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Review of  Discourse and Technology

Reviewer: Élisabeth M. Le
Book Title: Discourse and Technology
Book Author: Philip LeVine Ronald Scollon
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 15.1892

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Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004 13:33:32 -0600
From: Élisabeth Le
Subject: Discourse & Technology: Multimodal Discourse Analysis

EDITOR: LeVine, Philip; Scollon, Ron
TITLE: Discourse & Technology
SUBTITLE: Multimodal Discourse Analysis
SERIES: Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2004

Élisabeth Le, University of Alberta

In their introduction to 16 selected papers from the Georgetown University
Round Table 2002 (GURT 2002), the editors of this volume, Ron Scollon and
Philip LeVine, present ''Multimodal Discourse Analysis as the Confluence of
Discourse and Technology''. The papers treat different themes, of which the
main ones are: why should we study discourse and technology and multimodal
discourse analysis; the role of the web in discourse analysis; multimodal
discourse analysis in studies of social actions and interactions;
multimodal discourse analysis in educational social interactions; the use
of multimodal discourse analysis in doing our analyses in workplaces.

The selection starts with Theo van Leeuwen's ''Ten Reasons Why Linguists
Should Pay Attention to Visual Communication''. He underlines the
multimodality of communicative events, and calls for a cooperation between
linguists and students of visual communications.

Rodney H. Jones talks about ''The Problems of Context in Computer-Mediated
Communication''. Her discussion is based on a participatory ethnographic
study of the use of CMC by university students in Hong Kong. Models that
have been developed for written and face-to-face communication are
inadequate to deal with the question of context in CMC, because CMC users
simultaneously manage multiple ways of being present and multiple levels of
presence within multiple fields of interaction by moving objects, spaces
and barriers in and out of interactional prominence, and by moving in and
out of ''synch'' with different interlocutors.

In ''Multimodality in Novices' Use and Perceptions of Interactive Written
Discourse (IWD)'', Angela Goddard reports on approximately 30,000 words of
IWD data produced by students as part of their online course, and collected
in the form of chatlogs. A Mediated Discourse Theory approach to her data
revealed the complexities of the nature of participants' simultaneity in
their deployment of IWD, and of the creative polyvocality in evidence in
participants' textual output as they explore the ''enunciative
positionalities'' of this tool.

Boyd Davis and Peyton Mason examine the ''[Use] of Questions to Establish
Authority, Identity, and Recipient Design in Electronic Discourse'' with the
use of an online asynchronous conference intended to extend class
discussions for students and professors in an undergraduate honors program
seminar. In their use of questions to manage their frequent disagreements,
students exploited a style that is an interactional norm for formal oral
debate, if not for ordinary conversation. It seems that this style was
thought a professionalizing register as its use conferred authority upon
its speakers with its characteristics of evaluation and appraisal, and
enabled dialogism with the alternation of presentation of both sides of an

Hsi-Yao Su is interested in ''The Interaction between Technology, Linguistic
Practice, and Language Ideologies''. The paper focuses on a specific
linguistic practice, the ''Mock Taiwanese-Accented Mandarin'' (MTM) used in
Internet exchanges. While members of the Internet Community in Taiwan
belong generally to the younger educated generations, Taiwanese-Accented
Mandarin is associated with rurality and older age, but also with
friendliness, congeniality and local color. MTM appears to play different
roles: it is a language play with aesthetic value; it represents a practice
of ''crossing''; and it participates in the emergence of a Taiwanese
identity. However, the transformation from spoken to written contexts
reinforces the distance between the standard variety and the stigmatized

Ingrid de Saint-Georges looks at ''The Influence of Space and Layout in
Making Meaning'' on the basis of ethnographic data that she collected in a
Belgian vocational training center. She shows how spatial configurations
facilitate or obstruct certain configurations of interactions. Space is
transformed under the actions of participants, and discourse precedes,
steers, follows or accompanies these actions. In the construction of space,
discourse appears related to three major functions: instruction,
evaluation, and social relationships. Thus, the spatial configuration is
not only a space of action but also a space for identity claims and

Laurent Filliettaz works on ''The Multimodal Negotiation of Service
Encounters'', more specifically on the impact of nonverbal behavior. He
argues that a multimodal approach to social interactions should pay
attention to the way agents ''handle things'' while interacting. Nonverbal
actions are deeply interwoven with communicative processes.

Sigrid Norris introduces a conceptual framework for Multimodal Discourse
Analysis that would allow for the explication of the multiplicity of
(inter)actions that a social actor engages in simultaneously. These social
interactions take place at different levels. Higher-level actions are
constructed with numerous lower-level actions, drawing on several
communication modes. For example, the action of selecting a CD in a music
store comprises many lower-level actions such as utterances, specific
manual gestures, eye gaze in a certain direction, posture, etc.
Furthermore, actors may be engaged in several higher-level actions at the
same time (e.g. talking with a particular child, supervising other
children, talking with adults), and change the one they are foregrounding
at a specific moment. This multiplicitly of communicative actions requires
that interactions be investigated in a more holistic manner than is usually

Alexandra Johnson draws our attention to ''Mediational Means and Identity
Negotiation in Immigration Interview''. In her examples, she focuses on an
employment-based green-card interview by an immigration officer. Using
Mediated Discourse Analysis, she shows how an unexpected similarity on a
practice level between the applicant and the interviewer (use of the same
type of word-processing program, document layout, body behavior such as
gaze) results in a negative evaluation of the person in the position of
lower power.

Elisa Everts examines ''Modalities of Turn-Taking in Blind/Sighted
Interaction'' in two-hours of videotaped interaction between a blind woman
(particularly well integrated into her sighted community) and seven of her
sighted friends and family members. Through her analysis, Everts shows the
importance of visual cues for gaining full participation in interaction,
and thus undermines the assumption that speech and hearing are sufficient
for ensuring an equal access to participation in interaction with sighted

Elaine K. Yakura raises question about '''Informed Consent' and Other
Ethical conundrums in Videotaping Interactions''. She underlines the need
for an increased sensitivity and awareness on the part of researchers who
choose to videotape naturalistic interactions, and suggests them to exceed
the basic legal requirements in order to allow an increased access and
involvement of their subjects.

Lilie Chouliaraki discusses ''The Moral Spectator: Distant Suffering in Live
Footage of September 11, 2001''. In particular, she analyses the way Danish
television mediates the events by articulating different space-times, the
''here-there'' and the ''before-after'' dimensions. Her analysis takes place in
the dual perspective of televisual mediation as visual and verbal
meaning-making, and of television as an agent of moral responsibility. She
shows that the spectator is put in a position of witnessing the suffering
that is not in the ''real time-real space'' perspective, and this activates
empathy with the sufferer because the spectator cannot act in this scene of

Joel C. Kuipers uses videotaped ethnographic data to investigate '''Voices'
as Multimodal Constructions in Some Contexts of Religious and Clinical
Authority''. In Sumbanese ritual settings, he observes that visual media
have become more important. In the traditional performances, voices of
absent third parties, ancestral voices, are progressively foregrounded
verbally over the course of the ceremony while visual cues of these voices
diminish in importance. In the more recently developed performances for
elementary school children, each voice has a single visual focus, oriented
towards the central gaze of the spectator. In U.S. clinical settings, the
appearance of multiple voices in a patient's discourse brings in the
patient's lifeworld and allows the construction of a lively dialogue with
the clinician.

Carey Jewitt asserts that research on new communication technologies tends
to foreground the affordances of medium at the cost of neglecting the
affordances of representational modes. In his opinion, the meaning of a
text is realized by people's engagement with the medium of dissemination
and the representational affordances of the modes that are used. Thus, in
order to understand the practices of people engaged with technologies, the
way technologies shape the learner and the learning environment, first we
need to understand the semiotic affordances of medium and mode.

With his ''Brief Intellectual and Technological History of the Emergence of
Multimodal Discourse Analysis'', Frederick Erickson underlines the
desirability to consider both verbal and non-verbal behavior in the study
of oral discourse, and he shows how technology has increasingly allowed
for that. This also means that a wider variety of forms of transcripts
needs to be explored. Indeed, we need, for example, to give more attention
to the real-time location of verbal and non-verbal microevents within the
stream of communicative activity, and to identify patterns of communicative
activity which obtain across multiple successive events.

In the last paper, Marilyn Whalen and Jack Whalen from the Palo Alto
Research Center tell us about their 15-year long work of ''Studying
Workscapes'', i.e. in defining ''distinct configurations of people, their
practices (the communal methods they use to organize and accomplish their
work); the habitats or environments where this works gets done; and the
tools, artifacts, and devices that populate these environments and are
involved in the work's achievements'' (p.210). Indeed, a good design of a
workplace means an appropriate fit between technological capacities,
techniques, and the natural organization of human habitats and practices.

While presenting a large diversity in terms of object of study, theoretical
framework and methodology, these papers underline the importance for
Discourse Analysis to become (more) multimodal. This call is increasingly
heard in various conferences related to Discourse Analysis, and will
undoubtedly be repeated. For those unfamiliar with this ''new'' direction in
the field, this book provides a general idea of what is being done by
scholars in different parts of the world. However, the field evolves, and
at least one more mode (music), not mentioned here, is now brought to the
attention of discourse analysts (Theo van Leeuwen, First Conference on
Critical Discourse Analysis, Valencia, May 2004).
Élisabeth 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.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589011015
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 240
Prices: U.S. $ 49.95