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Review of  Framing and Perspectivising in Discourse

Reviewer: Élisabeth M. Le
Book Title: Framing and Perspectivising in Discourse
Book Author: Titus Ensink Christoph Sauer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 14.2748

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Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 14:35:28 -0600
From: Élisabeth 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.

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 perspective.


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 subject.

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 other.

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 are.

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 situation.

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


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
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.