Language has different systemic functional perspectives which allow a writer to express and connect ideas, interact with others and create cohesive and coherent texts for the readers (Derewianka 2012).
The first text is an information report written to give generalized information about Antarctica and its food web. An information report structure involves a general statement identifying the topic of the report, followed by various descriptions of the topic. The second text is a narrative about a dramatic event that occurred during a family holiday at the beach. It was written as a first person narrative with the clear intent to entertain and instruct through dramatic events. It followed the classic pattern of an orientation to set place and time followed by complications for both the sister and the narrator and ended with a different resolution for each.
The field of the information for the report is the Antarctic Ocean and the text contains some technical language, for example “primary producers,” “microscopic plankton, phylo-plankton,” “secondary consumers,” “food web,” “food chain” and “predator.” It also has specialized knowledge in the size of the Blue Whale and the Killer Whale. The field of the narrative is the everyday domestic world, for example, “Holiday Vacation,” “beach,” “lunch.” The complication occurs when the children mistake calm safe water for water that is building up a big wave. The language chosen after the situation changes is intended to convey danger, for example, “desperately,” “deep breath,” “crushed.”
The tenor of the report is formal. The writer displays all the knowledge regarding the food web establishing an unequal balance of power. This shows in statements like “preferably the blue whale” The circumstance is Antarctica and its food web. The tenor of the second text is informal. It assumes the reader will appreciate a holiday vacation at the South West Rocks and how the writer will feel anticipating a day at the beach.
Both texts address image making using words related to the ocean, but different oceans, different focus and different subjects. Both contain a reference to one large danger in the environment. The first text, as a report starts with primary producers, microscopic plankton, phylo-plankton, small fish, shrimp and krill then works its way up through the secondary consumers to the Great Blue Whale. The narrative’s written mode involves description that evoke emotion, the anticipation of the trip and the sun, the feeling of vacation, describing the rocks, the smooth ocean and why the children felt safe swimming although the rocks could present a danger.
The information report is written in third person using present tense. The whole report is comprised of statements addressed to the reader. The circumstance is Antarctica and its food web. The process is the food chain in the web and what creatures are at the bottom and the top, there are no humans mentioned, just the natural flora and fauna. In contrast the second text is purely about human interaction with the environment, there is no reference to any of the plants and animals around them at all.
The key feature of the narrative is the buildup along the time line from the pleasant sense of anticipation, normal holiday events, sunshine, and calm water to the dramatic conclusion. The simple vocabulary makes it suitable for younger readers. The writer is the narrator telling the story in the past tense.
A narrative is characterized by its use of action and saying processes to create family life using past tense and human action, whereas an information report utilizes mostly relating processes in the simple present tense to create the specialized scientific world. The analysis of Text 1 and Text 2 show these patterns of process types and verbs groups.
The verb groups provide the meaning to the particular text and clause. These groups include action verbs, sensing verbs and relating verbs. Text 1 relates the story of a family holiday trip to the beach. The author uses action verbs in simple past tense to tell the audience what happened on this trip, for example, they “went on our yearly holidays to South West Rocks,” “finished our lunch,” and “jumped into the water.” Because there is no dialog the action process is emphasized and becomes more valuable as the sequences of events builds towards the conclusion as the story unfolds.
In the referential text there is no use of past tense as reports are written in “simple present tense to indicate the ‘general’ knowledge of information” (Humphrey, Droga and Feez, 2012, p.184). Simple present tense is used in both the active form, for example, ‘are,’ ‘take,’ ‘live,’ as well as the passive form, for example, “are fed.” The writer uses the passive voice to describe the lower members of the food chain. When a creature is a consumer the writer uses the active voice, as we move up the food chain to the next level the writer uses the active voice for the consumer and the passive voice for the consumer.
The participants in a text give ‘an indication of the kind of knowledge being built up in the text’. (Derewianka, 2011, p.38) In the narrative the main participants are human and are described by their relationship to each other “my sister;” the other participants chosen indicate a holiday trip to the beach, rocks, water. In comparison, the participants in the information report give a more generalized and technical setting. The participants are technical (microscopic plankton, phylo-plankton, small fish, shrimp and krill), living (krill feed on the microscopic plankton, phylo-plankton), and abstract, (the largest whale in existence, a carnivorous 27-foot long killing machine, the top of the food chain). In the narrative, the participants are the “do-ers,” while in the report the participants are the ones being identified and described.
The information report contains noun groups with pre-modifiers, for example, “krill have ten legs,” “shrimp are like prawns,” post-modifiers, for example, “a carnivorous killing machine,” and evaluative describers such as “the largest whale,” “top of the food chain.”
Circumstances allow the writer to indicate time, place, cause and accompaniment. These are usually realized by adverbs, adverb groups and prepositional phrases. In Text 2 the circumstances help the reader picture the holiday vacation to the beach and provide extra information about the characters and events. It relies on phrases like “lots of rocky outcrops,” “appeared to be calm,” to describe the circumstances. Circumstances of place include “into the water,” “under the water;” and accompaniment, “with my sister.”
Circumstances have no fixed position in a text; the writer selects where to place the circumstances depending on what needs to be emphasized. If a circumstance is placed at the beginning of a clause, this indicates that it is important in the text and is regarded as a marked theme. In Text 2 “Last summer holidays,” “yearly holidays,” “Once we had finished our lunch,” unfold the story in stages and phases. In Text 1 the circumstances are “in Antarctica,” “in the sea,” “in the deep blue,” and “in an ecosystem.”
Narrative texts are written in past tense together with marked themes to convey the time sequence of the events. Narratives use a lot of circumstances to set the scene, describe the characters and their actions as illustrated though out Text 2. Information reports, on the other hand, are written in timeless present tense using both active and passive voice as the information given to the reader is current and focuses the topic; Text 1 gives such timeless information.
In text one the writer is looking at a specialized field and creating a description from what is clearly one or more information sources. Text two on the other hand is a first person narrative account. Text one is the type of report that a child might produce when asked to describe an environment based upon research. Text two is more in the tenor of an account of the classic “What I Did on My Holiday Vacation.” Text 1 is written entirely in the third person present tense, Text 2 is in the first person past tense. Sequencing is shown in Text 1 in the relationship of the creatures in the food chain, (primary, secondary and predator). In Text 2 there is a linear chain of nineteen scenes and events. Both texts are clearly carefully crafted, with nicely dramatic closures.
- Almost all life in Antarctica is in the sea and in the deep blue there is a food web.
- A food web is a combination of plants and animals in an ecosystem.
- It shows what eats what.
- First off, there is plankton, phylo-plankton, (two types of small microscopic life forms) and diatoms at the bottom of the food chain.
- These small life forms are part of the class 'Primary Producers'.
- They are eaten by larger primary consumers such as Krill, shrimp and small fishes.
- Krill is a fish-like creature with ten legs.
- Shrimp is like a prawn.
- These creatures feed on the smaller primary consumers and are fed to the secondary consumers.
- The secondary consumers consist of whales (preferably the blue whale) seals, larger fishes and penguins.
- The blue whale can weigh up to one hundred and seventy four tonnes and is the largest whale in existence.
- All of these secondary consumers are pretty high in the food chain, but not high enough to not have a predator.
- The top predators in Antarctica have only one member - the killer whale, a carnivorous 27-foot long killing machine.
- With powerful teeth, they are the top of the food chain.
- Last summer holidays my family and I went on our yearly holidays to South West Rocks.
- I was really excited because we always have so much fun there.
- In South West Rocks the surf isn't too rough but the beaches have lots of rocky outcrops so everybody is always very careful to swim away from them.
- Once we had finished our lunch, my sister and I jumped into the water thinking that we could swim away from the rocks quickly because the water was flat and we were good swimmers.
- But little did we know that the reason the water seemed calm was because it was actually pulling more water back from under the surface to make a bigger wave.
- When we noticed that a big wave was coming, we tried desperately to swim away from the rocks so we wouldn't be crushed.
- My sister succeeded to do this but I was stuck stranded, trying to swim to shore.
- After a while I noticed that the only way I could survive was to dive under the water.
- So I took a deep breath, dove under the water.
- When I noticed the wave had passed, I sprung back up and noticed I was still alive.
ACU. (n.d.). ACU Study Skills Unit e-learning resources– Functional Grammar modules in the Reading and Writing folder.
Box, S., & Stewart, L. (2013). Using the Language Strand in the primary classroom Primarily English (Vols. Volume 2, No 1).
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Derewianka, B. (2011). A New Grammar and Companion for Teachers. Newtown: PETAA.
Hunphrey, S., Droga, L., & Feez, S. (2012). Grammar and Meaning: An introduction for primary teachers. Newtown: PETAA.
The Australian Curriculum English. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Australian Curriculum English V, 1.3: http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/English