Reviewed by Fergal Treanor, European University Institute
7 November 2019
Discourse Analysis, a Resource Book for Students. Rodney H. Jones (2019), 2nd Edition
All reference is representation. This is the unifying principle of Discourse Analysis (2nd Edition) by Rodney H. Jones (2019), one of the best books of its kind currently available. The timely second edition reflects many recent developments in a rapidly changing field, containing much that is new. In particular, the sections on multimodal analysis draw on recent literature, and new examples of situated language use have been added, ranging from Trumpian rhetoric and “It Gets Better” videos, to hastily scrawled job advertisements in restaurant windows. For a book of its length, it covers an astounding range of overlapping literatures, and this is reflected in the eclectic methods used in the sample analyses.
The book’s organisation is a standout feature. As with other Routledge English Language Introductions, it can be read “vertically” or “horizontally”, so readers can choose either to approach the full breadth of content in order of increasing complexity, or to focus from start to finish on one or more of the interrelated topics. Being confronted with this choice is pedagogically useful, as it simulates academic reading practices, and in doing so prepares students to navigate larger bodies of literature effectively. It also enables more advanced readers to use the book as a port of departure for research projects.
The introduction and development sections give an overview of situated language use. The writing here is a model of clarity and concision. While there is a strong focus on practical questions, and the author remains at a low level of abstraction, he does not shy away from accounts of “Big-D” Discourse, referring the reader to Gee’s excellent book (Gee, 2011), as well as to the theories of Foucault. The novice is guided through the intricate labyrinth of Discourse Analysis without ever losing the thread. This is no mean feat, and Jones makes it look easy.
The sources used are diverse and representative. Jones provides a good overview of interactional sociolinguistics, moving from CA and ethnomethodology to more recent literature on orders of indexicality by authors such as Silverstein and Blommaert. In the sections on discourse representation and ideology, Jones draws heavily on Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar and the Critical Linguistics of Kress, Hodge and Fowler, leading up to the various strands of Critical Discourse Analysis practiced by Wodak, van Dijk and others.
What is surprising is that, while pragmatic theories of deixis, presupposition and Speech Act Theory are addressed, a somewhat deterministic view is taken of the relationships between linguistic choice making and social meanings. In an example comparing two health warnings on cigarette packets (p.15):
Jones argues that the technocratic register and higher density of nominalisation in 2. creates “considerable distance” between author and reader. He goes on to identify a “transformation” from the verbal process harms in 1. to the nominal participant fetal injury in 2., although 2. is not a reformulation of 1. This aligns with the ideas put forward by Kress and Trew (1978), as well as Fowler et al. (1979), whose thinking was influenced by early generativism. Finite active verbs are seen as realising a more fundamental form of predication than other linguistic choices, the most common suspects being agentless passives and nominally presented processes. But it is not at all clear that nominal processes such as “smoking” or “injury” function as participants in anything other than a formal sense, nor that their selection by language users is the end result of a series of morphosyntactic “transformations”, as opposed to their having been retrieved from the mental lexicon in their nominal form, as one of several available representational choices. Furthermore, the idea of any determinate form-meaning relationship has been robustly refuted by pragmaticians (Levinson, 1983; Verschueren, 1999).
Jones acknowledges this complexity by taking the analysis further, with engaging accounts of forms of representation and the importance of intertextual relations. Particularly welcome is the attention paid to indexical values, e.g. how the choice of language used (in his example, in a monolingual “help wanted” sign in Chinese in the window of a Chinese restaurant) constructs a preferred audience, thereby reinforcing social roles and contributing to the “frozen theories” that make up Big-D Discourse. In a challenging section on the problem of contextualisation, he critiques the arbitrary nature of list-like models of contextual features, such as those put forward by Malinowski, Halliday and Hymes. Instead of imposing stipulative classifications, he argues, research should deploy ethnographic methods to engage with context on a case-by-case basis. In sum the development section weaves together insights from different fields, returning again and again to the central discourse-analytical principle uniting them: linguistic and communicative choices in all spoken and written genres construct and reproduce social power systems. All reference is representation – this central idea is the foundation of the book, and of the discipline introduced in it.
The Exploration section is a pedagogically astute guide to the practice of discourse analysis, in which students can challenge themselves to identify and interpret salient features of discourse in up-to-date examples, and interpret them using the knowledge acquired in the first two sections. To analyse a conversation between Donald Trump and James Comey, they are directed to return to section B, and to use Speech Act Theory to decide whether Trump’s “I hope” constitutes an order. Students can now explore the question of whether “I hope” is a directive illocution, irrespective of its perlocutionary effect. The theoretical account in Section B is clear, as is the task in section C – but importantly, students are not spoon-fed. Rather, the need to refer back works as a scaffolded introduction to the practice of research. This is invaluable. Also useful are the well-selected readings in the “extension” section, the recommendations for further reading, and the additional materials on the companion website. These resources include lectures, talks, and tasks that will be appreciated by both educators and autodidactic learners.
Fowler R, Kress G, Trew T, et al. (1979) Language and Control. Routledge.
Gee JP. (2011) Introduction to Discourse Analysis, Abingdon.
Jones RH. (2019) Discourse Analysis, a Resource Book for Students, Abingdon: Routledge.
Kress GR and Trew AA. (1978) Ideological transformation of discourse; or how the Sunday Times got its message across. The Sociological Review 26: 755-776.
Levinson SC. (1983) Pragmatics: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Verschueren J. (1999) Whose discipline? Some critical reflections on linguistic pragmatics. Journal of pragmatics 31: 869-879.