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REVIEW ARTICLE Strategies of discourse comprehension. By Teun A. van Dijk and Walter Kintsch. New York: Academic Press, 1983. Pp. xi, 418. $38.50. Reviewed by Douglas Biber, University of Southern California* A discourse perspective has become increasingly important in linguistics. Within descriptive linguistics, grammatical processes like definitization, pronominalization , ellipsis, and focus are regularly studied in discourse contexts; and functional analyses of syntactic features in discourse (e.g. passives, clefts, subordinate constructions) have become common. Studies of linguistic variation , whether among social groups or situations, are normally based on naturally occurring discourse. Sociological studies ofconversational interaction and anthropological studies of speech events both require a discourse perspective. Given this widespread interest, it is no surprise that the cognitive processing of discourse has become a central issue in psycholinguistics. Highly informative and thought-provoking, SDC represents one of the most fully articulated models of discourse comprehension to date; it should provide a research framework for some years to come. It is useful reading for researchers working in the broad areas of psycholinguistics, discourse analysis, and educational linguistics, as well as those working on comprehension itself. SDC presents a detailed model of discourse comprehension, with primary emphasis on the processes of comprehension, rather than static representations . Van Dijk & Kintsch bring complementary backgrounds to the writing of the book: Van Dijk's earlier work (1972, 1977, 1981) deals with text grammar and discourse pragmatics in relatively broad and abstract terms, while Kintsch has a more experimental orientation, with primary interests in semantic memory and cognitive processes (1974, 1977). In SDC, they combine their interests and orientations to develop a model of text comprehension and production. The SDC model extends an earlier one (Kintsch & van Dijk 1978) in several respects. The major structure in that version is the 'textbase', a hierarchical semantic representation defined in terms of propositions, and relations among propositions. SDC proposes a second major structure: the 'situation model', which represents the events, participants, and general situation of a text. Thus simultaneous, interacting representations of the text (the textbase) and the social context (the situational model) are constructed during discourse comprehension . More importantly, SDC is process-oriented, whereas the earlier model was developed in static terms. That is, the primary focus of 5DC is the on-line construction of meaning—an account of how the processing and interpretation of text can occur simultaneously. V&K's central claim is that online discourse comprehension requires 'strategies' which use different kinds of information in different orders, to construct a (tentative) representation of a text efficiently and rapidly. * I want to thank Edward Finegan and William Grabe for comments on an earlier version ofthis review. 664 REVIEW ARTICLE665 In several respects, 5DC represents a major advance in the study ofdiscourse comprehension. It attempts to model the entire process, providing an over-all framework for more detailed studies. The book proceeds from micro to macro levels of representation, describing the functions of strategies at each. Despite its comprehensive nature, SDC is relatively detailed, raising important issues and proposing possible answers at several levels of comprehension. V&K also attempt to provide an integrated model, showing how the structures and strategies at each level relate to those at others. Finally, the hypothesized use of strategies is frequently illustrated through consideration of naturally occurring texts (primarily a news article from Newsweek, but also samples from literary discourse and conversation), and certain aspects of the model are tested experimentally . The analyses of the text samples and the experiments do not prove the validity of SDC; but they provide empirical support, and indicate how experimental tests might proceed. Thus SDC develops a general model which identifies important issues requiring further research, rather than presenting a fully-specified theory of discourse comprehension. Chap. 1 introduces the notions of strategy, textbase, and situational model. In addition, it provides an overview of the types of strategies within the model, including certain ones not treated elsewhere in SDC. These include stylistic strategies (attention to alternative ways of expressing similar meanings, depending on situation, participants, and over-all goals); rhetorical strategies (e.g. for figures of speech); and conversational strategies (e.g. for turn-taking). As research studies are extended to a variety of discourse types, all these should receive more...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-0665
Print ISSN
0097-8507
Pages
pp. 664-668
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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