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Discourse Superstructure

Discourse Superstructure

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Published by Petru Cojocaru

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Published by: Petru Cojocaru on May 20, 2012
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Definition: Superstructures are schemas consisting of conventional categories often hierarchically organized, each category fulfilling a specific function in discourse. Examples: High-school essay: Introduction – Body – Conclusi;. Stories in European culture: Setting – Complication – Resolution – Evaluation – Coda; Argumentations: Proposition – Background – Arguments – Refutation – Conclusion; Scientific articles: Introduction – Method - Results – Discussion – Conclusion. Super-structural categories have a double nature: • conceptual (semantic) • structural (syntactic). The categories are conceptual in that they dominate only the macro-structures which have a meaning compatible with the concept they specify. For example, the category Background in argumentative texts will subsume the macro-propositions which present the necessary background information for the discourse receivers to be able to judge the ideas(s) or point(s) of view – category Proposition – presented for their assent. The structural nature of categories manifests itself in the linear and hierarchical ordering of macrostructures. The linear ordering matches the normal linear arrangement of sentences in a text, but the hierarchical ordering reflects the functional prominence of some categories over others. Essentially, super-structural schemas have a more or less fixed form. Example of schema: the canonical form of news article superstructure:
News Discourse Summary Headline Lead Events Main Event Background Episode Consequences/ News Story Comments Expectation Evaluation

Events/Acts Verbal Reactions

Circumstances Context


Previous Events

In actual discourse the superstructure rarely, if ever occurs in its canonical form. Firstly: not all of the categories in the canonical form occur. This shows that some categories are obligatory, others just optional. Secondly, the occurrence and position of a category is determined by its relevance in the actual context. Thirdly, some of the categories are recursive, i.e. they may be repeated “n” times. Actual discourses represent variations of the schema, which are the outcome of the addressor’s choice of the schema categories and of their position. The choices may also be constrained by cultural conventions. Generic superstructures, viz. structures of professional genres, are called cognitive structures. They are preferred ways of organizing content common to a discourse community. Cognitive structures and schematic structures are very much alike, but the former are much more standardized due to the constraints imposed by the discourse communities; the variations from the schema are fewer and concern only lower-level structural elements such as steps, which do not affect the identity of a genre. Importance of superstructures: • play an important role in the comprehension, storage and retrieval of discourse; • organize macro-structures. Superstructures are sometimes signalled in the surface structure by: titles, subtitles, headings, specific expressions, e.g. “By way of introduction”, “We may conclude that”, etc. Summaries at the beginning of a discourse are useful organizers in that they present both the content (macro-structures) and the organizational schema (superstructure) of the text to come.

this notable landmark. April 21. • theme always comes at the beginning of a clause or sentence. • their function is not grammatical but discoursal. the topical theme and also the writer’s attitude towards the information he is presenting. a tiny society of four masters. or in regard to the starting point of the utterance” There are several important things to note about theme and rheme. Thematization: the placement of particular content elements in from position. in this case a certain order of the events. like millions of other shoppers the world over. b) George left the town and lost his job. but Wolsey’s plans were halted when he was disgraced. Its home appliances were plain vanilla – the company never used a colour other than white – and the products were viewed by consumers as frankly boring. It is neutral when the addressor relays some propositional content in unmarked syntactic patterns. which has a particular organization. So. In 1532 it was refounded as “King Henry VIII College” and existed for only thirteen years. subtitles or other headings which represent a starting point for discourse or stretches of discourse. thereby influencing the interpretation of what follows. they are different from the elements of the sentence syntactic structure. The words brought to the front of a sentence or clause create a framework within which what is said is to be understood. Its foundation stone was laid in 1525. It was followed by a third creation in which college and cathedral were joined to give its present-day name. Complex themes give the reader a variety of information about the discourse by signalling the rhetorical organization. 1997: 42) The text illustrates both simple and complex themes. The theme refers to the “starting point” of the utterance. the big Dutch electronics group. Example a) George lost his job and left the town. is but one of the architectural treasures of the college first conceived by Cardinal Wolsey. as it is known in Oxford. Each text has a thematic structure. It is intentional when the addressor purposefully exploits the linguistic and cognitive resources to impart perspective to his/her discourse. operating at sentence level The next text illustrates the thematization of temporal adverbials. (1) In 1249. as in this constructed example: Obviously. • the theme – rheme analysis is a way of studying the information structure in discourse. Therefore. Elements of the information structure: Theme – Rheme. The choice of paragraph pattern and the foregrounding and . William of Durham left 310 marks to support masters of arts studying theology. had a terrible image problem. • theme has two main functions: a) to connect the respective sentence with the previous discourse and b) to provide the starting point for the further development of discourse. Here are two examples: a) Picasso painted “Guernica”. “One of the glories of Oxford is Tom Tower. where it is involved in choices of titles. (2) and in 1280 the University used what money remained to found University College. “Oxford” owes much to benefactors. “Philips” went to Italy for a design makeover. “Philips. (3) The next text illustrates thematic sequences. although we may sometimes find theme identical with the grammatical subject of a declarative sentence. He was determined to found a college which would be more magnificent than any other. Philips came to Italy for a design makeover.” (Time. however. Other constraints come from the addressor’s assumption about the addressee’s knowledge of what is under discussion.” Thematization may be neutral or intentional. b) “Guernica” was painted by Picasso. This example shows that the addressor’s options are constrained by the facts in the extratextual reality. which allows the identification of the addressor’s topic area and of the rhetorical organization of the unit of discourse to which it is applied. Thematization also operates at the global level of discourse. which now occupies a large area in High Street – the High. while rheme denotes “what the speaker states about. Text for analysis.THEMATIZATION AND STAGING Discourse comprehension and interpretation also depend on the addressor’s choices of the starting point in the presentation of the message and the amount of prominence given to various elements of the discourse.

When the topic sentence is placed at the beginning of the paragraph. . it will guide the addressee in his interpretation.backgrounding of the information at this level can also result in thematization.

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