David Machin and Andrea Mayr 2012. How to Do Critical Discourse Analysis. A Multimodal Introduction

By Chovanec, Jan | European English Messenger, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

David Machin and Andrea Mayr 2012. How to Do Critical Discourse Analysis. A Multimodal Introduction


Chovanec, Jan, European English Messenger


David Machin and Andrea Mayr 2012. How to Do Critical Discourse Analysis. A Multimodal Introduction. London: Sage, 240 pp., ISBN 978-0-85702-892-1.

As indicated in the subtitle, the new book by David Machin and Andrea Mayr offers a multimodal introduction to a discipline that has enjoyed a rapid development over the last couple of decades. While critical discourse analysis has certainly achieved a strong position in modern linguistics and proves to be very popular with students, its methodology is relatively less known among media and cultural studies scholars. The book by Machin and Mayr explicitly aims to address this imbalance by targeting the latter audience. Nevertheless, it will also be of use to linguists, as well as scholars in other disciplines of the humanities.

In the Introduction, the authors briefly contextualize their approach by outlining the development of the discipline from its formative beginnings as 'critical linguistics' in the 1970s, via the various research strands and traditions of 'critical discourse analysis' emerging in the 1990s, up to the more recent 'multimodal critical discourse analysis'. The authors argue for the multimodal approach by pointing out that since other semiotic modes, particularly images, significantly complement or even contradict the linguistic component of texts, they have to be systematically analysed as well. The critical aspect of their methodology underlies an attempt to understand meanings and ideologies that are hidden and not immediately apparent to readers; as the authors specify, "Texts will use linguistics and visual strategies that appear normal or neutral on the surface, but which may in fact be ideological and seek to shape the representation of events and persons for particular ends" (9).

The book is logically structured into eight chapters which acquaint the readers straightforwardly with the basic concepts and analytical tools of CDA. In each chapter, the verbal component is discussed first, followed by the application of the relevant theory in the area of visual communication. It is, of course, nothing new that visual communication has a highly systematic nature--after all, professionals such as photographers and film makers need to learn the conventions of the genre, since these form some of the most basic tools of their trade. In this book, however, students of media and cultural studies become exposed to the visual aspects of communication via the conceptual and methodological framework of CDA, which is largely text-based and derives from Halliday's theory of social semiotics (1985). The mapping of the parallels between the verbal and the visual modes is, indeed, one of the most exciting aspects of the whole textbook.

Chapter 1 lays out the social semiotic conception of the theory of communication where language is seen as a set of resources with particular affordances (meaning potentials) that are conventionally recognized and used by individual communicators. As in visual communication, the visual elements are not merely representative of the world, but constitutive of reality. Thus, they not only shape and maintain a society's ideologies, but "can also serve to create, maintain and legitimise certain kinds of social practices" (19).

Chapter 2 begins documenting the semiotic choices available to individuals and the impact which their selections have with respect to underlying beliefs (ideologies). On the lexical level, attention is paid to connotation, overlexicalization, lexical absence (suppression), structural oppositions, and genre choice. The discussion of visual semiotic choices includes denotation and connotation of images (iconography), attributes, settings, and salience. The verbal and visual modes can foreground, background, suppress, connote and symbolize certain meanings, with identities and actions often not being overtly indicated or stated. That is the case particularly in visual communication, since it "tends to be more open to interpretation, which gives the author some degree of manoeuvre not permitted through language use" (31). …

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