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Review of  Metalanguage

Reviewer: Elizabeth Specker
Book Title: Metalanguage
Book Author: Adam Jaworski Nikolas Coupland Dariusz Galasiński
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 16.1939

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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.


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

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.


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.

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Pages: viii, 324
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