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Review of  Persuasion Across Genres

Reviewer: Élisabeth M. Le
Book Title: Persuasion Across Genres
Book Author: Helena Halmari Tuija Virtanen
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 16.2683

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Date: Thu, 08 Sep 2005 17:26:57 -0600
From: Élisabeth Le
Subject: Persuasion Across Genres

EDITORS: Halmari, Helena; Virtanen, Tuija
TITLE: Persuasion Across Genres
SUBTITLE: A linguistic approach
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 130
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005

Élisabeth Le, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies,
University of Alberta

'Persuasion Across Genres', edited by Helena Halmari and Tuija Virtanen,
is composed of nine chapters (six of which were originally colloquium
presentations at the 1999 annual meeting of the American Association of
Applied Linguistics), and is divided in 5 parts: Introduction (chap. 1),
Focusing on private and semipublic discourse (chap. 2, 3), Focusing on
public discourse (chap. 4, 5, 6), Theoretical considerations (chap. 7, 8),
Concluding remarks (chap. 9).

In the Introduction (chap. 1), Virtanen and Halmari present the emerging
perspectives of "Persuasion across genres". They define persuasion
as "those linguistic choices that aim at changing or affecting the
behavior of others or strengthening the existing beliefs and behaviors of
those who already agree, the beliefs and behaviors of persuaders included"
(p.5), and they note that each genre provides convincing, persuading
arguments with its own combination of ethos, pathos and logos. Persuasion
is evaluated in regard to its potential effects on the audience, but the
audience is changing. Thus, as one aim of the book is to find out the best
kind of persuasion, persuasion needs to be considered as a dynamic
phenomenon. Virtanen and Halmari then look at genres from an intertextual
and interdiscursive perspective. They consider that "genres can, without
losing their identity, vary from context to context, thus helping
interlocutors construct those very contexts. Similarly, genres vary
through time and across cultures" (p.10). The book presents various facets
of persuasion across a continuum of private/semiprivate/semipublic/public
genres; while some of these persuasive styles and strategies are genre-
specific, others cut across genres. A special emphasis is put on the way
genres are affected by persuasive practices.

Anne Marie Bülow-Møller examines "Persuasion in business negotiations"
(chap. 2). A review of negotiation literature presents persuasive
argumentation as indicative of a deadlock, in contrast to the ability of
taking the other party's perspective that allows for the construction of a
common ground on which suggestions can be made in an attractive manner.
The analysis of two case studies reveals how negotiators interact to
further their own purposes. In particular, they guide their opponent's
impression formation in the manner they construct their own persona
through their use of language. They also use language to imply the
existence of a common ground, whether it exists at that time or not. Thus,
they might refer to a concept using "our" instead of "your", use syntactic
downgrading so that focal information appears in a minor clause (e.g. "it
will come as no surprise to you that it was a bit of a shock for us"), or
use conditionals for inviting a shared situation model (e.g. "what if the
bridge falls down?). However, these implicit persuasive moves are not
sufficient in themselves; they have to be backed up by enough material

"Persuasion in judicial argumentation", in particular in "the written
Opinions of the Advocates General at the European Court of Justice" is
investigated by Tarja Salmi-Tolonen (chap. 3). The purpose of these
Opinions is to present to the Court and the litigants the Advocate
General's legal position on the litigated question. In a corpus consisting
in the Opinions written by the two British General Advocates from 1997 to
2001 (i.e. 10 texts), the author analyses the use of the first person
singular that denotes the writer's direct and explicit involvement, as
well as the use of first person plural. While legal register is known for
its use of the passive voice and collective subjects to imply objectivity,
Opinions of the Advocates General are characterized by an overt use of the
first person that underlines the Advocates General's professional status
and thus contributes towards their persuasive strategy. Persuasive
strategies being genre-specific, judicial opinions constitute a distinct
genre within the legal register.

"In search of 'successful' political persuasion" (chap. 4), Helena Halmari
compares the styles of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan in their State of
the Union addresses. Both Clinton and Reagan were generally
considered "successful" rhetors, and their respective 1998 and 1988
addresses were deemed well delivered if one considers the increase of
their ratings in polling data between within 5 days before and after each
address. Although Clinton spoke longer than Reagan and although both
presidents treated different topics, it appears that they shared to a
great extent the same vocabulary (thus indicating the core notions that
need to be addressed in a typical State of Union speech) and the same
linguistic strategies (rhetorical questions; appeal to logic and
authority; use of superlatives and "nice numbers"; alliterations;
references to America, vocatives; humor; unification via addressing the
enemy; use of the inclusive first person plural; evocation of history and
continuity). While persuasive lexical choice and skillful rhetorical
organization are certainly important, they must be completed by an
effective delivery. Both Clinton and Reagan concluded their speeches by
appealing to the average American and the grandeur they can achieve
through simple and ordinary means. It might be in this mix of ordinary and
glorified that lies the recipe for "successful" political persuasion.

"Persuasion in the spatially constrained language of advertising",
i.e. "in a nutshell" (chap. 5) is discussed by Paul Bruthiaux. Advertising
writers are torn between the need to do whatever it takes to be noticed
and the necessity to remain to-the-point within strict spatial
limitations. In face of this dilemma, it is hypothesized that writers
develop context-specific linguistic adaptations at the syntactic and
discursive levels to comply with the need to persuade. On the basis of
advertising catalogs distributed in Southern California and ranging from
products appealing to the status conscious (i.e. "glamorous") to products
providing bare necessities (i.e. "utilitarian"), it was found that spatial
constraints had little restrictive influence on the syntactic elaboration
of ads at the glamorous end, contrarily to the utilitarian end which was
characterized by syntactic minimalism. Thus, it appears that syntactic
sophistication is dependent not only on tangible constraints of space but
also on the type of social relationship advertisers need to develop with
their readers in their persuasive pursuit.

In chapter 6, "Polls and surveys show", Tuija Virtanen
investigates "Public opinion as a persuasive device in editorial
discourse". In a quantitative study of editorials of the 1994 and 1996
issues of 'The New York Times' (NYT), she shows that a reference to a poll
or survey appears every third or fourth day with the indication of the
source first, and then of the information, which appears as a fact despite
the high degree of vagueness about the numerical information and the lack
of detail concerning the source. The poll sentence foregrounds the
timeliness and importance of the issue, the recency of the poll or survey,
and the concerns of the majority of those polled. A qualitative analysis
of 20 randomly selected editorials from the corpus (10 referring to a poll
and 10 to a survey) demonstrates the importance of indicating first the
source of information: it presents the information as given, and thus as
something that can be taken for granted, and it gives the source a wider
textual scope. Furthermore, poll sentences tend to appear after the claim
they support and this claim is more likely to be a central issue.
Virtanen's study underlines how the voice of the public is constructed,
mediated and recontextualized to serve persuasive purposes, and it calls
for more investigation on the topic.

In chapter 7, "Persuasion as implicit anchoring", Jan-Ola Östman
illustrates the use of the "Pragmatics Implicit Anchoring" (PIA) toolkit
with the corpus study of the persuasive function of collocations in
newspaper discourse. (Persuasive) communication takes place on an explicit
level through linguistic choices that construe the propositional content
of messages, and it also simultaneously takes place through "implicit
choices of how to express ourselves in relation to the demands of the
cultural context at hand, in relation to our reader or co-interactant, and
our attitude. In this manner we implicitly anchor our discourse to other
(especially socio-cultural) aspects of our behavior" (p. 192). The PIA
toolkit contains three parameters: Coherence (i.e. communicative
restraints imposed by a culture and society on linguistic behavior),
Politeness (i.e. interactional constraints), and Involvement (i.e. norms
of affect and emotion). Analyzing the implicit collocations
of 'propaganda', 'persuasion' and 'manipulation', Östman finds
that 'propaganda' particularly exploits the Coherence
parameter, 'persuasion' the Politeness parameter, and 'manipulation' the
Involvement parameter.

"Generic patterns in promotional discourse" (chap. 8) are investigated by
Vijay K. Bhatia. Competing for attention getting, advertising writers use
innovative language and employ traditional expressions and clichés
creatively. In a world that is increasingly competitive, professionals and
academics are required to perform and they tend to appropriate lexico-
grammatical and rhetorical resources from the discourse of corporate
advertising. As academic, professional and institutional genres get thus
colonized by the discourse of advertising, this discourse of advertising
needs to distance itself from them in order to remain competitive in
attention getting, and has thus become the most dynamic genre.

Halmari and Virtanen, the editors of this volume, conclude with
remarks "Towards understanding modern persuasion" (chap. 9). On the basis
that people do not like to be persuaded against their will and thus that
the best kind of persuasion needs to be implicit, they claim that the
implicit character of persuasion accounts for its changing forms across
and within different genres, and can trigger generic change. Texts within
a given genre resemble each other lexico-grammatically and in terms of
discourse organization; the more representative of the genre they are, the
smaller is their 'intertextual gap' with the generic prototype. Generic
change happens with the process of 'maximizing intertextual gap' that
results from genre-external pressures (related to the owners of the genre
or its audience) and genre-internal pressures (due to the implicit nature
of persuasion). When a genre goes through the process of maximizing
intertextual gap, it may acquire characteristics of another genre; this
process of minimizing the 'interdiscursive gap' between the two genres may
lead to the blurring of genre boundaries and result in generic hybrids.
When it is not clear to which genre a text belong (e.g. is it an ad or
product information?), it can be argued that implicit persuasion takes
place (e.g. an ad is mistaken for product information). However, when the
same type of implicit persuasion is repeated, it becomes more and more
recognizable and loses its implicit character; thus, new ways of implicit
persuasion need to be found.

This book should be of interest to anyone interested in persuasion and in
genre studies. While the chapters are of unequal interest, the book merit
is to bring together different aspects of persuasion and to draw from
there a general framework on the effects of persuasion on generic change.
In this sense, the conclusion (chap. 9) is particularly worth reading. As
the editors underline, genre-external and genre-internal pressures that
lead to generic change are naturally interrelated and thus, their division
would be arbitrary. It needs to be added that this also means that
scholars who study persuasion in a particular genre need to be closely
acquainted with the content of the genre and not only its form. Thus, what
might appear as an implicit persuasive strategy for an observer from the
outside might in fact be explicit for all those involved in the genre

Élisabeth Le is Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics in the
Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of
Alberta. She works in the field of Critical Discourse Analysis and is
particularly interested in the study of persuasion in editorials. She has
published in 'Text', 'Discourse and Society', the 'Journal of Language and
Politics', the 'Journal of Pragmatics' and 'Written Discourse'.