Sunday, April 13, 2014

Discourse analysis

So I'm taking a DA class this semester.

I'll be honest: the formal linguistics stuff fascinates me. I'm only interested in the applied insofar as it relates to acquiring language. Particularly L2 and L3. But I've been taken by discourse analysis. The first thing is that it is hard. Not in the sense of hard science, but difficult hard. The reason is two-fold.

I'll get an example that is based off of what I'm doing. I'm fiddling with More's Utopia right now. The main angle I'm working on is that Utopia is a political attack on Henry VIII, which was not a safe thing to do. So the first trick is to show that it's a political work rather than religious. So I've done a frequency analysis of the vocabulary. I feel pretty confident that Utopia is political in nature. Why? I've compared vocabulary frequency of Cicero's de re publica against Utopia. A lot of the frequencies for critical words line up pretty nicely. Especially "publicus" and "magistratus". It's a nice sleight of hand trick. So now that I feel I've established Utopia as a political work, I want to show how More deals with Henry. Mostly I'm going to cast it as a politeness thing. By putting social distance between Utopia and the king, More increases his safety.

So as you can see, it requires a lot of clever work to make a good point. You can't screw around with sloppy thinking. Except that they do. By which I mean dragging in that old schei├čkopf, Karl Marx. Marxism is a terrible political philosophy that put too many people on the wrong side of the dirt in the 20th century. If that weren't enough to discredit a philosopher, I don't know what would be. But yet I keep seeing his name dragged up as if he had something useful to say. And that just makes me angry. And this is the second class I've seen a book mention him, so it's not exactly accidental.

Anyway, I wish there were a less ugly philosophy to analyze some of this stuff from. Maybe we need a Misesian angle. I'd tell you how I'm the one to develop it, but I'm not.