Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Unger, Christoph TITLE: Genre, Relevance and Global Coherence SUBTITLE: The pragmatics of Discourse Type SERIES: Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2006
Philippa Mungra, Department of Experimental Medicine, 1st. Medical School, University of Rome ''La Sapienza''. Rome, Italy
SUMMARY This book is intended for linguistics scholars interested in exploring how the notion of genre is related to communication. The author explores the linguistic functions of genre and discusses how Relevance Theory, as first proposed by Wilson & Sperber (1993) and later modified by them, may help delineate the pragmatic communicative function of genre.
The first chapter describes the structure of the book and defines the concepts he deals with - pragmatics and genre. The book is divided into three parts: the introduction and first section which define global vs. local coherence and grounding, two concepts fundamental to this book; the second with how Relevance Theory (RT) might account for many of the assumptions and premises underlying the interpretation of a text; and the third part deals with how RT, Genre Theory (GT) (as proposed by Halliday 1985) and a Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) approach (as suggested by Eggins & Martin 1997) are placed with respect to one another in linguistic communication.
In Chapter 2, the author introduces the notion that there may be a connection between discourse type (which he calls genre) and the global coherence of a text by discussing Samet & Schank's (1984) theory of global coherence and connectivity in narratives. He emphasizes that global coherence is given by the levels of expectation, causality, consequentiality, or time sequence, and the absence of such coherence makes for longer cognitive processing in order to ''make sense'' of the text. Interestingly, Unger emphasizes that this may be true only for certain types of texts, such as narratives. He suggests that texts which defy this notion of global coherence may be explained by the optimality aspect of RT (Wilson & Sperber 1998)
This theory is set out in Chapter 3, but credit is given to its precursors: Giora (1985) on ''well-formedness'', Klein & Von Stutterheim's (1987) _quaestio_ approach and van Kupplevelt's (1996) question based theory of topicality, comment and discourse structure. Unger discusses each of these theories in terms of acceptability: that there are several conditions that a text should meet for it to be globally coherent such as Relevance and Graded Informativeness. A text may deviate from these conditions but such deviation should be explicitly marked by digression markers. He espouses the notion that global coherence of a text is grounded in information staging and salience.
In the next chapter he develops the ideas of grounding by defining how information is foregrounded (essential to the narrative) or backgrounded. He suggests that the types of phrase, word order or tense in verbal forms may all be markers of grounding. For example, an iconic event (thus even a predicate or action verb) may be considered foregrounded and other information (which could be a thing or an entity) is to be considered relevant but backgrounded. Unger attempts to tie this idea of relevance and salience in discourse by suggesting that a pragmatic interpretation of verbal forms is essential to understanding discourse.
In Chapter 5, Unger discusses how expectations of relevance are raised in the set of assumptions of optimum relevance for every act of ostensive communication. He draws a picture of hearer-speaker interaction and how ostensive communication creates expectations, which are then verified or discarded as discourse develops. Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory (RT) is then elaborated using a Hebrew Biblical text - Isaiah 5:1-7 - and the author details assigning references, explicating and disambiguating, drawing inferences and implicatures and bridging references to arrive at the meaning. He then applies what he calls ''encyclopedic knowledge'' or cultural information about Isaiah to arrive at an interpretation, which according to RT is the optimally relevant interpretation of the meaning. Unger suggests that there is some coalescence between a RT interpretation of a text and GT interpretation, as proposed by Halliday and Halliday & Hasan, especially in areas such as connectivity and coherence, transitivity and verbal forms.
This idea of correspondence between the Hallidayean GT and Wilson & Sperber's RT is further expounded in Chapter 6, where the author describes how implicit questioning could give rise to new propositions, which when conjoined may generate a topic and focus, as well as inferred preferences within a series of utterances and help refine implicit questions about focus and topic so as to facilitate comprehension and communicativity. Manipulating two similar texts with different communicativity - one narrative and the other expository - Unger demonstrates this process by showing how implicit questions according to RT are raised in these two genres, how the schemas proposed by them raise different questions and how these different expectations are optimally satisfied.
Chapter 7 deals with an empirical or technical question: how genre considerations affect the semantics of verbal forms. Here the author considers the communicative line of the genre of narratives and what the imperfective form of verbs in Biblical Hebrew encodes in terms of aspect and predicate type and whether such linguistic markers could be pointers of grounding within narratives such as endophoric markers (Hyland, 1998). Although he makes it clear that the RT interpretation makes comprehension easier than using the global coherence ideas of Genre Theory, he does not discard this latter entirely but suggest that Genre Theory may be considered a pre-Gricean interpretation of comprehension, whereas RT is grounded in cognitive science. Nevertheless, these are not conflicting theories but actually coalesce, match and reinforce one another when viewed form a cognitive point of view - a concept he expounds in the next chapter.
In Chapter 8, Unger reviews the notion of register in GT and suggests that the three parameters of register (mode, field and tenor) result in a codified vision of a text and is aligned with GT, considered a social-semiotic construct according to Eggins & Martin (1997). However, the schema furnished by GT such as moves analysis by Swales (1990) and the Systemic Functionalist (SF) view, should be enriched by the cognitive aspect of ostensive communication according to RT. Borrowing a cognitive framework of interpretation as suggested by Goatly's (1994) work on metaphors, Unger suggests that register and genre information narrow down the range of implicatures raised by an utterance (RT). He also implies that the weakness of GT lies in the fact that the recognition of text type is not crucial for comprehension - an idea he pursues in the next chapter. Chapter 9 is concerned with mainly oral communication, which though limited to this text type, furnishes an appropriate framework for analysis using RT.
In his concluding chapter, Unger summarizes his claims that genre knowledge does not contribute greatly to the semantics of certain linguistic forms such as tense and aspect, or even to context but instead its major contribution is to what he calls the ''hermeneutical function'' of language: by the furnishing of information so that the hearer can better assess the relevance of implicatures in a text and choose the most relevant interpretation or as Unger (pg. 257) puts it: ''it is the pursuit of relevance which is crucial to comprehension and genre or speech-act recognition may not be essential in this process.''
EVALUATION This book has thrown a challenge out to linguistics: can any one theory account for the many-faceted nature of a text? Each chapter has been treated with significant depth to explain the author's thesis, to produce a book whose importance extends beyond the specific issues under scrutiny. This volume, dealing with default semantics, is of extremely high scientific value for several reasons: not only does it survey two important pragmatic theories, but it also attempts to explore the weaknesses and strengths of both in order to forge a reinforced pragmatic genre interpretation of the communicativity of texts. Such an approach is convincing and attempts to create a theoretic framework which draws on different sources such as cognition, metaphor studies and pragmatics; this approach makes it of particular interest to scholars from varying fields. Besides this, there are many others positive aspects in this book, such as the extensive bibliography and the detailed index. The only weakness, I feel, lies in the fact that the author limited himself to mainly utterances or brief texts in the oral mode. Admittedly, the author does indicate that his approach is applicable to complex stimuli involving longer texts but a wider variety of texts would have been more comprehensive and complete. Nevertheless, this book is an excellent contribution to scholarship in terms of the global coherence of text interpretation using GT and RT and the hypothesis of the cognitive pragmatic function of genre by Unger opens up many and varied research areas.
REFERENCES Eggins, S & J.R. Martin. 1997. _Genres and registers of discourse_. pp 230-256. In. T.A. van Dijk(ed.)
Giora, R. 1985. A text-based analysis of non-narrative discourse. _Theoretical Linguistics_ 12(2/3): 115-135
Giora, R. 1997. Discourse coherence and theory of relevance. _Journal of Pragmatics_ 27: 17-34.
Goatly, A. 1994. Register and the redemption of relevance theory. _Pragmatics_ 4(2): 139-182
Grice H.P. 1989. _Studies in the Way of Words_. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.
Halliday, M.A.K. 1985. _An Introduction to Functional Grammar_. London, Edward Arnold, 2nd. ed 1994.
Halliday M.A.K. & R. Hasan. 1976. _Cohesion in English_. London: Longman.
Hyland, K. 1998. _Hedging in scientific research articles_. Amsterdam. John Benjamins.
Klein, W & C. Von Stutterheim. 1987. Quaestio und referentielle Bewegung in Erzaehlungen. _Linguistische Berichte_ 109: 163-183
Samet, J. & R. Schank. 1984. Coherence and connectivity. _Linguistics and Philosophy_ 7(1): 57-82
Swales, J.M. 1990. _Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings_. Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University Press.
van Kupplevelt, J. 1996. Inferring from topics. _Linguistics and Philosophy_ 19: 393-443
Wilson, D. & D. Sperber. 1993. Linguistic form and Relevance. _Lingua_ 90: 1-25
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Philippa Mungra is a trained biologist and has been a lecturer in English at the 1st. Medical School of the University of Rome ''La Sapienza'' for the past 12 years. Her current research priorities revolve around the structure and evolution of specialist medico-scientific publications from a communicative and textual point of view. She has recently published a textbook for reading and writing skills within the new 5-year syllabus for Italian Medical Schools.