Book: Analyzing the Media
Chapter: Media and Education: A Functional View on Simplification Criteria of News Articles in the Second Language Classroom
This paper presents the results of a study conducted within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics that analyses the lexico-grammatical criteria used for simplifying news articles to adapt them to levels of linguistic proficiency found in second language classrooms. The analysis focuses on different versions of news articles corresponding to Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced levels. The original versions come from The Guardian, and the simplified versions were adapted by a major publisher for an English as a Second Language (ESL) website (http://www.onestopenglish.com). The results of our analyses show that the changes focus mainly on the ideational metafunction with a decrease in the logical complexity of subordination in the simplified texts for the ESL classroom. They also involve a decrease in experiential grammatical metaphors. In this latter case abstract nominal post-modification structures, including present and past participle as well as prepositional phrases, are expressed as finite clauses in the simplified ESL texts (Martin 1989, Christie & Derewianka 2008, Rose & Martin 2012). Changes in the textual metafunction involve going from more “contentful” to “more contentlight” Themes (Berry 2013), and changes in the interpersonal metafunction involve going from more abstract to more concrete grammatical subjects (Halliday & Mathiessen 2013).
Nevertheless, all these metafunctional changes at the discourse-semantic level of the simplified versions consistently respect the typical news article generic structure. Some of the more salient news article linguistic features are also maintained, such as for instance news writer invisibility by means of processes of saying attributed to external participants who are construed as the “voices of authority”. From a teaching perspective, results illustrate a fundamental concept in Systemic Functional Linguistics, that of language as choice, which can be productively exploited in the classroom. In particular, text rewriting activities based on the different versions of the news articles enable advanced level students to select alternative linguistic expressions of different levels of complexity to express a range of related meanings, while respecting genre realization.