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Text Analysis: Comparing Formal and Informal Dialogue

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3226 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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A comparison between a formal text and an informal dialogue.

1.0 Introduction

In the traditional way of looking at syntax, an adult, child or the learner of English as a second language ought to gain knowledge of the syntactic rules. During speaking, the speaker is always assumed to have mastered the rules of syntax which should produce coherence in communication. Syntactic rules are always present in the system that features them, as it is assumed, but this is not always the case. Usually, the patterns which are always observed in linguistic data represents what is in the minds of the people who produce such data.

In as much as there are varied types of sentences, clause and phrasal types, there are usually agreed rules on how phrases, clauses and sentences should be arranged to give a particular meaning.

2.0. Theoretical Background:

2.1 Types of sentences:

The sentences can be categorized with syntactic rules depending on the on the types of clauses that they possess. Greenbaum (1996) also agrees with this fact and defines a simple sentence as one with only a subject and a verb. For example. He went home last Thursday.

He further describes a compound sentence as one with one or more independent clauses. For example, I have finished examinations and I know I will pass. While the other category of sentence types is the complex sentences which consist of a subordinate clause supported main by clause. For example, If the phones are cheaper in Barka, I will come to buy there.

The other category is the compound-complex sentence structure which consists of two independent clauses and one main clause. For example, The lecturer believed he would pass and with higher grades after he promised to improve.

2.2 Clause Types:

When a group of words have a subject followed by a predicate, it is called a clause. Adjective clause can be a sentence or constructions which look like sentences.

2.2.1. Dependent and Independent clauses

A clause is commonly defined as a set of words which contain a subject and a verb. According to Carnie (2000), there are two types of clauses thus, independent clause and the second is a dependent clause. Whereas an independent clause cannot stand on its own in a sentence, always beginning with a capital letter and ending up with a punctuation, a dependent clause cannot stand alone in a sentence and must always be attached to an independent clause to obtain coherent sentences. He further adds that a clause may at time be a complete sentence as in the case of independent clause or a construction that looks like a sentence in the case of dependent clause.

A dependent clause is used as an adjective in a sentence. This is referred to as a relative clause or an adjectival clause. They have a characteristic of beginning with a pronoun (that, which, whose, whom). For example;

[I went to school with that Member of Parliament] [whose constituency borders ours.]

The sentence above has two clauses. The one in the first bracket is independent while the second bracket is dependent. As we can see, the first makes complete meaning on its own while the second cannot stand alone. Again the adverbial or the subordinate clauses usually begin with a subordinating conjunction such as when, although and includes a subject or a predicate.

2.2.2. Relative Clauses and Nominal Relative Clauses:

When a relative clause has an antecedent within itself, it is referred to as a nominal relative clause while the relative clause is one which contains any of the relative pronouns (who which, that) to introduce a noun phrase or a noun.

2.3 Phrase Types:

A phrase, according to Driscoll et al (2010), is defined as a set of related words which occur within a sentence or a clause. A phrase is a part of speech which has a headword which defines the nature of the unit within a sentence.

2.3.1 Noun Phrases There is usually a thin line differentiating noun phrases and adjectival phrases in a sentence. Noun phases always consist of a head noun as well as the adjective or more adjectives which describe it. Look at the sentences below:

“She’s an extra ordinary looking woman, and yet I cannot name anything out of the way.”

2.3.2 Adjectival and Prepositional Phrases.

According to Kohl (2008), the following are the types of phrases; adjectival phrases which modify the nouns. For example;

John lost his red brown shoes.

The other types of phrases are prepositional phrases which work as post modifiers in a sentence. The pre-modifier in a sentence must always be an adverbial phrase while a post modifier can either be a prepositional phrase or a clause. For example; “Ahmed thought that the pizza smelled awfully funny.”

2.4. Complementizers:

The definition of complementizers according to Nelson (2002) is a complement clause which functions so as to complement adjectives, adverbs, verbs and even nouns. Complementizers can take the form of “who, why, or that” clauses. At times they take to-infinite clauses. For example,

“I don’t understand why he’s carrying an arrow”. Here, the complement clause has completed in the sentence, the subordinate clause. The word why acts as a complementizer.

2.5. Conjunctions:

These are those parts of speech which act so as to connect the words, clauses, phrases, and sentences to give it a meaning. The most commonly utilized conjunctions are; for, but, and, yet, nor, and so. They do the work of joining the elements to form a coordinate structure. If a sentence uses a coordinate conjunction, it is referred to as a polysyndeton sentence while the one without conjunction is called an asyndeton sentence. According to Yagoda (2007), there are contrasting characteristics between the coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. These are; the coordinating conjunctions connect phrases, words and clauses of equal rank while the subordinating ones join words of unequal ranks. Example;

“There was a period in history where money and happiness were not synonymous, but now they seem to be synonymous.”

In this sentence, though debatable, the conjunction and compares equality between money and happiness while the conjunction but unequalizes the two separate clauses (dependent and independent).

2.6. Adverbials:

The adverbials in a sentence play the roles in three categories;

1) adjuncts,

2) conjuncts and

3) disjuncts.

Simmons (1997) describes that the adjuncts are found within a clausal formation while the disjuncts as well as the conjuncts are found at the end. Adjuncts do not always form a vital part of a sentence. For instance, “He will also pass by the hardware”. In addition he adds that a disjunct similarly does not form the essential sentence part. For instance, “In fact, his main aim was to steal from you”.

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There are also types of sentences which present adverbials that include conjunctions like however, as a result, therefore, and thus just to mention a few. They also present some arguments which may not be part of sentences but they reveal the past part of a sentence so as to contrast it. Example, “The floods caused destruction as a result of long rains”.

3.0. Analysis:

In this section the principal sentence types and clauses types are going to be discussed and differences shown. Also, the analysis of representative phrases and their categories are going to be considered and all the lexical and syntactic structures that are similar or difference in the two texts about:

  1. The apology to the Australian aborigines and
  2. The informal dialogue between the Chinese and an Australian.

3.1 Types of sentences

A sentence, according to Klammer et al (2004), is a group of words consisting of a subject and a verb. More elements can be added to the sentential verb and subject to improve the meaning.

3.1.1 Simple Sentences:

As observed in the theoretical background, a simple sentence consists of a subject and a verb. In the first text, it is observed that there are few instance of simple sentences. The simple sentences like these exist;

Text 1

“We reflect on their past mistreatment” (line 7).

Text 2

He sent somebody (line 35).

These sentences are independent and they also contain subject and verb, qualifying them to be simple sentences.

3.1.2. Compound Sentences:

Text 1

A compound sentence, “Saying ‘sorry’ was the new order of parliamentary business for the Labor Government led by Kevin Rudd”.

This is a compound sentence comprising an independent clause as well as dependent clause separated by a conjunct “for”.

Text 2

In the second text, there are a few compound sentences like;

“Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor to control the whole of China”. Again, the conjunct “to” has been used to separate the independent as well as the dependent clauses.

3.1.3. Complex Sentences:

Text 1

The complex sentence is the one that begins the text on the line 1, thus;

[Eleven years after the Australian Human Rights Commission recommended a formal apology to Australian Aborigines], [Prime Minister Rudd has said sorry]. This is because it has an independent and one dependent clause since the first bracket shows a dependent clause while the second, an independent clause forming a meaning even without the independent part.

Text 2

In text 2, there exists a complex sentence like the one shown in the example below.

[If you drink the elixir of immortality], [you can live forever]. This is a complex sentence separated by comma but begins with a disjunct “if”. Again, the first bracket is a depedent clause while the second, is an independent one.

3.1.4. Compound-Complex Sentences:

The type of sentences which according to Carnie (2001), have two main clauses and at least one subordinate clause. They shares the characteristics of compound and complex sentences.

Text 1

On line 20, we meet a compound-complex sentence, [A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous], to [close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational] and [economic achievements and economic opportunity]. It has one independent clause and two dependent clauses, making it a compound-complex sentence. The first bracket is an independent clause, second is dependent while the third is also a dependent one.

Text 2

There is no clear indication of the existence of a compound-complex sentence here.

3.2 Clause Types:

3.2.1. Main Clauses and Subordinate Clauses

Text 1

Looking at line 4, there exists a main clause at the beginning saying, “The prime minister John Howard refused to apologise” while the second sentence starts with “saying today’s Australians should not say sorry for the policies of the past”.

Text 2

In this text, the independent clause is evident in line 13, “We call him the emperor of China”.

And in line 6, “When we had the first emperor of china”, doesn’t have complete meaning and needs an independent clause to support it.

3.2.3 Relative clause.

Relative clauses, also known as postmodifiers, modifies the noun phrase or noun which precedes them. Traditionally, the relative clauses are categorised into nominal and non-nominal relative clauses.

Text 1

In line 20, the following sentence is observed, “A future where we embrace the possibility of the new solutions to the enduring problems where old approaches have failed”. In this sentence, the realative adverb, “where” has been used to play the role and turn the clause into a relative noun clause.

Text 2

In line 20, the same relative adverb when has been used to relativize a clause “… when he occupied all the lands, we said he wanted to live forever”.

3.3. Phrase Types:

3.3.1 Noun Phrases:

Noun phrase, according to Leech et al (2001), is defined as a word group consisting of a noun or pronoun as its head. It can be a simple one with a single noun. The noun may also in most cases be accompanied by determiners like (a, the, he or her) and complements. Such types of sentences derived from the texts are shown below:

Text 1

The parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology ….. this in bold shows the noun phrase.

Text 2

In the second text, “ Mh-m. China was very small. Shows another noun phrase beginning with China as a noun.

Verb Phrases:

Text 1

In the first text, a verb phrase is witnessed in line 21, “… for the breaking up of families”, this verb phrase depicts whet the noun (Government) did to the Aborigines.

Text 2

“The yellow emperor is the…” this verb phrase yellow describes the emperor as the first emperor of the whole of China.

3.3.2 Adjective Phrases:

An adjective phrase is defined by Zuckermann (1997) as a word group that contains an adjective as the head. It is usually accompanied by modifiers or qualifiers. Adjective phrases are modifiers of nouns.

Text 1

“And for the dignity and degradation of the afflicted people ….” The afflicted people is an adjectival phrase portraying the type of people being addressed.

Text 2

There exists an adjective clause, “the first emperor of China”. This adjectival phrase precisely describes the real noun being talked about to distinguish him from other emperors.

3.3.2 Prepositional phrases.

Text 1

“The children were placed in orphanages and church homes in the white community

The prepositional phrases cited in line 3 have been placed in bold.

Text 2

“Similar Chinese characters in Japanese language”. The bold part shows the prepositional phrase.

3.3.3 Complementers and relativisers.

Text 1

Like any other organised text syntactically, the text one has various situations of complementers. For example, .. “resolving that this new page in history of our great continent can now be written”. That in this sentence is a relativizer.

Text 2

In text 2 the complementizer has been use and it is, “which”. For example “The words which like yao”. Has been joined using a complementiser, “which”.

3.4 Coordination Conjunctions

3.4.1 Co-ordinating Conjunctions:

Text 1

There are many sentences, clauses and phrases in the first text where the coordinating conjuctions exist. For instance.

“…. educational achievements and economic opportunity”. The conjunct and joins the two phrases to give the whole sentence a meaning. It shows that one thing has happened and another will follow.

Text II

There are a few instances of the coordinating conjunctions in the second text, For example, “words with the same pronunciation” here the conjunct with joins two words with similar strengths and this is another example of a coordinating conjunction.

3.4.2 Subordinating Conjunctions:

Text 1

In the first text, the line number 2 provides us with a good example of subordinating conjunction. It exists between a main clause and a subordinate clause. For example, “ the human rights commission estimated that from 1901 until 1970 more than …”.

Text 2

In the second text, we observe a subordinating conjunct because when it separates the

Did not come back because if he could ….” This also separates the main clause and the subordinate clause.

4.0 Conclusions

Since the two texts represent different situations, one being formal and the other, informal, it becomes hard to come up with a good summary of comparisons because they represent different genres. It is evident that the first text is syntactically organized in its sentential, clausal and phrasal levels while the second is a dialogue prone to interjections so that the sentences are not formally structured. All the same, text 1 has good organization, less simple sentences but more compound, complex and compound-complex than the text 2.


Carnie, A., (2001) Syntax. Oxford: Blackwell Pubishers.

Driscoll, D. & Brizee, A., (2010) Purdue OWL Engagement: Sentence and Clause Arrangement for Emphasis. [Online] Available at: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/609/04/ [Accessed 29 April 2015].

Greenbaum, S. & Nelson, G., (2002) An Introduction to English Grammar. 2nd ed. Edinburgh : Pearson Education Limited .

Hana, J., (2011) Introduction to Linguistics – Syntax. Oxford: s.n.

Klammer, P., Schulz, M., & Volpe, D., (2004) Analyzing English Grammar. 4th ed. Longman.

Kohl, J. R., (2008) the Global English style Guide: Write Clear, Translatable Document for a Global Market. SAS.

Leech, G., Cruickshank B., & Ivan R.,(2001) An A-Z of English Grammar & Usage. 2nd ed. Edinburg: Pearson.

Simmons, R., (1997-2015) Grammar Bytes. [Online]

Yagoda, B., (2006) Parts of Speech, N.Y. TiMESJuly 9, , § E (Magazine).

Zuckermann, G., (2006) Complement Clause Types in Israeli. In: W. Dixon & A. Aikhenvald, eds. Complementations: A Cross-Linguistic Typology. s.l.:s.n., pp. 78-81.


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