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Review of  Patterns and Meanings in Discourse

Reviewer: Alessia Bianchini
Book Title: Patterns and Meanings in Discourse
Book Author: Alan Partington Alison Duguid Charlotte Taylor
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 25.39

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''Patterns and Meaning in Discourse. Theory and Practice in Corpus-assisted Discourse Studies (CADS)'' aims to provide researchers and students interested in Corpus Linguistics (CL) with a variety of methodologies that can be applied successfully to discourse analysis. Each chapter of the book presents a case study that delves into a particular topic/area of CADS; some of the chapters (namely Chapters Four, Five, Six, Nine, Ten and Eleven) feature reworked articles and contributions the authors have published in the last decade on the topic of CADS, however, since CL has matured considerably in the last years, materials and data from previous works here have been updated and extended as well.

The Introduction gives a useful outline of the book, describing its structure and, most importantly, presenting its theoretical premise and its aim. The research rests on the assumption that human language seems to behave according to the Sinclairian ''idiom vs. open choice theory'' (Sinclair 1996; 1998), which the authors argue is in fact the expression of specific cognitive/mental processes. Assuming this theoretical premise, the authors then aim to prove that communicative discourse is organized along these same lines; the following chapters of the book, each of which dedicates itself to a case study, investigate the instantiation of the aforementioned hypothesis. Furthermore, the Introduction also gives a brief overview of CL and CADS, defining the former as ''that set of studies into the form and/or function of language which incorporate the use of computerized corpora in their analysis'' (p. 5) and the latter as “that set of studies into the form and/or function of language as communicative discourse which incorporate the use of computerized corpora in their analysis'' (p. 10). Finally, it presents the set of corpora on which the research is based (mainly the Siena-Bologna Modern Diachronic Corpus, available through the Sketch Engine interface, Kilgarriff, Rychly, Smrz, Tugwell 2004) and the WordSmith Tool (Scott 2008) employed to work the corpora. All corpora, resources and software used in the book are accurately listed in the Appendix.

Chapter One focuses on the aforementioned Sinclairian Theory. The authors present both the ''idiom principle'' and the ''open-choice principle'' (known as ''phraseological tendency'' and ''terminological tendency'', in Sinclair’s words, Sinclair 1996, 2004): the former refers to the idea that language (and therefore discourse) is largely composed by (semi) preconstituted blocks of lexical items (e.g. multi-words units, schemas, templates, …), going from collocations such as ''roaring fire'' to set phrases such as ''as a matter of fact''; the latter refers instead to the ability of language to generate new meanings from pre-existing rules. Based on Sinclair’s theory, the authors argue that language organization behaves according to the interaction of these two principles. Moreover, they sustain that the idiom principle and the open-choice principle parallel two cognitive/psychological processes: the first process makes it possible for human beings to learn to behave socially through the imitation of acquainted social behaviors (Hoey’s “Lexical Priming Theory'', which is another important reference point for this book, extends this hypothesis to the linguistic field, Hoey 2005); the second process instead concerns the role of memory in learning, insisting that human beings tend to recall regularities (or ''patterns'') in events and use them to make predictions and forecasts. Note that, as clearly stated by the authors, the debate over whether language is a form of cognitive processing or whether it is the other way around is beyond the scope of the book (p. 30); instead, its aim is to test the hypothesis that language organization and cognitive processing share some similarities.

Chapter Two focuses on evaluative discourse (Hunston 2010) and presents the first case study of the book, which is on using concordance evidence to identify hidden evaluative polarity and evaluative prosody (also known as ''semantic prosody'', Sinclair 1987, 1991; Louw 1993, 2000; Stewart 2010, among others, or ''discourse prosody'', Tognini-Bonelli 2001; Stubbs 2001). The corpus-based research shows how lexical elements expressing a positive or negative polarity may be nested and embedded (and therefore, not immediately obvious) within preconstructed phrases, as well as how preconstructed phrases expressing polarity may have their evaluative value altered when in combination with certain discourse structures. The case study shows how extracting concordances for a certain target item (e.g. ''of some stature/standing'', p. 48, ''end up'' + [preposition] + place, p. 59) may be useful to identify hidden evaluative meanings. The chapter ends with a section on ''Suggestions for Further Research'', in which the authors challenge the readers with a couple exercises that may be useful to get acquainted with the methodology illustrated.

Chapter Three reinforces the points raised in Chapter Two: evaluative items interact in the text; and CADS methodologies may be useful to shed light on this interaction. Chapter Three’s case study focuses on an analysis of the notion of ''control''; as it emerges from the corpus-based inquiry, usually the concept of control (or of lack of control) conveys an evaluative polarity, even if the lexical item ''control'' does not actually appear in the text. Moreover, the examination of a variety of lexical items (e.g. ''set in'', ''sit through'', ''orchestrate'' and ''true feelings'', among others) shows that what seems to be crucial to the realization of a certain evaluative value is in fact the speaker’s point of view, since positive or negative evaluation are found according to ''the extent to which the speaker or writer is in control of events'' (p. 94).

In the subsequent Chapters, Four, Five and Six, the authors present evidence of how writers and speakers can subvert the regularities in language (and therefore the arisen expectations) by means of specific rhetorical figures, namely: irony, metaphor and figurative expressions, and the so-called ''creative collocational inappropriateness'', which is the process by which collocational expectations are denied by the unusual co-occurrence of certain items (e.g. ''deliberately love this girl'', where “deliberately'' collocates unexpectedly with a positive entity, ''love'').

Chapter Seven presents a cross-linguistic case study about the representation of migrants in the Italian and English press (Gabrielatos and Baker 2008; Taylor 2009). In line with the aim of the book, a specific CADS methodology is applied to the topic. The research presented in the chapter is structured as follows: in the first phase, items conveying a racist or xenophobic meaning are concordanced to analyze how they appear in the newspapers; in the second phase, a few specific items (namely: ''refugees'', ''asylum seekers'', ''immigrants'' and ''migrants'', with their Italian equivalent) are thoroughly investigated; finally, the outcomes of the linguistic research are compared with ''real-world'' statistical data in order to identify any mismatch between the number of migrants per country and the related amount of media attention. Again, the chapter concludes by providing readers with a series of exercises.

Chapters Eight and Nine come back to the evaluation topic, but this time the attention is focused on spoken discourse. Chapter Eight begins giving an overview of studies based on corpora of spoken language and then presents a couple of related case studies, each of which concerns a peculiar type of interaction, conflict. In the authors’ opinion, in fact, some of the most interesting types of discourse are those in which participants find themselves in an adversarial situation, since here, the strategic use of language can be best studied (Montgomery 2007). As for the case studies, Chapter Eight presents a CADS approach to J. W. Bush and Obama’s press conference briefings, and to the Hutton Inquiry. Chapter Nine still focuses on conflict, but it specifically delves into the phenomenon of (im)politeness. First, an overview of CL approaches to (im)politeness is given (Watts, Ide and Elich 1992), and then, as a case study, three different institutional discourse types (namely, a subset from the House of Commons debates; the Hutton Inquiry; a subset from the BBC TV show ''Breakfast with Frost'') are presented in order to show how CADS’ approach to (im)politeness proves to be a useful tool to unmask deliberate (yet hidden) mocking strategies. Both Chapters Eight and Chapter Nine conclude with a ''Suggestions for Further Research'' section as well.

Chapters Ten and Eleven respectively introduce and focus on ''modern diachronic CADS'' (MD-CADS), a particular subfield of CADS which focuses on diachrony. Although the preferential use of CADS’ methods is the analysis of synchronic data, a diachronic approach to discourse seems to be worthy of attention since it may unveil interesting linguistic changes over (brief periods of) time. To serve its scope, MD-CADS needs ''ad hoc'' corpora to be as comparable as possible. As for the case studies illustrated in Chapters Ten and Eleven, they are based on SiBol and Port corpora, which comprehensively contain newspaper texts from 1993, 2005 and 2010. The case study in Chapter Ten aims to underline some (general) diachronic variation in the English language/discourse within the period 1993-2010 (e.g. the apparent increase in the salience of the first personal pronoun ''I'', at the expense of other personal pronouns). Chapter Eleven presents two case studies: the first one focuses on how the concept of antisemitism is expressed in the press; and the second one focuses on the use of the items ''boy/girl''.

The last chapter of the book is a conclusion that sums up the most relevant issues encountered in previous chapters.

Finally, the book features a complete bibliography and a useful author index.


The purpose of ''Patterns and Meaning in Discourse. Theory and Practice in Corpus-assisted Discourse Studies (CADS)'' is to provide readers interested in CL with a series of methodologies that may be useful for the analysis of language and, in particular, of discourse. More precisely, the aim of the book is to show, through a collection of specific case studies, “the eclecticism'' (p. 328) and the potential of CADS research. This purpose is achieved, since the authors were able to provide a broad overview of the possible applications of CADS methodologies. Additionally, as a further product of this area of research, each case study illustrated in the book provides data, ideas and considerations that are both linguistic and extra-linguistic in nature.

As the book is designed to offer a wide-ranging introduction to corpus techniques, one of the main considerations emerging from it is the necessity of ''tailoring the research procedure to the particular researches questions and aims'' (p. 328). In fact, what is well-pointed out by this variegated work is that the researcher should always keep in mind that there is no “best methodology'' per se, but that the most suitable procedure has to be chosen depending on the goal of the research itself.

Also, this work draws attention to the need for an integrated approach to discourse analysis. The case studies presented in fact show the importance of the comparison of linguistic data and extra-linguistic data (e.g. the case illustrated in Chapter Seven, dedicated to the representation of migrants and in Chapters Ten and Eleven, concerning the concept of antisemitism and gender), since language is mainly a social factor. Moreover, the authors underline the importance of taking into account well-known issues from other linguistic fields, such as translation in the case of cross-linguistic CADS.

As for the book’s organization, its structure is very linear and consistent. The Introduction provides the reader with a useful overview of the topics that will be covered in the following chapters, and Chapter Twelve, devoted to the conclusions, summarizes the main points of the research in a concise yet effective way. Also, although each chapter of the book is in fact research in its own right, the book does not lose its internal coherence.


Gabrielatos C. and Baker P. 2008. ''Fleeing, sneaking, flooding: A corpus analysis of discursive constructions of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK press (1996-2005)''. Journal of English Linguistics 36(1): 5-38.

Hoey M. 2005. ''Lexical Priming: A New Theory of Words and Language''. London: Routledge.

Hunston S. 2010. ''Corpus Approaches to Evaluation: Phraseology and Evaluative Language''. London: Routledge.

Kilgarriff A., Rychly P., Smrz P., Tugwell D. 2004. ''The Sketch Engine''. In ''Proc. EURALEX 2004, Lorient, France'', pp 105-116.

Louw W. 2000. ''Contextual prosodic theory: Bringing semantic prosodies into life''. In C. Heffer and H. Staunton (eds.), ''Words in Context'' 48-95. Birmingham: Univ. of Birmingham.

Montgomery M. 2007. ''The Discourse of Broadcast News: A Linguistic Approach''. London: Routledge.

Sinclair J. 1996. ''The search for units of meaning''. Textus 9(1): 75-106.

Sinclair J. 1997. ''The nature of evidence''. In J. Sinclair (ed.), “Looking Up'', 150-159. London: Routledge.

Sinclair J. 1998. The lexical item. In ''Contrastive Lexical Semantics'', E. Weigand (ed.), 1-24. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sinclair J. 2004. ''Trust the text: Language, Corpus and Discourse''. London: Routledge.

Stewart D. 2010. ''Semantic Prosody: A Critical Evaluation''. London: Routledge.

Stubbs M. 2001. ''Words and Phrases: Corpus Studies of Lexical Semantics''. Oxford: Blackwell.

Taylor C. 2009. ''The representation of immigrants in the Italian press''. CirCap Occasional Papers 21. Siena: University of Siena.

Tognini-Bonelli E. 2001. ''Corpus Linguistics at Work''. Amsterdam: John Benjamin.

Watts R., Ide S. and Ehlich K. 1992. Politeness in Language: Studies in its History, Theory and Practice. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Alessia Bianchini is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Pavia (Italy). Her research interests include Corpus Linguistics and Computational Linguistics and particularly the interface syntax-semantics.