PRIN 2008 – Discourse identities and sense of space: from key-words to phraseology

The project investigates the relation between keywords and discourse identity through the study of recurrent phraseology. Its main goal is to offer a methodological reflection on: a) the notion of “keywords” within a phraseological perspective and b) the potential for integrating instruments from discourse analysis and corpus linguistics.

The phraseological dimension assumes a prominent position in the study of keywords, in the sense that it becomes the privileged perspective for the study of the relationship between textuality and linguistic description. Foundational methodological elements of this study are Sinclair’s (1996) concept of  “extended unit of meaning” and that of collocational variation. Of particular interest is an in-depth analysis of lexis making use of the most recent contributions offered by neo-Firthian linguists: on one level “concgrams” (Cheng et al. 2006), with their attention to inter-collocational patterns among or across textual elements, on another level “semantic sequences” (Hunston 2008), which may reveal the repetition of semantic patterns even in the face of formal changes.
Of primary importance is a pragmatic approach to the data, one which treats phraseology and semantic sequences as foundational in the construction of discourse identity through their evaluative elements. Particular attention is given to the shaping of professional and cultural identities (local, ethnic, national, etc.). The analysis hones in on the representation of the concept of space in texts and the role places may take up in the construction of cultural, professional and discourse identity. The characterization of space often takes on a central role in the subjectivity of the speaker, be it in the sense of her/his spatio-temporal perspective, be it in her/his cultural or ideological position.
Attention will also be paid to the ways different discourse identities are formed linguistically in accordance with the illocutive intent of the speakers, the relation among participants, the private/public nature of the interaction. The comparison of different discourse genres, different historical moments, and different linguistic contexts should offer interesting perspectives for lexical analysis, highlighting, for example, the evaluative elements and the semantic sequences qualifying a lexical element in one context as opposed to others. The diachronic perspective which will emerge from the comparative observation of the results from the different Units (some of whom are concentrated on contemporary texts while others analyze the same text genres on other moments in the history of the English language) will allow for the identification of the principal juncture points in which different linguistic strategies have been enacted, and study both their variation and change.
The project intends to verify these hypotheses through a series of case studies which include both forms of discourse in which the representation of space and places is the primary object of communication (as in artistic discourse or travel narratives), and forms of discourse which have a different primary object (as in historical discourse, which privileges the temporal dimension of the text, while placing considerable attention on the categorization of the spaces in which the historical events are situated). The materials, gathered in the form of comparable modular corpora, will involve a variety of text types, including literary texts or specialized discourse.
Specific interest will be given to the forms of epistolary, academic, journalistic and professional discourse. Useful comparative tools will be available through the existing general corpora of English and Italian.
The analysis aims to proceed at different levels: lexico-semantic (with particular interest in collocation, semantic preference and semantic sequence), as well as textual and pragmatic, privileging a comparative approach (across domains, genres and linguistic-cultural contexts).

The expected results include:
a) a better definition of the concepts under investigation;
b) a mapping of the keywords and phraseology in specific case studies (focusing on the notion of space);
c) the organization of five study days, each focusing on one aspect of the general theme: phraseology and the construction of discourse identity, representation of
space and cultural identities in public and private communication, representation of space and evaluative point of view in the professional and cultural identities;
d) at least three volumes in which the results of the theoretical and descriptive study on the relationship between keywords, phraseology and professional and cultural
identity are compiled according to principles of thematic affinity and complementarity of results;
e) self-access materials aimed at helping university students develop their ability to carry out a phraseological analysis in a diatypical, diachronic and interlinguistic