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Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2005 19:19:32 +0100 (CET) From: Jan Chovanec Subject: Allusions in the Press: An Applied Linguistic Study
AUTHOR: Lennon, Paul TITLE: Allusions in the Press SUBTITLE: An Applied Linguistic Study PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2004
Jan Chovanec, Masaryk University, Brno
Allusions in the Press is an applied linguistic study of the form, function and usage of echoic allusions carried out on a corpus of non- literary texts - British newspapers. The defining characteristic of allusion is the existence of an 'echo' between one unit of language in praesentia (the alluding unit) and another unit in absentia (the target). We are thus dealing with a device which has a primary reference to the present text and a secondary reference to an absent text. Owing to this property, allusion yields a double meaning: "a primary, textual meaning in accord with the context and co-text of the manifest text, and a secondary associational meaning, suggested by the remembered context and co-text of the source text" (p. 5). As such, it is a cover term for a number of language-use phenomena which cannot be described solely with regard to their form. They must also be described with respect to their pragmatic and functional characteristics.
The author's primary aim is to argue that allusion is "a far more central ingredient of linguistic activity in the written mode (...) and that the ability to recognise, process and understand allusion is an important part of reader competence" (p. 6). Allusion, in his view, is not to be treated as a literary device, but a fact of everyday linguistic life on quite mundane levels.
In Chapter 2, allusion is placed within numerous theories of indirect language comprehension. It begins with the identification of meaning as deriving, within the framework of functional and structural linguistics, from the differences within sets of linguistic items rather than being located within the linguistic items themselves. Texts are thus seen to contain pragmatic presuppositions which exist at the paradigmatic level, i.e. in absentia (p. 24). In cognitive terms, they refer to shared background knowledge - schemata, frames and scripts - which are activated and accessed by means of inferencing. The extent of 'common ground' differs in various cultural communities. Such background knowledge also includes intertextuality - the knowledge of other texts, crucial for the theory of allusion.
In pragmatic terms, indirectness is discussed with reference to Gricean principles and the theory of conversational implicature. However, such a 'Standard Pragmatic Model', which considers figurative language as an instance of flouting the Co-operative principle, is reinterpreted in terms of Sperber and Wilson's (1995) relevance principle: in the case of ambiguous, formulaic and nonce language, "the context is used to infer the propositional meaning from the start" (p. 38). Indirectness, of which allusion as purposive ambiguity (p. 39) is an instance, is seen as the norm rather than the exception in many situations.
Allusion is also considered in relation to other instances of indirect language - irony, metaphor, idioms and innuendo. Thus irony, among others, is described as a form of 'allusional pretence', metaphor is seen in terms of 'properties of attribution' which are alluded to, idioms are interpreted as allusive when not reported verbatim but with a degree of productive variation, and innuendo is understood as still another example when contextual knowledge is alluded to and drawn on. The theoretical discussion is concluded by considering the role of consciousness in understanding allusions and the construction-integration model. It is argued that this framework of cognitive linguistics is well suited to the understanding of the processing of figurative language.
Chapter 3 provides an overview of previous work on allusion, concentrating on linguistically-oriented descriptions. It notes that allusions and quotations can be perceived in terms of a scale of lexicalization, which has a subjective nature - Lennon emphasizes that "what is allusive for one reader may be merely a commonplace metaphorical idiom for another" (p. 67). Existing studies of allusion in the press are assessed and the discussion goes on to consider the placement of allusion among other common foregrounding techniques, such as allusive punning and allusive metaphor.
The analysis of allusions in the corpus assembled by the author is carried out in Chapters 4 and 5. Six analytical categories are identified according to the character of the target unit: quotation, title, proverb, formulaic text, name, and set phrase. The analysis compares and contrasts the use of allusion with respect to these six categories in broadsheets and tabloids and in the individual papers. It proceeds to consider the frequency distributions across newspaper sections, providing a complex cross-comparison between the particular variables. The analysis of the sources of allusions reveals the degree to which allusions are culture- based and how much they draw on the presupposed shared background knowledge of the target audience: the sources are taken not only from the area of 'high' culture (Shakespeare - 21%, the Bible - 20%, other literature - 20%) but also from the field of 'low' or 'popular' culture (the allusive recycling of words from advertising slogans and pop songs etc.) The findings show that although the broadsheets tend to prefer literary allusions and the 'tabloids' look to the popular culture for target texts of allusions, there is no simple dichotomy between the two traditional types of papers. As the data about the frequency of allusion also show, we should rather think of the particular broadsheets and tabloids as arranged on scales which may, with respect to various linguistic phenomena, be partially overlapping.
Chapter 5 is devoted to the alluding and target units. First, the syntactic status of the alluding unit is discussed (with the finding that the noun phrase is the most frequent). Second, the complex nature of the relationship between the alluding and target units is explored. The focus is on surface identity, morpho-grammatical adaptation, lexical substitution (on a slot-and-filler basis), expansion, and deletion. The author concludes that the high correspondences of a lexico-grammatical nature can be explained with reference to "language users' internalized competence and ... the shared knowledge of writer and reader" (p. 181). Finally, attention is paid to allusions contained (embedded) within reported discourse. It is noted that writers frequently manipulate the status of an allusion, which is particularly the case in tabloids where pseudo-quotes are frequent.
In Chapter 6, the author develops a model of the process whereby allusions are recognised and understood by readers. The author proposes a multi- stage processing model of allusion which is based on two compulsory stages (recognition and inferencing) and one optional stage (appreciation of the writer as alluder). The reader's recognition may be aided by graphological marking or stylistic differences of lexis, grammar and spelling of the alluding unit.
The book concludes with a chapter on the functions of allusions. Altogether fifteen functions are identified and classified into five functional domains: intratextual, inter(con)textual, metatextual, processing, and interpersonal-affective. The section is supplemented by examples of allusion from yet another perspective: the mutual relationship between foregrounding and implicature present in the alluding units.
Lennon's book is a particularly valuable contribution to the study of news discourse, offering a fresh view from a multi-disciplinary perspective. In choosing his materials, the author makes the valid point that computerized searches of a corpus are problematic mainly with regard to the identification of instances of modified allusion and chance resemblance which are disambiguated by the context and the surrounding co-text. A personal analysis, though necessarily subjective and imperfect, is thus preferred, as its benefits (such as the analyst's awareness of socio- cultural and historical context) outweigh the problems connected with computerized searches (a closed set of targets, the choice of targets, the modifications of targets, the impossibility to assess co-text and context, etc.).
The monograph skillfully combines the approaches of literary stylistics, pragmatics and cognitive linguistics. One will thus be forced to consider allusion with reference to such concepts as foregrounding (originating in the functionalist tradition of the Prague School - Mukarovský 1983 and successfully applied in the study of media discourse by e.g. Fowler 1991), relevance (developed by Sperber and Wilson 1995 and applied to the study of news headlines by Dor 2003, for example), implicature, inferencing, and shared knowledge. More generally, the study of allusion is also seen within the framework of existing theories of indirect language and treated alongside metaphors, idioms and word play.
The theoretical part is impressively well founded. The analysis is likewise thorough with the author paying meticulous attention to cross- comparisons not only between the individual papers themselves (as is common practice in news discourse analysis, cf. Fowler 1991), but also between different sections of one and the same paper (because the location at which a particular form occurs in a newspaper has a direct relevance for its validity, cf. Jucker 1992). Moreover, the author takes into account the additional complication of the occurrence of allusions in reported discourse - such embedded forms have to be treated differently from the surrounding co-text because they are attributable to another voice (real or fictitious).
The analysis combines a minute analysis of linguistic forms on all levels (phonological, morphological, lexical, as well as syntactic) with an elaborate functional analysis. The author emphasises that allusion is multi-functional. To paraphrase his findings in terms of Halliday's (1978) functions, allusion can be seen as operating on all three levels: ideational, interpersonal and textual. Ideationally, it communicates meaning (which sometimes may not be communicated directly, e.g. for political reasons). Interpersonally, allusion depends on the co- construction of this meaning by the reader, relying on his or her recognition of the allusion which triggers the process of inferencing and drawing parallels between the alluding text in praesentia and the alluded text in absentia. Textually, such a process is based on an intertextual comparison and the drawing on background and shared cultural knowledge. The interactive aspect of allusion is also indicated by the possibility of a bond between writer and reader being created (sometimes evoking what the author calls a groan response on the part of the reader after recognising and appreciating an allusion), and may have a strong aesthetic function (cf. Jacobson 1990).
Last but not least, the theoretical issues discussed in the book are supplemented with a wealth of well-chosen examples which are explained in full detail with reference to their context and the target texts. As a result, the book makes for fascinating reading and those interested in this area will certainly want to come back to it. The only slight drawback is the absence of an index to help locate the many issues (puns, word play, morphological adaptation, blends, non-words, etc.) which, as a result of the author's complex cross-analysis, appear in different sections throughout the book.
Dor, Daniel (2003) 'On newspaper headlines as relevance optimizers'. Journal of Pragmatics 35: 695-721.
Fowler, Roger (1991) Language in the News. Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London and New York: Routledge.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as a Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.
Jacobson, Roman (1960) 'Closing statement: linguistics and poetics' in Sebeok, Thomas A. (ed.) Style in Language. Cambridge, Mass: the MIT Press, 350-77. Jucker, Andreas (1992) Social Stylistics: Syntactic Variation in British Newspapers, Walter de Gruyer.
Mukarovský, Jan (1983) Standard Language and Poetic Language. In: Vachek, Josef and Libuše Dušková (eds.) Praguiana. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 165-185.
Sperber, Dan and Deirdre Wilson (1995) Relevance: Communication and Cognition. 2nd ed. Oxford UK / Cambridge USA: Blackwell.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jan Chovanec teaches linguistics at Masaryk University's Department of English and American Studies in Brno in the Czech Republic. He completed his Ph.D. thesis on the description of the case of the British nanny Louise Woodward as reported in the British press, with a focus on the manifestation of the interpersonal function. His primary research interest concerns the language of print media (cohesion analysis, naming analysis, language play in tabloids, involvement phenomena in the press).