Please refer to the VCA English Language Exam 2009: Got the message? The passive-aggressive art of ‘talking’
Sample text 1: Crowded House: The Age, Joel Meares
Getting started: practise using linguistic terminology.
Introduction: article and function: expressive function and expression of identity
- An opinion-style blog with a personal and sarcastic tone to inform “housemates” about the problems of communication in a “shared house”
- Inherent to this blog is a comments section. Mr Meares writes his article in such a way as to invite commentary from his readers: “heyhay” and “nixon”.
- Tenantese: the language of missed communication: to encourage people to think about the way they communicate in a shared house; to analyse the problems of communication; to use his identity as a flatmate to show that communication can be problematic.
- Avoidance leads to more not less aggression
Discourse features and situational/social context: a life-style blog article on The Age website;
- Social purpose : to analyse the problematic consequences of “Tenantese” – a lack of communication
- Social purpose: Drawing upon his identity as a tenant living in a shared house with “housemates” , Mr Meares seeks to educate his readers about “tenantese” (9) – a particular type of language that is “native to the share house” (9) and which is characterised by avoidance.
- Discourse features (blog scenario): Meares presents his discussion as a problem-solution style of opinion, whereby he (coherently) foregrounds the problem which results from a communication barrier “doing everything to avoid a proper conversation” (2) and the solution: regular meetings to try to overcome the “passive-aggressive” (14) nature of shared-house communications.
- Meares uses an informal register to entertain (enlighten) tenants who are in a shared-house situation. He uses the personal “I” pronoun (7) relating his personal experience and anecdotes : “most of the share house communiques I’ve seen” (7) and “I just haven’t lived in or visited them” (22)) to connect with his “tenantese” audience.
- To build rapport, and to reinforce his congenial personality, he uses the “you” second person form of address. (“How do you let your housemates know”) (11)
To fulfil his social purpose, Meares coherently focuses on two subject-specific fields: one is on shared house rentals and the other on communication problems.
- Meares uses concrete nouns and terminology to refer to the shared house experience: “fridge”; “slammed doors”; “chores”; “housemates”; (5-6)
- He also uses abstract nouns and adjectives relating to conversations and communication: “grievance”; “displeasure”; “sarcastic note”; “passive-aggressive” and “cunning” (3-6)
- From a stylistic perspective, Meares entertains his audience with numerous colloquial lexemes : “chat” (3); “cask of goon” (25); alliteration and metaphoric references, “a Big Brother style house meeting” (22), to show the antagonism that arises in these shared-house situations;
- 17-19: (Listing devices as well as stylistic features: phonology (rolling Rs” “Austrayan” and reference to morphology, “o”): The author uses an analogy with the Italian and Australian languages to show that “tenantese” also has its own idiosyncratic language style: “if Astrayan (is) known for the added ‘o’, tenantese might be the language of silence” (Lines 18 and 19).
- Noun phrases such as “death stares” and “underlying tensions” (line 18-19) aid cohesion.
From a stylistic perspective, Meares uses a combination of sentence structures and sentence types to focus attention on communication problems and resolution. His underlying social purpose/message is to show that the “language of silence” causes more problems than it solves.
- Meares uses declarative sentences to introduce communication problems that arise in a shared house: “Communication in a share house means doing everything” (2). The author concludes the paragraph with another declarative to sarcastically suggest that by being passive-aggressive, one can better convey a message. “it can lead to some very interesting methods” (Lines 7/8). His point is that such behaviour is self-defeating and ignores rather than deals with the problem; his sarcasm seeks to protect the face needs of those he is criticising.
- Mr Meares includes an interrogative sentence to question whether the tenants have a “grievance” (Line 3: “Got a grievance?”)
- He includes informal syntactical features such as contractions and embedded clauses – “that bizarre form of communication” – (line 9) which help to build social rapport based on relatable and shared experiences born of frustration and simmering anger.
- The author also uses a series of imperative sentences to inform readers, who might be in a similar situation, what a typical response would be. (Lines 3 and 4: “Don’t raise it at dinner”; “let it niggle for a while”; “then wait for the message to sink in”.). The mockery again conceals and exposes the problem.
- (13-15) The author uses antithesis to differentiate between communication in a workplace or a family and communication in a share house. “In a workplace or a family squabbling parties often sit down and chat it out.” (13)
- Using the passive voice and adjectives such as “passive-aggressive” and “cunning” the author contrasts the communication in a shared house which is “delayed” and “denied” – “cunning enough to be completely denied”.
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