LINGUIST List 14.3525

Fri Dec 19 2003

Review: Ling Theories: Fries et al (eds.) (2002)

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  1. Monika Rathert, Relations and Functions Within and Around Language

Message 1: Relations and Functions Within and Around Language

Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2003 11:44:10 +0000
From: Monika Rathert <>
Subject: Relations and Functions Within and Around Language

Fries, Peter H., Michael Cummings, David Lockwood and William
Spruiell, ed. (2002) Relations and Functions Within and Around
Language, Continuum, Open Linguistics series.

Announced at

Monika Rathert, University of Tuebingen

There are many linguistic theories of discourse, but they are still
weighted towards the written text. The present book is an attempt both
to foster discourse theory and also to test the theory against oral
texts. The book contains a theoretical and an analytical section. The
theoretical section offers an overview about different current
theories of discourse. The analytical section undertakes the study of
a single spoken text, from several theoretical points of view. Both
sections originated in conferences. The theoretical section is based
on the contributions at a 1988-meeting of the ''Annual Spring
Colloquium'' of the ''Applied Linguistics Research Working
Group''. The analytical section of the volume goes back to the
''Second Rice University Symposium in Linguistics and Semiotics'' in
1984. The book presents a selection of revised papers presented at
these two occasions. The topic of the conference at Rice University
was to compare the approaches of different discourse theories to the
same text, a dialogue interview between pseudonyms Sue and Kay. The
Sue/ Kay dialogue is also the basis of the analytical section of the
present volume, all contributions make reference to it. Its
transcription is included in the book, following the analytical
section. Sue and Kay are friends and talk about Kay's nose operation
that is going to take place soon.

Let us have a look at the theoretical section first, which consists of
five articles. In ''Relations and functions within and around
language: the systemic-functional tradition'', Michael Gregory
explores the discourse analysis termed ''gnostology''. This refers to
the huge culture- specific knowledge which both enables and limits the
language potential of discourse participants. He sketches the
development of this theory from Louis Hjelmslev, J.R. Firth, Sydney
Lamb and M.A.K. Halliday, and relates it to his own theory of
''communication linguistics''.

The article ''Ideology, intertextuality and the communication of
science'' by J.L. Lemke examines intertextuality in its social
context. Lemke considers what intertextual ties pertain among texts,
their relative significance and how such ties reflect the social
culture which occasions texts. Particularly social culture displaying
social heteroglossia and ideology is considered. The results are
tested against two texts in the field of teaching natural science.

Paul J. Thibault's article ''Interpersoal meaning and the discursive
construction of action, attitudes and values: the global modal program
of one text'' highlights the effects of mood, modality, lexis and
turn- taking on the discourse stratum. All these factors are
interrelated, and the article shows how. The theory is demonstrated by
an analysis of an exchange of messages between a magazine reader and
an ''Agony Aunt'' column.

''The flow of information in a written English text'' by Peter Fries
considers three interrelated areas of clause analysis: the theme-rheme
structure, information structure and participant identification.
Information structure considers the old/ new-distinction of texts.
Participant identification includes the definiteness/ indefiniteness
distinction and lexical/ pro-form alternatives. Fries considers these
three areas of clause analysis with reference to the ''Zero Population
Growth'' letter that has become famous as the focus of comparison in
other studies in discourse theory.

David G. Lockwood, in ''Intrastratal and interstratal relations in
language and their functions'' traces the development of
stratificational linguistics from the origins in the work of Sydney
Lamb in the 1960s to the present day. He also analyses the basic
premises and notational systems used in this framework. Finally, he
links stratificational linguistics with his own work on the
neurological basis of language.

Let us go over to the analytical section now, which consists of six
articles plus the Sue/ Kay dialogue. In ''Memory and Discourse'',
Stephen A. Tyler undertakes an analysis of the Sue/ Kay dialogue by
highlighting connections between modern discourse theory and the
ancient discipline of rhetoric. With reference to rhetorical
''schemata'', this article demonstrates the utility of idiomatic
filler phrases which create a rhythmical underpinning for the
discourse structure. Topical organization and textual coherence are
placed in relation to rhetorical ''inventio''.

David G. Lockwood's article ''Highlighting in
stratificational-cognitive linguistics'' deals with several
highlighting functions in clauses, e.g. clefts and contrastive
accent. These are examined in detail in the Sue/ Kay dialogue. It is
shown how the highlighting concept developed in
stratificational-cognitive linguistics relates to other work within
the systemic-functional tradition. In ''Interpreting discourse'',
Sydney Lamb takes a small portion of the Sue/ Kay dialogue and shows
how a neurocognitive approach illuminates the structure of the
discourse nicely. The discourse is seen as reconstructed in the minds
of the hearer and reader. This cognitive reconstruction is conceived
of as building relational networks, involving trial-and-error
reinterpretation and self-correction in an approximating process.

Wallace Chafe uses his own transcription of the Sue/ Kay dialogue,
because he concentrates on phonetic factors not rendered by the normal
transcription. His transcription follows his article ''Prosody and
emotion in a sample of real speech''. The phonetic features Chafe
examines are changes in the fundamental frequency, changes in the
length of syllables, and changes in the speed of utterance. The
connection between a particular acoustic configuration and the kind of
personal attitude involved is highly context- dependent.

Michael Gregory in ''Phasal analysis within communication linguistics:
two contrastive discourses'' demonstrates the techniques of phasal
analysis by using it to examine two separate texts: Ernest Hemingway's
short story ''The sea change'' and the Sue/ Kay dialogue.

Finally, Peter Fries in ''Some aspects of coherence in a
conversation'' details and tabulates a rich variety of cohesion ties
in the Sue/ Kay dialogue. For Fries, the source of cohesion is the
social interaction which the text encodes. Fries deconstructs this
encoding in terms of narrative structure and thematic progression.

Today, there is a big movement in generative linguistics towards
corpora, also fostered by new methods from computational linguistics
to deal with corpora. This book presents a consistent sample of
analyses of a single corpus from the point of view of functional
linguistics. The functionalists' contributions in this volume are
really interesting and will certainly influence future generative work
on corpora. Maybe it would also be interesting to test the analyses in
the second part against other corpora, be they written or oral.

Most work on corpora focuses on written corpora. The present volume is
completely different: it contains work on an oral corpus, and presents
complementary analyses of this corpus. Although the Sue/ Kay dialogue
is not completely natural, its videotaping and audiotaping proved to
be enriching the information that is displayed in the written
version. As all articles refer to the same text, the approaches are
easy to compare.

The present book is a successful attempt both to foster discourse
theory and also to test the theory against a concrete oral texts. The
volume is very nice to read and is supplemented by a well-done index.
The book is highly relevant for all linguists working with corpora and
discourse theory.

Monika Rathert finished her PhD in General Linguistics in July 2003.
She works in Tuebingen, Germany, as a researcher in a typologically
oriented project on tense, aspect, and adverbials. Her research
interests include semantics and syntax (especially event semantics,
negation and polarity, quantification), typology and universals,
morphology and phonology (especially incorporation, stress systems,
prosody, syllable structures), didactics, and historical linguistics.
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