The framework I have developed (see below) borrows to some degree from Wallace (2003: 39), in the sense that her concern with critical language awareness (CLA) is both with critiquing the logic, arguments, and sentiments expressed in texts, as well as the ideological assumptions underpinning these (ibid: 42). As the basis of my framework I adapted Wallace’s orienting questions which she based on Kress (1989): 1) why has the text been written?; 2) To whom is the text addressed?; 3) What is the topic?; 4) How is the topic being written about?; 5) What other ways of writing about the topic are there? However, I am not following Wallace’s Hallidayan methodology, based on Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics (1994), partly because of its high level of abstraction which would demand much more specialist in-depth analysis and the use of metalanguage. My theoretical concerns are less with in-depth analysis according to clearly delineated linguistic categories. Instead, I saw my framework partly as a tool for looking at texts, at both levels of ‘text as product’, and ‘text as cultuurtekst’, each encompassing a particular perspective on criticality. As I set out before, one of my concerns with reading texts in class is also with the culture. I saw cultuurtekst not only as a tool for analysis but also as a guideline to facilitate the dialogue in class, to provide the ‘fuel’ in the process of collaborating in making sense of the text. Moreover, cultuurtekst also embodies the cultural aspect of language learning, as by looking at discourses in texts, students can access social, historical, and political meanings.
I intended for the discussion around texts to move from a focus on the text at a textual level, to text at a cultuurtekst level, which I saw in relation to respectively the context of the situation and the context of culture. I based the level of context of situation on Hymes’ model of communication, even though strictly speaking this model also encompasses cultural and social contexts as part of some of the speech categories such as norm and genre, but, these, I would say, are distinct from the context of culture, as they do not explicitly consider values embedded in language use. For my framework then I conceptualized the context of the situation in a slightly more ‘pared’ down manner than Hymes’ model, focusing particularly on the where, to whom, when, why, and how. Or as I have phrased it in my framework, the text audience, the text function, the text structure.
English Translation of Framework
Framework for Analysing and Understanding Texts
1 – Content: What (or Who) is the Text about?
- what is the main point?
- maybe also: what are the subsidiary points?
- what is exactly said about those points?
- Relating to your own expectations and knowledge
- to what extent do you recognize the theme of the text?
- in what kind of situations have you come across this before (having read or heard about it?
- and in what way?
2 – Immediate Context:
- what does the text ‘do’? (what does the text want to achieve?) examples of functions are: to inform, to analyse a problem, to suggest a solution for a problem, to amuse, to give an opinion, to convince the reader of a particular argument, to explain something, to try and convince the reader to change his/her behaviour, etc.
- Describe the function in relation to the content of the text. For example: this text provides an overview of the different saving accounts available at this bank. Or: this text tries to convince the readers that the product of this company is the best on the market.
- Which (strategic) means are used to achieve that aim?
For example: Engage the reader by appealing to making the theme recognizable, or engage the reader through grammatical structures, e.g. use of imperfect tense. Or: Convince the reader by referring to sources of authority, or by making comparisons, or by referring to a generally accepted ‘rule’ or convention, etc.
- target audience: who is the text aimed at?
- is the text written for a certain situation or a certain publication?
- and what do you know about that situation?
- if you don’t know that situation or publication, are there clues in the text which could help you to find out what kind of audience the text is aimed at? (for example: is the reader expected to have certain prior knowledge, the way the reader is addressed (or not), the kind of arguments which are used, kind of sources which are used, complexity, liveliness, formality, and use of grammar: use of passives, complex sentence structures, use of verbs, nouns, adjectives etc.)
3 – Genre
- What kind of text is it? (for example: a business letter, a personal letter, an invitation for a party, a news report, an opinion article in a newspaper, an essay, a report, an academic article, a conversation, a joke, an informative article in a women’s glossy, dietary advice etc.)
4 – Text as Text
- How is the text structured?
- What is the effect?
- How are the sentences and sentence parts connected? (for example: formal markers, use of ellipsis, repetitions, through word order, synonyms, bridging sentences which indicate links explicitly etc.)
- What is the effect?
5 – Text as Cultuurtekst
- How does the text talk about the topic and the ‘participants’? Show this by referring to specific words and expressions. (For example: written from perspective of the ‘participants’; distant; critical; ambiguous; knowledgeable; angry; sympathetically; with empathy; with disdain; from a power position; as truth; cautiously etc.)
- How is the reader addressed? (as equal, patronizingly; as a ‘student’, from the assumption reader shares the same ideas and values; with (dis)respect; etc.)
- Which values do you recognize in the text? (for example: feministic; new age; religious; social-democratic; humanistic; conservative; capitalistic; individualistic; collaboratively; environmentally aware; nationalistic; etc.)
- Which different ‘discourses’ and ‘intertexts’ do you recognize in the text? (see above, and discourses reminiscent of law, textbooks, advertising, financial world, etc.)
- Are these values conflicting in any way?
6 – Evaluation
- Why is this text written?
- If you would write it for a different target group what and how would you adapt it?
- What other ways could you write about this topic (think about aim, audience, values, and intertexts?
- Is it an acceptable text if you look at it from a liberal view of text structure (in terms of argument, structure, clarity, and ‘honesty’)?
- How do you yourself respond to the text now? Compare with your own expectations you had written down at point 1.
I introduced this framework at the point of the lessons where we looked at the Men’s Health text. The questions in the framework were not specifically geared to this particular text. So, even though one aspect of the second lesson related to Dutch articulation, the framework itself does not cover this aspect. The notion of Dutch articulation was not a general point to be discussed for each text we read but seemed pertinent to this Men’s Health text. There are six points in the framework, which relate to various stages in the interpretation process, as I had conceptualized this. These stages move gradually from content and description gradually to interpretating and problematizing the text. The earlier points in the framework relate to looking at the text from an ‘outside’ perspective, whereas looking at the complexity of the text as cultuurtekst introduces discursive mapping which involves students looking at texts also from an ‘inside’ perspective.
In designing my framework I did not take account of the framework which O’Regan (2006) designed for his approach which he calls the TACO approach: Text as a Critical Object, as his study was not available then. My framework does indeed differ from O’Regan’s in that his framework is designed to be interpretive, as well as analytical. My approach as I explained before was less explicitly analytical and partly formed the basis for discussion of text and content. Although O’Regan’s TACO approach is more complex and more fully underpinned by philosophical perspectives, there are some similarities with my approach as a staged process of analysis and an aim to engage in ‘discursive mapping’ (Pennycook, 2006), so I will refer to his work in the discussion of my framework below.
The first point in the framework serves to invoke students’ previous experience and expectations of the text in order to make them aware of the possible preconceptions they may have. This is not a pre-reading activity per se, because normally the students would already have read the text as homework in preparation for the class. However, the first reading of the text as homework is primarily meant for students to read at a content level, in order to look up any vocabulary they do not understand. Point 1 in the framework then, is to ensure there were no misunderstandings which arose from unfamiliarity with the vocabulary or with certain (cultural) references to the text. Under the heading of what the text was about, I also included the recognizing of main and subsidiary points in the text. This was because the aim of my lessons was partly to develop cognitive language skills.
The second point was designed to make students think more carefully about the immediate context of the text; the context of the situation. This involved moving from the surface content of the text (which is discussed under point 1) to recognizing what the text ‘does’; what its aim or function is, and the way of bringing that about, such as the use of various argumentation schemas. Another aspect of this part of the framework refers to the target group: who is the text aimed at and how can you tell? Whereas the first point of the framework is intended to be purely at a description level, this second point in the framework moves the attention of learners on to the level of interpretation. This point in the framework constitutes the ‘preferred reading’, which O’Regan (2006: 113) describes as ‘the apparent argument, perspective, or purview of the text as it appears to the reader and is therefore preferred in the sense that the text itself seems to indicate this preference.’
Point 3 of the framework, the notion of genre, bridges the notion of context of the situation, i.e. social setting, and context of culture. I have given this a separate heading as it needs some special consideration, both in terms of reading as well as the writing of the text. In developing writing skills, it is crucial for the students to consider the conventions of certain social contexts (Bakhtin, 1986; Fairclough, 1992). As far as reading a text is concerned, the issue of genre helps students to recognize the conventions associated with specific types of text and to consider why a text may deviate from these conventions and expectations.
The fourth point of this framework, text as text (i.e. text as a product), is designed to alert students to the textual aspect of the text, which I see here as a more traditional, structuralist approach to text in language teaching. In this framework, I am contrasting the notion of text with the notion of cultuurtekst. Under this heading students look at the text in terms of cohesion and argumentation. The rationale for this was not only to develop cognitive language skills but also to guide students towards the interpretation of the text as cultuurtekst. I felt that, together with Point 3 of the genre, looking at the effect of the overall structure and cohesion of a text, would alert the reader to style as social language use, which would pave the way for seeing the text as cultuurtekst. This point in the framework, as well as the previous two points, requires critical work by the students which are on a par with the ‘critical thinking’ level defined by Pennycook (2001) as being an aspect of the liberal humanist paradigm. It is a level of critique which requires students to take up an ‘outside’ position towards the text they are reading.
The most important point for my purposes is point 5, that of cultuurtekst. In this section I want students to look at that aspect of cultuurtekst which recognizes and maps the discourses and the voices in the text, and to see if the discourses are consistent with one another, or conflicting. The conflicting discourses are the most significant ones. For this aspect I borrowed from Wallace’s framework (Wallace, 2003: 39) which focuses on how the topic and participants in the text are represented. I am encouraging students to recognize discourses by engaging their knowledge of previous texts, of intertexts, by asking: where have you come across this kind of ‘talk’ before? This discursive mapping, ‘problematizing practice’ (Pennycook, 2001), applies to all texts, and not just to ones which show clear ideological positions, in terms of power domination. As O’Regan states (2006: 118) ‘all texts are inserted into a matrix of social, political, and economic meaning relations.’
The final point in the framework is an overall ‘evaluation’. I use evaluation here, partly in line with Halliday (cf 1985) in attributing meaning to the text. However, it also has a more pedagogical rationale in the sense that it functions to summarize the points mentioned under 5, cultuurtekst, which can then be compared with the questions and answers which were given in the earlier parts of the framework. I followed Wallace’s aforementioned Hallidayan framework with questions such as ‘Why has this text been written?’ which serves to make students aware that as well as text function, as part of immediate context discussed under point 2, there are ideological underpinnings to a text. Finally, I ask the students to look at the text from the liberal humanist perspective of text: Is it a clear, well-argued piece of text?, before asking them to give their own response to the text. By comparing their answers under point 6 with earlier answers, I hope to alert students to the value or importance of analyzing a text from different perspectives.
Important to mention is that my framework was not purely meant to help students interpret texts, but also intended to function as an ‘awareness raiser’ for students in producing text themselves.