Syntactic variation and genre

Syntactic variation and genre. Ed. by Heidrun Dorgeloh and Anja Wanner. (Topics in English linguistics 70.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. viii, 364. ISBN 9783110226478. $140 (Hb).

Reviewed by Thomas Hoffmann, University of Osnabrück

All human languages are characterized by syntactic variation, with competing structures often being favored by different linguistic, cognitive, or social factors. The present volume takes a close look at how syntactic variation is motivated and constrained by genre and how specific genres are constituted by syntactic choices.

In their introduction (1–26), Heidrun Dorgeloh and Anja Wanner survey the field of syntactic variation, discuss the concept of genre and its relationship with register, style, and text type, and provide an overview of various approaches to the study of variation and genre. The rest of the book is divided into two parts. The contributions in Part 1 focus on the concept of genre, and those in Part 2 investigate specific linguistic phenomena and their relation to genre.

Part 1 begins with Janet Giltrow’s  chapter, ‘Genre as difference: The sociality of linguistic variation’ (29–51), in which she argues that form plays a crucial role in the investigation of genre and that function can affect form at a low level of generality. Following is a chapter by Tuija Virtanen (53–84), which presents a two-level model separating text types and discourse types, and shows how variation studies can profit from taking into account genre dynamics and text/discourse types. Maurizio Gotti (‘A new genre for a specialized community’, 85–110) documents the rise of a new genre, namely the experimental essay in seventeenth-century English, and Javier Pérez-Guerra and Ana E. Martínez-Insua (111–40) investigate the relationship of linguistic complexity and textual formality. In the following chapter, ‘Mein Problem ist/mein Thema ist (‘My problem is/my topic is’): How syntactic patterns and genres interact’ (141–66), Wolfgang Imo shows how genres are signalled by specific syntactic constructions and set phrases. Similarly, Cornelius Puschmann (167–91) finds that certain pronominal patterns are characteristic of the emerging genre of corporate blogging.

Various syntactic phenomena and their genre-specific use are the topic of Part 2. Susanne Günthner (‘Grammatical constructions and communicative genres’, 195–217) looks at non-finite constructions and was-questions in spoken German interaction, and Britta Mondorf (219–45) investigates genre effects in the replacement of reflexives by particles. Johannes Kabatek, Philip Obrist, and Valentina Vincis (‘Clause linkage techniques as a symptom of discourse traditions: Methodological issues and evidence from Romance languages’, 247–75) discuss the development of clause-linking in written Spanish genres using diachronic corpus data. The function of fronted locative constituents in fictional prose to recreate immediate visual experience is explored by Rolf Kreyer (‘Syntactic constructions as a means of spatial representations in fictional prose’, 277–303), and a corpus-based study of agreement in educated Jamaican English is the topic of a chapter by Susanne Jantos (305–31). Finally, Theresa Heyd (‘I know you guys hate forwards: Address pronouns in digital folklore’, 333–58) takes on second-person plural forms and their occurrence in email hoaxes.

Syntactic variation and genre study are two fascinating and vibrant research areas. As this book shows, exploring their mutual relationship yields a number of interesting findings that should inspire much future research.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .