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Cues and Conventions

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Cues and Conventions

Whenever we communicate, we tend to follow certain rules and patterns. Different aspects of language (spoken, written, or visual) can convey different meanings when they adhere to various cues and conventions. Not sure what these are? Let's explore some definitions and examples in more detail below.

Cues and Conventions Definition

Cues and conventions in the English language refer to the rules and patterns we follow to ensure our language makes sense, and the purpose/intentions of our communication are clear. If the English language had no structure or established ways, it would be much harder to communicate with each other meaningfully! Cues and conventions are in place to help us make sense of our language and communicate effectively.

Cues and Conventions Example

The different types of cues and conventions in the English language include:

These terms are a little scary, so let's take a look at an overview of each.

Pragmatic Cues and Conventions

Pragmatics is concerned with the meaning of language in a social context. It considers the constant negotiations between listeners and speakers when they communicate and how meaning is constructed in different contexts.

Pragmatic cues and conventions include elements such as:

  • Purpose - the main message.

Having a purpose allows you to explore your intentions and gives more structure to your language as it gives you a reason to communicate in the first place!

For example, if the purpose of communication is to order someone to do something, you'd know to use imperative sentences.

  • Audience - who is being addressed?

Knowing how to address an audience or listener adds structure and meaning to any communication as it helps you to determine what information to share.

For example, if you are addressing someone you don't know well, you would likely not overshare or add unnecessary information.

  • Point of view - e.g., first, second, third person.

Having a particular point of view adds a certain meaning to language and determines how your share information.

For example, if you speak in the first person, you will be able to recount your personal experiences and will have more freedom to express things from your own point of view. Because of this, first-person is often biased.

  • Register - is the language formal or informal?

Different language registers can add a different meaning to language when we communicate.

For example, an informal register often uses language that is more personal (including slang words) and is reserved for casual settings, such as chatting with friends/family.

  • Culture, context, and background

Someone's culture/context/background can add a deeper level of meaning to language, as this all goes beyond the 'literal' meaning. We all experience the world in different ways and therefore apply different connotative (associated) meanings to language. Sometimes, we can only fully understand the meaning of something if we know its context.

For example, the word 'blue' may either have positive or negative connotations depending on the person!

  • Tone and pitch of voice

We can change the tone and pitch of our voice to express different emotions.

For example, a stern, straight tone of voice could express seriousness. If we raise the pitch of our voice, this may be because we are excited or surprised.

  • Non-verbals, such as facial expressions and hand gestures

Alongside verbal communication, non-verbals can also be used to create meaning and convey emotions.

For example, if someone rolls their eyes, it often conveys a feeling of disapproval or disbelief. Or, if someone gives a thumbs up, this is a sign of approval.

Textual Cues and Conventions

Textual cues and conventions refer to the elements of a written text. In particular,

  • The structure of a text, including the way the text is organized (e.g., are there paragraphs, line breaks, or headings?)

  • The form and type of text, including physical appearance (e.g., an essay, a poem, an article)

The structure and form of a text are important as they can add another level of meaning (besides the written words themselves) and all have different purposes.

For example, a newspaper article sticks to a strict structure in order to effectively convey important information to the reader in a clear and concise way. The structure often;

  • Begins with a headline (in a larger font) and a hook (catchy statement) to grab the attention of the reader.
  • Has an Introductory paragraph that includes the most important information (such as who, what, where, when, and why).
  • Has the less crucial information is in the following paragraphs.

Syntactical Cues and Conventions

Syntax refers to the arrangement of words and phrases to create meaningful sentences. Syntactical cues and conventions consider the following elements:

  • Sentence structure and word order - e.g., subject, verb, object.

  • Types of clauses - e.g., main vs. subordinate.

  • Punctuation - what types of punctuation are there, when are they used, and what effect do they have?

  • Type of sentence - e.g., simple, compound, complex.

  • The function of a sentence - e.g., imperative, declarative, interrogative, exclamative.

Syntax can add meaning to our words in several ways. For example, consider how you might read something written in all capital letters compared to the same sentence written in lowercase letters. Now consider the impact of a word-one sentence.

Semantic Cues and Conventions

Semantics is the study of the meaning of words in the English language. Semantic cues and conventions deal with the following elements:

  • Known word meaning and context - what do you already know about the vocabulary and the context?

  • Literal vs. figurative words and phrases - is the meaning straightforward or more abstract?

  • Denotative and connotative meanings - literal definition vs. associated/cultural meaning.

  • History of words and word changes - how has the meaning of a word changed over time?

If we look beyond a word's denotative (literal) meaning, this can make communication more effective. For example, if we consider the connotative (associated/cultural) meaning of a word, we can apply it to more specific situations and have deeper conversations. This is because connotative meanings are more personal and rely more on context.

Take the word 'home.' The denotative meaning refers to a place. However, the connotative meaning of 'home' can differ depending on what a person defines 'home' as. To some, 'home' could be a place or a person. To others, it could be a feeling.

Morphological Cues and Conventions

Morphology is concerned with how words are formed and their relationship to other words in the same language. Morphological cues and conventions consider the following elements:

  • Structure and parts of words - e.g., stem and root words, and prefixes and suffixes.

  • Word choice and usage - how can context change a word's meaning and/or pronunciation?

We can trace a word back to its root to help understand its meaning. One way we can do this is by looking at a word's etymology. This refers to the origins of a word, including when and where the word was first used. We can also use a word's etymology to help understand how a word's meaning has changed over time. For example, the word 'sick' used to only have a negative meaning (relating to illness) but has now also developed a positive one (meaning 'cool' or 'awesome').

Knowing the meaning of prefixes and suffixes can also help us understand a word's meaning. For example, if a word begins with the prefix 'dis', we know it is implying an opposite meaning, e.g., dislike = don't like.

Graphophonic cues and conventions

Graphophonics refers to the relationship between the symbols and sounds of a language. This includes the following aspects:

  • Sounds and letter patterns.
  • Stress - the emphasis we place on specific letters or words.
  • Pitch - how high or low our voice is.
  • Intonation - how our pitch varies in conversation.
  • Volume - how loud or quiet our voice is.

Cues and Conventions Image of a man speaking StudySmarterFig. 1 - We can change how our voice sounds to convey different feelings.

A change in someone's pitch and volume can affect the meaning of an utterance. For example, if someone speaks in a higher pitch, this may show that they are excited or surprised. If someone speaks loudly, they could be showing anger or frustration.

Cues in Communication

Cues in communication (known as communication cues) refer to certain prompts or signals that people use to indicate their intent (purpose for communication) to another person. These cues can be either verbal or non-verbal. Let's take a look at each of these in more detail:

Verbal cues

Verbal cues refer to spoken language. We can use our language to signal something to the listener or let them know our intentions. Verbal cues can either be direct or indirect:

Direct verbal cues

Just as the name suggests, direct verbal cues give direct instruction to the listener. They are obvious and clear. For example:

"Please open the window"

This verbal cue is straightforward and orders the listener to do something. They will (hopefully) respond by opening the window.

Indirect verbal cues

On the other hand, indirect verbal cues are not so obvious, so the intentions may not be initially clear. For example:

Instead of saying, "Please open the window," someone might say, "It's getting really hot in here." This indirectly implies to the listener that the speaker wants them to open the window.

Non-verbal cues

Non-verbal cues refer to elements of speech that are not spoken words. This includes things such as:

  • Body language

  • Gestures

  • Facial expressions

  • Eye contact

Making eye contact and smiling at someone can show your intention to begin a conversation with them.

Cues and Conventions Image of different facial expressions StudySmarterFig. 2 - Facial expressions are types of non-verbal cues we can use to express our emotions.

Cues and Conventions in Writing

Cues and conventions in writing differ slightly from cues and conventions in spoken language. Written communication relies solely on written words/sentences and the elements of a text to get a message across. These include:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Grammar

It may sometimes be challenging to convey someone's true intentions via written communication. This is because we cannot use paraverbals (e.g., tone of voice, pitch, and intonation) or non-verbals (such as facial expressions or body language) in writing!

When we speak, we are able to express our emotions using different inflections in our voices, or different non-verbal expressions. This lets the listener know our mood and how we are feeling during a conversation.

Punctuation can be used in written communication to add meaning instead. For example, exclamation marks can often be used to emphasize a feeling of excitement, surprise, or anger. Question marks are used when someone is curious or unsure and asks a question.

Dramatic Conventions

Dramatic conventions refer to the techniques in a drama (e.g., tv, film, play) used for dramatic effect and to add significance to its central message. A piece of drama will have different conventions from other forms (such as literature) as it relies on both visual and verbal aspects to convey a message. Some examples of dramatic conventions are:

  • Slow motion

  • Dramatic irony (the audience is aware of the situation, but the characters are not).

  • Use of narration

  • Use of music

  • Breaking the fourth wall (directly addressing the audience)

Cues and Conventions - Key Takeaways

  • Cues and conventions in the English language refer to the rules and patterns we follow to ensure our language makes sense and the purpose/intentions of our communication are clear.
  • The different types of cues and conventions in the English language are pragmatic, textual, syntactical, semantic, morphological, and graphophonic.
  • Communication cues refer to specific prompts or signals that people use to indicate their intent to another person. These can be either verbal (direct or indirect) or non-verbal.
  • Cues and conventions in writing rely on written words and textual elements (e.g., spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar).
  • Dramatic conventions refer to the techniques in a drama (tv, film, play) that are used for dramatic effect and add significance to its central message.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cues and Conventions

Cues and conventions are rules and patterns we follow to ensure our language makes sense and the purpose/intentions of our communication are clear.

Communication cues are certain prompts or signals that people use to indicate their intent to another person. For example, verbal cues (spoken language) or non-verbal cues (e.g. body language, gestures, facial expressions).

Meaning cues are prompts used by teachers that encourage students to identify the meaning of words.

Examples of semantic cues include:

  • known word meaning and context (prior knowledge)
  • literal vs figurative words/phrases
  • Denotative vs connotative meaning
  • History of words and word changes over time

Examples of cues and conventions include: pragmatic, textual, syntactical, semantic, morphological and graphophonic.

Final Cues and Conventions Quiz

Question

What are cues and conventions?

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Answer

Rules and patterns we follow to ensure our language makes sense and the purpose/intentions of our communication are clear.

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Name the different types of cues and conventions.

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 Pragmatic, textual, syntactical, semantic, morphological and graphophonic.

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What does pragmatics refer to?

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The meaning of language in a social context.

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What do textual cues and conventions refer to?

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The elements of a written text.

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What does syntax refer to?

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The arrangement of words and phrases and how they create meaningful sentences.

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What is semantics?

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The study of the meaning of words in the English language.

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What does morphology refer to?

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How words are formed, and their relationship to other words in the same language.

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What does graphophonics refer to?

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Answer

The relationship between the symbols and sounds of a language. 

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What do communication cues refer to?

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Certain prompts or signals that people use to indicate their intent to another person

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There are two types of communication cues. What are they?

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Verbal and non-verbal

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Verbal cues can be broken down into two types. What are they?

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Direct and indirect

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True or false?


Non-verbal cues refer to elements of speech that are not spoken words.

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True 

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Fill in the blanks:


Written communication only relies on _______ words/sentences and the elements of a ____ to get a message across.

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written, text

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True or false?


We can use different tones of voice and facial expressions in written communication.

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False

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What do dramatic conventions refer to?

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The techniques in a drama (tv, film, play) that are used for dramatic effect and add significance to its main message.

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Choose the best definition for morpheme 

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The smallest lexical unit of meaning 

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Morphemes are typically divided into two main parts, what are they?

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Roots and affixes 

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Fill in the blank:


Morphemes can be free or ____.

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Bound

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Affixes are typically what kind of morpheme?

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Bound

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True or false, new lexical morphemes are added to the dictionary regularly?

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True

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Choose the grammatical morphemes 

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Are, were, is, on

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Where in a word do circumfixes appear?

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The beginning and end 

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What is compounding?

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Joining two free morphemes to create a new word 

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What does an inflectional word change so?

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Changes in grammatical form

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True or false, derivational word changes create a different word class?

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True 

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Which type of affix can create a different word class 

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Suffix 

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Identify and label the morphemes:


Laughable 

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Laugh - free lexical morpheme


Able - bound morpheme - suffix 

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List three suffixes that can turn a noun into an adjective.

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-en

-able

-y

-ish

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What type of morphological change has occurred here:


Modern --> Modernize 

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Derivational word class changing 

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Identify and label the morphemes:


Ducks 


What morphological process has occurred?

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Duck - free lexical morpheme

s - bound morpheme, suffix 


Inflectional change 

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What does textual mean?

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The word textual is an adjective that describes something that relates to a text, a written work. 

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True or False? Text structure and form are the same things. 

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False

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Which of the following is a question a reader could ask when analyzing textual cues in a novel?

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How does the author’s use of chapter titles hint at what will happen next in the story?

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What is symbolism in literature?

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In literature, symbolism is the use of an object or an action to represent an idea.  

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Which of the following is a signal word?

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Next

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What is font?

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The visual appearance of a text

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You are analyzing how many spaces an author places between paragraphs. What textual feature are you analyzing?

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Form

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True or False? Textual cues and conventions are only present in non-fictional text like newspaper articles. 

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False

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_ words are words that indicate what is coming next in a text. 


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Signal


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Some scholars focus on authorial intent in literary analysis, while others support _ _.

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Reader response

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What is syntax?

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Word order

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What type of sentence is this? 

Open the window! 

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Imperative

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What type of sentence is this?

I want to go to the store and I want to see a movie. 

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Compound

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Which of the following is a dependent clause?

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Answer

Since it is raining 

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Which of the following is an independent clause?

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I want it to snow today 

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Which of the following is not a syntactical rule? 

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All sentences must have a conjunction

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Spot the complex sentence  

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I am going to Barbados on Saturday.  

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Spot the declarative sentence 

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It is raining outside. 

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What does the word syntactical mean?


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Syntactical is an adjective that describes words relating to syntax, which is word order within sentences. 

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The subject of a sentence must come _ the verb.


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Answer

Before

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