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The Language of Popularization- Die Sprache der Popularisierung

Theoretical and Descriptive Models- Theoretische und deskriptive Modelle

von Giancarmine Bongo (Band-Herausgeber:in) Giuditta Caliendo (Band-Herausgeber:in)
©2014 Sammelband 296 Seiten


In today’s knowledge-based society, exploring the dynamics of communicating specialised contents to the lay public is an undoubtedly topical issue. However, popularization still remains a rather unexplored territory and recent contributions to the field seem to lack a consistent methodological orientation, with hesitations in terms of shared and codified definitions. The contributions to this volume constitute a step forward in the field of popularization studies. New scenarios have been explored with a view to providing shared theoretical and descriptive models from a linguistic perspective and investigating the way popularization is characterised and instantiated, also taking into account its intercultural dimension. The research methods and tools draw upon the analytical framework of discourse analysis, pragmatics, corpus linguistics and genre analysis.
In der heutigen Wissensgesellschaft sind die Mechanismen des Transfers von Fachwissen an Laien von großer Relevanz. Dennoch bleibt Popularisierung ein linguistisch noch relativ unbestimmtes und unerforschtes Phänomen. Ziel des Bandes ist deshalb, neue Perspektiven zu eröffnen und auf mögliche neue konsistente Modelle (sowohl theoretische als auch methodologische) hinzuweisen. Unterschiedliche Ansätze kommen dabei ins Spiel, u.a. Diskursanalyse, Rhetorik, Pragmatik, Korpuslinguistik und genre analysis.


  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Giuditta Caliendo
  • References
  • A comparative perspective / Eine vergleichende erspektive
  • Rendering the dismal science more lively: popularizing Economics in English and Italian: Julia Bamford
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Popularized and expert texts
  • 3. Recontextualization
  • i. Primary context: production of economic discourse
  • ii. Secondary context: reproduction of economics discourse
  • iii. Recontextualizing context: relocation of economics discourse
  • 4. Genre sets
  • 5. Materials and methods
  • 6. Discussion
  • 6.1 Macro characteristics
  • 6.2 Explanation, clarification and definitions
  • 6.3 Evaluation
  • 6.4 Quotation in The Economist and Affari e Finanza
  • 7. Conclusions
  • References
  • Connecting science. Organizational units in specialist and non-specialist discourse: Marina Bondi
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Background
  • 3. Materials and methods for empirical investigation
  • 4. Key organizational units: results and discussion
  • 4.1 Narrative signals: the narrative of nature and the narrative of scientific development
  • 4.2 Focus on if, so and like: emphasis on causal and analogical reasoning
  • 5. Conclusions
  • References
  • News production and scientific knowledge: exploring popularization as a process: Giuliana Garzone
  • 1. Aim, scope and method
  • 2. The popularizing news article between
  • 2.1 The popularizing news article as scientific communication
  • 2.2 The popularizing article as journalism
  • 3. Procedures involved in the popularization process
  • 3.1 Popularization techniques on the surface of discourse
  • 3.2 Cognitive- and pragmatic-level popularization techniques
  • 3.3 De-centering/re-centering
  • 3.3.1 The colour of dinosaurs
  • 3.3.2 Newsworthiness as criterion for selection
  • 3.4 From scientific research paper to popularizing news article: a shift in focus
  • 3.4.1 Reported speech and accuracy
  • 4. Conclusion
  • References
  • A media perspective / Eine medienbezogene Perspektive
  • The popularization of science in web-based genres: Giuditta Caliendo
  • 1. Introduction and aims
  • 2. TED talks: a new generic context
  • 3. Corpus construction and methods
  • 4. Findings
  • 4.1 Organisation
  • i. Contextualisation
  • ii. Establishing common ground
  • iii. Personalisation
  • iv. Incongruous opening
  • v. Historical reference
  • vi. Meta reference
  • vii. Humour
  • 4.2 Argument structure
  • 4.3 Stance
  • 4.4 Credibility
  • 4.5 Engagement of the addressee
  • 5. Conclusion
  • References
  • TED talks cited
  • From cultural islands to popular sites. Semantic sequences typifying museum descriptions on the Web: Christina Samson
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Museums and the public: from Enlightenment to plural interpretations
  • 3. Museums between marketization and popularization
  • 4. Web-related genre/s: a brief overview
  • 5. Corpus and Methodology
  • 6. Findings
  • 6.1 Museum Descriptions Sub-Corpus
  • 6.2 Museum Collections Sub-Corpus
  • 6.3 Museum Exhibitions Sub-Corpus
  • 7. Concluding remarks
  • References
  • An institutional perspective / Eine institutionsbezogene Perspective
  • Institutional popularization of medical knowledge: the case of pandemic influenza A (H1N1): Stefania Maci
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Theoretical assumptions
  • 3. Methodological approach
  • 4. Results and discussion
  • 4.1 The WHO guidelines
  • 4.2. The British poster campaign
  • 4.3 The Italian poster campaign
  • 5. Conclusion
  • References
  • Websites
  • Popularization and dissemination of legal knowledge in EU Summaries of Directives on immigration and asylumo: Vanda Polese, Stefania D’Avanzo
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Corpus, theoretical framework and methodology
  • 3. Popularization vs. specialized knowledge
  • 4. Popularization and genre analysis
  • 5. Modal values in the Summaries of EU Directives
  • 5.1 Modal values: ‘Will’ vs. ‘Shall’ and ‘May’
  • 5.2 ‘Will’ in the Summaries
  • 5.3 ‘Will’ and ‘May’: a comparative analysis in the Summaries and the Directives
  • 5.4 ‘Will’ and ‘shall’: a comparative analysis in the Summaries and the Directives
  • 5.5 ‘Shall’ and ‘May’ in the Summaries
  • 6. Conclusions
  • References
  • Websites
  • A theorectical and descriptive perspective / Eine theoretische und deskriptive Perspektive
  • Die Sprache der Popularisierung: eine Standortbestimmung: Giancarmine Bongo
  • 1. Einführung
  • 2. Grundriss der Popularisierung als geschichtliche Erscheinung
  • 3. Das ‚klassische‘ Modell von Popularisierung
  • 4. Die Grenzen des klassischen Modells von Popularisierung
  • 5. Die Konzeptualisierung von Popularisierung und die Aufgabe der Linguistik
  • Literatur
  • Sprache in der Sprache der Popularisierung: Sara Costa
  • 1. Einleitung
  • 2. Linguistik und Popularisierung
  • 3. Korpus
  • 4. Analyse und Ergebnisse
  • 4.1 Wortbildungsmorphologie
  • 4.2 Flexionsmorphologie
  • 4.3 Syntax
  • 5. Fazit
  • Wortbildungsmorphologie
  • Flexionsmorphologie
  • Syntax
  • Literatur
  • Nachwort. Die Sprache der Popularisierung: eine Umkehrung: Giancarmine Bongo
  • Notes on Contributors / Zu den Autoren



No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.

The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.

If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.

(Gibran 1923)

In today’s knowledge-based society where the level of scientific information is constantly increasing, exploring the dynamics of communicating science and specialised contents to the lay public is undoubtedly topical. Recent years have also been characterised by scientists’ willingness to engage the public in their work (Sands 2009), thus leading to the emergence of numerous and different instances of popular science communication. The general attitude towards the latter is also changing in that popularizations are no longer seen as ‘ancillary’ to the elitist technical/specialised texts (Hilgartner 1990). From what is perhaps a more functional perspective, the lay public is now reconsidering, and giving the right importance to, instruments of knowledge dissemination (Calsamiglia/López Ferrero 2003), possibly because the acquisition of specialised information in daily life is instrumental to becoming competent, informed – and therefore empowered – citizens and consumers.

Against this background, studies in the field of knowledge dissemination seem to have the potential for growth in significance and pervasiveness. However, surprisingly enough, popularization is still a ← 7 | 8 → rather unexplored territory within the international research community (Myers 2003; Garzone 2006). The most recent scholarly contributions to the field also seem to lack a consistent methodological orientation, with hesitations in terms of a shared and codified definition of popularizing texts of a varied nature and the high level of differentiation among them.

In the field of linguistics and discourse studies, one of the recent views that seems to be agreed upon by various scholars is the idea that popularization involves not only a reformulation, but a recontextualization of knowledge. The drafting of popularizing texts is seen as an instance of the linguistic, textual and discursive re-elaboration of specialised knowledge in such a way that it is comprehensible and relevant for new recipients, and framed within a discursive context which is predictable though different from that of the original source. Calsamiglia and van Dijk (2004: 371) add a crucial contribution to this view by suggesting that popularization discourse is not merely characterised “by special textual structures […] but also by the relevant properties of the social situation […]”. Expert texts and popularizations can thus be seen as different social practices originating from new settings of knowledge circulation and ultimately produced by different processes of recontextualization.

Recontextualization as a conceptual, social and linguistic phenomenon has been elaborated upon in studies of professional discourse (Linell 1998; Sarangi 1998), which have also considered the medium used. An accurate definition of this concept is to be found in Hall et al. (1999: 541):

Recontextualization here refers, among other things, to various ways of appropriating, using, and reusing talk or text drawn from one context to make formulations available in another. However, recontextualization entails more than just the representation of speech and written text, as it presupposes another context, viz. ‘contextualization’.

The recontextualization of expert knowledge to various lay audiences necessarily affects several aspects of communication which range ← 8 | 9 → from lexico-syntactic patterns to discourse organisation and, on a macro level, the emergence of new genres.

At the micro-structural level, research on popularization discourse initially followed a lexicon-oriented approach, as differentiation between specialised and popularizing texts was gauged from a lexical perspective (Casadei 1994: 53). Research is now gradually shifting to more complex levels relating to argumentation, rhetorical structures and discourse organisation. In addition, the use of technical as opposed to non-technical vocabulary is no longer conceived as an adequate indicator since, in the passage from specialised to popularizing texts, the problem seems to be more related to the signified than to the signifier. It is indeed not only a question of the ‘form’ used to refer to a specialised concept, but rather of the different ways in which the signified is introduced and foregrounded, made the object of a definition, illustrated and explained. So, the way a unit of knowledge is selected and transformed to be presented to non-experts is indeed a very rich topic of research, since it demands rigorous recontextualization conveyed through discourse procedures affecting both global and local levels of text (Calsamiglia/López Ferrero 2003), not simply its terminology. As Ciapuscio (2003) emphasises, this view subverts the traditional, reductionist approach according to which popularizing science has been considered as a mere “transcodification” or translation.

In relation to discursive organisation, recent studies tend to establish the polarisation specialised/popularised in their analysis of the text structure. For instance, some scholars have observed that, while in scientific research papers the main claim is generally placed towards the end of the text (Hyland 2010), in written popularizing genres (Nwogu 1991) this is found at the beginning. As far as the flow of information in popularizing texts is concerned, this seems to develop in a spiral, returning cyclically to the same event or topic, providing information progressively, in subsequent layers, and in a way that is similar to news discourse (van Dijk 1988; Bondi Paganelli/Del Lungo Camiciotti 1995) which follows an “orbital” structure (White 1997). Garzone (2006: 93) argues that popularizing texts are to some extent ← 9 | 10 → unpredictable as they do not have the same defined architecture and moves that characterise scientific papers. Scholars also agree on the general lack of argumentative textual structures in favour of informative ones (Garzone 2006; Bondi 2012), thus inevitably leading to a variation in register (Halliday 1978: 23).

On a semantic level, studies have prioritised the communicative acts of introduction and clarification which stem from the potential asymmetry in subject mastery between experts and non-experts. These explanatory moves establish a link between given and new knowledge, where usually a new notion is introduced first, followed by an explanatory reformulation or paraphrase. This set of practices “may be categorised collectively under the general heading of explanation” (Garzone 2006: 91) and include: denomination, definition/description (Candel 1994), exemplification and generalisation, analogies such as comparisons and metaphors (whose evocative power plays a prominent role in knowledge management), reformulation or paraphrase (Loffler Laurian 1984; Gülich/Kotschi 1987; Ciapuscio 2003). In popularized discourse these explanatory moves necessarily imply not only a reorganisation at communicative level, but also some process of content restructuring that operates within the cognitive dimension (Moirand 2003). This means that, beyond definitions and acts of explanation, the dissemination of scientific information is above all based on its reinterpretation in terms of social knowledge (Moirand 2003; Garzone 2012).

Another interesting aspect relating to the dissemination of specialised knowledge is the ‘distance’ between the original message and its reformulation. This leads to the problem of omissions and expansions in the passage from the specialist end of the spectrum to the popular one. As Calsamiglia and van Dijk (2004: 369) remark, the author of a popularizing text should select and understand the implicit parts that need to be made explicit to achieve understanding: what knowledge is being presupposed, what knowledge is simply being recalled and what is newly constructed? This passage certainly has a degree of arbitrariness (Gangemi 1994: 144) and often depends on the lack of symmetry in subject mastery among non-experts (Gotti ← 10 | 11 → 1996). A significant variable which plays an important role here is the so called “cognitive distance” (Whitley 1985: 19), as opposed to “cognitive commonality”: “it refers to differences in intellectual background, goals and competences between specialists and their audience”. And of course, “The greater the linguistic and cognitive distance between such systems, the more alteration occurs” (Whitley 1985: 7).

Based on the literature review, the contributions to this volume combine to constitute a step forward in the field of popularization studies. New scenarios for linguistic investigation have been explored by the authors with a view to:

providing shared theoretical and descriptive models of popularization from a linguistic perspective;

understanding in what way existing theoretical and descriptive models can help clarify the relation/divergence between specialised communication and popularizing texts;

investigating the way popularization is characterised and instantiated, also taking into account the interpersonal and inter/intracultural dimension of communication;

analysing how multimodal texts instantiate popularization and how exactly cognitive processing is enhanced by visual communication;

identifying distinctive traits in German and English popularizing texts.

The research methods adopted in this volume are varied, and the instruments used mainly draw upon the analytical framework of corpus linguistics, text grammar, text linguistics, rhetoric and pragmatics. Attention is also devoted to genre analysis from different perspectives and in various specialised domains (Swales 1990, 2004; Bhatia 1993, 2004; Berkenkotter/Huckin 1995; Martin/Christie 1997), with a view to verifying whether the transfer of knowledge from specialised communication to popularizing texts involves any contamination in discursive practices, thus leading to the creation of new genres or ← 11 | 12 → to the ‘hybridisation’ of genres that might be diachronically or synchronically related.

In analysing the relation between society, discourse and power, the contributions of this volume do not overlook the perspective offered by Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) in opening up new areas for the analysis of the way scientific and technical knowledge is transferred to create opinions and ideologies, as well as to gain legitimation and consensus. Calsamiglia and van Dijk (2004: 371) suggest that popularization “is a social process consisting of a large class of discursive-semiotic practices, involving many types of mass media […] aiming to communicate lay versions of scientific knowledge, as well as opinions and ideologies of scholars, among the public at large”.

Drawing upon CDA, another area being explored deals with the role of popularization in the constitution of discursive identity through studies on the way the ‘expert’ and ‘non-expert’ identities are positioned and represented in the text. This is achieved, for example, through procedures of illustration and reformulation which seem to be typical of this discourse type and which minimise or repair potential or actual communicative difficulties. Some contributions on identity constitution in specialised or professional discourse (Hamilton 1996; Ciapuscio 2003) emphasise the fact that reformulation procedures are resources to construct the identities of expert and layman. As a more general trend (Beacco et al. 2002: 281–282), the lay reader is seen as a new discursive agent who is not only informed through popularization, but empowered by it: she or he can play an active role in taking decisions on the basis of the information received. This implies a specific meta-communicative awareness on the part of both the reader and the author of the popularized text.

When approaching linguistic aspects related to knowledge dissemination, the contributors to this volume adopt four main different perspectives which can be summarised as follows: comparative, medium-related, institutional, and general-descriptive. Accordingly, the papers were classified into four clusters in relation to the emphasis given to: the comparative nature of their study (scientific vs. popular ← 12 | 13 → ized), the role played by the media in the knowledge dissemination process, the institutional framework within which popularization occurs, and the process of popularization in its different theoretical interpretations.

The first cluster of papers uses a contrastive approach in that authors compare popular articles and their related specialist sources, taking into consideration both the discursive and linguistic features of the texts and the social contexts in which they are produced and consumed. In her chapter “Rendering the dismal science more lively: popularizing Economics in English and Italian”, Julia Bamford contrasts expert texts and popularizations in the field of economics and finance. In particular, she examines how recontextualizations take place in the domain of economics by comparing the Economic focus, a section of The Economist, and the expert texts on which it is based, focussing on elements such as readability, explanation and evaluation.

Attention is shifted to the discourse of science in Marina Bondi’s chapter “Connecting science. Organisational units in specialist and non-specialist discourse”, which provides an overview of variation across specialist and non-specialist genres. This paper looks at discourse organisers as signposts to disciplinary argumentative strategies and explores the variety of organisational units employed by the discourse of physics and biology in a corpus of academic journal articles and corresponding popularizations. According to the author, organi-sational units are shown to contribute to highlighting the significance of the data or the conclusions produced, as well as to mapping the territory of current debate.

The comparison between popular articles and their related specialist sources is also brought to centre stage by Giuliana Garzone in her chapter “News production and scientific knowledge: exploring popularization as a process”. This paper looks at popularization in the daily press and is grounded on a representative sample of popular science articles, published in British newspapers and magazines, which are investigated in parallel with the scientific research papers that occasioned them. The aim is to identify the transformations scientific/technological knowledge undergoes when it is recast in news ← 13 | 14 → article and to reconstruct the various textual and discursive procedures enacted in this process of re-elaboration.

The second cluster of contributions foreground the dissemination of scientific knowledge through the use of various kinds of media, also with reference to the role played by information and communication technologies. Giuditta Caliendo’s chapter, “The popularization of science in web-based genres” focuses on the popularizing features of the recent web-based genre of TED talks, a series of speeches presented by experts in their field – often top level academics – aimed at a non specialist audience. The evidence, collected from a large corpus of transcribed recordings of TED talks, is discussed with reference to the textual processes used in popularizations in order to relate abstract and complex information to the audience’s everyday life. The analysis draws upon the concept of “proximity” (Hyland 2010) to illustrate the ways in which TED speakers employ various discursive conventions to negotiate their role as experts, claim solidarity with their audience and manage their display of expertise.

In her contribution “From cultural islands to popular sites. Semantic sequences typifying museum descriptions on the Web”, Christina Samson looks at the way museums are attempting to respond to current changes in society by popularizing themselves and shifting toward a less elitist audience. Her paper looks at the way Internet websites enable museums to address the public on a one-to-one level with a combination of sign systems that provide diverse reading paths and enhance interaction with prospective visitors. The analysis focuses on semantic sequences (Hunston 2008) typifying a small specialised corpus of museum websites in order to understand whether the medium has an impact on the relationship between the web-writer and the browser across the corpus.

The language of popularization in institutional discourse settings is the focus of the third group of papers. The first chapter by Stefania Maci, “Institutional popularization of medical knowledge: the case of pandemic influenza A (H1N1)”, investigates how and to what extent scientific knowledge is rendered in popularized language by institu ← 14 | 15 → tions in order to recommend suitable behaviour to be adopted by the general public for the purpose of preventing the spread of the influenza A (H1N1) virus. The study analyses four posters targeting a young readership and belonging to the campaign adopted by the UK and Italian Health Ministries to prevent further diffusion of the virus. The investigation suggests differences across cultures in the communication strategies adopted to convert scientific knowledge into efficacious popularized discourse.


ISBN (Paperback)
2014 (Juli)
discourse analysis pragmatics corpus linguistics
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 296 pp., num. tables

Biographische Angaben

Giancarmine Bongo (Band-Herausgeber:in) Giuditta Caliendo (Band-Herausgeber:in)

Giancarmine Bongo is Senior Lecturer and Adjunct Professor of German Linguistics and Translation at the University of Napoli Federico II. His research interests currently focus on German as a language of science, discourse studies and text linguistics, specialized communication and popularization. Giancarmine Bongo ist Assistenzprofessor für Deutsche Sprache und Übersetzung an der Universität Neapel Federico II. Seine Forschungsschwerpunkte liegen im Bereich des Deutschen als Wissenschaftssprache, der Text- und Diskurslinguistik, der Fachkommunikation und der Popularisierung. Giuditta Caliendo is Senior Lecturer and Adjunct Professor of English Linguistics and Translation at the University of Napoli Federico II. Her research interests currently include political and institutional discourse, knowledge dissemination, specialized translation and language policy in international organizations. Giuditta Caliendo ist Assistenzprofessorin für Englische Sprache und Übersetzung an der Universität Neapel Federico II. Ihre Forschungsschwerpunkte liegen im Bereich der Analyse politischer und institutioneller Diskurse, des Wissenstransfers, der Fachübersetzung und der Sprachpolitik internationaler Organisationen.


Titel: The Language of Popularization- Die Sprache der Popularisierung
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300 Seiten