Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology arrow Discourse interpretation : approaches and applications

The concept of macrostructure

The term macrostructure is used here in accordance with Teun van Dijk’s theory of macrostructure, which views the global make-up of discourse as superordinate to its local structuring. Van Dijk (1980) distinguishes three types of global structures: semantic macrostructures, pragmatic macrostructures and superstructures; and he defines them as different from but related to Schank and Abelson’s scripts (Schank and Abelson 1977). Van Dijk himself uses the term script interchangeably with frame, and defines it as a specific knowledge structure about typical episodes, about situations that are stereotyped, standard, or normal (van Dijk 1980: 157, 166). Macrostructures are seen as hierarchically higher than scripts, which they organize; scripts are more specific and contain low-level, detailed information about routines.

Semantic macrostructures basically refer to what the recipients in communication intuitively understand as the topic or the gist of discourse and what can be expressed in the discourse itself by topical words or sentences or summaries and conclusions, i.e. semantic macrostructure represents the global content/meaning of sequences of sentences (van Dijk 1980: 27).

Accordingly, pragmatic macrostructures represent sequences of speech acts, which may be organized at a global level as macro-speech acts. To quote van Dijk (1980: 6): “... we may locally perform an assertion, followed by a request, but with a whole sequence of ... speech acts we may also globally perform the speech act of request, an assertion, or a threat.” Pragmatic macrostructure pertains to the global function of the discourse.

Finally, the macrostructures accounting for the global meaning and global function are complemented by macrostructure pertaining to the global form of discourse, labelled superstructure by van Dijk (1980: 6). Superstructure is the schematic form which organizes the global meaning of the text (van Dijk 1980: 108); it refers to the more or less conventionalized, or even institutionalized, ordering of elements or categories in discourse, such as the introduction, setting, background, development, and conclusion (van Dijk 1980: 6). As van Dijk notes, the term schematic, which he uses when discussing superstructure, should not be associated with the term schema or mental schema, used in the field of artificial intelligence (defined as the “mental representation of a typical situation”, Cook 1990: 69). Unlike scripts, mental schemata are not discussed with regard to their relation to macrostructures and are not included in van Dijk’s model of global structure analysis.

It should be emphasized that neither macrostructures nor scripts are interpreted as static structures or fixed courses of action. They apply in various situations, and the conventions are not always strict, specifying only what should or may be done, or what is often done in the frame. In this way, they are stereotypical in nature, recalling Tarnyikova’s definition mentioned above: in some sense they represent an idealized common denominator of all possible instances of a situation (Mills 1995: 192), but while leaning on this constant, they also allow for variables, involving exceptions, special cases or deviations (van Dijk 1980: 236).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics