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Data and methodology

Since pragmatic meaning emerges interactively while language is used to structure reality as a meaningful experience (cf. Marmaridou 2000), it seems reasonable to claim that the pragmatic functions of some language devices may be strongly associated with context-bound uses of language, such as registers (Halliday 1978), genres (Swales 1990, Bhatia 1993) and/or discourses (Lemke 1995, Wodak 1996). This is why this investigation focuses on a single sub-genre of the “genre colony” (Bhatia 2004: 7) of political speeches considered to be the most salient genre of political discourse (Chilton 2004, Reisigl 2008), as it enables politicians to engage in interactive dialogue with the audience (cf. Scollon 1998) and exploit the constitutive-of-reality potential of discourse (Wodak 1996, Missikova 2007) when trying to legitimize and impose on others their ideologically biased representation of the world, negotiate their identities and social roles, and (re-)define their interpersonal relations with other political actors and the general public.

The material used in this investigation comprises opening addresses delivered by leaders of UNESCO, one of the international governmental organizations within the United Nations system. While applying essentially qualitative methods of analysis, the study has been carried out on a small specialized corpus[1] of thirty speeches (approx. 50,000 words) delivered by three politicians from different cultural backgrounds who are the last to have completed their tenure as Director-General of UNESCO, namely Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow from Senegal, term of office: 1974-1987; Federico Mayor Zaragoza from Spain, term of office: 1987-1999; and Koi'chiro Matsuura from Japan, term of office: 1999-2009. In agreement with the common practice in political discourse analysis, the Directors- General are the acknowledged authors of the addresses, both in terms of content and rhetorical style, despite the fact that some preparatory work on the speeches was done by teams of advisers. The analysis has been carried out on the speeches in their printed form and thus does not discuss the manner of delivery and the reaction of the audience; however, taking into consideration the highly ritualistic character of opening addresses, it is assumed that the written records yield enough grounds for analysis and interpretation.

The analytical approach adopted in the present research is rooted in the discourse analysis tradition. Within this approach, discourse interpretation is seen as the subjective instantiation of the “interpretation potential” (Sarangi 2004, cf. Halliday’s (1978) “meaning potential”) of a text in context, which encompasses the contextualization of encoded ideational, interpersonal and textual meanings. Thus discourse interpretation is not considered as definite and constant but as constantly open to reinterpretation in the light of the intentions and purposes that interactants are striving to achieve in a particular social, historical and situational context (cf. Widdowson 2004 and in this volume).

Since an analysis of political discourse has to account for the interdependence of socio-cultural and linguistic practices, research into political discourse is bound to be a cross-disciplinary enterprise using eclectic research methodology. The present study draws on Duranti’s (2006) research into the role of narrative accounts for the construction of a political identity reflecting the interest of linguistic anthropology in mapping the relations between political events and particular speech genres. While using the analytical tools of genre analysis (Bhatia 1993, Swales 2004) for describing and explaining rhetorical, formal and functional choices in context-sensitive discourse, this investigation into pragmatic functions of deictic pronouns and modal expressions also applies approaches of critical discourse analysis when discussing the potential of linguistic devices to construct positive self-representation and negative other-representation (e.g. van Dijk 1997, 2006, Wodak 2007a, 2007b), to categorize social actors (van Leeuwen 1996) and to legitimize political values, identities and ideologies (Chilton 2004, Cap 2007, van Leeuwen 2007). It draws in particular on Chilton’s (2004) cognitive approach to the analysis of political discourse according to which within a coherent discourse world, political actors can be seen metaphorically as positioned with respect to a particular place, time and social group, seen as a “deictic centre” shared by the in-group and associated with the values of true and right. This approach can reveal how political speakers exploit the meaning potential of personal deixis and modality to evaluate social actors, ideological values and spatial-temporal settings by categorizing them as proximal or distal, true or false and right or wrong.

  • [1] The texts of all the speeches of the Directors-General of UNESCO are availableat the website address, where they can beaccessed by choosing first the name of a Director-General, then the “Speeches”options, and finally by indicating the year of delivery and the reference number ofthe text, which are provided here in brackets for each of the examples.
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