Micro and macro connections and style: cultural identity versus global needs.

Kaltenbacher, Martin

University of Salzburg, Austria


In Introduction to Discourse Studies, Ian Renkema (2004) argues that style can be theorised as "a choice of specific patterns" and that this choice is "partially dependent on the situation". According to this definition style is closely related to what in sociolinguistics is conceptualised as register, being determined by the peculiarities of the field, the tenor and the mode. In this paper I will argue that the cultural identity of an author can explain variation in the use of certain stylistic features much better than traditional register based approaches. For substantiating this claim, the qualitative analysis of a few selected texts is insufficient. Rather than that, I will suggest methods for quantitative analysis that allow us to make claims about register that bear out over large collections of text. For this purpose an Austrian, an American and a Scottish corpus of tourism web-sites will be analysed for their exploitation of modal verbs of obligation (e.g. may, should, must). All texts in the three corpora share the same macro connections, i.e., they want to sell a certain proposition (the beauty of a country and the desire to go there) to the prospective readers. The most important aspect in which they differ is that they are written by authors belonging to and socialised in different cultural backgrounds. In other words, while the texts in these three corpora are identical in respect to the variables field, tenor, and mode, they exhibit considerable variation in terms of stylistic features, such the use of hidden commands or of prohibitive language. These differences can only be explained with the cultural identity of the authors, which influences the degree of directness that the authors – knowingly or not – employ.

Studies on culture dependent discursive preferences, e.g., Juliane House (1996), have suggested that native speakers of German use more direct language than native speakers of English. Contrary to that, I will show that while differences are indeed grounded in the authors' cultural backgrounds, quantitative corpus analysis does not support House's findings. In fact, American and Scottish tourism web-sites contain significantly more and stronger forms of obligation than similar Austrian texts. The only possible explanation for this is that the stylistic patterns in a text are not dependent on the connections between the language and the overall purpose of the text (the macro connections) but on the cultural socialisation of the writer (a micro connection).


House, Juliane. (1996) "Contrastive discourse analysis and misunderstanding: The case of German and English." In: Hellinger, Marlis & Ammon, Ulrich (eds.) Contrastive Sociolinguistics. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 345-361.

Renkema, Ian. (2004). Introduction to Discourse Studies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Session: Paper session
Dicourse 2 (Identity)
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 11