Up to bat this week, Chapter 4 of An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method
, by James Paul Gee. This chapter is titled, "Social Languages, Conversations, and Intertextuality," and I was excited to see the word "Intertextuality," because it hearkens back to my literary roots, and I look forward to seeing how it is tied in to this subject matter.
Gee opens with the idea of the social languages, the variations of language that allow for us to assume different social identities. For example, I speak differently to my parents than I would to my friends. I like that he talks about the importance of Discourse, because I would agree that language is far more nuanced than words alone, however I do see that the concern of linguistic discourse analysts is, first and foremost, language.
"Whos-doing-whats." Oh man, I had to read this part through a few times. Although it made my head spin, and it took some time to understand, ultimately I found that the breakdown of the aspirin drug information was a compelling way to explain what was meant by whos-doing-whats. I don't feel bad saying that I don't make a habit of close reading drug information for different voices and tones but, when Gee explained it bit by bit, it made perfect sense and I could hear the different voices and understand the reason for them. I'll never look at my Advil bottle the same....
The discussion of social language continued with the example of Jane, and her conversation with her parents vs. her conversation with her boyfriend. This part made me laugh from the start, based on Jane's claim that she doesn't speak in different social languages, because this would be "hypocritical" and "not being oneself." I think it was pretty clear to see where this was going from the start. It is entirely possible to speak in different social languages and still be 100% yourself. I am 100% myself when I am speaking to my friends, or to my boss, but something tells me that starting an email to my boss with "Hey bae❤️❤️❤️,
" as I would greet my best friend, would probably get me sent down to HR. Regardless, this discussion does raise the important fact that different phrasing is crucial within different contexts. Whether it is the difference between a conversation between parents and a friend, or between a scientific journal and a magazine, different languages are required for different interactions.
Moving on from social languages, the next section that Gee delves into is the two aspects of grammar, and he posits that one aspect refers to the traditional set of grammatical units, and the other aspect refers to the rules by which patterns are created that "signal...whos-doing-whats-within-Discourses" (50). Gee explains that these patterns are called "collocational patterns," which means that the different types of grammatical devices correlate to one another, and with Discourses. The idea of co-location makes sense to me, as a bunch or words and phrases that go together to create a certain social language.
Although it was a very technical discussion, I thought that the 112 different interpretations of the sentence regarding the death rates of lung cancer was a fantastic breakdown of the different ways that language could work, and words could be interpreted. A sentence that particularly stood out to me was:
Meaning is not merely a matter of decoding grammar, it is also (and more importantly) a matter of knowing which of the many inferences that one can draw from an utterance are relevant. And 'relevance' is a matter deeply tied to context, point of view, and culture. (54)
Very well said. Our social languages have a much bigger effect on us, and our understanding of meanings, than is immediately realized.
Moving on to the Big C Conversations section, Gee defines "Conversations: as the public debates, arguments, motifs, issues, or themes that are big in society-- looking at them all as parts of one whole capital-C Conversation. For examples, all of the parts of the mission statement of Johnson and Johnson that make up the capital-C Conversation that is the company's mission statement. The capital-C Conversations are the big ones, which include themes that reach far beyond what is immediately evident. For example, both Johnson and Johnson and Philip Morris (cigarette company) both have the idea of individual opportunity included in their mission statements, but these take on two very different manifestations in the items the respective companies produce. It is at points like this that Discourse becomes important, because in certain situations, words and ideas are not enough, and the meaning behind them is what makes the difference. Both companies may say that they value individual freedom, but one is manufacturing cigarettes. At least, that's how I read this particular section.
The final section of this chapter is called Intertextuality and, as I mentioned before, I was interested to see how Gee ties this into the subject matter. He uses this term to identify the act of incorporating words from one social language into another-- e.g. "Shakespeare said love was such sweet sorrow." Gee cites the Oakland School Board case, and shows a few paragraphs, which exemplify the marrying together of the legal and the research language that, together, make the document work as a whole. However, although I understood the case that Gee was making, I think it could have been better explained. Whereas the rest of the sections were explained in much more detail, I think he skimmed over Intertextuality, which was pretty disappointing.