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Language Acquisition 4: Appropriate and Inappropriate Language: Dimensions of Text Analysis


Admission requirements

A pass for an introductory course on academic writing, and a course on English grammar, is required.


Languages are often discussed as if there is a single, correct way to phrase a message. Yet we use language in a very diverse range of contexts and communicative situations (e.g., using speech or writing, writing an essay or a tweet, addressing a professor or a friend, communicating in public or private contexts) and we adjust our linguistic choices accordingly. What is deemed ‘good’ or ‘appropriate’ language/grammar in one context or situation may be ‘inappropriate’ in another.
In this course, we focus on such situational variation in English (and other languages) by discussing how language functions and is investigated at the level of text and discourse. We start by distinguishing among the core concepts of register, genre and style, and then turn to the question of how these language dimensions interact. Besides description of the systematic, structural differences among linguistic registers (including academic writing, face-to-face conversation, and electronic communication), this course also focusses on functional explanations for why situational features influence the forms of language. Foundational questions we address include:

  • What is the extent of register and genre variation within and across languages?

  • Is there a functional basis for linguistic variation between text types?
    More specific topics include, but are not limited to:

  • To what extent can the prescriptive rules of academic writing be considered arbitrary, as opposed to being grounded in functional/situational features?

  • What are the differences between scripted (e.g., TV dialogue) and spontaneous conversation?

  • How do literary genres (e.g., the novel) change over time, and to what extent might these changes be attributed to aesthetic or situational features?

  • What is personal style?

  • How do technological affordances (e.g., instant messaging dialogue bubbles) influence they way we understand intergenerational language change?
    In the first half of the course, you participate in seminar discussions regarding textbook chapters that present theories and methods of discourse analysis.
    In the second half of the course, you participate in peer-group workshops in which you conduct your own small-scale linguistic analysis with guidance from your instructor and 3-4 of your classmates. Weekly peer review sessions will support you througout the process of moving your research project from linguistic analysis to a concise essay written for a general audience. Through this process, we will examine the nature of scientific communication, and how it might be more effectively undertaken.

Course objectives

  • Understand theories and constructs related to linguistic variation

  • Investigate how language functions at the level of text and discourse

  • Apply qualitative and quantitative methods of discourse and genre analysis

  • Engage in independent research

  • Develop audience awareness for effective scientific communication

  • Write a multimodal essay in English at CEF-level C1


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar.

  • Research.

Assessment method


  • Mid-term electronic examination with closed questions regarding lectures and assigned readings. A pass mark of 6 is needed to pass the course.

  • Seminar participation. Score is based on percentage of seminars attended with proper preparation.

  • 3,000-word research-based essay at the end of the course. A score of 6 is required to pass the course.


  • Mid-term: 40%

  • Seminar participation: 20%

  • Essay: 40%

Attendance is compulsory. Missing more than two tutorials means that students will be excluded from the tutorials. Unauthorized absence also applies to being unprepared, not participating and/or not bringing the relevant course materials to class.


Students may resit the mid-term with an initial score of 4.5-5.5. The end-of-term essay can be resubmitted if the score is between 4.5 and 5.5. This essay resit will constitute for 100% of the final grade, thus replacing all previously earned marks. Please note that there is no resit for the seminar participation.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Biber, Douglas, & Conrad, Susan. (2019). Register, Genre, and Style. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This textbook is available electronically via the university library:


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

Students other than from the BA English language and culture cannot take this course.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Student administration Arsenaal


Not applicable.