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Review of What’s in a Text? Inquiries into the Textual Cornucopia
This volume is a collection of articles based on presentations made at the International Postgraduate Linguistic Conference, which was organized at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, Poland, in September 2010.
The volume is divided into five parts.
Part I, entitled “Text as a Problem,” comprises four chapters. The first chapter, authored by Catherine Emmott and Anthony Sanford, examines the use and interpretation of linguistic devices which control a reader’s level of attention to specific parts of a text. The research described in this article supplements previous stylistic and linguistic research on attention, and provides evidence for ways specific language features affect readers. The authors present different methodologies for studying the effect of linguistic devices. The second chapter, by Elzbieta Tabakowska, is a corpus-illustrated study, presenting sample analyses of selected titles of press editorials and columns. The author elucidates her idea that a title often fulfils most of the criteria of textuality, and its conciseness in fact sharpens the view of relevant textual phenomena. The titles analysed in the article reveal multiple levels of meaning, which are present in the title, but not always evoked by readers-translators, which affects the process of translation. The author of chapter 3, Joanna Jablonska-Hood, deals with the notion of humorous text and context as seen through the perspective of Conceptual Integration Theory. The author suggests that the process of conceptual integration, also known as blending, can explain the constituents of humorous text and context. The last chapter of this part, by Konrad Zysko, presents a cognitive analysis of the selected examples of malapropisms and eggcorns in ‘Automated Alice’ by Jeff Noon, which will prove especially useful for anyone dealing with the problem of translation of humour and word-play.
Part II, entitled “Text as a Means of Doing Things,” is composed of five chapters. The first, by Anna Erlikhman and Yaroslav Melnyk, is dedicated to the study of implicit evaluation in speech acts. The second, by Olessya Cherkhava, deals with linguistic and discursive characteristics of biblical and prophetic texts, giving a definition of fideistic discourse, which is a type of institutional discourse that reflects socially and culturally grounded mythological and religious ideas of people in a particular period of history. The following chapter, authored by Joanna Szczepanska-Wloch, elucidates the reasons why politicians make use of rhetorical means, figures and tropes, such as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, etc. We observe a blend of ‘grand’, ‘middle’, and ‘low’ styles and various games, played in order to convince the audience of something, not only in the images projected by discourse, but also in the choice of words and in the way their meaning is shaped. The chapter by Iman Rasti analyses how questions are employed by second language students in their argumentative essays, based on a corpus of 220 short argumentative essays produced by Iranian EFL writers. Malgorzata Janik, in her chapter, approaches the linguistic problem of narration and the identity of the story-tellers in Samuel Beckett’s novels: “Molloy”, “Malone Dies” and “The Unnamable”. She reaches the conclusion that the struggle of the narrative voices of the trilogy to find their identity is doomed to failure, as neither the true nature of ‘I’ nor the outside world (at least in the world of Beckett) are to be recognized and known in language.
Part III, entitled “Text as a Repository: Literature,” consists of three chapters. Katarzyna Stadnik’s investigation, which opens this part, focuses on the question of how speakers’ understanding of their interaction with the world and their inner lives is encoded in language. The author illustrates her analysis using Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale”, paying special attention to the occurrences of Middle English *moten ‘must’. The next chapter, by Alla Gnatiuk, examines the deontic and epistemic use of ‘can’, ‘cannot’, ‘could’ and ‘could not’ in two samples of contemporary fiction in English, namely Dale Brown’s “Rogue Forces” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”. The author applies the method of correlation analysis to discover the statistical correlation between the deontic and epistemic meaning of the modals that she investigated. The statistics make evident the comparatively weaker epistemic nature of ‘can’ and ‘cannot’, the medium epistemic content of ‘can’ and ‘could’ and the strong epistemic content of ‘could not’. The data provide a good indication of the way the modals that were studied function in English-language fiction in general. The chapter authored by Dorota Gorzycka is a preliminary study that explores the types and functions of diminutives in English. The material for analysis is taken from Dan Brown’s novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Statistical data related to the types of diminutives in the novel are presented, followed by an analysis of diminutive functions identified in the data.
Part IV, entitled “Text as a Repository: Corpora,” contains three contributions. Ulf Magnusson opens this part with a detailed study of the notion of ‘balance’, based on material from the British National Corpus and two Swedish sources. The author has analyzed metaphorical extensions into the domains of financial, cognitive, mental, and emotional balance in goal-directed actions and life goals, and claims that the variables of the physical world and those of the phenomenological world are not in a one-to-one correspondence with each other. Joanna Adamiczka provides a corpus-based study of some aspects of the metaphorical conceptualization of happiness and joy in Spanish, German, English and Polish. The study shows relations between conceptual metaphors, cultural factors and the meaning of selected emotion words. Differences and similarities in understanding the emotions of joy and happiness in different languages and cultures are discussed.
The next contribution by Iryna Dilay explores grammatical properties of cognitive verbs in English, using data from the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English, giving special attention to the concept of semantic prosody. The last contribution of this part, by Rafal Augustin, is a cognitive linguistic analysis of English neosemantic verbs (the author treats them as a subtype of neologisms), formed from nouns via zero derivation, e.g. ‘homework’ → ‘to homework’, ‘butterfly’ → ‘to butterfly’. The article addresses the issue of the mechanism behind the emergence of novel linguistic meanings.
Finally, Part V, “Text and Beyond” contains two contributions. In chapter 17, Angelina Rusinek provides an insight into the relationship between humans and clothes as it is revealed in dictionaries. The author presents the way dictionaries can not only show, but also explain changes in meaning. Evidence for a conceptual contiguity between two conceptual macrocategories, CLOTHES and HUMAN BEING is presented. Laryssa Makaruk, in the last chapter of the book, considers paralinguistic elements (pictograms and ideograms) which occur in modern media.
Whether linguist, translator, interpreter or literary scholar, we all share an interest in text. That is why the collection of articles under review appears very timely and relevant.
The title of Part I, “Text as a Problem,” was a bit puzzling. “Text as a Means to Solve a Problem” might have reflected the content better. This part of the collection brings up several interesting issues in text inquiries and opens up new intriguing paths of research.
The study performed by the authors of chapter 1 has potential practical benefits not only in understanding the effects of creative writing, but also in advertising, politics, news and law, where texts certainly have a rhetorical effect and it does make an enormous difference whether readers/listeners do or do not notice the information presented in the text. The broad range of empirical results of the use of the ‘text change detection’ method are particularly interesting.
The second article, by Elzbieta Tabakowska, is notable not only for its attempt to corroborate the claim that what pertains to a title viewed as text might also pertain to text as such, but also for the “painfully obvious” (p. 29) conclusion that a major part of the meaning of the text resides in its grammar. Tabakowska’s study, corpus-illustrated, is another piece of evidence that comes in to support the symbolic character of grammar.
Very interesting ideas for future research are suggested in the conclusions to chapter 3: to prove or disprove the universality of Conceptual Integration Theory as a theory of humour or to verify whether humour can be reduced to metaphor or metonymy may, should it turn out to be true, create the potential to consider humour an algorithmic operation.
Chapter 4 is of great value for translators as rendering word-play into another language is certainly one of the greatest challenges for translation professionals. Any translation of malapropisms or eggcorns requires that the translator has to satisfy many conceptual, contextual, phonological and morphological conditions. This article is recommended for translators and interpreters. The application of principles of analysability and compositionality should prove especially useful.
Part II, which presents text as a means of doing things, is more like the study of various types of discourse, but as Coşeriu (2009:295) points out, discourse should be the object of study of what is nowadays called text linguistics, so the contributions in this part are quite welcome in the context of meticulous text investigation. Chapter 9, which is a study of the narrator’s identity and discourse in Samuel Beckett’s trilogy of novels, might have been better included in Part III, dedicated to literature. Part III would have gained from that, as in its current representation it seems to be more of a study of grammatical phenomena in various literary texts, which by no means diminishes its value and appeal to linguists interested in text as a whole and its constituents. The findings of the study by Iman Rasti will prove useful for teaching of writing, as EFL students can benefit from an awareness of appropriate use of questions in order to create an interaction with the reader and build convincing arguments.
Part IV contains corpus-based studies of various lexical, grammatical, and semantic phenomena, which are related to textual research, as they partly answer the question in the title of the collection: What’s in a text? However, the last chapter of this part (chapter 16) is not actually a corpus based study. Although the author says that his study is based on “a corpus of nearly 100 very recent neosemantic verbs found on the Internet fora and in online articles” (p. 231) it is not technically a corpus-based study (see the definition of ‘corpus’ at http://www.anglistik.uni-freiburg.de/seminar/abteilungen/sprachwissenschaft/ls_mair/corpus-linguistics). This does not reduce the value of the research done by the author of this chapter, it is just not a corpus-based study. A true corpus-based analysis, like the one Iryna Dilay provides on English cognitive verbs, can be a fruitful area of research that would tackle a wide range of problematic linguistic issues. Her analysis sheds light on various grammatical properties of cognitive verbs: their valency, aspectual types of cognitive predicates, deviations from the norm in the use of progressive aspect, metaphorical extensions and statistically significant lexical collocations.
In Part V of the collection the authors attempt to extend the attention of linguists beyond traditional texts, but the last contribution to this section does not seem to be exactly a linguistic inquiry. Media discourse has indeed always been a very interesting issue for a linguist, but this last chapter looks more like an inventory of paralinguistic elements of printed media discourse. It would be a good starting point to study the impact of such elements upon the message rendered by linguistic means.
The primary aim of the authors of this collection was to invite their readers to carefully consider both the richness of text as such and the diversity of text studies, performed by scholars representing various approaches to language and languages, and this goal was accomplished. The publication contains a large amount of data and ideas, satisfying the desires of linguists that may have diverse aims, methodologies and theoretical approaches. The collection is especially welcome for doctoral students of text-related phenomena. The varied geographical background of the contributors gives a reasonably good picture of the nature of text-based research in different parts of Europe. Even though the editors say in the introduction that the division of the volume is “somewhat arbitrary“ (p. 2), it still appears quite orderly.
The contributors may not have discovered totally novel phenomena or processes related to text, but they certainly have confirmed that the text is the key linguistic tool of the expression of meaning and of communication. Articles authored by doctoral students and junior lecturers from Central and Eastern Europe and more experienced researchers from the UK and Sweden coexist quite nicely in this collection and offer a good insight into various traditions of text analysis.
Coşeriu, E. 2009. Omul şi limbajul său. Studii de filosofie a limbajului, teorie a limbii şi lingvisticii generale, Colectia Logos, Iaşi: Editura Universităţii ''Alexandru Ioan Cuza''.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Elena Gheorghita is Assistant Professor at State University of Moldova, Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, English Philology Chair, and a practicing conference interpreter. Among her research interests are: translation studies, translation as process (namely in light of theory of strategic games), the fractal nature of language and communication, environmental and military terminology, linguistic research methodology.