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Review of  Politics as Text and Talk

Reviewer: Élisabeth M. Le
Book Title: Politics as Text and Talk
Book Author: Paul Chilton Christina Schäffner
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 14.1156

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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 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.