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Material analysed

The research findings have resulted from an analysis of a corpus of British, American and Czech lifestyle magazines (glossies) including mainly selected issues of Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and Marie Claire, published between 2006 and 2010 (see the “sources” section below the article). For the purpose of this paper, however, they are presented through an analysis of one sample text which could serve as an illustrative example representing the discourse examined.

The article under discussion, “Not just any doorstep...”, was published in Cosmopolitan (UK) in June 2010; all the examples are taken from that article.

Stereotypes on the level of microstructure

The headline of the article, “Not just any doorstep...”, specified with a sub-headline (Example 1), explicitly states the global content or the semantic macrostructure of the following text; the sub-headline provides an eloquent topical sentence or even a short topical paragraph containing key words which not only refer forwards to the subsequent text components but also include assumptions concerning the readers’ previous knowledge, as the readers are supposed to interpret allusions to the TV series Sex and the City (here referred to almost exclusively by the abbreviation SATC). The name of the main character, the New York setting and the role of the apartment building steps are assumed to be familiar both to the magazine writers and readers, as suggested by the use of the inclusive we.

(1) We’ve all watched Carrie Bradshaw ponder the ups and downs of relationships on the steps of her Manhattan apartment-but she’s not the only one. Every year, thousands of fans make a very special pilgrimage.

Such references to assumed shared knowledge are widespread in women’s magazines and typically serve a bonding function, building a female community unified-among other things-by a relationship to the magazine in question.

Finally, the last sentence, with its quantification of fans and the framing effect of the word pilgrimage, brings the topic a higher status: a journey to New York, to the Manhattan apartment building steps, related to the traveller’s relationships, becomes a regular, conventionalized venture, almost a ritual-a new script.

Having read the main headline and the sub-headline, the readers might shift their attention to the series of sentence structures highlighted by a different font (“handwriting”) and the pink colour used in the magazine (see Figures 11-1, 11-2), which introduces as headlines the eight textual components of which the article consists. Each of the structural components can be interpreted as an independent, complete text with its own semantic and pragmatic macrostructure and schematic superstructure, yet at the same time the components are presented as parts of the larger whole unified by the main headline, sub-headline and the leading paragraph. This characteristic classifies the article as belonging to a specific text type-a text colony (on the concept of a text colony, see Hoey 1986, 2001, Tarnyikova 2002b, Tomaskova 2008, Dontcheva-Navratilova 2009).

When we take the latter point of view and analyse the article as a unified (even though internally discontinuous) whole, the highlighted phrases form a structural stereotype, which could, on the basis of Tarnyikova’s taxonomy (see Figure 11-3, Tarnyikova 2008: 65, my own translation), be classified as intentional, extensive, linear, sequential and mediated, isolated, and scattered over the text. It intends to fulfil a communicative goal; it forms a chain of structures and is not limited to one pair; it is linear in the sense that it does not intermingle with any other stereotypical structure; it builds a sequence with sections of text interfering in between the elements of the chain; it is a standalone structure, a headline, not integrated in the continuous text; and it does not present a compact structure.

Figure 11-1: Not just any doorsteps... 1

Not just any doorsteps... 2

Figure 11-2: Not just any doorsteps... 2

Objections could be raised to the last point mentioned: although the stereotype in question is not really compact, neither is it randomly scattered. However, as Tarnyikova presents the classification as scalar, it seems appropriate to position this stereotype in the middle of the scale between compact and scattered, as a stereotype with regular distribution.

Figure 11-3: Structural stereotype taxonomy

  • • intentional ^ unintentional
  • • limited ^ extensive
  • • linear ^ multi-layer

^ individual

^ sequential

^ mediated

^ non-mediated

  • • isolated ^ integrated
  • • scattered ^ compact

Example 2 provides a closer look at the ways in which the stereotypical items combine constants and variables. To make the overview clearer and more systematic, the example ignores the chronology of the headlines and pairs the items with more dominant formal relations.

(2) My New York trip helped me value my friends.

New York gave me a whole new life.

Carrie inspired me to write for a living.

Carrie taught me not to settle for less.

SATC inspired me to study fashion.

SATC got me through my divorce.

I got engaged on Carrie’s stoop.

I’m a SATC addict.

The underlined constants include the key words of the article (New York, Carrie, SATC), which prevailingly occupy subject positions and function as agents in the semantic structure, and also certain grammatical features such as the use of the narrative simple past tense, the (object) case of the first person pronoun signalling the subjective narrative perspective (/ch-form), or infinitival objects.

The rest is variable, even though this variability is limited; although the words friends, a new life, for a living, to settle, fashion, divorce and get engaged are not connected through clear lexico-semantic ties, they are not incompatible. Their appearance meets the expectations of the readers. They may be perceived as closely related in the mental lexicon, and they definitely belong to the vocabulary of women’s magazines, reflecting the topics typically discussed in such publications. The background knowledge already activated and explicitly referred to in the preceding context (the headline, sub-headline and lead) also enables the readers to reveal the constancy of reiteration within the New York-Carrie-SATC set.

When the article as a whole is viewed as one text, this stereotype is realized on the level of its microstructure; but when the attention is “zoomed in” to the individual textual components, the stereotypical structures function as headlines expressing the semantic macrostructure, i.e. the global content of the components.

The series of these eight stereotypical items is further accompanied with another structural stereotype, rather technical in nature, giving basic personal data on the ladies interviewed. Here the skeleton of the constants consists only of stereotypical formal slots filled with variable lexical units: name + age + (is) from/lives in + place of residence + job position.

The last structural stereotype that could be traced here in the text microstructure is fully integrated into the text and genuinely scattered: the items can be found at different places but always only once in one textual component (see the list of these expressions in Example 3).

(3) Not just any doorstep... the iconic brownstone stoop, Carrie’s stoop

our trip to Carrie's stoop I visited the iconic steps hunting down Carrie's stoop visiting Carrie's stoop arriving at Carrie's stoop I couldn’t wait to visit Carrie's stoop I found Carrie's stoop

Lexico-semantically the stereotype echoes the key word dominating the main headline (doorstep) and reiterated in the lead as the iconic brownstone stoop and Carrie's stoop. Due to the prominence given to the expression both formally (built into a cohesive chain stretching across all the parts of the text) and semantically (within the semantic macrostructure), it is ascribed almost mystical or magical powers.

The microstructural stereotypes described above are not self-contained; they are symptomatic of a comparable stereotypical pattern on the macrostructural level.

 
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