VCE Outcome 3: Language analysis Essay

The following essay is based on an article that appears a textbook for Senior English”. The essay is accompanied by feedback and explanatory paragraphs, which should prove useful. For further explication please contact me at angus@gbdeducation.com.au.

    In a language analysis, your first paragraph and introduction should address the context of the piece of writing in terms of: contention, form, purpose, writer and audience. Specific analysis of persuasive techniques should be the basis of your arguments in the body of your essay, (although techniques can be part of and influence some of these five elements to describe in your introduction).

Even youth psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg doesn’t seem to really understand kids or parents these days. His article “Scrap metal faces can be dangerous”, published in The Herald and Weekly Times, contends that new government legislation should be approved to ban teenagers from body piercing unless they have parental permission. Although the expert recognises the “risk-taking” behaviours of adolescents, and presents a long list of frightening “evidence” to dissuade even the most “responsible” teenager, the psychologist is ultimately mistaken to equate government regulation with parenting. This bland and boring article makes a case for general concern, but not for intervention through legislation. Indeed, the article seems to raise awareness of the issue for an audience of parents and kids, but does not successfully present arguments to government for action.

    Can you see how this introduction is … well, an introduction, and not an analysis? It sums up what the rest of the essay will discuss, in that it sums up the context of the article written. It talks mostly about the purpose, method or thinking of the writer in general terms, thus signposting what the body of the essay will have to prove with evidence. The signposts are (in part) indicated with the “quotes” – in later body paragraphs the structure of TEEL or TEEEEEEL will prove these points through analytical argument.

    In introducing the issue of facial piercings to readers, the writer is not subtle in their position. In an extreme close-up shot, the heavily black-outlined eyes of a teenager stare out challengingly at the reader, and she does not smile. Her unfriendly face is adorned with several studs and a nose-ring, thus linking body piercing in the minds of the reader with difficult youth. Body piercings, it seems, mean trouble. The description of “Scrap metal faces” is equally inhumane, and extremely dismissive of the value of such acts. When the writer presents a rhetorical comparison between “body art” and “a sinister new development”, his negative and menacing language leaves little room for disagreement.

So why does Michael Carr-Gregg dislike piercing? His argument is that it is “dangerous”. At first the writer uses imagery to persuade the reader, both through the described visual elements of the photo and then through the unflattering description of “inserting BHP steel into sundry body parts”. What is implied in this sentence is that the act is extremely random – this is clearly a prejudiced view! Teenagers do not simply insert random pieces of metal into themselves, and the sensible practice (which is not always the case, admittedly) is controlled by a paid practitioner.

    There are definitely risks involved, however the writer overstates the dangers. The loaded terms of “Infection to hepatitis and even HIV” are deliberately used to frighten the audience. Similarly the writer exaggerates the concerns of other experts, stating that “doctors are unanimous” about the risks. Doctors, or even the assumed “dentists”, are equally unanimous about the risks of child-birth, but they don’t therefore disqualify the public from parenthood. The canny reader realises that if such risks might “suggest” danger, the writer has no actual figures or instances to back up his assertions of “enough evidence”. Essentially the writer is playing throughout the article upon the audience’s fears, either of dangerous teenagers or dangerous practices, in order to assert that such risks are unacceptable.

So, in these three body paragraphs I’ve used TEEEEEEL strongly in the first and third, but not so clearly for the second. That’s because the argument for the second paragraphs links up with the third – the topic sentence in argument two works for both paragraphs, as does the linking sentence for the third.

    More importantly, you should see in these body paragraphs that a strong critical reading of the writer is presented as analysed in both their ideas, and their use of persuasive technique. Throughout the analysis, you have to combine discussions of: ideas/arguments, evidence/quotes, persuasive language/techniques, writer’s position/purpose, and effect/affect on the audience. Most importantly, as I keep saying, you must keep in mind that not all persuasion, no matter how good it might be, will work on all readers. In other words, think about what the writer is not saying, or not doing well, or doing deliberately to manipulate a false conclusion in the reader. Don’t simply accept the argument or skill of the writer as a given, because your analysis needs to be good enough to read behind what the writer is trying to persuade you of.

These paragraphs have presented the sort of language analysis you are expected to compose – the next paragraph analyses the writer’s argument in an advanced form of analysis you should consider, but might not be expected to achieve.

    In the final paragraphs of his piece the psychologist seems to have realised an underlying reality of some adolescent behaviour in “’rebellion’ – angry gestures directed specifically at parents or other authority figures.” They then bizarrely conclude that we can protect such youth by “steering” and “encouraging” through government legislation, when the obvious result will only be to force any delinquent youth to pursue their desires illicitly. The effect will be the opposite of that desired – it will actually increase the incidence of dangers that the writer has already presented! So much for professional psychological advice! Whilst the writer is right to emphasise the role parents can play in helping teenagers to make “responsible” decisions, taking that responsibility away from youth through legislation would clearly be a self-defeating and extraordinary aim.

Unfortunately I’ve run out of steam to present here an appropriate conclusion for a language analysis. Like the introduction, the conclusion should sum up the essay – it does not introduce new points, and it looks at the overall effect of the arguments/techniques already discussed.

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