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                                    NATIONAL CURRICULUM


                                         (HL & FAL)

Glossary of language and literature terms.

NOTE: This glossary only gives the meanings of words that will help you in your study of the
English Language. So, for example, we tell you that font means the appearance of typed letters,
but we don‟t tell you that font also means a large bowl in which holy water is kept in a church. You
will need a dictionary to look up meanings within the context of a text or passage.

abbreviation – a shortened form of a word. “Exam” is an abbreviation of examination; Mr is an
abbreviation of Mister and Co. is an abbreviation of Company

acronym – a pronounceable word formed from the first letter or letters in a phrase or name, for

                            AIDS Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
                                  CASS Continuous Assessment
                                FET Further Education and Training
                               GET General Education and Training
                                HIV Human Immunodeficiency Virus
                               IKS Indigenous Knowledge Systems
                                 OBE Outcomes-Based Education
                                NCS National Curriculum Statement
                              NQF National Qualifications Framework
                            SAQA South African Qualifications Authority

act – to perform in a play; one of the parts that a play is divided into

active voice – a verb form that names the subject that performs the action of the verb, e.g. I
broke the window. [compare with passive voice)

adjective – a word that describes a noun: the dedicated athlete athlete / the bright star.

adverb – a word that described or tells more about a verb, another adverb, an adjective, or a
whole sentence – the tortoise moves slowly.

additional language (also see home language) – a language learned in addition to one‟s
home language

additive multilingualism – when a person learns a language (or languages) in addition to his
or her home language. This language does not replace the home language but is learned
alongside it. In an additive multilingual programme, the home language is strengthened and
affirmed while any further language learned is seen as adding value (e.g. all Additional Languages,
including the Language of Learning and Teaching are taught alongside the home language but do
not replace it).

aesthetic – sensitive to the beauty of language and thus sensitive to and appreciative of the
lasting value of texts
alliteration – the repetition of similar, usually initial, consonant sounds used to create a poetic
effect: the lazy leopard lounged in the limb of a tree.

ambiguity – double meaning created by the way in which words are used; when used
unintentionally, ambiguity obscures the meaning (e.g. „General flies back to front‟ or „Short
children‟s stories are in demand‟ or „The judge gave a long sentence‟)

analyse – to examine the details of something in order to understand it. Analyse the poem by
looking at the rhyme, rhythm and imagery.

analogy – a comparison between two things. The doctor made an analogy between a car engine
and the human heart.

anecdotes – a story that illustrates a point. Narratives of small incidents or events told for the
purpose of information, entertainment, humour, malice, or to reveal character, e.g. The church
minister told an anecdote as part of his sermon about forgiveness.

animation – the technique of using a series of still pictures to create an illusion of movement or

anticlimax – when an expectation of some high point of importance or excitement is not fulfilled
or the seriousness of a literary plot is suddenly lost as a result of a comical, digressive or
meaningless event

antithesis – the expression of two opposed or different ideas in balanced contrast (e.g. „more
haste, less speed‟)

antonym – a word that is opposite in meaning to another word in the same language (e.g. „happy‟
and „sad‟)

apostrophe – a punctuation mark used to show possession or omission: Where’s Pulani’s bag?

appropriacy – if language is appropriate it is suitable in terms of the context in which it is used
(e.g. the greeting „Good morning, Mr Jones‟ would be appropriate in a formal work situation
whereas „Hi, Jo‟ would be appropriate between friends)

argumentative – a type of essay that tries to persuade the reader to agree with the writer‟s point
of view.

article – a report or essay published in newspapers, journals or magazines OR
           a part of speech used before a noun: a, an, any the

assessment – a continuous structured process of gathering information on learner competence
in many different ways

assessment standards – criteria used to assess an outcome

assonance – repetition (mostly) of vowel sounds in two or more words (e.g. “It is June and the
world is all in tune”)

audience – the intended reader(s), listener(s) or viewer(s) of a particular text; in planning a piece
of writing speakers/writers must take into the consideration the purpose and audience when
choosing an appropriate form of writing
authentic texts – texts which have a practical function (e.g. magazine and newspaper articles,
recordings from radio and television, advertisements, product labels, travel brochures, government
forms, examples of real letters)

autobiography – your own life story or a part of it, written by yourself

auxiliary verb – a verb used with another verb to show mood or tense: „The food will be served at
8 p.m.‟

bias – a tendency to favour one thing, idea, attitude or person over another which makes it difficult
to make a fair assessment

biography – the story of someone‟s life

blank verse – poetry that does not rhyme

brochure – a thin book giving information

caption – a title or comment attached above or below an article, a picture, a photo, and so on
           (a suitable or a short explanation of an illustration)

caricature – an exaggerated portrayal (written or visual) of a character which is achieved by
mocking personality traits or appearance          [a drawing that exaggerates someone‟s features]

cartoon – a story told in pictures; a humorous or polictical drawing

cause (see also effect) – that which gives rise to an action or condition

character – a person in a story, film, etc.

charater sketch – a desription of a character in literature

cinematographic techniques – devices used in the construction of a film (e.g. composition,
lightning, type of shot)

clause – a part of a sentence containing a verb

cliché – an expression or an idea that has been used so often that it has lost its expressive power
          a word or idea that has been overused and has lost its meaning – the grass is always
          greener on the other side

climax – the most exciting, effective or important part of the story; this important part is not
necessarily at the end

coherence – the underlying logical relationship which links ideas together and gives a passage or
paragraph unity

cohesion – the linking of sentences or paragraphs by means of logical connectors such as
conjunctions, pronouns or repetition

colloquialism (see also slang) – language belonging to ordinary or familiar conversation but
not used in formal language / a word or phrase used in informal conversation: now-now is a South
African example of a colloquialism.
comparative (see also superlative) – degrees of comparison as found in adjectives and
adverbs are positive, comparative or superlative (e.g. „long‟ (positive), „longer‟ (comparative),
„longest‟ (superlative))

compare (also see contrast) – to assess the way in which things are similar

complex word – a word consisting of a main part and one or more other parts (e.g. re-invent)

complex sentence – a sentence having one main clause and any number of subordinate

compound sentence – a sentence having two or more main clauses

compound word – two or more words combined (e.g. bodyguard)

conclusion – the ending of something. In essays this refers to the final paragraph.

conflict – the struggle that arises between characters or between individuals and their fate or
circumstances; conflict in literature can also arise from opposing desires or values in a character‟s
own mind

conjunction – a word used to join two clauses, words, phrases or sentences

connotation – the ideas or qualities associated with a word or thing: the word gangster has a
connotation of criminality [see denotation]

connotative meaning (see also denotative meaning) – both the positive and negative
associations that a word collects through usage that go beyond the literal (primary) meaning

context – a text is always used and produced in a context; the context includes the broad and the
immediate situation including aspects such as the social, cultural and political background; the
term can also refer to that which precedes or follows a word or text and is essential to its meaning

contextual questions– question testing your knowledge of literature by asking about a selected

continuous tense – the tenses used to describe verbs that continue for some time

contracted forms – abbreviations or shortened forms of words: hasn’t / tech

contrast (see also compare) – to consider the way in which things differ

contrast – the difference between two or more things; there is a large contrast between rich and
poor / contrast the two poems

conventions – accepted practices or rules in the use of language. Some conventions help to
convey meaning (e.g. the rules of grammar, punctuation, typefaces, capital letters); some assist in
the presentation of content (e.g. table of contents, general layout, headings, footnotes, charts,
captions, lists, pictures, index); and others reflect a pattern of language that has become formulaic
(e.g. greetings, small talk).

countable noun/s– nouns that have a singular and plural form: dog is a countable noun,
happiness is not
couplet – two lines of poetry: Shakespeare‟s sonnets end with a rhyming couplet.

creative thinking – the process of thinking about ideas or situations in inventive and unusual
ways in order to understand them better and respond to them in a new and constructive manner;
learners think creatively in all subject areas when they imagine, invent, alter or improve a concept
or product

critical awareness – the analysis of how meaning is constructed with understanding of power
relations in and between languages; it empowers the learner to resist manipulation and to use
language sensitively

degree of comparison – the different forms of adjectives used to compare things: easy, easier
and easiest

denotation – the direct meaning of something; the word ganster means someone whoi belongs to a

denotative meaning (see also connotative meaning) – the literal or primary meaning of a

derivative – a word derived from another or from a root; usually formed by adding a prefix or
suffix (e.g. „quickly‟ from „quick‟)

dialect – a form of a language adapted by a particular community; it is significantly different from
other forms of the same language in terms of words, structures and/or pronunciation [some
Scottish people speak a dialect of English]

dialogue – conversation between people; the direct words spoken by people written down

diminutives – a word showing that something is very small: duckling

direct speech – the actual words spoken by someone

discursive – a type of essay that discusses two or more points of view, instead of presenting only
one opinion

drama – a play

dramatic irony – occurs when the audience/reader/viewer knows more about the situation and
its implications than the characters involved; it heightens the tension, enjoyment and audience
participation                       [other people know something that the character doesn‟t know]

editing – the process of drafting and redrafting a text, including correcting grammatical usage,
punctuation and spelling errors and checking writing for coherence of ideas and cohesion of
structure; in media, editing involves the construction, selection and lay-out of texts

effect (see also cause) – the result or consequence of an action or condition

e-mail – correspondence sent over the internet

emotive language – language which arouses strong feelings

emphasis – particular importance given to something; stress given to a syllable in a word
euphemism – a mild or vague expression substituted for a thought which is felt to be too harsh or
direct [an ioffensive word used in place of another one: plump is a euphemism for fat

exaggeration – overstating something: I’ve told you a thousand times!

explicit (as opposed to implicit) – the meaning which is clearly or directly stated

expository – a type of essay that gives information and facts about a topic

extract – a passage taken from a book or newspaper / magazine……………

fact – something that is true and can be proven

fiction – a story that is made up, that is not factual

figurative (as opposed to literal) – words or phrases used in a non-literal way to create a
desired effect; literary texts often make concentrated use of figurative language (e.g. simile,
personification, metaphor) [metaphorical meaning of a word or phrase: I was green with envy

Figures of speech – words or phrases which have another meaning apart from their direct

fluency – the word comes from the flow of a river and suggests a coherence and cohesion that
gives language use the quality of being natural, easy to use and easy to interpret

font – the type and size of the letters used when writing, typing or printing (e.g. 12pt (size) Times
New Roman (style of lettering))

foootnote – a short explanation of something that goes at the foot of a page

future tense – the tense used for actions that still have to occur

foregrounding as opposed to backgrounding) – used literally, it means the positioning of the
subject in or near the front of the frame; used figuratively, it refers to emphasising or focusing on
one point more than another

gender – the groups male and female that words are divided into: chairperson is a gender neutral
word, whereas chairman and chairwoman show gender

genre – the types or categories into which texts are grouped / a style of writing: music, science

gesture – a movement of the face or body which communicates meaning (e.g. nodding the head
to indicate agreement)

graphics – products of the visual and technical arts (e.g. drawing, designing)      [pictures/images]

home language (see also additional language) – the language first acquired by children
through immersion at home; the language in which they learn to think

homonym – a word which has both the same sound and spelling as another but has a different
meaning (e.g. the noun „the bear‟ and the verb „to bear‟ / also: book to read BUT to book a seat)
homophone – a word which sounds the same/pronounced the same as another but is spelled
differently and has a different meaning (e.g. „one‟ and „won‟/ „toe‟ and „tow‟)

hyperbole – a deliberate exaggeration (e.g. to describe something in such a way that it seems
much bigger than it really is: „He gave me a mountainous plate of food.‟)

idiom – an expression/ phrase that has a particular meaning, different from the meanings of the
word understood on their own (e.g. to have bitten off more than you can chew – meaning that you
have tried to do something that is too much for you to cope with)

idiomatic expression – an expression, usually figurative, and often used informally, which has
come to have an certain meaning among users (e.g. she has been fired)

if clause – a clause using if, showing something possible, unlikely or impossible: If you
understand your work, you will do better in the exams

image – a way of describing something or someone by comparing it to something else: the
nagging man was as annoying as a mosquito

imagery – words, phrases and sentences which create images in our minds such as similes,
metaphors, personification

implicit (as opposed to explicit) – something implied or suggested in the text but not
expressed directly: her frown suggested that she was not pleased

implied (as opposed to direct meaning) – meaning suggested by the text but not directly

indirect speech – the words spoken by someone, repeated by someone else: he said that he
would go the next day

inclusivity – the principle that education should be accessible to all learners whatever their
learning styles, backgrounds and abilities

infer – to pick up the meaning behind what is stated and to deduce all the implications

initiate – to start (e.g. to initiate a conversation)

innuendo – something unpleasant which is hinted at rather than clearly stated

interview – a dialogue is where one person or group of people ask another person or group

intonation – the pattern of the pitch or the melody of an utterance which marks grammatical
structures such as sentences or clauses

ironic-twist – a sudden or unexpected change in the course of events or a surprising turn of

irony – a statement or situation that has an underlying meaning different from its literal or surface
jargon – special terms or expressions used in a trade or profession or by any specific group (e.g.
computer users would refer to a „CPU‟, „RAM‟ and so on); when jargon is used to exclude
listeners/readers from an interaction it is potentially hurtful or even harmful

language varieties – language varieties found when minor adaptations in terms of vocabulary,
structures and/or pronunciation have been made; can vary from one region or country to another
e.g. pidgin, creole,
regional dialects, minority dialect, indigenised variety

letter – one of the 26 letters of the alphabet; written correspondence between two people

literacies – different kinds of literacy (e.g. critical, visual, graphic, computer, media, socio-

literacy (see also literacies) – the ability to process and use information for a variety of
purposes and contexts and to write for different purposes; the ability to decode texts, allowing one
to make sense of one‟s world

literal (as opposed to figurative) – the plainest, most direct meaning that can be attributed to a
word or phrase

malapropism – the mistaken and muddled use of long words to impress; although these words
sound almost right, they are incorrect enough to bring about humour

manipulative language – language which is aimed at obtaining an unfair advantage or gaining
influence over others

media – forms of mass communiation, such as television, newspapers and the Internet

message – what the writer is trying to convey to the reader through his/her story

meta-language – the language used to talk about a language; it includes terminology such as
„context‟, „style‟, „plot‟ and „dialogue‟

metaphor – using one thing to describe another thing which has similar qualities (e.g. „Education
is the key to success.‟)

metonymy – the use of a part to represent the whole or the use of one item to stand for another
with which it has become associated (e.g. He gave up the pen for the sword)

mind map – a representation of a theme or topic in which key words and ideas are organised
graphically/ a way of arranging information visually by showing links between items

modal verb – a type of auxiliary verb that shows mood, such as should, must, might, ought to

mode – a method, a way or a manner in which something is presented; a way of communicating
(e.g. the written mode, the spoken or oral mode, the visual mode (which includes graphic forms
such as charts)); information can be changed from one mode to another (e.g. converting a graph
into a passage)

mood – infinitive (e.g. to walk), imperative (e.g. Get out!) subjective (e.g. If I were a rich man / if
you go then I will), indicative mood (e.g. Look, there goes John), Potential mood (e.g. I can go)
mood – atmosphere or emotion in written texts; it shows the feeling or the frame of mind of the
characters; also refers to the atmosphere produced by visual, audio or multi-media texts

multi-media – an integrated range of modes that could include written texts, visual material,
sound, video, and so on

multiple-choice question – a question where three or four answers are provided, and the
candidate needs to select the best one

narrative – a spoken or written account of connected events in order of occurrence / a story / a
type of essay that tells a story

narrative voice – the voice of the person telling the story (e.g. a distinction can be made
between first person narrative – „I‟ – who is often a character in the story, or third person narrative
in which the narrator refers to the characters as „he‟, „she‟ or „they‟)

neologism – a new word in a language

non-fiction – true, not made up

noun – the part of speech used to name things. Sub-categories include abstract, common,
compound and proper

novel – a long story or piece of fiction

object – the part of a sentence that is affected by the verb or preposition: I wrote an e-mail to my

onomatopoeia – the use of words to recreate the sounds they describe (e.g. tick-tock) / the use
of words that are pronounced like the word they describe: ping-pong, buzz

opinion – point of view, someone‟s ideas about an issue

oxymoron – a combination of words with contradictory meanings, used deliberately for effect;
usually formed by using an adjective to qualify a noun with an opposite meaning (e.g. an open
secret; a bitter-sweet experience)

paradox – an apparently self-contradictory statement or one that seems in conflict with logic; lying
behind the superficial contradiction, there is logic or reason

paraphrase – a restatement of an idea or text in one‟s own words

paronym – A word derived from a word in another language with little or no change in form (e.g.
English: canal for Latin: canalis

participles – verb forms used to make different tenses: the past participle of eat is eaten

passive voice – a type of sentence where the subject does not perform the action of the verb:
The window was broken by me.

past tense – verb tenses to show actions that happened before now

perfect tenses – verb tenses that show actions completed by a certain time
personification – attributing human characteristics to non-human things / representing
something as a person: the city groaned as morning arrived

phonemes – the separate sounds of a language

phonic device – a device used to create a particular sound effect: sibilance is a phonic device

phrase – a part of s sentence that does not have a finite verb, unlike a clause

play – a written drama

plot – the interrelatedness of the main events in a text; plot involves more than a simple sequence
of events as it suggests a pattern of relationships between events and a web of causation the
story line of a novel, play, etc.

plural – more than one: the plural of child is children

poetry – words and ideas arranged in lines, often with rhyme and imagery

point of view – narrator‟s point of view (e.g. narrated from first or third person point of view or a
combination of these)

polysemes – existence of many meanings for one word (e.g. sack = wine or a bag or to plunder
or dismiss)

predicate – the part of a sentence that contains the verb and object, not the subject

prefix – a part added to the beginning of a word that usually changes the meaning

prejudice – intolerance of or a prejudgement against an individual, a group, an idea or a cause

preposition – a part of speech that shows position, place, time, etc.

present tense – the verb tenses used for actions that happen now

pronoun – the part of speech used in place of a noun: he, his, and him are examples of pronouns

pronunciation – the way that words are said or should be said: the correct pronunciation of
phrase is fraze

prose – writing that is not poetry and that does not rhyme

proverb – an idiom or well-known saying: many hands make light work

pun – a play on words which are identical or similar in sound in order to create humour (e.g.
„Seven days without water makes one week/weak.‟)

punctuation – full stops, commas, question marks, etc.

quotation – words from a text, film, etc. that you repeat

RCL – Representative Council of Learners
redundancy – the use of words, phrases and sentences which can be omitted without any loss of
meaning [Look at the tiny small little kitten!]

register – the use of different words, style, grammar, pitch and tone for different contexts or
situations (e.g. official documents are written in a formal register and friendly letters are usually
written in an informal register)

repetition – saying something more than once

rhetorical device – device such as pause and repetition, used by a speaker to effectively
persuade or convince

rhetorical question – a question asked not to get a reply but for emphasis or dramatic effect
(e.g. „Do you know how lucky you are?‟)

rhyme – words or lines of poetry that end with the same sound including a vowel

rhythm – a regular and repeated pattern of sounds

root word – the basic word to which prefixes and suffixes can be added: comfort is the root word
for uncomfortable

sarcasm – an ironic expression which is used in order to be unkind or offensive or to make fun of

satire – the use of ridicule, sarcasm and irony to comment critically on society

saying – a well-known proverb or expression

scan – to run one‟s eyes over a text in order to find specific information (e.g. scan a telephone
directory for a name and number)

scene – a part of a play; Shakespeare‟s plays are divided into acts and scenes

script – a written play; film or speech

sentence structure – how a sentence is composed from different building blocks e.g. parts of
speech, phrases, clauses (main and subordinate) – simple compound and complex sentences are
structured from these building blocks.

sentence types – types of sentences (e.g. statements, negatives, questions and commands)

setting – the time and place in which a story is set or written

sibilance – the repetition of s sounds, usually deliberate to achieve effect

simile – comparing one thing directly with another; a word such as „like‟ or „as‟ is used to draw
attention to the comparison

simple sentence – a sentence with only one clause

simple tenses – verb tenses that do not have any auxiliary verbs: I walk every day; He ran in the
singular – one person or object, not plural

skim – to read a text very quickly to get an overview (e.g. skim the newspaper headlines for the
main news)

slang – informal language often used by a group of people, such as teenagers, who use terms
like „cool‟ and „awesome‟; the difference between colloquial language and slang is that slang has
not yet been accepted in polite or formal conversation, whereas colloquialisms (e.g. „Good show!‟)
have been

slogan – a short catchphrase used in advertising or polictics: the advertising campaign used the
slogan Because you’re worth it

sms – a text message sent by cell phone

sonnet – a poem consisting of 14 lines

source – the place that a quote or information comes from: Write down all the sources you have
used in your essay

stanza – a verse; a group of lines in a poem

stereotype – a fixed (and often biased) view about what role a particular person is expected to
play / an idea of what a whole group of people are like, often wrong: It is a stereotype to think that
women cannot read maps

strategy – a certain procedure used to tackle a problem

stress (in a word or sentence) – to give force to a particular syllable in a word or a word in a
sentence / saying a syllable more heavily than others: in the word teacher, the stress falls on the
first syllable

subject – the part of a sentence that performs the action of the verb

subplot – subsidiary action which runs parallel with the main plot of a play or a novel

substantiate – back up, provide evidence for

suffix – a part added to the end of a word, often changing the part of speech

superlative – the form of an adjective used to compare three things: a mango is bigger than a
grape, but a watermelon is the biggest of the three

syllable – a unit of a word consisting of one sound: jam has one syllable/ honey has two

symbol – something which stands for or represents something else

synonym (as opposed to antonym) – a word which has the same meaning or almost the same
meaning as another word in the same language [cell phone and mobile phone are synonyms]

syntax – the way in which words are arranged to form cohesive grammatical structures

tautology – saying something twice, unnecessarily
tense – a verb form which shows

synthesis – the drawing together of ideas from a variety of sources; a clear summary of these
combined ideas

text – refers to any written, spoken or visual form of communication

theme – the central idea or ideas in texts; a text may contain several themes and these may not
be explicit or obvious
tone – quality and timbre of the voice that conveys the emotional message of a text. In a written
text, it is achieved through words. In film, tone can be created through music or the setting.

transactional writing – functional writing (e.g. letters, minutes of meetings, reports, faxes)

turn-taking conventions – the customs which govern the flow of conversation between people
such as allowing others to give their opinion, restating to clarify meaning, intervening to redirect
focus, asking for clarification

understatement – expresses something in restrained terms rather than giving the true or full
facts, usually for emphasis

verbosity – language using more words than are needed

viewpoint – a person‟s opinion or interpretation

visual texts – visual representations which can be seen and which convey messages (e.g. film
images, photos, computer graphics, cartoons, models, drawings, paintings)

voice – the author‟s persona: who the author is; when reading or viewing one gains an impression
of the author and his/her intentions

wit – the unexpected, quick and humorous combining of contrasting ideas or expressions

word-attack skills – strategies used when reading an unknown word (e.g. breaking it up into
syllables or looking at the meaning of the prefixes or suffixes)

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