Book: Analyzing the Media
Chapter: Generic Structures, Rhetorical Relations and Thematic Patterns in English and Spanish Journalistic Texts: A Comparative Study
This paper provides a corpus-based comparative study of the relationship between global discourse structure, rhetorical relations and thematic patterns in a bilingual corpus of written journalistic texts belonging to three different genres (letters to the editor, editorials and reports) in English and Spanish. Previous corpus-based analyses of news reports and editorials/commentaries in these two languages have shed light on the role of clausal thematic choices as signals of their global or generic characterisation (see Lavid et al. 2010a; Moratón et al. 2012). In this study we extend this comparative analysis to the genre of “letters to the editor”, which has received less attention in the literature and examine the correlations between global discourse structures, rhetorical relations and the thematic patterns selected by writers of these journalistic texts.
The data for analysis consists of a bilingual comparable corpus of a total of sixty-two texts, consisting of sixteen news reports, sixteen editorials and twenty letters to the editor, evenly divided into English and Spanish. All the texts were collected from British and Spanish high-circulation newspapers between 2009 and 2013. English texts were extracted from three online newspapers: Times online, The Independent and The Telegraph. Spanish texts were gathered from the online versions of three high-circulation newspapers such as El País, El Mundo, and La Vanguardia. The analytical tools used for the study are Halliday and Hasan’s concept of Generic Structure Potential (Halliday and Hasan 1989) and the further extension presented in Eggins & Martin (1997), Rhetorical Structure Theory (Mann and Thompson 1988), Lavid et al.’s model of thematisation for Spanish and English (Lavid et al. 2010), and the notion of thematic progression patterns (Danes 1974; Dubois 1987; Eggins 2004, inter alia).
The results of the corpus analysis revealed interesting correlations between the global discourse structures, on the one hand, and the rhetorical relations and thematic patterns selected to realise those discourse structures, on the other. News reports, characterised by a three-staged generic structure (headline, presentation of the issue, and facts about the issue), typically select the Constant TP pattern which repeats and elaborates the topic stated in the headline in both languages (English 75% and Spanish 45%.). Editorials present a more elaborate generic structure consisting of a headline, addressing the issue, outlining the arguments and articulating a position, and prefer the Derived TP pattern in both English and Spanish probably due to the explanatory nature of the metaphorical headline. Letters to the editor are mostly of the argumentative type thus sharing the macro structure of the editorials which is realised by a combination of Themic and Rhemic patterns. The language-specific differences between the English and the Spanish texts were mainly related to the length of the global discourse structures, generally longer and more explanatory in Spanish than in English. The analysis suggests that thematic and rhetorical structuring are not random choices in discourse, but can be interpreted functionally as indicative of the genre under study, providing linguistic evidence of the global discourse structures which characterise each of these newspaper genres.