The macro rules are mental processes that makes a listener or reader being exposed to a speech or written text. Its intention is to extract important information from a text, in such a way that the subject it deals with can be better understood.
The term “macro-rule” was created by the Dutch linguist TA van Dijk in 1977. The linguist tried to describe the fundamental rules that apply to a text (written or spoken) to understand its macrostructure; that is, the semantic content that is necessary to understand the full text.
In the field of language teaching, macro-rules are used to improve reading and listening comprehension, as well as information processing in general. This is so because they are very useful for extracting relevant information from a text.
Macro rules according to Van Dijk
The Dutch linguist Van Dijk described four main types of macro rules:
- Deletion or omission.
- Integration or construction.
Deletion or omission
Van Dijk’s first macro rule consists of eliminating information that is not completely relevant to understanding the meaning of a text or speech. The technique consists of detecting which parts of what has been heard or read are not necessary to understand the general meaning of the text.
This rule works because not all parts of a speech are equally relevant to understanding its content.
While some contain the essential information that tell us what it is about, others only provide extra data that can be suppressed when we try to stay with the general meaning of the text.
These parts of the text would be eliminated in the mind of the listener or reader, which in this way facilitates their understanding of it.
The second macro rule works in the opposite way to the previous one. The selection consists of paying attention only to the parts of the text that are relevant to understanding its general meaning.
Generally, the macro-rules of suppression and selection occur at the same time: by choosing to focus on one part of the text, our brain “suppresses” the others, and vice versa.
Using the third macro-rule, generalization, a person is able to extract the common characteristics of a series of objects or situations described in the text. In this way, you can find what is the same for everyone, facilitating reading or listening comprehension.
Using generalization, a person is able to more easily find the topic of a text or speech.
Integration or construction
The last of the macro rules proposed by Van Dijk consists of joining several parts of a text in such a way that they can be summarized with a single concept.
This concept does not have to be present literally within the text or speech; on the contrary, most of the time we are able to find it because it is part of our own experience of the world.
What are macro rules for?
When he proposed the concept of macro-rules, Van Dijk described them as a series of mental processes that we perform unconsciously in order to better understand the general content of a text. These macro-rules, therefore, are mental operations that serve to facilitate reading or listening comprehension.
Despite the fact that people who have the facility to extract the fundamental contents of a text or speech make use of macro-rules unconsciously, not everyone masters them naturally. Fortunately, thanks to the work of Van Dijk, today it is possible to teach the use of macro rules directly.
This teaching is used in areas that have to do with learning a language. Therefore, they are usually used mainly on two different occasions:
- When you are learning to master your mother tongue, as in the case of primary or secondary education. With macro rules, students are able to better understand all kinds of texts they see in the classroom.
- In learning a foreign language. Since reading comprehension and listening comprehension are two of the fundamental elements of acquiring a second language, macro-rules are especially useful in this area.
However, these techniques can also be useful in other situations, such as when used as study techniques. In that case, they help students by making it easier to extract the most important information and create a good summary.
Examples of macro rules
Below we will see an example of each of the macro rules, to better understand how they work. The text that we will use for this is the following:
The young woman went to the station. She was wearing her favorite green dress; the floor of his room was littered with T-shirts, pants and shoes that he had discarded. When he got to the train station, he went to the ticket office and bought a ticket. His transport left in just a few hours ”.
Deletion or omission
The phrase describing the clothes that the young woman is wearing, and the clothes that are on the floor of her room, are not relevant to understanding the most relevant information in the text. Rather, they only serve to add context to what is happening.
By using the macro-rule of deletion, we would eliminate this part of the text, leaving only the sentences that give us the information we need. In this case, a young woman went to a train station and bought a ticket.
This second macro rule works just the opposite of the previous one. What is the most relevant information in the text? In this case, they would be all those phrases related to the fact that the young woman is going to buy a train ticket.
Thus, the most relevant phrases would be “The young woman went to the station” and “When she arrived at the train station, she went to the ticket office and bought a ticket.”
This macro rule is used to summarize a part of the text in such a way that it is easier to understand or remember.
In the case of this text, the phrase “the floor of his room was full of T-shirts, pants and shoes that he had discarded” could be summarized as “there were clothes on the floor of his room”.
Finally, the macro-rule of integration serves to understand the general context of the writing. In this case, if we integrate all the information present in the text, we can assume that the young woman is going to catch a train, even though this is not made explicit at any time.