LINGUIST List 23.850

Mon Feb 20 2012

Review: Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics; Socioling: Fetzer & Oishi (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 20-Feb-2012
From: Inas Mahfouz <>
Subject: Context and Contexts
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Announced at
EDITORS: Fetzer, Anita and Oishi, EtsukoTITLE: Context and ContextsSUBTITLE: Parts meet whole?SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New SeriesPUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

Inas Y. Mahfouz, Ain Shams University, Egypt.


This volume belongs to the John Benjamins Pragmatics and Beyond New Series(P&BNS). It is the product of an international panel organized within theInternational Pragmatics Association Conference that took place in Melbourne in2009. It is composed of three parts, each of which comprises threecontributions. The book begins with an introduction, where the editors introducepragmatics as an interdisciplinary field which probes into questions pertainingto communicative action and context. The introduction also tackles context as amulti-layered concept which defies all attempts of reaching a precisedefinition. Finally, the editors end this section by shedding light on thevarious chapters included in the book.

The book is divided into three parts covering situated meaning, deixis, andcommunicative action. All the contributions are selected in such a way as toclarify the clear link between parts and whole. Part I, “Situated meaning incontext,” examines the interaction between meaning and context, or the situationin which discourse is produced. In Part II, “Deixis in context,” the relationbetween context and deictic expressions is investigated from variousperspectives. Finally, Part III, “Communicative action in context,” provides amulti-faceted, extensive theoretical discussion of the interconnectednessbetween speech acts and context.

Part I comprises three papers that discuss the relation between meaning andsituation in various domains, namely, law, politics and media. The firstcontribution, “Why a mother’s rule is not a law: The role of context in theinterpretation of Greek laws,” by Amalia Moser and Eleni Panaretou, investigatesthe role of the meso- and macro-context in the interpretation of a text. Themeso context in this paper is used in the same sense as genre, whereas macrocontext is used to refer to social and cultural surroundings such as power,dominance, inequality among social groups, etc. (Van Dijk 2003).The analysis inthis paper is done through examining tense, aspect, and modality in Greek lawsand comparing these features to a mother’s instructions to her children based onthe assumption that both types of discourse perform the same speech act. Forexample, both types of discourse would set rules in: “Challenge of paternity isnot allowed after the death of the child, unless the relevant suit ‘had alreadybeen filed’” (p. 27); “Ari, you may play football in the afternoon only ‘if youhad finished’ your homework” (p. 27). Though the past perfect should not be usedin both examples, the researchers state that informants accept it in the firstbecause it is a law and reject in the second because this is ordinary aninstruction from a mother to her children. The authors conclude by pinpointingthat legal texts are created within a cognitive frame that permits deviance fromgrammatical norms.

The second chapter, “Fighting words: Hybrid discourse and discourse processes,”by Lawrence N. Berlin, applies the Multilayered Model of Context (MMC) to dataobtained from the interviews with Hugo Chávez, the President of Bolivia.According to this model, context is broken into four distinct levels: linguisticcontext, interactional context, situational context, and extrasituationalcontext. The paper traces Chávez’s use of militarizing language over a period oftime, beginning with the latter part of 2007, and culminating in the early partof 2008, when the president called for the mobilization of troops to the borderwith Colombia, as in the following example: “Mr. Defense Minister, move tenbattalions to the border with Colombia immediately” (p. 61). Berlin ends byemphasizing the importance of incorporating MMC in critical discourse analysisbecause it provides a fuller understanding of texts. This is because such amodel examines the text not only from a linguistic perspective but also fromsituational and extrasituational points of view. Moreover, the creation ofexternal reality is possible through hybrid discourse, which manipulateslanguage to achieve certain purposes.

The third paper in this part, “Context and talk in confrontational discourse,”by Luisa Granato and Alejandro Parini, focuses on confrontational discourse inmedia. It aims at clarifying some of the contextual features of confrontationaldiscourse with the purpose of understanding the relation between language andcontext. The researchers analyze the dimensions of tenor and mode as expoundedin the Theory of Register, as described in the Systemic Functional Linguistics(SFL) paradigm. Halliday (1978) defines ‘register’ as a theory of languagevariation according to what is taking place, what part the language is playing,and who is taking part, and deals with field, tenor, and mode. The study isbased on two corpora of media interviews in Argentina. The conclusions of thestudy emphasize the wide differences between prototypical sequences andconfrontational sequences as far as mode and tenor are concerned. At the levelof mode, in confrontational sequences, there is no respect for turns, whereas inprototypical sequences, turns are respected. There is usually a clear reluctanceto pass the floor in confrontational sequences. At the level of tenor, roles areoften ignored and participants’ actions cannot be predicted. Overall, politebehavior is practically absent in confrontational encounters. The example belowillustrates the features of mode and tenor in confrontational sequences, wheresquare brackets signify overlap in which the speaker follows his line ofthought, ignoring his interlocutor.

D: …the evidence, didn’t work out [xxx well and]B: [But the feeling was that]D: [and this blew over. Let me, let me finish]B: [close the case and move on to something else]D: Let me finish.B: So as not to investigate.D: Let me finish and stop making unpleasant insinuations (p. 76).

Part II, “Deixis in context,” examines how far context influences theinterpretation of deixis through three studies that cover wide domains, rangingfrom everyday conversation and general corpora, to political discourse. Thefirst contribution, “This? No, that! Constructing shared contexts in theconversational dyad,” by Konstanze Jungbluth, focuses on the role of the hearerin constructing context. The study analyzes spoken language to emphasize theimportance of situational context. It uses Spanish and Polish data toinvestigate the various parts of conversation: heard utterances, intentions ofthe speaker, and interpretations of the hearer. The paper concludes that theseparts contribute to a fuller understanding of spoken language. The followingexample makes this point clearer. In this example two men are standing facingeach other and they are involved in harvesting fruits. One of them is trying todirect the attention of the other to ‘those’ fruits behind him that are ready tobe picked up. In the following extract the word ‘those’ is almost an order tothe hearer to turn around:

Man: No, no, not these, they are smaller.Harvester: Which ones? These?Man: To your left side (pause) behind this branch. ‘Those’ over there. (p. 105)

“‘Here is the difference, here is the passion, here is the chance to be part ofgreat change’: Strategic context importation in political discourse,” by AnitaFetzer, focuses on the indexical deictic form, ‘here,’ and its counterpart,‘there.’ The paper evaluates the communicative function these deictic formsperform in two different genres, namely, interviews and political speeches. Thechapter highlights the difference in function and distribution of ‘here’ and‘there’ in these two genres. The more determinate nature of the linguisticcontext of these deictic forms is found in speeches. The researcher cites thisexample from a party conference: “If anyone ‘here today’ thinks that ‘we’ canjust sit tight and wait for the pendulum to swing back to the Conservatives –think again” (p. 132). The co-occurrence of ‘here today’ with the pronoun ‘we’signifies a shared common social space. The data under investigation comprise 29full length political interviews and 16 political speeches containing a total ofmore than 200,000 words.

The last paper in this part, “Context, contrast and the structure of discoursein Turkish,” by Ṻmit Deniz Turan and Deniz Zeyrek, focuses on the contrastivediscourse connective ‘on the contrary.’ The paper investigates the use of thisconnective in the Turkish language. The paper probes into the role thisconnective performs in bridging the gap in the cognitive context between awriter and his/her audience to clarify the role of such a contrastive connectivein argumentation. For example, “Literally, it is impossible to say that theauthor of the book is unenlightened”; “On the contrary, (he) reflects theculture of a part of our country with a profound sensitivity and understandingin his work” (pp.156-157). The paper also touches upon negation, as it isobligatory in expressing contrast, especially with this connective. The data isdriven from a two-million word corpus of modern written Turkish representingvarious genres. The researchers conclude that ‘on the contrary’ performs a rolein forming, reshaping, and changing the context in written discourse.

The third and final part in this volume, entitled “Communicative action incontext,” is basically a theoretical part that brings all the previouslydiscussed points together, where parts meet whole. The first paper, “Speech actsin context,” by Jacob L. Mey, elaborates on the importance of placing speechacts in the right context for their proper understanding. According to theauthor, speech acts are pragmatic acts and have to be situated in reality tobecome real. Furthermore, all speech acts are in a way created by theircontexts, which determine what a speaker may say. This is how parts meet whole,because outside of context, speech acts do not exist.

The second paper in this part, “How are speech acts situated in context?”, byEtsuko Oishi, probes into the different elements that affect the success orfailure of performing an illocutionary act. In making an utterance, whether itis performative or non-performative, the speaker identifies him/herself as theaddresser, the hearer as the addressee, and the circumstances as the context.Along the same lines, Van Dijk (1977) has argued that “A specific force orfunction may be assigned only if the communicative context yields informationabout whether the speaker has certain obligations, the hearer certain wishes,the action a beneficiary role for the hearer, etc.” (p. 214).

The last contribution in this part, “Context and adaptive action,” by ThanhNyan, investigates context as a non-focal element required for the occurrence ofa focal event. The author probes into context in terms of perceptual andconceptual categorization, attention selection, and decision making. Theunderlying principle is how the brain handles contextual change.


The purpose of the book is to capture the dynamic nature of context byhighlighting its multilayered nature. The editors want to highlight the value oflinguistics, psychology, sociology and cultural studies in any methodologicalinterpretation of discourse. Context is difficult to define “in spite of itsomnipresence in the domains of pragmatics, sociopragmatics, discourse analysisand ethnomethodology, the concept of context has remained fuzzy” (Fetzer 2004,p. 3). To achieve its objective, the book is divided into three parts. Part Iemphasizes how context influences the interpretation of a text, to the extentthat it may make commonly unacceptable forms seem quite acceptable. This part iscertainly the richest and most innovative in its approach to older problemspertaining to the role of context and its role in understanding texts. Forexample, the first contribution illustrates how the cognitive frame of lawsmakes deviance from linguistic norms acceptable. The second part of the bookexamines how context influences the interpretation and use of deixis. The firsttwo contributions in this part by Jungbluth and Fetzer delve deep into the useof deixis, opening new perspectives. Finally, the third part points out theinteraction between context and speech acts, where finally, all parts of thecontext meet whole. Though this division justifies the subtitle of the book, thereader is left somewhat confused by encountering such a purely theoreticalsection at the end of the book. It would have been better if this section hadbeen placed at the beginning of the book.

The book is intended for those who are interested in the interconnection betweencontext, pragmatics, and discourse. It is full of specialized terminology thatwould be difficult, if not impossible, for beginners to understand. The onlyshortcoming of the book would be the absence of a glossary that explains theseterms.

Finally, “Context and Contexts” develops a long tradition of books published oncontext, but at the same time, opens up new horizons for future researchers byposing questions that require further investigations. Some of these horizonsinclude: the characteristics of law as a genre and how far it differs fromeveryday conversation; the advantages of using a Multilayered Model of context(MMC) in the analysis of texts; and the contextual characteristics ofconfrontational interviews. These avenues are valuable because they considerolder problems from new perspectives. Overall, the selection of contributionsresults in an informative volume that is a must read for any scholar interestedin perceiving context and discourse analysis from a fresh perspective.


Fetzer, Anita. 2004. Recontextualizing context: Grammaticality meetsappropriateness. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Halliday, M.A.K. 1978. Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation ofLanguage and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

Van Dijk, Teun. 1977. Context and cognition: Knowledge frames and speech actcomprehension. Journal of Pragmatics 1, 211-232.

Van Dijk, Teun. 2003. The discourse - knowledge interface. In G. Weiss and R.Woodak (eds). Critical Discourse Analysis: theory and interdisciplinarity.Basingstoke: Palgrave.


Inas Y. Mahfouz is an Assistant Professor of Language and Linguistics at Ain Shams University. Her primary research interests include discourse analysis, computational linguistics, and Systemic Functional Linguistics.

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