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The concept of stereotype

Besides the meaning the term stereotype has acquired in the field of sociology-“a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group” (http://www.etymonline.com/), the word stereotype is often used in linguistics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis or cognitive linguistics, carrying the general meaning of “an unvarying form or pattern” (http:// www.yourdictionary.com) or a repeated structure, especially as part of definitions of scripts or mental schemata. Schank and Abelson characterize script as “a predetermined, stereotyped sequence of actions that defines a well-known situation”; it is seen as a structure made up of slots and requirements about what can fill those slots (Schank and Abelson 1977: 41). Similarly, the notion of stereotype plays a key role in Cook’s presentation of schemata: “Schemata [...] are data structures, representing stereotypical patterns, which we retrieve from memory and employ in our understanding of discourse” (1989: 73).

Less frequently, the term stereotype is associated with (syntactic) parallelism (Tarnyikova 2008). Within linguistic research, parallelism is primarily discussed as one of the cohesive devices-either on its own, as a possibly independent formal link (e.g. Cook 1989) or as an inseparable part of lexical cohesion (Halliday and Hasan 1976, de Beaugrande and Dressler 1981, Tarnyikova 2002a). Parallelism is presented as a specific instance of recurrence realized on the syntactic level and closely related to other types of recurrences, namely lexical repetition. In their classifications, both de Beaugrande and Dressler (1981) and Cook (1989) pair the recurrence of form-termed parallelism-with the recurrence of content-termed either paraphrase (de Beaugrande and Dressler 1981: 9) or semantic parallelism (Cook 1989: 16). Even though they attract attention to the fact that parallelism often represents the interface of lexico-semantic and syntactic recurrence, they do not provide any detailed analysis of this mutual interplay.

A deeper insight into the complex realization of formal and semantic recurrence is provided by Winter (1994), who views the primary function of repetition structures as the focus upon the replacement or change within this structure, stressing that the importance of this function is “still largely overlooked” (1994: 51). Systematic repetition between clauses or sentences, together with the semantic compatibility or incompatibility brought by the lexical replacement, defines one of Winter’s basic clause relations-the matching relation (1994: 50). Not only does Winter reveal the mechanism of content-form interplay in clauses and sentences related by repetition, but he also interprets this relation (and clause relations in general) as “the shared cognitive process whereby we interpret the meaning of a Clause or group of clauses” (1994: 49) and shows that “basic clause relations interact with basic text structures” (1994: 67); in other words, that the mechanism of clause relations repeats itself on the textual level. The models of this interaction were further developed by Hoey (1983, 2001).

Even though the aim and approach of the present study are not incompatible with Winter’s conception, I prefer here to use Tarnyikova’s term stereotype. Unlike the concepts of syntactic parallelism, clause relations and text structure, this term does not delimit the type of recurrence analysed, and it could-in the broad sense of its meaning-serve to denote a variety of modes of repetitiveness in language communication in general. The unifying character of the concept of stereotype may help to lead the analysis towards a more synthetic, bird’s-eye view of “a notion cutting across all the levels of language representation” (Tarnyikova 2002a: 39), viewing it also as a multi-functional communication strategy.

For Tarnyikova, the essential defining and unifying feature of structural stereotypes is “the presence of constants, forming the basis of a stereotype and providing a relatively balanced skeleton for the semantic (lexical) and also structural variability of components referred to as variables'” (2008: 65, my own translation).

This study aims to show that the principle of the repeated pattern of constants, whose stability then allows for modifications brought by the appearance of variables, has a recursive character and is applicable not only on the syntactic level and the level of formal textual cohesion, but also on the level of macrostructures and on the way in which a text may reflect or build scripts and construct cognitive, mental schemata.

 
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