Воскресенье, Май 27Институт «Высшая школа журналистики и массовых коммуникаций» СПбГУ

STRUCTURAL, SEMANTIC AND PRAGMATIC PECULIARITIES OF ESSAYS IN MODERN ENGLISH AND BELARUSIAN MEDIA DISCOURSE

СТРУКТУРНЫЕ, СЕМАНТИЧЕСКИЕ И ПРАГМАТИЧЕСКИЕ ОСОБЕННОСТИ ЭССЕ В СОВРЕМЕННОМ АНГЛИЙСКОМ И БЕЛОРУССКОМ МЕДИАДИСКУРСЕ 

В статье рассматриваются три основных аспекта текста как языкового знака, а именно его структура, семантика и прагматика, а также языковые особенности реализации данных аспектов в англо- и белорусскоязычной медиакультурах. Эссе выбрано в качестве объекта исследования ввиду его устоявшегося статуса в системе английских медиажанров и статуса развивающегося жанра в белорусских печатных изданиях.

Результаты логического, контекстуального и количественного анализа позволяют говорить о преимущественных сходствах эссе на английском и белорусском языках с точки зрения их семантической структуры и прагматических функций, а также ряде различий, наблюдаемых при актуализации данных аспектов в дискурсе (превалирование лексических средств выражения авторской позиции в англоязычных эссе и синтаксических — в эссе на белорусском языке).

The article is dedicated to the three constituent aspects of the text as a verbal sign (namely, structural, semantic, and pragmatic) and the contrastive characteristics of their realization in English and Belarusian media cultures. The essay is chosen the object of the study due to its well-established role in the system of English media genres and its increasing popularity in Belarusian printed media.

The results of the logical, contextual, and quantitative analyses elucidate the predominant similarity of English and Belarusian essays from the point of view of their semantic structure and pragmatic functions, and point out the differences in the way they are verbalized in discourse (the prevailing role of lexical means for the expression of author’s point of view in English essays and syntactical means for essays in Belarusian).

Павел Петрович Глазко, магистр филологических наук, преподаватель кафедры теории и практики английского языка Минского государственного лингвистического университета 

E-mail: pavel.glazko@hotmail.com

Pavel Petrovich Glazko, Master of Philology, Lecturer of the Chair of Theory and Practice of the English Language, Minsk State Linguistic University 

E-mail: pavel.glazko@hotmail.com

УДК 81›42 
ББК 81.2 
ГРНТИ 16.21.33 
КОД ВАК 10.02.20

Problem statement. Currently comparative linguistic studies are shifting the focus of their attention towards various communicative phenomena. The text, being a communicative unit of the highest level, gives researchers an opportunity to study the functioning of other language units, and, therefore, enables them to elucidate the peculiar features of different genres from numerous perspectives.

The given paper considers genre-specific features of essays in modern English media discourse as compared to those in Belarusian printed media. Alongside other genres of printed media, essays are deemed an essential part of contemporary media discourse, the role and importance of which are nowadays taking off. It is corroborated by the significance for virtually every society of such notions as media literacy and media education [Uspenskaya 2007; Fedorov 2006].The language of mass media has become high profile due to a number of reasons: the integration of information and communication technologies (also known as technological convergence), the increase of information sharing, a more important role of dialogization as a basic feature of modern printed media, a substantial change in mass media genre system alongside a greater level of subjectivity [Elliot 2000: 28–39; Chicherina 2007: 159]. Because of their growing social importance printed media are said to be the classical literature of 21st century [Annenkova 2008: 101].

In the context of anthropocentrism and democratization a special meaning and value in the realm of mass media are attributed not to the search of objective truth, but to the evaluation of certain socially relevant events and phenomena from various standpoints [Elliot 2000: 33]. It is no surprise that in these circumstances media linguists pay more and more attention to publicistic writing, the inherent feature of which is the presentation to the reader of socially relevant events and phenomena through the prism of author’s perception, hence the enhancement of impact on the reader [Moskaleva 2006: 240].Currently every society is heavily influenced by the information flow created by mass media which are deemed to be the most powerful factor of mindset formation. In this context our culture is losing its status of being literature driven and is demonstrating all attributes of mass media driven culture [Annenkova 2011: 6]. At the same time under the influence of personification and hybridization as the two leading tendencies media texts have undergone such drastic changes that it is a real challenge for a researcher to identify the type or genre of this or that text. The structure of media texts is getting looser, and the role of the author is turning into interpretative rather than informative. All these elucidate why journalists call 21st century the Epoch of Essay [Uspenskaya 2007: 242].

Background. As a genre essay originates from Michel de Montaigne’s Les Essais (1580) and is later developed in Essays of Francis Bacon (1596) and the works of T. Smollett, H. Fielding, R. W. Emerson, R. Rolland, R. Vailland etc. Today essay is understood as a text on a certain hot social issue having no clear cut structure and reflecting highly subjective view of this issue by the author. The problem is that almost every publicistic text in contemporary English and Belarusian printed media posses these properties. At the same time even the texts which are published under the heading of essay in newspapers and magazines can in fact belong to all other publicistic genres but not essay. The abovementioned tendencies and conditions of modern mass media development have made the problem of media text differentiation one of the most topical issues of media linguistics [Kazak 2010; Chernyavskaya 2013]. The change in principles and approaches to genre stratification of media discourse on the whole can be considered the consequence of the publicistic texts boundaries blur and their diffusion. It can be easily observed while looking at the examples of traditional and contemporary classifications of publicistic texts.

In the traditional classification, which was put forward by I. Galperin, publicistic texts fall into the following three genres: an essay, an oratory and a journalistic article [Galperin 1977]. L. Maydanova distinguishes three big groups of texts — informative, analytical and feature [Maydanova 1987]. Each of them comprises four genres. Thus, all in all, L. Maydanova singles out twelve different publicistic genres. The contemporary classification introduced by L. Kroychik looks more elaborate and contains five groups of texts: informative, informative fact-finding, informative-investigative, investigative, investigative-figurative [Kroychik 2000]. Comprising from one to five genres in each category of texts, this classification differentiates between thirteen different genres. Finally, it is worth mentioning the classification worked out by L. Duskayeva in which the researcher discerns informative, evaluative and imperative categories of publicistic texts, each of which falls into a number of sub-categories represented by the particular set of genres [Duskayeva 2012].

Having analyzed the given classifications, we can conclude that they are based on the parameters of composition, stylistic devices and pragmatics, none of which can be a reliable criterion since they don’t reflect the idiosyncrasy of various text types: the introduction, the main body and the conclusion can be found in the structure of any text, the choice of stylistic devices can be the question of author’s aesthetic taste whereas pragmatic characteristics may differ depending on interpretations and perception of every researcher. These parameters also show little efficiency when applied to publicistic texts in general and the essay in particular due to their loose structure, highly subjective colouring, and shared communicative goals.

Aims, objectives and methods of research. In our research we endeavour to differentiate media genres on the basis of their superstructure which is defined by T. van Dijk as a set of semantic components constituting this or that genre [Dijk 1991: 108–120]. The semantic components do not directly correlate with composition components and are indentified in texts with the help of linguistic means which are also called discoursive markers.

Analysis and its results. The results of content-related analysis of essays on social, political and economic issues taken from American as well as Belarusian quality press prove that publicistic essays have constant as well as facultative structure components. Thus the texts of publicistic essays in English and Belarusian are structured according to the same genre model. This model contains the narrative and the argumentative components. The narrative component is represented by such subcomponents as background, event, and problem, the last of which is not terminal and falls into three more semantic categories: namely, problem statement, author’s commentary, and conclusion.

Out of these structural components event, problem statement, author’s commentary and illustration are constant whereas the others are facultative. Event is the semantic component which coincides with the fragment of the text which provides the reader with the information about a certain social event or an event from the author’s life experience that gave them a nudge to write a text. This component of narrative substructure is marked by nouns having the seme ‘event’, e.g. event, reform, scandal, happening, occurrence, accident. Alongside such nouns the component in question can also be marked by adjectives, adverbs and other lexical means (current, new, recently, lately, during last week etc.) which characterize the event as recent and testify to the idea of topicality being the inherent feature of publicistic essays. For example, in the essay “Leave the Driving to the Car, and Reap Benefits in Safety and Mobility” by Sebastian Thrun the event is verbalized with the help of the noun traffic accident: Roughly a year ago, my lab manager succumbed to a traffic accident. A distracted driver hit her Prius at more than 50 miles an hour from the side while she was driving cautiously through an intersection. Similarly, in the essay «Рэмейк: за і супраць» [“Remake — for and against”] by G. Avlasenko the semantic component event is verbalized by means of the noun article: Прачытаў у «ЛіМе» ад 18 сакавіка артыкул Ягора Конева «Рэмейк — падмурак дабрачыннасці», і чамусьці адразу ж пацягнула ўключыцца ў дыскусію [On the 18 March I read an article by Yahor Koneu in “Literature and Art”, and Immediately I felt the urge to join the discussion]

Problem statement performs the function of introduction of a certain issue to the reader and is basically a concise description of a particular situation which prepares the reader for the perusal and facilitates the text comprehension. To help the reader attune to the narrative line the author resorts to the use of an interrogative sentence or a series of interrogative sentences as it is done in the above mentioned essay by S. Thrun: But in real life, they [cars] still don’t exist. So what if they were real? What if you could buy one today?

The same can be observed in the essay by A. Zarechnaya «Мае „ўнiверсiтэты“, або нaтaткi на „палях“ вучнёускага сшытка» [“My universities, or the notes on the margins of a pupil’s copy-book”] dedicated to the functions and problems of modern education: Калі і з чаго пачынаецца адукацыя? Можа, узяць за «кропку адліку» той момант, калі чалавек пачынае вучыцца чытаць? Але хіба тады, у свае 5–6 гадоў, складваючы з літар і складоў словы, ён разумее, што «працэс пайшоў»? [When and what is the beginning of education? Maybe, we can consider the cutoff point the moment when a person starts learning to read? But being 56 years old and making up words from letters and syllables, do they really understand that the process has been triggered?]

In the author’s commentary the writer formulates their standpoint of the problem developed in the essay. Author’s commentary is characterized by being highly subjective which contributes to the effect of a direct contact between the addresser and the addressee. The discoursive markers of this component are linguistic means of various semantic groups. The main group of such markers are formed by finite forms of verbs of volition, uncertainty, certainty, doubt, intention, judgment (want, will, doubt, scruple, intend, condemn etc) as well as other lexical means of conveying the same meaning (be sure, have doubts, be uncertain, maybe, presumably, undoubtedly etc.) combined with the first person singular form pronoun (I). Let us illustrate it with examples: I have been spending the better part of my professional life trying to create self-driving cars. I estimate that the average car is immobile 96 percent of its lifetime; Разумею, што ўсе пройдзеныя прадметы пашыраюць кругагляд і прымушаюць звіліны працаваць, але калі б атрыманыя веды можна было прымяніць хаця б у змадэляванай сітуацыі будучай працы. [I realize that all the subjects studied at school broaden our horizons and make our brain work, but I wish it were possible to apply this knowledge at least in a simulated situation of a would-be job.]

Illustration is a very important constituent of the argumentative substructure which clarifies or specifies the ideas put forward in the form of a thesis or an argument. Being descriptive by its character illustration makes some ideas easier to comprehend and therefore contributes to a more effective realization of the function of impact on the reader. The discoursive markers of this component are descriptive adjectives, comparative constructions with formal markers like / likewise / as if, expressions for example / for instance / e. g., introductory constructions I mean / it means, enumerations, chain repetitions, parallel syntactic constructions: Our self-driving cars will transform mobility. By this I mean they will affect all aspects of moving people and things around and result in a fundamentally improved infrastructure; Але ніхто не ўспамінае, чаму пры праклятым царызме мужыку плацілі больш. Мелася на ўвазе, что мужчына утрымлічае сям’ю. Напрыклад, у настаўніка была павышаная зарплата, таму что мелася на ўвазе, что грошай яму павінна было хапіць на ўтрыманне жонкі, дзяцей і адной служанкі. [But nobody remembers why in the times of damned tzarism the man was paid more. The man was meant to maintain the family. For example, a teacher had a higher salary, because he was meant to have enough money to support his wife, his children and a maid.]

To corroborate our hypothesis concerning the semantic structure of text as a differential criterion, let’s consider the semantic structure of the feature article worked out by T. Karpilovich and compare it with that of the essay. The choice of the feature article for our comparative study is determined by the fact that these genres show virtually no distinctions from the point of view of structure, stylistics and pragmatics: they both belong to the same group of publicistic texts; in both we can find the introduction, the main body and the conclusion; both of them aim to have a strong impact on the reader by affecting the emotional and logical sphere of the reader. However the genres in question demonstrate conspicuous differences when it comes to their semantic structure, or superstructure. 

T. Karpilovich points out that the superstructure of the feature article encompasses the following components: problem description, the reasons for problem occurrence, the influence the problem has on the society, the ways of problem solving [Karpilovich 2012: 10]. Apparently, this set of semantic components differs significantly from that of the essay. Author’s commentary makes essays more subjective and emotionally coloured in comparison with feature articles. Unlike essays feature articles in both English and Belarusian media are structured conventionally, i.e. are characterized by a consistent sequence of semantic elements without repetitions and flashbacks, and have clearly formulated conclusions and ways of solving problems

Alongside these structural similarities, the results of the analysis testify to a number of differences concerning the ways in which the subjective and emotive nature of essays is revealed, or various ways author’s commentary is verbalized in English and Belarusian. It should be pointed out that in English as well as Belarusian essays author’s subjectivity and emotiveness are rendered with the help of evaluative words and stylistic devices at lexical and syntactical levels, but the frequency of these means varies across the languages. To illustrate this surmise, we have calculated the frequency index (Fx) of all the linguistic means which contribute to subjectivity and emotiveness of the texts under analysis using the formula Fх = O / T, where O stands for the total number of this or that means used in all analysed texts and T — for the number of texts (in the given case — 100 texts in each language). The results of the analysis have proved that evaluative words appeared to be the most frequent means for both languages with frequency index of 21.4 for English essays and 7.69 for essays in Belarusian. It can be explained by the fact that evaluative words give the author an opportunity to assess the phenomena of modern life as positive or negative openly and clearly.

For example, in the essay “The Google Generation” Bryan Appleyard dwells on the issue of distractive factors and information overload and evaluates the situation which made him think about this problem as follows: It was a quiet day but, then again, I’m not including the telephone calls. I’m also not including the deafening and pointless announcements on a train journey to Wakefield — use a screen, jerks — the piercingly loud telephone conversations of unsocialised adults and the screaming of untamed brats. Not only does the author provide the readers with his vision of the situation on the train, but he also creates contrast using the evaluative word quiet and opposing it to the words deafening, pointless, piercingly, unsocialised, untamed, which acquires a paradoxical meaning, namely, defining the described situation as quiet.

Similarly, in the essay «Адно з двух» [“One or the other”] Svetlana Denisova expresses her attitude towards the techniques of psychological control of one’s partner: А ўвогуле, мужчына на пульце кіраваннягэта не крута. Попыт на такіх калі існуе, то нагадвае попыт на пральную дошку: убачыцьцікава, пакарыстаццапрыкольна, але навошта яна рамантычным вечарам пад стракатанне конікаў? [In general, a man on a remote control isn’t neato. Even if there is demand for such a type, it is similar to that for a washboard: it is interesting to see it, it is cool to use it, but why would one need it on a romantic evening to the chirp of grasshoppers?] In this example the authors, on the one hand, evaluates the ideas as negative with the help of the adverb крута which is rendered in the translation above as neato, and on the other hand, the nonstandard adverb прыкольна which is rendered as cool help characterize the whole idea of partner control as mediocre. 

According to frequency of use the next most popular lexical means in publicistic writing is metaphor which proves to be more productive in English (Fx = 2.7) printed media in comparison with Belarusian ones (Fx = 0.63). Such extensive use of metaphors can be explained by their capacity to identify one thing as being the same as an unrelated thing thus highlighting the similarity between them: I took small details from my life to evoke a place and the people who inhabit it, but those details served to illuminate my imagination; Не хочацца верыць, што зусім счарсцвелі нашы душы [I wouldn’t like to believe that our souls has become stale].

Apart from evaluative words and metaphors equally frequent for English (with Fx of 0.23 and 0.19 correspondingly) and Belarusian (with Fx of 0.21 and 0.13 correspondingly) press are the stylistic devices used to intensify a certain feature, namely, hyperbole and simile: Encouraging them not to write what they know sounds as wrongheaded as a football coach telling a quarterback with a bazooka of a right arm to ride the bench. Конь, запрэжаны ў воз, які нёсся шалёным намётам па нашай ціхай спакойнай вуліцы, не разбіраючы дарогі, выскачыў, нібы с пекла [The horse roped in a cart appeared unexpectedly as if straight from hell and was dashing madly along our street like a blizzard].

Alongside these similarities, publicistic texts as representatives of media discourse in English and Belarusian demonstrate a number of differences in the use of certain stylistic devices. In particular, the use of epithets in English media texts turns out to be more productive than in those in Belarusian. At the same time 30% of epithets in media texts in English are the so-called phrase epithets formed in the result of functional compression of a word combination or a whole utterance. Unlike common epithets phrase epithets highlight not only an individual perception of a single feature or property, thus involving the interplay of emotive and logical meanings, but also add up to the degree of expressiveness by resorting to the use of situations in their figurative meanings in an attributive function: Save for the predictable isolationism of the direct we-are-in-it-let’s-win-it response of John McCain, they are flummoxed; The main problem was that back-to-work-before-talks-begin declaration. Due to the structural peculiarities of the Belarusian language the formation of phrase epithets in it is technically possible but is not deemed natural and therefore they do not render the same pragmatic effect.

Unlike publicistic texts in English (Fx=0) printed media Belarusian (Fx=0.37) publicistic writing is characterized by an extensive use of periphrases and phraseological units. It can be explained by the fact that in the Belarusian language the above mentioned tropes are considered the features of oral speech, thus when used in publicistic texts they bridge the gap between the author and the addressee and contribute to the dialogization of the text. E. g., in the following example the periphrasis у месцах не вельмі аддаленых [a place of exile] performs a euphemistic function: Раней па татуіроўках можна было беспамылкова вылічыць чалавека, які пабываў у «месцах не вельмі аддаленых» [In the old days looking at someone’s tattoos you could definitely say a person had been to a place of exile]. The phraseological unit ступіў на небяспечную «сцежку» [set the stone rolling] helps the author render the idea of doing something risky in a figurative way and with a personal touch: Цалкам разумею, што ступіў на небяспечную «сцежку» размоў пра моду: што сто,што дзвесце гадоў таму старэйшае пакаленне гаварыла пра разбэшчанасць маладзейшага. [I am fully aware of the fact that I have just set the stone rolling: 100 and 200 years ago the older generation spoke about the insolence of the younger one.

Thus we can see that the lexical expressive means found in English and Belarusian publicistic writing not only contribute to the general expressiveness of the texts under consideration, but also conduces their dialogization and subjectivity.

The use of syntactical stylistic devices in English and Belarusian media is also characterized by certain similarities as well as significant differences. On the whole, all the syntactical stylistic devices found in the texts under analysis can be divided into two groups. The first group is represented by the devices which to contribute to the dialogization effect (interrogative, imperative and exclamatory sentences), whereas the devices of the other group (parallelism, antithesis, enumerations) aim to attract the reader’s attention.

First and foremost, the results of the analysis prove that the most frequent device for essays in both the languages turns out to be the interrogative sentence (with Fx of 0.62 and 0.67 for English and Belarusian media correspondingly). Interrogative sentences directed straight to the reader conjure up the situation of real communication and stimulate the reader to contemplate on the issue in question. For instance, the essay on copyright abuse “Advantage Google” by
L. Hyde is built on the alternation of questions and answers: Suppose that half the owners can’t be found. What should the publisher do? Its lawyers will advise abandoning the anthology: statutory damages for copyright infringement now stand between $750 and $150,000 per instance. The same technique is used by A. Levkovich in the essay «Гаркаваты смак суніц» [“The bitter taste of strawberries”] on the problem of bilingualism: Так, пад час перапісу мы задэкларавалі сваё стаўленне да беларускай мовы, назваўшы яе роднай. А што далей? А далей мы, у большасці сваёй, як правіла, пераключаемся ў лепшым выпадку — на другую дзяржаўную, у горшым — на «трасянку». <…> Чаму мы так робім? [Thus during the census we declared our attitude to the Belarusian language by calling it the native one. But what is next? And next the majority of us at the best case switch to the second state language, at the worst case — to “trasyanka” <…> Why do we do so?]

Yet in comparison to Belarusian authors, English ones tend to use the devices of antithesis as a syntactical structure that binds together contrasting ideas more often (with Fx of 0.07 and 0.21 correspondingly). L. Grossman in his essay “The Screen’s the Limit” emphasizes the impossibility of turning some of the books into their screen versions (as it may result in cutting some of the plot lines) with the help of the following antithesis: It’s a bloody business, but it’s a question of saving the patient. It illustrates how painful the necessity of abridging can be, making it easier for the reader to look at the issue from a director’s or scriptwriter’s angle.

The same effect is achieved with the help of parallel constructions in the essay by G. Avlasenko, in which the authors dwells on the advantages and disadvantages of a five-day and a six-day school week and draws the attention of the reader to the fact that the situation is to be considered from various perspectives: Субота без заняткаўпалёгка ці дадатковыя клопаты? А калі палёгка, то каму? Дзецям? Бацькам? Настаўнікам? [Saturday free of classes at school — it a relief or more fuss and bother? And if it is a relief, then for whom? For children? For parents? For teachers?]

Based on the results of quantitative analysis, the index of lexical E(l) and syntactical E(s) expressiveness for essays in English and Belarusian has been worked out using the formula E = S / T, where E is the expressiveness index, S — the total number of lexical or syntactical devices, and T — the number of texts analysed. It has been elucidated that the index of lexical expressiveness of English media essays (12.58) is higher than that of Belarusian ones (9.21). At the same time Belarusian essays are more expressive from syntactical point of view than English ones (with the expressiveness index of 2.23 and 1.52 correspondingly).

Conclusions. All in all, it can be inferred that the semantic structure cued with the help of particular linguistic means of different language levels (or discoursive markers) is the most reliable criterion of publicistic text differentiation in the context of contemporary tendencies of printed media development. This conclusion relies on the predominant similarities of essay structure in two different media cultures.

The similarities in the use of lexical and syntactical stylistic devices are determined by the pragmatic orientation of essays, which is common for both English and Belarusian media cultures; the differences, on the other hand, are connected with the structural as well as usual peculiarities of these languages. In the given type of media texts the lexical and syntactical components of general expressiveness balance each other, taking over the functions which are indispensible for the realization of author’s communicative aim.

© Glazko P. P., 2016

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