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Teun A. Van Dijk Interview

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Teun A. Van Dijk is a professor of Critical Discourse Analysis at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Previously he was Professor of Discourse Studies at the University of Amsterdam until 2004. He can be considered as one of the founders of Critical Discourse Studies in this area, remaining as one of the most influential scholars. In his presentation at the 25th Congress of Young Linguists presented his latest research reflected in the book "Discourse and power." He examines the relationships between discourse, cognition and society and the determinant role of discourse in the reproduction of power and domination of society. After participating in the Congress he has shared his impressions in this interview with the Foundation of the Spanish Language.

Beatriz Hernandez Bilbao. Fundacion de la Lengua Española

What do you think of a Congress such as this one organized by young linguists?

For me it is essential that there are events such as this one. There are too many conferences aimed to elderly people and too few for young people. I would like to emphasize those meetings such as this one to be organized. For example, in Barcelona, one of my students will organize a meeting for people who are analyzing and working on the speech topic. It is very important that young people who are working on a thesis are known since the very beginning, so that new methods, new developments, publications ... are also known.  But we also have to get to know their sorrows, their problems when publishing, their lack of remuneration for their work, their lack of positions... It is important young people having a voice to express both their progress, their achievements and their findings as the problems which would arise. We must help young people, it is essential and it is a pity that there are no more meetings such as this one.

Let's talk about his paper "Discourse and power", what have you tried to convey to the audience though it?

What I have basically said deals with the reproduction of power in society and its abuse, for example the illegitimate use of power in forms of influence by manipulation of people, etc., and also how powerful groups in society such as politicians, business, media ..., show their power and a way to do that is by controlling the discourse. They have preferential access to public discourse, scientific discourse, textbooks discourse, etc., and they control it. That's why we might wonder if we do really have a free public discourse.

In that case, do youthink there is a free public discourse?

I believe on the contrary. There is a very strong control over what we can or should talk. This is seen in subjects such as in Parliament, newspapers, etc. There is an example I always use to illustrate this because it is very clear: the issue of racism is not treated on newspapers, in television, in Parliament ... If you talk about racism is it linked to the far-right wing, to whatever happens abroad or whatever happened in the past, but talking about daily racism which we all could live in, that is not spoken. Another equally important issue, not mentioned in the paper, and which is also in the same line out the consensus of what can be said, of what one can speak of is militarism. Talking about pacifism has become close to something negative. Every country in the world, with very few exceptions, has armedforces which are the ultimate abuse of power, money, etc. Thereis a newspaper that I know of in the world which takes that as an incredible scandal. Another topic which is seldom spoken of is poverty, we can talk about the economic crisis, and with this, a bit more about poverty, but in normal times we don't talk about the poor. Now,  in a graduate class at the University of Barcelona where I work, we study the issue and it's amazing that if you search in major newspapers, there is almost no article addressing poverty, which, in addition is logical, because people writing are not poor. And if they come from a poor family, as I do, they don't hold that consciousness, and when they escalate to better positions in society they prefer to forget.

Is there an issue which has managed to become visible in publicdiscourse and which was not there before?

Yes, there is one that for example we may point out which is violence against women, something it has not been spoken of for many years, but now it is a main topic.

During your lecture you said that context has a clear and direct influence on speech...

After so many years studying discourse analysis, we see that we are always working on what conversations and texts talk about speech itself, but we forget that much of what discourse has to do with the means of communication, with the situation where communication is given that is what we call context. We know that the use of language, discourse, is context-dependent and it varies. For example, you speak in a completely different way with your parents with your friends, than with a teacher or a policeman, etc. What happens is until now we had not developed a good theoryabout context.

What is part of the context?

We can point to different factors such as age; whether the speaker is male or female ... But other factors such as the colour of the jumper you wear or the way you dress have hardly any influence. So some things are essential and relevant and others are not and we must distinguish those which have influence or not. We need a theory of context as the relevant parameters of a communication situation as defined by the participants, because people do not always have the same representation of this. For example, at this point you can not be thinking you're interviewing me as a woman but as a journalist and instead I can be more aware I'm talking to a beautiful woman, and so far, so on. Those things are different for each person, such as the definition of the situation and why we need a theory on context which has to do with the participants, their roles, their identities, the intentions of people,knowledge they share...

In what are you working now?

Now I am directing a project on "Knowledge and Discourse", obviously there is much philosophy, so much cognitive psychology. to study the relationship between discourse and knowledge, an issue which is also very important and I have not mentioned during my presentation due to lack of time, because you can not talk about everything... Ethics, of which I have spoken of, is a very important aspect in this field, although here it could cover many dimensions ... For example, I have not said anything about historical dimension, because many of these things are related to knowledge and discourse would also change historically and this part must also work the relation between discourse and history that I think is part of the social dimension, consisting of culture, society and history ... But we will talk about it in a different meeting ...


 Translated by Miguel San José

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