Writer’s argumentative attitude: A contrastive analysis of ‘Letters to the Editor’ in English and Italian

Gabrina Pounds


This article deals with those aspects of language that can be seen to carry out a primarily “interactional function” in that they are used to “establish and maintain social relationships” (Brown and Yule 1983: 2 and 3). Such aspects have been variously referred to as performing an “expressive” (Bühler 1934), “emotive” (Jakobson 1960), “social expressive” (Lyons 1977) or “interpersonal” (Halliday 1994) function or, more recently, as performing the function by which “social roles and relationships are constructed” (White 2002: 2). In this article such aspects are referred to in very general terms as ‘attitudinal’ or as carrying ‘attitudinal meaning’ or expressing ‘attitude’. It is widely accepted that the interaction generated through language has a strong pragmatic dimension, that is, it can hardly be appreciated out of context. This article is particularly concerned with highlighting the significance and the all-pervasive nature of such pragmatic dimension in the case of the interaction engendered between writers and readers through the medium of Letters to the Editor published in the English and Italian print media. The following three questions arise: 1) At which linguistic level can specific attitudinal resources be identified and compared? 2) To what extent may the extra linguistic context play a role in the specific case of Letters to the Editor? 3) Are similar attitudinal resources and strategies used in the English and Italian letters? How may any differences be explained? In order to answer these questions the article firstly explores the nature of attitudinal meaning as outlined in previous studies. The second section focuses on the cultural context in which the letters are produced with particular reference to the role of language, argumentation, the press and the genre Letters to the Editor in England and Italy. The third section deals with the argumentative structure of the letters and the specific attitudinal meanings associated with the various components of such structure. The method of analysis is illustrated through examples from the English corpus. The main findings are presented and a comparison is drawn between the two corpora. The findings are further assessed in the light of the contextual framework set out in the preceding section.

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