EDEV_505 Week 5_6

I’d like to comment on an issue of writing. This issue may be useful for you to consider generally, but in relation to this report, a few points need to be addressed.

McCarthy (1991) presents a distinction between function and content words, otherwise known more colloquially as empty and full words. It’s quite easy to see that grammar words, like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘that’, have particular functions in English that are categorically different from words that carry lexical meaning, such as ‘Jim’,‘Jack’ and ‘doctoral course’. However, the notion of empty and full contains more than this descriptive ability and can point towards an analysis of what exactly a word comprises. I’ll quote McCarthy’s example of an empty passage that demonstrates how certain noun uses can also lack content.

“Here I want to spend some time examining this issue. First I propose to look briefly at the history of interest in the problem, then spend some time on its origins and magnitude before turning, to an assessment of the present situation and approaches to its solution. Finally, I want to have a short peek at possible future prospects.” (McCarthy, 1991, p. 74, my italics).

McCarthy emphasises that each italicised term—by itself—has no content. They are empty and need to be filled at some point in the text. As is, the above text is undecipherable. What is the issue? problem? assessment? situation? solution? and prospects? Although the text appears dense, it lacks any actual propositional meaning.

J, please do not be offended, but I have a similar sense when I read your texts. You write, for example; “Similarities were in every document” without describing what those similarities are. The same can be said for “shared values” and many other terms. It would help the final report immensely if you could de-empty these terms by filling them with propositional meaning.

Thank you,


McCarthy, M. (1991). Discourse analysis for language teachers. Cambridge: CUP.

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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