It seems to me that one of the most important contributions of discourse analysis to linguistics is the observation that spoken discourse, mainly conversation, can be subject to structural analysis (Sinclair and Coulthard 1975 and followers). It is very interesting to note that most linguists involved in this type of analysis agree on the fact that the exchange is ‘the minimal interactive unit most amenable to linguistic structural analysis’ (Stubbs 1981:9) and the unit ‘basically concerned with the transmission of information’ (Coulthard and Brazil 1981:99) and, in fact, ‘the primary unit of language interaction’ (Sinclair and Brazil 1982:49). If this is the case, one can then assume that the exchange, or a similar unit, may be used in the analysis of written text. In this chapter I intend to show how newspaper editorials, taken as an instance of interaction through written text, can be analysed using a unit called the triad (Bolívar 1986). The triad shares similarities with the exchange in that it consists of up to three elements of structure and constitutes the minimal unit of interaction in written text. The difference lies in that we are not examining face-to-face interaction but interaction of another kind.
As is well known, Sinclair and Coulthard (1975) use the term ‘exchange’ to refer to structures that consist of up to three elements: an initiation (I), a response (R) and a follow-up (F). Each initiation consists of an initiating move, informing, eliciting or directing, followed by a second move which fits the initiation. The third follow-up move is seen as obligatory in some contexts but not in others. The two examples below, taken from the analysis of classroom interaction, illustrate this analysis.
1 I Can anyone have a guess, a shot at that one?
F Cleopatra. Good girl. She was the most famous queen, wasn’t she, Cleopatra of the Nile.
(Sinclair and Coulthard 1975:80)
2 I What kind of food would you cut with a knife?