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Review of Relations and Functions Within and Around Language
Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2003 11:44:10 +0000 From: Monika Rathert Subject: Relations and Functions Within and Around Language
Fries, Peter H., Michael Cummings, David Lockwood and William Spruiell, ed. (2002) Relations and Functions Within and Around Language, Continuum, Open Linguistics series.
Monika Rathert, University of Tuebingen
INTRODUCTION There are many linguistic theories of discourse, but they are still weighted towards the written text. The present book is an attempt both to foster discourse theory and also to test the theory against oral texts. The book contains a theoretical and an analytical section. The theoretical section offers an overview about different current theories of discourse. The analytical section undertakes the study of a single spoken text, from several theoretical points of view. Both sections originated in conferences. The theoretical section is based on the contributions at a 1988-meeting of the "Annual Spring Colloquium" of the "Applied Linguistics Research Working Group". The analytical section of the volume goes back to the "Second Rice University Symposium in Linguistics and Semiotics" in 1984. The book presents a selection of revised papers presented at these two occasions. The topic of the conference at Rice University was to compare the approaches of different discourse theories to the same text, a dialogue interview between pseudonyms Sue and Kay. The Sue/ Kay dialogue is also the basis of the analytical section of the present volume, all contributions make reference to it. Its transcription is included in the book, following the analytical section. Sue and Kay are friends and talk about Kay's nose operation that is going to take place soon.
SUMMARY Let us have a look at the theoretical section first, which consists of five articles. In "Relations and functions within and around language: the systemic-functional tradition", Michael Gregory explores the discourse analysis termed "gnostology". This refers to the huge culture- specific knowledge which both enables and limits the language potential of discourse participants. He sketches the development of this theory from Louis Hjelmslev, J.R. Firth, Sydney Lamb and M.A.K. Halliday, and relates it to his own theory of "communication linguistics".
The article "Ideology, intertextuality and the communication of science" by J.L. Lemke examines intertextuality in its social context. Lemke considers what intertextual ties pertain among texts, their relative significance and how such ties reflect the social culture which occasions texts. Particularly social culture displaying social heteroglossia and ideology is considered. The results are tested against two texts in the field of teaching natural science.
Paul J. Thibault's article "Interpersoal meaning and the discursive construction of action, attitudes and values: the global modal program of one text" highlights the effects of mood, modality, lexis and turn- taking on the discourse stratum. All these factors are interrelated, and the article shows how. The theory is demonstrated by an analysis of an exchange of messages between a magazine reader and an "Agony Aunt" column.
"The flow of information in a written English text" by Peter Fries considers three interrelated areas of clause analysis: the theme-rheme structure, information structure and participant identification. Information structure considers the old/ new-distinction of texts. Participant identification includes the definiteness/ indefiniteness distinction and lexical/ pro-form alternatives. Fries considers these three areas of clause analysis with reference to the "Zero Population Growth" letter that has become famous as the focus of comparison in other studies in discourse theory.
David G. Lockwood, in "Intrastratal and interstratal relations in language and their functions" traces the development of stratificational linguistics from the origins in the work of Sydney Lamb in the 1960s to the present day. He also analyses the basic premises and notational systems used in this framework. Finally, he links stratificational linguistics with his own work on the neurological basis of language.
Let us go over to the analytical section now, which consists of six articles plus the Sue/ Kay dialogue. In "Memory and Discourse", Stephen A. Tyler undertakes an analysis of the Sue/ Kay dialogue by highlighting connections between modern discourse theory and the ancient discipline of rhetoric. With reference to rhetorical "schemata", this article demonstrates the utility of idiomatic filler phrases which create a rhythmical underpinning for the discourse structure. Topical organization and textual coherence are placed in relation to rhetorical "inventio".
David G. Lockwood's article "Highlighting in stratificational-cognitive linguistics" deals with several highlighting functions in clauses, e.g. clefts and contrastive accent. These are examined in detail in the Sue/ Kay dialogue. It is shown how the highlighting concept developed in stratificational-cognitive linguistics relates to other work within the systemic-functional tradition. In "Interpreting discourse", Sydney Lamb takes a small portion of the Sue/ Kay dialogue and shows how a neurocognitive approach illuminates the structure of the discourse nicely. The discourse is seen as reconstructed in the minds of the hearer and reader. This cognitive reconstruction is conceived of as building relational networks, involving trial-and-error reinterpretation and self-correction in an approximating process.
Wallace Chafe uses his own transcription of the Sue/ Kay dialogue, because he concentrates on phonetic factors not rendered by the normal transcription. His transcription follows his article "Prosody and emotion in a sample of real speech". The phonetic features Chafe examines are changes in the fundamental frequency, changes in the length of syllables, and changes in the speed of utterance. The connection between a particular acoustic configuration and the kind of personal attitude involved is highly context- dependent.
Michael Gregory in "Phasal analysis within communication linguistics: two contrastive discourses" demonstrates the techniques of phasal analysis by using it to examine two separate texts: Ernest Hemingway's short story "The sea change" and the Sue/ Kay dialogue.
Finally, Peter Fries in "Some aspects of coherence in a conversation" details and tabulates a rich variety of cohesion ties in the Sue/ Kay dialogue. For Fries, the source of cohesion is the social interaction which the text encodes. Fries deconstructs this encoding in terms of narrative structure and thematic progression.
DISCUSSION Today, there is a big movement in generative linguistics towards corpora, also fostered by new methods from computational linguistics to deal with corpora. This book presents a consistent sample of analyses of a single corpus from the point of view of functional linguistics. The functionalists' contributions in this volume are really interesting and will certainly influence future generative work on corpora. Maybe it would also be interesting to test the analyses in the second part against other corpora, be they written or oral.
Most work on corpora focuses on written corpora. The present volume is completely different: it contains work on an oral corpus, and presents complementary analyses of this corpus. Although the Sue/ Kay dialogue is not completely natural, its videotaping and audiotaping proved to be enriching the information that is displayed in the written version. As all articles refer to the same text, the approaches are easy to compare.
The present book is a successful attempt both to foster discourse theory and also to test the theory against a concrete oral texts. The volume is very nice to read and is supplemented by a well-done index. The book is highly relevant for all linguists working with corpora and discourse theory.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Monika Rathert finished her PhD in General Linguistics in July 2003. She works in Tuebingen, Germany, as a researcher in a typologically oriented project on tense, aspect, and adverbials. Her research interests include semantics and syntax (especially event semantics, negation and polarity, quantification), typology and universals, morphology and phonology (especially incorporation, stress systems, prosody, syllable structures), didactics, and historical linguistics.