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Review of  Genre, Relevance and Global Coherence

Reviewer: Philippa Mungra
Book Title: Genre, Relevance and Global Coherence
Book Author: Christoph Unger
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 18.2837

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AUTHOR: Unger, Christoph
TITLE: Genre, Relevance and Global Coherence
SUBTITLE: The pragmatics of Discourse Type
SERIES: Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2006

Philippa Mungra, Department of Experimental Medicine, 1st. Medical School,
University of Rome ''La Sapienza''. Rome, Italy

This book is intended for linguistics scholars interested in exploring how the
notion of genre is related to communication. The author explores the linguistic
functions of genre and discusses how Relevance Theory, as first proposed by
Wilson & Sperber (1993) and later modified by them, may help delineate the
pragmatic communicative function of genre.

The first chapter describes the structure of the book and defines the concepts
he deals with - pragmatics and genre. The book is divided into three parts: the
introduction and first section which define global vs. local coherence and
grounding, two concepts fundamental to this book; the second with how Relevance
Theory (RT) might account for many of the assumptions and premises underlying
the interpretation of a text; and the third part deals with how RT, Genre Theory
(GT) (as proposed by Halliday 1985) and a Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL)
approach (as suggested by Eggins & Martin 1997) are placed with respect to one
another in linguistic communication.

In Chapter 2, the author introduces the notion that there may be a connection
between discourse type (which he calls genre) and the global coherence of a text
by discussing Samet & Schank's (1984) theory of global coherence and
connectivity in narratives. He emphasizes that global coherence is given by the
levels of expectation, causality, consequentiality, or time sequence, and the
absence of such coherence makes for longer cognitive processing in order to
''make sense'' of the text. Interestingly, Unger emphasizes that this may be true
only for certain types of texts, such as narratives. He suggests that texts
which defy this notion of global coherence may be explained by the optimality
aspect of RT (Wilson & Sperber 1998)

This theory is set out in Chapter 3, but credit is given to its precursors:
Giora (1985) on ''well-formedness'', Klein & Von Stutterheim's (1987) _quaestio_
approach and van Kupplevelt's (1996) question based theory of topicality,
comment and discourse structure. Unger discusses each of these theories in terms
of acceptability: that there are several conditions that a text should meet for
it to be globally coherent such as Relevance and Graded Informativeness. A text
may deviate from these conditions but such deviation should be explicitly marked
by digression markers. He espouses the notion that global coherence of a text is
grounded in information staging and salience.

In the next chapter he develops the ideas of grounding by defining how
information is foregrounded (essential to the narrative) or backgrounded. He
suggests that the types of phrase, word order or tense in verbal forms may all
be markers of grounding. For example, an iconic event (thus even a predicate or
action verb) may be considered foregrounded and other information (which could
be a thing or an entity) is to be considered relevant but backgrounded. Unger
attempts to tie this idea of relevance and salience in discourse by suggesting
that a pragmatic interpretation of verbal forms is essential to understanding

In Chapter 5, Unger discusses how expectations of relevance are raised in the
set of assumptions of optimum relevance for every act of ostensive
communication. He draws a picture of hearer-speaker interaction and how
ostensive communication creates expectations, which are then verified or
discarded as discourse develops. Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory (RT) is
then elaborated using a Hebrew Biblical text - Isaiah 5:1-7 - and the author
details assigning references, explicating and disambiguating, drawing inferences
and implicatures and bridging references to arrive at the meaning. He then
applies what he calls ''encyclopedic knowledge'' or cultural information about
Isaiah to arrive at an interpretation, which according to RT is the optimally
relevant interpretation of the meaning. Unger suggests that there is some
coalescence between a RT interpretation of a text and GT interpretation, as
proposed by Halliday and Halliday & Hasan, especially in areas such as
connectivity and coherence, transitivity and verbal forms.

This idea of correspondence between the Hallidayean GT and Wilson & Sperber's RT
is further expounded in Chapter 6, where the author describes how implicit
questioning could give rise to new propositions, which when conjoined may
generate a topic and focus, as well as inferred preferences within a series of
utterances and help refine implicit questions about focus and topic so as to
facilitate comprehension and communicativity. Manipulating two similar texts
with different communicativity - one narrative and the other expository - Unger
demonstrates this process by showing how implicit questions according to RT are
raised in these two genres, how the schemas proposed by them raise different
questions and how these different expectations are optimally satisfied.

Chapter 7 deals with an empirical or technical question: how genre
considerations affect the semantics of verbal forms. Here the author considers
the communicative line of the genre of narratives and what the imperfective form
of verbs in Biblical Hebrew encodes in terms of aspect and predicate type and
whether such linguistic markers could be pointers of grounding within narratives
such as endophoric markers (Hyland, 1998). Although he makes it clear that the
RT interpretation makes comprehension easier than using the global coherence
ideas of Genre Theory, he does not discard this latter entirely but suggest that
Genre Theory may be considered a pre-Gricean interpretation of comprehension,
whereas RT is grounded in cognitive science. Nevertheless, these are not
conflicting theories but actually coalesce, match and reinforce one another when
viewed form a cognitive point of view - a concept he expounds in the next chapter.

In Chapter 8, Unger reviews the notion of register in GT and suggests that the
three parameters of register (mode, field and tenor) result in a codified vision
of a text and is aligned with GT, considered a social-semiotic construct
according to Eggins & Martin (1997). However, the schema furnished by GT such as
moves analysis by Swales (1990) and the Systemic Functionalist (SF) view, should
be enriched by the cognitive aspect of ostensive communication according to RT.
Borrowing a cognitive framework of interpretation as suggested by Goatly's
(1994) work on metaphors, Unger suggests that register and genre information
narrow down the range of implicatures raised by an utterance (RT). He also
implies that the weakness of GT lies in the fact that the recognition of text
type is not crucial for comprehension - an idea he pursues in the next chapter.
Chapter 9 is concerned with mainly oral communication, which though limited to
this text type, furnishes an appropriate framework for analysis using RT.

In his concluding chapter, Unger summarizes his claims that genre knowledge does
not contribute greatly to the semantics of certain linguistic forms such as
tense and aspect, or even to context but instead its major contribution is to
what he calls the ''hermeneutical function'' of language: by the furnishing of
information so that the hearer can better assess the relevance of implicatures
in a text and choose the most relevant interpretation or as Unger (pg. 257) puts
it: ''it is the pursuit of relevance which is crucial to comprehension and genre
or speech-act recognition may not be essential in this process.''

This book has thrown a challenge out to linguistics: can any one theory account
for the many-faceted nature of a text? Each chapter has been treated with
significant depth to explain the author's thesis, to produce a book whose
importance extends beyond the specific issues under scrutiny. This volume,
dealing with default semantics, is of extremely high scientific value for
several reasons: not only does it survey two important pragmatic theories, but
it also attempts to explore the weaknesses and strengths of both in order to
forge a reinforced pragmatic genre interpretation of the communicativity of
texts. Such an approach is convincing and attempts to create a theoretic
framework which draws on different sources such as cognition, metaphor studies
and pragmatics; this approach makes it of particular interest to scholars from
varying fields. Besides this, there are many others positive aspects in this
book, such as the extensive bibliography and the detailed index. The only
weakness, I feel, lies in the fact that the author limited himself to mainly
utterances or brief texts in the oral mode. Admittedly, the author does indicate
that his approach is applicable to complex stimuli involving longer texts but a
wider variety of texts would have been more comprehensive and complete.
Nevertheless, this book is an excellent contribution to scholarship in terms of
the global coherence of text interpretation using GT and RT and the hypothesis
of the cognitive pragmatic function of genre by Unger opens up many and varied
research areas.

Eggins, S & J.R. Martin. 1997. _Genres and registers of discourse_. pp 230-256.
In. T.A. van Dijk(ed.)

Giora, R. 1985. A text-based analysis of non-narrative discourse. _Theoretical
Linguistics_ 12(2/3): 115-135

Giora, R. 1997. Discourse coherence and theory of relevance. _Journal of
Pragmatics_ 27: 17-34.

Goatly, A. 1994. Register and the redemption of relevance theory. _Pragmatics_
4(2): 139-182

Grice H.P. 1989. _Studies in the Way of Words_. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard
University Press.

Halliday, M.A.K. 1985. _An Introduction to Functional Grammar_. London, Edward
Arnold, 2nd. ed 1994.

Halliday M.A.K. & R. Hasan. 1976. _Cohesion in English_. London: Longman.

Hyland, K. 1998. _Hedging in scientific research articles_. Amsterdam. John

Klein, W & C. Von Stutterheim. 1987. Quaestio und referentielle Bewegung in
Erzaehlungen. _Linguistische Berichte_ 109: 163-183

Samet, J. & R. Schank. 1984. Coherence and connectivity. _Linguistics and
Philosophy_ 7(1): 57-82

Swales, J.M. 1990. _Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings_.
Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University Press.

van Kupplevelt, J. 1996. Inferring from topics. _Linguistics and Philosophy_ 19:

Wilson, D. & D. Sperber. 1993. Linguistic form and Relevance. _Lingua_ 90: 1-25

Philippa Mungra is a trained biologist and has been a lecturer in English at the
1st. Medical School of the University of Rome ''La Sapienza'' for the past 12
years. Her current research priorities revolve around the structure and
evolution of specialist medico-scientific publications from a communicative and
textual point of view. She has recently published a textbook for reading and
writing skills within the new 5-year syllabus for Italian Medical Schools.

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