Topic 33 – Descriptive texts. Structure and characteristics

Topic 33 – Descriptive texts. Structure and characteristics



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. The notion of text linguistics: Discourse Analysis.

2.2. On defining text.

2.2.1. Textual features:texture and ties.

2.2.2. Textuality: the seven standards.

2.3. Intertextuality: text types.

2.3.1. Text types: main criteria.

2.3.2. Text types: description .


3.1. On defining descriptive texts.

3.2. Descriptive texts: main types.

3.2.1. Objective description.

3.2.2. Subjective description.

3.2.3. Other types of description.

3.3. Descriptive texts: structure.

3.4. Descriptive texts: textual features.

3.4.1. A morphosyntactic approach.

3.4.2. Cohesion. Grammatical devices. Lexical devices. Graphological devices.

3.4.3. Coherence.





1.1.Aims of the unit.

The main aim of Unit 33 is to present the issue of descriptive texts in terms of structure and main features. Our aim is to offer a broad account of what descriptive texts are and why they are used for in both linguistic and pragmatic terms, that is, how language and textual features are used to achieve the purpose of describing people, objects, places and events. So, we shall divide our study in five main chapters.

In Chapter 2 we shall offer a theoretical framework for the analysis of descriptive texts since the concepts of ‘text’ and ‘description’ are related to other key notions which prove essential in the understanding of their analysis. So, in order to establish the relationship between both concepts, we shall review (1) the notion of text linguistics since the analysis of descriptive texts is discussed within the framework of Discourse Analysis. Accordingly, we shall provide (2) a definition of text and hence we shall examine (a) its main textual features (common to all text types) such as texture and ties and (b) the seven standards of textuality in order to get to the notion of intertextuality. Then, we shall approach (3) the notion of intertextuality as the linguistic source of text types regarding (a) the main criteria for classifying text types and hence (b) the term ‘descriptive’.

Chapter 3 will offer then an insightful analysis of descriptive texts in terms of (1) definition; (2) main types of description; (3) structure and (4) main textual devices within descriptive text types: (a) morphosyntactic features, (b) cohesion, and (c) coherence.

Chapter 4 will be devoted to present the main educational implications in language teaching regarding descriptive texts and Chapter 5 will offer a conclusion to broadly overview our present study. Finally, Chapter 6 will include all the bibliographical references used in this study.

1.2.Notes on bibliography.

An influential introduction to the analysis of texts is based on relevant works of Halliday and Hasan, Cohesion in English (1976); van Dijk, Text and Context (1984); and Beaugrande and Dressler, Introduction to Text Linguistics (1988). Classic works regarding the term ‘descriptive’ include Brooks and Warren, Modern Rethoric (1979), still indispensable; Barthes, Introduction to the structural analysis of narratives (1977); Traugott and Pratt, Linguistics for Students of Literature (1980); and Genette, Noveau discours du récit (1983).

The background for educational implications regarding descriptive texts is based on the theory of communicative competence and communicative approaches to language teaching are provided by Canale, From Communicative Competence to Communicative Language Pedagogy (1983); Hymes, On communicative competence (1972). In addition, the most complete record of current publications within the educational framework is provided by Jenni Conn, Choosing and Using Literature (1995), the guidelines in B.O.E. (2002) and the Council of Europe, Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of reference (1998).


In Chapter 2 we shall offer a theoretical framework for the analysis of descriptive texts since the concepts of ‘text’ and ‘description’ are related to other key notions which prove essential in the understanding of their analysis. So, in order to establish the relationship between both concepts, we shall review (1) the notion of text linguistics since the analysis of descriptive texts is discussed within the framework of Discourse Analysis. Accordingly, we shall provide (2) a definition of text and hence we shall examine (a) its main textual features (common to all text types) such as texture and ties and (b) the seven standards of textuality in order to get to the notion of intertextuality. Then, we shall approach (3) the notion of intertextuality as the linguistic source of text types regarding (a) the main criteria for classifying text types and hence (b) the term ‘descriptive’.

2.1. The notion of text linguistics: Discourse Analysis.

The notion of text linguistics designates ‘any work in language science devoted to the text as the primary object of inquiry’ (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988). In fact, many fields have approached the study of texts, and in particular, that of descriptive text : linguistics (from grammar, morphology and phonology), anthropology (different speech acts in different cultures), psychology (speaker and hearer behaviour) and stylistics (correctness, clarity, elegance, appropriateness, style).

Yet, the oldest form of preoccupation with texts and the first foundation for the analysis of texts and its articulation is drawn from the notion of text linguistics which has its historical roots in rethoric, dating from Ancient Greece and Rome through the Middle Ages up to the present under the name of text linguistics or discourse. Traditional rethoricians were influenced by their major task of training public orators on the discovery of ideas (invention), the arrangement of ideas (disposition), the discovery of appropriate expressions for ideas (elocution), and memorization prior to delivery on the actual occasion of speaking.

In the Middle Ages, rethoric was based on grammar (on the study of formal language patterns in Greek and Latin) and logic (on the construction of arguments and proofs). Rethoric still shares several concerns with the kind of text linguistics we know today, for instance, the use of texts as vehicles of purposeful interaction (oral and written), the variety of texts which express a given configuration of ideas, the arranging of ideas and its disposition within the discourse and the judgement of texts which still depends on the effects upon the audience.

2.2. On defining text .

The definition of ‘text’ is quite relevant in our study since it will lead us straighforwardly to the notion of ‘descriptive’ text when reviewing the notion of intertextuality within text types. Following Halliday & Hasan (1976), “the word ‘text’ is used in linguistics to refer to any passage, spoken or written, of whatever length, that does form a unified whole”. As a general rule, we know whether an utterance or sequence of utterances constitute a text or not though it may be “spoken or written, prose or verse, dialogue or monologue, and also anything from a single proverb to a whole play, from a momentary cry for help to an all- day discussion on a committee”.

In addition, a text is best regarded as a semantic unit and not a unit of form. Hence, we may establish its relation to the term ‘description’ since we may deal with the description of people, things, animals, actions or thoughts in terms of describing a fact.

2.2.1. Textual features: texture and ties.

Textual features such as texture and ties give a text the status of ‘being a text’. First of all, the concept of texture is defined as the textual resource that functions as a unity with respect to its environment and secondly, ties are defined as the resources that English has for creating texture so as to contribute to its total unity by means of cohesive relations (reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical cohesion). The concept of a tie makes it possible to analyse a text in terms of its cohesive properties and give a systematic account of its patterns of texture (Halliday & Hasan, 1976).

2.2.2. Textuality: the seven standards.

Perhaps the notion of textuality is the most relevant in our study since we reach the notion of descriptive text through one of its seven standards: intertextuality. Actually, written texts conform to rules that most successful writers unconsciously follow and native readers unconsciously expect to find. It is relevant, then, to address the term textuality in written and oral texts as it is involved in rules governing written discourse (hence its relationship to descriptive texts).

In the approach to text linguistics by de Beaugrande & Dressler (1988), a text, oral or printed, is established as a communicative occurrence, which has to meet seven standards of textuality: cohesion, coherence, intentionality and acceptability, informativity, situationality and finally, intertextuality. If any of these standards are not satisfied, the text is considered not to have fulfilled its function and not to be communicative.

We shall briefly review the first six standards of textuality so as to analyse the seventh one in next section:

(1) Cohesion is, as well as coherence, a text-centred notion which is related to the function of syntax and the components of the surface text. It also deals with cohesive ties as mentioned above (anaphora, cataphora, ellipsis, etc) and signalling relations (tense and aspect, modality, uptdating, junction, conjunction, disjunction and subordination).

(2) Coherence is “the outcome of actualizing meanings in order to make sense” (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988). It concerns a set of relations subsumed under causality (cause, enablement, reason, purpose time) and global patterns responsible for making a text be “senseless’ or non-sensical” (frames, schemas, plans, and scripts). In other words, it gives sense to a text.

(3) Intentionality subsumes the intentions of text producers, that is, their attitude. In the most immediate sense of the term, the producer ‘intends’ the language configuration under production to a cohesive and coherent text instrumental in fulfilling the writer intentions. This standard deals with the pragmatic perspective of discourse, that is, the conversational maxims of co-operation: quantity, quality, relation and manner on saying ‘be informative, be truthful, be relevant and be brief’.

Here we meet the purpose of descriptive texts, that is, to represent people, animals, objects, atmospheres, landscapes, actions or feelings by means of words.

(4) Acceptability, on the other hand, concerns the receiver attitude. Here a set of occurrences should constitute a cohesive and coherent text having some use or relevance for the receiver in an appropriate context of communication.

(5) Informativity concerns the extent to which the occurrences of the text are expected vs. unexpected or known vs. unknown or uncertain by means of content words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs). Hence we expect different types of texts (poetic, scientific, literary, etc).

(6) Situationality concerns the factors which make a text “relevant to a current or recoverable situation of occurrence” (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988). The effects of a situational setting are very rare when there is no mediation and therefore, the extent to which one feeds one’s own beliefs and goals into one’s model of the current communicative situation (i.e. in dramatic texts, as a subclass of literary texts). There exist the prerogative of presenting alternative organizations for objects and events in live presentations (prologue, unusual frequency of events, actions with no reason, etc). Hence, objective and subjective descriptions.

(7) And finally, intertextuality which will be reviewed in connection to text types and, therefore, the notion of descriptive texts in next sectio n.

2.3. Intertextuality: text types.

Intertextuality concerns the factors which make the use of one text dependent upon knowledge of one or more previously encountered texts, that is, the ways in which the production and reception of a given text depends upon the participants knowledge of other texts. The usual mediation is achieved by means of the development and use of text types, being classes of texts expected to have certain traits for certain purposes: oral conversation, narrative, directive, predictive, expository, argumentative, literary and poetic (rethoric), scientific, didactic and, for our purposes, descriptive.

For 2,400 years there have been two traditions of classifying texts. The first one, deriving

from Aristotle’s Rethoric, where the term rethoric refers to the uses of language. More specific, it refers to modes of discourse realized through text types, thus narration, description, directive, exposition and argumentation. Within the second tradition, rethoric refers to communicative function as rethorical strategies in functional lines: descriptive: to enrich knowledge spaces; narrative: to arrange actions and events; argumentative: to promote the acceptance of certain beliefs; and so on.

In this section we shall approach the concept of text typology from two main perspectives: (1) the main criteria for text typology by means of which we review basic principles for all types of texts regarding literary devices, order and sequence elements and common text structures; and (2) a text type classification and description.

2.3.1. Text types: main criteria.

There are three main criteria when establishing a typology for texts: literary devices, order and sequence elements and common text structures for all types of texts.

(1) Regarding literary devices, we deal with literary texts which share specific conditions of production, contradictory cultural discourses, and intercultural processes. For such reasons, literary texts may be polysemous, having a range of interpretive possibilities. The main basic principles are considered to be literary elements and devices to evaluate how the form of a literary work and the use of literary elements and devices which contribute to the work’s message and impact.

(2) Order and sequence. Moreover, basic to the concept of form is the notion of order and sequence, which may vary depending on the type of text. For instance, logical, chronological, or psypchological in narrative texts; from general to specific, upward and downward direction, personality vs. physical appearance in descriptive texts; introduction, development and conclusion in argumentative texts; and so on.

(3) Text structure. By studying the textual and lexical elements of text types, one can learn to regularly recognize the overall structure of a text. Follo wing a general division of any kind of text we may sometimes begin with a brief heading or descriptive title, with or without a byline, an epigraph or brief quotation, or a salutation, such as we may find at the start of a letter. They may also conclude with a brief trailer, byline, or signature. Elements which may appear in this way, either at the start or at the end of a text division proper, are regarded as forming a class, known as divtop or divbot respectively.

The following special purpose elements are provided to mark features which may appear only at the start of a division: the head, an epigraph an argument and a salutation. The conclusion will be characterized by a brief trailer of the subject matter as a summary of facts. A byline or a signature may also conclude any piece of writing.

2.3.2. Text types: description.

According to Trimble (1985) we may classify texts in two ways. Firstly, according to purpose, and secondly, according to type or mode. According to purpose, in terms of communicative functions, the discourse is intended to inform, express an attitude, persuade and create a debate. According to type or mode, the classification distinguishes among descriptive, narrative, expository, argumentative, and instrumental modes.

Hence, in this study we are dealing with descriptive texts which, on the one hand, are intended to offer a description of something or somebody in terms of communicative functions and, on the other hand, according to the category or text types it is included within the type of description, that is, the fact of describing people, animals, objects, events, facts and situations. Now let us examine descriptive texts more in depth regarding structure and main features.


The ana lysis of description will be carried out in terms of (1) definition; (2) main types of description; (3) structure and (4) main textual devices within descriptive text types: (a) morphosyntactic features, (b) cohesion, and (c) coherence.

3.1. On defining descriptive texts.

Before defining the term ‘descriptive’, it must be borne in mind that descriptive texts are closely related to the category of narrative since both of them appeal to the reader’s imagination through his senses (see, hear, feel, touch and smell). Yet, the key difference is for descriptive texts to focus on image and for narrative texts to focus on actions. Descriptions can enrich the text by offering a wide range of details (parts, qualities, properties) or just select a minimum of them ( face description, not whole body).

A descriptive text is usually defined as a type of discourse concerned with the representation of people, animals, objects, atmospheres, landscapes, actions and feelings by means of words (verbal or written representatio n). As stated above, the purpose of a descriptive text is to create a mental image in the reader’s mind (in fiction or real life) by answering the question “What is it like?” in order to describe something or someone (Brooks & Warren, 1979).

When giving account of people, animals, objects and even facts, descriptive texts constitute part of our daily life by means of giving information about your family, yourself, describing buildings, a new friend, a house on sale, and so on. The genres that fit the descriptive text structure are similar to those of narrative since the former are considered to be subordinated to the textual structures of the latter (narration) and other text types (exposition or instructions): folktales (wonder tales, fables, legends, myths, tall tales, and realistic tales); contemporary fiction; mysteries, science fiction, realistic fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. In addition, although the descriptive type rarely appears by itself in texts, poetry is the only literary type which can include whole descriptive texts.

3.2. Descriptive texts: main types.

We can distinguish three types of descriptive texts depending on the impression that the world makes on the reader’s senses and, above all, on the speaker’s intention: first, a subjective description (also called suggestive and persuasive ); second, an objective description (also called technical and considered a form of exposition rather than description); and finally, other types of description, regarding people, inanimate and dynamic events. It must be borne in mind that in current society, description is always present at all levels, that is, in the domains of literature (fiction) and in everyday life (non- fiction).

3.2.1. Objective description.

Let us start with the objective-type description which is to be found in instructive, technical and scientific texts since its main aim is to inform or instruct about the thing to be described. So, it provides generalized information on facts, qualities and characteristics about the object under consideration so as to get a systematic, accurate and almost photographic description. This type of texts are just straight facts and do not give the reader any ideas about the feelings or opinions of the author.

This type of description is less common than the subjective-type since we our perception of the world cannot be always impartial. Therefore, this kind of description is more related to expository texts because it is conceived as an account of something where no personal reaction or assessment is refused, that is, it is not affected by internal or external factors.

Although descriptive texts are easily observable when related to technical and scientific

descriptio n (reports, essays, chronicles), we may also find non-technical texts that provide mere information about an object by following a logic order, being enumerative and containing many technical vocabulary items (official letters, school essays, a guidebook, a history chapter, advertisement). For instance, descriptions in a field guide such as “The British book of Wildflowers” or sale advertisements (i.e. House on sale: 4 bedrooms, semi- detached, built in 1974, fenced gardens, gas fire, parking for 3 cars).

3.2.2. Subjective description.

On the other hand, we find the subjective description, also called suggestive or persuasive since they tell us something about the writer’s feelings and opinions about the item to be described. This type of description is based on the writer/speaker power of observation and wealth of impressions as it possesses ‘vividness’ (Traugott & Pratt, 1980). The notion of vividness is full of life, strength and freshness and lets the reader feel all the sensual impressions and vital energy conveyed by the words of the writer.

In fact, the main aim of subjective descriptions is to provoke emotions about the object to be described rather tha n reflecting the item as it is for details to achieve affective values. This type of description is namely found in literary texts (‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’ by William Wordsworth; ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker; ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte; ‘Portrait of the Artist’ by James Joyce; ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by Swift; The Physician’ by Noah Gordon) and advertising (adverts to buy and sell things -a house, a car, a motorbike-, rent a holiday cottage).

Thus compare the two following descriptions of a house to be sold, objective and subjective-types respectively: “A house situated in a cul-de-sac location withing the Springside Development, near shops and schools” (objective) vs. “A good-sized modern four bedroom detached house well situated in a cul-de-sac location within the popular Springside Development. Easy pedestrian access to town centre and nearby good schooling” (subjective).

Note the use of adjectives to emphasize the vividness in the second text. Hence, we may establish three main features of subjective texts: (1) an appeal to senses so as to obtain lively effects through visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and taste means; (2) the selection of words so as to give a much more vivid and immediate effect by means of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs; and (3) a balanced use of figurative language devices such as personification (the attribute ‘human’ is applied to objects and animals), deshumanization (humans a re perceived as deprived of their human attributes), hyperboles (reality is exaggerated), and images and metaphores (comparison between two unlike items or beings by using ‘like’ or ‘as’).

3.2.3. Other types of description.

Apart from objective and subjective descriptive texts, we may mention some other types of description which are based on visual devices, that is, which are classified according to the theme they visually represent. Hence we may find descriptions about people (characters), which shall lead us to a subclassification into (i) static descriptions regarding inanimate items (objects, landscapes, atmospheres) and (ii) dynamic descriptions regarding actions (feelings, situations).

First of all, people’s description may be divided into four types: (a) prosopography, which describes the physical appearance of a person (‘Portrait of the Artist’ by James Joyce), (b) etopeia, which includes a moral or phychological description of a fictional or real character (‘The Secret Agent’ by Joseph Conrad), (c) a portrait, which combines both physical (prosopography) and psychological (etopeia) features (‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte); and (d) a caricature, which is associated with the idea of overloading or exaggeration under the principle of dominant impression.

Caricatures exaggerate the dominant description of characters (‘Bleak House by Charles Dickens’) which, according to the technique we use, may be (i) static (inanimate objects) or (ii) dinamic (an item/person is defined by his actions, proce ss or atmosphere). On the one hand, static descriptions are defined as ‘topographies’, which represent an inanimate item (a place, a house, a garden, a village, a mountain) displaying a spatial relatioship among objects themselves with establish hierarchies); on the other hand, dynamic descriptions are called ‘chronologies’ since they represent an age or a period of time where important events take place (a setting, an individual, setting atmosphere).

3.3. Descriptive texts: structure.

The structure of descriptive texts follows some principles of order regarding the way details are grouped so as to present a descriptive sequence. This sequence is divided into four main steps: item observation and therefore, selection of the most relevant aspects, order o f events, and expressive devices.

1. Firstly, observation may be described in different ways depending on the communicative purpose and main features of the observer: (a) fixed observer, who views the whole scene or object from a fixed position and reads off the items in a systematic way (i.e. from left to right, from foreground to background, from general to specific); (b) moving observer, who merely reports details as he comes to them so they do not follow an order; and (c) the impressionistic observer, who give a generalized impression as if he were a movie camera, swinging from side to side (i.e. ‘Main Street’ by Sinclair Lewis).

2. The s election of the most relevant aspects is the next step in this descriptive sequence since, again, the same reality may be described in different ways depending on the communicative purpose and main features of the receiver. In fact, each type of text determines a specific type of selection, for instance, technical and scientific texts are usually quite objective whereas non-technical texts are usually subjective (i.e. job offers in press looking for a virtual candidate).

3. The order of description is related to the way in which the speaker/writer decides how to group details in relation to the structure of the item described (from head to toe, from physical to psychological description, outward vs. inwards direction, from general to specific, and so on). Actually, a descriptive account has a ‘theme’ (the item to be described) and the new information about the item. So, the new information is formed by the item’s qualities and properties and the new aspects derived from it. Moreover, descriptions may be limited by a framework (i.e. people’s description order: general overview – well built, tall, plump); head: hair, eyes, specific features; body, and so on).

4. Finally, the expressive devices in description deal with the communicative purpose of the author and the receiver’s characteristics. We refer to textual devices, to be examined in next section.

3.4. Descriptive texts: textual features.

The main textual features in descriptive texts are given by textual and lexical items, that is, literary devices which are words used to enrich the understanding of the story (i.e. quantity and quality adjectives, dynamic and static verbs, common and concrete nouns, time and place adverbs, syntactic structures). Yet, these literary devices are quite similar to those of narrative texts since the author may use a wide range of word choice for different purposes, thus (a) to write objective and subjective descriptions and (b) to make writing vivid or precise by using brief descriptive paragraphs.

So, let us analyse the basic language structures in descriptive texts regarding the disciplines of syntax, pragmatics and namely semantics, together with a grammatical approach. Hence we shall analyse cohesion, coherence and other literary devices. We shall start by offering (1) a morphosyntactic approach regarding lexis and syntax; (2) an analysis of cohesion where we shall include the concepts of anaphora, cataphora, connectors and deixis (following Halliday & Hassan, 1976); and (3) a brief analysis of coherence.

3.4.1. A morphosyntactic approach.

From a lexical and syntactic perspective, that is, a morphosyntactic approach, descriptive texts are namely characterized by the use of (1) adjectives, which bear the burden in description. They are an essential part of the writer’s main devices to evoke an image in the reader mind. They can be condensed (specific: the walking man) or expanded (general: a fantas tic world). Adjectives usually perform in attributive position after their noun heads (i.e. ‘The silence, low and faint and whispering’; James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist’) and also appear as – ing forms (i.e. The breeding of an English gentleman). Adjectives usually denote details on shape, colour, size, number among other features.

Moreover, the notion of vividness is also achieved by the use of (2) other grammatical categories such as (a) nouns: co ncrete or abstract. The former being abundant because of their great picturing and interpreting capacity, the latter being less abundant and whose function is to heighten the vividness of the texts; (b) verbs, which may imply something about the nature of the person or item to be described (i.e. shouted, whispered, screamed). They are usually non-perfective verbs (present and past tense); and (c) adverbs, which enable the writer/speaker to get an effect with great economy but fusing the quality of a thing with its action (i.e. ‘Mr Chadban moves softly and c umbrously (slowly), nout unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright’; Charles Dickens).

But not only adjectives, nouns, verbs and adverbs contribute to achieve vividness in a description. (3) Specific syntactic structures, such as subordinate clauses (relative, both defining and non-defining), prepositional and adverbial clauses.

3.4.2. Cohesion.

Semantically speaking, the term ‘cohesion’ concerns the ways in which the components of the surface text (the actual words we hear or see) are mutually connected within a sequence of utterances (Beaugrande & Dressler, 1988), that is, intra-text linking devices are connected to extra-textual reference. The notion of ‘cohesion’ is expressed through the stratal organization of language which can be explained as a multiple coding system comprising three levels of coding: the semantic one (meanings), the lexicogrammatical (forms: grammar and vocabulary) and the phonological and orthographic one (expressions: sounding and writing).

Cohesion has been a most popular target for research, and it is well known its relation to the second of the textuality standards, coherence. Since cohesive markers are important for the understanding of descriptive texts, all speakers make extensive use of them, for example in order to enhance coherence, but also for reasons of economy (e.g. saving time and alleviating conceptual work load by using anaphoric devices like generalisations and pro- forms).

Since cohesion is expressed partly through the grammar and partly through the vo cabulary, we find two main types of cohesive devices considered as general categories of cohesion: grammatical cohesion (substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, reference) and lexical cohesion (reiteration, collocation). Yet, we shall include in our study a third type that, although last is not the least. We refer to graphological devices (orthography, punctuation, headings, foot notes, tables of contents and indexes) since most of them deal with form and structure of descriptive texts, and are part of the semantic relations established in a text. Grammatical cohesion.

Thus the concept of cohesion accounts for the essential semantic relations whereby any story is enabled to function as text. It is within grammatical cohesion that we find different types of relations: substitution, ellipsis, conjunction and reference. Note that the first two items are not included in the title of this study, but the rest makes reference to the terms ‘anaphora and cataphora, connectors and deixis’. It is relevant to me ntion first that anaphora and cataphora will be examined under the heading of reference, connectors under the heading of conjunction and finally, deixis as a subtype of reference and ellipsis.

The cohesive device of ‘substitution’ is very similar to that of ‘ellipsis’. These two cohesive relations are thought of as processes within the text: substitution as ‘the replacement of one item by another’ (i.e. cumbrously vs. slowly), and ellipsis as the omission of an item (i.e. Laughing girls vs. The girls that laugh). Essentially the two are the same process since ellipsis can be interpreted as ‘that form of substitution in which the item is replaced by nothing’, that is, simply ‘substitution by zero’ (Halliday & Hasan, 1976).

The reference type of grammatical cohesion is another well researched area within linguistics. It is defined by Halliday & Hasan (1976) as ‘the case where the information to be retrieved is the referential meaning, the identity of the particular thing or class of things that is being referred to; and the cohesion lies in the continuity of reference, whereby the same thing enters into the discourse a second time’ (i.e. The walking boy is the one who is walking).

Conjunction is a relationship which indicates how the subsequent sentence or clause should be linked to the preceding or the following sentence or parts of sentence. This is usually achieved by the use of conjunctions (included in the title of the unit). Frequently occurring relationships are addition, causality and temporality. Subordination links works when the status of one depends on that of the other, by means of a large number of conjunctive expressions: because, since, as, thus, while, or therefore. Lexical cohesion.

Lexical cohesion does not deal with grammatica l or semantic connections but with connections based on the words used. It is achieved by selection of vocabulary, using semantically close items. Because lexical cohesion in itself carries no indication whether it is functioning cohesively or not, it always requires reference to the text, to some other lexical item to be interpreted correctly.

We may find several types of lexical cohesion within a descriptive text. Thus (1) the process of reification, whereby an adjective is turned into an abstract noun (i.e. black eyes vs. the blackness of his eyes) in order to get a more impressive and communicative capacity of description. This notion is closely related to that of (2) thematic preferences, which deal with the communicative purpose of the author and the receiver’s characteristics (preferences for adjectives of colours when describing a field at the sunset).

Moreover, we may mention (3) the semic loads, which refer to the fact that the author uses several semic features in the same nominal group or sentences so as to obtain a special effect (i.e. positive vs. negative, relaxed vs. tense, superiority vs. inferiority) as in ‘With a hoarse cry of pain and anger (noise, pain, anger)’. Also, (4) the articulator of experience, which are words that are repeated over and over again throughout the text representing then an axis (the sense of defeat, libertation, having won).

In addition, (5) the representation of experience deals with particular aspects of experience that are used to quantify or characterize the items described, for instance, nouns preceded by one or more adjective (i.e. That air of positive calm, a ludicrous injured air) as introducing an image which evaluates the whole experience. Finally, we shall mention the literary device of reiteration, which includes (6) repetition. This literary device is essential for cohesion and coherence in discourse analysis. Stylistic repetition produces aesthetic functions, such as the systematic presence of partial synonyms in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ so as to get the feeling of ‘quietness’ (i.e. Calm, still, hush, silence, loneliness, solemn).

When repetition is not systematic we talk about three different types of repetition: (a) phonological (isophonic repetition) in “her long slender bare legs” (James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist’) producing symphonic, affective and iconic effects; (b) syntactic (isotaxy repetition) by means of using aesthetic processes, common in ordinary newspapers and journals); and (c) semantic repetition (isosemy), which may bring different effects (ornamental, emotional, ironical).

Like in the case of synonymous reference, collocational relation exists without any explicit reference to another item, but now the nature of relation is different: it is indirect, more difficult to define and based on associations in the reader mind. The interpreter sometimes adds coherence to the text by adding cohesion markers. Graphological devices

With respect to graphological resources, we are mainly dealing with visual devices as we make reference to orthography, punctuation, headings, foot notes, tables of contents and indexes. As most of them deal with form and structure of different types of texts, and will be further developed as part of a subsequent section, we shall primarily deal with orthography and punctuation in this section.

Firstly, orthography is related to a correct spelling, and in relation to this term, Byrne (1979) states that the mastery of the writing system includes the ability to spell. This device covers different word categories, but mainly, rules of suffixation, prefixation, and addition of verbal markers as gerunds, past tenses or third person singular in present tenses. Moreover, Byrne claims for the use of the dictionary as the relationship between sound and symbol in English is a complex one, and spelling becomes a problem for many users of the language, native and non-native speakers alike. The importance of correct spelling is highlighted when Byrne says that most of us are obliged to consult a dictionary from time to time so as not to be indifferent to misspelling. Therefore, students are encouraged to acquire the habit of consulting a dictionary in order to ensure an adequate mastery of spelling.

Secondly, according to Quirk et al (1972) punctuation serves two main functions. Firstly, the separation of successive units (such as sentences by periods, or items in a list by commas), and secondly, the specification of language function (as when an apostrophe indicates that an inflection is genitive). Moreover, punctuation is concerned with purely visual devices, such as capital letters, full stops, commas, inverted commas, semicolons, hyphens, brackets and the use of interrogative and exclamative marks. It is worth noting that punctuation has never been standardised to the same extent as spelling, and as a result, learners tend to overlook the relevance of punctuation when producing a text.

Learners must be encouraged to pay attention to the few areas where conventions governing the use of the visual devices as fairly well established, among which we may mention letters and filling in forms as part of a sociocultural educational aim. Thus, students must try to understand the relevance of the use of commas to enumerate a sequence of items, the use of questio n and exclamation marks to express requests or attitudes, and the use of inverted commas to highlight a word or sentence.

3.4.3. Coherence.

Coherence is a purely semantic property of discourse, while cohesion is mainly concerned with morpho-syntactic devices in discourse. A coherent text is a semantically connected, integrated whole, expressing relations of closeness, thus, causality, time, or location between its concepts and sentences. A condition on this continuity of sense is that the connected conc epts are also related in the real world, and that the reader identifies the relations.

In a coherent text, there are direct and indirect semantic referential links between lexical items in and between sentences, which the reader must interpret. A text must be coherent enough for the interlocutor to be able to interpret. It seems probable that this coherence can be achieved either through cohesion, for instance, markers and clues in the speakers’ text, or through the employment of the user-centred textuality standards of intentionality, acceptability, informativity, situationality and intertextuality.

These markers are defined as all the devices which are needed in writing in order to produce a text in which the sentences are coherently organised so as to fulfil the writer’s communicative purpose (to describe people, things, animals, situations and so on). Byrne (1979) claims that they refer to words or phrases which indicate meaning relationships between or within sentences, such as those of addition, contrast (antithesis), comparison (similes), consequence, result, and condition expressed by the use of short utterances, and exemplification (imagery and symbolism).

Within the context of textual analysis, we may mention from a wide range of rethorical devices the use of imagery and symbolism; hyperbole, antithesis, similes and metaphors; onomatopoeias, alliteration and the use of short utterances for rhythm and effect; repetition and allusion to drawn the reader’s attention; and cacophony and slang to make the piece of writing lively and dynamic when described.


But how do descriptive texts tie in with the new curriculums? As we stated above, one of the pleasures of teaching the written language is that it is so easy to provide good models of almost any kind of writing. According to Jenni Conn (1995), the model of descriptive texts provides students the opportunity to describe people, objects, animals, events and situations using appropriate linguistic elements and also, to connect real- life experiences.

Following van Ek & Trim (2001), ‘the learners can perform, within the limits of the resources available to them, those writing tasks which adult citizens in general may wish, or be called upon, to carry out in their private capacity or as members of the ge neral public’ when dealing with fictional and real descriptions On the whole, the completion of those forms that the learners are most likely to have deals with their personal or professional life:

describing a car on sale, your best friend, your new house, a touristic place, and so on.

Moreover, nowadays new technologies may provide a new direction to language teaching as they set more appropriate context for students to experience the target culture. Present- day approaches deal with a communicative competence model in which first, there is an emphasis on significance over form, and secondly, motivation and involvement are enhanced by means of new technologies. Regarding writing skills, there is a need to create c lassrooms conditions which match those in real life and foster acquisition, encouraging reading and writing, and within this latter one, to distinguish text types and its main characteristics, and in particular, descriptive texts.

The success partly lies in the way the language becomes real to the users, feeling themselves really in the language. Some of this motivational force is brought about by intervening in authentic communicative events. Otherwise, we have to recreate as much as possible the whole cultural environment in the classroom. This is to be achieved within the framework of the European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish Educational System which establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages where students are intended to carry out several communication tasks with specific communicative goals within specific contexts and registers. Thus, foreign language activities are provided within the framework of social interaction, personal, professional and ed ucational fields.

Writing skills are mentioned as one of the aims of our current educational system (B.O.E. 2002) and in particular, for students of E.S.O. and Bachillerato about how to describe themselves, their best friend or an object, among others. Actually, Bachillerato students are asked to structure descriptive texts into paragraphs (‘Your best friend’: where he lives, physical apperance, personality, hobbies, everyday routine) by using narrative structure and textual features (lexical devices: conjunc tions, nouns, adjectives, etc).

It is stated that students will make use of this competence in a natural and systematic way in order to achieve the effectiveness of communication through the different communication skills, thus, productive (oral and wr itten communication), receptive (oral and written comprehension within verbal and non-verbal codes), and interactional role of a foreign language as a multilingual and multicultural identity.

Analytic interpretation of texts in all genres should become part of every literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2002). There are hidden influences at work beneath the textual surface: these may be sociocultural, inter and intratextual, or ecological. The literary student has to discover these, and wherever necessary apply them in further examination. The main aims that our currently educational system focuses on are mostly sociocultural, to facilitate the study of cultural themes, as our students must be aware of their current social reality within the Europea n framework.


In this study descriptive texts have been approached in terms of main types, main textual features and structure. We may observe that dealing with descriptive style is not just a linguistic matter to be developed in the classroom setting; on the contrary, writing or reading stories enables us to carry out everyday tasks which prove essential in our current society, for instance, when describing a friend or the house of your dreams.

Conn (1995) considers that descriptions offer us images to think about, other worlds to describe, and the capacity to deal with images since the symbol is at the heart of being human. In a literary society, she adds, books remain a major source of the history we can offer our children. In fact, telling stories include many descriptions of characters, places, objects and actions which satisfies the psychological need of the reader or listener.

The role of describing in present society is emphasized by the increasing necessity of learning a foreign language as we are now members of the European Community, and as such, we need to communicate with other countries at oral and written levels. Written patterns are given an important role when language learners face the monumental task of acquiring not only new vocabulary, syntactic patterns, and phonology, but also discourse competence, sociolinguistic competence, strategic competence, and interactional competence.

To sum up, we may say that language is where culture impinges on form and where second language speakers find their confidence threatened through the diversity of registers, genres and text types, in particular, descriptive texts that make up the first language speaker’s day to day interaction. Language represents the deepest manifestation of a culture, and people’s values systems, including those taken over from the group of which they are part, play a substantial role in the way they use not only their first language but also subsequently acquired ones.


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