LINGUIST List 12.2853

Tue Nov 13 2001

Review: McLoughlin, The Language of Magazines

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  1. Irmeli Helin, review of Linda McLoughlin (2000) The Language of Magazines

Message 1: review of Linda McLoughlin (2000) The Language of Magazines

Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001 17:43:53 +0200 (EET)
From: Irmeli Helin <ihelinmappi.helsinki.fi>
Subject: review of Linda McLoughlin (2000) The Language of Magazines

McLoughlin, Linda (2000) The Language of Magazines. Routledge, xii+115pp,
paperback ISBN 0-415-21424-6, $16.99, The Intertext Series.

Irmeli Helin, University of Helsinki

The Language of Magazines is a textbook aimed at A-Level and beginning
undergraduate students within the American education system, but I do not
see any difficulties to use it as a helpful medium in teaching text
analysis to L2 or Ln learners as well. Containing definitions of central
linguistic terminology and showing the means and methods used by magazines
to capture our attention and combine text and pictures this books can be
used at the beginning of studies of general linguistics, especially text
linguistics as well.

The book has been divided into seven units, list of main texts giving the
reader an overview of all text used as examples in the book, as well as an
introduction reviewing the contents, genres and popularity of magazines in
general. At the end there is a short but important list of linguistic
terms with corresponding definitions. Each unit also contains activity for
students in form of questions and homework, which seem to be well
formulated and interesting.

The first unit takes up the question: What is a magazine? How do we
understand the role of a magazine and its value in our society and our
daily life? The Collins Concise Dictionary's definition of 'magazine' has
also been quoted, i.e. a magazine is "a periodic paperback publication
containing articles, fiction, photographs, etc.". Types of magazines and
their producers are also explained.

Unit two starts from the wrapping of magazines and especially from the
front covers which are an important point of strategies to attract the
attention of readers and to get them to buy the magazine. The cover helps
us to distinguish the publications from each other. It must both be kept
up-to-date and contain well-known details as well in order to let the
buyers identify his or her own favourite. The front cover is naturally
more important to weekly magazines than to special magazines which more
often compete with their contents and expertise than with their outlook.
In some way the images of the magazine and its reader must be identical,
so, as the author quotes McCracken (1996) "the cover serves to label not
only the magazine but the consumer who possesses it." From the linguistic
point of view the magazine title written in large and striking letters
already forms the basis of a textual study. Other texts on the cover are
used to shape the readers' attention when contemplating whether to buy or
not. Attention is also paid towards layout and graphology of front cover
texts. Further, the use of nouns and modifiers on from covers build up
readers' anticipations. Non-finite verb forms are more usual than finite
verbs and elliptic phrases as well as repetitions are used. A popular way
to get the reader's attention is to use a "problem and solution"
construction, i.e. question + its answer or to use tricks of language like
rhyme, alliteration, intertextuality, idiomatic phrases or nominalisation.

Unit three conducts the student to "leaf through", to examine the
composition of the text. It pays attention towards the contents page
leading the reader to interesting or "traditional" topics he or she
usually selects first when starting to read the magazine. In this respect
left and right are shown to be of importance as to the 'given' and 'new'
information. So right pages may be dominated by large pictures, whereas
left pages usually comprise written text. Thus the right page is the
source of new information analogically to the text linguistic theory of
topic and comment, and by turning the page we get the comment, the actual
text on the following left page. Further, top and bottom on a magazine
page correspondingly follow the system of advertisements, i.e. the upper
section is there to "promise", and the lower section to provide the
information needed. In the same way, center and margin play a role when
composing a magazine page.

Unit four gives us an in-house view to magazine contents using horoscopes,
(often) so-called reader's letters, problem pages and readers' true
stories (magazine narratives) as text examples. These text types and their
composition actually reveal the ideology of the magazine. This unit
contains interesting commentaries and activity to help the students to
understand the implications and connotations hidden in and behind the
actual text and needing textual and critical analysis. The first tools are
given here to the students to detect undermining meanings in all kinds of
texts.

Unit five contemplates the relationship between the text producer and
interpreter, i.e. the reader. Also this unit has been written to interest
young students and awaken their critical attitude towards the identity of
magazine text producers, since "text producers often mimic the speech
patterns of the implied reader with a view to establishing common ground
between them". It also refers to the editorial, i.e. a letter from the
editor to readers. It usually has its own particular style corresponding
to the style of the magazine, and assuming the reader shares the views,
attitudes and beliefs of the magazine and the text producer.

Unit six explores the discourse of magazines and linguistic devices
enabling passages of magazines to work in meaningful ways. The term
discourse is thus used in a bit different way than in every day speech so
its usage as a linguistic term with linguistic contents is explained.
Further, ideological viewpoints relating to magazine text producing as
also discussed according to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that the language
we speak also influences or determines the way we perceive the world. Also
the etymology of the term 'text' is explained and students are guided to
trace certain and repeating patterns in language. After that, lexical and
grammatical cohesion in magazine text is studied giving definitions and
examples to all the important terms of cohesion in text linguistics.
Finally, a short excursion is taken into patterns of word choices and
terminology of literature studies.

The last chapter, unit seven gives us a view to the representations of
women and men in magazines and how femininity, masculinity and sexuality
are constructed there in texts and pictures. Especially 'advertorials',
features written to encourage consumption of certain products, are
discussed here with examples found in different advertisements and texts
as well.

The author, who is an experienced teacher and lecturer in the field of
linguistics, has found a very good way to get young students interested in
linguistics. The book has been constructed in a way of mutual interaction
between teacher and learner. It gives students easy means to learn
linguistic terminology and to analyse texts critically and effectively.
There are several examples with photos and texts of representative
magazines in the book to illustrate the message of the author. The themes
and examples have been selected without prejudice which may astonish some
readers but maintain the interest of younger students.

The cohesion of the book is increased by using same titles and same points
of view in different units. Besides commentaries, extensions and activity
for students there are aims and summaries and identifications of ideal
reader as well as text producer and interpreter, who is not always the
same as the ideal reader.

This book is a helpful textbook for students of language and linguistics.
Further, it is very easy to read and as such also a useful and
entertaining book to everybody who wants to view his or her magazines a
bit more critically. Maybe he or she can use the book to see what is true
or not true or at least exaggerated or biased in the text published. The
author helps her readers effectively to see behind the text and getting
acquainted with the text producer and his or her way to think and to
express his or her thoughts.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Irmeli Helin, PhD, BSc (Econ), coordinator of Multilingual Communication
Program and Senior Lecturer on German language translation and
interpretation at the University of Helsinki. Dissertation in 1998 on the
special language and terminology of the German co-operative movement.
Author of a monolingual dictionary of Finnish co-operative terms in 2000,
and one of the editors of a new large bilingual German-Finnish dictionary
to be published in 2002. Contrastive textlinguistic studies on
evidentiality in German and Finnish magazine texts and translations to be
published in 2002.
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