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A STUDY OF OBITUARY AND IN-MEMORIAM
ANNOUNCEMENTS IN NIGERIAN NEWSPAPERS FROM AN
APPRAISAL THEORY PERSPECTIVE
1Tolulope Odunayo Oladejo
Department Of English,
Emmanuel Alayande College of Education, Oyo,
Oyo State, Nigeria
The study aims at analysing the attitudinal meanings of Obituary and In-
Memoriam announcements using the Appraisal theory to reveal how
linguistic elements are beset with appraisal meaning and especially
whatattitudinal value is of frequent occurrence in announcements. The data
for the study are from two Nigerian newspapers: The Guardian and The
Tribune and are selected within a particular year (2015) from the months of
June and December. Ten samples are selected for analysis from each
newspaper within the two months under study. The study reveals that there
are more affectual attitudinal values in the announcements because they
concern human’s emotions. The study therefore concludes that affectual
attitudinal values are employed to express the grief and bitterness impact of
death on the writer.
Keywords: Appraisal Framework, attitudinal meaning, affect, judgment,
1 T.O.Oladejo(2016) ‘A Study Of Obituary and In-Memoriam
Announcements In Nigerian Newspapers from an Appraisal Theory
Perspective‟ Contemporary Humanities, A Publication of Babcock
University School of Education and Humanities .Vol.9 pp.90-104. ISSN
Communication is a means of transmitting information and there are
several ways by which people communicate. One of them is language in its
spoken and written forms. Communication is giving and getting different
amounts of information. The quality of any communicated message is
conditioned by many factors such as the time, place and subject matter of
what is being transmitted from the addresser to the addressee in a particular
situation. The addresser communicates because he intends to exchange
information and also to affect the behaviour of the addressee. Invariably,
language is the core of communication; Not only a medium of
communication but also a social practice, a way of doing things. It presents
different varieties which depend on numerous contextual aspects, such as
the function of the text, the readership and the role of the writer. As a result,
different language styles and varieties have come into existence. These are
the reasons for the constant study of various domains of languages of which
Obituaries are one of them.
The study of Obituaries gives us a glimpse into the cultural
interpretation of life and death. The language of Obituaries reveals the
beliefs our society holds about life and death. Obituaries are the most
frequently read section of the daily newspaper and they announce the
passing of friends and acquaintances, the famous and the infamous, the rich
and the poor, the educated and the illiterate. They recount the life stories of
ordinary people and people of power. They offer an intriguing view of how
we understand living and dying in our society. Obituaries are usually
accurate and tailored information about the exit of a personality in a mild,
positive and pleasant way, irrespective of the behavioural characteristics of
the person while on earth. Although, death is an unpleasant but common
human phenomenon, it is publicly announced in a language that does not
only create grief in the bereaved but also presents the deceased in a way that
evokes appreciation of him or her.
The study investigates the mind frame of the announcer in Obituary
announcements; how the reader‟s behaviour is influenced; how attitudes,
judgements and emotive responses are explicitly presented and how they
may be indirectly implied, presupposed or assumed than they appear. This
study therefore examines the attitudinal meanings of language use in
Obituaries and In Memoriam announcements by the use of as Martin and
White (2005)‟s Appraisal Theory as a theoretical framework.
II. Literature Review
Obituary announcements tend to be brief and occur in written printed
form, particularly in newspapers and journals. There is an existence of
some certain obligatory elements in the announcements. For instance, the
name of the deceased is absolutely obligatory; the use of flowery or
flamboyant language, the use of metaphors to avoid direct mention of or
reference to death, as well as elaborate notices about invitations to funerals.
Obituaries in Nigerian Newspapers are, however, more elaborate and more
communicative. Apart from merely providing the name of the deceased,
his/her survivors, time and place of burial, there is also the provision of
lengthy details about burial arrangements, information on survivors, and
their social as well as economic status even the social and economic status
of the deceased is not left out.
To announce simply means communicating a particular message in a
formal or public way. Specifically, an announcement is defined as a
statement either in spoken or written form that makes something known
publicly. All types of announcements have the function of telling the
hearers or readers about something (Nwoye 1992:15). Obituary
announcements are no exception, since an obituary is a published
announcement of a death, usually with a short biography for the dead
person. However, Fernandez (2006: 104) believes that obituaries exceed the
limits of a mere announcement of demise; rather, they constitute an
evidence of mankind‟s failure to face mortality. Moses and Marelli(2004)
on the other hand, submit that obituaries represent a special text since their
content focuses particularly on the qualities of one person and how the end
of that person‟s life can be best presented. They add that obituaries are a
window that provides a view into a culture.
Moreover, obituaries are the most frequently read section of the daily
newspaper. They specify on the passing of friends and acquaintances, the
famous and the infamous, the rich and the poor, the educated and the
illiterate. They recount the life stories of ordinary people and people of
power. The study of obituary gives us a glimpse into the shape and cultural
interpretation of life and death. We argue that the language of obituaries
reveals important understandings of the beliefs our society holds about our
lives and our deaths, especially with respect to the causes of death, life
expectancy, and gender differences in our life stories.
The textual analysis of obituaries offers an intriguing view of how we
understand living and dying in our society today. Although, it is an
unpleasant but common human phenomenon, death is publicly announced
in a language that does not only create grief in the bereaved but also
presents the deceased in a way that evokes appreciation for him or her. In
summary, obituary is accurate and tailored information about the exit of a
personality in a mild, positive and pleasant way, irrespective of the
behavioural characteristics of the person while on earth.
III. Theoretical Framework
A. APPRAISAL THEORY
Appraisal Theory (Martin 2000; Martin & Rose 2003; Martin & White
2005), developed within SFL, is the framework that deals with the semantic
resources used to negotiate emotions, judgments and valuations, alongside
resources for amplifying and engaging with these evaluations. It is also
concerned with evaluation: the kinds of attitudes that are negotiated in a
text, the strength of the feelings involved and the ways in which values are
sourced and readers aligned” (Martin and Rose 2003:22). The resources of
appraisal consist of three aspects of analysis. These are: attitude,
graduationandengagement. Each of these sub-systemshas its own set of sub-
systems. This paperwill focus exclusively on the system ofattitude because
it deals with emotions and human behaviour. Appraisal Theory is a
discourse-semantic approach to the study of interpersonal meaning which is
more tailored to the communicative concerns of a particular context of
situation. Instead of examining the clause level of interpersonal systems
such as Mood and Modality, Appraisal Theory examines evaluative lexis
expressing the speaker or writer‟s opinion on the good/bad parameter.
It is also an approach to exploring, describing and explaining the way
language is used to evaluate, adopt stance, construct textual persona and
arrange interpersonal positions and relationships. It is an umbrella term used
to refer to the semantic resources including words, phrases and structures
which speakers or writers employ to negotiate emotions, judgments and
valuations. It also explores how speakers and writers pass judgments on
people, other writers/speakers and their utterances, material objects,
happenings and states of affairs and thereby form alliances with those who
share these views or distance themselves from those who do not. The figure
below is an overview of the appraisal systems.
Figure 1: An Overview of Appraisal Systems (Martin & White, 2005)
Appraisal Theory can be divided into three systems as shown in figure
1, namely: Attitude, Engagement and Graduation. Attitude system will be
our major focus in this study because it deals with emotions and human
This is one of the three main appraisal systems, concerned with the
linguistic inflection of adopting subjective positions (Martin and White,
2005). It can be divided into three sub-systems:
1) Affect – expressions of feelings and emotions.(Emotions)
2) Judgment – evaluations of human behaviours. (Ethics)
3) Appreciation – evaluations of things and entities.(Aesthetics)
These three values are further sub-categorised, as presented in Figure 2 by
(Hood and Martin 2005).
Figure 2:Typology of Attitude systems
1) Affect- Martin & White (2005:55) state that affect is an attitude
"concerned with registering positive and negative feelings" (e.g.
happiness, sadness, anxiety, interest or boredom). It is defined as
dealing with resources for construing emotional reactions. Affect
can further be categorised into three different aspects: (a) affect as
'quality' (e.g. the captain was sad/happy), (b) affect as 'process'
(e.g. the captain wept/cheered) and (c) affect as 'comment' (e.g.
sadly, luckily, he had to go).
2) Judgement is defined by Martin and White (2005:55) as an element
that "deals with attitude towards behaviour, which we admire or
criticise, praise or condemn." It is the negative or positive
attitudinal evaluation of human behaviour by reference to social
norms or rules. Judgement is subdivided into two categories: (a)
those dealing with 'social esteem' and (b) those regarding 'social
sanction'. Judgements of social esteem (criticism or admiration)
have to do with 'normality' (how unusual someone is), 'capacity'
(how capable they are) and 'tenacity' (how resolute they are); while
judgements of social sanctions deal with 'veracity' (how truthful
someone is) and 'propriety' (how ethical someone is).
3) Appreciation is the third aspect of Attitude. It is the subsystem of
resources for aesthetic evaluation of objects, entities, presentation,
etc., and has positive and negative dimensions. Appreciation has
three subtypes: reaction, composition and valuation. (a) "our
'reactions' to things (do they catch our attention; do they please us?
(b) their 'composition' (balance and complexity), and (c) their
'value' (how innovative, authentic, timely, etc.)."
This is concerned with the linguistic resources where writers adjust and
negotiate the arguability of their utterances, and it includes various values as
attribution, modality, polarity, concession, evidentiality, hedging and so on.
Resources in engagement are dialogic in nature, comprises of monogloss
and heterogloss. Within the category of monogloss, bare assertion is
expressed as the only one voice to be heard, which is considered to be
intersubjectively neutral, and leaves no open space for alternative voices.
Within the category of heterogloss, two sub-categories are included:
contract and expand. There are dialogistically contractive items like
disclaim and proclaim.These contract and expand refer to whether the
dialogic space is open for subsequent alternative voices or whether it rules
out subsequent dialogic instances. Disclaimunder contract is divided into
two subtypes: denyand counter. When authors choose to deny, they
introduce an external voice so as to acknowledge it, and then present a
negative orientation to reject it. Through counter, authors also invoke a con-
trary position to the one introduced, but unlike deny, they do so by
introducing a proposition which replaces or substitutes the one expected.
The second subcategory within contractis proclaim.Itincludes those
instances which “act to limit the scope of dialogistic alternatives in the
ongoing colloquy” (Martin & White, 2005: 121). Proclaimcomprises three
sub-types: concur, pronounceand endorse. Through concur, authors agree
or share knowledge with the voice presented or with the audience. This
subtype may be realized textually by means of interpersonal modal adjuncts
such as „of course‟,‟ naturally‟, „obviously‟ and ‘certainly‟, or through
certain types of rhetorical questions. Pronouncerefers to those instances in
which the author intervenes overtly into the text so as to assert or emphasize
the value of the proposition, examples like „really‟, „indeed‟, etc.
Throughendorse, authors make reference to external sources, which are
presented as unquestionable, valid or correct, thus ruling out subsequent
negotiation. This category is realized by verbal processes or nominalized
equivalents, such as „experts have shown/demonstrated/found, the findings
The second category of heteroglossic engagement isexpand which
includes: entertain and attribute.Entertainmay be realized lexico-
grammatically by means of modals of probability („may‟, „might‟,
„perhaps‟, „probably‟) while attribute offers two ways in which the authorial
voice is positioned in relation to the external source introduced, either by
expressing alignment with it -acknowledgement, typically through the use of
a reporting device („say‟, „report‟, „suggest‟, „declare‟, etc.) or by
establishing adistancefrom it (through some reporting verb, particularly
through the use of „claim‟).
Figure 3: Typology of Engagement systems
This deals withthegrading phenomena whereby feelings are amplified
and categories blurred (Martin & White, 2005:36). Writers use graduation
"(1) as a means to raise or lower the interpersonal impact, force or volume
of their utterances and (2) a means by which they graduate (blur or sharpen)
the focus of their semantic categorisations".
The data for the study are from two Nigerian newspapers: The
Guardian and The Tribune and are selected within a particular year (2015)
from the months of June and December. Ten samples are selected for
analysis from each newspaper within the two months under study. The
newspapers are selected because they have wide circulations and are
regarded as reputable newspapers, which cover four geo-political zones in
the country. The study employsthe Appraisal Framework but emphasis will
be on attitudinal meanings which comprises three categories: affect,
judgement and appreciation. The focus of the study is on the attitudinal
meaning than engagement and graduation because it deals with emotions
and human behaviour.Both qualitative and quantitative analytical
techniques are adopted in this study. The evaluation of elements will be
collected and presented in the form of tables; these elements will be
analyzed and evaluated to see how they contribute to the conveyance of
attitudinal position in the data.
V. Findings and Discussion
The three subsystems – Affect, Judgment, and Appreciation are under
the system of Attitude in Appraisal Framework. Ten examples are extracted
from Guardian and Tribune Newspapers of Obituary announcements.The
total number of attitudinal meanings in the ten samples is 27. The number of
affectual values in the ten samples is 12; the number of values of the
judgment is 10 and the number of appreciation values is 5. The detail
distributions of the three attitudinal values are shown in the following tables
while table 2 is the percentage distribution of attitudinal meanings in the ten
A. Data Analysis of Attitudinal Meanings
1. Our own very leader has gone [-AFFECT: DISSATISFACTION]
on a journey of no return.[-AFFECT:UNHAPPINESS]
2. Though am saddened [-AFFECT: UNHAPPINESS] by your
untimely death,[-AFFECT: DISSATISFACTION] I am
gladdened[+AFFECT:HAPPINESS] that you
lived[+AFFECT:SATISFACTION] a legacy-filled
worthy of emulation[+APPRECIATION:VALUATION] and
which generations yet unborn will
3. Our hero [+JUDGEMENT: SOCIAL ESTEEM: CAPACITY] has
gone [-AFFECT: DISSATISFACTION] and we will
[+JUDGEMENT: TENACITY] greatly miss [-AFFECT:
DISINCLINATION] him. INVOKED
4. You were[+JUDGEMENT:SOCIAL ESTEEM:
CAPACITY:NORMALITY] such a gentleman, reliable, team
player and hardworking chairman.[+JUDGEMENT:SOCIAL
5. Sleep [-AFFECT: DISINCLINATION] at peace in the bosom of the
Lord until we meet in eternity to part [-AFFECT:
UNHAPPINESS] no more. INVOKED
6. The light shimmers.[+APPRECIATION: REACTION:IMPACT]
7. Alhaji Arisekola was a detribalised[+JUDGEMENT:SOCIAL
accommodated[+APPRECIATION: VALUATION] people of
all religious, political, social and ethnic
8. Sleep [-AFFECT: DISINCLINATION] on Helen till we meet to
part[-AFFECT: UNHAPPINESS] no more. INVOKED
9. Aare was[+JUDGEMENT:SOCIAL ESTEEM:CAPACITY] able
to touch [+APPRECIATION: REACTION: IMPACT] several
millions of people.[+APPRECIATION:VALUATION]
10. Answered the call of his creator to Higher Realm on 27th May,
Table 1: Sample Analysis of Attitudinal Meanings in the
TOTAL N0 OF
Table 2: Distributions of Affect, Judgement and Appreciation in the
Table 3: Statistics of Affect
Table 4: Statistics of Judgment
Table 5:STATISTICS OF APPRECIATION
From Table 2, we can observe that the writers employ more affectual
attitudinal values in conveying their messages than the judgement and
appreciation attitudinal values. The judgement and appreciation attitudinal
values have the highest positive entries from tables 4 and 5 while affectual
attitudinal values have the highest percentage of negative attitude in table 3
because of the bitter impact of death on the writer. From table 1, the writers
employ the use of invoked (implicit) attitude that does not involve explicit,
direct attitudinal evaluations, but draws on ideational meaning to connote
The affectual attitudinal value of un/happiness in table 1 has the highest
entry followed by the dis/satisfaction and dis/inclination whereas,
in/security has no entry value at all. This is because obituary
announcements are mostly concerned with the appraiser‟s emotional status.
The value of affect in the sampled analysis in table 2 outnumbered the
appreciation and judgment attitudinal value. This might be because the
writers construct a more personalized expression ofevaluation. Also, the
social esteem judgement attitudinal value in table 4 has the highest value
than social sanction. Also, in table 1, normality and capacity have the
highest entry followed by tenacity and propriety respectively. From table 8
there is a highest percentage occurrence of process lexicon of affectual
values than quality and comment which have the same percentage
There are more affectual attitudinal values in the announcements
because they concern human‟s emotions.
The affect values in the announcements are processes. Process
lexicon is employed to express the author‟s attitude.
The dominance of affectual resources makes the announcement
subjective, personal and persuasive to the readers. The
announcements make use of authorial affect which involves the
individual writer indicating how he/she has responded emotionally
to the person or situation being evaluated which indicates that the
writer takes responsibility for the attitudinal value assessment.
There is no un-authorial affect, that is, no inclusion of external
responses to what is being evaluated.
The announcements make use of invoked statements (implicit) than
inscribed (explicit) statements. This is to avoid the direct mention
of the taboo word „death‟.
There are dominant positive judgement and appreciation values in
the announcements. This is to present the good behavioural
characteristics of the dead.
There are dominant negative affectual values in the announcements.
This is to express the grief and bitterness impact of death on the
VI. Recommendations and Conclusion
This study investigates the Ideational and Interpersonal Analyses of
Obituary and In Memoriam Announcements in selected Nigerian
Newspapers. Its findings suggest that appraisal resources function
effectively in helping writers of Obituary announcements negotiate their
inter-subjective positions with the readers. The Obituary and In Memoriam
announcements are predominantly private affairs but their modes use a
public forum for their consummation. They address both the deceased and
the reading public by incorporating features from societal culture, norms,
values and religion. In this study, two sets of Obituary and In Memoriam
announcements are collected from two different newspapers and are
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