Transitivity and Transformation: Characterisation in The Double Hook (research digest)


Reading time: 7 minutes

The Double Hook (1959) is a novel by the Canadian writer Sheila Watson that centres on the lives of a group of characters in a small community in British Columbia. One of the characters, James leaves the town after killing his mother and becomes an isolated, peripheral figure. He later begins a journey home that ends in his reintegration back into the town. Literary critics generally view this return as a kind of personal redemption and as a celebration of the spiritual rebirth of both James and his community.

Yinglin Ji and Dan Shen analyse the shifting characterisation of James throughout the novel by drawing on Michael Halliday’s system of transitivity. Halliday’s model (from his systemic functional grammar) accounts for how different processes (verbs), participants in those processes (usually nouns) and circumstances of those processes (usually adverbs or prepositional phrases) are used by writers and speakers to represent their version of the world. The model is fairly complex and only a quick sketch is provided below.

Process types

Material = doing, happening

eg He kicked the ball

Behavioural = physiological or psychological behaviour

eg He breathes; she smiles

Relational = having or being

eg John has a piano; The car is red

Existential = existing

eg There is a dog

Mental = sensing, feeling and thinking

eg I saw the car; I like football; I believe in ghosts

Verbal = saying, telling

eg I shouted; I told her a story

Within a clause, participants may be attached to material processes either as agents (doing things to other participants), or as goals (having things done to them), and to other processes as entities in the various acts, states and events that the verbs depict. Circumstances function to give more information about a process, such as its manner, location and reason. So a description of a whole clause would be as follows:

The police                        caught                 the suspects             last week

participant (agent), material process, participant (goal), circumstance

Transitivity in literature is often explored in terms of patterns. Ji and Shen use this model to map out how Watson presents James’s character across the novel. They begin by summarising existing literary criticism that suggests that James’s return to his community symbolises rebirth and regeneration, and then argue that this can be shown by looking at the changes in transitivity patterns across various points in the novel. They emphasise that their analysis isn’t just about presenting the mind style of a character (see our previous digest on deixis for examples of this) but rather shows how psychological changes are foregrounded. They argue that these changes are important in our overall understanding of the novel.

To do this, Ji and Shen look at the representation of James and his actions in three chapters that show stages of his journey back to his community. They start by focusing on Chapter 8. In this chapter, they show that James is largely represented as passive with very few material processes used in which he is the agent. Indeed, Ji and Shen show that, unusually, James’s horse is given the agent’s role in many of the clauses. In contrast, James is represented through mental processes, which highlight his internal rather than his external behaviours. Interestingly, Ji and Shen also point out that, at this stage in the novel, even the mental processes tend to be ones related to perceptions and feelings (such as hearing and feeling) rather than those which are more active (such as states of knowing and believing). They argue that much of James’s psychological activity is focused on simply responding to his immediate environment, which demonstrates his inability to transcend his physical situation.

This pattern changes in Chapter 13 where James is now shown to be able to think beyond his immediate environment and engage in self-reflection. Here, Ji and Shen demonstrate that James now acts as an agentive participant at the head of material processes much more frequently. This highlights his ability to exert a physical influence over other entities in the fictional world. Furthermore, there is a pattern of more active mental processes, with James now represented as a thinker rather than a merely a feeler of sensations. Ji and Shen argue that the pattern of processes in this chapter demonstrates the mental transformation that James has undergone at this point in the novel; he is now self-reflective and self-conscious. To this end, James emerges as physically and mentally ready to return to his community.

Finally, Ji and Shen focus on Chapter 18, where James returns to his community, begins to rebuild his past and reclaims his position as an integral member of the town. In this chapter, James is now almost exclusively represented by Watson through the use of material processes that show strong action and volition. The range of process types also increases with Watson representing James and his state of being through existential processes which highlight his re-established position in the community, and through verbal processes which convey his authority and ability to express his point of view to others. Furthermore, Ji and Shen show how the representation of James and his horse in the clauses in this chapter highlight James’s transformation from a passive to an active character. In this chapter, his horse is now usually the goal in a material process, with James restored to the agent in the clauses.

Overall then, Ji and Shen seek to show that a transitivity analysis can account for Watson’s characterisation in transforming James from passivity and isolation to activity and integration back into the community. The authors argue that such an analysis can show the ‘geography of James’s mind’ and help both to support existing literary-critical responses to the novel and to provide some fresh analytical insights.

This is a digest of the following article: Ji, Yinglin and Shen, D. (2004) ‘Transitivity and mental transformation: Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook’, Language and Literature 3(4), 335-348.

Using this in teaching and learning

 You can use this research digest to support your teaching of AQA’s AS and A-level English Language and Literature specifications in the following ways.

1.Analysing characterisation in terms of transitivity patterns would be a good way of exploring individual characters in prose fiction (Imagined worlds, A level; Views and voices, AS level). Students could look at selected extracts focusing on key characters in their set novel and highlight the main processes that are used to represent them.

  • To what extent do these patterns map onto ways in which the characters generally function in the novel and the ways in which they are viewed by others?
  • Students could also follow Ji and Shen in tracing an individual character across various points in the novel. Are there different representations during key scenes? Can the mental or physical transformation of a character be explained using a similar approach to Ji and Shen?

These kinds of exercises could also be undertaken with texts being studied for the NEA (Making Connections, A level) and could inform an interesting investigation on characterisation either as a concept or as part of a wider thematic study.

2.Looking at transitivity patterns could also support a more extensive study of characterisation in students’ chosen set texts. For example, students could explore how representation at the level of the clause combines with other ways of presenting characters (speech and thought, physical description, body language and so on). They could think about how characters are developed in the novel and in the poems they are studying (Poetic voices, A level; Views and voices, AS level; Imagined worlds, A level), and find and comment on the connections between transitivity patterns and other ways that writers presents fictional entities.

3.The distribution of material processes (actions) and relational/existential processes (states of being/description) can also be explored through the lens of genre. When working with material for their NEA (Making Connections, A level), students could think about how certain texts (or parts of them) focus on providing either actions or description and how they might account for these by relating these to generic conventions. For example, how are events in crime thrillers told? Is there an equal distribution of processes at key moments (eg murders, discovery of bodies)? Do different writers have a noticeable style in terms of how they typically choose to present such events?

4.Equally, students could explore transitivity patterns in non-literary material/genres, drawing on the Paris Anthology (Imagined worlds, A level; People and places, AS level) and more widely, again to support their selection and analysis of non-literary material for NEA (Making Connections, A level). Some genres (eg. recipes) might typically make use of one kind of process more often than another but can students find more complex examples? And, do other factors such as audience, purpose and mode influence the ways in which writers and speakers might want to represent actions, people, states and events? This provides a useful way into exploring the concept of representation more broadly and will support students across the entire specification.

Politeness and impoliteness (reading suggestions)


Reading time: 3 minutes

This reading list is designed to guide teachers towards further reading related to the digest on Jonathan Culpeper’s article ‘Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show The Weakest Link.

There has been a large amount of work on politeness and impoliteness since Brown and Levinson’s influential work which made use of Erving Goffman’s ideas about ‘face’. As indicated in the digest article posted here previously, more recent work has included new ideas about the nature of face, about the pervasiveness of ‘facework’ (seeing questions about face as relevant to all interaction rather than only in certain utterances or behaviours) and in considering impoliteness as well as politeness. This last development has led to the use of the term ‘im/politeness’ by many researchers.

There is a considerable literature on politeness and impoliteness, added to regularly by publications in journals such as the Journal of Pragmatics, Language and Literature, Pragmatics, Pragmatics and Society, and the specialised Journal of Politeness Research. This vast literature can look daunting. Here are some suggestions for places where you can begin to find out more about recent developments.

  1. Impoliteness: Using and understanding the language of offence

An accessible website on impoliteness, made possible by an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) fellowship. It contains helpful definitions and a large bibliography.

  1. Politeness by Richard J. Watts

Richard J. Watts. 2003. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A useful discussion of work which developed in the years following Brown and Levinson’s important work in this area. An engaging survey of a range of ideas about politeness and impoliteness as realised in social interaction.

  1. Gender and Politeness by Sara Mills

Sara Mills. 2003. Gender and Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

An accessible discussion of how ideas about politeness interact with gender in language and communication. The discussion also makes use of the notion of ‘community of practice’, originating in the work of the cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in 1991, which focuses on how people work together around particular tasks and how working together contributes to the construction of identities and understanding of ourselves and others.

  1. Power and Politeness in the Workplace by Janet Holmes and Maria Stubbe

Janet Holmes and Maria Stubbe. 2015. Power and Politeness in the Workplace, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

This book considers how behaviour and interaction construct power and politeness in work environments, exploring a number of strategies we use to do this. The book suggests a number of ways of exploring this, some of them lending themselves to interesting classroom activities. Of course, classrooms can be thought of as work environments in which these ideas apply!

  1. Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offence by Jonathan Culpeper

Jonathan Culpeper. 2011. Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

An easy-to-read overview of work on impoliteness, covering a wide range of contexts and behaviours, based on naturally occurring examples.

  1. Impoliteness in Interaction by Derek Bousfield

Derek Bousfield. 2008. Impoliteness in Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

This is an important publication in the development of work on impoliteness. It develops some key ideas in extending ideas about politeness to consider impoliteness as well. It is written in a lively and accessible style.

Impoliteness and Entertainment (research digest)


Reading time: 8 minutes

Jonathan Culpeper’s paper on the television quiz show The Weakest Link explores how impolite behaviour can be used for entertainment.

The Weakest Link ran in the UK from 2000 to 2012. Culpeper describes it as an ‘exploitative’ show ‘designed to humiliate contestants, not to support or celebrate them as is often the case in standard shows’. The show is designed to maximise the potential for impoliteness (unlike ‘standard’ quiz shows such as University Challenge and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? where hosts are supportive to contestants).

One of the most culturally salient features of the show was the extremely impolite persona of the presenter Anne Robinson. Culpeper points out a number of ways in which this persona (distinguishing it from the ‘real’ Anne Robinson) is impolite to contestants. The focus of the show is on identifying ‘weak links’, ie contestants who are performing poorly. Between rounds of questions, each contestant identifies one other who they think has been performing poorly and the contestant with the most nominations has to leave. Robinson discusses nominations with some of the contestants and is impolite to them while doing so. Culpeper discusses several ways in which she is impolite. These include utterances which imply negative judgments about the contestants and their jobs, mimicry and prosody. Discussion of prosody can focus on pitch, rhythm, tempo, volume and voice quality. Here, Culpeper focuses in particular on pitch movement and stress placement.

In this exchange, Robinson mimics a contestant called Danny:

Danny:  a little bit harsh Anne, I live in Solihull now so I’ve moved up

AR:         what was wrong with Liverpool

Danny:   eer

AR:         eeh

Danny’s pronunciation of the filler eer includes a vowel articulated closer to the front of the mouth than would be produced by a speaker of something approximating ‘Received Pronunciation (RP)’. Robinson responds with an even more fronted vowel. As is often the case with mimicry, Robinson exaggerates features she mimics.

Another example appears in her chat with a contestant called Jay:

Jay:       the Australian army trained me

AR:       oh. is that why you go up in all your sentences

Jay:       yes

Robinson asks Jay whether his Australian training explains his use of what is sometimes described as ‘uptalk’ and mimics this by producing marked high rising tones centred on the words up and sentences. Again, her mimicry exaggerates the contestant’s manner of speaking. In fact, Culpeper points out that Jay’s speech does not provide much evidence of uptalk. This does not detract, though, from the opportunity to mimic him.

Robinson uses prosody to be impolite here:

AR:          Shaun, you’re a traffic management operative

Shaun:    that’s correct

AR:          okay, what do you actually do

Shaun:    er put traffic cones in in the road

AR:          you don’t

Shaun:    I do

AR:           well what an interesting person you turned out to be

Robinson begins her interaction with Shaun by quoting what we assume is his own description of his job. She then asks him “what do you actually do?” prompting him to use a more everyday description of the relatively mundane task of putting traffic cones in the road. As Culpeper points out, we might assume that Robinson’s utterance “you don’t” is sarcastic even without hearing how she says it. The prosody plays a significant role since it is a form often taken to be ironic. As Culpeper points out, the prosody is also consistent with surprise so contextual assumptions play a role in recognising this (and other) sarcasm.

Robinson’s prosody falls throughout the utterance “well, what an interesting person you turned out to be” in a way which ‘resembles a staircase going down’ and so ‘seems to signal boredom’. The earlier utterance (“you don’t”) had prosody consistent with surprise associated with something we assume to be mundane. Here, words which suggest interest are accompanied by prosody suggesting boredom.

These features, and others discussed in the paper, contribute to attacks on the ‘face’ of the contestants. The notion of ‘face’ is key to work on politeness. Culpeper refers here to Helen Spencer-Oatey’s (2002) update of Brown and Levinson’s (1987) ideas on this. She suggests a distinction between ‘quality face’ and ‘social identity face’:

Quality Face:

refers to ‘a fundamental desire for people to evaluate us positively in terms of our personal qualities, eg our confidence, abilities, appearance, etc.’

Social Identity Face:

refers to ‘a fundamental desire for people to acknowledge and uphold our social identities and roles, eg as group leader, valued customer, close friend’

Quality face is attacked by features which suggest the contestants are unimportant and have negative qualities. Social identity face is attacked by negative attitudes to their accents or jobs.

Culpeper also considers the idea that our understanding that Robinson is performing a role for the purposes of entertainment might mean that this is not really impolite after all. However, there is clear evidence that contestants do take offence. For example, Danny laughs nervously and looks down after his pronunciation of eer is mocked and another contestant smiles and exhales after a negative implication about his job. Culpeper suggests a distinction between impoliteness which is ‘sanctioned’ and impoliteness which is ‘neutralised’, concluding that the impoliteness here is sanctioned but not neutralised.

Culpeper’s discussion reveals a number of ways in which we can attack each other’s face. This approach can be applied in analysing a wide range of texts and interactions.

This is a digest of the following article: Culpeper, Jonathan. (2005). ‘Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show: The Weakest Link.Journal of Politeness Research 1, 35-72.

Using this in teaching and learning

You can use this research digest to support your teaching of AQA’s AS and A-level English Language and Literature specifications in the following ways.

  1. Culpeper’s paper discusses other uses of prosody. In particular, he discusses the main catchphrase “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” Classroom discussion could focus on this utterance and consider the contribution to impoliteness of its prosodic form. This might lead on to discussion of other prosodic forms and how they contribute to meanings. Clips and episodes of The Weakest Link are available on the internet. One entire programme is currently available at: This could support students with potential topic areas for their Non-Exam Assessment (Making Connections, A-level).
  1. Culpeper’s paper could be used to explore ways in which work on politeness has developed since the work of Brown and Levinson (1987), including in the focus on impoliteness as well as politeness. Again, students could explore some of these developments looking at different types of non-literary material for their Non-Exam Assessment (Making Connections, A level). One specific area to focus on could be Spencer-Oatey’s new proposals about the notion of face, intended to replace Brown and Levinson’s account which focused on ‘positive face’ and ‘negative face’. For Brown and Levinson, positive face was about a positive consistent self-image, about this image being appreciated by others, and about wanting our own wants to be desirable to others. Negative face was seen as being about our actions being unimpeded by others. Students could explore the extent to which Spencer-Oatey’s ideas can map on to these two notions. (Culpeper suggests that Spencer-Oatey’s new notions account for aspects of positive face and that ideas about negative face map onto a different notion proposed by Spencer-Oatey: the notion of ‘sociality rights’, which are about ‘entitlements’ that we claim in interactions with others).
  1. A natural next step would be to look at other kinds of interactions and explore ways in which we aim to be polite or impolite in interacting with others. The ideas developed by Culpeper and others could be explored in any kind of interaction. Students might begin by considering examples from their own interactions, including in classroom discourse. Another possibility would be to look at current quiz shows and other television programmes. Culpeper mentions an example where impoliteness is implicated in an exchange between the hosts Ant and Dec on the programme Pop Idol:

Ant:         Our judges have been accused of being ill-informed, opinionated and rude.

Dec:         We’d like to set the record straight: our judges are not ill-informed.

In discussing other examples, students might consider how other approaches they have considered are relevant here. Dec’s utterance here could be explained with reference to how pragmatic theories account for implicit communication.

  1. Ideas about politeness and impoliteness can also be useful in looking at literary texts on the AQA specifications. For example, students could look at ways in which speakers in the poetry of Donne or Browning use politeness strategies (Poetic voices, A- level; Views and voices, AS) and/or at how characters in prose interact (Imagined worlds, A- level; Views and voices, AS). Another very natural application would be to consider ways in which conflict of various types is constructed and understood (this could include exploration and comparison of conflict used to create tension and conflict used to create humour). A good starting point would be to look at interactions between characters in drama (Dramatic encounters, A-level), noting ways in which they aim to protect or attack the face of others and what the effects of these strategies might be.



Recasting Remembered Places (classroom activity)


Reading time: 5 minutes


This teaching plan predominantly targets AS Paper 2, question 2, which requires students to recast a text from the Paris anthology. The assessment objective in focus is AO5: demonstrate expertise and creativity in the use of English to communicate in different ways. The technique of recasting is an element of the ‘Writing about Society’ component of the A-level specification, and so this teaching plan can usefully guide A-level students through the processes involved. Some of the activities described below also incorporate other assessment objectives and so support learning more broadly.


The following sequence of activities centres around an investigation of the ways in which multimodal texts communicate meaning. While the scrapbook will not be a form that students are asked to recreate in an exam (given its physicality), it is a useful means of exploring how words and images create meaning. As multimodality is a feature of many of the texts in the anthology, and could also from part of an investigation within students’ NEA work, these activities are designed to support understanding of multimodality in general.

  1. Exploring multimodal meaning in scrapbooks

i) Set up discussion activity: Explore the scrapbook as a form of discourse. A physical example would be ideal, but pictures of scrapbooks can be found on the web (eg using google images). As a class, collaboratively create a list of the kinds of images, objects and text that can be included in a scrapbook.

Other points for discussion could include:

  • the physicality of the form (related to AO3)
  • the decrease in popularity of the scrapbook in the wake of the growth of digital media and the latter’s different affordances for capturing memories (related to AO3)
  • the potentially ‘retro’ style and status of a contemporary scrapbook, how that ‘retro’ quality relates to context and what it contributes to the scrapbook’s meaning

ii) Homework creative activity: Over a weekend, students individually create two pages of a scrapbook representative of their experiences on one or both of the two days.

iii) Comparative activity: Students pair up, share and compare their scrapbook pages, answering the following questions relating to modes:

a) What kind of objects were used and what do they represent? (eg tickets, price labels, scraps of magazines, fabric, wrappers, printed recipes, leaves, etc)

b) What images were used, what do they represent and, if relevant, how realistic or stylised are they? (eg photos, drawn pictures, finger prints, arrows, borders, etc)

c) What text was created and how does it relate to the images or objects and to the overarching narrative of the discourse? (eg framing, connecting, explaining, providing descriptive or narrative detail, etc)

Students pair up and compare their scrapbook pages with respect to the following questions relating to genre and the ways in which narrative has been constructed:

d) How far is a narrative structure apparent in the pages? How is any narrative sequence conveyed (eg through layout, arrows, connecting adverbs, etc)?

e) In what ways are the elements of the scrapbook pages ‘tellable’ ?(‘Tellability’ relates to the qualities of a story which make it worth telling to an audience, eg its relative humour, relevance to the audience, entertainment value, suspense, surprise, irony, interest, etc.)

f) What kind of tone, if any, is apparent in the scrapbook? Are there any humorous, reflective, suspenseful or dark patches? Do the scrapbook pages function as a diary, a descriptive documentary, an adventure story, a comedy, etc?

iv) Re-creative activity: If the group dynamic allows for it, students could, in small groups, cut up and recombine elements of their individual scrapbooks to create a single, coherent, fictional few pages of an idealised day or event, or of a day or event communicated in a fashion representative of a particular genre. This activity replicates the recreative task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 2, AO5.)

Each group then prepares to explain the choices they made in selecting and arranging the parts of their group scrapbook pages and share their pages with the rest of the class. This activity replicates the commentary on recreative writing task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 3, AO2 and AO3).

  1. Re-casting verbal texts as multimodal texts

This activity builds on the prior creative work, applying the ideas and concepts involved to texts from the Paris anthology.

i) Re-casting activity: In pairs, students choose one of the following 9 texts from the Paris anthology.

  • Mike and Sophia, ‘Visiting Paris’
  • Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe (extract)
  • Eurostar advert ‘Stories are Waiting in Paris’
  • Personal Narrative: Anna
  • Rick Steves, ‘Rick Steves’ Walking Tour of the Louvre Museum’
  • Isabella, ‘La Parc Monceau’, from ‘Memories of places in Paris’ by Isabella and Sophia
  • Wild Night Music of Paris, The Toronto Star Weekly, 25th March 1922
  • Peter Lennon, Foreign Correspondent: Paris in Sixties (extract)
  • Helen Maria Williams, Letter II of IV, from Letters from France 1790-1796 (extract from Travel Writing 1700-1830: An Anthology).

a) In their pairs, students re-read what is narrated and described in their chosen text, and collaboratively write a short summary.

b) Individually, students recast their chosen text (or a part of it) in the form of a few pages from a scrapbook (including drawing the objects they would include). This activity replicates the recreative task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 2, AO5.)

ii) Reflective commentary activity:

a) In their pairs again, students compare their recast versions, and explain to each other what decisions they made in the recasting process. While not requiring a structured, written commentary, this activity prepares students for the commentary on recreative writing task at AS level (‘Remembered Places’ question 3, AO2 and AO3).

b) Having explained the choices they made, students can then reflect on what the nature of the recasting process and the decisions they had to make reveals about the nature of the base text, eg the relative tellability of elements of the base text, the point of view involved, the availability of images associated with the verbal content, the structural ordering and relationships between parts, etc.

c) Through whole class discussion, students can be guided to reflect on how images and words signify meaning differently, and how the two can interrelate to function communicatively together. This supports the study of multimodality and genre more generally in the anthology.

More material on recasting texts and on the related concepts and terms referred to in this teaching plan can be found in the English Language and Literature A/AS Level for AQA Student Book (Cambridge: University Press, 2015) and in Textual Intervention: Critical and Creative Strategies for Literary Studies by Rob Pope (Routledge, 1995).

How one Head of English is using The Definite Article


Reading time: 1 minute

Lauren Cooke is Head of English at Rushcliffe School in Nottingham, and is teaching AQA’s new AS/A-level English Language and Literature specification. Here she shares her thoughts on how she and her colleagues have used The Definite Article.

We have found the The Definite Article blog to be a really valuable resource to complement the AQA AS/A Level Language and Literature course. For teachers new to teaching this course, the blog has provided inspiration and guidance to secure subject knowledge, develop expertise and teach focused lessons.

We’ve found that the research digests are useful in clearly summarising the key aspects of articles, with the introductions serving as an interesting starting point to ground the article and stimulate thinking. Each of the ‘Taking it further’ sections has provided some valuable suggestions on ways to apply the ideas in the article to particular elements of the specification, and made us think about our lesson planning and resources.

We’ve also started to use parts of the digests with students to enrich their knowledge and deliver a bridge between the demands of GCSE and A Level. We’ve found that these are useful in encouraging independent learning and challenging students. For instance, our students have accessed some of the recommended websites to consolidate and extend their learning.

Online Resources (reading suggestions)


Reading time: 2 minutes

‘Ling 131 – Language and Style’

This website offers a free, step-by-step introduction to stylistics. The short course was designed for undergraduate students at Lancaster University, and was then made an open resource. It is divided into thirteen topics, grouped into the three genres of poetry, prose and drama. Each topic is divided into one or two sessions, and each of these sessions is broken down into bite-sized explanations of key concepts, including literary and non-literary examples, embedded videos, tasks and suggested further reading. There is a full glossary to turn to if needed, and a set of self-assessment questions for each genre to enable students to check their understanding. The website is an invaluable resource for teachers and A-level students wanting to learn the fundamentals of stylistics. This online course is based on a really useful textbook, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose (Longman, 1996) written by Mick Short.


‘The Living Handbook of Narratology’

This website is an open-access wiki created and edited by an international team of highly esteemed narratologists. Over thirty articles define and explain key concepts in the study of narrative, covering topics such as character, the implied reader, plot, gender, perspective and autobiography. The entries vary in length and complexity. Most include an overview of different views on particular concepts and provide references to key theoretical texts. Although pitched at an advanced level, teachers will find this a rich resource offering them detailed guidance on concepts and terms central to the study of narrative.


‘Grammar and Composition’ at

Richard Nordquist is the author of this vast section of the ‘’ website. His friendly, often funny guide presents clear and concise explanations of grammatical terminology (and some literary terms too), using illustrative examples and hyperlinking related terms. This guide also includes an array of excellent tips on essay writing, working up from explaining the basics of how to structure sentences and use punctuation correctly to offering advice on different styles and rhetorical techniques.  Scroll down and view the left hand side of the page to find the contents overview. The ‘Blog’ also contains lots of brief and engaging articles on some curiosities of the English language – perfect for inspiring budding linguists.

Corpus Stylistics Workshop for A-level teachers


Reading time: 1 minute

On Monday 16th November 2015, over twenty teachers attended this AQA-organised event designed to support teachers in applying corpus methods in the classroom. Led by Professor Michaela Mahlberg (University of Birmingham) and Professor Peter Stockwell (University of Nottingham), teachers learnt about the free online tool CLiC and discussed and explored how this might be used in their classrooms to support learning and teaching. Although the primary focus was on nineteenth-century fiction, delegates were also shown how to use corpus tools to analyse a range of discourse types.

Teachers were incredibly enthusiastic about the day, stating that they liked the practical nature of the activities and the opportunity both to talk to other teachers and to get a higher education perspective on research that was truly cutting edge.

Some further comments below from teachers give a flavour of the positive feedback and show how successful the session was!

  • ‘This session has showed me new exciting ways of teaching language patterns to students’
  • ‘It provided a really new way to look at texts – Michaela and Peter introduced corpus terminology and concepts in a practical way’
  • ‘When teaching the NEA, I will definitely make use of it’
  • ‘Very relevant to actual classroom practice, I am a huge Dickens fan so that focus was a great bonus’

Overall, the day was a massive success; in reply to the question ‘What could we do to improve such sessions in the future’ one teacher simply answered ‘More of them’!

Find out more about the CLiC project.