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Review of  Opening Windows on Texts and Discourses of the Past

Reviewer: Giampaolo Poletto
Book Title: Opening Windows on Texts and Discourses of the Past
Book Author: Janne Skaffari Matti Peikola Ruth Carroll Risto Hiltunen Brita Wårvik
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Ling & Literature
Subject Language(s): English
French, Old
Irish, Old
Issue Number: 16.3123

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Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2005 11:42:13 +0200
From: Giampaolo Poletto
Subject: Opening Windows on Texts and Discourses of the Past

EDITORS: Skaffari, Janne; Peikola, Matti; Carroll, Ruth; Hiltunen,
Risto; Wårvik, Brita
TITLE: Opening Windows on Texts and Discourses of the Past
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 134
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2005

Giampaolo Poletto, doctoral candidate, Doctoral School in Linguistics,
University of Pécs, Hungary


This volume displays a consistent collection of contributions. The field
of interest is the newly born historical pragmatics, which is the most
established term, with respect to historical discourse analysis (Brinton,
2001) and historical discourse linguistics (Carroll et al., 2003). The
object of such pragmatic and discourse-oriented research is early
texts. The goal is to explore past stages of languages and relate
linguistic phenomena to their historical context. The aim of the editors
is to continue the debate in the field, without imposing fixed meanings.
Therefore, a variety of research questions and methods is
purposefully addressed here, through five chapters which hold twenty-
two differently shaped and sized windows open on different linguistic
and textual landscapes. The first three are a subset based on related
sources of data; the last two have theoretical affinities. The first
chapter focuses on media discourse and political rhetoric; the second
on the argumentative and expository functions of language exploited
in texts; the third on men of letters and letter-writing; the fourth on
pragmatic or discourse markers, grammaticalisation and politeness;
the fifth on language contact situations and the role of contact. The
contributions are papers read at the first conference on historical
texts, discourse and pragmatic studies, held in Finland in 2002, at the
University of Turku - Organization in Discourse II: The Historical
Perspective. Papers present in detail, clearly and extensively, the
material investigated, mostly diachronically, the data collection and
analytical methodology, the outcome, its contribution to the insight on
a given issue or to the development of the field. Each paper provides
bibliographical references at the end, which as a whole offers a
widespread overview on the literature of the field.

I. Discourse in the public sphere (pp.5-82)

Jucker's (pp. 7-21) diachronical exploration of the news discourse
from the 17th to the 21st century emphasizes its evolution and the
need for analytical tools operating also with non-linear texts, in a field
such as historical pragmatics with no uniformly accepted division into
subfields (see Jacobs and Jucker, 1995).

Gotti (pp.23-38) focuses on a discourse analytic study of 18th-century
paper advertisements, in order to point out the main stylistic and
linguistic features of such texts and compare the results with Leech's
(1966), to find out systematisation or alteration in their writing which
have manifested to date.

Kovalyova's (pp. 39-52) diachronical examination of presidential
inaugural addresses, a genre of epideictic rhetoric (see Aristotle,
1978), focuses on the specifics of speaker-listener relations, with a
particular attention to the pronominal distribution, in the perspective of
a ritual social action, performed so that an individual turns into a public
figure, an audience into a nation.

Rudanko (pp.53-63) investigates on two speeches in the House of
Representatives, delivered in 1789 and 1798, with the aim to review
the history of freedom of speech in the early American Republic. The
notion of an informal fallacy (see Bentham, 1962) is employed with
reference to two cases, ad socordiam and ad hominem, to underline
the relevance of the awareness of fallacious arguments to political
rhetoric and intentionally persuasive discourse.

Through a computer-assisted analysis of samples collected in the
Zurich English Newspaper Corpus, along with the work of Bell (1991),
among others, Studer (pp.65-79) addresses the textual organization
in early newspapers, to highlight the evolution of the headline from a
foregrounded to a separately printed element. The focus in on
underlying syntactic processes involved in foregrounding and
distribution patterns.

II. Science and academia (pp.81-198)

Through a corpus-based analysis of the organization of scientific
discourse from the 15th century, Dorgeloh (pp.83-94) argues that
what Biber & Finegan (1997) and Atkinson (1992) identify as
developments towards more literate styles and less narrativity,
respectively, affect the linguistic expression of agentivity, in particular.
The shift from narratives in non-primary use to a more function-based
argumentative pattern points out the experience nominalisation and
the argument impersonalisation of modern scientific discourse and
explains the general staticness and impersonality of scientific

Del Lungo Camiciotti's (pp.95-107) historical discursive insight in the
recently critically edited (Raffaelli et al., 1995) lectures of the
economist Marshall in Cambridge, in 1873, shows the lecturer's
persona's textual construction through interactional and evaluative
discursive strategies and metadiscursive devices engaging students'
attention and signalling the lecturer's attitude to the audience and the
content of the lecture.

By applying quantitative and qualitative methods in contemporary
citation analysis (see Chubin & Moitra, 1975; Thompson, 1996, among
others) to the synchronical exploration of Wilkins' scientific study of
the 17th century, Oja (pp.109-122) shows how the Bible represents a
special case with respect to the similar use of classical and
contemporary sources.

Mostly drawing on Wales's work (1996), Ratia (pp.123-141)
qualitatively examines the highly varied use of personal pronouns and
argumentative strategies in a comparative study of two medical texts
on the health effects of tobacco of the early 17th century.

Salager-Meyer's (pp.143-159) exam of the linguistic realisations of
medical criticism in French, Spanish and English from the 19th to the
20th century shows that the behavioural changes detected, e.g.
oppositional discourse (see Valle, 1993, among others), fully mirror
the latest evolution of scientific research.

Selosse's (pp.161-178) linguistic analysis compares how Gesner
(1542) resorts to the medicinal custom and Bauhin (1623) to the
botanical specialised scientific community to frame the definition of a
botanical genre.

Taavitsainen (pp.179-196) applies the theory of appropriation
(Chartier, 1995) and the notion of loci communes (McLean, 1980) to
an investigation on appropriations of texts addressing a learned and a
popular audience in late medieval and early modern English. Genres
are crucial to different appropriations and differences between the
layers of writing are only apparent.

III. Letters and literature (pp.197-258)

Foster (pp.199-213) synchronically and comparatively explores
Chaucerian narrator-persona puzzle (see Garbáty, 1974; Sklute,
1984, among others), to emphasize and show that the use of the
rhetorical and stylistic technique of self-deprecation in discourse, in
the Book of the Duchess and House of Fame, aims and effectively
manages to alter an audience's perception.

Pérez-Guerra's paper (pp.215-236) attempts to integrate discourse-
based and formal phenomena in the analysis of 'marked' declarative
sentences implying a deviation from the unmarked clausal pattern, as
to a corpus of late Middle, Modern and Present-day English letters,
sticking to Taavitsainen's definition of genre (2001) and arguing that it
can be characterised as to both its complexity and its informative and
linguistic organisation..

In his article (pp.237-256), Speyer draws on the notion of textual
coherence, especially owing to Werth (1981) and the Centering
Theory (Grosz et al., 1995), to explain that Seneca's are an exception
to the model of coherent text of classical dramas, and that intended
rupture of coherence in discourse highlights a character's mental
challenge, certain character traits, or even that communication is
impossible in given situations.

IV. Discourse and pragmatics (pp.257-352)

The largely qualitative corpus study of Bergs (pp.259-277) attempts to
reconstruct the route of which as a demonstrative element, from late
Middle English to early Modern English periods (see Jespersen, 1927;
Fischer et al., 2000), in relation to information structuring and
discursive organisation, as a discourse marker which backtracks to a
previously mentioned element, ends one topic and provides a starting
point for the next.

By diachronically analysing the uses as a conjunction, an adverb, a
pragmatic marker of English (I) say, Brinton (pp.279-299) shows how
its development is best understood to involve processes of
grammaticalisation, on the one side; how grammaticalisation,
pragmaticalisation, lexicalisation, and idiomatisation (see Lehman,
2002; Traugott, 2002, among others) overlap and intersect, on the

The diachronical argumentative and pragmatic approach of Rodríguez
Somolinos (pp.301-317) to the French modal marker 'voire' follows
Berrendoner (1987) and emphasizes how the weakening of its primary
assertive value has resulted in a different marker, semantically close
to the Modern French 'même' or English 'even'.

From a functional perspective, Toyota (pp.319-339) points out how
politeness (see Keenan, 1975; Kallia, 2002, among others) provides
the linkage between the passive and the indefinite pronoun
constructions, in that both create a pragmatic distance, known as
impersonalisation, once in English rather loaded on the former now on
the latter, given its permanent importance.

V. Language contact and discourse (pp.341-400)

Responding to the conclusions of Wright (1992), among others, on
code-switching in late medieval Year Books legal texts, Davidson's
(pp.343-351) exam of discourse strategies in switching between Latin
and French to encode the reporting of pleading and procedure
emphasizes what reports primarily and secondarily served and how
code-switching is a formalised mode of discourse in the common law

Wehr (pp.353-379) concentrates on the pragmeme (see
Hammarström, 2000) focus and its subfunctions contrast, exhaustive
listing, emphatic focus, to outline how they were marked in Old Irish
through the cleft construction and in Old French, first by word order or
through prosodic means, then through cleft construction in Middle
French, which assumes there is a 'sentence-word' tendency common
to the Celtic languages, French and Portuguese.

After investigations on the origins of Standard English have drawn on
the written production at Court and in the universities (see Ekwall,
1956, among others) and in science and journalism (see Hiltunen,
1990, among others), Wright (pp.381-399) shows the important role in
its dissemination played by traders, through the exam of the written
language of London merchants prior to the development of Standard


The length of the review follows and attempts to witness the extension
and consistency of the articles in this volume, which is rich and
presents a variety of papers on very different issues, at the same time
autonomous and worth a further insight on the one side,
interdependent and contributing to reinforce the dynamic framework of
historical pragmatics on the other.


Aristotle (1978) Ritorika. In A. Takho-Godi (Ed.) Antichnye Ritoriki.
Moskva: Izdatelstvo Moskovskogo universiteta. 15-164.

Atkinson, D. (1992) The evolution of medical research writing from
1735 to 1985. Applied Linguistics. 13: 337-374.

Bauer, L. (1983) English Word Formation [Cambridge Textbooks in
Linguistics]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bauhin, C. (1623) Pinax Theatri Botanici. Basel: König.

Bell, A. (1991) The Language of News Media. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bentham, J. (1962) The Handbook of Political Fallacies. H. A.
Larrabee (Ed. and revised) New York: Harper. [Orig. Pub. 1824;
Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press. 1952].

Biber, D., & Finegan, E. (1997) Diachronic relations between speech-
based and written registers in English. In T. Nevalainen (Ed.) To
Explain the Present: Studies in the Changing English Language in
Honour of Matti Rissanen. Helsinki: Société Neophilologique. 253-275.

Brinton, L. J. (2001) Historical discourse analysis. In D. Schiffrin, D.
Tannen, & H. E. Hamilton (Eds.) The Handbook of Discourse Analysis.
Oxford: Blackwell. 138-160.

Carroll, R., Hiltunen, R., Peikola, M., Skaffari, J., Tanskanen, S. K.,
Valle, E., & Wårvik, B. (2003) Introduction. In R.Hiltunen & J.Skaffari
(Eds.) Discourse Perspectives on English: Medieval to Modern.
Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 1-12.

Chabin, D. & Moytra, S. (1975) Content analysis of references:
Adjunct or alternative to citation counting? Social Studies of Science.
5. 423-441.

Chartier, R. (1995) Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances and
Audiences from Codex to Computer. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press.

Ekwall, B. E. (1956) Studies on the Population of Medieval London.
Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell.

Fischer, O., van Keemenade, A., Koopman, W., & van der Wurff, W.
(2000) The Syntax of Early English. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Garbáty, T. J. (1974) The degredation ot Chaucer's 'Geffrey'. PMLA.
89. 97-104.

Gesner, C. (1542) Catalogus Plantarum. Tiguri: Froschouerus.

Grosz, B. J. & Sidner, C. L. (1986) Attentions, intensions and the
structure of discourse. Computational Linguistics. 12. 175-204.

Hammaström, G. (2000) Four-level description of spoken languages,
with some French examples. In Wehr, B., & Thomaßen, H. (Eds.)
Diskursanalyse. Untersuchungen zum gesprochenen Französisch.
Akten der gleichnamigen Sektion des 1. Kongresses des Franko-
Romanisten-Verbands (Mainz, 23-26 September 1998), Frankfurt am
Main etc.: Peter Lang. 1-16.

Hiltunen, R. (1990) Chapters on Legal English [Annales Academiae
Scientiarum Fennicae B/251]. Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia.

Jakobs,A., & Jucker, A. H. (1995) The historical perspective in
pragmatics. In Jucker (Ed.) Historical Pragmatics. Pragmatic
Developments in the History of English. Amsterdam & Philadelphia:
John Benjamins. 3-33.

Jespersen, O. (1927) A Modern English Grammar on Historical
Principles. Vol.3. London: Allen & Unwin.

Kallia, A. (2002) The social and psychological modalities of politeness.
Paper delivered at International Linguistic Conference, Athens,
Greece, 21-24 May, 2002.

Keenan, E. L. (1975) Some universals of passive in relational
grammars. Chicago Lingusitic Society. 11. 340-352.

Leech, G. N. (1966) English in Advertising. London: Longman.

Lehman, C. (2002) New reflections on grammaticalization and
lexicalization. In Wischer, I. & Diewald, G. (Eds.) New Reflections on
Grammaticalization. [Typological Studies in Language 49]. Amsterdam
& Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 1-18.

McLean, I. (1980) The Renaissance Notion of Woman: A Study of the
Fortunes of Scholasticism and Medical Science in European
Intellectual Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Raffaelli, T., Biagini, E. & McWilliams Tullberg, R. (1995) Alfred
Marshall's Lectures to Women: Some Economics Questions Directly
Connected to the Welfare of the Labor. Aldershot and Brookfield:
Edward Elgar.

Sklute, L. (1984) Virtue of Necessity. Columbus: University of Ohio

Taavitsainen, I. (2001) Changing conventions of writing: The dynamics
of genres, text types, and text traditions. The European Journal of
English Studies. 5. 139-150.

Thompson, G. (1966) Voices in the text: Discourse perspectives on
language reports. Applied Linguistics, 17(4). 501-530.

Traugott, E. C. (2002) Legitimate counterexamples to unidirectionality
in grammaticalization. Lecture given at Aoyama Gakuin University,
March 22.

Valle, E. (1993) The development of English scientific rhetoric in The
Philadelphical Transactions of the Royal Society 1711-1870.
FINLANCE. 12. 94-124.

Wales, K. (1996) Personal Pronouns in Present-Day English.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Werth, P. (1981) The concept of relevance in conversational analysis.
In P. Werth (Ed.) Conversation and Discourse. London & New York: St
Martin's Press. 129-154.

Wright, L. (1992) Macaronic writing in a London archive, 1380-1480.
In M. Rissanen et al. (Eds.) History of Englishes. New Methods and
Interpretations in Historical Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 762-


Giampaolo Poletto is doctoral candidate at the Doctoral School in
Linguistics of the University of Pécs, in Hungary. His lingfields of
interest are discourse analysis, pragmatics, and applied linguistics. His
research focuses on humor as a discoursive strategy for young
learners of Italian, in a cross-sectional and cross-cultural perspective.