Role and Reference Grammar Analysis Essay Sample

The paper discusses the Role and Reference Grammar (RRG) and its role in the analysis of the computer mediated communication (CMC). It researches the meaning in relation to speech situations and deals with utterance meaning. RRG provides an ideal theoretical framework to develop the central idea of current work, the view that manifests split intransitivity, which is determined by the tension between syntactic and semantic alignment, and is variously constrained by information structure. In the course of investigation, the computer mediated speech acts are analyzed from the perspectives of RRG in order to understand what is the relation between the linguistic and pragmatic expression of the utterances, and how the assist in deconstructing the meaning of the speech act, as well as the original intention of the author.

Current study is tightly connected with the issue of functionally oriented theory of formal linguistic theory, which is the Role and Reference Grammar (RRG). It views language as interpersonal communication between people, rather than as an infinite set of structural descriptions of sentences. Functional linguistics is interested in the field of “grammatical competence” or “communicative competence”, which embrace both linguistic and social knowledge. The interaction of semantic, pragmatic and sociolinguistic factors plays a dominant role in creating the morph syntactic structure. It should be emphasized that in Role and Reference Grammar (RRG), “role” stands for the semantics which interacts with “reference”, which stands for pragmatics (Van Valin and LaPolla, 1997, p. 1). Semantics is the study of meaning and pragmatics “is the study of language from a functional perspective, that is, that it attempts to explain facets of linguistic structure by reference to non-linguistic pressures and causes” (Levinson, 1983, p 7). In other words, RRG researches the interaction between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

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Current work makes an attempt to investigate the role of RRG in computer mediated communication. It represents RRG as a mix of semantic and pragmatics dealing with a) the relation between signs or linguistic expressions and b) the contexts in which people use language and the behavior of speakers and listeners. RRG is supposed to assist in the process of true meaning deconstruction. Given research paper will investigate the expressive speech acts in social networks, aiming at identification of the most frequently used constructions in the expression of different emotions. It should be stated that the main idea of choosing such topic is the fact that despite the considerable amount of research, which has been devoted to the RRG topic, few attempts have been made to investigate its application for the computer-mediated communication analysis.

State of the Art

RRG in traditional sense comprises the study of language usage united with the study of combinational properties of words and their parts. RRG theory researches the meaning in relation to speech situations and deals with utterance meaning. RRG provides an ideal theoretical framework to develop the central idea of current work, the view that manifests split intransitivity, which is determined by the tension between syntactic and semantic alignment, and is variously constrained by information structure. RRG posits three independent levels of representation: a representation of syntactic structure, a semantic representation, and the representation of the information structure of the utterances.

RRG is very persuasive in its attempts to demonstrate how semantic and pragmatic functions can be seen as a partial motivation for linguistic form, while not explaining it completely. Van Valin and LaPolla discuss RRG and state that syntactic behavior is shown to be predicted by the underlying semantics and discourse pragmatics. Van Valin and LaPolla in the work “Syntax: Structure, Meaning, and Function” (1997) accept Dik’s criterion of psychological adequacy as a goal for RRG. In RRG, features of constructions are represented by the use of construction schemes, which display the knowledge associated with construction terms of semantics, syntax, morphology, and pragmatics. They are flexible enough for the description of a great variety of construction types, as they allow for the semantics, syntax etc. slots to be filled with features to variables degrees. The first RRG collection of grammatical descriptions for various languages that emphasize the role and importance of construction-schemata, and the explanatory power they contain to understand grammatical phenomena at the interfaces that appear to go beyond the lexicon.

Application of RRG for the computer-mediated communication is essential, as it assists in understanding how the construction of the speech meaning acts. RRG investigates how statements obtain their meaning in speech situations, through the application of semantic and syntactic structures.
RRG is useful for understanding the characteristics of the groups of terms that occur in various semantic domains. In his study of syntax, Van Valin (1997) delimits continuum with verb-specific semantic roles at one end and grammatical relations at the other. Van Valin (1997) begins the analysis of verb-specific semantic roles, such as someone who speaks, someone who thinks, hears and likes. He observes that such roles form a group, which he describes as thematic relations. One who speaks is an agent, one who thinks is cognizer, one who hears is perceiver and one who likes is emoter.

Characteristics of Computer Mediated Communication

At first it is worth mentioning the Computer Mediated Communication, or as it is often called CMC. Such particular type of communication exists since the time of creating the first digital computer, or since the first recorded email exchange, which happened in 1969. Researcher Charles Dills defines it in his book “Instructional Development Paradigms” (1997), where he points out:
“Computer mediated communication (CMC) is a generic term now commonly used for a variety of systems that enable people to communicate with other people by means of computers and networks. Well-known examples of such systems include computer conferencing, electronic mail, discussion lists, and bulletin boards” (p. 745).

While discussing the methodological issues, the theory of speech acts should be mentioned. It is necessary to point out that social media provides people with an opportunity to reveal their message in its particular form of expression. When people communicate in the social networks, they use language in order to perform particular actions. In such case, the process of communication is directly linked to the theory of speech acts. In the framework of speech act theory, two persons (addressor and addressee) communicate and show the intention of their messages. Addressor sends his message to the addressee, and the latter encodes it.

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The famous work by scholar Austin “How to Do Things with Words” gave rise to a new outlook of language. His important realization that ‘in saying something a speaker also does something’ has been widely accepted, and his division of acts into locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary has formed the basis for development of communicative functions defined by illocutionary force.

The computer-mediated communication has its own specific features. It should be taken into account that it is a kind of hybrid between the spoken and written language. It should not be treated as a single mode of communication, because every individual brings his/her specific features into it. In the virtual world a person creates his/her own personality (often different from the real one), which facilitates the communication process, removes psychological barriers, and liberates the creative “I”. Such interactive forms of mediated communication, as chat rooms, forums, and newsgroups provide the unique opportunity for self-expression. Mukesh Chaturvedi in his book “Business Communication: Concepts, Cases, and Applications” (2011) states:
“Social media are popular because they allow collaboration and creativity. The audience of social media can participate by adding comments or changing the stores themselves. The empowerment and freedom of the audience to add or create new content makes social media a process and not a static medium” (p. 23).

The computer-mediated communication (according to researcher Grelffenstein) is divided into two main types: synchronous and asynchronous. “Synchronous type of computer mediated communication shows more features of spoken language. The asynchronous type of CMC is closer to written language” (Grelffenstein, 2010, p. 30).

Computer-mediated communication constitutes a practical resource for eliciting emotionally rich and detailed disclosures from people who might otherwise be reluctant to seek health advice from professionals directly. Grammar in CMC is characterized by colloquial and non-standard constructions, often similar to constructions found in dialects. The omission of function words like prepositions, copulas, and auxiliary verbs sometimes gives CMC a pidgin-like character. On the one hand, it can occur due to reasons of economy when users have to type fast. On the other hand, such omissions can be viewed as dialect features which have developed as the result of intense pressure to accommodate between group members. The syntactic features of CMC can reflect informal habits of speech.

The Data and Method of Analysis Section

CMC has its own particular register. It should be stated that the Internet has influenced not only the human way of thinking, but also the speech mode. In most cases people use the non-standard language, while communicating in social networks. The Internet register is a kind of dialect, which is understandable for Web users only. Famous linguist David Crystal once said:
“On Twitter (which limits each written entry to 140 characters), you don’t get the range of texting abbreviations you get in text messaging. It’s a more sophisticated kind of communicative medium. You get semantic threads running through it. When you start counting thousands and thousands of messages, you suddenly realize that on the whole it’s a new art form in the making” (Jo Lo Dico, 2012, par.14).

Tweeting and texting influence the language. There exist various viewpoints to such issue. A number of people criticize Internet language and state that it “ruins children’s ability to write correctly, leading to poor spelling, ignorance of rules of writing, and even decline of morality” (Denham and Lobeck, 2010, p. 450). It should be stated that Internet language should be perceived as new form of a language, which conveys tone and emotions.

Current research aims at analyzing the linguistic peculiarities of the language used in social networks. In order to conduct it, the questionnaires and social networks’ pages of 20 young people were analyzed.

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In the course of current research, the analysis was divided into two parts. The first one was aimed at investigating the semantics, and the second part made an attempt to research the context and the behavior of the speakers. In such way, the study will discuss both semantics and pragmatics. For the semantic research, the feature-based graduation was applied in order to determine the argument’s activity degree for verbs of emotion.

The calculus is based on three features:

  • Cause [c];
  • Mental [m];
  • Result [r].

Moreover, the following indicators are used in order to determine the strength of the proto-agent:

  • [c] – strong proto-agent feature;
  • [m] – weak proto-agent feature;
  • [r] – strong proto-patient feature (according to Nolan and Driedchsen, 2013, p. 126)

Expressive Speech Acts

Expressive comments are used to show the readers the addressor’s inner feelings and psychological state. In most cases the feelings are of like or dislike, love, hate, joy, and sorrow. Nearly 40% of social networks’ users apply expressive speech acts. The analysis has also revealed frequent application of such verbs as “to love”, “to like”, “to miss”, “to trust”. In most cases, the comments in the computer-mediated communication include the feelings of positive emotions only. Very rarely the people post photos, which result in the occurrence of negative feelings, and posting negative comments with the application of such emotion verbs as “to hate” or “to dislike”. While analyzing the verbs of emotion from RRG perspective, one should take into account the fact that they presuppose different types of EXPERIENCER. The TARGET or SENSATION may argument the CORRELATE. In other words, it is the state of affairs in which the emotion is concerned. In the analysis an EXPERIECER, undergoing change of sate in concrete emotional episode is represented by the feature-value cluster [-c+m+r] (Nolan and Driedchsen, 2013, p. 127).


  • I did I miss him a whole lot!!! Love you too girl!

Semantics: The representation of the verb “to love” is problematic because it can be non-episodic or episodic, according to the context. In the episodic use [r] would be [+] and would, therefore, neutralize the value of the actor-features [±c+m]: 2+2-4=0. The same degree of activity would be attributed to both arguments, the EXPERIENCER and the CORRELATE, thus rendering macrorole assignment undecidable. Another emotion verb applied in the speech act (to miss), is the intransitive subject-experiencer verb. In such case, the EXPERIENCER directs her emotional behavior to a point of reference, through which the unexpressed correlate may be inferred. The point of reference is represented by the feature-value-cluster [-c±m-r], in which the EXPERIENCER shows an active emotional behavior and assumes the cluster [±c+m-r] with more or less controlled acting (represented by [±c]). Such syntactic construction is essential for the expressive speech act, as it assists the readers to understand the function of the comment better.

Pragmatics: Such comment was applied in order to express the positive feeling of bereavement. The speaker makes an attempt to show that he still preserves positive feelings through the application of emotion verbs “to love” and “to miss”. The importance of the context for understanding a text can be further illustrated by set of items that help focus on particular hints in the utterance. As a result, the reader turns out to be able to connect the message encoded in the text to his own socio-cultural background and knowledge. In other words, the observant reader will ascertain specific signals and deconstruct the coherence of the statement. RRG helps grasp the relations between the language and the context, which are coded within the structure of the comment.

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In a given context, the emotion verbs “to miss” and “to love” obtain additional meaning. They serve as confirmation that the person, who is discussed in the comment, is dead. The emotion verb “to miss” performs the function of the statement “Unfortunately, he has died”.
The analysis of CMC (Twitter and Facebook), have revealed the fact that the words “to love” and “to miss” are the most frequently used ones. People use them in order to express their positive feelings towards others and express their devotion.

  • I like such dresses!!!

Semantics: The EXPERIENCER seems to be less active, since she does not express subjective judgement. We can only explain macrorole assignment and PSA selection of such class if we ignore the [r] feature as we have done in the case of the EXPERIENCER of the episodic user.
Pragmatics: In current case, the emotion verb “to like” acquires the meaning “to want”. The verb “to like” presupposes the meaning that he speaker actually has a desire to obtain it and wear it. Such expressive speech act was applied in order to show the speaker’s attraction by the particular item of clothing.

  • The only man, whom I trust! [-c, -m, -r].

Semantics: The causative class separates the CAUSER and the CORRELATE, realizing a CORRELATE or a POINT OF REFERENCE as the third argument. The EXPERIENCER undergoes an episodic change of her or his emotional state.
Pragmatics: The function of the emotion verb is to express the inner feeling of believing that a person says the truth. It might be stated that meaning of the emotion verb “to trust” in current case is “to rely”.

  • He irritates me so much!!!

Semantics: The statement expresses the contrast between the object EXPERIENCER verbs of emotions and marked the UNDERGOER or EXPERIENCER verbs of emotion, which are the result of the ACTOR argument.
Pragmatics: The function of the emotion verb “to irritate” is to express the negative feelings tightly connected with the mode of the ACTOR’s behavior. It affects the EXPERIENCER and he applies the emotion verb in order to manifest his dislike.

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Current research work was aimed at revealing the application of Role and Reference Grammar (RRG). RRG has become a debated issue in modern linguistics, as it postulates its own theory of phrase structure. It emphasizes the generative syntax tradition and makes an attempt to analyze the relationship macroroles.

The work was aimed at uniting such progressive linguistic notion as RRG with modern computer-mediated communication. The thing is that such kind of analysis seems to be quite innovative, as it unites such popular linguistic notions as RRG and CMC. RRG recognizes the importance of constructions by using construction-schemata. It allows capturing the cross-linguistic generalizations while expressing the language-particular properties. In the course of current research, attention was paid to semantic and pragmatic aspects of RRG. The semantic representation is based on a system of lexical representation and semantic roles. It is a branch of linguistics dealing with the contexts in which people use language and the behavior of speakers and listeners. In the course of analysis, semantics revealed the role of the grammatical constructions and emotion verbs in particular, and pragmatics defined the reference for it.

Expressive speech acts, as conversational agents, were chosen as the topic of the investigation. People often provide the comments to different photos and pictures in the social networks, and such comments may be treated as speech acts. They are special conversational agents in a computer-mediated environment, which are deliberately built on the notion of speech act performatives. In addition, they are tightly connected to the certain kind of communication within a functional model of grammar. Its major objective was to understand the most frequently used constructions and their contexts. In the course of research it was found out that expressive speech acts are the most frequently used constructions in computer-mediated communication. In most cases, such speech acts include the emotion verbs. Emotion verbs include different types of EXPERIENCER, and the TARGET or SENSATION may argument the CORRELATE. The investigation has shown that RRG analysis assists to deconstruct the meaning and function of the speech act. It prioritizes cognitive over sociocultural explanation. In present work, RRG has made an extensive use of authentic data and assisted to define the theta-features and values data. Expressive speech acts are relevant for the computer-mediated communication because they express the inner thoughts of their author and provide the ability to understand him. They are tightly connected with emotion verbs, as they serve the main means of the expression. RRG assisted to understand the intentions of the speaker and deconstruct the true meaning of the expressive speech acts through the semantic and pragmatic analysis.