[Vocabulary] RE: Formality-type Question

Joined
May 29, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
RE: Formality-type Question

Hi folks,

I understand that you have 'formal' and 'informal' texts. For instance, a job interview letter would be formal, whereas a letter to a (say) local library would be 'informal'. These both fall under 'Transactional Writing' - I am certain you know this already!

However, I am unclear as to how to classify the same parameters within the contexts of 'fiction/non-fiction' stories.

For example, I am working through some GSCE pass-papers and one of the questions (relating to the text: "The Yellow Wallpaper" - Charlotte Perkins) asks if the writing is 'formal' or 'informal'. Because there is no slang, apostrophes or abbreviations then I assumed the story is 'formal'? That is my logical thinking, but admittedly this is not concrete.

In short, could one assume that most '19thC Classics' are all 'formal' writings (eg. Invisible Man, Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice) for the simple reason that their respective authors were accomplished in their field and that a 'formal' style was very much appropriate for this particular genre?

Many thanks in advance for any kind assistance offered here . . .

Ta,

Paul
 
Last edited:

emsr2d2

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jul 28, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
UK
Re: Formality-type Question

It would be hard for us to say whether the text in the GCSE paper was formal or informal without seeing it. Can you post an excerpt?
 
Joined
May 29, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
Re: Formality-type Question

Piscean,

I would not agree that a letter to a local library is necessarily informal. It is the style and register of the text rather than the purpose that are among the things we bear in mind when we assess formality.

It's probably safe to say that the narrative sections of 19th century novels now considered classics were written in a formal style.

However, one could not use 'formal' of the dialogues of some of the characters in the novels of, for example, Hardy or Dickens.

Thanks for your response.

Regarding a correspondence, I suppose you could could leave your (say) milkman a note saying:

Dear Sir of Cream Cows,

May I please request a single pint of milk this morning.

Yours faithfully,

John Jones

That would be 'formal'!

I will post a copy of a 19thC text shortly.

Ta,

Paul
 
Joined
May 29, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
Re: Formality-type Question

EMSR,

It would be hard for us to say whether the text in the GCSE paper was formal or informal without seeing it. Can you post an excerpt?

Thanks for your response. Here is a quick extract as requested:

He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look.
It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis,--that perhaps it is the paper!
I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and come into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I've caught him several times LOOKING AT THE PAPER! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.
She didn't know I was in the room, and when I asked her in a quiet, a very quiet voice, with the most restrained manner possible, what she was doing with the paper--she turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry--asked me why I should frighten her so!
Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John's, and she wished we would be more careful!
Did not that sound innocent? But I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!

Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was.
John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wall-paper.

("The Yellow Wallpaper" - Charlotte Perkins).

Ta,

Paul
 
Last edited:
Joined
May 29, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
Re: Formality-type Question

Piscean,

It's certainly not informal, but I would call it 'standard' rather than 'formal', particularly for the time at which it was written.

Cheers.

Is 'standard' an accepted literary classification term please? I too was looking for a term somewhere between the two polar opposites. I was thinking: 'less formal'?

Ta,

Paul
 

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
Re: Formality-type Question

Is 'standard' an accepted literary classification term please?

It is, as far as I know, more a term used to describe the grammatical content of something than a literary term. In this case, there is language like queer, which is not a formal word, so I guess that Piscean is using it to pitch somewhere between formal and colloquial.
 
Joined
May 29, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
Re: Formality-type Question

Piscean,

There are no universally accepted criteria for such terms as slang, colloquial, informal, neutral, standard, semi-formal, formal, etc. If you are working towards your examination with a teacher, I suggest you ask him/her what terms the examination board accepts, and how they are used.

We have been on half-term all week and the GCSE exam is on Monday coming.

These questions I have been asking have cropped up during my recent private revision time. It is not essential that I gain ultimate answers, however, I would be good to walk into the exam room having a little more ammunition.

Ta,

Paul
 
Joined
May 29, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
Re: Formality-type Question

Tdol,

It is, as far as I know, more a term used to describe the grammatical content of something than a literary term. In this case, there is language like queer, which is not a formal word, so I guess that Piscean is using it to pitch somewhere between formal and colloquial.

Thanks for your response.

OK, I see.

Ta,

Paul
 
Joined
May 29, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
Re: Formality-type Question

Piscean

Right.

I, personally, don't think it's helpful, or possible, to use the labels of 'formal' or 'informal' for every piece of language. The language I use with colleagues in the office is more formal than what I use when I am chatting to friends in the bar, and less formal than what I use in presenting a report at a board meeting. My 2017 board meeting language is considerable less formal than my 1967 board meeting language was. It's very difficult to draw a simple, sharp line between 'formal' and 'informal'.

'Standard' was probably not a good choice of words, but I couldn't, and can't, think of a better one for language that is towards the 'formal' end of the range, but which I would not categorise as 'formal'.

No problem.

I will see on Tuesday if it pops up in the exam or not! If the exam text is categorically 'in-between', then at least I am now armed in being able to offer a little explanation in my answer to the question.

Ta,

Paul
 
Top