Review of Politics as Text and Talk
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2003 14:20:10 -0600
From: Elisabeth Le
Subject: Politics as Text and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse
Chilton, Paul A. and Christina Schaffner, ed. (2002) Politics as Text and
Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse, John Benjamins, Discourse
Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 4.
Elisabeth Le, University of Alberta
The linguistic study of political discourse is increasingly attracting
interest, and it benefits now from its own specialised publications, the
"Journal of Language and Politics", and the book series, "Discourse
Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture", both edited by Ruth Wodak and
Paul Chilton. Published in this series, "Politics as Text and Talk:
Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse", edited by Paul Chilton and
Christina Schaffner, is offered as an introduction to the field. The book
is intended to provide a methodological survey (although necessarily
incomplete) in order to "try to delineate the emergent methodology of the
field" (p. vii). The first chapter presents "Themes and principles in the
analysis of political discourse", and each of the six successive chapters
introduces a particular type of analysis.
In the introductory Chapter 1, Paul Chilton and Christina Schaffner start
on the premise that politics is largely language, and thus argue for the
study of politics by linguists alongside political philosophers and
political scientists. Indeed, with their fine-grained methods, discourse
analysts bring a new dimension to the comprehension of old and new problems
in politics. Politics is understood as a struggle for power but also as
co-operation in order to resolve clashes. Both phenomena take place at the
micro level (between individuals) and macro level (between institutions).
Individuals interact through discourse, and institutions produce types of
discourse with specific characteristics. As language is closely linked in
practice with culture, and culture is itself linked with the practice of
politics, the cultural context of the analysed political discourse always
needs to be taken into account. The authors review some main principles in
the analysis of discourse: speech acts (Searle), co-operative principle
(Grice), politeness (Brown & Levinson), validity claims (Habermas), context
and intertextuality, dialogism (Bakhtin), and functionalism (Buhler,
Halliday). Then, they briefly expose how political discourse can be looked
at in its cognitive dimension and in its pragmatic dimension.
The first part of the book comprises four chapters that deal with
institutions and identities. In Chapter 2, "Politization and
depolitization: Employment policy in the European Union", Peter Muntigl
"attempts to provide political conceptual tools combined with linguistics
tools for reading the political" (p.46). He proceeds to demonstrate these
concepts with the analysis of a speech from a Commissioner of the European
Union. In "politicking", i.e. in both "politicizing" (creating
opportunities for action) and in "depoliticizing", one of the main
discursive resources is metaphors. According to Chilton (1996:50-55), the
four most common metaphors in international relations are: container, path,
force, and link. It has already been shown how the first metaphor,
container, functions politically to delimit spaces of existent or
non-existent competing interests (Sondermann, 1997). In the Commissioner's
speech that is analysed, the three other metaphors of path, force, and link
present the EU policy as the only one to follow, and efface potential
alternatives. Thus, their interconnected use depoliticizes the question of
Stephan Elspass studies "Phraseological units in parliamentary discourse"
(chapter 3). A phraseological unit "consists of at least two words (but is
no longer than a sentence), is syntactically and semantically not the
results of the mere combination of its constituents, is used as a lexical
unit in a language community, and may in some cases be idiomatic" (Burger,
1998: 32). Such units can be, for example, proverbs, catch phrases,
greetings, gambits, stereotyped comparisons. Of particular interest is the
non-intentional deviant use of phraseological units that appear in spoken
speeches but are not necessarily recorded in official transcriptions. The
parliamentary discourse analysed here is composed of three post-war debates
in Germany during which MPs were not bound in their speech or vote by their
parties. Their quantitative analysis shows that phraseological language
represents about 10% of a speech, and thus is not a marginal phenomenon. In
the qualitative analysis, it appears that non-idiomatic phraseological
units function as important elements in grammatical cohesion and textual
structure, while idiomatic phraseological units affect the style of the
speech. When phraseological modification is used creatively, it can
function as a powerful linguistic device, but when it is the result of
blunders, it can completely discredit the speaker.
Christoph Sauer adopts a functional-pragmatic approach to analyse
"Ceremonial text and talk" (chapter 4), in this case a speech given by John
Major for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In the
Functional Pragmatics (FP) of Buhler and Ehlich, language use involves
external purposes (social differentiation, i.e. illocution) and internal
purposes (procedures that orient mental activities). The combination of
both dimensions forms a complex speech action model that is composed of
five fields (symbol, deictic, prompting, toning, and operative)
characterised by a choice of lexical and grammatical means. The application
of this model allows to link the language of the surface structure (the
words Major uses in his speech) with underlying structures (what he intends
to communicate and the strategies he follows).
In chapter 5, "Fragmented identities", Ruth Wodak exposes the
discourse-historical approach in Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). This
ethnographic approach assumes that discourse is shaped by and influences
social and political reality, and that national identities are produced and
reproduced in discourse. Notions that make up a national identity are
internalised through socialisation; this implies a discursive construction
of difference that is dependent on context. Thus, not one, but different
national identities are constructed. The study of Austrian national
identity involves five content-related areas: the idea of a 'homo
Austriacus' and a 'homo externus', the narration of a collective political
history, the discursive construction of a common culture, the discursive
construction of a collective present and future, the discursive
construction of a 'national corpus'. In these defined areas, different
strategies (of construction, of perpetuation and justification, of
transformation, of destruction) represent plans of action that are
expressed with a variety of linguistic means. The study of these three
interrelated dimensions (content, strategies, and linguistic forms) reveals
how narratives of identity that Austrians can identify with are created.
Two chapters form the second part of the book, "Interaction and Cognition".
In chapter 6, Anita Fetzer examines questions of sincerity and credibility
in political interviews ('Put bluntly, you have something of a credibility
problem'). In order to define the notions of sincerity and credibility,
speech act theory and Grice's cooperative principle are reinterpreted in a
contextual approach that attempts to integrate the results of the
politeness and face research in an interactive framework. "Sincerity is
defined as speaker's communicative intention meant as uttered and thus
restricted to the participants' private domains. Credibility, on the other
hand, is not restricted to an individual's attitude towards their
illocutions, but interdependent on both illocutionary force and
propositional content" (p. 180). The combination of a pragmatic and a
conversation-analytic approach shows how the function of sincerity in
political discourse is to help remedy credibility problems.
In the seventh and final chapter, Teun van Dijk exposes his approach to
"Political discourse and political cognition", and illustrates is with the
analysis of a speech by Sir John Stokes, a (very) conservative MP from the
British House of Commons. Van Dijk argues that for the study of political
discourse to be relevant, discourse structures must be connected to
properties of political structures and processes with a theory of political
cognition. The purpose of this theory is to function as an interface
between the personal (relations between episodic mental models) and the
social (socially shared political representations of groups). In other
words, meaning and forms of political discourse are related to political
context not directly but through the intermediary of the participants'
construction of this interactional and communicative context, that is based
on their knowledge, attitudes and ideologies.
This book illustrates well one of the difficulties in defining the field of
political discourse, a difficulty that also constitutes its richness, the
diversity of analytical approaches. It would not be overtly exaggerated to
say that any combination of relevant principles in the domains of
pragmatics, text linguistics and discourse analysis, provided it can be
justified theoretically, can be used for the linguistic study of political
discourse. Indeed, the linguistic study of political discourse is first a
linguistic study of discourse, and thus it requires a basic knowledge of
domains such as pragmatics, text linguistics and discourse analysis; then
only, it is a study of political discourse. For centuries, political
philosophers, and then political scientists have attempted to define the
concept of politics; it has remained somewhat elusive, and the notion of
political discourse is therefore rather large. News discourse, not included
in this book, could also be considered political discourse in certain
circumstances. Thus, what is the specificity of the field of political
discourse? Some comprehensive frameworks are presented in this book (i.e.
Sauer's functional-pragmatic approach, Wodak's historical-discourse
approach, van Dijk's political-cognitive approach) to which Scollon's
approach to "Mediated discourse as social interactions" (1998) should
probably be added. These approaches could also be situated in the framework
of Critical Discourse Analysis, and some of them figure in Wodak's and
Meyer's "Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis" (2001). Through its
presentation of varied analytical approaches, this book does not offer so
much an introduction to the field for newcomers (a number of non-linguists
and linguists not specialised in the relevant fields would probably benefit
from a simpler presentation of theoretical principles) as a starting point
for a needed general reflection on the study of political discourse.
Burger, H. (1998) Phraseologie. Eine Enfuhrung am Beispiel des Deutschen.
Schmidt, Grundlagen der Germanistik 36.
Chilton, Paul (1996) Security Metaphors: Cold War Discourse from
Containment to Common House. Peter Lang.
Scollon, Ron (1998) Mediated Discourse as Social Interactions - A Study of
News Discourse. Longman, Language in social life series.
Sondermann, K. (1997) Reading politically: National anthems as textual
Icons. In T. Carver & M. Hyvarinen, eds, Interpreting the Political: New
Methodologies. Routledge. 128-142.
Wodak, Ruth & Meyer, Michael (2001) Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Elisabeth Le is Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta (Canada). She works in the framework of Critical Discourse Analysis on the representation of international relations in French, American, and Russian media discourse.