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Margaret Berry How to win friends and influence people. Or not.

14 April 2010

How to win friends and influence people. Or not. Thematic options in letters from politicians

The talk will be based on three letters from politicians. These were replies to letters I had written to the politicians. The politicians are all from the same political party. In each case I agreed with some of the opinions expressed, but disagreed with others, so from the point of view of content the letters were equally acceptable/unacceptable to me. However the letters differed greatly in the manner in which the opinions were expressed and this meant that my overall reactions varied from pleased to furious.

I shall begin by inviting members of the seminar to comment on versions of the letters from which I have removed the words expressing the actual opinions. (I don’t want us to get distracted by differing political opinions. I want us to focus on the frameworks of the letters which affect the manner of presentation.)

I shall then present a linguistic analysis of the framework sections of the letters in terms of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), focusing particularly on the Themes of clauses. The Theme of a clause in SFL terms is the beginning of the clause – for my present purpose this will mean the part of the clause which comes before the verb. The Theme of the clause is assumed to be the orienting section of the clause where, among other things, the tone is set for what follows and the relationship is established between writer and reader or speaker and hearer.

The Thematic analysis certainly accounts for my own preferences among the letters. I shall be interested to see if it also accounts for those of other members of the seminar.

Date: Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Venue: Room 5.18, Humanities Building, Cardiff University

Time: 4.45pm refreshments for 5.00pm start