Five -eds, Six -ings, Two -s's:

Tackling the Decoding of Texts

with the Aid of Key 'Signals'

John Swan

Senior Lecturer

Dept of Eng. Lang. & App. Ling.

Universiti Brunei Darussalam

The author has elsewhere discussed the problems of students from ASEAN countries confronted with decoding challenging technical texts in the field of petroleum geoscience when armed only with limited command of English (Swan: 1999a; 1999b and forthcoming).  In these previous publications the focus has been on awareness of key structures ('X of Y', 'N before N') and on the relative importance of vocabulary vis-a-vis other features of the text.  Here the focus shifts to certain key 'signals' - such as ' ed', '-ing' and '-s' - which are physically embedded in the text and whose correct interpretation is vital to unravelling the meaning. The paper attempts to demonstrate the pervasiveness and importance of such signals (as well as the key structures).  It is further contended that approaching a text through the standard metalanguage of the grammar books - verb, tense, aspect, subject, object, etc - may well be offputting to apprentice readers (see Svalberg: 1995).  Instead, in the first instance, they can be led to look for 'signals' physically present in the text - specifically '-ed', '-ing' and '-s' endings, for instance - and to consciously seek to identify which of an array of meanings is carried by these endings.  It is claimed that, coupled with an awareness of key structures, an understanding of key signals provides such readers with a supportive and reliable aid to correct decoding.