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Characters and language features table

Character Nanberry Surgeon White Maria

Possible character traits identified by students in Sequence 5


Brave (his people had died)



Did not think all European people were very smart

Torn between two cultures


Thinks that he is superior to others in the colony

Caring but not loving

Distrusts Indigenous people, who she refers to as ‘natives’

Has been very poor

Grateful to Surgeon White

Knew her place as a servant

Lower class

Some possible aspects of language choices to explore with students from excerpts

Written in the third person from Nanberry’s point of view – so we know what Nanberry is thinking and feeling.

Verb groups that relate to the white ghosts try to make readers understand Nanberry’s attitude (attitudinal language) as he judges the behaviour of the settlers (for example, ‘lived in them until they stank’, ‘didn’t know how to fish’, ‘they tried to attack’, ‘white ghosts stole’, ‘made the stream filthy’, ‘be so stupid’ and ‘show them how to build canoes’).

Written in the third person from Surgeon White’s point of view – so we know what Surgeon White is thinking and feeling (for example, ‘Seemingly endless voyage’, ‘Poor excuse for a country’).

Verb groups that use modal auxiliaries that indicate the degree of certainty – in this case a high degree (for example, ‘he had insisted that the convicts eat fresh food’, ‘he’d made sure’ and ‘he’d had to threaten’).

Students could rewrite part of the text using lower modality choices and discuss how this could affect the development of the character (for example, ‘he had requested that’ and ‘he had hoped that’).

Written in the third person from Maria’s point of view – so we know what Maria is thinking and feeling.

Readers can interpret ideas about characters through the influence of how the participant’s role is shown. Are they in control of their own affairs or are others in control? (Humphrey, Droga and Feez, 2011)

Study of verb groups/phrases (or processes) shows that Maria is often in the position of having something done to her (for example, ‘like Surgeon White had told her to’, ‘Gran had taught her’ and ‘till the lady came to buy her’).

(References: Derewianka, B (2011) A New Grammar Companion for Teachers, PETAA, Sydney and Humphrey, S, Droga, L and Feez, S (2012) Grammar and Meaning, PETAA, Sydney.)