Definition, description, classification & narration

time to complete: 15 minutes

We will now move on to functional language for presentations. By functional language, we mean language that has a special communicative purpose. In this section, we will look at four of these communicative purposes: defining, describing, classifying and narrating.

Definition

It is very important to say what a term means because your audience might not be familiar with it or they might need to know which definition you have adopted from the literature.

  • X is…
  • X is defined by Miller as…
  • X can be defined as…
  • We define X as…
  • In this presentation, I use the term X to refer to…
  • This term comes from Li, who uses it to describe…
  • Broadly speaking, X is…
  • X, which is…,

Description

To describe something means to say what something is like. It involves talking about features such as size, shape, colour, materials, structure, position, function, etc.

  • X is a three-cornered…
  • X weighs about…
  • X’s height varies between…
  • X is 45 centimeters long on average…
  • Its dark green colour indicates…
  • X is a metallic alloy of…
  • X is attached to the bottom of…
  • It consists of three different…
  • X is typically made of…
  • X is extremely malleable…
  • It is used to measure…
  • X is also used for…

Obviously, this language here applies to concrete objects, those we can see and feel. When describing an abstract concept, our language is different. In some disciplines in the humanities, description can be the same as definition or classification. Have a look at the example below:

So, communicative competence. What is it? It’s the ability to use language for communication. And it has three components: linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence, and pragmatic competence.

Classification

You might also have to classify something; that is, putting something in groups according to their common features.

  • There are four types of X: A, B, C and D.
  • We can classify X into two categories, A and B.
  • A, B and C are kinds of X.
  • Here, we need to distinguish between two basic types of X…
  • Fernández argues that there are two kinds of X. These are A and B.

Narration

Finally, you might need to describe a series of past events, or tell a story as a way to start your presentation and hook your audience’s attention. Of course, that depends on your discipline and topic/part of your presentation.

  • In 1996, Rossi demonstrated…
  • During this period, …
  • At the beginning of the century,…
  • Seven years later,…
  • By January 2012, …
  • Following the discovery of…
  • Prior to this research, …
  • After three decades of development,…

Task: Below is an extract from a presentation transcript. Which of the four functions does it contain?

  • definition
  • description
  • classification
  • narration

So probably everyone listening today will be aware that in August 1945, the United States dropped two nuclear explosive devices over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the loss of between 110-210,000 lives. To this day, the damage caused by these events, in addition to the more than 2,000 nuclear weapon tests conducted, continue to impact affected individuals and the environment. Pictured is the ‘Runit Dome’, a concrete tomb constructed by the US containing the radioactive waste from nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. Recent reports have raised concerns that rising sea levels as a result of climate change is causing radioactive material from the Dome to leak into the nearby lagoon. Since the end of the Second World  War, the international community of states has tried to address the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. In January 1946, the very first Resolution of  the newly formed United Nations General Assembly called for ‘the elimination from  national armaments of atomic weapons’. Later in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT, was adopted, under which the nuclear weapons states of the time – the  US, Russia, China, France and the UK – committed to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective  measures relating to nuclear disarmament’. But fifty years on, this commitment remains unfulfilled. There are now nine nuclear weapons states which collectively possess around 13,000 nuclear weapons. And perhaps most significantly, in contrast to chemical and biological weapons, the use of nuclear weapons has not previously been prohibited by states under international law. This conclusion was similarly shared by the International Court of Justice in the infamous 1996 Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion. However, in July 2017, the Treaty on the  Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – the so-called ‘ban treaty’ – was adopted by 122 states at the United Nations, and entered into force in January 2021. The ban treaty represents the first global agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons and includes provisions aimed at  facilitating the elimination of nuclear weapons too.

Extract adapted from YouTube presentation transcript (University of Reading 2021)

Now, check your answer by clicking below.

Mainly narration but there is one example of description.

So probably everyone listening today will be aware that in August 1945, the United States dropped two nuclear explosive devices over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the loss of between 110-210,000 lives. To this day, the damage caused by these events, in addition to the more than 2,000 nuclear weapon tests conducted, continue to impact affected individuals and the environment. Pictured is the ‘Runit Dome’, a concrete tomb constructed by the US containing the radioactive waste from nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. Recent reports have raised concerns that rising sea levels as a result of climate change is causing radioactive material from the Dome to leak into the nearby lagoon. Since the end of the Second World  War, the international community of states has tried to address the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. In January 1946, the very first Resolution of  the newly formed United Nations General Assembly called for ‘the elimination from  national armaments of atomic weapons’. Later in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT, was adopted, under which the nuclear weapons states of the time – the  US, Russia, China, France and the UK – committed to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective  measures relating to nuclear disarmament’. But fifty years on, this commitment remains unfulfilled. There are now nine nuclear weapons states which collectively possess around 13,000 nuclear weapons. And perhaps most significantly, in contrast to chemical and biological weapons, the use of nuclear weapons has not previously been prohibited by states under international law. This conclusion was similarly shared by the International Court of Justice in the infamous 1996 Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion. However, in July 2017, the Treaty on the  Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – the so-called ‘ban treaty’ – was adopted by 122 states at the United Nations, and entered into force in January 2021. The ban treaty represents the first global agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons and includes provisions aimed at  facilitating the elimination of nuclear weapons too.

Task: Do the following task to summarise the language functions we covered in this section.