Tag Archives: rhetoric

“Language Varieties and Composition” Jenefer Giannasi (1987)

In this chapter, Giannasi reviews literature pertaining to the paradigm shift in composition and rhetoric studies toward sociolinguistics.. Effective composition pedagogy during this time aimed to improve students’ sociolinguistic competence in order to develop rhetorical competence in oral and written communication. A shift toward language varieties as the subject matter of composition pedagogy and research indicates a shifting awareness of how language is used by certain communities as well as language is used by individuals in specific situations. Drawing on a number of disciplines outside our field, teachers and researchers began studying different dialects practiced by certain communities, the nature of dialect itself, inter-varietal dialects (standard vs. non-standard, middle class vs. “lower” class, Black English vs. standard English) and intra-varietal dialects (spoken vs. written, formal vs. informal, style differentiation). Teachers also emphasized communicative competence—the ability to determine the rhetorical situation of specific communicative acts and the ability to make rhetorical choices needed to negotiate the sociocultural and linguistic demands for particular rhetorical situations.

In order to teach communicative competence in the classroom, researchers and teachers needed to develop understanding the wide scope, influence, and uses of the various languages. Of particular concern were developing understanding about variety status, code switching, mutual intelligibility, and social attitudes about language use. “International” problems of teaching communicative competence in English speaking classrooms also came into focus. (231-232)

In the early 1970s, sociolinguistic studies were prolific. Five major research areas were determined by Pride and Labov to be of use to this work: field studies of linguistic diversity in urban communities; investigations of social implications of dialectology; identification of coexistent systems and bilingualism; attitudinal studies of the social evaluation of language; and reconsideration of the relation of language and thought (233).

Also in need was ability for teachers to know how to respond appropriately to, assess and evaluate language varieties in written composition. Focus turned toward how to help students who spoke non-standard English develop communicative competence. Bidialectal research was key here. Previous assumptions about writing differences between white students and students of color were challenged. Focus on grammar shifted from attention to error to attention to appropriate use/rhetorical effectiveness. As attention turned to helping minority students, contrastive analysis between speech and writing also became necessary. All in all the research indicated that composition teachers in pluralistic society needed greater understanding of language varieties and all its complexities. This work stimulated the dialectal-diatypic shift in perspectives prominent in the 1980s.

Dialectal varieties—the linguistic reflection of reasonably permanent characteristics of the USER in language situations.

Diatypic varieties– the linguistic reflection of recurrent characteristics of the user’s USE in language situations.

This shift was important because it shifted attention away from the way users are governed by temporal, geographic, and social provenance and dialects to the various uses which are governed by role, relationship, and discourse requirements (238).

The shift away from how communities communicate to how individuals communicate in certain situations emphasized the use of sound, syntax, context, register, functions, and stylisitics in various communicative acts.

When studying dialectics, focus attended to distinctions of pronunciation, vocabulary and syntax in various communicative habits; the primacy of speech; and differences between spoken and written language. In attempting to define, identify, and differentiate dialects, the definition of dialects was dependent on a number of various perspectives. One perspective treated dialect as nonjudgmental linguistic term and focused on regional, social, and literary varieties. However, another judgmental perspective focused on defining standards of various dialects instigating the ongoing standard/non-standard English debate. Not only were temporal and regional dialects researched, so were social dialects, determined the socio-economic and linguistic variables that affect social interaction. With this change, “non-standard English is now considered within the context of the nature of language, sociolinguistic principles, educational implications, and needed in school research. The connections between language behavior and social class became popular as did studies of the ramifications of Black English, its historical significance, and its cultural validity and the implications of these studies on teaching and training (247). Bidialectal teaching approaches were researched. So too did the uniqueness of grammar. As mentioned before, teachers attitudes, beliefs, and values also became focus of research.

Evolving out of this research and pedogical concerns came the “Students Right to their Own Language” in CCC in 1974. “This statement attempts to help teachers of composition and communication review then-current attitudinal problems and linguistic knowledge so they may more effectively respond to the variety of dialects they face in the English classroom” (249).

The study of diatypic varieties focuses attention on intentionality of speaker and the rhetorical negotiations he/she makes when communicating for specific audience in specific context. Speech events, cohesive procedures, stylistic variations, and stylistic considerations of written rhetorical competence became major concerns of composition.

Made popular were Martin Joos level of functional styles: frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and intimate. Gleason’s adaption of these styles turned attention to written keys: formal, informal, and semiformal. Cautionary studies became popular in which teachers were challenged to become aware of their own prejudices toward non-standard communication habits. Comparative linguistic analysis of different genres composed in specific situations became a popular teaching activity. Register studies grew as did attention to the coherence and cohesion of texts. Usage handbooks grew which first were determined by linguistic norms of authority to usage in situation and thus the rhetorical role of usage. Error was thus redefined as was usage error.

Data-gathering methodologies changed as well. Ethnography of communication became popular as language variety became a matter of literacy, dialectal and diatypic differentiation became important and usage and acceptability became an issue of assessment (258). Communicative competence arose from ethnography studies which seek to determine the social significance of competence and performance in speech and writing events (258).

Most important here to realize is that the study of rhetorical competence became firmly established in the field of composition, as it clearly influenced comp pedagogy and research.


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Manifesto for Social Histories of Rhetoric

Manifesto: Why Study and Write Social Histories of Rhetoric?”

If we define social histories as the histories of everyday lives which haven’t been typically represented in mainstream histories, then I am assuming social histories of rhetoric(s) pertains to the use of rhetorical practices by communities and members of communities who haven’t been typically represented in mainstream rhetorical history. Working under this assumption, it is extremely important in my eyes to complicate and expand the ancient rhetorical canon beyond the traditional Greco-Roman discursive framework to include rhetorical practices employed by various members of the many diverse ancient communities from around the world, many of which exist and operate outside traditional conceptions of discursive rhetorics. We need, in other words, to open the canon of ancient rhetoric to body of texts, artifacts, and discourse venues that more accurately represents ancient rhetorics practiced by various members of specific cultures (Gaines). In order to open the canon, we must not assume that rhetoric in all ancient cultures is confined to discursive language use as traditionally conceived in classical Western rhetoric. Not only do members of ancient cultures enact rhetoric through non-verbal mediums, such as songs, gestures, physical movements, attire, and spaces, rhetoric employed in global settings often does not operate logically according to the Western Greco-Roman mindset.

In order to uncover social histories of non-discursive rhetorical practices, we must first expand the scope of rhetoric beyond its traditionally conceived discursive framework. As James Fredal convincingly argues, rhetoric should encompass the “manipulation of signs in any symbolic system, through any medium, capable of communicating meaning and value” (“Seeing” 183). Expanding the conception of rhetoric beyond ancient Western conception to nearly all forms of symbolic communication threatens to dismantle the traditional Greco-Roman framework as the foundation of the rhetorical canon. Yet, reasoned persuasion in the Aristotelian rhetorical sense leaves little room for oral or written texts that have their own unique rhetorical framework as well as the non-discursive symbols that behave rhetorically in many ancient (and contemporary) cultures. Thus, if social historians of ancient rhetoric truly want to investigate rhetorical practices beyond the Western canon on their own terms, social historians must not only be open to unique rhetorical frameworks but also create space within the scope of rhetoric to include non-discursive modes of communication that do not operate according to western logic and traditional western forms of communication. A move toward the non-discursive in rhetorical criticism would help us better understand the full spectrum of rhetorical transactions made by various people in various cultures at various points in their histories—a recommendation made by rhetorical scholars at the well-known Wingspread Conference back in 1970 (Ochs 2). This movement toward non-discursivity is especially important because we must begin to embrace cultural rhetorics from perspectives that do not reify Greco-Roman classical rhetoric as the apex in the development of ancient rhetorical systems (Lipson and Binkley 2). Excavating global, non-discursive rhetorics also exposes and challenges the tendency of canonized Western rhetoric to normalize as rhetoric the rhetorical system of one particular western culture” (Lipson and Binkley 2).

I also strongly advocate for embracing transcultural and transhistorical research on both discursive and non-discursive rhetorical practices because of its potential to bridge the polarized thinking concerning western/non-western and literate/non-literate societies that still pervades our field, despite recent efforts to complicate this way of thinking. As Robert Oliver makes clear in his original call for scholars to study “non-western” rhetorics that received harsh criticism back in 1961, “There is not just one rhetoric—instead, there are many rhetorics…and many different modes of thinking, many different standards of value, many different ways in which influence must be exerted if it is to be effective” (qtd. in Lu 113). Lois Agnew points out that the last generation of historians took a major step in recognizing that such rhetorical differences exist amongst various cultures and various members within those cultures, and that there is a significant “value in conceptions of language that are different from those we have inherited through the western rhetorical tradition” (Interview). This scholarship is vital; we need to be aware of these differences in order not to hold prejudices against other cultures and develop an appreciation for cultural rhetorics different from our own. Yet by solely focusing on rhetorical differences, we often miss the opportunity to locate similarities in the ways and reasons why certain members of certain cultures communicate rhetorically—similarities that can bridge the hierarchical thinking patterns that cloud our rhetorical gaze. Our goal should not be to develop a “General Theory” of rhetoric applicable to all cultures, as Kennedy attempts to do in Comparative Rhetoric. Rather, as Xing Lu has argued, our goal should be to “bridge gaps of misunderstandings for the betterment, enrichment, and illumination of human conditions” (“Studies and Development” 115). By identifying common values and beliefs, ways of communicating those beliefs and values, and reasons for communicating those beliefs and values across differences, social historians of rhetoric can facilitate transcultural and transhistorical understanding of how and why people in ancient cultures communicate rhetorically.

Our concern should not just focus on ancient rhetorical practices, however. We must also turn our rhetorical gaze to rhetorical practices enacted by various underepresented members of modern cultures for a wide range of purposes. As our field takes the global turn, we especially have the responsibility to deepen our understanding of how rhetoric operates beyond our own borders and contributes to the unequal labor and cultural dynamics at work in our increasingly globalized world. Because women and their families are especially susceptible to the unequal labor and cultural dynamics, we have the opportunity to put our scholarship into direct actions that improve the lives of women and their families. This is not to say I am advocating for rhetorical scholars in western settings to create a hero narrative for themselves and our discipline by “rescuing” those in need. However, rhetoricians aimed at uncovering the rhetorical practices of people who have been marginalized in historical and contemporary rhetorical studies can use our scholarship to affect real change. Peter Stearns claims history has the potential to explain and understand change in human behavior (“Why Study History” 2). I would argue that history, especially rhetorical history, also has the potential to create social change. By uncovering the rhetorical practices historically employed to marginalize communities such as women marked as “Third World,” social historians of rhetorical practices can identify and challenge contemporary rhetorics that are both explicitly and implicitly oppressive and discriminatory. Simultaneously, we can identify and support contemporary rhetorical practices employed by marginal communities to resist those oppressive and discriminatory rhetorics. In all of these ways, social historians focusing on rhetorical practices in the global world, can use our scholarship to not only create a more diverse and equitable discipline, we can also play an important role in creating a safer and more equitable globalized world.

Works Cited:

Agnew, Lois. “Response to Haskins.” Personal Email. June 2007.

Fredal, James. “Seeing Ancient Rhetoric, Easily at a Glance.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Vol. 36 (2006), pp. 181-189.

Gaines, Robert N. “De-Canonizing Ancient Rhetoric.” The Viability of the Rhetorical Tradition. Eds. Richard Graff, Arthur E. Walzer, and Janet M. Atwill. New York: State University of New York Press, 2005. 61-73.

Lipson, Carol and Roberta A. Binkley. Eds. Rhetoric Before and Beyond the Greeks. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

Lu, Xing. “Studies and Development of Comparative Rhetorics in the U.S.A.: Chinese and Western rhetoric in Focus.” China Media Research. 2 (2), 2006, pp. 112-116.

Ochs, Donovan J. Consolatory Rhetoric: Grief, Symbol, and Ritual in the Greco-Roman Era. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Stearns, Peter N. “Why Study History?” American Historical Association. 1998. August 30 2007.

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“Speech is a Powerful Lord” Johnstone

In this article, Johnstone confirms Gorgia’s assertions about the magical effects of oratory rhetoric in ENCOMIUM OF HELEN with evidence from contemporary research in pscyho-phisiology.  After presenting research positing that (as Gorgias understood and articulated) oral langauge has cognitive and emotional effects on a listener, and thus, psychological power, Johnstone concludes with a couple of claims that raise questions related to disability studies.  Johnstone writes that we would to well to sustain Gorgias’ belief that “the persuasive power of logos cannot be understood apart from the sounds of speech….spoken rhetoric has been an embodied art, its practice inseperable from the voice that utters it” (12).  I appreciate Johnstone’s attempts to emphasize the power of spoken rhetoric, for presentation and delivery to contribute in significant ways to how rhetoric is both produced and consumed.  I wonder, however, about the implicatons of Johnstone’s claims for the hearing impaired or persons with other disabilities who cannot hear the power of which Gorgias and Johnstone speak.  If we embrace the notion that the persuasive power of logos cannot be seperated from sound, utterance, etc., then does that mean that those without ability to hear cannot experience the power of spoken rhetoric.  Does that mean that logos can only be expressed through the spoken word?  I agree with Johnstone in that we should be acutely aware of the power voice plays in spoken rhetoric.  I do wonder though if we often give too much credit to voice in spoken rhetoric.  What role does body language play in the persuasive power of spoken rhetoric?  Can we seperate logos from body language?  Most associate the ability to reason with the ability to verbally articulate reason, yet don’t we make logical appeals through other means than the voice?  While it is certainly useful to focus our research on the emotional and cognitive effects of the spoken word, it would behoove us to begin researching the emotional and cognitive affects of body language employed in oral rhetoric.  This research would deepen our understanding of the pyschological effects of oral rhetoric articulated through the body, but perhaps more importantly, it would deepen our understanding of how those with certain disabilities both persuade and are persuaded through logical appeals in ways previously not understood.

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