LINGUIST List 14.2748

Sat Oct 11 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis/Pragmatics: Ensink & Sauer

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  1. ´┐Żlisabeth Le, Framing and Perspectivising in Discourse

Message 1: Framing and Perspectivising in Discourse

Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 17:43:41 +0000
From: ´┐Żlisabeth Le <>
Subject: Framing and Perspectivising in Discourse

Ensink, Titus and Christoph Sauer, ed. (2003) Framing and
Perspectivising in Discourse, John Benjamins, Pragmatics & Beyond New
Series 111.

Announced at

Elisabeth Le, University of Alberta 


In this book, Titus Ensink and Christoph Sauer treat the issue of the
social construction of communication with a collection of seven papers
on two central concepts, framing and perspectivising. Framing refers
to the fact that participants in a communication act need to share
''an overall sense of the function of the discourse in the social
situation'' (p.2), and perspective represents the point of view from
which this discourse is displayed. The first four papers following the
book introduction pertain to framing, and the last three to


Ensink's and Sauer's introduction gives an overview of the term
''frame'' in theoretical literature. In different fields, ''frame'' is
used with different meanings, but within a same field, it is used
along other terms to represent the same concept. The authors
distinguish three types of frame. Knowledge frames pertain to the
organization of knowledge and the use of knowledge in
understanding. Interactive frames relate to our behavior when we
communicate with each other in different social situations. Finally,
embedding frames refer to the incorporation of one utterance into
another utterance, each one having its own production format. Ensink
and Sauer also review the main principles to take into consideration
in the study of perspective. Perspective is inherent in discourse, but
writers and speakers have different means at their disposal to mark it
when they wish to have it come from the object rather than from the

In ''A multimodal perspective on composition'', Theo van Leeuwen
defines three main principles for the description of composition as a
semiotic system in the Western socio-cultural domain. First,
''information value'' refers to the quality an element assumes
depending on its place in the polarization of space. An element is
considered as ''new'' when it is on the right and ''given'' (already
known) on the left, ''ideal'' in the upper and ''real'' in the lower
section, more significant in the center than in the margins, more
symbolic at the front and more factual at the back. Second,
''salience'' represents the degree with which an element is brought to
the reader's or viewer's attention through its place in the foreground
or background, its size, its contrast in color, sharpness, etc. Third,
''framing'' devices disconnect elements from each other, or on the
contrary, connect them and make them appear as belonging with each

Titus Ensink discusses the question of transformational frames, more
precisely the ''Interpretative consequences of frame shifts and frame
embeddings''. He argues for the distinction of interactive frames
proper (that allow to identify the context of language activity) from
transformational frames (in which at least one other frame is
embedded), and provides a type of notation for describing contextual
shifts. The concept of transformational frame has a descriptive value,
and is particularly useful for the analysis of misunderstanding. The
author concludes with three speculative remarks: the increased
possibilities of embedding offered by media have an effect on embedded
behavior; the relation of embedding transformations can be considered
as a coherence relation; the use of frame embedding and the
recognition of it confirm that communication is a joint endeavor.

Geert Jacobs presents a single-case analysis on ''Reporting annual
results'' in press releases. By their nature, press releases call for
their reframing by journalists in news reports. In his analysis of the
Belgian major steel manufacturer's reports of 1998 financial results,
Jacobs investigates how these press releases are written with the
intent that they be reported verbatim. To this end, he focuses on
means used by writers to anticipate the journalist's retelling. Thus,
the choice of the past tense, while the event has not taken place yet,
indicates that the report is ''addressee-centered''. This is
corroborated by the use of third-person self-reference. Furthermore,
the report contains what appear to be prefabricated quotes.

Numerous studies of political news interview have been conducted using
Conversation Analysis. Janet Cowper gives a twist to this line of work
by comparing a ''serious'' interview with a parody of a news interview
in terms of their structures, the footing phenomena, and the use of
discourse strategies. While the parody is keyed as a serious interview
in its use of the same format, register of language and arguments, it
displays an inversion of the appropriate political behavior or of
political arguments. In her conclusion, Cowper notes that the
empirical evidence for strategies of ''framing'', ''keying'' and
''footing'' does not allow us to define precisely what those concepts

Ursula Bredel's paper on ''Polyphonic constructions in everyday
speech'' aims to demonstrate the use and function of integrating
non-authorial voices in narratives. Using a corpus of ''narrative
interviews'' of East and West German peoples about their experience
from the day of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bredel argues that the
different voices representing the speaker in intrapolyphonic
constructions display social conflicts as internal conflicts, while
the voices of other people integrated into one speaker's speech with
interpolyphonic constructions localize social conflicts mainly as
external conflicts.

Louise Cornelis examines how a single event is represented from
different points of view; in particular, she looks at ''Subject versus
passive agent as an indicator of the journalist's perspective in
soccer reports''. Having discussed work done in Functional Grammar,
she concludes that ''the subject of the clause functions as a
perspective indicator, its referent being the entity that is most like
us, whose perspective we take, and whom we identify with'' (p.174).
In a passive construction, the agent despite his / her primordial role
in the event does not occupy the central stage, and thus is rendered
more difficult to identify with. With her analysis of (authentic)
soccer reports in two Dutch newspapers and an experiment bearing on
the reading of two manipulated soccer reports, Cornelis confirms the
role of both subject and passive agent, but she also underlines that
perspective cannot be established without the analysis of context and

Ines-A. Busch-Lauer studies perspective in letters-to-the-editor
published in medical journals. These letters usually present comments
on previously published material or their authors' own research
findings. Working on a corpus of 25 English and 25 German texts
randomly chosen from medical quality journals, the author found that
English and German letters follow similar structural
patterns. However, while English letters tend to be argumentative and
to use a personal style, German letters are rather descriptive and put
the writer into the background. In both English and German, an
author/science perspective is taken for the presentation of criticism
or alternative views.


This book, in particular its introduction, provides a very welcome
summation on the questions of frame and perspective for which the
terminological complexity is confounding. The papers underline the
importance of following a combined top-down and bottom-up approach in
discourse analysis. While the ultimate goal in linguistic analysis for
anyone interested in the impact of discourse in and on society can be
considered as the top (here: frame, perspective), it cannot be reached
''safely'' (methodologically speaking) without the careful analysis of
specific linguistic structures. Conversely, the knowledge of the frame
and perspective in which a discourse is placed brings new light on the
use of certain linguistic structures. Discourse is not just written or
oral; nowadays, it is increasingly multimodal, and the book rightly
includes van Leeuwen's work. As Leeuwen's, Ensink's paper is
theoretical, while the other contributions are case studies, albeit
each exposing a different methodological approach. However, this
somewhat raises the issue of the book's ''perspective''. Although
matters of methodology are undeniably of foremost importance
throughout the book, one might have expected a more unified approach
under the form of a collection of methodology articles or a collection
of case studies. In any case, discourse analysts will find this book
a very good starting point for tackling the significant issues of
frame and perspective.


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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