3. INFORMATION STRUCTURING: FROM THE FIRST STUDIES
3.3. After the Prague school: sentence, text, discourse
3.3.4. Transition from sentence to text and related terminological
When the units under investigation exceed the limits of a morphosyntactically defined sentence, the question arises about the need to oppose sentence-based and other approaches, and secondly, about determining minimal/maximal units.
Different opinions have been expressed about the possible transition from a sentence-based approach to a text-based approach: this has been invoked as one reason for the confusion that has been found in the terminology of the IS framework (Mondada 1994: 27).
The notion of ‘discourse topic’ in relation to ‘sentence topic’ can also give rise to questions: to illustrate the relations between these notions, we refer to T. A. van Dijk who has attempted a rapprochement between the notions of discourse topic and sentence topic, taking as a basis the FSP framework and referring to semantic and cognitive aspects to interpret the possible distribution of information components. With regards to the sentence, he argues that the assignment of topic and comment (Theme-Rheme) depends on the functional structure of the whole sequence of which the sentence is only one part – this applies to the semantic level, and on the other hand, it depends on the cognitive aspects of the sequence on the pragmatic level (previous knowledge, assumptions, interest focus, etc.). The discourse topic according to him summarizes, reduces, organizes and categorizes the semantic information of discourse in the form of a proposition: it is formulated as a summary and is based on the macro-structure of the discourse, which expresses the ‘global’
meaning of a discourse (Van Dijk 1977: 57). He comes to the conclusion that
both of them ‘answer the questions “about what/whom” at the macro- and the micro-level of discourse semantics’ (ibidem: 61).
However, the questions about the assignment of ‘discourse topic’ are not the centre of interest here: our aim is not to determine one general ‘topic’ of the discourse, but to analyse the functioning of detachment constructions in the framework of IS, i.e. the status of the referents, their introduction and per-sistence in discourse; the central notion is ‘utterance’ and the interpretation of utterances can be made only if one looks also to the surrounding context, its semantic and pragmatic implications.
Some remarks should also be made about some central notions that have already been mentioned in relation to the description and segmentation of discourse material.
There are two types of terms (sentence/utterance (phrase/énoncé); text/
discourse) that are sometimes considered as opposed to each other, but some-times their relations are not very clearly defined and thus remain problematic through different approaches.
The concept of discourse can be linked to the French énonciation (Ben-veniste): the speaker, using his speaking abililty, creates by his speech act an utterance which is to be considered in its context and conditions of production.
The utterance (énoncé), taken separately as an object of investigation, has been defined as a speech act, limited by pauses, but it has also been, in a more abstract sense, related to discourse, e.g. Maingueneau (1976: 11):
Le discours [...] [est] considéré comme un unité linguistique de dimension supérieure à la phrase, un message pris globalement, un énoncé.9
Enoncé seems nevertheless to be considered as a relatively short unit, a sort of discourse counterpart for ‘sentence’. The notion of text is more complex, as we have seen in section 3.3.1., because of its polysemy. But in a narrower per-spective, for example in textual linguistics, text is not very far from discourse and Dressler (1972) has already argued in the 70s that text is the fundamental element of language and that in communication speakers do not use sentences but texts. In this thesis, by using text or discourse I do not refer to some special theoretical distinctions, but after having explained the problematics of their use, it is assumed that in some cases it might be necessary to make a distinction between them, as argued by J-M. Adam 2004: 39–40 who considers that text, studied together with its context and conditions of production, enters into the domain of discursive practices and thus discourse is a larger notion than text, but if one leaves aside the idea of a written, finished form of the discourse, then both the notions can be used as referring to the same type of entity (through opposition to other entities).
9 Discourse […] [is] considered as a linguistic unit superior by its dimension to the sentence, a message taken globally, an utterance.
On the other hand, sentence does not enter into the same theoretical model and we should never claim that a discourse is made of sentences: a typo-graphical sentence is a product of many constraints (interaction, discourse genres, syntax) and is not an invariable level of textual composition (Adam 2004: 38–39). The same idea was also expressed in the first textual grammars, which dealt with connexion mechanisms, for example Halliday & Hasan who claim that we will not find the same type of integration between the parts of a text and those of a sentence or proposition (Halliday&Hasan 1976: 2).
So the question arises: do we need specific terms and approaches for the discourse level or can we make use of notions developed in the framework of sentence grammar? Generally, the notions have been extended using appro-priate definitions or additional terms.
For example, in different works, the notions of ‘sentence topic’ and
‘discourse topic’ have been used for appropriate categories, but it is not always clear what the scope is of these terms.
Similarly, clause, sentence and utterance can be considered at different levels and in different frameworks and can therefore remain vague. In the current thesis, in order to avoid confusion we use the syntactic term clause in its most ordinary sense (smallest grammatical unit), the term utterance is used for communicative units in discourse without any rigid criteria for delimitating them, as it is not necessary in most cases, sentence refers to the representation of an utterance in written form. When speaking about detachment constructions, the terms construction, constituent, element, etc. are used. Construction in this context refers to a certain recurrent form in language use.
The French linguist A. Culioli 1984: 10 has marked the difference between the two sets of concepts in the following terms:
Le texte écrit nous force, de façon exemplaire, à comprendre que l’on ne peut pas passer de la phrase (hors prosodie, hors contexte, hors situation) à l’énoncé, par une procédure d’extension. Il s’agit en fait d’une rupture théorique, aux conséquences incontournables. 10
In consequence, a large number of researchers from different theoretical backgrounds have claimed that sentence is not adapted for the analysis of oral discourse (Blanche-Benveniste et al. 1990: 39, Berrendonner 1990: 25 etc.)
Others have partly taken over definitions that have been applied in sentence-based approaches, and used them in analysis dealing with discourse, e.g.
A. Grobet (2002) who refers to Lambrecht’s definition of ‘topic’ and makes an analysis of dialogues in a modular approach, i.e. analysing long excerpts of discourse. Here could also be mentioned an article by Charolles & Combettes (1999) in which they argue that the relations between different units in a
10 The written text obliges us, in an excellent way, to understand that we cannot pass from the sentence (without prosody, without context, without situation) to the utterance, through an extension procedure. This is in fact a theoretical break with inevitable consequences.
semantic and pragmatic perspective (proposition, sentence, discourse) should not be viewed as belonging to completely different levels, but as forming a part of a continuum (Charolles & Combettes 1999: 112–113).