[lg policy] bibitem: Construction grammar as a tool for understanding language policy discourse

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 28 16:49:20 UTC 2012

Construction grammar as a tool for understanding language policy discourse

Jan-Ola Östman (University of Helsinki & Freiburg Institute for
Advances Studies)

The study uses material collected by the University of Helsinki
research team within the pan-European DYLAN-project on multilingual
diversity; the general topic of the Helsinki-part of the project is
the analysis and implementation of public language strategies in
multilingual universities in the north of Europe (i.e., in Norden).

One batch of the data consists of interviews with university people on
all levels – from students to chancellors – about how their
universities’ strategies and policies are (felt to be) implemented.
Our analyses of these data have used both linguistic (mostly discourse
analytic and general-pragmatic) methods and methods from the social
sciences (policy analysis, general policy process models, system
theoretical models, etc.). In this study I will add grammatical
analysis as a tool. I will show how a deeper analysis (and thus
understanding) of the grammar of discourse and interaction in these
interviews can add to our understanding of the interviews.

In previous studies, we have shown that communication (as voices)
works on three distinct levels (in language-policy discourse): (1) the
overt voice of the public documents, (2) the social-scientifically
covert, but linguistically explicit voice of different types of
administrators who endorse, defend and explain the strategy documents
and their implementation, and (3) the implicit voice that can be found
between the lines of what the proponents in (2) actually say –
irrespective of whether they approve of the language strategies and
their implementation or not. The latter two of these will in
particular be dealt with in the present study. In addition, I will
also show how the interviewer’s voice (as an inadvertent intervention)
builds up expectations that the informants navigate between and

Theoretically, I see “grammar” as the most central concept in
linguistics, grammar both in terms of sentence grammar and in terms of
grammar of discourse. In this light, the study is an attempt at
getting to terms with the notions of context and variability in
grammar. If one sees language and context (viewed as ‘culture’ in a
more general manner) as inseparable, variability in language is a
continuous challenge.

I will show how construction grammar also works as a grammar of
discourse, and I will show how we can get a better understanding of
e.g. (as in this case) what administrators on different levels in a
university hierarchy are saying (and thus what implications their
messages have) if we view variability through the potentiality of
different constellations of (non-assigned) values to attributes in a
construction grammatical framework. Thus, in our interviews with a
central administrator, a campus administrator, and a department-level
administrator at the University of Helsinki about the influence of
(or, demands from) EU on their strategies and activities, all three
interviewees have a very similar view, i.e. that the EU influence is
very minimal. But they express this view very differently – partly
also due to the reactions and responses by the interviewer(s).

Since in constructional terms form and meaning always go together, if
the forms of messages differ, the meanings they transmit are then also
different meanings – i.e., the administrators are not saying the same

Construction grammar, I conclude, is thus not only able to elucidate
“ordinary grammar”, but it is a worthwhile model for language and
communication generally.

-- http://icngl11.uni-freiburg.de/abstracts/Ostman.pdf
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