The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Notes on a Discourse Analysis
of Selected Zündelsite Materials
(Part 1 of 13)

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Notes on a Discourse Analysis
of Selected Zündelsite Materials

Gary D. Prideaux
Professor of Linguistics
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E7

October 13, 1997

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Discourse analysis draws upon a variety of disciplines, including linguistics, philosophy. psychology, pragmatics, rhetoric, and sociology, to study language use. Discourse is a complex of social, psychological, and linguistic phenomena subject both to the rules of grammar, which all speakers of a language know implicitly, and to the general principles of discourse coherence. management. interpretation, and organization, which speakers of a language also command. A large body of scientific research has developed which examines how speakers construct and how hearers interpret discourse. Among the scholars who have made important contributions to this research are those listed in the references at the end of this document. Within discourse analysis research, attention is typically focused on texts, both oral or written, and on the roles and strategies of the speakers (writers) and the hearers (readers) who participate in that text.

An extended stretch of language, such as we find in conversations, narratives, polemical statements, political speeches, etc., is not just a string of sentences, one following the other, but rather it exhibits properties which reflect its organization, coherence, rhetorical force, thematic focus, etc. In written discourse, unlike more casual oral discourse, the writer constructs the text and provides it with a more formal and coherent structure, often through the use of various linguistic, stylistic and rhetorical devices. The reader of the text faces the task of constructing an interpretation from that text. One important aspect of such interpretations is the fact that the author guides the reader via the use of various linguistic strategies and structures to imbue the representation with far more information than that which is overtly present

The discourse interpretation strategies that speakers and hearer (writers and readers) employ to make sense of a text include, but do not exhaust, principles of:

1. Pragmatics, the study of language use from the perspective of social, conversational, and psychological principles (see, inter alia, Leech, 1983; Levinson, 1983; Green, 1989; Blakemore, 1992). (An important contribution to an understanding of the pragmatics principles involved in discourse stems from the work of H. P. Grice (1975) on what he called the cooperative principle, work which has been elaborated extensively by, among others, Green (1989), Fox (1987), and Sperber and Wilson (1995).);

2. Propositional analysis, the construction of the propositional content of the clauses, including the semantic roles of the arguments within the proposition (e.g., Brown & Yule, 1983; Renkma, 1993);

3. Discourse coherence and cohesion, the devices used to order parts of a text, establish causal links, sustain topic continuity, determine relations among discourse entities, establish bridging between distinct parts of a discourse (e.g., Brown & Yule, 1983; Givon, 1983; 1993);

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4. Lexical choice. The types of words that a writer uses can activate particular presuppositions, reveal speaker attitudes, require reader agreement for interpretation, etc. (e.g., Levinson, 1983; Blakemore, 1992);

5. Information management, the ways in which the writer organizes propositional content into packages, including the devices used to signal given vs. new information foregrounding vs. backgrounding, etc. (e.g., Prince, 1981; Chafe. 1994);

6. Syntactic Structure, the ways in which clauses and phrases are structured, their use in anaphor identification, and their contribution to semantic interpretation (e.g., Fox, 1987;Renkma, 1993);

7. Rhetorical organization, the types of discourse strategies used to advance a position, build an argument, refute an argument, etc. (e.g., Sperber & Wilson, 1995).

Some common rhetorical strategies used in polemical discourse include:

1. the targeting strategy, in which a particular group or entity is singled out and to which some particular characteristics are attributed;

2. the inversion strategy, in which a particular expression with its commonly held meaning is inverted, such that its meaning changes to its opposite, as in instances in which victims are changed into aggressors and aggressors become victims;

3. the alibi strategy, which involves the equivocal use of words, wherein important terms and expressions are given a special, often restrictive definition in one location and are then used subsequently and without notice in a different, often broader, meaning to lead to logically untenable and misleading conclusions.

4. the code strategy, which employs the use of metaphor and establishes a series of expressions laden with negative associations in order to construct a network of interrelated and often interchangeable terms..

5. the metonymy strategy is one in which the attributes of a particular instance are projected upon the superordinate category.

In summary, extensive research into the structure of discourse reveals that the interpretation of any particular text is governed by a variety of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic factors, that a meaning representation is much more than just the literal meanings of the words and the

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sentences, that both explicit and Implicit information are used, that bridging assumptions are constructed, that pragmatic knowledge is exploited, that a variety of rhetorical strategies are employed, and that participants' attitudes colour interpretations.


Blakemore, D. (1992). Understanding utterances. An introduction to pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Brown, G., & Yule, G. (1983). Discourse analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Chafe, W. (1994) Discourse, consciousness, and time: The flow and displacement of conscious experience in speaking and writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Fox, B.A. (1987). Discourse structure and anaphora. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Givon, T. (1993). Coherence in text, coherence in mind. Pragmatics and Cognition, 1, 171-227.

Green, G. (1989). Pragmatics and natural language understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Grice, H.P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics, Vol 3: Speech acts (pp. 41-58. New York: Academic Press

Johnson-Laird, P. (1983). Mental models. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press

Lakoff, R. (1990). Talking power: The politics of language. New York: Basic Books

Leech, G. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London & New York: Longman

Levinson, S.C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Prince, E.F. (1981). Toward a taxonomy of given-new information. In P. Cole (Ed.), Radical pragmatics (pp. 223-256). New York: Academic Press

Renkma, J. (1993). Discourse studies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Schiffrin, D. (1994). Approaches to discourse. Oxford: Blackwell

Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1995). Relevance (2nd edition). Oxford: Blackwell

Stubbs, M. (1983). Discourse analysis: The sociolinguistic analysis of natural language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

van Dijk, T.A. (1992). Discourse and the denial of racism. Discourse and Society, 3(1), 87-118

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