The main argument of this dissertation is that the language of John Hodge's screenplay Trainspotting, even though it appears to contain sub-cultural social contexts, cannot be categorised within the framework of linguistic theory as representing a youth subculture.
The verbal conflict formation in the text should be read as reflective of the larger worldview that verbal conflict behaviour is inevitable in all societies, as are the existence of social dialectsand the usage of common slang.
1. Gumperz' Term: 'Speech Community'
In his 1982 volume Discourse strategies, John Gumperz discusses the concept of a 'speech community'. He defines 'speech community' as 'a system of organized diversity held together by common norms and aspirations'. He also states that the speech community must form the starting point of linguistic analysis. He further states that although members of the same speech community may differ in terms of their beliefs and their behaviours, that this is a normal variation and has been shown to be a systematic regularity of communities. For, the most part, however, members of speech communities generally share norms of evaluation.
Gumperz stresses the point that it is not the individual speakers of a language that make up a speech community. He cites the theories of Saussure and others of that time period to support this statement: 'It was believed that these reflect either momentary preferences, personal idiosyncrasies, or expressive or emotive tendencies, which rely on universal signalling mechanisms and are thus not part of the system of meaningful sounds by which substantive information is conveyed' (11-12).
According to Gumperz, although the ability to form grammatical statements is common to all speakers of a certain language, the more complex knowledge of contextualization convention varies widely. He also points out that contextualization is not something that can be attained through formal education or reading, but must be learned through face-to-face interactions. Discourse at this level is marked by conventions that 'reflect prolonged interactive experience by individuals cooperating in institutionalized settings in the pursuit of shared goals in friendship, occupational and similar networks of relationships' (209).
Language and social identity, a volume published in the same year, was co-authored by Jenny Cook-Gumperz. In this work, he discusses the role of communicative skills in our society, asserting that they have been radically altered. It is absolutely essential for individuals in today's society to be capable of managing or adapting to a variety of diverse communicative situations. In addition, they must be able to interact freely with people who are virtual strangers to them. These abilities are an absolute necessity if one is to acquire a sense of personal control and to establish a sense of order in one's life.
The cause for this change, he asserts, is the bureaucratization of public institutions, which have become increasingly pervasive in our day-to-day lives. He sees this as a result of our post-industrial society and states that it exists in both Western and non-Western countries. The skills required to function at this level are far more complex, but must be mastered if one is to function autonomously as a member of a speech community.
2. Halliday's Notion: 'Antilanguages'
In Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation oflanguage and meaning, M.A.K. Halliday explains the initial acquisitionof language as part of the development of the child as a socialcreature: 'Language is the main channel through which the patterns ofliving are transmitted to him, through which he learns to act as amember of a “society”' (9). The child does this, she goes on toexplain, through associations with family, neighbourhood, and varioussocial groups; these comprise the foundation on which the child baseshis or her belief systems and values.
The child does not learn these things directly, but ratherindirectly, Halliday explains. It is 'through the accumulatedexperience of numerous small events, insignificant in themselves, inwhich his behaviour is guided and controlled, and in the course ofwhich he contracts and develops personal relationships of all kinds'(9). The unifying factor here is language; language is the mediumthrough which all of this takes place.
She develops her discussion further by introducing the notion of an'antisociety' which is in direct contrast to 'society', describing theantisociety as a conscious alternative that can also be viewed as aform of resistance. This resistance can take a number of forms. It canbe passive, in which case it will appear, at least outwardly, to causeno harm. On the other hand, it can be actively hostile to the point ofcausing actual destruction.
The 'antilanguage' is the language of the antisociety. It isparallel to the antisociety, which of course generates it. Bothlanguage and its counterpart, antilanguage, share equal linguisticsignificance. According to Halliday, 'either pair, a society and itslanguage or an antisociety and its (anti) language, is, equally, aninstance of the prevailing sociolinguistic order' (164).
Halliday describes the antilanguage as a form of resocialization,as a mechanism that creates an alternative reality. In this sense, shedoes not see it as a negative construct, but rather of reconstruction(170). The significant aspect of the language/antilanguage dynamicexists in the distance between the two, and in the tension that iscaused by that distance. The individual may function in either worldand may go back and forth with relative comfort. In this sense, it mayseem that he is living a double existence.
Still, it should not be forgotten that both aspects—language andantilanguage—originate from the same place. Because of this commonbackground, there is continuity between them which parallels thatbetween society and antisociety. Not only is there a continuity, thereis also tension. Hence, although the languages may be expressed bymembers of different social strata, they are both parts of the samesocial system. In other words, 'the antisociety is, in terms ofLévi-Strauss's distinction between metaphor and metonymy, metonymic tosociety—it is an extension of it, within the social system' (Halliday175).
Thus, basically, an antilanguage is just another language. However,the world it exists in is a counter-reality, which in itself hascertain implications: 'It implies preoccupation with the definition anddefence of identity through the ritual functioning of the socialhierarchy. It implies a special conception of information and ofknowledge' (172).
In addition, there will be a certain amount of secrecy in anantilanguage; this is inherent in its nature. The reality in which itfunctions is a secret reality. Generally, the members of this realitydo have secrets. Often these secrets may have something of an illegalassociation to them. It is just as likely, however, that the secretsare not illegal, but merely lacking in respectability and socialsanction. They may be the secrets of a segment of the population whichexists at least partly in its fringes, although its members may notwant this known in the mainstream. The antisociety is, then, a metaphorfor the society, and it joins society at the level of the social system.
The perspective of the antilanguage is generally that of adistinctly different view of the world, 'one which is thereforepotentially threatening, if it does not coincide with one's own'(Halliday 179). The purpose of the antilanguage is primarily fordisplay as its speakers struggle to maintain their counter-realitywhile existing within the confines of the world.
An antilanguage, according to Halliday, 'brings into sharp reliefthe role of language as a realization of the power structure ofsociety' (181). The antilanguages of countercultures, such as prisonsand criminal networks, are often full are defined against the socialstructure. Essentially, they are defined by what they are not. This isnot unlike the jargon or nomenclature of certain highly-specialisedprofessions, which may in some sense be seen as having a similar—thoughacceptable by society—counter-reality.
Members of mainstream society who are speakers solely of standarddialect may have negative reactions to antilanguage. However, they willusually express this indirectly. For example, they may state that theydon't like 'the vowels' as they are pronounced by the speakers of theantilanguage, when in essence what they are saying is that they don'tlike 'the values' held by the speakers of the antilanguage.
3. Labov's Finding: The Concept of 'Sounding'
Labov and his colleagues (Paul Cohen, Clarence Robins, and JohnLewis) studied the vernacular of young American black males in theinner city areas of New York. The youths ranged in age from eight to 19years old, and they spoke a relatively uniform grammar, the language ofstreet culture.
Labov and his team used a variety of methods to gather their data,the most important of which was long-term participant-observation withpeer groups (via). They collected tape-recorded conversations that tookplace on school buses, field trips, and parties—essentially, any typeof gathering where the youths got together and socialized. They thencarefully analyzed the data they collected, noting the patterns theyfound in speech events. Two examples of these exchanges are below.
A: Eat shit.
B: Hop on the spoon.
A. Move over.
B. I can't, your mother's already there.
The following exchange is between two adolescents, John and Willie, with an observer
(Rel) looking on:
John: Who father wear raggedy drawers?
Willie: Yeh the ones with so many holes in them when-a-you walk they whistle?
Rel: Oh . . . shi-it! When you walk they whistle! Oh shit! (326)
Given the insults against the person, his family, his poverty, aperson who is not a member of a given culture might expect thesituation to escalate into physical conflict.
However, Labov points out that these are actually ritual insults. Herefers to this as 'sounding', which he describes as a complex patternof verbal conflict. Sounding has also been called 'playing the dozens'or 'signifying'. It consists of a dialogue that is usually performedfor an audience of observers who are usually peers. The dialogue itselfconsists of ritual insults, most of which are directed towards theother speaker's mother, self, or housing situation. The speakers tradethese 'sounds' back and forth as though in competition, and theaudience looks on.
Occasionally an audience member will comment, approve, ordisapprove of the statements of one or both speakers. Labov points outthat the audience is an essential ingredient to this process: 'It istrue that one person can sound against another without a third personbeing present, but the presupposition that this is public behavior caneasily be heard in the verbal style'.
The presence of an audience has a definite impact on the speechevent. The sounds are no longer spoken in a direct, face-to-faceconversational mode when others are present. The speakers' voices tendto be raised and they become more projected, suggesting full awarenessthat the audience is there. In the second exchange above, Rel makes acomment on Willie's insult, praising it. In a sounding session, Labovpoints out, 'everything is public—nothing significant happens withoutdrawing comment. The rules and patterning of this particular speechevent are therefore open for our inspection' (327). In fact, theexistence of an audience is considered a defining factor, according toLabov. A primary difference between sounding and other speech events isthat 'most sounds are evaluated overtly and immediately by theaudience' (325).
By closely analyzing the discourse of this segment of thepopulation, Labov was able to isolate certain characteristics and todiscern patterns in the structure of this ritual exchange of insults.After a while, the fundamental difference that divides ritual insultsand personal insults became clear. For example, there was a very clearopposition between an insult that is made during this ritualperformance and an actual, personal insult. 'The appropriate responsesare quite different: a personal insult is answered by a denial, excuse,or mitigation, whereas a sound or ritual insult is answered by longersequences...' (335). The ritual insults must be exaggerated to thepoint of being ridiculous and clearly untrue. This is clear to both thespeakers and to the audience that is following the exchange. If theinsults violate this rule—for example, one speaker makes a comment thatis both derogatory and which is known to be accurate—the ritual mayturn into conflict.
'The speech event we call sounding is not isolated from other formsof verbal interaction: it can merge with them or become transformedinto a series of personal insults', asserts Labov (330). He points outthat when ritual insult passes over into a different level ofdiscourse, that of interpersonal conflict, the difference between thetwo is unmistakably clear.
Audience reaction is a key tool in assessing sounds. Laughter isthe primary mark of affirmation. 'A really successful sound will beevaluated by overt comments...Another, even more forceful mode ofapproving sounds is t repeat the striking part of the sound oneself'(325). Negative reactions to sounds happen with a similar frequency andare equally overt. At the end of any sounding contest, all members,speakers and audience alike, are keenly aware of the who has come outahead.
4-a. Goffman's Notion: 'Face' in Politeness
Goffman writes that 'the ritual order seems to be organizedbasically on accommodative lines' (109). These lines allow individualsto build and maintain illusions about themselves, and are not governedby laws or justice. Rather, Goffman asserts, 'the main principle of theritual order is not justice but face (110). Hence, the governingprinciple is what allows individuals to save 'face'. Individuals whocross the line do not suffer retribution, but rather receive what isnecessary to bolster the illusion of self to which they are committed.
The ways in which an individuals may insulate themselves aremyriad. Some of them include half-truths, illusions, andrationalizations. Therefore, not only are they able to convincethemselves of the beliefs necessary to his continued sense of self,they are further bolstered by the support of those close to them. Thusthey continue to believe in the illusion of self, and this illusion isfurther maintained and reinforced by the members of their immediate,intimate circle (109).
4-b. Does 'face' exist in the discourse when verbal conflict occurs?
An incidence of verbal conflict requires the individual uponwhom the offense has been committed to react in some way. The type ofreaction will depend on the level of offense. One mechanism for savingface is avoidance. That is, if a person is offended by anotherindividual, but can let the incident go without losing 'too much face',then it is likely that the offended person will let the situation go.He or she may rationalize this by telling themselves that they willdeal with the offender at some point in the future, perhaps when thecircumstances are optimal—although it is just as likely that when thispoint in time presents itself, no action will be taken.
If the offense committed against the person is great, an actionmust be taken by the offended person. They may decide to withdraw fromthe situation and may avoid future encounters with individuals whobreak the ritual code. Alternately, they may arrange to have theoffending person removed, thus ensuring that there will be no furthercommunication necessary with this individual.
'Societies must mobilize their members as self-regulatingparticipants in social encounters' Goffman asserts. Ritual is one wayof doing this. Members of society are taught the importance of 'face',and that they should value such qualities as pride, honor, dignity, andpoise (110).
Maintaining 'face' then is a one way in which individuals protectthemselves and maintain their illusions of who they are and where theystand in the social hierarchy. This does not mean that 'face' is realor authentic: 'Universal human nature is not a very human thing',asserts Goffman. 'By acquiring it, the person becomes a kind ofconstruct, built up not from inner psychic propensities but from moralrules that are impressed upon him from without' (110). This constructis necessary for the individual's sense of self and helps him tomaintain the ritual equilibrium that is essential for his survival.
5. Brown and Levinson and the 'politeness phenomena'
Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson derive their definition of'face' from Goffman. They also include the English folk term, whichincludes the concept of being embarrassed or humiliated—or, simply put,'losing face'. They explain this further: 'Thus face is something thatis emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained, or enhanced,and must be constantly attended to in interaction' (Brown and Levinson61).
Brown and Levinson also point out that one individual's sense offace is dependent upon the continued maintenance of everyone else'ssense of face. A threat to one individual's face, then, becomes athreat to all. Individuals in the community soon learn that it is intheir best interest to defend not only their own faces, but those ofthe other members of the community as well.
Brown and Levinson discuss two kinds of linguistic politeness: 'positive politeness' and 'negative politeness'.
Central to our model is a highly abstract notion of “face”which consists of two specific kinds of desires(“face-wants”) attributed by interactants to one another: thedesire to be unimpeded in one's actions (negative face), and the desire (in some respects) to be approved of (positive face)(13).
Brown and Levinson offer fifteen strategies that speakers use to establish positive politeness: [H= addressee]
1. notice, attend to H's interests, wants, needs, goods
2. exaggerate interest, approval, sympathy with H
3. intensify interest to H
4. use in-group identity markers
-use of in-group language or dialect
-use of jargon or slang
-contraction and ellipsis
5. seek agreement
6. avoid disagreement
7. presuppose/raise/assert common ground–gossip, small talk
9. assert or presuppose S's knowledge of and concern for H's wants
10. offer, promise
11. be optimistic
12. include both S & H in the activity, using 'we'
13. give (or ask for reasons)
14. assume or assert reciprocity
15. give gifts–goods, sympathy, understanding, cooperation
If 'positive politeness' is defined as 'redress directed to theaddressee's positive face', then negative politeness is 'redressiveaction addressed to the addressee's negative face: his want to have hisfreedom of action unhindered and his attention unimpeded' (129).Strategies used by speakers in the process of establishing 'negativeface' include:
1. be conventionally indirect–opposing tensions, indirect speech acts
2. question, hedge
3. be pessimistic
4. minimize the imposition
5. give deference
7. impersonalize S & H
8. state the FTA ['face-threatening act'] as a general rules
10. go on record as incurring a debt, or as not indebting H
Brown and Levinson have a third category for speech actions. Thisone is 'off record'. 'A communicative act is done off record if it isdoe in such a way that it is not possible to attribute only one clearcommunicative intention to the act' (211).
1. give hints
2. give assocation clues
6. use tautologies
7. use contradictions
8. be ironic
9. use metaphors
10. use rhetorical questions
11. be ambiguous
12. be vague
14. displace H
15. be incomplete, use ellipsis
'Off record' politeness is a sort of hybrid strategy that falls in between the two
and is difficult, if not impossible to definitively categorize (Brown and Levinson, 230).
6a. Grimshaw's concept of 'conflict talk'
In the introduction to his 1990 volume Conflict talk:Sociolinguistic investigations of arguments in conversations, AllenGrimshaw writes:
Conflict talk is at the same time so complex a phenomenon andone so deeply implicated in every dimension of human sociallife that it would be possible to identify dozens of reasonswhy it should be a focus of systematic inquiry; by thesame token one would be left wondering why its study hasbeen so neglected (3).
Grimshaw points out that conflicts may have as their focus a numberof subjects, including 'beliefs, objects (things), persons, groups, orinstitutions' (294). Interestingly, he asserts that as long as conflicttalk is sustained and the participants do not withdraw, conflicts need not increase in hostility. The increase in hostilityseems to occur only with an increased sense of intensity on both sides
6b. Goodwin and Goodwin: 'interstitial argument'
In their essay 'Interstitial argument,' Charles Goodwin andMarjorie Harness Goodwin present the findings of their researchregarding verbal conflict. During the course of their research theywere able to closely study the relationship between participants andtheir local environment. One thing they found is that despite thedisruptive behavior that accompanies an argument, the participants payextremely close attention to the details surrounding them. During theargument, what goes on is actually 'a process of very intricatecoordination between the parties who are opposing each other' (85).
For a year and a half M.H. Goodwin audiotaped a group of urbanblack children as they played together in the street. This was onesegment of a larger project in which a range of speech activities werebeing studies. These activities included gossip, arguments, stories,and directives, and similar activities. Specifically, four childrenwere audiotaped during oppositional exchanges, and these exchanges werethen transcribed and analyzed. One of the issues at hand was aslingshot battle. All exchanges, from the planning stages to theselection of teams to the preparation of weapons, were studied inmeticulous detail. From these data
Goodwin examined content shift andcontext within argument, multi-party argument, and 'piggybacking', oraffiliation in argument.
Analysing their findings, the Goodwins discovered that by followingthe sequence of utterances, it was clear that the four individualsinvolved in the exchange did not have equal positions (107). It seemedclear that each side had a primary spokesman, followed by a secondindividual who followed the behavior of the primary spokesman. This ledGoodwin and Goodwin to conclude that the structures utilised in theprocess of negotiating opposition also provide resources for theparticipants, enabling them to duplicate types of social organization.Thus, the process of arguing essentially gives the
participants resources for reproducing 'a life that is greater than that of the argument itself' (113).
Finally, Goodwin and Goodwin write that it has been argued that thetalk people produce during their dealings with each other is oftenconsidered to be too disorderly to be properly organized and studied.In response to this, they write that in analysing the data from thisstudy they found 'anything but disorder. The participants themselves,within the space of a very few turns, produce a range of systematicpermutations on a basic structure with a precision that would tax theingenuity of even the most inventive experimental design to replicate'(114).
6c. Schiffrin: 'argument: the role of opinions and stories'
Deborah Schiffrin asserts that 'everyday forms of talk are guidedby norms of co-operation and competition. Even argument, a form of talkwhich might seem to be the paradigm example of conflict talk, can be aco-operative way of speaking as well as (or instead of) a competitiveway of speaking' (241).
Schriffin uses Goffman's concepts of 'footing' and 'frame' asadditional links. 'Footing' and 'frames' are very similar to eachother. Schriffin explains the frame as the 'definition' of thesituation, and the 'footing' as 'the sort of alignments taken up byparticipation' (242).
She then goes on to explore opinions and stories. With regard toopinions, she admits that 'it is not always possible to find linguisticfeatures which mark a declarative
statement as the presentation of an opinion', and that because of this,one needs to look elsewhere, and she presents her criteria fordiscerning what an opinion actually consists of, concluding that'opinions are unverifiable, internal, subjective depictions of anexternal world...the facts presented by the author cannot remainundisputed, but the principal's stance toward that proposition cannotbe/ disputed' 248-9). This, she explains, 'also gives opinions aparadoxical status in argument, such that they can either initiate orend an argument' (249).
She then discusses the role of stories, breaking them down into:
• selective interpretation
• deictic (time) shifts
First of all, she asserts, one must consider that theinterpretation of stories is highly selective. Individuals will choosecertain stories and interpret them in a way that justifies certainbehaviors and actions. Second, there are deictic, or time shifts, to beconsidered. For example, frequently a speaker must re-orient him orherself back to the actual time of the story, to a time when they mighthave had less knowledge or information about the story. The thirdaspect of stories that Schiffrin finds significant are the evaluativedevices used by the storyteller. These devices can be phonological,grammatical, or textual in nature. Finally, she asserts, stories arepresented as frames within certain events are explained,contextualizing them.
Text Analysis on Verbal Conflict, using examples from the screenplay of Trainspotting
Trainspotting is a coming-of-age story in story of a group ofheroin-addicted young people from Edinburgh. It is a very vividdepiction of junkie life as well as a cross-section of life in the 90s.The title of the book, Trainspotting, is also a term used in theBritish Isles for people who, as a hobby, keep track of local trainschedules with excessive vigilance. Essentially, the term is synonymouswith wasting time, making this activity a sort of metaphor for heroinaddiction. Both activities are essentially pointless and futile.
Drugs are a central focus of the story, and in particular (but notexclusively) heroin. This is very clear from the language that is used.This can be noted from the frequency of the occurrence of terms whichrelate to heroin. There are numerous references to the sale,acquisition, preparation, injection, and withdrawal of heroin. Thedrug-related words which appear with highest frequency include 'hit','junk', 'shot', and 'inject', each of which appear more than ten times.Other commonly used drug words include of course the drugitself—heroin—along with its many variations, such as smack and skag.
However, despite the omnipresence of drug and drug-relatedactivities, the story does not set out to glorify heroin use; neitherdoes it condemn or moralize use of the drug. It does, however, give aclear depiction of the bleak environment this group of young peoplemust survive in. The area is working-class. References are made to DSSchecks and Giro, which are terms associated with the life of povertyand struggle. This dismal backdrop, and the fact that they have littlehope of physical escape, makes their wreckless behaviour a bit moreunderstandable. Their addictions seem to be the most reliable, if notthe only, escape.
Trainspotting is very definitely a movie about youth culture. Itshows an intricate understanding of the issues and influences uponyouth at that period in time, and it realistically reflects thecultural experiences had by young people. Trainspotting appeals to acult-prone youth because it contains the elements that comprisefoundations of subculture in British culture. Although other worksappealed to the youth culture of that period, Trainspotting enjoyed apopularity that exceeded most of them. This may have been due to itsauthenticity in replicating the youth culture experience.
When it first premiered (and even now), the graphic detail ofits language and content was found to be rather shocking by some.However, it resonated very strongly with anyone familiar with drugculture. It reflects, sometimes quite graphically, the underbelly ofEdinburgh in the 1980s, and focuses, as mentioned earlier, mainly onone group of heroin addicts, as well as their friends and families.Their experiences as they struggle with very real issues that many canidentify with: life, work, family, death, the struggle to survive.Other issues—ones that may not have been part of mainstream culture—arepresented as well: AIDS, heroin overdose, heroin withdrawal, and raves,among others.
The use of dialect is very powerful in Trainspotting. Inaddition, the social, political, and economic views expressed by thecharacters would have mirrored the views of society's 'fringe'members—specifically members of the youth and/or drug cultures.
Renton and his mates do not rebel against society, but they doattempt to transcend in their destructive ways. Renton often parodiesfamous Thatcher quotes through his “Choose life” rants and frequentcomments regarding the emptiness of society, as demonstrated in thefollowing examples from the screenplay:
• Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family.Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compactdisc players, and electrical tin openers.
• Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choosefixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose yourfriends.
• Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suiton hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY andwondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting onthat couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffingfucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the endof it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than anembarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned toreplace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life.
• I chose not to choose life. I chose something else. And thereasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've gotheroin?
The lifestyle portrayed in Trainspotting has been described asrepresenting a detached 'subculture' of British youth. However, thereis no evidence in the screenplay to support this assertion. The youngcharacters in this story simply attempt to survive in the largerenvironment by adapting in whatever ways they can, primarily throughmusic and through drugs. They do not attempt to change the status quo,nor are they champions of social reform. They simply react to the bleaksocial conditions that they were born into.
Unable to physically escape their environment, they find release in music, drugs, alcohol, and sex.
Renton is a prime example of this. He is not proactive, he issimply a survivor. He assesses situations with the manipulative eye ofan addict, and he reacts accordingly, taking advantage when he sees theopportunity. He and his contemporaries are merely representative ofyouth who are struggling for a sense of identity. Their mindset isambiguous; they react to outside societal pressures by employing theirchosen means. But they cannot be considered as a youth subculture basedon their language that has been described in the previous section.
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