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Steps for writing an analytical commentary

Step 1: Read the introductory blurb and annotate your text

Be sure to read the introductory blurb at the top of your text – this will help you to understand the context. Then spend a few minutes annotating your text. Use different coloured pens and/or highlighters to note the language features that are immediately obvious.

Step 2: Establish context, social purpose and register

Once you’ve annotated your text, you should be in a better position to think about context (cultural and situational), social purpose(s) and register. Make a note of these in your working space.

Other language features might also be apparent to you: reflections or constructs of identity; covert and overt norms; Standard or non-Standard English; power and prestige; social and personal variation; national, regional or cultural variation. Be mindful of the topics covered in both Units 3 and 4 and look for opportunities to bring relevant language features into your discussion – just don’t wander off-topic.

Step 3: Plan your analysis

You should write your analytical commentary in the style that best suits you. Here are two ways in which you could approach your analysis.

• Method 1: Use the subsystems to organise your analysis

You could look at the subsystems individually and organise your analysis around them. The benefit of this method is that it’s easy to give structure and coherence to your analysis; the downside is that sometimes you might want to discuss several subsystems at the one time, or you might not be sure which subsystem a particular feature fits into. However, if you do choose this method, you can devote a paragraph to each subsystem and work your way systematically through the most obvious language features. Aim for at least two or three main paragraphs – you can write more if time permits.

There is no need for an introduction, but you might like to ‘set the scene’ by briefly outlining the situational context, as this will cement in your mind some of the basic contextual features which you can then expand in the course of your discussion. This is optional, however – if you prefer, you can begin your analysis with a particular subsystem and discuss contextual features as you go along.

Many students devote their first main paragraph to lexicology, simply because it is relevant to any text and is one of the easier subsystems to cover, but you can begin with the subsystem of your choice. If you wish, you can use subheadings, but this is not vital – it’s a matter of personal preference.

There is no need to write a conclusion for an analytical commentary, so don’t waste valuable time doing so.




TEXT 4: Speech

Noel Pearson, eulogy for Gough Whitlam, 5 November 2014


Write an analytical commentary on the language features of Text 4. In your response, you should comment on the:

  • contextual factors affecting/surrounding the text

  • social purpose and register of the text

  • stylistic and discourse features of the text. Refer to at least two subsystems in your analysis.


Noel Pearson, an Australian lawyer and prominent Indigenous leader, delivered a eulogy
at the state memorial service of former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (PM from 1972 to 1975) on 5 November 2014 in the Sydney Town Hall. The service was attended by politicians, dignitaries and members of the public, and was broadcast live on ABC television and radio. The following transcript is an excerpt from the middle of Pearson’s eulogy.

Pearson recalls a scene from the British Monty Python comedy film, Life of Brian (1979), in which freedom fighters complaining about the Roman occupation of Judea ask ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’, only to come up with a long list of improvements introduced by the Romans, such as sanitation, irrigation, medicine, roads, education, a fresh water system, public order, wine and peace. Pearson alludes to this scene from the film in lines 59–95.

The following transcription symbols are used in this transcript:

<L L>

lento: slow-paced utterance


final intonation

<F F>

forte: loud voice


questioning intonation


forte, lento: loud and slow-paced utterance


rising pitch

<Q Q>

quavery voice (with vibrato)


falling pitch

( )

very short pause


emphatic stress

( )

short pause


lengthening of a sound


longer pause


overlapping of speech and applause


truncated intonation unit


continuing intonation

  1. Without this old man,

  2. <F the land and human rights of our people\

  3. would never have seen the light of day. F>

  4. (...) There would never have been (..) Mabo/

  5. (..) and its importance to the history of Australia would have been ^lost,




TEXT 4: Sample analysis – Speech, p 75

This analytical commentary covers as many linguistic features as possible, merely to show you the variety of language features you could discuss.

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson pays tribute to former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in this highly crafted eulogy, delivered in the presence of family, dignitaries and the nation,via television and radio broadcast. The eulogy fulfils a number of social purposes: to commemorate and celebrate the life of one of Australia’s most significant public figures; to offer comfort and condolences to Whitlam’s family and friends; to pay personal respects to a man who achieved much for Aboriginal Australians; and to record for posterity Whitlam’s reforms while in government.


Although funerals are normally private affairs for family and friends, a state funeral such as this must take the wider public into account, hence the need for a live broadcast. Given the ceremonial nature of the occasion and the formal setting, a well-rehearsed, polished performance is essential, and therefore Pearson had prepared his speech in writing. As a lawyer and Indigenous leader, he would be well versed in the art of rhetoric and public speaking,and he uses prosody for maximum effect – he knows that the theatricality is as important as the words themselves. There are no non-fluency features – no pause fillers, hesitations or false starts. Only when the audience applauds over the top of him in line 36 does he have to repeat ‘recalling’. The absence of non-fluency features is typical in this context; scripted speech has few of the repairs and filled pauses present in spontaneous speech.

Pearson makes use of prosody to give his speech musicality and impact; in particular, he slows his speech right down to give his audience the opportunity to reflect on the significance of his words. This, combined with the repetition of ‘only those’ in lines 7 and 9, has great impact – the slow tempo gives an almost rhythmic quality to his speech, and accentuates the fact that few people can understand discrimination unless they have experienced it personally. Long pauses also slow the tempo down and give greater impact to the words which follow, giving them space to be heard: Pearson pauses in line 4 before stating ‘There would never have been Mabo’, and again in line 9 before ‘Only those who have never experienced prejudice’. He is able to express admiration for Whitlam by elongating vowel sounds in ‘tru=ly’ (line 8) and ‘ne=ver’ (line 14), and by placing emphatic stress on the adjective ‘rare’ (line 13), giving the audience the opportunity to appreciate the uniqueness of Whitlam’s character.

Pearson also varies the volume of his speech for dramatic effect; his punchline, having alluded in line 64 to a famous Monty Python sketch, ‘and what did the Romans ever do for us anyway’, is spoken loudly, mimicking the petulance of the insurgents in the film and bringing some comic relief into a sombre occasion. The audience recognises this and laughs and applauds in appreciation – prosodic cues, as well as the humour of the words themselves, give shape and meaning to the discourse. The overlapping of speech and applause in the section from lines 80 to 92 almost serves as a type of back-channelling – despite the fact that a eulogy is a monologue, the audience recognises opportunities to participate by laughing and applauding – suggesting the audience’s support, encouragement and appreciation.

The text also provides logical ordering to maintain cohesion Line 64 poses a rhetorical question "And what did the Romans do for us anyway"?

Pearson then articulates in chronology  number of initiatives achieved by Whitlam in his term as Prime Minister. The text also use jargon from the field of Politics to maintain consistency as an essential part of coherence. The use of cohesion through the lexical use of Synonymy found in line 7 and 9 avoids repetition. 

The speech provides a powerful; reflection of the achievements of Gough Whitlam  whilst in Governmnet . The speaker uses formal language consistently but there are appropriate places within the speech where he uses more informal first person pronouns to reduce social distance

and build rapport  with  the audience


( students have a copy of the transcript)

‘Panic Room’ is the transcript of a highly-informal spoken dialogue between (as we are told in the task details) two teenage girls. They are discussing a movie that (again, in the words of the context details provided) ‘one has seen and which the other would like to see’. The audience for this spoken discourse are the interlocutors themselves and the semantic fields primarily relate to horror movies, the interlocutors’ experiences of them, and, to a lesser extent, recent casting issues related to some of the actresses who have appeared (or who are about to appear), in certain of these films (namely Nicole Kidman and Jodie Foster). The primary purpose of the conversation appears to be ‘referential’ – to discuss and express opinions related to the film, ‘Panic Room’, in particular, as well as to others from the same horror genre, to which ‘Panic Room’ can be compared – those in the ‘really scary’ category. Secondary functions for the discourse are less obvious but it could be said that such a conversation (being an exchange of personal, untechnical ideas and responses) fulfils a highly phatic function; that is, such chit-chat conversations also seek to enhance the social connection, or bonding, between the pair - especially if they are conducted in friendly, cooperative and supportive ways, as this one so obviously is.


The discourse does proceed smoothly, with little to no obstruction, in a climate of cooperativeness and supportive turn-taking. It emerges as a harmonious, dialogic exchange that matches all of Grice’s Maxims; those things which he deemed necessary for any spoken communication to proceed smoothly. This tells us that these two are friends, who either share a high degree of social closeness, or who are relaxed and easy enough in each other’s company so as not to feel that they have to compete for opinion and power in the discussion. The overall patterning of phonological, lexical and morphological, syntactic and semantic features in the discourse supports the conclusion that this is a highly-informal spoken language text, showing all of the characteristics of a spontaneous, free- flowing, unplanned and unrehearsed dialogue; arguably one of the most informal modes of spoken language.

We can see this phonologically via such linguistic features as the presence of non-fluency features and voice noises (‘mmm’ in Line 12; the numerous ‘ums’, as in Lines 2, 39 and 46) and even in the paralinguistic laughter (Lines 5 and 41) which suggests the interlocutors are comfortable enough in each other’s company to let their guard down and not worry too much about their own or others’face needs. Added to this, there are a number of other elements that mark this out as a highly-informal dialogue - the elongation (dipthong-isation) of vowel sounds (for example, ‘We=ll’ in Line 10 and ‘oh==’ in Line 24); the implied prosody (the added stress and pitch and raised tempo, for example, in Lines 14 and 48),and the presence of High Rising Tone in non-interrogative sentences - the declaratives (used here, it seems, as a means of adding further expression) - for example, in Lines 26 and 47). There are also a number of devices that aim to maintain the listener’s attention, hold the floor, check for listener response and generally maintain a cooperative and supportive dialogue between the two. We see this, for example, when M appears to ‘check in’ with B, to see if she is following what is being said (as in Lines 10 and 11 – ‘it’s about ....that buy a new house? / ...there’s what’s called a panic room?’). This example is immediately followed by B‘s non-fluency, voice-noise responses, as in her ‘mmm’, in Line 12, or her reassuring repetition, ‘yeah yeah’, in Line 33. Other ‘conversational’ phonological markers, as above, also confirm that this is a highly-informal


spoken text – elements of which emerge because this is spontaneous unscripted and unrehearsed – things like hedges (the ‘u=m’ in Line 46 suggests this strategy), pauses , false starts and repairs, which, while often involving lexical and syntactic elements, can also produce particular phonetic effects, such as ‘and one’, in Line18, or ‘but she um ... /Hurt a knee ...ankle / Yeah-no knee ankle’, in Line 39 to 41 (inclusive).

Syntactically, as one might expect in a highly-informal spoken dialogue (in which the conversational mode naturally precludes any observance of Standard, grammatical syntax, but instead unfolds in spontaneous, unscripted free-form), this discourse is free-flowing, showing the process of ‘thinking on one’s feet’ whilst in spontaneous conversation. We see this in the discourse’s frequent sentence fragments, such as, ‘Um ... lock up’ in Line 2, or ‘I don’t know / her knee or ankle one of them’, in Line 42 / 43. If sentences exist at all in conversation, they are likely to be in long, randomly- connected compound sentence structure, and this is what we see in Lines 44 – 47, when M speaks about Nicole Kidman in loosely-connected but not grammatically Standard ways – ‘She hurt her knee or something / she’d done like two minutes of filming or something and then ....’[my emphasis]. Syntactically, all of these indicators are unmistakeably reflective of this dialogue’s high informality.

In terms of lexical and morphological patterning, the register of the discourse is also obvious. That the two interlocutors are personally-close is reflected in their use of slang lexemes and idiomatic phrases, such as ‘once the door’s shut and stuff’ (Line 18), ‘sorta run round the house’ (Line 31), ‘sounds like a pretty dodgy storyline’ (Line 27), ‘got put in’ (Line 46) and ‘drop out’ (Line 47). As the elided / ellipted ‘sorta’ and the prevalence of contractions such as ‘what’s (Line 7), ‘it’s (Line 10), ‘that’ve’ (Line 21) and ‘cos’ (Line 31) show us, morphologically this transcript’s high informality is also confirmed. In a scripted and rehearsed speech, for a more formal context, we would be unlikely to hear such things to the same extent, if at all. Interestingly, we also have another highly- formal lexical feature in the high incidence of the Teenspeak discourse marker, ‘like’ (such as in


Lines 13 ‘so if anything happens like...’ and 17 ‘it’s got like cameras all around the house’). These discourse particles here act not as adverbs, but as syntactic ‘fillers’ or syntactic ‘infixes’.

Given that Teenspeak is semantically one of the most informal sociolects in general language use, we can further ascribe the ‘highly-informal’ label to this discourse. It also helps us to recognise the crucial influence of context in this example of an informal dialogue. M and B are identified as (as we were told in the contextual details before the discourse) ‘two teenage girls’. They are not discussing quantum physics, nor using bureaucratese, or legalese. They are not even operating as Margaret Pomeranz or David Strattan might when they are discussing films for a much more formal context, or adult audience, using, perhaps, the jargon of the media in semi- or highly-formal ways. M and B are two ‘friends’ (or at least close acquaintances), loosely and cooperatively discussing their personal responses to and reflections about one film and the genre of ‘scary film’ in particular, using linguistic expressions and devices they are comfortable with, mutually find accessible and freely understand. As well, a good measure of their ‘chit-chat’ here clearly performs a phatic role and thus this ‘dialogue’ may well be more about their own personal bonding, than about the subjects which they have chosen to discuss.

Alisoun Downing 







Writing your response 

I normally recommend discussing the contextual factors (function, field, mode, setting, relationship between participants - from Study Design) and the register - possibly this is how some of the previous ACs have been structured?  The criteria has guided my suggestions...

Look at the criteria - the key words and things that they are looking for are purpose, discourse, context, register, metalanguage, analysis, tight structure.  No matter what format you choose (there is no proscribed 'right' structure, as noted in previous assessor reports), ensure that you comment on these topics in detail.

Criteria can be found here:

Written examination – End of year Assessment criteria

Examination responses will be assessed on the extent to which they demonstrate the ability to:

  • use metalanguage to describe and analyse structures, features and functions of language in a range of contexts

  • explain and analyse linguistic features of written and spoken English in a range of registers

  • understand and analyse relationships between language and identities in society

  • identify and analyse differing attitudes to varieties of Australian English

  • draw on contemporary discussions and debates about language

  • write clearly organised responses with controlled and effective use of language appropriate to the task.

    Assessors mark holistically, relating student performance to the published criteria and ranking students over the full range of marks available. Determination of the mark is assisted by descriptors of ‘Expected qualities for the mark range’; these have been written to reflect the level of achievement expected at a particular mark or mark range. The descriptors are only a general guide: they do not necessarily match precisely the performance of an individual response. Both the criteria and the descriptors are fully explored and directly related to the range of student responses during the assessor training process.


Expected qualities


Demonstrates detailed knowledge and is supported by relevant examples/evidence from the text. Metalanguage is used appropriately and effectively. Features of written discourse are consistently used.


Demonstrates sound knowledge and is supported by some examples/evidence from the text. The metalanguage used is relevant. Features of written discourse are mostly evident.


Demonstrates limited knowledge and contains few examples from the text. The use of metalanguage is limited or absent. Few features of written discourse are evident.



Further resources 

Donald Trump's message  note at Israel's Holocaust Memorial

President Donald Trump has left a guest book entry at the Israeli memorial for the Holocaust that some have observed looks a lot like what you might expect a teenager to write in a yearbook at the end of a school year.

In typical Trump fashion, the message he left at Yad Vashem was full of enthusiastic adjectives, and was, at least compared to his predecessor’s message, pretty short. It clocked in at less than 140 characters — so it could have easily been written on a Twitter app at 3 a.m. It also did not mention the Holocaust.

“It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends,” he wrote. “So amazing + will never forget!”

US intelligence chief: Can't comment on conversations with Trump

Some commentators on social media called the note “outrageous,” while others said it was “sad.” 

“The note Trump left at Israel’s holocaust memorial is what you write in someone’s yearbook that you don’t know very well,” a US-based journalist wrote.

Other Twitter users contrasted Mr Trump’s note to that of former President Barack Obama’s, who visited the memorial during his first presidential campaign 2008. Mr Obama’s message was much longer and spoke to the importance of remembering the history of the Holocaust, and to the resilience of the human spirit.

“I am grateful to Yad Vashem and all of those responsible for this remarkable institution,” Mr Obama wrote. “At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world. Let our children come here, and know this history, so that they can add their voices to proclaim ‘never again.’ And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims, but also as individuals who helped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit.”

That the two presidents took a different approach to writing in a museum guest book shouldn’t be surprising. Mr Obama was widely regarded as a bookish and even monkish president who would dive into the intricacies of policy. Mr Trump reportedly takes a different approach to his job, preferring shorter briefings on issues with bullet points condensed into as few pages as possible.

The chairman of the Yad Vashem memorial, Avner Shalev, said that Mr Trump’s brief guestbook note wasn’t offensive, and that the President had given “very meaningful” remarks before writing the note.

“He touched all the essential elements that should be touched” like remembering victims of the Holocaust and standing up to evil, Mr Shalev told ABC News

Commentary structure​

The Analytical Commentary should cover:

  • contextual factors affecting/surrounding the text

       situational and cultural context

Situational  Mode-  Spoken or Written -Text type - Advertisement ; Sports commentary: Brochure ; Speech : Interview : Letter : Narrative 

Setting and medium / Channel of communication - Radio or TV Broadcast to an Australian audience , Newspaper article

                                                                                 webpage, public lecture , private conversation on a bus, advertisement on a billboard 

Field or  Topic   -      Health, discussing plans for the weekend, road rules , cooking , politics, sport, law, school 

Function                   To advise, persuade , entertain , instruct , inform ; or phatic, transactional

Relationship between participants   close or distant, formal or informal

Cultural  Context -  The values beliefs and attitudes

held  by    participants and    the wider community :  Australian references , luxemes , connotations inferences , face needs                       and politeness, euphemisms and taboo, political correctness, social mores/ expectations

  • social purpose and register of the text

  • stylistic and discourse features of the text

INTRODUCTION: give a short and concise introduction to the text type, purpose and audience.

Paragraph one:

Analyse (contextual) factors that are critical to the meaning of the text such as:

    • register and context; tone and background, point of view, purpose and message

    • degree of formality or informality and specific conventions

    • Register/ Context/ Coherence/ Cohesion; meaning; headings; structure;

    • discourse markers (which reflect the mode of communication); cohesive ties (pronouns referring to speaker and audience: address to reader)

    • inference and the referential nature of the text  (The article assumes /presupposes that the audience has prior knowledge / awareness of … Or Readers would infer from the context and the nature of the open letter that …

  • See Cohesion and Coherence: notes and summary

Paragraphs 2 and 3: social purpose/register

(Depending upon the type of text, you may organise the paragraphs around each speaker (if more than one); or two key points in the text/ or the turn-taking themes.)

Degree of formality/informality/purpose:  (lexicology)

  • (two) subject-specific words and lexical sets; which ensure the coherence of the text; social and cultural references

  • nouns; concrete (tangible, physical) and abstract nouns (concepts);

  • function of modifiers: visual, physical emotive, evaluative, psychological; state of mind;

  • use of jargon or slang

Degree of formality/informality/purpose: (syntactic patterning) 

  • Syntactical patterning: (cohesion) sentence structure and types; conjunctions;

  • informal: ellipsis; declaratives; simple/short sentences/ coordination (identity/close social purpose) (minimise repetition/ degree of intimacy/ shared knowledge); interrogative tags and sentences

  • type of verbs; aspect and voice; passive/active; modality; embedded clauses ; syntactic features imitating conversational patterns; (repairs/ hedging expressions); direct speech quotes (spontaneity/directness/intimacy/freshness)

Information flow:

  • Information flow; Look for antithesis; parallelisms; listing etc.; anaphoric ; cataphoric; repetition; tripling;

    • Cohesive ties – pronouns and referencing/ repetition

    • flow of adverbial phrases and clauses; left and right branching

Paragraph 4: Stylistic and discourse features (written or spoken, formal or informal) (context/identity/theme/purpose)

  • idiosyncratic linguistic choices; code language; non-standard language such as dialect, prosodic features

  • pronoun references: a clue to the informality; and identity/ relationships)

  • cooperative turn-taking

  • informal: shortenings; reductions; contractions; idiomatic phrases; idiosyncratic features; slang/colloquialisms; slang/jargon; discourse markers; (identity/relationships/close social distance/ familiarity with topic/tone);

  • lexical ambiguity/ double meanings: semantic patterning; figurative language; irony, (extended) metaphor, simile, personification; colloquial/ clichés; idioms

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