Education and Arts

Peter White

University of New South Wales

Textual Persona: new insights into the social-semiotic performance of identity in student and journalistic writing

The last decade or so has seen a burgeoning of interest among literacy educators, linguists, and discourse analysts in issues associated with authorial identity or persona. This scholarship typically views identity/persona, not as a stable, predetermined psychological condition, but as a construct or effect which is produced or performed in specific communicative events – the outcome of specific identity-related linguistic options taken up by the speaker or writer. This presentation will report on some recent developments in SFL theorising which contribute to this scholarship by offering new insights into the precise nature of the communicative workings by which textual identity/persona is construed. These insights have emerged largely in SFL-based work which makes some reference to the Appraisal framework (Martin & White, 2005).

The ability to manage identity/persona in the types of texts favoured in educational contexts is a crucial skill for academic success and the paper will consider how the insights just mentioned may assist those involved in literacy education, particularly those concerned with tracking and assessing student literacy development and with developing units of work which attend specifically to authorial identity and audience positioning issues. The paper will present an analysis of the identity development in the writing of a student over the seven years of her literacy development in a South Australian primary school. It will compare this student's identity management with the textual performance of identity which can be observed in texts offered as examples in the current NAPLAN and national English curriculum documentation.

The paper will also look beyond education contexts to consider textual identity/persona in the context of mass communicative discourses such as those of journalistic commentary. Proposals will be offered as to a set of persona/identity types which can be identified in these contexts and comparisons made with the kinds of textual identities/personae demonstrated in the example students texts mentioned above.


Martin, J.R. & White, P.R.R., 2005, The Language of Evaluation – Appraisal in English, Palgrave/Macmillan, Houndmills, UK.