Sunday, April 14, 2013

Critical Discourse Analysis Using Van Dijk’s Model


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Dr Qadri’s petition: loyalty debate
1st March, 2013
DR Tahirul Qadri’s petition was turned down by the Supreme Court. Whatever the reasons given in the court’s decision, the louder message was delivered home and abroad that the Pakistani dual nationals’ loyalties are suspect because they took the oath on other’s loyalty.
In other words, they are disloyal. This message caused utter disgrace to all Pakistanis living abroad with dual nationality. The oath alone cannot determine loyalty. The Supreme Court and any other court of this world cannot pass verdict on emotions and feelings like love, hate, like, dislike, loyalty and disloyalty.
If we accept the verdict on loyalty issue, the government then should change the name of the ministry of overseas Pakistanis. It should now rename it ministry of overseas disloyal Pakistanis.
One more thing, we must not forget that overseas Pakistanis are born citizens of Pakistan like us who do not take the oath of loyalty to Pakistan but they remain loyal.
How many Pakistani politicians having only Pakistani nationalities are loyal to Pakistan? Who knows?
I humbly request the Supreme Court to identify who are loyal to Pakistan: those who sent money to Pakistan and enriched foreign exchange, or those who exploited Pakistan’s exchequer and sent money to foreign banks.
Irrespective of Dr Qadri’s personality, we should focus on what he is saying. Facts about the Election Commission’s formation are public and the media also reported that constitutional process was not adopted in the appointment of some members.
I think this is the constitutional responsibility of the Supreme Court to look into the matter so that the institution which is responsible for holding free and fair elections should get out of this ambiguity.
Failing to do that may lead to another crisis that may happen after the election results. In the present state of judicial activism, personal conservations of judges with petitioners and the attorney-general overshadow the court decisions and unleash a new debate in the media.
Although the role of the judiciary is no doubt remarkable in the prevention of corruption, prolongation of hearings on sensitive issues wasted time and generated uncertainty in the country. The NRO case, memo commission, Haj corruption case, Arsalan Iftikhar case are a few examples which ended in vain.
Courts should not be selective in picking up the cases. On trivial emotional expressions of some politicians, the Supreme Court took notice and invoked contempt law while, on the other hand, on Senator Faisal Raza Abdi’s open allegations against judges and the Supreme Court in the media and in public, the judges showed restraint.
Exclusive selection of cases by courts would undermine the judicial neutrality.
M. TAHA                      
Karachi



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1. Van Dijk’s CDA Model
Teun van Dijk is a prominent name in critical discourse studies, and his model of CD analysis is one of the influential approaches in the field. Van Dijk (1993) has described in detail how to inter-relate power and dominance relations to text and discourse structures, thus relating macro level and social cognitive understandings to micro level text and talk, and to find out how power and dominance is manifested, produced and reproduced through discourse. The present analysis is an attempt to apply his model of CD analysis to a Letter to Editor taken from Pakistani English newspaper Dawn.

2. Background
The letter is written in the broader national debate about Dr. Qadri’s intentions and in the aftermath of Pakistani Supreme Court’s rejection of his petition to review the establishment procedure of Election Commission of Pakistan. Dr. Qadri arrived in Pakistan in December, 2012 and he orchestrated an impressive sit down strike in front of Parliament, and several demonstrations in different cities including one in Lahore. His arrival created quite a stir among politicians and generally media campaign was against him. After several demonstrations, he went to Supreme Court and petitioned to review the establishment procedure of Election Commission of Pakistan, which was rejected by Supreme Court of Pakistan as he was a dual national. At the same time, majority of media outlets criticized him for his dual nationality, raised doubts on his intentions and accused him of derailing the democratic process. The letter is written in this context, while it counters the majority negative discourse against Dr. Qadri, it also highlights another issue i.e. the loyalty of overseas Pakistanis. The critical analysis of this piece of discourse is as follows:

3. Analysis
3.1 Access: The letter writer appears to be a common Pakistani citizen with interest in politics so he has no exclusive access to any media related genres; and he is dependent on the selection processes of newspaper to get a place in letters to editor column. This fact makes his contribution a resistive and counter discourse. As the background also suggests, general media campaign was against Dr. Qadri and this letter favours his opinion.
The letter is written in English language, to an English newspaper which is considered one of the oldest newspapers of country, and has a reputation among ruling elite, political and bureaucratic class of the country. Thus the writer gets access to voice his opinion directly to the dominant group, though he appear not to be from that class.
3.2 Genre: The genre is ‘Letters to Editor’ section of newspapers, which in different writers’ opinion is “among the few outlets available to the public for voicing opinion” (Kapoor and Botan, 1992, p. 5). Although there are ‘rules of selection’ (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2002) for Letters to Editor, still they provide a window for the reader community to voice their opinion. The text type is argumentative in nature, and usually are written in response to already printed editorials, opinion articles, other letters or broader social and/or political debate going on in society. This letter is also an example of response to such a political debate going on in national press, electronic and social media.
3.3 Communicative acts and social meanings: The letter is a counter discourse which tries to counter dominant discourse of defamation of a political figure. It shows the heterogeneity of the society, and disagreement among the masses about the legitimacy of Dr. Qadri’s quest to reform election process including the Election Commission of Pakistan. The letter also voices concern about the impartiality of highest court in the country, and thus again highlights the scars of disagreement among the society about the role of courts or judiciary.
3.4 Participant positions and roles: As already mentioned the letter writer appears to be a member of civil society, with apparently no or less significant authority in terms of political or social influence.
3.5 Speech act: The speech acts performed by the letter writer are assertive in nature. Taking the text as a whole, the writer accuses higher courts of impartiality, casts doubt on their ability to be just, tries to prove Dr. Qadri’s cause to be just, accuses politicians of the problems in the country. As well as, he asserts that courts should be just and fair in case selection.
3.6 Macrosemantics: topics As the heading in line 1 shows the topic is “Dr Qadri’s petition: loyalty debate”. The topic can be rephrased as “If Dr. Qadri is disloyal then all overseas Pakistanis are”, “Courts should not rule on loyalty”, “Supreme Court is being partial regarding Dr. Qadri”….. Although the topic given, most probably, by the ‘Letters to Editor’ section’s editor is less catchy, less emotional and looks more reasonable, the content of the letter shows that above exemplified topics can also fit as a heading. The topic thus is not just about Dr. Qadri being right or wrong, the writer overgeneralizes the available facts and draws on the emotions of the readers to prove his point. In that emotional state, he accuses the highest court in the country of being partial and unjust.
3.7 Superstructures: Text Schemata and Argumentation Letter to Editor’ are mainly known as their argumentative structure. Richardson (2007) provides a detailed review of argumentation strategies, which was helpful in argumentation analysis of this piece of text as well. The writer uses two fold strategy in argumentation: drawing on emotions of the readers as well as logical argumentation. The argumentation seems to have two divisions which are mentioned here:
1) The Supreme Court’s decision regarding Dr. Qadri is wrong because:
a. Court cannot rule on loyalty or disloyalty (the writer compares a legitimate jurisdictional area of court with other emotions.)
b. This way all overseas Pakistanis will become disloyal.
c. Taking oath doesn’t mean one is loyal to another.
d. Politicians are more disloyal then common overseas Pakistanis.
e. It has caused disgrace for Pakistanis.
2) Courts are biased because:
            a. They are selective in cases.
            b. They have personal grudges with petitioners.
            c. They prolong hearings of legitimate cases while illegitimate ones are given undue importance.
            d. The Election Commission does have constitutional problems in its establishment procedure.
3) Therefore:
            a. Courts should not do this.
            b. EC formation process should be reviewed.
The first argument of the writer mostly invokes reader’s emotions by using noun phrases like “ministry of overseas disloyal Pakistanis” (line 12-13), “utter disgrace” and rhetorical questions (para 5). The writer uses apparently flawed argumentation by including Dr. Qadri to common Pakistanis working abroad and putting them against the ‘politicians’. He ignores the fact the Dr. Qadri himself is a politician, thus he wrongly presupposes that Dr. Qadri is “not politician”, and “his intentions are good”.
The second argumentation uses logical arguments to prove the point. The writer provides a number of examples to support his case that ‘courts are partial’, a few of which are apparently over-extended (e.g. Senator Raza Abidi’s example, he was actually called in contempt of court case and wasn’t ignored at all, the NRO case in which government was given grace period to act upon it and afterwards court did take a strict action against elected PM in contempt case). The writer also ignores the background surrounding Dr. Qadri’s sudden arrival, the rumors of derailing the system and a ‘technocratic government’ which led Supreme Court to take immediate action. The writer also ignores the fact that Dr. Qadri orchestrated a sit strike in front of Parliament and a demonstration in Lahore at his arrival which consumed (according to some estimates) more than 1 billion rupees,  which casts doubts on his intentions as a sincere ‘common Pakistani’ concerned about the political hegemony in the country.
Concluding the argumentation analysis, the writer though ignores certain facts, but provides a counter discourse with certain good arguments which legitimatize the actions of Dr. Qadri and insist that the courts to act in his favour.
3.7 Local meaning and coherence:
a) Level of specificity and degree of completeness: The writer over-generalizes the working class Pakistanis abroad and implicitly includes Dr. Qadri among them, though that’s is not the case. He is a politician, who took Canadian citizenship as a scholar and politician. The examples for his arguments are present in abundance but opposite arguments are ignored and only an acknowledgement sentence is provided (line 31) which in itself is highlighting the oncoming argument with traditional “Although xxx but yyy” structure.
b) Perspective: The writer’s perspective is clearly against the general opinion about Dr. Qadri, and he is against Supreme Court’s ruling about the matter as well.
c) Implicitness: As mentioned above the writes uses a number of presuppositions. He implicitly excludes Dr. Qadri from the group of ‘bad politicians’ even though he is a politician, he presupposes that ‘judges have personal grudges with all petitioners’ (line 29), ‘courts are selective’ (line 35). Thus he supports his argumentation and opinion.
3.8 Style: variations of syntax, lexicon and sound: The word choice is simple and do not indicate any particular register. There are emotion words e.g. ‘like, dislike, love, hate’ (line 10) which add to the argumentation strategy i.e. to draw upon readers’ feelings. The terms like ‘judicial activism’ are used in a negative and critical manner which is used here and adds to the opinion of the writer. Lastly, an interesting choice of words is adopted to point towards ‘foreign countries’. Simply, pronoun ‘other’ (line 6) is used to refer to ‘foreign countries’, similarly the word ‘home’ (line 4) is used to refer to Pakistan. This word choice is directly in accordance with writer’s opinion and strategy to invoke readers’ emotions.
The syntactic style is typical of newspaper discourse with long sentences, and one or two sentence long paragraphs. The start of text has topicalizations (line 3, 4) which introduce writer’s focus in the beginning. Similarly passive voices are used (e.g. line 4) to topicalize the theme as well as to reduce the negative opinion to surface at start, which gets stronger as the argument develops and ends at strong assertion using modal verb ‘should’ (line 35).




4. Conclusion
Overall, the text counters a dominant discourse in print and electronic media. It tries to shatter the authority of dominant media opinion, and resists to authoritative decision of highest court of the country. During this quest, the writer gets partial success but argumentative strategy appears to be flawed at more than one occasions, as the analysis reveals. The letter tries to introduce a counter discourse through ‘Letters to Editor’ section but apparently fails to do so as data collected from next 13 days (letter was published on 1st March, 2013) has no follow up or reaction on this issue.

References
Kapoor, S. and Botan, C. (1992). Studies Compare How Editors Use Letters. The Masthead 44(1), p. 5.
Richardson, J.E. (2007).  Analysing Newspapers: An approach from Critical Discourse Analysis. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.
Van Dijk, T.A. (1993). Principles of critical discourse analysis. Discourse & Society, 4(2), 249-283.
Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2002). Understanding the Conditions for Public Discourse: four rules for selecting letters to the editor. Journalism Studies, 3(1), 69 –81.

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