A Corpus-based Study of Rhetorical Questions in Monologic Genres in the Framework of Relevance Theory

Yang, Zhixia (2018) A Corpus-based Study of Rhetorical Questions in Monologic Genres in the Framework of Relevance Theory. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

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This thesis takes the form of a pragmatic study of Rhetorical Questions (RQs) in the environment of monologue within the theoretical framework of Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson, 1986).

Two main research questions are involved. The first is how an addressee manages to identify the rhetorical nature of a question, and infer the possible intended assumptions of the addresser. I aim to show that the Code Model, which holds that communication is achieved by encoding and decoding messages in words, is not sufficient in interpreting RQs. In contrast, I shall show that implicatures (implied propositions) conveyed by an RQ can only be interpreted by an inferential model. The second question is how different types of RQ are used to achieve the addresser’s persuasive intention in monologic environments.

My study consists not only of theoretical argumentation but also of a qualitative analysis of corpus data, in an attempt to extend corpus study to rhetoric and pragmatics, beyond the recent concentration (Sinclair, 1991; Biber et al., 1999; Stubbs, 2001a; Hunston, 2002; Renouf, 2013 etc.) on the lexical, semantic, and syntactic domains. The corpora consulted are the BNC and FLOB, complemented by two self-compiled textual corpora, comprising the genres of political speeches, newspaper editorials and sermons.

In the first part of the study, I propose a procedure for identifying an RQ based mainly on the concepts of ‘implicature’, ‘mutual manifestness’ and ‘optimal relevance’ in Relevance Theory. In the second part, the proposed criteria are applied to the identification and interpretation of RQs in three monologic genres to analyse their uses, which display both common and distinctive features.

The results of the current study achieve a number of goals. The study endorses Sperber and Wilson (1986)’s arguments about the Code Model and the inferential model. It verifies their claim about the principle of relevance, proving that Relevance Theory is more suitable than Speech Act Theory (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969) and Grice’s Principle and Maxims (1967) for the study of RQs. It extends the application of Relevance Theory to the new field of RQs in the context of monologue, further endorsing the explanatory power of Relevance Theory.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: My first and foremost thanks go to my supervisors, Professor Richard Ingham and Dr. Andrew Kehoe. Professor Ingham provided me with invaluable suggestions and constructive criticism until his retirement in July, 2016. Special thanks to Dr. Andrew Kehoe, who has helped me in the most difficult time and guided me through the last stage of my doctoral journey. I benefited greatly not only from his invaluable comments on my dissertation, but also his encouragement, patience and meticulousness. I owe deepest gratitude to Professor Antoinette Renouf for the numerous cosy afternoons she spared to supervise me, and her precious time in reading and commenting on my drafts. I am greatly enlightened by her pioneering ideas, her insight and foresight for linguistic development, and her brilliant perception about cultural matters involved in my data. Her encouragement has accompanied me all the way through this three-year journey. Without her generous and timely academic and moral support, I couldn’t have overcome all the difficulties of living abroad alone for years, and accomplishing such a large project. Deep gratitude also goes to Professor Yang Huizhong of Shanghai Jiaotong University, not only for his profound thoughts and valuable feedback, but also his valuable suggestions on how to deal with crisis in life. His upholding of perseverance and integrity fill me with the impetus to conquer obstacles, and to exert all my effort to achieve my goal. I am also grateful for the financial support of Shanghai Sanda university. I am indebted to Professor Jia, Doctor Wang and Director Hua for their help and support whenever I needed it. I remain indebted to Dr. Sarah Wood of the School of English at Birmingham City University, and to Dr. Tony Howe, Director of the Research Centre, for their immediate reactions and tremendous help in dealing with administrative issues, so I could focus on my research. I owe gratitude to my former second supervisor, Dr Ursula Lutzky, for her help in the first half year of my doctoral study, when I sought a research direction. I remain forever indebted to my beloved husband, Zhang Xueyi and my dear daughter Zhang Yutong, for their tolerance of my being far away from them for all these years, their understanding of the pursuit of my dream, and their timely emotional support without which I could not have survived. I owe my gratitude to my mother and father for their trust in my capacity to complete this challenging mission, and to my mother-in-law for taking care of my daughter, loving her and accompanying her on my behalf.
22 August 2018Completed
Subjects: CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-01 - English studies > CAH19-01-07 - linguistics
CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-01 - English studies > CAH19-01-01 - English studies (non-specific)
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Kip Darling
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2019 15:52
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 16:26
URI: https://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/id/eprint/7229

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