May 02 2011
We, us, our, the nation Osama Bin Laden or a celebration of Americanness
Taking topical things into the classroom
I woke up to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, as many of us did this morning, and watched Obama’s speech and worked with it in class this morning. Only one person out of 11 had heard the news so it was one of those rare moments when everybody is really interested in hearing what has happened as it was actaully fresh news. I played Obama’s speech first and then in groups the students discussed what it was mainly about. They came up with the idea of Americanness as its main feature.
This is the speech:
I had highlighted the words and expressions in red which focussed on this beforehand and worked through the speech systematically looking at the lexical chain which connects the words we, us our,the nation, American etc and tried to re-write bits using passivisation and seeing where those words could be left out, what they could be replaced by and how this would change the impact of the speech.
Discussion of the issues involved
Finally we watched a video of celebrating crowds at Ground Zero.
The last discussion was on whether it was a good thing that he had been killed and whether the world is a safer place as a result.
Grammar, Genre and Social Context
At Lancaster University on my MA we did a course called “Grammar Genre and Social Context” with Norman Fairclough who is well known in the field of critical discourse analysis and we did lots of work like this analysing speeches of famous people. It brought grammar alive for me and since then I have always enjoyed looking at grammar from the perspective of power, function and looking at alternatives rather than mere traditional linguistic description. Halliday rather than Chomsky!
I think this is a great way of analysing language. I did a similar thing with the two versions of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Candle in the Wind” the latter version being more to do with what Obama was talking about this morning, a celebration of nationhood, rather than with Diana.
If you try working with these slides or with the speech in this way let me know how you get on. I really recommend it if you have a context where it would be appropriate.
These are the slides: