How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005 12:26:42 -0700 From: Elizabeth Specker Subject: Metalanguage: Social and Ideological Perspectives
EDITORS: Jaworski, Adam; Coupland, Nikolas; Galasinski, Dariusz TITLE: Metalanguage SUBTITLE: Social and Ideological Perspectives SERIES: Language, power and Social Process 11 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2004
Elizabeth Specker, University of Arizona, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, doctoral student
Jaworski, Coupland and Galasinksi have presented a group of articles aimed at covering the vastness of the emerging metalanguage field. The included chapters range from theoretical articles about metalanguage and what it encompasses as well as evidence of metacommunication in actual environments and texts. The book is divided into four parts along basic divisions of content: approaches and theories related to metalanguage, its role in the ideological realm, social evaluation using metalanguage, and stylisation through metalanguage. While each section serves to show the vastness of metacommunication in the construction of the social human, it also ties together the different applications and perceptions using meta by first explaining the evolution of metalanguage as a term and concept, and then expanding it to show how it is so much more than merely "language to talk about language". For instance, many of the chapters overlap in their use of semiotic themes, stylization as metacommunication or folk linguistics as social evaluation.
OVERVIEW OF CHAPTERS
The chapters in Part 1 cover different yet overlapping aspects of the concept of metalanguage in sociolinguistic research.
Nikolas Coupland and Adam Jaworski give an overview of metalanguage in all of its complexities in their chapter "Sociolinguistic perspectives on metalanguage: Reflexivity, evaluation and ideology", effectively covering the broad history and perspectives of sociolinguistics regarding metalanguage and social evaluation. Touching upon many of the topics that the following chapters elaborate upon and not delving too deep into any one aspect, the chapter serves as a reference for further reading (see the extensive reference pages).
Jef Verschueren, in "Notes on the role of metapragmatic awareness in language use", starts off on solid ground with a Jakobsonian perspective of metalinguistic usage (using code / message relationships). The author then differentiates metalanguage as an object versus as a dimension, as explicit versus implicit metalanguage and then attempts to present different aspects of metapragmatic awareness. Noting himself that this chapter is labeled as 'notes', it seems just that: a text which seems to cover many aspects, with some sections more salient than others.
The third chapter of part 1, "Folk metalanguage" by Dennis Preston, aptly describes and explains the presence of metalanguage usage by everyone - specifically linguistically naive people. In an interesting presentation, Preston divides 'metalanguage' into three distinctions encompassing a surface interpretation of the similarities and dialectical differences noticed and used by people, a standard interpretation of the language used about language, and a third division about the beliefs of the differences between speech communities, or the shared folk knowledge about language. He calls for a more content-oriented discourse analysis in order to get at the cognitive models that the 'folk' use in reasoning about language.
In Part 2, the editors have collected chapters centered on 'meta' and ideology, often dealing with the multiple layers involved in metalanguage. In Theo van Leeuwen's article, "Metalanguage in social life", three texts involving political interviews are analyzed. How the authors, linguists themselves, use language to refer to their texts and in their analysis of the interviews are compared. This includes the different uses of metaphors and references to the agents/patients, showing that the analytic background of the author affects the metalanguage used to describe the text. While the descriptions and the analysis of the texts are interesting, the tables are not intuitive.
Dariusz Galasinski brings the press to the ideological forefront as he analyzes transcripts of an interview with Princess Diana. He sections his article into ways in which the press constructs Diana through word choice. As the press constructs Diana, in the headlines as well as how she is positioned and quoted, or misquoted, Galasinski illustrates how the metalanguage of the press disambiguates Diana, gives her power, and yet positions her as an outsider of the Royal Family. His text gives explanations and examples from the interview transcripts that aptly provide the evidence needed to show ideological construction through the use of metalanguage.
"Lying, politics and the metalinguistics of truth", by John Wilson, is a nice compliment to the previous chapters. Wilson takes the reader through the somewhat confusing logic of what is 'truthfulness', and does so with illustrations and anecdotes that, by the end, come together to differentiate between a 'lie' and 'deception'. His humorous style compliments the seriousness of the topic, however, as the examples include Prime Minister John Major, Sir Peter Mayhew, and even President Bill Clinton.
Part 3 deals with metalanguage and social evaluation, a topic which pushes sociolinguistics into the metalinguistic field. In the first chapter, "Social meaning and norm-ideals in the study of language variation and change", Tore Kristiansen explores participants' linguistic self-evaluation in comparison to norm-ideals of three dialects in Denmark by conducting group interviews and then selecting two participants for further individual interviews. He acknowledges that while many sociolinguists abstain from including metacommunicative data in their studies, his study is conducted in order to obtain this data which supports and supplements data collected about language variation.
Peter Garrett, Nikolas Coupland and Angie Williams look at the choices of words that teenagers use in evaluating one another in "Adolescents' lexical repertoires of peer evaluation: Boring prats and English snobs". Taking their analysis from their preliminary research of finding keywords that are intended to be used in semantic differential scales, the authors are provided with a rich source of insight about how Welsh teens comment on language variation and in turn metalinguistically make social evaluations. The authors acknowledge that there are confounding variables in the responses, such as whether the teens are commenting about the quality of their peers' narratives or about the narrator's dialect.
The third chapter of part 3, "Teachers' beliefs about students' talk and silence: Constructing academic success and failure through metapragmatic comments", is also centered on teens; however it focuses on the metalanguage and evaluation of silence in the classroom as it is translated by teachers in reference letters. Adam Jaworski and Itesh Sachdev analyze 178 teachers' references for distinctions between 'good' and 'poor' communication skills, finding discrepancies between references made by female and male referees about talk and silence in regards to the gender of the student. Talk and silence seemed to be metapragmatically viewed as different qualities depending on gender. The authors open up interesting questions about the amount of speaking in class and academic achievement and call for critical language awareness to be part of teacher training.
Part 4 deals with stylization and metalanguage: all three chapters involve pop culture and the multimodal metadiscourse that the audience, or the "shoppers", must use to decode the messages. In "Stylised deception" Nikolas Coupland uses segments of the 1950s sitcom 'Sergeant Bilko' as texts to analyze for the metalingual use of stylization, or a parodic reframing of the current situation which labels or identifies it as a display. In this text, Sergeant Bilko uses stylized deception to indicate to the audience that there is indeed deception going on (while the characters in the scene are oblivious to the deception). In an interesting presentation, Coupland breaks down 'stylization' and 'leakage' into possible sociolinguistic motivations for them, and then, along with example scenes from the sitcom and from actual studies of social groups, applies possible sociolinguistic reasons for them.
Ulrike Hanna Meinhof presents the reader with further examples of parody and stylization in her article, "Metadiscourses of culture in British TV commercials". She uses these metadiscourses to pull apart the representations of 'foreignness' at different levels in humorous TV ads, including characterization, parody, metasemiotic and cultural representations. Showing that it is in-group semiotic competence that makes the references in the commercial understandable, Meinhof's chapter pulls in Coupland's distinction between style and stylization, giving it further definition with her examples.
Kay Richardson follows up the multimodality of metalanguage and stylization, although she focuses on a British chain store and its consumers, in "Retroshopping: Sentiment, sensation and symbolism on the high street". Through the metasemiotic layerings of meanings of objects, Richardson details the language used by the store to create the mystique and individuality needed to sell its objects.
Overall, this is a very nice assembly of texts that covers a wide range of issues regarding metalanguage and its multifaceted aspects. While a footnote or two about a few of the euro-centered references might have helped those outside the realm of the BBC (i.e. "Harry Enfield and Chums" television show), I'm glad that I had a friend from England to help out with some of the "meta"-cultural references. Also, I'm disappointed by the proofing of the book as a whole; one of the main problems concerned the inclusion of figures and examples that weren't mentioned or referred to in the texts of more than one chapter. A secondary oversight of citations not included, or incorrect, on the reference pages in various chapters also rubbed the wrong way. Each chapter has its merits, and I recommend just about every one for anyone interested in language – language used in just about every way. However, the book, because it is a collection that covers such a broad array of views and applications of metalanguage, may leave the reader wondering what IS metalanguage actually. It seems like everything, and as Deborah Cameron comments at the end, metacommunication, metapragmatics and metasemiotics can also be used depending on the 'texts' that one is analyzing.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elizabeth Specker is a doctoral student in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, University of Arizona. Her major research interests include using media as a learning tool, discourse analysis, formulaic utterances and multilingualism.