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Poetics Today 21.2 (2000) 463-465

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New Books at a Glance

Stéréotypes et clichés:
Langue, discours, société

Ruth Amossy, Anne Herschberg Pierrot, Stéréotypes et clichés: Langue, discours, société. Collection 128. Paris: Nathan, 1998. 128 pp.

The purpose of the small books in Collection 128, published by Nathan, is to introduce students to a subject, field, or discipline. In the case of this work by Ruth Amossy and Anne Herschberg Pierrot, the task is complicated by certain features of the topic treated. Stéréotypes et clichés is concerned not with a specific field, technique, or discipline but with a notion, and one used in a variety of disciplinary fields, at times incompatible with one another. To cap it all, the word stéréotype is in common usage.

Amossy and Herschberg Pierrot, themselves pioneers in the field of stereotype research, meet the challenge in this accessible and absorbing little book. One of its merits is indeed that they have not sought to construct or envisage a unified account of the notion—with its necessarily reductive and restrictive consequences—but have chosen instead to present several of the notion’s disciplinary facets, in the light of the different theories involved. The reader is thus invited in the first chapter to a historical journey and then to thematic explorations, and each of the following three chapters illustrates the way a given discipline utilizes, theorizes, and problematizes the notion of stereotype to suit its own field.

The first chapter, “Histoire des notions,” presents the set of related terms clichés, poncifs (bromides), lieux communs (commonplaces), idées reçues (received ideas), and stéréotypes, then recalls their origin, their context, and their history. In this way the evolution of their meaning is made manifest, particularly with regard to the progressive appearance of negative connotations. The whole analysis is supported by fine quotations.

The second chapter opens the disciplinary survey with “La notion de stéréotype dans les sciences sociales,” namely, psychosociology and the more recent cultural and intercultural studies. (It is a pity, by the way, that this latter field—its homogeneity, origin, discipline, objective, etc.—is not discussed more fully.) The chapter presents a series of inquiries into the notion of stereotype whereby the reader gradually learns its complexity and the wealth of issues it involves, such as the relationship between stereotype and prejudice, or the question of the “core of truth.” A panorama of the research directions thus unfolds, naming the principal researchers (also to be found [End Page 463] in the analytic bibliography) and illustrated by stock examples that are applicable to situations in everyday life.

This chapter already implies stereotypes’ constructive functions (in psychology, their role in the assertion of identity and community, for example) and their inevitability. The other element introduced here, and taken up in the following chapters, concerns the evolution of the analytic perspective as it passes from the stereotype as a fixed object to the process of its construction and implementation (stereotyping).

Chapter 3, devoted to literary study (“Clichés, stéréotypes et littérature”), surveys in turn the work done on the cliché, fictional representations, and theories of reading and of reception. The authors again move from a critical-evaluative consideration of the cliché as a distinct element to taking into account its role in the text. The chapter also features numerous interesting examples drawn from a variety of research work.

Chapter 4, “Linguistique, rhétorique et analyse de discours,” is the most difficult one in the book, and perhaps the one whose route is the least transparent. It is composed of four unequally difficult parts; the first, “Les stéréotypes dans la langue,” is by far the toughest. It effectively covers issues of morpho-syntax (fixed expressions) and of semantics: Putnam’s stereotypes, prototypes, argumentation in language, and the notion of polyphony. These theories might have profitably been related to the epistemological positions they illustrate and to the principles in which they are grounded (e.g., the structuralist principle...


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