What is orientation?
In Chapter 2 we referred to grammatical devices of orientation which ‘act as “pointers”, showing how items relate to one another and to the outside world in terms of time, place and identity’. The elements in a clause, wife – work – garden – weekend, may show us what the clause is about, but they do not supply any ‘orientation’ so that we cannot identify exactly who the message is about: whether it refers to past, present or future time; whether it refers to a particular wife and garden or to wives and gardens in general. But given the clause, My wife works in the garden most weekends, we can identify the wife as the wife of the speaker, and the garden as their garden. The tense of the verb reinforced by the adverbial most weekends shows that the statement is a general statement relevant to present time.
We have to make choices relating to orientation in every clause. For every verb we have to choose tense, aspect and modality. For every noun phrase we have to choose from the determiner system. This means that orientation is central to language and may explain why traditional pedagogic grammars devote so much time to this feature of the grammar.
Unfortunately the systems of orientation are highly complex and resistant to teaching. In this chapter we will look at two different ways of describing verbs and their tense forms and then go on to propose pedagogic strategies to help learners cope with this aspect of orientation.
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