Allusions in the Press: An Applied Linguistic Study

Allusions in the Press: An Applied Linguistic Study

Allusions in the Press: An Applied Linguistic Study

Allusions in the Press: An Applied Linguistic Study


This corpus-based study of allusions in the British press shows the range of targets journalists allude to - from Shakespeare to TV soaps, from Jane Austen to Hillary Clinton, from hymns to nursery rhymes, proverbs and riddles. It analyzes the linguistic forms allusions take and demonstrates how allusions function meaningfully in discourse. It explores the nature of the background cultural and intertextual knowledge allusions demand of readers and sets out the processing stages involved in understanding an allusion. Allusion is integrated into existing theories of indirect language and linked to idioms, word-play and metaphor.


2.1. Meaning and context

A theoretical framework for a study of allusion as a form of text-based indirect language is provided by Halliday's conception of language as "social semiotic", which he himself sees as within the ethnographic-descriptive tradition, emanating from de Saussure, the Prague School, Malinowski, Sapir, Whorf and his own teacher, Firth (Halliday 1978: 5). In this view the conceptual framework of language is rhetorical rather than logical (Halliday 1978: 4). Language assumes interaction between speaker /writer and a hearer / reader (1978:139). The textual record is necessarily incomplete so that all texts are more or less cryptic or indirect. Communication between speaker / writer and hearer / reader depends on shared understanding of semiotic meanings. What Cicourel (1969) refers to as omissions by the speaker / writer Halliday (1978:109) prefers to regard as "encodings". The hearer / reader shares "unscrambling procedures" with the speaker / writer which make it possible to recover principles for reconstituting the meaning, which is encoded rather than invested in text (Halliday 1978: 60, 109; Cicourel 1969:186–189).

Halliday draws on de Saussure's (1972: 171) distinction between syntagmatic and paradigmatic linguistic relationships. Syntagmatic relations are the linear grammatical relationships between the linguistic items (or "signs") which are present in a chunk of composed language (syntagma). Paradigmatic relationships of various sorts exist between any given linguistic item in a syntagma and a set of linguistic items with which it is associated: "le rapport syntagmatique est in praesentia: il répose sur deux ou plusieurs termes également présents dans une série effective. Au contraire le rapport associatif unit des termes in absentia dans une série mnémonique virtuelle" "a syntagmatic relationship is in praesentia: it is based on two or more terms equally present in an actual series. By contrast, an associative relationship unites terms in absentia in a virtual series in memory" (de Saussure 1972:171).

Language is seen as a network of interlocking elements, and grammar as a system of paradigmatic choices. At any given point on the syntagmatic axis there is a choice from among a set of compatible items, and the . . .

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