This material is Copyright 1995 by Brett Dellinger
A structuralist approach to media studies has the advantage of opening up many new areas for analysis and criticism. However, questions about structuralist assumptions and methods still remain, and we are seriously lacking in satisfactory answers, many of which remain beyond the scope of this investigation.
But if we persist in the conviction that audiences should be granted the role of subject, that is, a role of "active agent" in television production, one capable of constructing meanings from the language of the media, then it is also necessary to continue under the assumption that language and meaning are in some way social constructs. Although much of the methodology and research goals used in the study of language have resisted this trend, today "society" and "criticism" have become key words in various new approaches to language study and its application to the analysis of media as discourse. Ruth Wodak, writing in Language, Power and Ideology, defines her field, which she calls "critical linguistics," as "an interdisciplinary approach to language study with a critical point of view" for the purpose of studying "language behavior in natural speech situations of social relevance." Wodak also stresses the importance of "diverse theoretical and methodological concepts" and suggests that these can also be used for "analyzing issues of social relevance," while attempting to expose "inequality and injustice." Wodak underscores and encourages "the use of multiple methods" in language research while emphasizing the importance of recognizing the "historical and social aspects."
Emphasis on both the structure and the social context of media texts can provide a solution which enables the media critic to "denaturalize," or expose the "taken-for-grantedness" of ideological messages as they appear in isolated speech and, when combined with newer ethnographic studies and newer methods of discourse analysis, create a broader common ground between structuralists and and those who see the media as manipulators. The critical use of discourse analysis (CDA) in applied linguistics is leading to the development of a different approach to understanding media messages. Robert Kaplan expressed some of these new concepts when he wrote: "The text, whether written or oral, is a multidimensional structure," and "any text is layered, like a sheet of thick plywood consisting of many thin sheets lying at different angles to each other." The basics of a text consist of syntax and lexicon; its grammar, morphology, phonology, and semantics. However, "The understanding... of grammar and lexicon does not constitute the understanding...of text." "Rhetoric intent...," says Kaplan, "coherence and the world view that author and receptor bring to the text are essential." The comprehension of meaning
...lies not in the text itself, but in the complex interaction between the author's intent and his/her performative ability to encode that intent, and the receptor's intent and his/her performative ability not only to decode the author's intent but to mesh his/her own intent with the author's.
Critical discourse analysis has made the study of language into an interdisciplinary tool and can be used by scholars with various backgrounds, including media criticism. Most significantly, it offers the opportunity to adopt a social perspective in the cross-cultural study of media texts. As Gunter Kress points out, CDA has an "overtly political agenda," which "serves to set CDA off...from other kinds of discourse analysis" and text linguistics, "as well as pragmatics and sociolinguistics." While most forms of discourse analysis "aim to provide a better understanding of socio-cultural aspects of texts," CDA "aims to provide accounts of the production, internal structure, and overall organization of texts." One crucial difference is that CDA "aims to provide a critical dimension in its theoretical and descriptive accounts of texts."
More specifically, according to Kress's definition, CDA treats language as a type of social practice among many used for representation and signification (including visual images, music, gestures, etc.). Texts are produced by "socially situated speakers and writers." The relations of participants in producing texts are not always equal: there will be a range from complete solidarity to complete inequality. Meanings come about through interaction between readers and receivers and linguistic features come about as a result of social processes, which are never arbitrary. In most interactions, users of language bring with them different dispositions toward language, which are closely related to social positionings. History must also be taken into account, as ideologically and politically "inflected time." Finally, precise analysis and "descriptions of the materiality of language" are factors which are always characteristic of CDA.
In addition to language structure, ideology also has a role to play in CDA. Kress stresses that "any linguistic form considered in isolation has no specifically determinate meaning as such, nor does it possess any ideological significance or function." Consequently, "the defined and delimited set of statements that constitute a discourse are themselves expressive of and organized by a specific ideology." Language, "can never appear by itself-it always appears as the representative of a system of linguistic terms, which themselves realize discursive and ideological systems." For example,
...in The chairman has advised me that ..., The Chairman occupies first position and has the emphasis conveyed by that, in the equivalent passive clause I have been advised by the Chairman that... that emphasis now attaches to I. Hence a syntactic form signals not simply the prior presence of a specific ideological selection, it also signals or expresses the meaning or content of that ideological choice.
The speaker (or writer) expresses ideological content in texts and so does the linguistic form of the text: "...selection or choice of a linguistic form may not be a live process for the individual speaker...," but "the discourse will be a reproduction of that previously learned," discourse. Texts are selected and organized syntactic forms whose "content-structure" reflect the ideological organization of a particular area of social life.
To illustrate his point, Kress offers as an example the transcript of a news report in which "transactive clauses" are used (in the active voice) to portray causally the role of demonstrators against apartheid at a football match. The demonstration, therefore, which was against a particular injustice, was in fact portrayed by the media as having been somehow caused through the actions of the demonstrators. The report portrayed the demonstrators in a violent way, as "protesters" who "chanted slogans, ...blew whistles," and even tried to " ...disrupt the match, ...invade the pitch." In another incident, "the demonstrators stormed the fence," and even began "tearing the fence down." As Kress points out, "Clearly," in this particular incident, "the mode in which an action is presented, either as transactive or as nontransactive, is not a matter of truth or of reality but rather a matter of the way in which that particular action is integrated into the ideological system of the speaker, and the manner in which such an action is therefore articulated in a specific discourse." [Italics mine]
The actual decision on the part of the journalist or editor to use either a transactive or a nontransactive clause, Kress insists, was definitely a matter of choice and not chance. Kress offers another example to illustrate a common way in which nontransactive clauses are used:
Things began peacefully enough, police hurried to the back fence, violent clashes followed; More clashes...erupted, the confrontation was to last several hours; emotion subsided...
In the example (above) one can see that the adoption of a particular ideological-discursive structure on the part of the journalist expresses the values of an ideological system and of a specific "discourse authority."
The choice of lexical items, as well, is mentioned by Kress. With only minimal inspection, one is able to see that some reports, as Kress puts it, are "guided by the metaphor of a military clash." One side is cast by the journalist as "enemy" and the other as "friend or protector." "So the police guard the ground," (the policing representing the defenders of "good") "which the protesters attempt to invade, storm" (the aggressors, in this case). "In this way," says Kress, "the newscast audience's perceptions or readings [Italics mine] of the text are structured so that they will not only regard the report as 'simply reporting the facts as they were' but will also structure their interpretation [Italics mine] of the relevance of the text overall.
The visual portion of a television text, says Kress, is also important for interpretation. This includes the portrayal of the anti-racist demonstrators as being aggressive through the use of certain camera shots. Kress mentions other examples, taken from newspaper reports, in which government authorities, such as the Prime Minister, are consistently presented in thematic [Italics mine] positions, and the main events, such as talks or backlash, union unrest, etc., are presented as if they are acting on the Prime Minister.
Consequently, according to Kress, "From an ideological point of view this presents the Prime Minister (through a syntactic-textual metaphor, so to speak) as the most significant individual, but nevertheless, as acted on, nonactive himself, responding rather than initiating, with a network of interactive relations." The result is, that "The main actions of people in government are," according to the existence of a syntactic-textual metaphor, "not real actions, but the mediation, facilitation, interrelation between individuals, groups, and abstract categories."
Ideology, society, cognition and discourse analysis
Although Teun Van Dijk places emphasis on ethnic affairs, his study of racism and the press provides a detailed discourse analytical approach to media studies. Van Dijk's focus is also on content from an interdisciplinary point of view. Discourse analysis, when used together with a "multidisciplinary approach to the study of language," provides the critic with a tool for studying communication within "socio-cultural contexts." Specifically, Van Dijk states that the focus on "textual or conversational structures" derives its "framework" from the "cognitive, social, historical, cultural, or political contexts." Van Dijk's approach, however, differs from linguistics in that it is not "limited to the study of ...the surface structures and meanings of (isolated, abstract) sentences.... Once such a structural analysis has been made," according to Van Dijk's method, it is possible to "proceed to establishing relationships with the context... We are ...interested in the actual processes of decoding, interpretation, storage, and representation in memory, and in the role of previous knowledge and beliefs of the readers in this process of understanding."
Ideology also plays a "crucial role" in Van Dijk's analytical method. To Van Dijk, "ideologies" are viewed as "interpretation frameworks" which "organize sets of attitudes" about other elements of modern society. Ideologies, therefore, provide the "cognitive foundation" for the attitudes of various groups in societies, as well as the futherance of their own goals and interests.
Van Djik offers a "schema" of relations between ideology, society, cognition and discourse: Within social structures, social interaction takes place. This social interaction is presented in the form of text/discourse, which is then cognizized according to a cognitive system/memory. This "system/memory" consists of short-term memory, in which "strategic process," or decoding and interpretation takes place. Long-term memory, however, serves as a holder of "socio-cultural knowledge," which consists of knowledge of language, discourse, communication, persons, groups and events-existing in the form of "scripts." "Social (group) attitudes" also reside within long-term memory and provide further decoding guides. Each of these "group attitudes" can represent an array of ideologies which combine to create one's own personal ideology which conforms to one's identity, goals, social position, values and resources.
One can therefore say that Van Dijk's theory is, in some imporatant ways, a development of Fiske's own concept of cognition, which he expressed follows:
... to take an example, a Catholic trade unionist working in a Detroit car plant will inflect working-class social experience quite differently from, say, a Protestant, "nonpolitical," agricultural worker in Wisconsin.
This "process" of framing "beliefs and opinions," say Van Djik, that benefit one particular group, is not final. "Some people may be forced or persuaded, socially or economically" to go against their "best interests...." Therefore, in contrast with many Marxist or other critics who interpret the role of the media in modern societies deterministically, Van Dijk does not suggest that ideologies are "essentially 'false' forms of consciousness, as in the case of many traditional theories of ideology." Still, the possible discrepancy between group ideology and group interests implies that power relations in society can also be reproduced and legitimated at the ideological level, meaning that, to control other people, it is most effective to try to control their group attitudes and especially their even more fundamental, attitude-producing, ideologies. In such circumstances, audiences will behave out of their own "free" will in accordance with the interests of the powerful. Van Dijk's thesis, like Wodak and Kress, implies that the exercise of power in modern, democratic societies is no longer primarily coercive, but persuasive, that is, ideological.
The other essential element of Van Dijk's thesis, especially as it applies to an intercultural approach to media analysis, is "the systematic analysis of implicitness." Journalists and media users are in possession of "mental models...about the world." Consequently, the text is really like "an iceberg of information," and it is really only the "tip" which is "actually expressed in words and sentences. The rest is assumed to be supplied by the knowledge scripts and models of the media users, and therefore usually left unsaid." [Italics mine.] Van Dijk concludes, therefore, that "the analysis of the implicit...is very useful in the study of underlying ideologies."
As this description of Van Dijk's method should make clear, there are many messages communicated through the text and structure of a television news broadcast, and what we see on the surface is really only the "tip of the ice berg." The ritualization and formalization of broadcast styles impart another implicitly understood message-carrying dimension to media studies, a dimension which has only recently been opened to observation and study because of the accessibility of foreign broadcasts through satellite technology. In most modern cultures, the familiar television newscast follows a formalized format, one which may have been in use, with only minor modifications, for decades. After many years of familiarity with a particular style of news broadcasting, broadcasters and audiences tend to overlook the implicitly "hidden" messages which accompany news content. In other words, the coding and decoding of television news has a tendency to become formalized to the point that many of the messages contained within the broadcast style are taken for granted by one culture, but interpreted differently, misinterpreted or not even decoded by another.
Both, audiences and broadcasters, learn to recognize and expect the familiar style typical of "their" television news. Today, however, through the availability of international broadcasts on satellite and cable, it is possible to examine, in the company of a foreign audience (one which expects a different style in television news broadcasting) many of those ritualized and implicitly understood formulas and turn them into visible phenomena.
The implicitness of style in discourse
The concept of implicitness, explicitness and change in language was developed by Edward T. Hall in the 1950s. His thesis is that the "formal," that is, the style which is accepted implicitly by audiences, "is seldom recognized as such."
The formal provides a broad pattern within whose outlines the individual actor can fill in the details for himself. ...Since the formal is seldom recognized as such, the American abroad often has the impression that other people's formal systems are unnecessary, immoral, crazy, backward, or a remnant of some outworn value that America gave up some time ago.
What comes across to foreigners visiting a strange country as incomprehensible, says Hall, is in fact another "formal" system of communication which is accepted implicitly as "natural" within the other cultural system. In the case of the language of television news, it, too, changes and fluctuates within a culture through the process of the "implicit" and the "explicit."
Explicit culture, such things as law, was what people talk about and can be specific about. Implicit culture, such things as feelings..., was what they took for granted or what existed on the fringes of awareness.
Within American and Finnish societies, for example, certain implicit assumptions exist about how a news report should be written and presented. Audiences and broadcasters take certain templates for news reports for granted. Such news reports seem "natural," because they incorporate a ritualized code with a certain history and tradition, including detailed scripts which are understood by audiences to be the "only" way to present the news.
Changes, of course, do come about. When a change is introduced, as is now happening in Finland because of competition from European and American broadcasters and the need for advertisers to have more exposure for their products, the whole structure enters a state of flux, becomes transitional and ultimately changes, but only in conformity with the laws of the given social, economic and cultural circumstances prevalent. "While one (assumption) will dominate, all three are present in any given situation." Edward Hall presents the following scheme:
EXPLICIT 0-------------> TRANSITIONAL
Finland, therefore, may in the future be obliged to adapt its public service broadcasting monopoly, YLE, to a different discourse style, and one derived in part from Finnish culture, but based on the advertising advantages of the American commercial style of discourse.
Exposing and analyzing implicitness
Each culture has its own way of classifying the contents of the world. This truth was discovered in the linguistic-anthropological studies of Sapir-Whorf. Stuart Hall offers a masterful summary of the consequence of signification, as it was first employed in the work of Sapir-Whorf. As Hall sees it, meaning in a text is constructed by society, and the world is created by human beings for the purpose of that meaning. The linguistic and semantic structures which make up different languages, as symbols are the means by which humans produce meaning.
"Reality," or the way we see reality through the prism of our own culture's means of assigning meaning to the various elements of our world, especially as this applies to television news reports, is a phenomenon which will inevitably be defined differently according to the dictates and needs of different cultures. Different formulas in different societies will be used to decode the different scripts, or codes used in television news production-a process which is dependent upon our culture's history, its evolution and development. The meaning of "reality," therefore, will depend very much on the way a particular society defines it. All elements of that society's history, the totality of its development, including its present economic, cultural, racial, class and political balance, will make it unlikely that any two societies, no matter how similar, will look at one issue in exactly the same way.
The language of television news, as a particular style of discourse, is a complex blend of national, social, economic, and linguistic traditions which work in tandem with audience expectations. These expectations may vary and create a situation in which misunderstandings and misinterpretations may occur. Eco has remarked that differences in the ideological makeup of any audience in terms of ethical, religious, and psychological points of view as well as tastes, values, etc., inevitably lead to some sort of misunderstanding, or gap, especially under those circumstances where one culture comes in contact with the other.
Understanding and mis-understanding between cultures is a topic which has invited much attention, a result of a growing interest in translation theory, applied linguistics and language teaching. As Edward T. Hall has warned:
The more precisely our linguistic components are examined, the more abstract and imprecise the old observations become...one can only be precise on one analytic level at a time and then only for a moment.
There is much discussion of "intercultural sensitivity" in the field of foreign language teaching. Milton Bennet has asserted that sensitivity to other cultures is not even natural, and that "cross-cultural contact usually has been accompanied by bloodshed, oppression, or genocide." To remedy the problems of intercultural sensitivity in the foreign language classroom, Bennet has developed a comprehensive program of education and training for both students and teachers in the art of "intercultural communication." Whether Bennet's observations concerning the history and belligerent consequences of intercultural contacts is true or false remains to be investigated. However, his method operates from what he calls "an ethnocentric assumptive base," in which it is assumed that the learner attaches false meanings to observable cultural differences in other individuals. To include, within the field of foreign language teaching, extra-linguistic phenomena, such as cultural mis-understandings and mis-interpretations of others' intentions, is a significant development in language learning theory. This development also recognizes the fact that successful communication in a foreign language precludes a realization and understanding of cultural diversity. Bennet's theoretical outline traces "ethnocentrism" in the foreign-language learner from the level of "denial," in which cultural differences are ignored and denied by the culturally uninitiated, through "defense," in which the ethnocentric student believes his/her culture is superior (and acts accordingly), to "integration," in which cultural differences are understood by the student who is, supposedly, in a position to realistically evaluate the actions of individuals from another culture.
The lacuna model
Bennet's model is especially useful for achieving understanding between cultures within the classroom, which is not, however, within the scope of this study. A lacuna model, therefore, was chosen for the present study because it permits more freedom in developing a comprehensive, analytical description of cross-cultural phenomena which arise from one culture's confrontation with another culture's news media. Also, the lacuna allows a discussion of cross-cultural differences without approving or disapproving of the practices of one culture or the other. As outlined by Schroeder, the lacuna was developed as a means for classifying and examining the linguistic components of languages when used cross-culturally. The lacuna method of cross-cultural analysis begins with the assumption that "Texts are the flesh and blood of a culture." Access to another culture can "only be achieved through exemplary examinations of texts while integrating these texts into a more comprehensive cultural analysis." Lacuna theorists see the problems which develop from a lack of cross-cultural understanding as communications problems. In contrast to Bennet, lacuna theorists assume that the lacuna can be developed in cross-cultural communications, which would make communication between cultures as normal as communication within a culture, if only one could develop more precise codes and supply them to users. The main problem, therefore, is that "a text from a foreign culture is nearly always received through the prism of one's own culture." This "prism" pre-programs the receiver to mis-understand, mis-interpret or not receive the encoded message.
"Lacuna," therefore, refers to perceived or unperceived "gaps" in cross-cultural texts (in which there is a nonequivalent lexis) or other poorly understood cultural items. Lacunae are single specific objects or events and specific processes and situations which "run counter to the usual range of experience of a speaker of another language."
The "fundamental characteristics" of lacunae are as follows:
...lacunae are perceived by the recipient as something incomprehensible, unusual (exotic), strange (unknown), erroneous or inaccurate in a text. ...further characteristics of lacunae can be described as follows: lacunae are perceived by the recipient as superfluous, astonishing (peculiar), unexpected, i.e., unpredictable ...
Lacunae, however, can also be ascertained, systematized and classified. In addition a distinction can be made between cultural lacunae and linguistic lacunae. Linguistic lacunae are involved with the actual translation of texts, but cultural lacunae are classified according to four principle categories:
1) Subjective, or "national psychological" lacunae
2) Lacunae of communicative activity
3) Lacunae related to cultural space
4) Text lacunae
Under (1) subjective, or "national psychological" lacunae, subdivisions are created in which we get the following categories:
a) Character lacunae: Certain "invariable" qualities "in the character of particular cultural communities," including stereotypical conceptions of character ("pragmatic Americans, etc.); different ways of conceiving activities ("Americans are workaholics"); self-definition ("Finns have sisu"-an inner, unstoppable strength and determination).
b)Syllogistic lacunae: Includes "modes" of thinking ("American academics are devoted to facts" whereas "German academics are more interested in theory."
c)Cultural-emotive lacunae: Concerned with the expression of feelings in public. Very often rhythm, pace, pauses, interruptions, etc., are based on the "national temperament."
d)Lacunae of humor: Cultural differences in a sense of humor.
Under (2) lacunae of communicative activity, the following are listed:
a) Mental lacunae: All culturally-specific problem-solving strategies. For example, representatives of different cultures may exhibit differences in the amount of time deemed proper to be used in certain tasks.
b)Behavioral-specific lacunae: Differences in non-verbal behavior when used for conveying information. Includes kinesics (mime, gesture), movements involved in routine habits, and etiquette.
Lacunae relating to cultural space (3) include incongruities, between cultures, in "conceiving and assessing aspects of one's cultural milieu." This includes a particular culture's typical "inventory of knowledge" which forms the "cultural identity" of the average citizen. This includes:
a)Perceptive lacunae: assessments of distance.
b)Ethnographic lacunae: culturally specific tastes in drink, food, clothing, interior decorating, eating out, etc.
c)Lacunae of cultural stock: incompatibilities between cultures in the volume and size of the inventory of knowledge, including a knowledge of one's own history, cultural and social symbols, color symbolism (blue jeans), and other implicit symbols which are "substantially more numerous."
Finally, text lacunae (4) occur as a "specific property of the text as a means of communication in both form and content." In other words, an understanding of genre and technique are expressed within cultures through the text. "Breaches or gaps" in the text can be "intentional or unintentional." Texts can even contain "direct errors" or "inaccuracies," but still have meaning to the culturally initiated recipient.
Satellites and international broadcasting have made it technically much easier to study foreign audience decoding of television news broadcasts and their deeper cultural and political connotations. Language is the main barrier, but Finland presents us with a unique environment. Ten years of English-language instruction in school, combined with intensive exposure to English-language films and television-programming on Finnish television, makes Finns, especially those members of the younger generation, as non-native speakers of English, especially fluent. To paraphrase Gumperz, they can be described as "individuals who speak English well and have no difficulty in producing grammatical English sentences" but may nevertheless have significant difficulties "in what they perceive as meaningful discourse cues..." When working cross-culturally with audiences who live only on the periphery of the American commercial news environment, and with audiences who are also linguistically competent in English, it becomes possible to isolate certain contextualization cues by means of intensive interviews. By borrowing from the lacuna model for the systemization and classification of these audience-perceived defects or gaps in cultural understanding, one is able to reveal cross-cultural differences between implicitly understood discourse styles.
A lacuna study also enables the exploration of the concept of broadcast news as discourse by imposing a new perspective on implicit knowledge, that which is taken for granted about television by audiences. Conceptualization cues which lead to cross-cultural "misunderstandings" can be systematized and those unexplainable phenomena which occur in one culture but not invariably in the other can be recorded. Russian ethnopsycholinguistics pioneered the lacuna method and stressed the social significance of communication. Lacuna advocates emphatically dismiss the common notion that society is an entity made up of isolated individuals pursuing their own individual goals. Language and communication are carriers of society's cultural characteristics and the search for lacunae is a search for the "social composite" which regulates the encoding of intent and its correct decoding. A text is therefore "meaningless until it is read, or listened to, by someone." The lacuna is the act of labeling this composite meaning, because, the "performative abilities of author and receptor are constrained by their respective knowledge of syntax." Syntax, however, is not the only constraint on understanding. Decoding also depends on the recipient's "awareness of key conventions" which are "often historically defined."
Ertelt-Vieth's lacuna model develops the lacuna for use in the revealing of implicit understanding in oral communication. For her study, she used a group of German students in Moscow to present examples of culturally relevant contacts between German and Russian students in which intercultural differences (misinterpretations and other cultural gaps) arise. Interviews were carried out in Moscow with visiting German students who were asked to evaluate contacts with their Russian colleagues. Russian students were then asked to elaborate on the contacts in their own words, mentioning the problems that may have arisen. Her experiment is significant because it considers both linguistic and extra-linguistic factors in intercultural contacts. Above all, her interviews attempt to expose implicitness of understanding, as well as national prejudices, by evaluating such factors which arise to activate prejudices. Vieth's lacuna model, therefore, avoids cultural differences without trying to "solve" them or "appreciate" them.
Television news programs generate messages, and those who generate those messages may not, themselves, be completely conscious of their own rules and categories of message encoding. Awareness of historically defined key conventions is crucial. If television news is a system of encoding reality, then the intentions of those who encode must be understood before proper decoding can occur.
Brett Dellinger, Views of CNN Television News: A Critical Cross-Cultural Analysis of the American Commercial Discourse Style (Vaasa: Universitas Wasaensis, 1995).
Ruth Wodak, ed., Language Power and Ideology: Studies in Political Discourse (London: Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989).
Robert Kaplan, "Concluding Essay: On Applied Linguistics and Discourse Analysis," ed Robert Kaplan, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, Vol. II, 1990.
Gunter Kress, "Critical Discourse Analysis," Robert Kaplan, ed., Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, II, 1990.
Teun Van Dijk, Racism and the Press, in Robert Miles, ed., Critical Studies in Racism and Migration, (New York: Routledge, 1991).
Astrid Ertelt-Vieth, for example, in Kulturvergleichende Analyse von Verhalten, Sprache und Bedeutungen im Moskauer Alltag, BeitrĄge zu Slavistik XI, Herbert Jelitte, ed., (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1991), and I. J. Markovina and J. A. Sorokin from a collection of essays, in Russian, Text as a Manifestation of Culture, 1989.
Edward T. Hall,The Silent Language (New York: Doubleday, 1959).