Review of 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.
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
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"
"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
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
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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.