Language and Power
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Language and Power

A Resource Book for Students

Paul Simpson, Andrea Mayr, Simon Statham

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eBook - ePub

Language and Power

A Resource Book for Students

Paul Simpson, Andrea Mayr, Simon Statham

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Routledge English Language Introductions cover core areas of language study and are one-stop resources for students.

Assuming no prior knowledge, books in the series offer an accessible overview of the subject, with activities, study questions, sample analyses, commentaries and key readings – all in the same volume. The innovative and flexible 'two-dimensional' structure is built around four sections – introduction, development, exploration and extension – which offer self-contained stages for study. Each topic can also be read across these sections, enabling the reader to build gradually on the knowledge gained.

Language and Power, Second Edition has been completely revised and updated and includes:

  • a comprehensive survey of the ways in which language intersects and connects with the social, cultural and political aspects of power;
  • an introduction to the history of the field, covering all the major approaches, theoretical concepts and methods of analysis in this important and developing area of academic study;
  • coverage of all the 'traditional' topics, such as race, gender and institutional power, but also newer topics such as the discourse of post-truth, and the power of social media;
  • readings from works by seminal figures in the field, such as Robin Lakoff, Deborah Cameron and Teun van Dijk;
  • real texts and examples throughout, including advertisements from cosmetics companies; newspaper articles and headlines; websites and internet media; and spoken dialogues such as political and presidential speeches;
  • a supporting companion website that aims to challenge students at a more advanced level and which features extra reading, exercises, follow-up activities, and suggestions for further work.

Language and Power will be essential reading for students studying English language or linguistics.

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Section D

Readings in Language and Power

How to use these readings

Throughout this book, and in the Further Reading section in particular, emphasis has been placed on the importance of following up the introductory units by going directly to the original scholarly sources that inform them. As an intermediate step, we have assembled in this section 12 readings from the research literature, material that in our opinion best reflects the work of some of the key practitioners in the fields of Critical Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis. Each reading has been edited and annotated, and its significance to or connection with the Strand of the book to which it relates is made explicit in our introductory comments.
As with all of the books in this Routledge series, close and detailed reading of the work collected in Section D will pay dividends. The readings give an overview of the history of the discipline as well as demonstrating the methods and procedures of CL and CDA. They also collectively offer a model of good academic practice in terms of the writing skills they impart. Inevitably, some readings are more challenging than others, but they all address different (yet seminal) issues in CL and CDA and so merit inclusion here.

D1 Critical Linguistics

The following reading, by Roger Fowler and Gunther Kress, is from the pioneering volume of essays Language and Control (Fowler et al. 1979) which, more than any other single publication, marked the inception of ‘Critical Linguistics’ as a field of academic enquiry. As we noted earlier in the Strand, Fowler and his co-authors were interested in the way language was used in real social contexts. While this emphasis on language use is now taken as a given in contemporary research, in its day the approach of Fowler and his colleagues made for an exciting new paradigm shift in the way we approach and understand language. Their book challenged the prevailing orthodoxies in linguistics, which, overshadowed by the work of Chomsky, assigned primacy of importance to the abstract rules of grammar and syntax. The vagaries and idiosyncrasies of real language in real social contexts were all but anathema to the Chomskyan tradition. While Language and Control is perhaps dated in many respects, its publication in the late 1970s marked a key and lasting turn in modern linguistics.
Although many of the chapters from Language and Control could stand as a useful first reading to this section, this particular piece, which focuses on swimming pool regulations, is a very good measure of the sort of micro-analysis that was conducted in early CL. It shows, among other things, how we can interrogate even the most seemingly innocuous discourses that unfold around us.

Rules and regulations

Roger Fowler and Gunther Kress (reprinted from R. Fowler, R. Hodge, G. Kress and T. Trew, Language and Control, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979, pp. 26–45)
[…] In this chapter we discuss an uncontroversial example of control: rules and regulations, and the language in which they are expressed. Rules are instructions for behaving in ways which will bring about an intended or desired state. Hence they presuppose a knower of the appropriate behaviour, who needs to transmit that knowledge to someone who does not have the knowledge. Knowledge is one source of power, and consequently, if both participants agree on their role-relationship, the application of power is unidirectional; there is no hint of negotiation for control. The source of the rules is in a hierarchical relationship to the addressees, in which it is assumed that he has the right to manipulate their behaviour. Superiority of knowledge and status gives the rule-maker the authority to issue commands, and we will shortly examine the syntax of commanding as it is manifested in our text. We will rapidly discover that a certain deviousness complicates expression of the power relationship, however. Though commanding presupposes inequality of power, it does not necessarily imply conflict of interests. The rules announced in the text below were drawn up by a member of a group for the communal benefit of that group. The group in question is a swimming club for children and their parents, run by the parents. The children all go to the same local school, and so both parents and children know each other independently of their membership of the swimming club. They are a community of friends; and the informal relationship of friendship seems to be in conflict with the more formal requirements of club organization. We argue that, in this text, the need for solidarity undermines clear expression of authority. To avoid alienating his members, the author of the swimming club rules resorts to a miscellany of syntactic stratagems to sweeten the pill.

Swimming club rules

  1. Parents must accompany and take responsibility for their children at all times, unless the child is in the water in an instructed class. Note – In most cases this will mean one adult enrolling with one child, or, if they so wish, one adult with more than one child provided it is understood they are responsible for them.
  2. Being absent for more than three consecutive sessions without explanation to the membership secretary means automatic expulsion.
  3. No outside shoes will be worn when in the pool area.
  4. Please respect the facilities and equipment, and take particular care with untrained children.
  5. The age limits of the club are six months to eight years. For the six to eight years old instruction will he provided. Children may remain members for the completed term in which their eighth birthday falls.
  6. There must be no more than twenty-four bodies in the pool at any one time.
  7. Membership cards must always be carried and shown on request.
Here the author needs and seeks to direct the specific behaviour of his members. The speech act appropriate to this situation comes under the general category of command, and there are a large number of these in this text, with a variety of syntactic forms of expression. The most overt examples of command are 1 ‘Parents must accompany …’ 4 ‘Please respect the facilities … and take particular care …’ 6 ‘There must be no more than twenty-four bodies in the pool …’ 7 ‘Membership cards must always be carried and shown’. Syntactically, 1, 6 and 7 are declarative sentences, while the two clauses in 4 are imperatives. Declaratives and imperatives express the relation between speaker and addressee in differing ways: the speech roles assigned in one case are ‘giver of information’ and ‘recipient of information’; in the other ‘commander’ and ‘commanded’. It is clear that the two forms are appropriate for two quite distinct kinds of power-relation: the imperative for one involving a considerable power differential, one where control may be exercised through the direct assertion of the roles of commander-commanded. The declarative, on the other hand, seemingly makes no specific claims about power-relations; the giving of information seems a neutral act. (This is in fact not the case: the giver of information also has the role of speaker, and there are conventions about who may and who may not be a speaker in any given situation – e.g. children should be seen and not heard; and everyone realizes when someone has ‘spoken out of turn’. Also, a giver of information is a knower of information, and knowledge is a basis of power.) The ‘command’ in declaratives is not carried through speech-role directly, but modally, through the use of the modal verb must. In the imperative the source of the command is quite plain: I, the speaker/writer, command you, the addressee; but in the declarative with the modal ‘must’, the source of the authority is vague: it might be the speaker, equally it might not. The answer to the outraged question ‘who says so?’ is ‘I’ in the imperative, but in the declarative might be ‘the committee’, ‘the people who own the pool’, ‘the caretaker’, or ‘I’, or any number of other entities, ‘common sense’ included.
At this stage the unanswered questions are: where is the source of the vagueness, the need for obfuscation; second, why is there a switch, in just one case (4), from the modalized declarative form to the direct imperative form? We leave aside the first question for the moment, except to point out that it resides in the social relations between writer of rules and ‘recipients’ of the rules. The second question is illuminated by the conjunction of ‘untrained children’ and the age limit of six months at the lower end. ‘Untrained’ (explained as ‘not toilet trained’ in a later revision of these rules) hints that the dangers legislated against in rule 4 are critical and delicate. Non-toilet-trained babies could foul the pool; non-swimming-trained babies might drown. The seriousness of both eventualities increases the authority, hence the distance, of the writer, so that he can call upon the weight of the direct imperative.
Note, however, that the authority structure indicated by rule 4 is still not straightforward. ‘Please’ shows that this writer even at his most commanding is still negotiating for power – perhaps here also despairing, since what he requests, the close physical control of infants, is not really within the capability of parents.
As a general principle, we propose that the greater the power differential between the parties to a speech act of command, the more ‘direct’ the syntactic form (e.g. imperative) which may be chosen. Someone who enjoys absolute power can afford to be abrupt. The smaller the power distance the greater the amount of linguistic effort, of circumlocution (declaratives, particularly passives, e.g. rules 3 and 7). The swimming club rule-writer is in an ambivalent position of artificial authority, and needs to avoid curtness. He plays down even the very little power he does possess. The effect here is hesitancy. […]
[A] passive declarative such as 3 ‘No outside shoes will be worn when in the pool area’, or 7 ‘Membership cards must always be carried and shown on request’ […] involves deletion of agent. […] There are two […] important consequences of the passive. First, the naturally prominent first phrase in the sentence, which in actives is occupied by the agent of a process, is in passives occupied by the object. The object thus becomes focal: from an interest in ‘parents carrying membership cards’, attention is refocused on ‘membership cards which must be carried’. Not only is the object given thematic prominence, but the agent is deleted as well. The persons become entirely uninteresting compared with the cards they must carry.
Second, the passive construction has a powerful neutralizing effect on the action or process being communicated. The auxiliary ‘be’ is introduced, so that ‘carried’ begins to look like an adjectival attribute of ‘membership cards’. In the form ‘will be carried’ an attentive reader will see the passive form, and speculate about the deleted agent. The next stage from here would be ‘membership cards are carried’, in which the transformation from a process to a state is total. The point is that processes, being under the control of agents, imply the possibility of modification, decision; whereas states are perceived as unalterable and thus to be put up with. All ‘be’ forms classifying process as state are open to suspicion and should be inspected: cf. ‘is understood’, ‘are responsible’ in 1.
The deletion of agents in the truncated passive occurs not only in the main syntactic structure of rules such as 3 and 7, but also in phrases within sentences: ‘instructed class’ (1), ‘untrained children’ (4), ‘instruction will be provided’ (5) and ‘completed term’ (5). […] The point at issue is that the uncertainty about agency spreads a general vagueness through the rules, and a vagueness precisely in the area of who does what. The readers of the rules are left in a situation of helpless ignorance: apparently the knowers know, but seem to keep the ignorant from knowing. A dissatisfied member can be left very frustrated by not knowing where to turn for specific action. Here the process merely confers the power derived from relatively trivial knowledge on those who have it, and creates a class of those who do not have such power/knowledge. In more important contexts it works as a powerful means of control. Anyone who has ever come up against ‘faceless bureaucracy’ will know what this is about. […]
Agent deletion is pervasive throughout this text, and the syntactic reduction which accompanies it results in a number of new noun-like compounds: 1 ‘instructed class’, 4 ‘untrained children’, 5 ‘completed term’ have already been commented on in the context of agent-deletion. These reduced passives […] become potentially equivalent to ordinary dictionary words, in that their meanings can be regarded as unitary, unanalysed. ‘Untrained children’, having been coded in a compact linguistic form, serves to crystallize a new concept, and to make it memorisable. This process of coding experience in new ways by inventing lexical items is known as relexicalization. It is extensively used in the creation of specialized jargons, and significantly such jargons often involve systems of related terms, i.e. systematic classifications of concepts. Members of the club are required to accept a new classificatory principle for their children, one that is relevant and necessary in the system of concepts habitually employed by the club to categorize its members and their behaviour. Once this relexicalization begins, it may extend into a system that includes, say, ‘trained’, ‘over-trained’, ‘under-trained’, ‘uninstructed’, ‘part-instructed’, etc. The member cannot be sure how far the club’s specialized classification system extends.
There are relexicalizations which are based on syntactic structures other than nominalization through truncated passives. In 3 we have ‘outside shoes’, and no doubt its complement ‘inside shoes’; there is the ‘pool area’, a word which exists in the language of the world outside this club; however, with a large range of new terms being created, the nervous member of the club will be wary of relying on any continuity between his normal language and the language of the club. The most complex new nominal created here is in 2: ‘Being absent for more than three consecutive sessions without explanation to the membership secretary’ – here is a concept to master! Notice that the rule-writer evidently regards this as a difficult lexical item which has to be defined for the innocent addressee: i.e. his use of the definitional verb ‘means’. Now ‘means’ is often used to equate two mutually substitutable linguisti...

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