Analysing language

Home learning focus

Understand how to analyse language, delving into the impact of writers' word choices.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos to help you understand how to look closely at language choice

  • three activities

Learn

When writers construct their texts, they select the words carefully, so that they give the meaning they intend and create the impression that they want to.

One of the main skills at GCSE is to read a text to understand it and to be able to pick out the ‘right’ words to analyse. But, sometimes, some of the language that we read can be difficult to understand.

So, before we get started, watch the video below for tips to help.

Learn strategies to help you understand unfamiliar vocabulary

Now that you have some strategies to use when analysing difficult language, let’s look at some specifics in a text extract and understand how we work out the impact of those choices.

We’re going to be looking at writers' use of particular words and phrases. Kathyrn Evans and Theresa Lola show you how to do this in the video below. Watch carefully as they take apart the words and phrases to discuss what each tells us and what impressions they create.

Author Kathryn Evans and poet Theresa Lola analyse and examine extracts from the novel ‘Sons and Lovers’ by DH Lawrence.

Practise

Activity 1

Look at the extract below from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. How does the writer use language to create the impression that the night is difficult for the narrator? Pick out each of the words and phrases that would help you to answer the question. Hint - look for the negative words.

'It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out.'

If you look at the passage as a whole, you can see that Shelley has used words that work together to create an impression that the writer is exhausted and miserable. This is mirrored by the weather, which is 'dreary' and 'dismal'. This is a technique called pathetic fallacy, where the situations characters find themselves in reflect their thoughts and feelings.

Activity 2

Now try to break down what impression each of the phrases you picked out above gives you. Try filling out a table like this one with each word or phrase you found before and then the impact that this has. The first one has been done for you.

Word/phraseImpact
'dreary night'Makes the night sound dull and miserable (like the character himself)
Example 2
Example 3

To answer the question in a paragraph, we can then use these quotations and our impressions. Here’s an example of how you might write the first part of your analysis:

How does the writer use language to create the impression that the night is difficult for the narrator?

The writer uses language to create the impression that the night is difficult for the narrator with the use of the phrase 'dreary night'. The word ‘dreary' has connotations of the night being dull and miserable and the writer could be doing this to reflect the mood of the character. The writer then goes on to explain that the character has ‘anxiety’, which suggests that he is concerned about what is happening. Both of these words suggest that the night is difficult for him.

Top tip!

Always pick out the words that you can use to answer the question, then explain in detail what impact they give us. If you can then link all of these together to explain an overall impression, you will start to demonstrate a clear understanding of the writer's language use.

Activity 3

Now, it’s your turn to have a go on your own. Read the following extract from The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe.

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain - upon the bleak walls - upon the vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges - and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees - with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium - the bitter lapse into everyday life - the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart - an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher?

Look carefully at the following question:

How does the writer use words or phrases to demonstrate the narrator’s mood?

Again, look through the extract and find the right quotes to help answer the question, then create a table with those quotes in, like this one.

Word/phraseImpact
Example 1
Example 2

Now use that table to tackle the question. Look at the example in Activity 2 to help you. Try to sum up by talking about how your selected quotes work together.

Hint

Maybe start like this: The writer shows the narrator’s mood with the use of…

Where next?

In this lesson you have practised selecting quotes from texts in order to analyse writers' intentions.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you to with analysing fiction.

Please note: Bitesize revision guides are split by exam board - to check if there is a specific version of a guide for your board, choose your subject and then exam board here.

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