This week I discuss the branch of linguistics – Critical Discourse Analysis, or CDA – that most informs my approach to grammatically analysing texts. It’s the ‘critical’ part of CDA that appeals to me most – an aim of most practitioners of CDA is to explore the role language plays in maintaining or challenging social injustices.
To give you an idea of how CDA usually works, I analyse a recent news item from Fox News. (Click on the headline below for the full article.)
Doing CDA requires being explicit about what critical position you’re coming from when you interpret the text. The position I bring to my analysis of this piece is a feminist one. I put forward my view that the article (a) downplays the structural inequities in an institution in which there is a phenomenal gender gap and (b) draws implicitly upon the assumption that such inequities are ‘natural’, or to be expected.
The grammatical analysis of conversational texts that you’ve heard me do in these podcasts, though, is different from ‘traditional’ CDA in an important way. In CDA, the text is seen as an end product, and CDA explores the processes by which the text came into being. CDA is rooted in Marxist thought, and an analogy is helpful here. A Marxist perspective on a garment in a department store might raise questions like, what were the conditions under which this piece of clothing was manufactured, and how does it come to be priced so low? What workers were involved in producing this item? Were they treated fairly? How were the paid for their labour? A t-shirt is seen as the end of a long line of manufacturing process, and exploring those processes is likely to reveal systemic social injustices.
Similarly, Critical Discourse Analysts view a text as a product of a set of language processes that involve construing reality in a particular way and drawing upon assumptions that mask damaging ideologies about the social world.
It can get a little depressing.
How is my own work different?
I too, start from the position that social injustices structure the social world, and I too, want to do something about it. But rather than assuming that the text is the ‘end product’ and going backwards to look at the processes of its construction, I assume that the text is a ‘midpoint’. The work I do is looks forward, not back. My idea is that the analysis of the grammar of a text can generate new possibilities for more welcoming, inclusive social structures. If CDA reveals the sinister secrets hidden in the production of a text, my work reveals the germs of new, transformative ideas that I believe are also hidden there.
This perspective requires a radical new look at language and society. Join me in an upcoming podcast for more!