LINGUIST List 14.1156

Mon Apr 21 2003

Review: Discourse/Pragmatics: Chilton & Schaffner(2002)

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  1. Elisabeth Le, Politics as Text and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse

Message 1: Politics as Text and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse

Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003 18:24:58 +0000
From: Elisabeth Le <elisabeth.leualberta.ca>
Subject: Politics as Text and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse

Chilton, Paul A. and Christina Schaffner, ed. (2002) Politics as Text
and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse, John Benjamins,
Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 4.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-3177.html


Elisabeth Le, University of Alberta 

The linguistic study of political discourse is increasingly attracting
interest, and it benefits now from its own specialised publications,
the ''Journal of Language and Politics'', and the book series,
''Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture'', both edited
by Ruth Wodak and Paul Chilton. Published in this series, ''Politics
as Text and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse'', edited
by Paul Chilton and Christina Schaffner, is offered as an introduction
to the field. The book is intended to provide a methodological survey
(although necessarily incomplete) in order to ''try to delineate the
emergent methodology of the field'' (p. vii). The first chapter
presents ''Themes and principles in the analysis of political
discourse'', and each of the six successive chapters introduces a
particular type of analysis.

In the introductory Chapter 1, Paul Chilton and Christina Schaffner
start on the premise that politics is largely language, and thus argue
for the study of politics by linguists alongside political
philosophers and political scientists. Indeed, with their fine-grained
methods, discourse analysts bring a new dimension to the comprehension
of old and new problems in politics. Politics is understood as a
struggle for power but also as co-operation in order to resolve
clashes. Both phenomena take place at the micro level (between
individuals) and macro level (between institutions). Individuals
interact through discourse, and institutions produce types of
discourse with specific characteristics. As language is closely linked
in practice with culture, and culture is itself linked with the
practice of politics, the cultural context of the analysed political
discourse always needs to be taken into account. The authors review
some main principles in the analysis of discourse: speech acts
(Searle), co-operative principle (Grice), politeness (Brown &
Levinson), validity claims (Habermas), context and intertextuality,
dialogism (Bakhtin), and functionalism (Buhler, Halliday). Then, they
briefly expose how political discourse can be looked at in its
cognitive dimension and in its pragmatic dimension.

The first part of the book comprises four chapters that deal with
institutions and identities. In Chapter 2, ''Politization and
depolitization: Employment policy in the European Union'', Peter
Muntigl ''attempts to provide political conceptual tools combined with
linguistics tools for reading the political'' (p.46). He proceeds to
demonstrate these concepts with the analysis of a speech from a
Commissioner of the European Union. In ''politicking'', i.e. in both
''politicizing'' (creating opportunities for action) and in
''depoliticizing'', one of the main discursive resources is
metaphors. According to Chilton (1996:50-55), the four most common
metaphors in international relations are: container, path, force, and
link. It has already been shown how the first metaphor, container,
functions politically to delimit spaces of existent or non-existent
competing interests (Sondermann, 1997). In the Commissioner's speech
that is analysed, the three other metaphors of path, force, and link
present the EU policy as the only one to follow, and efface potential
alternatives. Thus, their interconnected use depoliticizes the
question of employment.

Stephan Elspass studies ''Phraseological units in parliamentary
discourse'' (chapter 3). A phraseological unit ''consists of at least
two words (but is no longer than a sentence), is syntactically and
semantically not the results of the mere combination of its
constituents, is used as a lexical unit in a language community, and
may in some cases be idiomatic'' (Burger, 1998: 32). Such units can
be, for example, proverbs, catch phrases, greetings, gambits,
stereotyped comparisons. Of particular interest is the
non-intentional deviant use of phraseological units that appear in
spoken speeches but are not necessarily recorded in official
transcriptions. The parliamentary discourse analysed here is composed
of three post-war debates in Germany during which MPs were not bound
in their speech or vote by their parties. Their quantitative analysis
shows that phraseological language represents about 10% of a speech,
and thus is not a marginal phenomenon. In the qualitative analysis, it
appears that non-idiomatic phraseological units function as important
elements in grammatical cohesion and textual structure, while
idiomatic phraseological units affect the style of the speech. When
phraseological modification is used creatively, it can function as a
powerful linguistic device, but when it is the result of blunders, it
can completely discredit the speaker.

Christoph Sauer adopts a functional-pragmatic approach to analyse
''Ceremonial text and talk'' (chapter 4), in this case a speech given
by John Major for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World
War. In the Functional Pragmatics (FP) of Buhler and Ehlich, language
use involves external purposes (social differentiation,
i.e. illocution) and internal purposes (procedures that orient mental
activities). The combination of both dimensions forms a complex speech
action model that is composed of five fields (symbol, deictic,
prompting, toning, and operative) characterised by a choice of lexical
and grammatical means. The application of this model allows to link
the language of the surface structure (the words Major uses in his
speech) with underlying structures (what he intends to communicate and
the strategies he follows).

In chapter 5, ''Fragmented identities'', Ruth Wodak exposes the
discourse-historical approach in Critical Discourse Analysis
(CDA). This ethnographic approach assumes that discourse is shaped by
and influences social and political reality, and that national
identities are produced and reproduced in discourse. Notions that make
up a national identity are internalised through socialisation; this
implies a discursive construction of difference that is dependent on
context. Thus, not one, but different national identities are
constructed. The study of Austrian national identity involves five
content-related areas: the idea of a 'homo Austriacus' and a 'homo
externus', the narration of a collective political history, the
discursive construction of a common culture, the discursive
construction of a collective present and future, the discursive
construction of a 'national corpus'. In these defined areas, different
strategies (of construction, of perpetuation and justification, of
transformation, of destruction) represent plans of action that are
expressed with a variety of linguistic means. The study of these three
interrelated dimensions (content, strategies, and linguistic forms)
reveals how narratives of identity that Austrians can identify with
are created.

Two chapters form the second part of the book, ''Interaction and
Cognition''. In chapter 6, Anita Fetzer examines questions of
sincerity and credibility in political interviews ('Put bluntly, you
have something of a credibility problem'). In order to define the
notions of sincerity and credibility, speech act theory and Grice's
cooperative principle are reinterpreted in a contextual approach that
attempts to integrate the results of the politeness and face research
in an interactive framework. ''Sincerity is defined as speaker's
communicative intention meant as uttered and thus restricted to the
participants' private domains. Credibility, on the other hand, is not
restricted to an individual's attitude towards their illocutions, but
interdependent on both illocutionary force and propositional content''
(p. 180). The combination of a pragmatic and a conversation-analytic
approach shows how the function of sincerity in political discourse is
to help remedy credibility problems.

In the seventh and final chapter, Teun van Dijk exposes his approach
to ''Political discourse and political cognition'', and illustrates is
with the analysis of a speech by Sir John Stokes, a (very)
conservative MP from the British House of Commons. Van Dijk argues
that for the study of political discourse to be relevant, discourse
structures must be connected to properties of political structures and
processes with a theory of political cognition. The purpose of this
theory is to function as an interface between the personal (relations
between episodic mental models) and the social (socially shared
political representations of groups). In other words, meaning and
forms of political discourse are related to political context not
directly but through the intermediary of the participants'
construction of this interactional and communicative context, that is
based on their knowledge, attitudes and ideologies.

This book illustrates well one of the difficulties in defining the
field of political discourse, a difficulty that also constitutes its
richness, the diversity of analytical approaches. It would not be
overtly exaggerated to say that any combination of relevant principles
in the domains of pragmatics, text linguistics and discourse analysis,
provided it can be justified theoretically, can be used for the
linguistic study of political discourse. Indeed, the linguistic study
of political discourse is first a linguistic study of discourse, and
thus it requires a basic knowledge of domains such as pragmatics, text
linguistics and discourse analysis; then only, it is a study of
political discourse. For centuries, political philosophers, and then
political scientists have attempted to define the concept of politics;
it has remained somewhat elusive, and the notion of political
discourse is therefore rather large. News discourse, not included in
this book, could also be considered political discourse in certain
circumstances. Thus, what is the specificity of the field of political
discourse? Some comprehensive frameworks are presented in this book
(i.e. Sauer's functional-pragmatic approach, Wodak's
historical-discourse approach, van Dijk's political-cognitive
approach) to which Scollon's approach to ''Mediated discourse as
social interactions'' (1998) should probably be added. These
approaches could also be situated in the framework of Critical
Discourse Analysis, and some of them figure in Wodak's and Meyer's
''Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis'' (2001). Through its
presentation of varied analytical approaches, this book does not offer
so much an introduction to the field for newcomers (a number of
non-linguists and linguists not specialised in the relevant fields
would probably benefit from a simpler presentation of theoretical
principles) as a starting point for a needed general reflection on the
study of political discourse.


REFERENCES

Burger, H. (1998) Phraseologie. Eine Enfuhrung am Beispiel des
Deutschen. Schmidt, Grundlagen der Germanistik 36.

Chilton, Paul (1996) Security Metaphors: Cold War Discourse from
Containment to Common House. Peter Lang.

Scollon, Ron (1998) Mediated Discourse as Social Interactions - A
Study of News Discourse. Longman, Language in social life series.

Sondermann, K. (1997) Reading politically: National anthems as textual
Icons. In T. Carver & M. Hyvarinen, eds, Interpreting the Political:
New Methodologies. Routledge. 128-142.

Wodak, Ruth & Meyer, Michael (2001) Methods of Critical Discourse
Analysis. Sage.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Elisabeth 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.
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