Tag question: extra question tagged after a declarative statement where the verb is the same or a dummy auxiliary (e.g. He likes that, doesn’t he – note the polarity swaps as well, so a positive statement has a negative tag and vice versa)


Don’t forget to use terms from other frameworks too – grammatical terms will gain you marks in speech analysis as well.

Blended Mode

This is a huge area – it can perhaps even be argued that so very few texts are ‘really’ written or spoken that the majority of texts are blended in some way.  That’s an extreme position, of course, but it does prove that mode is not straightforward and is worthy of discussion beyond just “x is in the written mode while y is in the spoken mode”.

Things to particularly consider about blended texts include:

  • The primary channel of reception and its effect (i.e. is it a visual or aural text)
  • How interactive the text is – is it monologic or dialogic
  • What is the relationship between writer/speaker and audience, and how does this manifest in the text
  • The degree of spontaniety or pre-planning and how that impacts the text
  • In electronic texts, does the lexis show features of ‘txt lang’ e.g. acronymisation etc
  • How formal or otherwise is the text in terms of lexis, syntax and structure?

Spoken Mode

Speech is often stereotyped as colloquial, spontaneous and less important than writing.  Don’t let yourself slip into such oversimplifications!

Make sure you check out the speech page for help with the features of spoken language.

Things to particularly consider about spoken texts include:

  • How participants use phonology for effect
  • How interaction is managed, e.g. through features for monitoring and feedback and through structures like adjacency pairs and three part exchanges
  • How participants co-operate and use facework or accommodation
  • Aspects of planning and preparation, e.g. does anyone use rhetorical devices
  • The shape of the exchange – this may be traced via topic shifts and/or through the balance of power in the conversation

Written Mode

We often think of written mode texts as being formal, largely because they tend to be planned, permanent and non-interactive.  Make sure your analysis is more subtle and specific than this.

Things to particularly consider about written texts include:

  • How graphology is manipulated for effect
  • How the audience is positioned (what assumptions are made about who will read this text)
  • The level of formality and specificity of the lexis
  • What devices the text uses to relate to the reader (e.g. personalisation – synthetic or otherwise – or features more typical of the spoken mode)
  • How structure is used and created in the text – both at the discourse level (the shape of the text as a whole) and at the sentence level (written language can allow more manipulation of syntax)