Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bartlett: Analysing Power in Language - A practical guide

"Analysing Power in Language" starts very positively for a book on linguistic analysis. Bartlett tells the reader that they already know a lot about discourse analysis, but what his book will try to do is to put that knowledge into focus and provide a framework that allows the reader to discuss discourse in a principled way.
The framework is systemic functional linguistics (SFL), and Bartlett's approach is to reveal only as much of this rich framework as is required to deal with the interesting range of texts that are analysed in the book. This is done carefully through a step by step approach.
The tone of the book throughout is very friendly, and reads like you are having a chat with the writer, which may make it easier for some to cope with the range of concepts and labels in SFL, but may also make it harder to use as a reference book. The sections in the book are often quite long and may include a range of ideas and terms. More subsections would make it easier when the reader wants to return and find a point or cross-reference one idea to compare with another. Ironically, the very feature that makes this book reader-friendly - the friendly, narrative tone - is the feature that makes it more difficult to read as a textbook, because it is difficult to re-locate ideas that you half-remember or did not really understand the first time round. If you can find it, the explanation will be good. The trouble is finding it.
That complaint aside, the book is very practical. The text analysis does what it says on the tin (or the cover, at least) - it shows how different aspects of language are used in various contexts (Martin Luther King's famous'I have a dream' speech, Lord Coe's final address to the IOC, and Bartlett's own fieldwork research in Guyana, among others) to exercise power through language.
Overall, Bartlett makes a valuable and unique contribution to the range of books attempting to introduce people with different concerns to the model of discourse analysis provided by SFL. If you are the kind of person that likes to learn by talking ideas through with a friend, this book is as close to a personal guide as you will find.

As with my other reviews, this is also posted as a Goodreads review.

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