John Wheatley: "A Discursive Analysis of EastEnders"


Part 2: Evaluation
Approaches to evaluation can be as thorough as that of Eggins and Slade (1997). They follow up on the work of systemic linguist Jim Martin (in press) to produce a model of evaluative analysis that is as complete as one could imagine. I hope to make more use of this approach in a forthcoming paper. Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) provide at least a clue that this is worth a category all to itself. However, it seems that in soap opera, evaluation is more pervasive than this. There is no one point in any dialogue where evaluation is to be expected. Its scope in soap is far wider than in a traditional classroom.

In part, I wish to make use of evaluation as Hoey uses it, as part of a macro template for text analysis. I also wish to produce a systematic way of analysing evaluative language in soap opera. It may not work for other text types, casual conversation for example, but my focus here is on saying something useful about soap opera using language as a tool. I am not trying to examine language in general, using soap opera dialogue simply as example texts.

Hoey's four part model has evaluation in final position. In expository text we expect to find the elements described below.

Situation - Problem - Solution - Evaluation
In soap opera the situation is often given. Viewers will know that Susan has MS for example, before her marriage becomes the focal issue of the programme for an episode or two. Situation level text is relatively unimportant and not that common in a soap opera. This follows Mary Ellen Brown's notion that soaps are weak on beginnings but have 'expanded middles' (Brown 1994).

Problems are what soaps are all about. By and large soap scenes deal at one level or another with people's problems; far more so than with their successes in life. I have discussed already, how, in the episode's major action sequence at least, problems are pushed towards solution, with unclear degrees of success. However, all 32 scenes in this episode, which I am sure is typical, being a regular viewer of this programme, contain evaluation of one sort or another. It is not a phenomenon confined to an episode's major action scenes.

Hoey's model allows us to make some initial categorisation of this evaluation into types. Most of it is negative. If we leave the major scenes out of consideration for the moment then 20 of the other 22 scenes all contain some kind of negative evaluation. Negative evaluation signals some kind of ongoing problem status. This overwhelming amount of negative evaluation reminds us, should we be capable of forgetting, that soap opera is fundamentally about other people's problems.

For example, there are a set of scenes that deal with a developing problem for an Italian family of restauranteurs. Negative evaluation of Mum by Jianni signals that the family restaurant is becoming a problem. Scenes in a later episode will focus on what is to be done, on possible solutions. At this point negative evaluation of one family member by another clearly signals the problem state.

Scene 11

info elicit + action prohibit
What do you think you are doing
Drumming up business what else
People are going to think you are mad

This is typical of the negative evaluation to be found throughout the episode. We can label this negative evaluation that signals initial problem stage. This is how scenes develop into the major action focus for a later episode.

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AS/SA Nº 6/7, Article 4 : Page 8 / 13

© 1999, AS/SA

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