Ecolinguistics is an emergent trans-disciplinary field that applies the traditional linguistic methods on the analysis of texts and discourses of ecological importance (Bang, Trampe 2014). Its aim is to raise awareness of linguistic forms that contribute to ecological destruction and promote new forms of language that inspire sustainable visions and behaviors (Stibbe 2020). Despite some notable exceptions (e.g., Zhou , Huang 2017), the ecolinguistic inquiry into the Chinese language is still underdeveloped. The goal of this exploratory study is to design a transdisciplinary Ecological Discourse Analysis (EDA) framework applicable to Chinese texts. More specifically, our goal is to prototype a set of criteria to characterize the linguistic features of Chinese documents vis-à-vis different social-ecological paradigms. The study followed an iterative deductive-inductive process. A tentative set of criteria – including modality, connotation, appraisal items, among others – were first identified through the purposeful review of the literature addressing English texts (e.g., Stibbe 2020). These criteria were then adapted to Chinese and applied to an extract from an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, representative of formal documents informing environmental decision-making in mainland China. The original set of criteria thus obtained was validated by external experts (namely a sustainability practitioner and a sociolinguist) and its improved version applied to a second, wider sample of documents, representative of diverse social-ecological visions. Preliminary evidence indicates that our EDA framework can provide a coherent ecolinguistic characterization of ecological discourses embedded in Chinese texts, both as standing-alone criteria and cumulatively. For instance, technicalities and mass nouns are consistently used for erasure purposes, conveying a general sense of detachment, leaving out relevant details on the potential harm to humans and the ecosystem, and overall depicting nature as something unimportant or unworthy of consideration. An example is the mass noun zhíwù shēngwùliàng 植物生物量 ‘plant biomass’, which masks the identities and values of the plant species involved, portraying them as a collective whole with insignificant individual attributes; 16 moreover, the potential impact of the loss of such plants is not mentioned at all. The use of modals represents another noteworthy feature. In the EIA report, we observed a remarkably high proportion of high-value modals of necessity like bìyào 必要 ‘must’ and xūyào 需要 ‘need’, used to persuade on the desirability of a potentially disruptive project. This is very different from what is observed in Taiwan presidential debates, in which the person in power (the incumbent president) used significantly less high-value modals in order to avoid evoking a feeling of coercion (Cheng 2019). The differences between the political contexts of Mainland China and Taiwan may help account for the differing modal usage patterns. While directly applicable to other qualitative EDAs, our framework also constitutes a steppingstone towards the design of a large-scale, multi-criteria corpus-assisted EDA tool, to which we will orient our energies in the period of 2022-24.

Exploratory Design of an Ecological Discourse Analysis Framework for Chinese Environmental Texts

Sergio Conti
;
Pui Yiu Szeto;Daniele Brombal
2022

Abstract

Ecolinguistics is an emergent trans-disciplinary field that applies the traditional linguistic methods on the analysis of texts and discourses of ecological importance (Bang, Trampe 2014). Its aim is to raise awareness of linguistic forms that contribute to ecological destruction and promote new forms of language that inspire sustainable visions and behaviors (Stibbe 2020). Despite some notable exceptions (e.g., Zhou , Huang 2017), the ecolinguistic inquiry into the Chinese language is still underdeveloped. The goal of this exploratory study is to design a transdisciplinary Ecological Discourse Analysis (EDA) framework applicable to Chinese texts. More specifically, our goal is to prototype a set of criteria to characterize the linguistic features of Chinese documents vis-à-vis different social-ecological paradigms. The study followed an iterative deductive-inductive process. A tentative set of criteria – including modality, connotation, appraisal items, among others – were first identified through the purposeful review of the literature addressing English texts (e.g., Stibbe 2020). These criteria were then adapted to Chinese and applied to an extract from an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, representative of formal documents informing environmental decision-making in mainland China. The original set of criteria thus obtained was validated by external experts (namely a sustainability practitioner and a sociolinguist) and its improved version applied to a second, wider sample of documents, representative of diverse social-ecological visions. Preliminary evidence indicates that our EDA framework can provide a coherent ecolinguistic characterization of ecological discourses embedded in Chinese texts, both as standing-alone criteria and cumulatively. For instance, technicalities and mass nouns are consistently used for erasure purposes, conveying a general sense of detachment, leaving out relevant details on the potential harm to humans and the ecosystem, and overall depicting nature as something unimportant or unworthy of consideration. An example is the mass noun zhíwù shēngwùliàng 植物生物量 ‘plant biomass’, which masks the identities and values of the plant species involved, portraying them as a collective whole with insignificant individual attributes; 16 moreover, the potential impact of the loss of such plants is not mentioned at all. The use of modals represents another noteworthy feature. In the EIA report, we observed a remarkably high proportion of high-value modals of necessity like bìyào 必要 ‘must’ and xūyào 需要 ‘need’, used to persuade on the desirability of a potentially disruptive project. This is very different from what is observed in Taiwan presidential debates, in which the person in power (the incumbent president) used significantly less high-value modals in order to avoid evoking a feeling of coercion (Cheng 2019). The differences between the political contexts of Mainland China and Taiwan may help account for the differing modal usage patterns. While directly applicable to other qualitative EDAs, our framework also constitutes a steppingstone towards the design of a large-scale, multi-criteria corpus-assisted EDA tool, to which we will orient our energies in the period of 2022-24.
VII edition of the Study Days on Chinese Linguistics
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10278/5005261
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