Indulging in language, navigating analysis, and more…

Against a light blue background, a black line outlines a person's head and face in profile. Inside is a pink brain with a red heart centered. Source:

Language has been an ever-growing interest for me throughout my academic career at St. Mary’s University. As a fourth-year undergraduate student alongside a first-year graduate student in the Combined Degree program, I’ve taken every opportunity to work with language. 

Before getting into how I am working with language today, let me catch you up…

During my third year, I was able to devote my Fall 2019 semester developing a foundation for research on self-talk and it’s impact on inner peace. My project is called “Be Gentle: An Analysis of the Role of Self-talk.” During the Summer 2020 semester, I continued my research on this project, collected data, and began qualitative analysis while in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURF) program at St. Mary’s University.

And that’s all you need in a nutshell, so let’s move back to today…

This Fall 2020, I took Dr. Mary Lynne Gasaway Hill’s course, Linguistics: Voice and Text. In this course, we explored the syntax of the English language, explored grammatical functions and structures, and elevated our ability to communicate effectively. 

(Side note: if you ever take a course like this one—Do not give up! You may feel like you don’t know words and so discombobulated, but it’ll be worth it in end) 

So, when it came time to pick a project, I decided to continue my research from the summer, and I got the chance to further indulge in my analysis of language, but this time through a scope of three variables: tone, pronouns, and modal verbs. After reviewing the data I collected from the summer, which included a two week process of collecting three trending posts from Instagram, filtered through two separate hashtags, “#mentalhealth and #inner peace,” I noticed a handful of consistent themes and variables. However, for the purpose of linguistic analysis, and after receiving some guidance from Dr. Hill, I moved forward with selecting about 7 of the image-text posts (meaning a post with words), more specifically ones that were posted from the same user account, called “herincrediblemindset.”

 For me, research has always been a chaotic but beautiful process. As an individual, I experience a full roller-coaster of emotions, doubts, and questions. I go from being overjoyed, to nervous, to unsure, to ultimate confusion, then to a “light bulb” moment. Sounds fun, right? 

On paper, here’s what my process looked like (at least the pretty version):

  • What about language? Language constructs thought and influences behavior (thinking about the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis)
  • What about the language used in the posts collected previously? Different themes, tones, and syntax. 
    • Syntax: an arrangement of words and/or phrases to create formed sentences in language (Oxford Languages)
  • What specifically about the syntax of the language? (I then took note of what was both heavily used and lacking)
  • What about the use of tone, pronouns, and sentence patterns? These variables led me to connecting the course with my research. 
    • Tone: general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.
      • With the help of modal verbs, we can better identify tone, which can impact the weight of impact on the reader.  
      • Modal verbs can be used to create moods in the English language, like a conditional mood, meaning a mood that makes requests and/or refers to uncertain situations which depend on something to happen (Lexico)
      • Modal verbs are also known as “modal auxiliary verbs” (Lexico). Examples of modal verbs are “must, should, shall, will, would, ought (to), can, could, may, and might” (Lexico).
    • Pronouns: a word that can function by itself as a noun phrase and that refers either to the participants in thee discourse or to someone/something mentioned elsewhere (Oxford Languages)
      • Pronouns can control the narrative and critical reception as a reader.
    • Sentence Patterns: referring to a formatted sentence made up on phrases and clauses (Eastern Washington University’s Writers’ Center)
      • A sentence pattern can aid flow, and highlight certain clauses or phrases. 
  • Why does this matter? (This is not a required question, but always good to ask. See below for my answer.) 

Here is an example of what my linguistic analysis looks like:

Screenshot of an Instagram post by user HerIncredibleMindset. Black text on a pink background reads, "Be kind and speak gently to past versions of yourself that didn't know the things you know now." Caption reads, "Forigve yourself for not know what you didn't know before you learned it." - Maya Angelou. There are comments below. User IqbalBrar26 comments, "Amazing and True." Another comments whose username is illegible writes, "Awesome work of inspiration. Happy I came across this page. I create motivational and inspirational posts too. Follow to follow please. [illegible yellow emoji]. Thanks"

(You should) Be kind and speak gently / to past versions of yourself [that didn’t know the things you know now.]

🡪Subject is suggested to be “you” 

(You) be kind = Pattern II (Mood: Imperative)

(You) speak gently = Pattern VI (Mood: Imperative)

🡪/ to past versions of yourself [that didn’t know the things you know now.]

(‘past versions’ is an adjectival modifier “of yourself”)

   =Adverbial Prepositional Phrase with recursivity as ‘of yourself’ modifies ‘versions’ 

and object of preposition ‘to’

🡪Verb Phrase: “Be kind and speak gently”

🡪‘that didn’t know the things you know now’ is a relative clause, modifying ‘yourself’

*functioning as an adverbial (meaning it answers to when/where)

🡪(You) did know the things you know now. = Pattern VII (Mood: Indicative)

NP1     Vtr           NP2      Relative Clause modifying ‘things’  

🡪(that) you know now.   (Relative Clause, modifying ‘things’/NP2/Direct Object)   

    NP1   Vintransitive                 Adverbial= Pattern VI (Mood: Indicative)      

🡪Tone: Conditional

🡪Sentence pattern:  I and II 

Analyzing such variables within the context of social media is of great value because language structures consciousness. Mental health and wellness have declined over time and society has created a handful of ways to combat it, including affirmational social media posting, books, blogs, YouTube channels, etc. With many young people experiencing FOMO (Fear of missing out), indulging in social media has become a norm of sorts, and still, it is a place where language is encountered regularly. One of my colleagues recently performed a survey on this, integrating the data I collected (specifically, the Instagram post) to explore the reception of the viewer, and concluded with an understanding that emotions are indeed affected. 

By the end of this course and my project, I have an increased awareness of the use of language and a better understanding of to how it works. In exploring language through the selected variables (listed above), I have worked through a comparative grammatical analysis. I discovered that empowering, positive tones presented through inclusive language, more specifically presented through inclusive language, incorporated personal pronouns, and modal verbs are actually less common, rather, we see be-verbs and prepositional phrases, used to direct the reader. 

– Gabriella Gonzalez

Diagrams for reference

English Grammar Foundations Cheat Sheet 

Personal Pronouns 

Sentence Patterns 

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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