LINGUIST List 12.2290

Mon Sep 17 2001

Review: Goatly, Critical Reading & Writing

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <>

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  1. Eileen Smith, Review. Critical Reading and Writing

Message 1: Review. Critical Reading and Writing

Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 20:08:09 -0700
From: Eileen Smith <>
Subject: Review. Critical Reading and Writing

Goatly, Andrew (2000) Critical Reading and Writing: An Introductory
Coursebook. Routledge, paperback ISBN 0-415-19560-8, xiv + 348 pp.

Eileen Smith, Shasta College, Redding, California, USA.

"Critical Reading and Writing: An Introductory Coursebook"
(henceforth CRW) provides practical introductory
explanations and exercises intended to raise critical awareness of
choices which writers make in composing and revising their work.
He defines critical not only as the simple identification of
fallacies and flaws in logical arguments but also as the
questioning of the very categories upon which underlying assumptions
in those arguments are based. Then he widens the meaning of
critical to include the ability to explain "how the world and our
relationships within it and to it are constructed through reading
and writing." Critical awareness, the author notes, can foster
understanding of the role these choices play in structuring
thought processes and in influencing both social and
environmental behavior. Accepting the weaker version of
linguistic relativity (Whorf 1956: 57-65), the author recognizes
that a speaker of one language has difficulty in thinking in
the way in which the speaker of another language thinks. He,
therefore, aims to examine ideology and the ways in which we
are "socially positioned by the discourse in which we participate,
of how discourse enacts the power relations and conflicts within
society." The author acknowledges his indebtedness to Norman
Fairclough for the theoretical framework and discourse perspective
of his book.

CRW consists of ten chapters divided into three parts which
parallel the three levels on which we analyze and understand
discourse: description, interpretation, ideological explanation. Part
One, chapters 1-3, explores critical linguistics and ways in which
meaning is encoded in text: textual meaning, ideational meaning,
interpersonal meaning (Halliday 1994). Starting with text, the
three chapters deal respectively with the structuring of
information, conceptual meaning, and interpersonal meaning. Part
Two, chapters 4-6, discusses the interpretation and production
of text as social act from the discourse perspective. The three
chapters proceed from ways in which we read meanings into the text,
to how we assume stances in reading and writing, to aspects of
intertextuality. Part Three, chapters 7-10, shows how
description and interpretation lead to examination of the
ideological strategies behind the text. The four chapters cover
marketing and building an identity, feminism and the concept of
romantic love, economic and political interests that influence the
news, and the need for ecological critical discourse analysis. The
final pages include a section with further comments and suggestions for
the activities provided throughout the text, as well as an index and
glossary of linguistic terms, further references, and an index of

Chapter 1 "Genre and the Organisation of Text" (pp. 13-46)
explores ways in which information can be organized in texts. The
chapter begins with an example of jumbled directions to someone's
house. The landmarks are ordered erratically; consequently, the
directions are hopelessly confusing. Linear organization of the
information quickly clarifies the directions. The resulting
metaphor correlates how, with careful organization of a text, a
writer can give a map for a reader to follow. The author then
examines how information can be ordered on the level of sentence or
clause, giving several variations of the placement of theme and
rheme. Next he moves to the level of paragraph or passage and
stresses the importance of thematic development. He explains Nash's
four ways of organizing paragraphs: the Step, the Stack, the Chain, the
Balance. Then he points out that the impact of visual elements in
textual organization, graphic resources such as bullets, font, and
graphs, is often overlooked. Finally, the author discusses some of
the conventionalized generic structures of discourse. He summarizes
Labov's (1972) model of oral narratives, with the minimal elements
constituting a narrative being two linked clauses, one a complicating
action, the other a resolution.

Chapter 2 "Text and Conceptual Meaning" (pp. 47-82) explains and
illustrates how the vocabulary and grammar that we use encode values
and ideologies which predispose us to view and to represent the state
of the world in selective ways. The author investigates two ways in
which the conceptual representation of language reveals itself,
vocabulary and the structure of the clause. Vocabulary structures
meaning in the way it categorizes and refers to phenomena. The
categories reflect the values of a particular ideology. He
examines stereotyping as a "by-product" of such systems of
categorization. The aspect of clause grammar that is most relevant
to conceptualization and representation of the world is transitivity.
He explains Halliday's (1994) process types in verbs, followed by an
example of how to analyze a text using the categories. Such
analysis can reveal the linguistic patterns that construct a
version of the world. Finally, the author discusses the usefulness of
nominalization and passivization in situations such as strategic
avoidance of responsibility or to prevent argument.

Chapter 3 "Text and Interpersonal Meaning" (pp. 83-116) aims to
show how vocabulary and grammar encode and create social
relationships between reader and writer. The author uses Cate
Poyton's (1985) three dimensions of relationships: power, contact,
and emotion. Power can arise from physical force, authority, status, or
expertise. Contact encompasses the range of people with whom one
communicates directly on a scale of frequency and familiarity.
Emotion deals with the degree, tone, and duration of affective
expression. Ways to exercise power by regulating behavior include
commands and questions. Various degrees of authority and
assertiveness can be expressed with modal probability, frequency,
universality, or subjective markers. Pronoun choice can determine
the degree of personalization in a text. Techniques using rhythm
and dialogue fragments suggest closer contact. Vocabulary choices
from the various strands of English, Greek and Latin origin, French ,
and Old English, convey degrees of formality in descending order.
Finally, vocabulary choice expresses emotion through use of lexis.
Three words with the same conceptual meaning, such as "slim,"
"thin," and "skinny," carry very different emotive meanings.
Choice of one over the other suggests either a positive or negative

Chapter 4 "Interpreting Discourse" (pp. 117-144) begins with the
acknowledgement that decoding and semantic description comprise only
one aspect of the process of interpretation of text. While
analysis of grammar and lexis offers clues to the reader, the
meaning of the text as intended by the writer remains a matter of
guesswork. A text provides clues to meaning, but a reader must
recognize assumptions, determine the attitude of the writer towards
those assumptions, and hypothesize what inferences the writer
intended that the reader would make. Inferences arise from the
interaction of knowledge outside the text with knowledge in the text.
Systematic discussion follows of presuppositions, propositional
attitude, metaphor and irony, inferences and existing knowledge,
and, finally, the use of visual effects in advertising to create
inferences about products.

Chapter 5 "Reading and Writing Positions" (pp. 145-162) discusses the
importance of "Subject Positions," how text creates relative
positions for both reader and writer. The author recognizes the
importance in his work of Louis Althusser's (1984) thesis that
societal institutions impose the role of subject through
subjection of individuals to norms in the family, education,
religion, and the media. Subsequently, these norms can become
internalized and often unquestioned. Analysis follows of factors
that influence such subject positions. Speech acts, whether
uttered or written, are intentional and affect their addressees.
Indirect speech acts and politeness can be equally effective.
Choices made in degrees of directness reflect relative
positioning on the dimensions of Power and Contact as they
construct a social world. Finally, the chapter discusses ways to
resist reading positions by resisting subject positions and by
questioning both overt and covert ideological constructions of

Chapter 6 "Intertextuality" (pp. 163-178) explores ways in which
texts can interrelate. This can occur when a reader formulates
inferences about a text based upon information and knowledge
gleaned from other texts. Analyzing patterns of discourse
structure can help a reader recognize different genres, from legal
to conversational, with each exhibiting varying subject positions
for both reader and writer. Another way that texts interrelate is
by introducing other voices into writing, such as by including
another's speech in a text. Multiple voices often interplay in the
transmission of information, for instance as in news reporting, when a
news item travels from informant to reporter to editor, etc.
Intertextuality also takes the form of reaction and response to another
text. Parody exemplifies this type of expression.

Chapters 7-10, which comprise the third part of the book, shift in
perspective. Whereas parts one and two emphasize language, part
three focuses first on ideological positions, then illustrates the
form these positions take in texts and discourse. The four chapters in
part three also include suggestions for a longer writing/research
project to be undertaken in conjunction with the readings. The author
recommends that students read the sample texts selectively,
respond to them, and engage in interactive discussion before
reading the author's analyses of the texts. He readily acknowledges
that his analyses are ideologically positioned. The topics that the
chapters explore are as follows:

Chapter 7 "Advertising and Consumerism" (pp. 183-214), begins with
an overview on the history of consumerism and marketing.
With the advent of shopping as leisure activity in industrialized
nations, buying has become a way to exercise freedom of
choice and expression. Purchasing power allows consumers to buy
image to create identity. The chapter covers different appeals in
advertising: providing instant solutions to problems or ills, upward
social mobility, and enhanced attractiveness of appearance. Analysis
of three advertisements ensues, followed by guidelines for the chapter
project that challenges students to write publicity material for a real
readership, such as an organization to which they belong.

Chapter 8 "Fiction and Feminism" (pp. 215-244) begins with a
discussion of the history and nature of courtly love, after which the
author analyzes the narrative structure of a short piece of
romantic fiction. Next he analyzes transitivity, features of
politeness, vocabulary, metaphor, irony, and inferences, followed
by a feminist critique. The chapter project involves writing
a 7-10 page romance along the lines of the sample in the chapter.

Chapter 9 "News and Institutionalized Power" (pp. 245-274)
questions the notion of freedom in the press, in the context
of the constraints imposed by the editorial stance of the news
organization, the dependency upon advertising, and the very ambiguities
inherent in the facts of the news. The author asserts that "the
press as we know it has been hi-jacked by those with political and
economic power." Analysis follows of sources of news, a study of
voices quoted in the news, representations of nations and women.
The chapter project involves the writing of a news article about an
event that fellow students might find newsworthy and of personal

Chapter 10 "Nature, Vocabulary and Grammar" (pp. 275-302)
takes on ecological issues, centering on the language of
the technological ideology of exploitation of nature that has
evolved during the course of the industrial revolution. The author
highlights the importance of the need for a specific ecological
critical discourse analysis. This could be accomplished in several
ways. One way is to seek pro-ecological lexical and metaphorical
modification. A second way involves rethinking of grammatical
features that reflect Newtonian theory of laws of motion which depict
nature as passive and controllable, to incorporate some findings of
twentieth century scientists who offer more dynamic views. The author
then specifies ways in which grammar can be modified to reflect
these more modern scientific views. A case study follows of how
contemporary, educated, urban individuals depict their relationship
with nature. Two suggested activities in applying aspects of
ecological critical discourse analysis end the chapter.

CRW merits commendation for its discourse perspective. As the text
explores the relationship between language and power, it
stimulates critical thinking by fostering understanding of
the role that choices play in structuring thought processes
and in influencing social and ecological behavior. The notion
of responsible choices made in both composing and reading runs as
a theme throughout. Individual chapters provide clear,
introductory-level explanations and practical exercises that can help
develop critical awareness of the relationship between composing/reading
and intertextuality in the construction of textual world.

Much in the text complements its utility and appropriateness for its
target audience: undergraduate/ college/ pre-university students in the
UK, North America, and the Pacific. The organization encourages
flexible use. A thematic approach would begin with ideological
positions in part three, and refer back to language analysis in parts
one and two as needed. A systematic progression would build skills in
parts one and two, then illustrate their application in the analyses in
part three. Overall, the lively tone of the text and the effectiveness
of the explanations make it highly accessible to students. The language
is clear, with the possible exception of some Briticisms, such as
"advert" for "advertisement," that might distance some students in the
United States. Skills such as those explained in "a sample of
transitivity and vocabulary analysis" (Chapter 2, pp. 61-65) can help
students craft and defend their arguments. The author's strong polemic
stance throughout the text has the potential to provoke many students to
react and respond. For the more reticent student who believes that
reasoned writing must be boring, this can validate the role of passion
in writing.

Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, trans. Mark
Ritter, London: Sage.

Fairclough, N. (1995) Language and Power, London: Longman.

Labov, W. (1972) Language in the Inner City, Philadelphia, PA:
University of Pennsylvania Press.

Whorf, B. L. (1956) Language, Thought and Reality, Carroll, J.B. (ed.)
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Eileen Smith, Ph.D., engages in research in the area of critical
discourse analysis. She focuses on strategic language use in the
interplay of language and power.
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