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Review of  Discourse Perspectives on English

Reviewer: Margaret J-M Sonmez
Book Title: Discourse Perspectives on English
Book Author: Risto Hiltunen Janne Skaffari
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.2512

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Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 15:00:03 +0300
From: Margaret Sonmez
Subject: Discourse Perspectives on English

EDITORS: Hiltunen, Risto; Skaffari, Janne
TITLE: Discourse Perspectives on English
SUBTITLE: Medieval to modern
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 119
YEAR: 2004
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins

Margaret J-M Sonmez, Department of Foreign Language Education,
Middle East Technical University, Ankara.

The book adds to the already impressive list of volumes in this
series, which is aimed at a readership of researchers. It contains
eight chapters, comprising a chapter from each of seven writers
preceded by an introduction by all of them together. The chapters are
separate papers, reporting studies of different materials and issues,
and as is usual in such volumes the notes and lists of works cited
are given at the end of each paper, rather than combined and
presented at the end of the book. This review will present a
chapter-by-chapter description-cum-commentary, followed by a few
comments on the volume as a whole.

The introduction (1-12) presents a useful and cogent series of
discussions and summaries of the issues and terminological histories
related to the overall subject. This the writers decide to label
''historical discourse linguistics'' (2). Among essential issues in
this area, the pitfalls of edited texts and the difficulties of
defining, let along identifying, ''discourse communities'' for
distant times are discussed (4); attention is also paid to
definitions and usages of the pairs of terms ''text'' (specific
materials) and ''discourse'' (a body of related texts) (6), and
''genre'' (functional) and ''text type'' (linguistic) (8).

The issue of defining and identifying characteristics of orality and
literacy is touched upon in the introduction (5) but mostly left to
the following chapter, Warvik's, for a fuller treatment. Here, the
''background sections'' are expanded in order to ''provide links to
the orality/literacy theme as it reappears in subsequent chapters''
(22). What is in fact provided is a sensitive presentation of the
various complexities and subtleties involved in studies of orality
and literacy - and the often parallel features of spoken and written
language - both diachronic and synchronic. An example may be taken
from the discussion of the accepted duality in textual structuring
with parataxis/coordination expected of oral/verbal styles and
hypotaxis/subordination taken as characteristic of the
literate/written style. Here, bringing together a range of earlier
scholarship, Warvik raises the following issues: (i) ''different
types of subordination and coordination [have been shown to be] more
common in different types of spoken and written materials'' (23);
(ii) ''the frequencies of subordinate clauses are not only dependent
on the channel, but also on the text type, level of formality and
planning time'' (24); (iii) some early forms may not fall easily into
syntactic categories like ''conjunctions'' (24); (iv) the researcher
''needs to take into account the differences in the discourse and
stylistic roles of clause combination types in different periods of
the history of the language'' (24); finally, (v) certain features
associated with one channel can be found in the other ''consciously
used for various purposes'', such as stylistic and rhetorical effects

The same level of care is demonstrated in the research that Warvik
then presents, which is a study of six linguistic features associated
with orality, individually analyzed, in a selection of Old English
prose texts from different genres that have previously been grouped
in terms of internal references to their reception format. That is
to say that first the texts were scrutinized for direct indications
of their expected reception (e.g. references to an audience
''hearing'' the words) and the results of this scrutiny are presented
in terms of genre groupings (Table 2, 30), then the frequencies of
each of the six linguistic features for each of the two reception
formats identified (literate and mixed, i.e. ''oral/literate'') were
calculated (Table 3, 34), and then the frequencies of each of the six
features for each genre are presented (Tables 4-9, 35-37). In each
case the results show clear differences between the genres, and,
interestingly, the genres cluster differently for different features
(37). The features are parataxis, repetition, 1st person pronouns,
2nd person pronouns, private verbs and discourse markers.

The chapters being organized chronologically in terms of their
research materials, Hiltunen's analysis of the discourse advice
rendered both directly and indirectly in ''Ancrene Wisse'' comes
next. Grice's Cooperative Principle and Leech's Politeness
Principle are the mainstays of the analysis theoretically, but it is
perhaps the reading of the text in terms of the place of language in
a very specific (female) religious group that provides the largest
number of insightful comments. As with all the papers in this
volume, the work brings together, fruitfully, references to existing
scholarship from diverse areas, which makes for stimulating reading.
In this case a number questions are raised that will make for
fascinating further study, such as ''to what extent have the
religious traditions of the past shaped our present-day conception of
what counts as cooperative and polite conversation?'' (68).

Skaffari's study of lexical borrowings in ''Sawles Worde'' follows.
It is openly indebted to Meurmann-Solin's 1990 and Dor's 1992
papers (78), and presents a tantalizing ''case study'' (99) of what
can be done in applying understandings gained from these works to a
detailed analysis of relatively few words (fifty-nine words
accounting for a total of eighty-six occurrences (84)) in a
relatively short text (c.5000 words (78)). From Dor, Skaffari pursues
research into first occurrences and the integration of foreign words
and from Meurmann-Solin, the issue of the markedness of some
borrowed words is taken up. A combination of the two is found in
the present paper's assumption that markedness will correlate with
recentness of adoption (while also possibly being found with less
recent importations) (79). The study is multifaceted, in that it pays
attention to ''the syntactic and discourse contexts'' of the words
under examination as well as to borrowings in the group of
manuscripts in which ''Sawles Worde'' is found (the Katherine Group),
and to differences between manuscript versions (79).

Perhaps because the research, background discussion and concluding
remarks are so meticulously careful in other respects, three points
stand out as being explained in less detail; it is not that they are
not discussed, but that this reader wished there had been more space
allowed to expand on them further. They are: the correlation of
recent adoption and markedness mentioned above, the implications for
borrowing and markedness of the inherited belief that the text ''was
mostly targeted at female audiences'' (81) -- that it belongs to a
group of manuscripts ''about women and for women'' (90) (presumably
words can be marked for one audience and not for another, but how can
this situation be reliably reconstructed?), and the use of earliest
citations in the electronic ''Middle English Dictionary'' and
''Oxford English Dictionary'' as reflections of the dates of lexical
importation (84ff.). Given that ''this is one of the first published
papers in Middle English loanwords to draw on the complete M[iddle]
E[nglish] D[ictionary]'' (101, n5), a mention of the scope and
limitations of this recently completed resource would have been

The following two chapters present attempts to categorize the genres
of texts that have up until now been mostly ignored from this point
of view. Peikola investigates the details of that group of Lollard
tracts that have been briefly referred to as ''catalogues'' by
Justice (1999). Taking twenty-two tracts that ''present themselves
as roughly similar syllabi of doctrinal items'' (107) as a corpus for
the purpose, he identifies four areas of formal and two areas of
functional characteristics of the Lollard catalogue. The formal areas
are opening and concluding sequences (107-109, 109-110), the
presentation of the 'syllabus items (110) or catalogue proper
(110-111), and ''lexical marking of topic changes'' (111). The
functional areas are ''types of catalogue'' (112-115), categorized
according to content, and ''audiences of the catalogues'' (115)
based on named addressees and implied readership. To these are added
discussions of three areas of textual practice (scholastic, judicial
and legislative) (116-124) that are closely related or overlapping
with this putative genre. As a conclusion, Peikola notes that ''the
catalogue can undoubtedly be viewed at least as what Diller (2001)
calls a ''recipients' genre'', i.e. one postulated by later
recipients (including researchers)'' (125), or as ''a superordinate
recipients' genre, incorporating under its umbrella several
vernacularized historical genres'' (126). The paper ends on the
stronger claim that ''the catalogue might equally well ultimately
present itself as a new producers' genre'' so long as ''genres are
understood as fuzzy-edged and malleable structures placeable on a
continuum~E'' (126). The extent to which the author wishes to claim
specifically the Lollard catalogue as a genre is not mentioned.

A Middle English collection of directions for the making of laces, or
braiding, is the material for Carroll's exploration of a text-type
or discourse entity identified and named by Hoey (2001) as the
''discourse colony''. After detailed historical and terminological
introductions to the research material, the nine characteristics that
Hoey uses to identify this text type are used to analyze the
''Directions for Laces''. This is followed by a brief investigation
of the same characteristics applied to commonplace books. Given the
growth of interest in previously uncanonical material for linguistic
analysis, and the mass of early material that exists in the form of
collections of one sort or another, the author's hope that this work
will have raised ''historical linguists' awareness of Hoey's
approach'' and thus ''facilitate future study of such texts'' (159)
is likely to be realized.

Tanskanen's work on Early Modern letters and letter-writing manuals
takes us to an area of undisputed genre and plentiful material. At
the core of the paper lies her comparative analysis of two sets of
family correspondence with two chronologically matched manuals.
These are the letters of the Hutton and Tixel families Hutton
(1566-1638 and 1656-1680 respectively) and the manuals of Angel Day
(1586) and Hannah Woolley (1675). The aim is not the - as honestly
stated - ''rather hopeless task of trying to uncover the direct
effect of letter-writing manuals or the extent to which their
prescriptions were adopted'' (170), but rather ''to find out if the
manuals depicted actual epistolary practices'' (ibid). Much
interesting qualitative information is uncovered, including (as with
all the papers in this volume) excellent use of references to
background material, making this a very useful text for introducing
the subject to those new to the field. It is shown that ''both Day
and Woolley apparently had a clear idea of the preferred epistolary
practices of their day'' (190). The paper also shows how these can be
analysed on discourse terms, using the contemporary conventions as a
primary framework (and this includes the older texts from which the
letter writing manuals obtained, directly or indirectly) many of
their points) and reference to present-day theories where appropriate
(for example to Grice's Maxim of Quantity (178)).

The last chapter is Valle's paper describing and analyzing the
correspondence involved in a dispute between a few members of the
Royal Society, from the dates 1668-1672. The theoretical concerns of
this paper are related both to genre/text typology and to politeness,
and rest on fine analyses of the writing and behavioral requirements
of the relatively confined social circles from which the letters were
produced. Brown and Levinson's (1987) model of linguistic
politeness and its adaptation to scientific writings by Myers (1989)
are used. In terms of genre, the main issue here is that of the
development, from the late seventeenth century until the end of the
eighteenth century, of a ''new form of communication'' (219): the
scientific letter. In terms of politeness, the correspondence under
analysis shows how conflicting requirements of personal affront,
gentlemanly behavior, community membership and a developing rhetoric
of scientific seriousness could manifest themselves simultaneously.
This close reading of texts in which we witness ''an early stage''
in ''the development of pragmatic strategies for the new form of
communication'' (219) makes enjoyable and very interesting reading.

Taken as a whole the papers here underline the interdependence of
discourse studies on a clear understanding of genre and of audience
- or to put it another way, the discourse study of any text requires
a clear understanding of that text's type, and this can hardly be
fully understood or described without knowledge of its communicative
intent and, thus, of its targeted audience or readership. The
acknowledged difficulties about these issues are approached in all
the papers of this volume. It is not just a matter of getting some
basic details out of the way before embarking on the main part of the
research, these papers contribute to the growing evidence of the
fine-tuning of different levels of language to different genres and
audiences (a particularly apt example being Warvik's paper): in one
way or another all of them bar one (Skaffari's) depended crucially
on their texts being of particular types or subgenres aimed at
specific, identifiable audiences.

Historical material not only challenges the researchers' abilities
to reconstruct and understand the target audiences, but also demands
recognition of a different genre typology. That genres and
sub-genres can alter through time and changing circumstances to
produce new genres appears to have been universally accepted, at
least within historical studies, to the extent that it is now
uncontroversial to postulate the existence of previously ignored
genres/sub-genres (as in Carroll's paper) and to study the dynamics
of the development of new genres/sub-genres (as in Valle's paper).
Reading Carroll's paper, one can not avoid noticing how Hoey's
proposed genre the discourse colony would account nicely for edited
collections of papers such as this one, which conforms to at least
seven of the nine properties presented on page 151. Is this

In terms of the position of this book among other discourse studies,
the individual papers' synchronic focussing on single or few texts
means that the volume shows few overlaps with discourse studies that
use corpus methodologies or with history-as-change-in-progress
approaches to the language of the past. Rather, the chapters present
individual analyses of particular instances of discourse from
different times, tackling and discussing the difficulties of
reconstructing relevant contextual details and at the same time
presenting textual analyses that can be compared with the analysis of
other texts from any other period. If materials of such a variety
are to be taken as relevant to the same research discipline, it is
essential that they refer to a shared theoretical framework, and for
this reason the discussions of certain key concepts (such as genre,
discourse community, orality) that are found both in the introduction
and in the papers themselves are essentially important. In this
respect the consensus-based approach of the introduction works well
for the book, but for the sake of future studies in a rapidly
expanding area of linguistic enquiry one may hope for more
single-authored future work bringing together the main theories and
their (growing number of) applications, and providing a point of
reference for the future.

Brown Penelope and Stephen Levinson. 1987. 'Politeness: Some
Universals in Language Use'. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Diller, Hans-Jurgen. 2001. '''Genre' in linguistics and related
discourses''. In 'Towards a History of English as a History of
Genres'. H-J. Diller and M. Gorlach (eds). Heidelberg: C. Winter;

Dor, Juliette. 1992. ''Post-dating Romance loan-words in Middle
English: Are the French words of the 'Katherine Group' English?''
In 'History of Englishes: New Methods and Interpretations in
Historical Linguistics'. M, Rissanen, I. Ihalainen, T. Nevalainen
and I. Taavitsinen (eds). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter; 483-505

Hoey, Michael. 1986. ''The Discourse Colony: a preliminary study of
a neglected discourse type''. In 'Talking about Text: Studies
Presented to David Brazil on his Retirement'. Birmingham: English
Language Research, University of Birmingham; 1-26

Meurmann-Solin, Anneli. 1990. ''Variation analysis and diachronic
studies of lexical borrowing''. In 'Proceedings from the Fourth
Nordic Conference for English Studies I'. G Caie, K. Haastup, A. L.
Jakobsen, J. E. Nielsen, J. Sevaldsen, H. Specht and A. Zettersen
(eds). Copenhagen: Department of English, University of Copenhagen;

Myers, Greg. 1989. ''Pragmatics of politeness in scientific
articles'' 'Applied Linguistics' 10: 1-35.
Margaret J-M Sonmez is assistant professor in the Department of
Foreign Language Education at the Middle East Technical University,
Ankara. She teaches both linguistics and literature courses and her
research mostly focuses on variation and change in Early Modern