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DISCOURSE TYPES,

GENRE SCHEMATA,
AND
RHETORICAL RELATIONS

Andrej A. Kibrik
Institute of Linguistics,
Russian Academy of Sciences

kibrik@comtv.ru

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Genres and discourse types

Discourse studies: typology of discourse


specimens is the least developed area (cf.
e.g. van Dijk ed. 1997)
However, the issue is important: in any
empirical discipline a classification of
specimens is among central tasks

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General problem

In modern discourse studies, there is no


satisfactory classification of genres or
discourse types
All available classifications are purely
enumerative
Enumerative inventories cannot be
demonstrated to be exhaustive and
internally coherent

3
A classification of animals in
‘a Chinese Encyclopedia’
cited in Borges’ Celestial Emporium
of Benevolent Knowledge
1.those that belong to 10. innumerable ones,
the Emperor,
11. those drawn with a
2.embalmed ones,
very fine camelhair
3.suckling pigs,
brush,
4.those that are trained,
12. others,
5.mermaids,
13. those that have just
6.fabulous ones,
broken a flower vase,
7.stray dogs,
14. those that from a
8.those included in the
present classification, long way off look like
flies
9.those that tremble as
if they were mad, 4
General goal

Move towards a non-enumerative, but


rather a calculus-type classification of
discourse genres

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Specific problem

Discourse genres are defined as non-linguistic


phenomena
Swales (1990):
genres are attributes of discourse
communities
genres serve typical communicative
intentions salient in such communities
It is not clear whether genres can be attributed
any linguistic properties

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Specific goals

Address the question: are discourse


genres linguistically identifiable?
If yes, attempt to provide a linguistic
definition of at least one genre

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ATTEMPTS OF LINGUISTIC
GENRE DEFINITION

Linguistic definition 1: Genre schemata


TOO GENERAL
Linguistic definition 2: Morphosyntactic
and lexical features
TOO DETAILED
An alternative linguistic definition:
Configurations of rhetorical structures

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Linguistic definition 1:
Genre schemata

The story schema (Chafe 1994)


Orientation
Complication
Climax
Denouement
Coda
Additional elements in Labov 1972
Abstract
Evaluation 9
Definition 1
(another example)

The Native English business letter schema


(Kong 1998)
Source of reference
Making the request
Background of the company
Justification for the request
Stating the conditions
Other related requests
Cordial conclusion
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Definition 1 is problematic

Too large-scale approach: It is unclear


how one can make any predictions of the
linguistic form of a genre specimen

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Linguistic definition 2:
Morphosyntactic and
lexical features
Biber 1989
481 texts in corpus
67 morphosyntactic and lexical features
5 dimensions: groups of covarying features
8 clusters of texts in the 5-dimensional space
8 text types with tentative labels, such as “intimate
interpersonal interaction”
limited correlation to established genres
Example: 62% texts of the genre of personal
telephone conversation belong to the text type
“intimate interpersonal interaction”
The conclusion is that genres are linguistically
irrelevant 12
Linguistic definition 2 fails,
as demonstrated by Biber
Too small-scale approach: Individual
morphosyntactic and lexical features are
incommensurable with discourse genres as
wholes

But why do discourses of the same type fail


to have consistent characteristics?

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A possible clue:
types of passages

Narrative
Descriptive
Expository (explanatory)
Instructive and hortatory
Persuasive (argumentative)
(see e.g. Longacre 1992)

this list is enumerative, too, but at least the


number of categories is more embraceable
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Selected features of discourse
passages

Type of passage Characteristic morphosyntactic


and lexical phenomena
Narrative Past tense, perfectives
Descriptive Stative predicates
Expository ???
Instructive Imperatives
Persuasive Modal verbs
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Reasons for Biber’s results

Morphosyntactically and lexically identifiable


discourse units are passages rather than
discourses as wholes
Genres are not internally homogeneous in terms
of passage types; they consist of more than one
passage type
Therefore, discourses as wholes cannot be
expected to be consistent in terms of
morphosyntactic and lexical features

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A set of working hypotheses
So, the question is: what could be a
viable linguistic definition of discourse
genres? Or at least of passage types?
Prerequisite: Genres can be defined in
terms of genre schemata
Genres schemata can be defined as
combinations of passage types
Passage types can be defined in terms of
rhetorical relations
Therefore, genres can also be ultimately
defined in rhetorical terms 17
A CASE STUDY
THE NIGHT DREAM STORIES PROJECT
Original goal: search for differences in discourse
structure in the night dream stories of children
with and without neurotic disorders
69 stories from neurotic children
60 stories from neurologically intact children
About 3000 discourse units in corpus
The corpus has been:
transcribed
RST-diagrammed
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Rhetorical structure
theory (RST)
Originally formulated by Mann and Thompson 1988
A unified view of discourse structure, irrespective of
the size of discourse segments
A nomenclature of rhetorical relations between
discourse segments
Each discourse segment serves the realization of
the overall communicative intention of the speaker
We added a number of rhetorical relations to the
canonical set in order to account for narrative
discourse data (Kibrik, Podlesskaya, Kal’kova, and
Litvinenko 2002) 19
Generalized schema of a
night dream story

Begin
(Headline)
Setting
NARRATIVE CHAIN
(Evaluation)
(Summary)
End

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Two major types of passages
in stories

The great majority of texts in corpus are


predominantly narrative (= are stories)
129 texts altogether
6 non-narrative texts
Narrative chain: Narrative type of passage
Setting: Descriptive type of passage

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Typical normal story: Z11
1. My s klassom ..(1.8) poshli ..(1.1) vot ..(0.5) kuda-to.
My classmates and I went somewhere.
2. ..(0.3) Zashli v dom,
Entered a house,
3. ..(1.2) i tam ..(0.2) byli stupen'ki ..(1.8) i voda.
and there were steps and water there.
4. ..(1.0) My stali na bol'shoj plot,
We went onto a big raft
5. ..(0.6) i pereexali na druguju storonu.
and crossed to the other side.
6. ..(1.5) Potom ..(1.4) my vyshli iz dveri.
Then we exited the door.
7. ..(0.8) Tam byla dver' ...(1.0) takaja zheltaja.
There was a door there, a yellow one.
8. ..(0.5) My otkryli ee,
We opened it,
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...
RST-diagram of text Z11

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RHETORICAL STRUCTURE
OF NARRATIVE PASSAGES

Uppermost relations:
Sequence
Consequence
(Emotional reaction)
(Discord)
All these relations are variants of the basic
narrative relation
We can therefore define the narrative
passage as a passage that has one of
narrative relations in its uppermost node 24
Typical neurotic story: N08
1. Ja byla doma ..(0.3) s mamoj, ..(1.1) s bratom,
I was at home with my mom, with my brother,
2. ..(0.4) nu tam ..(0.3) kot mne eshche snilsja moj.
well I dreamt about my cat too.
3. ...(2.8 m) Dolgoe tam vremja snilos',
For a long time I dreamt
4. kak my prosto doma tam,
how we were just at home
5. delami zanimaemsja.
doing various chores.
6. ..(1.) Potom ..(0.2) chego-to ..(0.2) trevogu ja pochuvstvovala,
Then for some reason I felt anxiety,
7. vygljanula v okno,
looked out of the window,
8. u nashego pod'ezda pozharnaja mashina stoit.
next to our entrance there was a fire engine.
... 25
RST-diagram of text N08

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Frequency of the uppermost
narrative relations

Relations n %%
Sequence 91 71
Consequence 29 22
Emotional reaction 3 2
NONE (non-narrative text) 6 5
TOTAL 129 100
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Relations appearing above
narrative relations:

Begin
Headline
Setting
(Evaluation)
(Summary)
End
Out-relations
 All these relations are “genre-
organizational” for the genry of story 28
Frequency of the highest level
non-narrative relations
Relations above narrative Number
NONE 20
Begin 9
End 69
Headline 10
Summary 1
Setting 55
Out-relations 13
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Rhetorical relations-based
definition of the genre of
story
Story is a discourse that has one of narrative
relations in its highest node in the rhetorical
graph, with the exclusion of genre-
organizational relations Begin, End, Headline,
Summary, Setting, and Evaluation

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A generalized rhetorical
diagram of a story

STORY

Begin End

  

Headline Summary

  

Setting Evaluation

  

Sequence/Consequence/….
  …  

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RHETORICAL STRUCTURE OF
DESCRIPTIVE PASSAGES IN
STORIES (SETTINGS)
Frequency of settings in stories

Z N Total %%
Setting 25 38 63 49

No 35 31 66 51
Setting
Total 60 69 129 100
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Most typical relations
appearing at the uppermost
node of descriptive passages
Joint
Elaboration
Background

At a certain degree of granularity, these three


relations can be taken as varieties of one and
the same
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Relations that can potentially
appear above the typical
descriptive relations
Source-out is the only relation that
appears in this position in corpus more
than once
Five other relations appear once each,
most of them of organizational (e.g.
Summary) or realizational (e.g. Split) kind
34
Frequency of settings by
structural type
Uppermost relation n n, including similar %%
TRIVIAL CASE 14 14 22
Joint 13 16 25
Source-out > Joint 3
Elaboration 15 22 35
Source-out > Elaboration 4
Background 4 6 10
Source-out > Background 2
Other 5 5 8

TOTAL 63 100
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Generalizations on the
rhetorical structure of
descriptive passages
There is a significant portion (22%) of trivial
descriptive passages that do not contain any
rhetorical relation
Whenever descriptive passages are not trivial,
they can be reliably defined as having one of
the relations Joint, Elaboration, and Background
in their uppermost node

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Questions remaining for
future research
 Are descriptive passages as well rhetorically definable as
narrative passages?
 Are basic descriptive relations used exclusively in
descriptive passages?
 Can it be the case that types of passages are rhetorically
definable only when they figure as “major” (Longacre)
types of passages in particular discourse genres?
If that is the case, rhetorical definitions may be more suitable
for genres than passage types.
 How can one define trivial passages? Perhaps inherent
aspect of predicates?
 Can all discourse material be attributed to a certain type
of passage? 37
CONCLUSIONS

 At least some passage types can be identified in terms of


rhetorical relations
 Since genre schemata can be defined as configurations of
passage types, genres can also be ultimately defined in terms
of rhetorical relations
 A rhetorical relations-based definition appears adequate for
the narrative type of passage, and for the discourse genre of
story
 For descriptive passages in stories, a rhetorical definition is
useful when such passages are not trivial
 The question of whether a rhetorical definition can be
universally used to define discourse passages and genres
requires further study
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